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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible
Matthew 8

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-34


The Leper Cleansed. The Centurion's Servant Healed. Healing of Peter's Wife's Mother and many others. Stilling of the Tempest. Healing of the Gadarene Demoniacs

1-4. Cleansing of the leper (Mark 1:40; Luke 5:12). No natural explanation of this miracle is possible. Leprosy has always been, and is still, one of the most intractable diseases. Under the Mosiac Law lepers were regarded as unclean and excluded entirely from human society: see Leviticus 13, 14, and notes. Considered as a parable this miracle represents the cleansing of the human race by the Redeemer from the leprosy of sin.

1. When he was come down] Only St. Matthew mentions the historical connexion of this miracle, though both St. Mark and St. Luke agree that it took place during one of the early preaching tours in Galilee. St. Luke says that it was done in a city. The miracle comes appropriately after the sermon. Having said, 'I came not to destroy (the Law),' He now says, 'Offer the gift that Moses commanded.' Having taught with authority, He now heals with authority, 'I will, be thou clean.'

2. Worshipped him] Lk says, 'fell on his face.' The act of reverence that was paid to kings. Perhaps the leper already regarded Jesus as the Messiah, the rightful king of Israel. He certainly had full faith in His miraculous powers. He only doubted His willingness ('if thou wilt') to heal so miserable an outcast. Often men find it easier to believe in God's power than in His mercy and love.

Lord] Here a title of human respect, as in Matthew 8:25; Matthew 16:22; Luke 9:54; Luke 10:17, Luke 10:40; Luke 11:1, etc. Make me clean] 'Cleanse as well as heal me,' because leprosy was a Levitical defilement.

3. Touched him] No one was allowed to touch or even to salute a leper. If he even put his head into a place it became unclean. No less a distance than 4 cubits (6 ft.) had to be kept from the leper, or if the wind came from that direction, 100 cubits were scarcely sufficient. By thus touching the leper, Christ also showed His superiority to the Law of Moses. So far from being Himself defiled, His touch imparted cleansing.

4. See thou tell no man] According to St. Mark He dismissed the man abruptly, almost violently, with an urgent command to be silent. Only one explanation of this is at all probable. He feared, as in John 6:15, that the people would proclaim Him Messiah, and force Him to be the leader of a revolution. Offer the gift] i.e. a sacrifice of two he-lambs without blemish, and one ewe-lamb of the first year without blemish. For the details see Leviticus 14. For a testimony unto them] i.e. a proof of the genuineness of his cure. The priests, after examining him, could not refuse his gift, and their acceptance of it would be valid testimony that he had really been cured of his leprosy. In face of the injunction to tell no man, we cannot imagine that Christ intended him to notify the priests of the manner of his healing, and so challenge them to examine His claims. The man seems, however, to have disobeyed the injunction (Mark 1:45), so that this miracle helped to arouse the opposition which Christ soon afterwards encountered (Matthew 9:3, Matthew 9:11, Matthew 9:34).

5-13. Healing of the centurion's servant (Luke 7:1, not, however, John 4:47, q. v.). The accounts in St. Matthew and St. Luke are partly drawn from independent sources, which, though agreeing in essentials, differ considerably in details. In St. Matthew the centurion himself comes to Jesus. In St. Luke he first sends certain Jewish elders to plead for him, then some of his friends, and apparently does not see Jesus at all. St. Luke's narrative is the fuller and more original. The discrepancy with St. Matthew is not a serious one. It is quite common to represent a person as doing himself what he really does through others. St. Matthew alone records Christ's remarkable utterance as to the rejection of Israel and the call of the Gentiles, Matthew 8:11, Matthew 8:12. St. Luke, however, has nearly the same words in another connexion (Luke 13:28).

