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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 19

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

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Verses 1-30

XIX 1-12 The Divorce Question.

1-2 From Galilee to Judaea (Mark 10:1; Luke 9:51; cf. 17:11; John 10:40-42)—The common plan of the synoptic gospels gives preference to the Galilean ministry, omitting the various visits of our Lord to Jerusalem, John 2:13; John 5:1; John 7:2; John 10:22. After the visit of John 10:22 (for the feast of Dedication in December) John says, 10:40, like Mt and Mk, that Jesus went ’beyond Jordan’. It is probable that the journey described by Mt and Mk took place in September and that it included Jn’s two visits to Jerusalem—for Tabernacles (Sept.-Oct.; John 7:2) and for Dedication, John 10:22. In 19:1 Mt rounds off his fourth group of discourses with his familiar formula, 7:28, note. Our Lord seems (Mk) to go first into Judaea and from there to the plain just across Jordan, John 10:40, which, though strictly part of mountainous Peraea and under Antipas’s jurisdiction, was commonly regarded as the ’district’ of Judaea.

3-12 Divorce (Mark 10:2-12; cf.Matthew 5:31-32)—3. The Pharisees ’put him to the test’ (KNT). Their question must be seen against its background. In our Lord’s time were two schools of thought divided on the question of sufficient motive for divorce in the full sense. The followers of the Rabbi Shammai allowed it on grounds of adultery only. Those of Hillel (Shammai’s pre-Christian contemporary) for less grave, even trivial, reasons; see Edersheim 2, 331-5. The controversy turned on the interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1. There the Mosaic Law prescribed that a husband give his wife a ’bill of divorce’ (sep+?per kerî?u?, lit. ’document of cutting-off’) if he discover in her ’some uncleanness’ (’erwa? da?ar ’indecency of (in) something’— apparently some sexual irregularity). This last phrase was the subject of bitter argument. It appears that in the 1st cent. a.d. the school of Shammai was gaining ground at least among the ordinary folk in Palestine, and that divorce was more common in the upper classes. The Pharisees’ question is therefore equivalent to: ’Is Hillel right? Can divorce for any cause whatever be tolerated?’, or: ’Is a man permitted to send away his wife however the case stands?’.

4-6. To their chagrin our Lord pronounces for neither school but, as in 15:3 f., goes straight to the act and words of God, Genesis 1:27; Genesis 2:24. Having created a woman for Adam, God (through the inspired author) had insisted that the union was even closer than that of blood. It produced, as it were, one single and indivisible person (’one flesh’). Our Lord emphasizes his conclusion claiming that no man, not Shammai nor Hillel, dare interfere with the express will of God.

7. The answer was disconcerting. It struck at the practice of divorce itself. Whether the questioners be of the Hillel or of the Shammai school they are forced now to defend common ground. They in their turn appeal to Scripture, Deuteronomy 24:1. Their implication is that our Lord’s conclusion from Gen is in plain opposition to the enactment of Moses himself.

8. Jesus removes the contradiction by correcting their terms. Divorce was not a Mosaic ’command’ but a toleration of existing custom. This custom itself was due to Israel’s ’hardness of heart’, i.e. (cf.Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4; Ecclus 16:10) to a moral immaturity insensitive to God’s will—a will made plain, as our Lord says, in Genesis 1:27. The Mosaic ’bill of divorce’ made the best of an existing situation by demanding a formality which restrained hasty action and which safeguarded the divorced wife from recall at her divorcing husband’s whim.

9. Our Lord restores the stability of the primal institution on his own authority, ’I say to you’; cf. 5:21-44. His attitude is so uncompromising, indeed, that the disciples are shocked, 10, as they would never have been had he merely declared for the severe view of Shammai. Moreover, his words as reported by Mk, 10:11 f., and by Lk, 16:18, and used by Paul, 1 Corinthians 7:10 f., contain no hint of an exception made for adultery. It is in the light of these certain facts that the obscure ’exceptive’ clause of Mt, here and 5:32, must be explained. In view of the marked Jewish tone of Mt’s words it seems probable that he is nearer to the ipsissima verba of our Lord. In any case, an evangelist would not have been so bold as to intrude an exception of his own making nor so stupid as to contradict his own context. It is still less likely that Jesus is reversing his uncompromising attitude with a casual parenthesis thrown out en passant. It follows that the so-called ’exceptive’ clause (µ? ?p? p???e??) cannot permit re-marriage on the ground even of adultery. Its positive explanation is, however, a matter of dispute. The ’classical’ Catholic explanation takes p???e?a (DV ’fornication’) as being here ’adultery’, as it is a question of married persons. The disputed clause is not strictly an ’exception’ but reserves the case of adultery (that it is a ’reservation’ appears more clearly from the pa?e?t??—’setting aside’ —of 5:32 than it does from the awkward µ? of 19:9). It does not positively provide for the case of adultery. This provision, however, must have been made at some time, explicitly or implicitly, by our Lord. It consists in separation a mensa et toro and is found explicitly in Paul, 1 Corinthians 7:10. The reservation was made to avoid the impression that our Lord was imposing the hardship of livlng with a faithless partner. An alternative Catholic explanation (recently revived, amended and given rabbinic background by J. Bonsirven, S.J., Le Divorce dans le Nouveau Testament, Tournai 1948) objects that the usual OT and NT word for ’adultery’ is µ???e?a. It maintains that p???e?a here means concubinage (cf.1 Corinthians 5:1)—incestuous marriage within the degree forbidden by the Mosaic Law, Leviticus 18:1-17. In such a case a man in dismissing (divorcing) the woman is not only guiltless but is actually doing his duty. Our Lord inserts the clause in order to hint that the Mosaic injunctions remain (cf. CR 20 [ 1941], 283-94).

