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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 20

Clarke's CommentaryClarke Commentary

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Verse 1


The similitude of the householder hiring labourers into his

vineyard, to show that the Gentiles should be preferred to the

Jews, according to what was hinted at the close of the last

chapter, 1-16.

On the way going up to Jerusalem he predicts his sufferings and

death, 17-19.

The mother of Zebedee's children requests dignities for her

sons, 20, 21.

Christ, by his answer, shows that sufferings, not worldly

honours, are to be the lot of his most faithful followers, and

that seats in glory can be given only to those who are prepared

for them, 22, 23.

From this our Lord takes occasion to teach the necessity of

humility, and to show that those who wished to be chief must be

servants of all, 24-28.

On his coming to Jericho, he restores sight to two blind men,

who, being restored, follow him, 29-34.


Verse Matthew 20:1. For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man - a householder — The very commencement of this chapter shows it to be connected with the preceding. The manner of God's proceeding under the Gospel dispensation resembles a householder, who went out at day break, αμα πρωι, together with the morning; as the light began to go out of its chambers in the east, so he went out of his bed-room to employ labourers, that they might cultivate his vineyard. This was what was called, among the Jews and Romans, the first hour; answering to six o'clock in the morning.

To hire labourersSome workmen, των εργατων - for he had not got all that was necessary, because we find him going out at other hours to hire more.

Verse 2

Verse Matthew 20:2. A penny — A Roman coin, as noted before, Matthew 18:28, worth about seven-pence halfpenny or seven-pence three farthings of our money, and equal to the Greek drachma. This appears to have been the ordinary price of a day's labour at that time. See Tobit 5:14. In 1351 the price of labour was regulated in this country by parliament; and it is remarkable that "corn-weeders and hay-makers, without meat, drink, or other courtesy demanded," were to have one penny per day! In 1314 the pay of a chaplain to the Scotch bishops, who were then prisoners in England, was three halfpence per day. See Fleetwood's Chronicon Precios, p. 123, 129. This was miserable wages, though things at that time were so cheap that twenty-four eggs were sold for a penny, p. 72; a pair of shoes for four-pence, p. 71; a fat goose for two-pence halfpenny, p. 72; a hen for a penny, p. 72; eight bushels of wheat for two shillings, and a fat ox for six shillings and eight-pence! Ibid. In 1336, wheat per quarter, 2s.; a fat sheep 6d.; fat goose, 2d. and a pig, 1d.,p. 75.

Verse 3

Verse Matthew 20:3. The third hourNine o'clock in the morning.

Market-place — Where labourers usually stood till they were hired. I have often seen labourers standing in the market places of large towns in these countries, waiting to be employed.

Verse 5

Verse Matthew 20:5. The sixth hourTwelve o'clock. Ninth hour - three o'clock in the afternoon.

Verse 6

Verse Matthew 20:6. EleventhFive o'clock in the evening, when there was only one hour before the end of the Jewish day, which, in matters of labour, closed at six.

Verse 7

Verse Matthew 20:7. No man hath hired us. — This was the reason why they were all the day idle.

And whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. — Ye may expect payment in proportion to your labour, and the time ye spend in it; but this clause is wanting in some of the best MSS., versions, and fathers.

Verse 8

Verse Matthew 20:8. When the even was comeSix o'clock, the time they ceased from labour, and the workmen came to receive their wages.

Steward — επιτρωπος. A manager of the household concerns under the master. The rabbinical writers use the very same word, in Hebrew letters, for the same office, אפיטרופוס epitropos. See Kypke.

Verse 11

Verse Matthew 20:11. They murmured — The Jews made the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles, a pretence why they should reject that Gospel; as they fondly imagined they were, and should be, the sole objects of the Divine approbation. How they murmured because the Gentiles were made partakers of the kingdom of God; see Acts 11:1, &c., and Acts 15:1, &c.

