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Monday, June 24th, 2024
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 16

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verses 1-28

XVI 1-12 Leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Mark 8:11-21; Luke 12:54-56; cf.Matthew 12:38-39; Luke 12:1b)—The incident of 1-4 serves as introduction to the lesson of 5-12. 1. Pharisees and Sadducees forget their differences and make common cause against the new teacher. The situation is similar to that of 12:38 ff. see note) but the Sadducces here take the place of the bcribes, our Lord’s answer is notably different and the reference to Jonas is curt (on the ’doublet’ question cf. Lagrange, Mt, liv). They issue a cynical challenge (’tempting’, i.e. putting to the test). They demand a Messianic sign descending from (Mt: e+??) the physical heavens. This ’sign’ is possibly a repetition of the ’manna’ miracle of Mosaic times (cf.John 6:30 ff.) which times were in Jewish tradition (Edersheim, 1, 176), a rehearsal of the Messianic age; in particular, the Messias was to bring down manna from heaven for his people; cf. Lagrange, Jn, 175. Their ill-will had contrived to explain away our Lord’s miracles (e.g. 9:34; cf.John 9:18-29) and he refuses to work wonders at their dictation; cf. his similar attitude in Luke 23:8-9.

2-3. He ironically concedes their ability to recognize natural portents in the heavens but adroitly invites them to discern supernatural portents on earth among the blind, the lame, the deaf (cf. 11:4 f.), announcing the new Messianic day.

4 has possibly (Buzy, Lagrange) with the exception of the ominous, valedictory phrase, been imported hither by translator or copyist from 12:39.

5. Jesus and his disciples sail for the eastern shore of the Lake. Distracted by dispute or by unexpected departure the disciples had not made their usual provision: only one old loaf lay in the boat, Mark 8:14).

6-7. Jesus bids his disciples beware of the corrupting element (’leaven’, cf.1 Corinthians 5:6) which is the outlook (’doctrine’) of his recent questioners. The word ’leaven’ reminds the disciples who exclaim: ’We have forgotten the bread!’ (omit ’because’: the ?t? of 7 is probably recitative).

8-12. After witnessing the two miracles of the loaves (14:17-21; 15:34-38 with notes) the disciples needed no great faith to exclude worry about material things; still less should they have implicitly attributed this worry to their Master. Our Lord has only to repeat his original remark (doubtless with an emphasis on its second half) to make its metaghorical meaning clear. Doctrinally the Pharisees and Sadducees had little in common, the ’doctrine’ therefore is their common cynicism, so recently displayed, with regard to the ’signs of the times’. Our Lord’s warning is not unnecessary: unlike the Pharisees and Sadducees the disciples did not ignore his Galilean miracles but they were inclined to forget them and to miss their full significance, 8-10.

13-20 Peter’s Profession and Primacy (Mark 8:27-30; Luke 9:18-21)-13. After reaching the cast bank of the Lake and after the cure of the blind man at Bethsaida Julias, Mark 8:22-26, our Lord takes his disciples to the district of Caesarea Philippi on the extreme northern frontier of Palestine, 2, or 3 m. E. of Dan. Here in fertile country rises one of the largest sources of the Jordan. It is a natural site for the sanctuary of Pan (hence Panias; Arab. Baniyas) built there by the predominantly Greek population in the 3rd cent. b.c. In our Lord’s time the town itself was new-built by Philip the tetrarch in 3-2 b.c. and named Caesarea in honour of Caesar Augustus. It boasted a temple to Augustus built by Herod the Great c 20 b.c. Here where ’men worshipped side by side the forces of nature and the incarnation of political ower’ the divinity of Christ was first clearly professed; cf. SHG 473-8. Our Lord asks for the rumours of his identity, not to inform himself but to lead up to his next question. In Mt (’Son of Man’; Mk and Lk : ’I’) we are already prepared for ’Son of God’ which is to follow, 16.

