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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 27

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

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Verses 1-66

XXVII 1-26 Jesus and Pilate (Mark 15:1-15; Luke 23:1-25; cf.John 18:28-; John 19:16).

XXVII 1-2 Jesus delivered to Pilate (Mark 15:1; Luke 23:1; John 18:28)—The second meeting of the Jewish council (Luke, simplifying, records only one) was at dawn, Luke 22:66; it was evidently short because it was still early morning when Jesus reached Pilate’s residence, John 18:28. The meeting was held probably in the Sanhedrin’s assembly-hall (the gazith), on the southern side of the ’court of the Israelites’. Its purpose was to pass sentence of formal condemnation in legal day-session (57-58, note) and to formulate a charge which would impress the governor. They decided upon a political one (27:11; cf.Luke 23:2). In the Roman province of Judaea only the procurator (Pontius Pilatus, a.d. 26-36) could order execution of the death-sentence ( SB 1, 1026; cf. Holzmeister, Historia, 82-4). Normally resident at Caesarea Palestinae, the procurator established his military headquarters (’praetorium’) in Jerusalem for the dangerous periods of the great feasts. In the year of Christ’s death at least this praetorium was probably established in the Antonia, the fortress abutting on the NW. corner of the temple-enclosure.

3-5 Fate of Judas (cf.Acts 1:18-20)—The whole incident, 3-10, presented parenthetically, serves to underline the Sanhedrin’s contempt for justice and the hypocrisy of its members. 3-5. Mt’s ’then’, as so often, is vague—the time may be after the condemnation by Pilate. Possibly Judas had thought that the evidence would prove insufficient for condemnation or possibly his crime came home to him only when he saw its fruit and handled the bribe. Filled with remorse (not true ’repentance’ because empty of hope) he sought to dissociate himself from the affair by proclaiming his Master’s innocence. The unscrupulous cynicism of the judges showed the attempt hopeless and drove him to a desperate decision. The money was now worse than useless; he flung it down in (e??) the temple (?aó?, a word which, to judge from its use in John 2:20, may include the temple buildings such as the gazith). The place of his suicide is unknown.

XXVII 6-10 Scruples of the Unscrupulous (Mt only)— 6-8. The Law, Deuteronomy 23:18, forbade the price of chastity to be put to sacred use; the Sanhedrists now extend the principle to blood-money—it must not be put into the temple-treasury (qorbana’, Aram. ’offering’). With it they buy ’Pottersfield’ (hitherto a well-known name, evidently, and doubtless so called because it contained potter’s clay); thenceforth it was called in Aramaic ?aqel dema’ ’field of blood’ because bought with bloodmoney, but cf.Acts 1:18 f. This cemetery for strangers (probably Jews who died on pilgrimage in Jerusalem— pagans were the Romans’ affair) lay on the southern slope of the Hinnom valley.

9-10. Mt, as usual, hastens to associate the OT with the event; cf.Zach 11:12-13; Jeremiah 18:2-4; Jeremiah 19:1-2; Jeremiah 32:7-9. The prophet Zacharias, a true shepherd of Israel, is assessed by the false shepherds, the political authorities, at the mean price of thirty pieces. It is an insult to God whom Zacharias represents. ’Throw it to the potter! [i.e. to the cheap shop] a fine price at which to be assessed by them!’. The words are God’s. The striking similarity of situation and the concurrence of the ’thirty pieces’ with ’the potter’ call Mt’s attention to a text which he freely adapts, apparently from the Hebrew text: ’And they [the priests—the prophet himself, ’I’, in HT of Zach] took the thirty pieces of silver, the assessment at which he was assessed [lit. ’of one assessed’]—they were of Israel who assessed him—and gave them to the potter’s field’ (Zach ’and I threw them into the potter’s workshop’; trans. Van Hoonacker). Mt adds, in Zacharias’s name, ’as the Lord directed me’, betraying the original ’I’ of the preceding verbs in HT. In so doing he underlines the fact that the hand of God was in the first situation and therefore prepares us for a higher, Messianic, significance. The Rabbis, too, applied the passage messianically but the thirty pieces of silver become the thirty precepts given by Moses to Israel, Edersheim 2, 736. The attribution of the text to Jeremias, strongly supported by the MSS (though Ta; 33; F; 157; a; b; syrsin;peš. omit ’Jeremias’) is strange. It is possible, however, that the text is a fusion of Zach and Jer. Jer 32 recounts the purchase of a field, symbolic of confidence in Judah’s rehabilitation; Jeremiah 19:11 has a curious rapprochement of the potter’s vessel and Hinnom; Jer 18 tells of a visit to a potter of which (according to Van Hoonacker, Les Douze Petits Prophètes, Paris 1908, 677) the text in Zach is an ’adaptation’. In this case, Mt assigns the text to Jer (as Mark 1:2-3 assigns a composite Is-Mal text to Is only) as being the more ’important’ prophet or as heading the fifteen prophets in the Jewish canon of the time ( SB 1, 1029 f.; for this opinion cf. Knabenbauer, Buzy, Bover, WV, KNT, etc.). If the reminiscence of Jer seem too slight to make this view acceptable, it still does not follow that formal error is to be attributed to the evangelist himself. Indeed, according to Lagrange, Mt, 515, it is ’psychologically improbable’ that the evangelist, who appears to have adjusted a Hebrew text which he had in front of him, could have made such a mistake. From purely rational considerations, therefore, it is not improbable that the name of the prophet was inserted by an early copyist misled by the faint echoes of Jer.