There are many similitudes of this kind among the Jews, where the principal part even of the phraseology of our Lord's parable may be found. Several of them may be seen in Schoettgen. Our Lord, however, as in all other cases, has greatly improved the language, scope, design, and point of the similitude. He was, in all cases, an eminent master of the sentences.

Verse 13

Verse Matthew 20:13. Friend, I do thee no wrong — The salvation of the Gentiles can in itself become no impediment to the Jews; there is the same Jesus both for the Jew and for the Greek. Eternal life is offered to both through the blood of the cross; and there is room enough in heaven for all.

Verse 15

Verse Matthew 20:15. Is it not lawful for me — As eternal life is the free gift of God, he has a right to give it in whatever proportions, at whatever times, and on whatever conditions he pleases.

Is thine eye evil — An evil eye among the Jews meant a malicious, covetous, or envious person.

Most commentators have different methods of interpreting this parable. Something was undoubtedly designed by its principal parts, besides the scope and design mentioned at the conclusion of the last chapter. The following, which is taken principally from the very pious Quesnel, may render it as useful to the reader as any thing else that has been written on it.

The Church is a vineyard, because it is a place of labour, where no man should be idle. Each of us is engaged to labour in this vineyard - to work out our salvation through him who worketh in us to will and to perform. Life is but a day, whereof childhood, or the first use of reason, is the day-break or first hour, Matthew 20:1, in which we receive the first CALL.

The promise of the kingdom of glory is given to all those who are workers together with him, Matthew 20:2.

The second call is in the time of youth, which is most commonly idle, or only employed in dissipation and worldly cares, Matthew 20:3.

The third call is at the age of manhood.

The fourth, in the decline of life, Matthew 20:5.

The fifth, when sickness and the infirmities of life press upon us. How many are there in the world who are just ready to leave it, before they properly consider for what end they were brought into it! Still idle, still unemployed in the things which concern their souls; though eternal life is offered to them, and hell moving from beneath to meet them! Matthew 20:6.

Others consider the morning the first dawn of the Gospel; and the first call to be the preaching of John Baptist.

The second call, the public preaching of our LORD; and that of the apostles when they got an especial commission to the Jews, Matthew 10:5-6, together with that of the seventy disciples mentioned Luke 10:1.

The third call, which was at mid-day, represents the preaching of the fulness of the Gospel after the ascension of Christ, which was the meridian of evangelic glory and excellence.

The fourth call represents the mission of the apostles to the various synagogues of the Jews, in every part of the world where they were scattered; the history of which is particularly given in the Acts of the Apostles.

The fifth call, or eleventh hour, represents the general call of the Gentiles into the Church of Christ, when the unbelieving Jews were finally rejected. What makes this interpretation the more likely is, that the persons who are addressed at Matthew 20:7, say, No man hath hired us, i.e. We never heard the voice of a prophet announcing the true God, nor of an apostle preaching the Lord Jesus, until now. The Jews could not use this as an argument for their carelessness about their eternal interests.

Verse 16

Verse Matthew 20:16. So the last shall be first, and the first last — The GENTILES, who have been long without the true God, shall now enjoy all the privileges of the new covenant; and the Jews, who have enjoyed these from the beginning, shall now be dispossessed of them; for, because they here rejected the Lord, he also hath rejected them.

Many are called, c.] This clause is wanting in BL, one other, and in the Coptic and Sahidic versions. Bishop PEARCE thinks it is an interpolation from Matthew 22:14. The simple meaning seems to be: As those who did not come at the invitation of the householder to work in the vineyard did not receive the denarius, or wages, so those who do not obey the call of the Gospel, and believe in Christ Jesus, shall not inherit eternal life.