5. A centurion] A Roman legionary officer commanding a century (i.e. from 50 to 100 men, the hundredth part of a legion), and occupying the social position of a modern sergeant or non-commissioned officer. Whether this centurion was directly under Roman authority, or was in the employ of Herod Antipas, in whose kingdom he served, is not certain. He was a heathen, and though favourably impressed by Judaism, it is probable from the language of Matthew 8:8 that he was not a proselyte. Several centurions appear in the NT., all in a very favourable light: Matthew 27:54; Acts 10, 27, 28. 'Probably,' says Trench, 'in the general wreck of the moral institutions of the heathen world, the Roman army was one of the few in which some of the old virtues survived.' The troops of Palestine were recruited locally from the heathen of Samaria and Caesarea, and were auxiliaries. The legionary soldiers proper were required to be Roman citizens. The centurion, being an officer, was probably a Roman. According to St. Luke, he did not venture to come himself, but sent certain Jewish elders, who said, 'He is worthy that thou shouldest do this for him, for he loveth our nation, and himself built us our synagogue.'

6. My servant] The expression might mean 'my little son,' but it is plain from St. Luke that it was a favourite slave who was ill.

8. Lord, I am not worthy] Both the centurion and the elders judged Jesus by Jewish standards. That Jesus should heal a Gentile at all, except for some very special reason, was thought impossible. Still more unlikely was it that He would enter a Gentile house, which was regarded as defiled, and defiling those who entered it (John 18:28). Speak the word only] lit. 'speak with a word.' In believing that Jesus could heal at a distance, the centurion showed remarkable faith. Perhaps his faith was assisted by the similar miracle worked shortly before in the same city upon the son of a certain 'nobleman' (John 4:46).

9. For I am a man under authority] The sense is: I am myself only a servant of others, and yet I have soldiers under me whom I can send where I please to carry out my will. How much more canst Thou, who art Lord of the powers of nature, speak the word and be obeyed. The centurion expresses his faith that angels and spirits and diseases are as obedient to Jesus as his soldiers are to him.

11. Shall sit down (lit. 'recline at table') with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob] The rabbis taught that the Messianic age would be ushered in by a great feast. All Israel, with its patriarchs, prophets, and heroes, would be there. The Gentiles would be excluded, and would have the mortification of seeing all the sumptuous preparations. Every (clean) animal that exists, and many that do not, would be eaten at that feast, e.g. the Leviathan, Behemoth, the gigantic bird Bar Jochani, and certain fabulous fatted geese. The wine of the feast would have been kept in the grapes from the creation of the world. King David would return thanks according to Psalms 116:13. Very startling, therefore, was the declaration of Jesus that Gentiles from all nations would be admitted to this Messianic feast, and many circumcised Jews ('sons of the kingdom') excluded. In the NT., the figure of a banquet or marriage feast is several times used (as here) to represent participation in Christ's Kingdom, both in this world and the next: see Psalms 22:2; Psalms 25:10; Revelation 19:7. The present passage is a double prophecy (inserted most suitably in a Gospel meant for Jewish readers), (1) of the admission of the Gentiles on equal terms with the Jews into the Christian Church, and of the exclusion of many of the latter; (2) of the final salvation of many Gentiles, and of the reprobation of merely nominal Jews.

12. The children (RV 'sons') of the kingdom] i.e. the Jews. Outer darkness, etc.] a rhetorical description of the sorrow and disappointment of those who are excluded. The gnashing of teeth represents anger and disappointment, not torture: see Psalms 112:10; Acts 7:54.

14-17. Healing of Peter's mother-in-law, and of many sick and possessed persons (Mark 1:29; Luke 4:38). According to St. Mark and St. Luke these miracles took place on the sabbath, after the synagogue service at which Jesus preached and healed a demoniac.

14. Peter's house] Peter was a married man (1 Corinthians 9:5). He had a house in Capernaum, which he shared with his brother Andrew, and apparently with his wife's mother.