It has been recently suggested ( G. Courtade, S.J., DBV(S) 4, 542) that, in any hypothesis, the principle of inerrancy remains untouched since the mind of the evangelist (?) is not formally to teach the derivation of the prophecy from Jeremias, he merely uses the name ’Jeremias’ en passant ’without guaranteeing its exactitude’. Augustine’s explanation, PL 34, 1175, is not dissimilar: he concedes that the use of the name may have been an initial inadvertence of the evangelist which, however, subserved the purpose of the Holy Spirit who wished to inculcate the unity of the prophets. In this case, the categoric statement of the inspired writer which is guaranteed by inspiration is: ’It was said by one of the prophets’; to this he adds, equivalently: by Jeremias, I think’.

11-26 Jesus before Pilate (Mark 15:2-15; Luke 23:2-5, 18:25; John 18:28-40; 19:1-15)—The scene is Pilate’s practorium, the residence of the commander-in-chief with adjoining barracks. In this year it was apparently established not in the palace of Archelaus, the dispossessed Herodian, but in the Antonia; cf. 2, § 721 a. John 19:13 names the place of judgement ’Lithostrotos’ ’paved place’ and ’Gabbatha’ ’eminence’. The terms admirably fit the recently excavated court attached to the Antonia: it is a paved space more than 50 yards square and occupies the highest point of the city’s eastern side; cf.John 19:13, note.

11-14. The interview takes place on some terrace of the Antonia looking on the street since the Jewish leaders are present but do not enter the building, John 18:28. The accusation is a political one (the ’tribute’ question; cf.Luke 23:2) prejudicing the title ’king of the Jews’ to which, however, our Lord does not refuse claim (’Thou sayest it’, cf. 26:64, note). John’s fuller account, 18:33-38, explains how Pilate, despite the claim to kingship, remains unconvinced of our Lord’s guilt —a kingdom of ’truth’ (whatever that be! cf.John 18:38) is not a political entity within Pilate’s competence. Our Lord answered none of the accusations; calumny’s best answer is silence.

15-18. Pilate is impressed and seeks to apply the Roman abolitio (suspension of criminal proceedings) in our Lord’s favour. Such a concession was made on certain festal occasions (?at? d? ?????) in the provinces (cf. the papyrus of a.d. 80 for a similar occurrence in Egypt, Papiri Fiorentini 1, Milan 1906, 113). Pilate offers the one alternative (there were others possible, cf. Mark 15:7) of the murderer Barabbas. (’Jesus Barabbas’ is a probable reading; cf. Vaganay, Textual Criticism of the New Testament, London 1937, 193-6). The contrast, he thinks, will decide the case in favour Jesus Christ. He appeals to the people because he has been informed, reliably enough, that the cause of our Lord’s arrest was precisely the leaders’ envy of his popularity with them.

19. (Mt only). For the evangelist the incident of Pilate’s wife (Claudia Procula by name according to the apocryphal gospels) underlines the malice of Israel —a pagan woman pleads the cause of Jesus against his own people. For Pilate it confirms his own uneasy wonder by thickening the atmosphere of mystery. For the Jewish leaders it provides an opportunity of organizing their supporters.