This place seems to refer to the ancient Roman custom of recruiting their armies. Among this celebrated people, no one was forced to serve his country in a military capacity and it was the highest honour to be deemed worthy of thus serving it. The youth were instructed, almost from their cradle, in military exercises. The Campus Martius was the grand field in which they were disciplined: there, they accustomed themselves to leaping, running, wrestling, bearing burdens, fencing, throwing the javelin, c., and when, through these violent exercises, they were all besmeared with dust and sweat, in order to refresh themselves, they swam twice or thrice across the Tyber! Rome might at any time have recruited her armies by volunteers from such a mass of well-educated, hardy soldiers but she thought proper, to use the words of the Abbe Mably, that the honour of being chosen to serve in the wars should be the reward of the accomplishments shown by the citizens in the Campus Martius, that the soldier should have a reputation to save; and that the regard paid him, in choosing him to serve, should be the pledge of his fidelity and zeal to discharge his duty. The age of serving in the army was from seventeen to forty-five, and the manner in which they were chosen was the following: -

After the creation of consuls, they every year named twenty-four military tribunes, part of whom must have served five years at least, and the rest eleven. When they had divided among them the command of the four legions to be formed, the consuls summoned to the capitol, or Campus Martius, all the citizens who, by their age, were obliged to bear arms. They drew up by tribes, and lots were drawn to determine in what order every tribe should present its soldiers. That which was the first in order chose the four citizens who were judged the most proper to serve in the war; and the six tribunes who commanded the first legion chose one of these four, whom they liked best. The tribunes of the second and third likewise made their choice one after another; and he that remained entered into the fourth legion. A new tribe presented other four soldiers, and the second legion chose first. The third and fourth legions had the same advantage in their turns. In this manner, each tribe successively chose four soldiers, till the legions were complete. They next proceeded to the creation of subaltern officers, whom the tribunes chose from among the soldiers of the greatest reputation. When the legions were thus completed, the citizens who had been called, but not chosen, returned to their respective employments, and served their country in other capacities. None can suppose that these were deemed useless, or that, because not now chosen to serve their country in the field, they were proscribed from the rights and privileges of citizens, much less destroyed, because others were found better qualified to serve their country at the post of honour and danger. Thus many are called by the preaching of the Gospel, but few are found who use their advantages in such a way as to become extensively useful in the Church-and many in the Church militant behave so ill as never to be admitted into the Church triumphant. But what a mercy that those who appear now to be rejected may be called in another muster, enrolled, serve in the field, or work in the vineyard? How many millions does the long-suffering of God lead to repentance!

Verse 17

Verse Matthew 20:17. And Jesus going up — From Jericho to Jerusalem, Matthew 19:15; Matthew 19:15.

Verse 18

Verse Matthew 20:18. The Son of man shall be betrayed — Or, will be delivered up. This is the third time that our Lord informed his disciples of his approaching sufferings and death. This was a subject of the utmost importance, and it was necessary they should be well prepared for such an awful event.

Verse 19

Verse Matthew 20:19. Deliver him to the Gentiles to mock — This was done by Herod and his Roman soldiers. See Luke 23:11.

To scourge, and to crucify — This was done by Pilate, the Roman governor. The punishment of the cross was Roman not Jewish; but the chief priests condemned him to it, and the Romans executed the sentence. How little did they know that they were, by this process, jointly offering up that sacrifice which was to make an atonement for the Gentiles and for the Jews; an atonement for the sin of the whole world? How often may it be literally said, The wrath of man shall praise thee!

Verse 20

Verse Matthew 20:20. The mother of Zebedee's children — This was Salome.

Verse 21

Verse Matthew 20:21. Grant that these my two sons — James and John. See Mark 15:40. In the preceding chapter, Matthew 19:28, our Lord had promised his disciples, that they should sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes. Salome, probably hearing of this, and understanding it literally, came to request the chief dignities in this new government for her sons; and it appears it was at their instigation that she made this request, for Mark, Mark 10:35, informs us that these brethren themselves made the request, i.e. they made it through the medium of their mother.