15. Ministered] i.e. 'waited at table.' The fever had left no weakness.

16. Possessed] According to St. Luke the devils cried out, 'Thou art the Son of God,' and recognised Him as the Christ.

17. Isaiah 53:4, quoted from the Hebrew. This application of the passage to the miracles of healing does not conflict with its deeper fulfilment in Christ's atoning work on the Cross (John 1:29; 1 Peter 2:24).

18-22. Sayings to a scribe and another disciple (Luke 9:57). St. Luke introduces these sayings much later in our Lord's ministry. Both evangelists apparently borrowed from a common source, which did not specify the occasion of the utterances.

19, 20. The offer of a recognised rabbi (scribe) to become a follower of Jesus was an attractive one, especially as no influential person had yet become a disciple. Jesus, however, did not hastily accept the offer. To test the sincerity of the new convert, he required him to count the cost. He must give up all to follow Christ—home-comforts, wealth, honour, and all prospects of advancement. Like his Master, he must have no place to lay his head. Probably the scribe, like the rich young ruler, found the conditions too hard.

19. Master] i.e. Rabbi, a title of respect properly belonging only to scribes. It was sometimes accorded by courtesy to our Lord, as here.

20. The Son of man] This title of Christ is found only in the Gospels and Acts 7:56, and (except in Acts 7:56) is found only in the mouth of our Lord Himself. It corresponds in Aramaic, which our Lord habitually spoke, either to barnasha, which may mean either 'the man,' or (but this is not so certain) 'the son of man,' or else to bʾreh dʾnasha, which means definitely and emphatically 'the son of man' (lit. 'his son, that of man'). That our Lord, who was probably bilingual, occasionally used the Gk. title as found in the Gospels, is also very possible. The title was used by our Lord throughout His ministry, and not, as is sometimes erroneously supposed, only from the time of St. Peter's confession (Matthew 16:13). This fact must be taken account of in ascertaining its probable meaning. It follows from this that it cannot have been, as is sometimes maintained, a definite and well-understood designation of the Messiah. Our Lord concealed His Messiahship from the multitude until the close of His ministry, and did not expressly reveal it even to the Twelve until the confession of Peter. That it was not understood by the multitudes to be a Messianic title is evident from John 12:34.

The title probably designates our Lord as the ideal or representative man, 'the man in whom human nature was most fully and deeply realised, and who was the most complete exponent of its capacities, warm and broad in His sympathies, ready to minister and suffer for others, sharing to the full the needs and deprivations which are the common lot of humanity, but conscious at the same time of the dignity and greatness of human nature, and destined ultimately to exalt it to unexampled majesty and glory.' At the close of His life He invested it with a more definitely Messianic meaning by identifying Himself with the 'one like unto a son of man' of Daniel 7:13, who was generally understood to be the Messiah: see Matthew 26:63, Matthew 26:64. The expression was used by our Lord of Himself on at least forty different occasions, and in very diverse contexts. Thus he uses it in connexion with His authority to forgive sins (Matthew 9:6), His lordship over the sabbath (Matthew 12:8), His Second Advent in glory (Matthew 10:23; Matthew 13:41; Matthew 16:27-28; Matthew 19:28; Matthew 24:27, Matthew 24:30, Matthew 24:37, Matthew 24:44; Matthew 25:31; Matthew 26:64), His familiar intercourse with men in daily life (Matthew 11:19), His poverty (Matthew 8:20), His preaching (Matthew 13:37), His sufferings and resurrection (Matthew 17:9, Matthew 17:12, Matthew 17:22; Matthew 20:18; Matthew 26:24; Mark 8:31), His giving His life as a ransom (Matthew 20:28), and His seeking and saving that which was lost (Luke 19:10). St. Stephen uses it of our Lord as glorified in eaven. The title occurs twelve times in St. John's Gospel, for the most part in passages which clearly imply His divinity. The Son of man exists in heaven before His Incarnation, and descends to earth to become man (John 6:62); He gives His flesh and blood to believers to eat and drink, who are thus incorporated with Him and receive eternal life (John 6:27.); He holds unbroken communion with the Father during His earthly life (John 1:51); He is the object of divine and saving faith (John 3:15); His death on the cross is not a degradation but a glorification (John 12:23; John 13:31), and He ends His earthly course by a triumphant ascension (John 6:62).