20-23. The modern technique of mob-management shows how a multitude, even well-disposed, can yield to a vociferous and violent minority—moreover, Barabbas was suffering for a nationalist cause, Mark 15:7, and would have noisy supporters among the crowd.

24-25. By an action familiar to Jews, Deuteronomy 21:6, and Gentiles, Herod 1:33, Pilate disclaims responsibility, saying: ’I am innocent of this blood’ (WV). It is an act rather of private superstition than of public administration. This latter Pilate is as impotent to decline as the Jews are powerless to assume. It is before God and not before Tiberius that the Jews take responsibility upon themselves and their descendants.

26. Mt omits Pilate’s further attempt to release our Lord after the scourging, John 19:4-15. The scourge was normally the prelude of the cross. Its leathern thongs usually carried pieces of bone and metal. The naked victim’s hands were tied to a low column; this bent position made the executioner’s work easier and more efficient. In Roman practice the number of blows was limited only by the endurance or taste of the executioner. It was not uncommon for victims to die under the lash.

27-30 The Mockery (Mark 15:16-20; cf.John 19:2-3)— 27-28. Our Lord is brought from the paved outer court into the practorium properly so called, i.e. to an inner court of the Antonia, Mark 15:16, which appears to be that in which the barracks were placed. Only the offduty men of the cohort would be present (the ’cohort’, spe?+??a—there were five in Judaea, one permanently resident in the Antonia—was larger in the minor provinces of the empire than the ’cohort’ which formed part of a ’legion’; it mustered sometimes nearly one thousand men). Our Lord has evidently been allowed to dress after the scourging, but now his outer garments at least are replaced by a crimson military cloak symbolizing ironically the imperial purple, Mark 15:17. 29-30. The emphasis is on the ridicule rather than on the pain of the crowning. The ’thorn’ is, with some probability, the poterium spinosum which abounds about Jerusalem and was used then, as now, for firewood; its spikes are slender. The form of the ’crown’ may have been that of a head-dress, as in the 2nd cent. representation in the Catacomb of Praetextatus, though the phrase p???a?te st?Fa??? suggests a fillet; but cf. RB 42 ( 1933) 230-4; DAC 5, 4141; 1150. The earliest (5th cent.) representations of the Crucified show him without the crown; it was perhaps laid aside with the reed (his ’sceptre’).

31-32 The Way to Calvary (Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26-32; John 19:17a)—31. Jesus carried his own cross, John 19:17, from the praetorium, 31, until the procession left the town, 32. The shape of this cross is not certainly known. The X, Y and T forms were in use, but in our Lord’s case the T-shape with upward prolongation of the vertical (crux immissa) is witnessed by the best authority ( Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 2, 24, 4) and leaves room for an inscription ’over his head’, 37. The transverse beam was called the patibulum and, in Rome at least, it was customary for the criminal to carry only this beam. This may be true of our Lord; the sta???? of John 19:17 may mean patibulum only. In the middle of the upright was usually a small block to serve as a seat and so take some weight from the hands which were sometimes bound to’ the patibulum, but usually nailed, as in our Lord’s case; cf.John 20:25, John 20:27; Luke 24:39. In Christian’art the seat has become a footsupport, doubtless for aesthetic reasons. There is no reason to think that our Lord’s feet were nailed together: all representations of the Crucified up to the 12th cent. show them nailed separately. (But cf. Barnes, The Holy Shroud of Turin, London 1934.) 32. Simon, born in Cyrene (N. Africa; a town with a large Jewish colony) is conscripted (???a?e??,i.e. to press into governmental service) into carrying the cross in place of our Lord (cf.Luke 23:26, note) who seems to have collapsed.

33-34 Crucifixion and Derision (Mark 15:22-32; Luke 23:33-43; John 19:17b-27)—33. Golgotha (simplified form of Aramaic gulgolte’ ’skull’; Latin ’calvaria’) was the name for the mound, rising about 15 ft. from the surrounding soil, just outside the city-walls (cf. Vincent & Abel, Jérusalem Nouvelle, 89-300) and about half a mile from the Antonia.