One on thy right hand, and the other on (THY) left — I have added the pronoun in the latter clause on the authority of almost every MS. and version of repute.

That the sons of Zebedee wished for ecclesiastical, rather than secular honours, may be thought probable, from the allusion that is made here to the supreme dignities in the great Sanhedrin. The prince of the Sanhedrin (HA-NASI) sat in the midst of two rows of senators or elders; on his right hand sat the person termed AB (the father of the Sanhedrin;) and on his left hand the CHACHAM, or sage. These persons transacted all business in the absence of the president. The authority of this council was at some periods very great, and extended to a multitude of matters both ecclesiastical and civil. These appear to have been the honours which James and John sought. They seem to have strangely forgot the lesson they had learned from the transfiguration.

Verse 22

Verse Matthew 20:22. Ye know not what ye ask. — How strange is the infatuation, in some parents, which leads them to desire worldly or ecclesiastical honours for their children! He must be much in love with the cross who wishes to have his child a minister of the Gospel; for, if he be such as God approves of in the work, his life will be a life of toil and suffering; he will be obliged to sip, at least, if not to drink largely, of the cup of Christ. We know not what we ask, when, in getting our children into the CHURCH, we take upon ourselves to answer for their CALL to the sacred office, and for the salvation of the souls that are put under their care. Blind parents! rather let your children beg their bread than thrust them into an office to which God has not called them; and in which they will not only ruin their souls, but be the means of damnation to hundreds; for if God has not sent them, they shall not profit the people at all.

And to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized, &c.] This clause in this, and the next verse, is wanting in BDL, two others, (7 more in Matthew 20:23,) Coptic, Sahidic, Ethiopic, Mr. WHEELOCK'S Persic, Vulgate, Saxon, and all the Itala, except two. Grotius, Mill, and Bengel, think it should be omitted, and Griesbach has left it out of the text in both his editions. It is omitted also by Origen, Epiphanius, Hilary, Jerome, Ambrose, and Juvencus. According to the rules laid down by critics to appreciate a false or true reading, this clause cannot be considered as forming a part of the sacred text. It may be asked, Does not drink of my cup, convey the same idea? Does the clause add any thing to the perspicuity of the passage? And, though found in many good MSS., is not the balance of evidence in point of antiquity against it? Baptism among the Jews, as it was performed in the coldest weather, and the persons were kept under water for some time, was used not only to express death, but the most cruel kind of death. See Lightfoot. As to the term cup, it was a common figure, by which they expressed calamities, judgments, desolation, &c.

They say unto him, We are able. — Strange blindness! You can? No: one drop of this cup would sink you into utter ruin, unless upheld by the power of God. However, the man whom God has appointed to the work he will preserve in it.

Verse 23

Verse Matthew 20:23. Is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father. — The common translation, in which the words, it shall be given to them; are interpolated by our translators, utterly changes and destroys the meaning of the passage. It represents Christ (in opposition to the whole Scriptures) as having nothing to do in the dispensing of rewards and punishments; whereas, our Lord only intimates that, however partial he may be to these two brethren, yet seats in glory can only be given to those who are fitted for them. No favour can prevail here; the elevated seat is for him who is filled with the fulness of God. The true construction of the words is this: - ουκ εϚιν εμον δουναι, αλλ' ὁις ητοιμυϚαι ὑπο του πατρος μου, To sit on my right hand and on my left, is not mine to give, except to them for whom it is prepared of my Father. According to the prediction of Christ, these brethren did partake of his afflictions: James was martyred by Herod, Acts 12:2; and John was banished to Patmos, for the testimony of Christ, Revelation 1:9.

Verse 24

Verse Matthew 20:24. When the ten heard it, they were moved — The ambition which leads to spiritual lordship is one great cause of murmurings and animosities in religious societies, and has proved the ruin of the most flourishing Churches in the universe.