14. In Galilee at Antipas’s court there was a superstitious rumour of the Baptist’s resurrection. Other circles felt the Messianic atmosphere and thought of Elias the precursor (but cf. 17:10 note) or of Jeremias, Israel’s champion at a time of national crisis (cf.2 Mac 15:13-16); the Messianic age was associated, too, with the return of other prophets; cf.4 Esd 2:18. It is strange that none mentions rumours of the Messias himself which must have been recently circulating; cf. John 6:15). 15-16. Our Lord expects more from his companions and pupils, but it is only Peter who makes the decisive and immediate reply acknowledging his Messiahship. In Mt (only) he goes on to profess the divinity of his master; cf. § 50g. Peter’s formula ’the son of the living God’ is found, with slight variation, on the lips of Caiaphas, Mark 14:61, and for its acceptance Jesus is declared guilty of blasphemy. He accepts it here and in terms which make it clear that Peter’s conception of his dignity is not merely a deduction of Messiahship from adequate human premisses; cf. 11:4-6.

17-19. Human considerations (’flesh and blood’) such as reasoning from miracle and prophecy could have led Peter to a confession of Messiahship—no great marvel there. That the Father, not the Son, had revealed shows how profound was the significance of Peter’s words even if Peter himself had not yet fully sounded their depth. By this revelation the Father had singled out Peter as the natural foundation for his Son’s society and our Lord, as ever, follows his Father’s lead. Faith in the divinity of Christ must henceforth be a criterion of the true society of Christ. The Son of God now echoes and outdoes the generosity of the son of Jonah. At last he explains the name (apparently of his own invention) promised to Simon at the first encounter, John 1:42, and confirmed on the occasion of Simon’s call, Matthew 4:18; cf. 10:2. The name in Aramaic is Kepha,i.e. ’Rock’ or ’Stone’. The Greek translator judged p?t??? ’stone’ more suitable, being masculine in form, for Simon’s name and kept p?t?a ’rock’ for the foundation-material demanded by the metaphor. The original language, however, leaves no room for distinction: Thou art Kepha and upon this kepha. . . . The ’church’ (?????s?a, the customary LXX rendering of the Hebrew qahal,i.e. religious assembly, congregation) is the new society of Christ’s faithful answering to, and supplanting, the OT qahal. Simon is to be the ultimate authority on earth of this society which is itself the hierarchical body described in 18:15-18. By reason of this rock-foundation the malignant powers will not prove stronger than (?at?s??s??s??) the citadel-society. The phrase ’gates of Hell’ needs some explanation. The term ’gates’ in Hebrew is often used of the fortified city itself (Genesis 22:17; Genesis 24:60; Isaiah 14:31, etc.) ’Hell’ (Hades), dwelling-place of demons (four times in this sense in the Apocalypse, cf. Allo, L’Apocalypse, Paris 1933, 101, and cf.Luke 16:23) is not merely ’death’ (an idea which would confuse the warlike image) but the activity of forces hostile to the cause of Good. The promise is therefore not one of immortality for Peter (Harnack)— a meaning that would require also (against the natural construction of the sentence) that the pronoun ’it’, 18, be referred to ’rock’ and not to ’church’. In 19 the metaphor changes: the besieged citadel founded on a rock now becomes the Kingdom with its Chancellor to whom Christ will in due time commit his own keys, John 21:15-17. The gift of the keys implies responsible stewardship as the keys of Eliacim, Isaiah 22:22, implied stewardship of the Davidic household. This idea serves as a bridge from the rock-metaphor to the more direct definition of Peter’s powers (Lagrange). These powers are of effective ’binding’ and ’loosing’ in the spiritual order on earth. The ’binding and loosing’ (rabbinical terms for excluding from (’binding’) or granting readmission to the community or for declaring forbidden or permitted according to the Law) must be understood as containing all that is implicit in the gift of the keys, i.e. all powers necessary to the well-being of the kingdom including any positive legislative power which may prove necessary in the future. (On the authenticity etc. of the Petrine text cf. Bi 1 ( 1920) 240-64 and DBV(S) II, 546-64.) 20. The title ’Son of God’ refers to our Lord’s personal dignity, the term ’Christ’ to his function. The latter might politically excite the crowds; it alone, therefore, is the direct object of his prohibition.