34. It was the custom for pious women ( SB 1, 1037 f.) to administer narcotics to condemned criminals. The ’gall’ (????) of Mt is used, as in LXX, in a general sense: bitter drug (more precisely ’myrrh’, cf.Mark 15:23). Our Lord refuses the alleviation. 35. The soldiers take their customary perquisite of the criminals’ possessions, but Mt (strangely) does not call attention to this fulfilment of Ps 21( 22), 19, though the text has been imported into Mt by some few MSS from John 19:24 and is found in Vg and DV.

37. The exact form of the inscription is not known (four different forms are found in the four gospels) but would certainly include the name of the crucified and the charge (’cause’): Jesus, the ’king of the Jews’; this proves too laconic for the chief priests’ liking. 38. The episode of the brigands (??sta?), like the gesture and words of the passers-by and the mockery of the priests are all verbally reminiscent of OT passages (Isaiah 53:12, cf.Luke 22:37; Ps 21[ 22], 8; Wisd 2:13, 18; Ps 21[ 22], 9) but in no case does Mt remark the fact.

39-40. Criminals were usually crucified by the roadside for a warning. The passers-by railed at him, tossing their heads (WV), i.e. in derision (’Vah’, ???, is a cry of ironic admiration ’Ha!’; it is absent from the Greek text of Mt but present in Mark 15:29).

41-44. Representatives of the Sanhedrin are there to see their work carried to its conclusion. Unlike the vulgar public they do not hurl their taunts directly at the Crucified. They (or Mt, interpreting their thoughts) use the words by which the sufferer is mocked in Ps 21 ( 22), 9.

XXVII 45-50 Death (Mark 15:33-37; Luke 23:44-46; John 19:28-30)—45. From noon until three in the afternoon darkness covers Jerusalem and its horizon (not ’the whole inhabited earth’—’?p? pa+?saµ t?? ?????µ????, but ’the whole land’—?p? pa+?saµ t?? ??+??,cf.Exodus 10:22; Prat 2, 409). It is clear that the evangelist thinks of a miraculous event; possibly the frequent April ’black sirocco ’occurred in this year with miraculous intensity ( Pirot, La Sainte Bible, ix, Paris 1946, 596). The miracle should have reminded the scribes of the darkness associated with the great day of God’s judgement in the prophetic writings (Joel 2:10; Amos 8:9; Isaiah 13:10; Jeremiah 15:9). 46. ’Elî ’Elî lemah še?aqtanî are the opening words in Aramaic (’Elî is the Hebrew form also) of Ps 21( 22). Doubtless our Lord continues the psalm in silence. The fact that the words are a quotation removes the dogmatic difficulty. The psalm is not a cry of despair but, on the contrary, a hymn of supreme confidence in God despite profound suffering. As in our Lord’s case the divine ’forsaking’ in the psalm is no more than a poetical expression of acute physical and mental pain to which God has ’abandoned’ the psalmist without, however, having ’turned his face away’, Ps 21 ( 22), 2, 25. In our Lord’s mouth, indeed, the words are not even a complaint because his intention is simply to show that the fruitful martyrdom of the innocent psalmist was a shadow of his own; cf. NRT 70 ( 1948) 137-49. It is worth noting, however, that the mental shock that the words, coming from the Godman, must produce, powerfully argues the fidelity of the evangelists who ran this risk in the interests of honest report. It will be observed that in our explanation of this quotation on our Lord’s lips the question vision even during the passion (the common opinion of theologians). That the uninterrupted beatific vision in the highest faculty of the soul is compatible with bodily, mental and even spiritual suffering (e.g. the uselessness of his passion for some souls) becomes clear to our intellect, not to our imagination, if we remember that the formal object of the vision and the formal object of the suffering are different. Compare the simultaneous joy and sorrow of a parent whose son leaves home to become a priest. (And cf. § 720d.) 47-49. Misunderstanding (deliberately?) the ’Elî, articulated with the difficulty of a dying man, the Jews, 47, 49, think or affect to think that this ’Messias’ may have his precursor-Elias at hand; 17:10 ff., notes. A soldier, moistening a sponge with the sour wine (posca) of his flask, places the sponge on the end of a long reed (or javelin? cf.John 19:29, note). He was moistening our Lord’s lips with it (?p?t??e?); others, apparently Jews, adopting the Elias-jest, bid him to desist—not wishing to spoil the atmosphere of empty expectation. In Mark 15:36 the soldier, too, weakly makes his compassionate action part of the joke. 50. At about three in the afternoon when, a few hundred yards away, the paschal lambs of the old rite were being slain in the temple, the Lamb of God died; cf.1 Corinthians 5:7. His last cry was loud and clear. Luke 23:46 tells us what it was: ’Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit’.