The title 'Son of man' is used of the Messiah in a part of the book of Enoch (Matthew 37-70), which is probably, but not certainly, preChristian. It is just possible that our Lord may have derived it from this source. But in any case the title was very little known, and was not popularly understood to mean the Messiah. Some have thought that the source of the title is Psalms 8 (see especially Matthew 8:4).

22. Follow me; and let the dead, etc.] This difficult saying is variously interpreted: (1) My claim comes before all other claims. It is better that the dead should remain unburied, than that thou shouldest delay to enter upon the solemn ministry to which I have called thee. (N.B. The funeral and subsequent mourning would cause a delay of several weeks.) (2) Let the dead (i.e. thy unbelieving relations who are spiritually dead through lack of faith in Me) bury thy father for thee, and come thou, follow Me at once.

The man's father was probably either dead or at the point of death, although some think that he was only aged, and that the disciple asked to remain at home till death occurred, thus indefinitely postponing his obedience to Christ's call.

23-27. The stilling of the tempest (Mark 4:35; Luke 8:22). St. Mark and St. Luke both place the incident after the series of parables which St. Matthew records in Matthew 13. This is at once one of the best-attested miracles, and one of the most incomprehensible to those who desire to limit our Lord's miracles to those of healing. It is perhaps possible to regard the cessation of the storm as a fortunate coincidence, but it is certain that Jesus Himself did not take this view of it. He rebuked the wind and sea, showing that He regarded Himself as the Lord of physical nature as well as of the spiritual world. By stilling the storm Christ showed that, behind the inexorable and awful manifestations of nature, storm, pestilence, volcanic eruptions, and sudden death, which seem to treat man's sufferings with indifference, there is the loving hand of divine providence. In the last resort nature is subject to God's holy and righteous will.

The miracle is also a parable, setting forth Christ as a giver of peace and safety, both to individuals and to His Church. St. Augustine (400 a.d.) says, 'We are sailing in this life as through a sea, and the wind rises, and storms of temptation are not wanting. Whence is this, save because Jesus is sleeping in thee, i.e. thy faith in Jesus is slumbering in thy heart? Rouse Him and say, Master, we perish. He will awaken, that is, thy faith Will return to thee, and the danger will be over.' Tertullian (200 a.d.) says, 'But that little ship presented a figure of the Church, in that she is disquieted in the sea, i.e. in the world, by the waves, i.e. by persecutions and temptations, the Lord patiently sleeping, as it were until roused at last by the prayers of the saints He checks the world, and restores tranquillity to His own.'

24. Tempest] lit. 'shaking.' The word generally means 'earthquake.' 'To understand the causes of these sudden and violent tempests, we must remember that the lake lies low, six hundred feet lower than the Mediterranean Sea, that the vast and naked plateaus of Jaulan (the district E. of the lake) rise to a great height, spreading backward to the wilds of Hauran, and upwards to the snowy Hermon; that the watercourses have cut out profound ravines and wild gorges, converging to the head of the lake, and that these act like gigantic funnels to draw down the winds from the mountains' (Thompson).