21-23 First Passion Prophecy. Peter rebuffed (Mark 8:31-33; Luke 9:22)-21. Caesarea Philippi marks a turning-point of the Apostles’ faith. Our Lord now ventures to break the strange news of his approaching Passion. The titles ’Messias’, ’Son of God’, were to the Apostles far removed from the idea of Israel’s official rejection (through the Sanhedrin) and from the prospect of death. All three Passion predictions, 16:21 f.; 17:21 f.; 20:18 f., are accompanied by a prophecy of resurrection which, however, seems to be overwhelmed in the Apostles’ mind by the shocking prediction preceding it. Moreover, the nature of this resurrection is relatively vague and its prospect remote; cf. their mentality perhaps with Martha’s, John 11:23-24, John 11:39.22-23. Peter ’taking him’ (p??s?aß?µe???—drawing him to one side or, possibly, ’trying to be helpful’) remonstrates: ’Mercy on you!’ (??e?? s??,i.e. . . . e?? ? Te??: ’may God be merciful to you’). But Peter is a snare (’scandal’) in the path traced by the Father and willingly taken by the Son; our Lord orders him out of the way. Peter cannot yet appreciate (?? F???e??) God’s ways. He is unwittingly playing the part of their great adversary (sa?an). Through him Satan, who had left our Lord only ’for a time’, Luke 4:13, renews the original temptation, 4:1-11. The faithful report of this rebuke is a tribute to the candour of the evangelist who has just reported the promise of the primacy.

24-28 Death the Way to Life (Mark 8:34-38; Luke 9:23-26)—Like master, like man: the disciple must himself be prepared to shoulder a cross in imitation of Christ. The saying is even more natural in this passage than it is in 10:38 (see note) because it here follows a prediction of the Passion.

25. The exhortation is reinforced by a prospect of the great issues involved (cf. 10:39)—no less than the loss or gain or eternal life. 26. How great is this gain appears from a literary balance of the world’s riches against the supernatural life of the soul; it appears too from the obvious inability of those riches to purchase that life. That ’soul’ here is regarded as the principle of supernatural, not merely natural, life is clear from the context and, on the dogmatic side, from the unanimity of Catholic interpretation; cf. § 52h and A. Bea, Bi 14 ( 1933) 435-47. 27. Man cannot buy eternal life: it will be awarded according to his works, i.e. according to his loyalty to Christ’s cause, 25. The fitting judge of this loyalty is Christ himself. Of him, with his cross, one might be tempted to be ashamed (Mk, Lk) but the true dignity and reward of his following will appear from his glory and his sentence in the final judgement.

28. This sentence, though juxtaposed to 27 was perhaps originally a separate dictum, as Mark 8:39 seems to hint. In the present context it appears to imply that the dignity of Christ’s discipleship will be manifested even before the final judgement, nay, in the lifetime of some of the bystanders. The Kingdom of the Son (not ’of the Father’, cf. 13:43 note) will establish itself shortly ’in power’ (Mk; cf.1 Corinthians 4:20). This power, following the ’weakness’ of the Cross, 1 Corinthians 1:23-25, manifests itself progressively from the Resurrection onwards, Romans 1:4 ff. To those who could see it the glory of this spiritual Kingdom on earth was already plain in St Paul’s time, e.g.1 Thessalonians 2:12, Ephesians 2:6 f. The destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70 served only to show that the Kingdom stood alone. The presence on earth of such a kingdom, acknowledging Christ as its king, will be evidence that the Son of Man has entered into (?? for e?? as often in biblical Greek) his kingdom, i.e. has been solemnly invested as King in heaven. It will be the realization of Daniel’s vision in which the ’coming’ of one like a ’son of man’ was a coming not to earth but to the Ancient of Days on his heavenly throne to receive power and a kingdom. See notes to Daniel 7:13 ff.; Matthew 8:19-20; Matthew 26:64.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on Matthew 16". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/matthew-16.html. 1951.
 
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