51-54 Prodigies after the Death of Jesus (Mark 15:38-41; Luke 23:45b, 47-49)—51. The veil of the temple (?a??) may be the curtain of the inmost sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, of the appearance of which nothing certain is known; or possibly the enormous and elaborate curtain to the outer sanctuary, the Holy Place; cf. Jos., BJ, 5, 5, 4. If the first, the priests, many of whom were converted, Acts 6:7, could verify and report the prodigy. The symbolism seems to favour this inner veil, Hebrews 10:20 f.; cf. 9:7, 25. If God used secondary causes (Mt does not say) we may possibly think of the gale, miraculous now in intensity, that dissipates the black sirocco of spring, 27:45, note.

52-53. The earth, too, was torn (Mt, alone, mentions the earthquake) and opened some of the rock-tombs: vertical earthquake-fissures are still to be seen in the rock of Calvary ( Vincent & Abel, Jérusalem, 2, 186). It seems probable that the bodily resurrection and apparition of many dead just ones did not occur until after our Lord’s resurrection (cf.1 Corinthians 15:20-23) and that it is mentioned here because the earthquake prepared their exit from the tombs.

54. The manner of our Lord’s death, the darkness, the earthquake, all impress the pagan guards. They confess the justice of the title ’Son of God’ with which they had heard Christ’s foes ironically taunt him, 27:40, 43, however little they may realize all this title holds.

55-56 The Holy Women (Mark 15:40-41; Luke 23:49)— The Galilean women stood watching from Some distance: Mary of Magdala (el-Mejdel on the lakeside c 3 m. N. of Tiberias) whom our Lord had exorcized, Luke 8:2; Mary, mother of James (the ’Less’) and of Joseph, 13:53-54, note; the mother of the sons of Zebedee (20:20, note) probably the Salome’ of Mark 15:40.

57-61 Burial (Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42)—57-58. The sacred body had to be removed and buried before the first stars announced the beginning of the Sabbath, John 19:31. It would be about four o’clock in the afternoon when Joseph, sympathetic throughout to our Lord, Luke 23:51, approached Pilate to whom, as an influential member of the Sanhedrin, Mark 15:43, he would have access. He was of Arimathea (Ramathaim; cf.1 Kg 1:1, 19 etc.) c 12 m. N. of Lydda. 59-61. He had purchased a worthy linen shroud, Mark 15:46, and Nicodemus, John 3:1-15, had bought a quantity of spices, John 19:39, to place on the shroud and round the body. In the presence of the women, and doubtless with their help, they laid Jesus in Joseph’s own unused tomb about fifty yards from the cross. The more well-to-do Jews cut the family tomb in the rock, usually on the side of a slope; a low entrance closed by a thick disc of stone led to the vestibule which in turn led to the tomb proper by a small communicating cavity. Joseph’s tomb had one shelf on the right of the entrance, Mark 16:5, for the reception of the body. For a description of the contemporary tombs of Abu Gosh cf. RB 34 ( 1925) 275-9. The two Marys (56; cf.Mark 15:47) remained. Others of the holy women prepared spices for a further and less hurried anointing, Luke 24:1.

62-66 The Tomb-Guard (Mt only)—A night passes —the night of Friday, the ’parasceve’ or ’preparationday’ of the Sabbath. On the Saturday there is no formal meeting of the Sanhedrin (Mt does not mention ’ancients’) but it occurs to a few of the priests and Pharisees that the dead ’impostor’ promised his resurrection after three days; cf. 12:40. The disciples must be prevented from removing the body during these crucial three days. The first ’imposture’—our Lord’s claim to Messiahship and more—had been effectively answered by crucifixion; the second (resurrection, possibly to be alleged by the disciples) would be more difficult to counter should the body be stolen. Pilate, who sounds tired of the whole affair, allows the Jews to use their supporting posse of Roman troops (cf.John 18:12) for the guardianship of the tomb. The stone is then joined to the surrounding rock, presumably by means of a tape and the official seal.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on Matthew 27". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/matthew-27.html. 1951.
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