10-12 The more Perfect Chastity (Mt only)—10. In private (cf.Mark 3:10) the disciples express their concern. Such severity is unheard of. If such be the position DV ’case’) of the married state, marriage is too dangerous because irrevocable. 11. Our Lord does not withdraw his severe pronouncement but (doubtless to the disciples’ surprise) passes from their own phrase (’not expedient to marry’) to an even higher teaching. All this doctrine (’word’) of the due perspective on marriage and its expediency or non-expediency can be fully appreciated (WV ’taken in’; ???e?+??) not by the carnal man but by those alone whose understanding is of God (’given’); cf. 13:11.

12. For (says our Lord, explaining that such an understanding and perspective is so given) not accident of birth alone nor malice of men (the case of the first two classes of eunuch) but the high motive of the Kingdom (cf.1 Corinthians 7:32) has succeeded in inducing virginity—and, in this last case, of free choice. To these last the divine sense of due proportion has been ’given’ and put into practical effect, not by self-mutilation but by selfdenial. Our Lord thinks, perhaps, of the Baptist and of others who like Jeremias, Jeremiah 16:2, have thus sacrificed themselves in the interests of the Kingdom. He is proposing an ideal foreign to Judaism which held marriage as a sacred duty for all men, Bonsirven 2, 207 f. Let him who is capable of appreciating the true order of values apply his faculty to this case! WV ’He that can take this in, let him take it in’; ???e?+?? as in 11. It is fairly evident that Jesus is not appealing only for speculative appreciation: a gentle invitation underlies his words.

13-15 Blessing the Children (Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17)—13. Our Lord has just shown himself the champion of family-life; it is perhaps not without significance that the mothers bring their babies and little children (pa?d?a) for a blessing. The disciples were used to the throngs of sick but now’ even the little ones’ (Luke 18:15; WV) are brought. They rebuke the children, or rather (Mk) their parents, for this waste of their master’s time and strength.

14. It is one of the rare occasions when our Lord shows himself really displeased with his disciples (’he was indignant’ Mk): ’Leave the little children alone!’ (?F?ete). This adult contempt is misplaced; their elders should not interfere but rather watch how he loves their simplicity and learn themselves to imitate it, 18:1-4, notes. He takes the children into his arms (Mk) and touches their head with a murmured blessing.

16-22 Counsel of Poverty (Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18-23) —16. A young man of wealth and (Lk) position who, no doubt, had been watching and listening hurried after our Lord (Mk). Jesus had spoken, 14, of a necessary disposition for the Kingdom—a disposition less tangible than the observance of the Decalogue; this has perhaps brought uneasiness to the youth’s mind. ’Master’, he asks (not ’good’ master, DV), ’what good work am I to do . . . ?’. He evidently wishes to feel an assurance of salvation.

17. Our Lord’s rejoinder is verbally uncertain; probably the original form is found in Mark 10:18, Luke 18:19. In Mt it is obscure though even here there remains the prima facie difficulty (’One is good’) against our Lord’s consciousness of his divinity—a difficulty, it should be noted, that was not grave enough to trouble the early Church which did not shirk the text; cf. Lagrange, Mt, 373 ff. Mt’s formula seems to imply that the youth leans too heavily upon one who, as he thinks, is a Rabbi and no more. Our Lord declines this comliment to his human nature; cf. e.g. 20:23; 23:9. He seeks to put the inquiring soul into immediate contact with God who is personified Good. God himself, the one absolute Good, is the model of sanctity; cf. 5:48. Nevertheless, our Lord goes on, in magisterial tone, to exercise the sovereign authority of his human office by confidently pointing the way to eternal life.