Verse 25

Verse Matthew 20:25. Exercise dominion - and - exercise authority upon them. — They tyrannized and exercised arbitrary power over the people. This was certainly true of the governments in our Lord's time, both in the east and in the west. I have endeavoured to express, as nearly as possible, the meaning of the two Greek verbs, κατακυριευουσιν, and κατεξουσιαζουσιν; and those who understand the genius of the language will perceive that I have not exhausted their sense, however some may think that no emphasis was intended, and that these compound verbs are used for the simple κυριευειν, and εξουσιαζειν. See Wakefield and Rosenmuller.

The government of the Church of Christ is widely different from secular governments. It is founded in humility and brotherly love: it is derived from Christ, the great Head of the Church, and is ever conducted by his maxims and spirit. When political matters are brought into the Church of Christ, both are ruined. The Church has more than once ruined the State; the State has often corrupted the Church: it is certainly for the interests of both to be kept separate. This has already been abundantly exemplified in both cases, and will continue so to be, over the whole world, wherever the Church and State are united in secular matters.

Verse 26

Verse Matthew 20:26. It shall not be so among you — Every kind of lordship and spiritual domination over the Church of Christ, like that exercised by the Church of Rome, is destructive and anti-christian.

Your minister — Or, deacon, διακονος. I know no other word which could at once convey the meaning of the original, and make a proper distinction between it and δουλος, or servant, in Matthew 20:27. The office of a deacon, in the primitive Church, was to serve in the agapae, or love feasts, to distribute the bread and wine to the communicants; to proclaim different parts and times of worship in the churches; and to take care of the widows, orphans, prisoners, and sick, who were provided for out of the revenues of the Church. Thus we find it was the very lowest ecclesiastical office. Deacons were first appointed by the apostles, Acts 6:1-6; they had the care of the poor, and preached occasionally.

Verse 27

Verse Matthew 20:27. Your servant — δουλος the lowest secular office, as deacon was the lowest ecclesiastical office: δουλος is often put for slave.

From these directions of our Lord, we may easily discern what sort of a spirit his ministers should be of.

1. A minister of Christ is not to consider himself a lord over Christ's flock.

2. He is not to conduct the concerns of the Church with an imperious spirit.

3. He is to reform the weak, after Christ's example, more by loving instruction than by reproof or censure.

4. He should consider that true apostolic greatness consists in serving the followers of Christ with all the powers and talents he possesses.

5. That he should be ready, if required, to give up his life unto death, to promote the salvation of men.

Verse 28

Verse Matthew 20:28. A ransom for many. — αυτρον αντι πολλων, or a ransom instead of many, - one ransom, or atonement, instead of the many prescribed in the Jewish law. Mr. Wakefield contends for the above translation, and with considerable show of reason and probability.

The word λυτρον is used by the Septuagint for the Hebrew פדיו, pidion, the ransom paid for a man's life: see Exodus 21:30; Numbers 3:49-51; and λυτρα is used Numbers 35:31, where a satisfaction (Hebrew כפר copher, an atonement) for the life of a murderer is refused. The original word is used by Lucian in exactly the same sense, who represents Ganymede promising to sacrifice a ram to Jupiter, λυτρον υπερ εμου, as a ransom for himself, provided he would dismiss him.

The whole Gentile world, as well as the Jews, believed in vicarious sacrifices. Virgil, AEn. v. 85, has nearly the same words as those in the text. "UNUM PRO MULTIS dabitur CAPUT," - One man must be given for many. Jesus Christ laid down his life as a ransom for the lives and souls of the children of men. In the Codex Bezae, and in most of the Itala, the Saxon, and one of the Syriac, Hilary, Leo Magnus, and Juvencus, the following remarkable addition is found; "But seek ye to increase from a little, and to be lessened from that which is great. Moreover, when ye enter into a house, and are invited to sup, do not recline in the most eminent places, lest a more honourable than thou come after, and he who invited thee to supper come up to thee and say, Get down yet lower; and thou be put to confusion. But if thou sit down in the lowest place, and one inferior to thee come after, he who invited thee to supper will say unto thee, Go and sit higher: now this will be advantageous to thee." This is the largest addition found in any of the MSS., and contains not less than sixty words In the original, and eighty-three in the Anglo-Saxon. It may be necessary to remark, that Mr. Marshall, in his edition of the Gothic and Saxon Gospels, does not insert these words in the text, but gives them, p. 496 of his observations. This addition is at least as ancient as the fourth century, for it is quoted by Hilary, who did not die till about A. D. 367.