27. What manner of man] The disciples already begin to think that Jesus is more than a mere man.

28-34. The healing of the Gadarene demoniacs (Mark 5:1; Luke 8:26). There are real difficulties in connexion with this narrative, but that upon which Professor Huxley laid so much stress in his controversy with Mr. Gladstone, 1889-91, is assuredly the least. Speaking of the destruction of the swine he said, 'Everything that I know of law and justice convinces me that the wanton destruction of other people's property is a misdemeanour of evil example,' as if He, who gives life and health and all things to all men, cannot take back His own gifts when He will. More serious is the difficulty presented by the transference of the devils from the men into the swine (Matthew 8:31-32). It may, perhaps, be sufficient to remark that it is not certain that this is the true interpretation of the incident. The transference itself could not from the nature of the case have been observed. It was an inference from the request of the devils and the subsequent behaviour of the swine. The word Go used by Jesus may mean 'Go into the swine,' but it may also mean simply, 'Begone,' without implying any such permission. In the latter case the destruction of the swine may have been a natural occurrence, the herd taking fright at the paroxysms and cries of the demoniacs, which became more violent at the moment of their recovery: cp. Mark 1:26; Mark 9:26; Luke 9:42. If the former interpretation is correct, Jesus probably destroyed the swine to convince the insane men that the devils had really left them. The healing itself was certainly a miracle of the most striking kind, whether the men be regarded as really possessed by devils, or as maniacs under that delusion. St. Matthew in recording this miracle made use of another source besides that represented by St. Mark and St. Luke. He speaks of two demoniacs, they only of one.

28. The country of the Gergesenes (RV 'Gadarenes')] Gadara was an important Gentile town, the capital of Peræa, situated at least 6 m. from the lake in a south-easterly direction, and separated from it by a broad plain and the gorge of the river Hieromax, a tributary of the Jordan. St. Matthew mentions Gadara as the nearest well-known town. St. Mark and St. Luke state more precisely that the incident took place at Gerasa, to be identified with the ruins of Kersa or Gersa on the E. side of the lake. There are ancient tombs in the vicinity of this place, and about 1 m. S. of it is a steep, even slope, which may be the 'steep place' by which the swine rushed down into the sea. There was another Gerasa in Peræa, but it was fully 35 m. from the lake, and cannot possibly be the one meant.

Out of the tombs] Maniacs are still to be found among the tombs in the East. Warburton writes, 'On descending from these heights (of Lebanon), I found myself in a cemetery. The silence of the night was now broken by fierce yells and howlings, which I discovered proceeded from a naked maniac, who was fighting with some wild dogs for a bone. The moment he perceived me, he left his canine comrades, and bounding along with rapid strides, seized my horse's bridle, and almost forced him backward over the cliff.'

29. Thou Son of God] The demons similarly acknowledge Jesus in Mark 3:11; Luke 4:41. To torment us before the time] viz. of the Last Judgment, when the demons will be consigned to hell. The demoniacs identify themselves with the demons and speak in their names.

31. In St. Luke the demons beg not to be sent into the 'abyss,' i.e. into hell.

34. They besought him that he would depart] The drowning of 2,000 swine represented a considerable monetary loss, and they feared further losses if Jesus remained in their neighbourhood.

It is not clear whether the owners of the swine were Jews or Gentiles. The population of Decapolis was mainly, but by no means exclusively, Gentile. If the owners were Jews, their loss might be regarded as a punishment for keeping swine contrary to the Law. The rabbis said, 'Cursed be he who keeps hogs, and cursed be he who teacheth his son the wisdom of the Greeks'; and again, 'It is forbidden to trade in anything that is unclean.' 'Keeper of hogs' was a Jewish term of abuse. Coasts] RV 'borders.' St. Mark and St. Luke add that our Lord, departing from His usual custom, bade the demoniac proclaim his cure publicly. As the population was Gentile, there was no danger of a Messianic outbreak.

We have adopted the now widely-accepted view (see note 'Possession' at Matthew 4:24), that the demoniacs of the NT. were insane persons under the delusion that they were possessed with devils, but their recognition of Jesus as the Son of God, and in a less degree the phenomenon of double consciousness exhibited in this and other instances, are plausible arguments for the older view that the possession was real: see on Mark 5:1-20.

 


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Bibliography Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Matthew 8:4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcb/matthew-8.html. 1909.

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Sunday, August 25th, 2019
the Week of Proper 16 / Ordinary 21
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