18-19. He doubtless surprises the youth when he lays down as necessary conditions the elementary prohibitions of the Decalogue, Exodus 20:13-16; cf.Deuteronomy 5:17-20. But he passes then to positive commands that admit of degrees of perfection in their observance. First, the young man’s duty to his parents (Exodus 20:12a; cf.Deuteronomy 5:16a); secondly, the great precept of charity towards one’s fellows, Leviticus 18:19, not found in the Decalogue.

20-21. In view of the last, and difficult, command the youth’s confident reply appears hasty but evidently has little trace of self-sufficiency since (Mk) our Lord’s affection is aroused. The young man has a generous heart and our Lord invites it to a perfection exceeding what is, absolutely speaking, necessary to eternal life. If the youth is content to have his treasure (and so, all his heart; cf. 6:21) only in heaven, then he is fit for our Lord’s inner circle, 27.

22. The young man, who might have become an Apostle, was taken aback (’his face fell’ Mk) and went away dismayed.

23-26 Danger of Riches (Mark 10:23-27; Luke 18:24-27) —23. The departure of the youth is the occasion of a sad warning to the disciples. It is with difficulty that the rich shall enter the kingdom of heaven. The saying surprises after our Lord’s distinction of moral precept, 17 ff., and counsel of poverty, 21. He speaks, however, not of impossibility, 26, but of difficulty. Nor does he condemn the rich young man but illustrates from his case how riches may grip and even suffocate the heart.

24. Indeed, for merely human reason it is inconceivable that those whose heart is possessed by riches should enter the Kingdom. Our Lord expresses this with a slight adaptation of the Jewish proverb (Edersheim 2, 342) that ’a man even in his dreams does not see an elephant pass through a needle’s eye’.

25-26. He has deliberately provoked the astonishment of the disciples in order to impress on them the spiritual menace of riches. If possessions are such an obstacle —and there are few who have no possessions—who can be saved? Our Lord (in words reminiscent of Genesis 18:14; Job 42:2; Zach 8:6) explains that divine grace accomplishes the humanly impossible. Grace may leave the riches but loosen their grip on the heart.

27-30 Reward of Renunciation (Mark 10:28-31; Luke 18:28-30)—27. During this discussion Peter’s mind has turned to the situation of himself and of his companions. They have accepted the invitation, 4:22, refused by the rich young man. What reward? A natural and honest question, if somewhat brusque.

28. The solemn promise surpasses expectation. Its meaning turns on the sense of the word ’regeneration’, ’rebirth’ (pa????e?es?a) used in NT only here and in Titus 3:5 (of the ’new birth’ by Baptism in the Christian era). A similar idea, though not the term, is found in the OT (’the new heavens and new earth’ of Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:22) referring, in apocalyptic style, to the Messianic age. The reference is pointed by Paul, 2 Corinthians 5:17, for whom the Christian era here on earth is already a new creation’. It appears probable, therefore, that our Lord refers to the Kingdom established on earth rather than to the world to come and the last judgement. This opinion (adopted by WV) is supported by the similar text of Luke 22:28-30 which also refers to the kingdom of the Son on earth—not ’of the Father’ in heaven; cf. 13:43, note. The Son of Man seated on his glorious throne recalls Daniel 7:9 and (as in 26:64; see note) refers to our Lord’s presiding from heaven (cf.Ps 109( 110) 1 quoted in 22:43 f.) over his Kingdom on earth. Associated with him in this royal function of judgement (i.e. of government, cf. Ps 71(72) 2 etc.—the Last Judgement is reserved exclusively to the Son in John 5:27) are the Twelve. This office they are to exercise on earth (and, doubtless, when they pass from earth and the Church remains); they will be thus associated with their master in heaven. Since the horizon has not yet widened for the Apostles, 10:5; 15:24, our Lord speaks in terms of Israel. It will be clear to them later, 28:19, that the sphere of their authority is to be the whole world—the Israel’ of God’, Galatians 6:16. Our Lord addresses the Twelve as a body. He has already hinted at the defection of Judas, John 6:71, but this is not the place to mention it; moreover, their number was later supplied by the election of Matthias, Acts 1:26.

29. In the new era the Apostles occupy a privileged position but those who have imitated their detachment, leaving family or estates for Christ, will have their abounding reward too. The reward, though on earth (Mk) is clearly of the spiritual order since it is compatible with persecution, Mark 10:30. And finally (closing the whole section as it opened; cf. 16) in the world to come’ life everlasting’.

30 introduces the following parable which it serves also to conclude, 20:16, note.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on Matthew 19". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/matthew-19.html. 1951.
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