Verse 30

Verse Matthew 20:30. Two blind menMark 10:46, and Luke 18:35, mention only one blind man, Bartimeus. Probably he was mentioned by the other evangelists, as being a person well known before and after his cure. Blindness of heart is a disorder of which, men seldom complain, or from which they desire to be delivered; and it is one property of this blindness, to keep the person from perceiving it, and to persuade him that his sight is good.

Sitting by the way side — In the likeliest place to receive alms, because of the multitudes going and coming between Jerusalem and Jericho.

Cried out — In the midst of judgments God remembers mercy. Though God had deprived them, for wise reasons, of their eyes, he left them the use of their speech. It is never so ill with us, but it might be much worse: let us, therefore, be submissive and thankful.

Have mercy on us — Hearing that Jesus passed by, and not knowing whether they should ever again have so good an opportunity of addressing him, they are determined to call, and call earnestly. They ask for mercy, conscious that they deserve nothing, and they ask with faith-Son of David, acknowledging him as the promised Messiah.

Verse 31

Verse Matthew 20:31. The multitude rebuked them — Whenever a soul begins to cry after Jesus for light and salvation, the world and the devil join together to drown its cries, or force it to be silent. But let all such remember, Jesus is now passing by; that their souls must perish everlastingly, if not saved by him, and they may never have so good an opportunity again. While there is a broken and a contrite heart, let it sigh its complaints to God, till he hear and answer.

They cried the more — When the world and the devil begin to rebuke, in this case, it is a proof that the salvation of God is nigh; therefore, let such cry out a great deal the more.

Verse 32

Verse Matthew 20:32. Jesus stood — "The cry of a believing penitent," says one, "is sufficient to stop the most merciful Jesus, were he going to make a new heaven and a new earth; for what is all the irrational part of God's creation in worth, when compared with the value of one immortal soul!" Mark 10:50.

What will ye that I shall do — Christ is at all times infinitely willing to save sinners: when the desire of the heart is turned towards him, there can be little delay in the salvation. What is thy wish? If it be a good one, God will surely fulfil it.

Verse 33

Verse Matthew 20:33. That our eyes may be opened. — He who feels his own sore, and the plague of his heart, has no great need of a prompter in prayer. A hungry man can easily ask bread; he has no need to go to a book to get expressions to state his wants in; his hunger tells him he wants food, and he tells this to the person from whom he expects relief. Helps to devotion, in all ordinary cases, may be of great use; in extraordinary cases they can be of little importance; the afflicted heart alone can tell its own sorrows, with appropriate pleadings.

Verse 34

Verse Matthew 20:34. So Jesus had compassion on them] επλαγχνιαθεις, He was moved with tender pity. The tender pity of Christ met the earnest cry of the blind men, and their immediate cure was the result.

They followed him. — As a proof of the miracle that was wrought, and of the gratitude which they felt to their benefactor. For other particulars of this miraculous cure, Mark 10:46, c.

Reader, whosoever thou art, act in behalf of thy soul as these blind men did in behalf of their sight, and thy salvation is sure. Apply to the Son of David lose not a moment; he is passing by, and thou art passing into eternity, and probably wilt never have a more favourable opportunity than the present. The Lord increase thy earnestness and faith!

Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Matthew 20". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/acc/matthew-20.html. 1832.
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