Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

Matthew 20

Verse 1

1. ὁμοία γάρ ἐστιν κ.τ.λ. There are many possible applications of the parable, but the only true explanation of its meaning to the disciples at the time must be reached by considering the question to which it is an answer. The parable is addressed solely to the disciples. The thread of thought may be traced in this way: It is impossible for a rich man, one who trusts in riches, to enter the kingdom of heaven. The disciples, through Peter, say ‘We at any rate left all and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?’ Our Lord’s answer is [1] partly encouraging, [2] partly discouraging.

[1] All who have in a true sense given up all for Christ shall have a great reward (ch. Matthew 19:28-29).

[2] But (Matthew 20:30) priority of time is not everything. The parable is given in explanation of this point. Not only will the disciples not be the only called, but they may not reach a higher place or a higher reward than some who follow them at an apparent disadvantage. Still all who work shall have their reward. But they must beware of a spirit very prevalent among hard workers, and not think too much of their own labours, or be displeased because others are equally rewarded.

Possibly the element of time is introduced to illustrate in a parabolic form the apparent degrees of service, and to signify that no man can estimate the comparative merit of work for God.

ἀνθρώπῳ οἰκοδεσπότῃ. Cp. ἀνθρώπῳ ἐμπόρῳ, ch. Matthew 13:45. ἀνθρώπῳ βασιλεῖ, ch. Matthew 18:23.

ἅμα πρωΐ. This unclassical use of ἅμα with an adverb is modelled on such classical expressions as ἅμα ἕῳ, ἅμα ὄρθρῳ: cp. the late forms ἀπὸ τότε, ἀπὸ πέρυσι, and the classical ἐς ἀεί, ἐς ἔπειτα, ἐς ὀψέ. Winer, p. 525 and note 5.

Verses 1-16


Peculiar to St Matthew

Verse 2

2. ἐκ δηναρίου. ‘On the terms of a denarius,’ ἐκ indicates the point from which the bargaining proceeds, the starting point and so the basis of the compact. It is not = δηναρίου, Matthew 20:13, genitive of price or rate of pay. A denarius was the ordinary day’s wage of a labourer, that of a common soldier was less, as we learn from Tac., Annal. I. 17: nec aliud levamentum quam si certis sub legibus militia iniretur, ut singulos denarios mererent.’ A ‘florin’ or a ‘half-crown’ would represent the meaning to English readers far more accurately than the ‘penny’ of the A.V. which gives a wholly wrong impression. See ch. Matthew 18:28.

μετὰ τῶν ἐργατῶν. Later use of μετά. The classical construction is συμφωνεῖν τινί, or πρός τινα.

Verse 4

4. ὃ ἐὰν ᾖ δίκαιον. This time there is no stipulated sum. The labourers are invited to leave all to the justice of the householder. It is a lesson in faith and an implied rebuke to the spirit displayed in the question, τί ἄρα ἔσται ἡμῖν;

Verse 5

5. πάλιν δὲ ἐξελθών. The householder himself goes forth to summon labourers to his vineyard. Thus not only in the beginning of the gospel, but in every age Christ Himself calls labourers to His work. The Master never stands idle.

Verse 6

6. περὶ τὴν ἑνδεκάτην. The various hours may be referred in the first instance to the call of a Paul, a Barnabas, and a Timothy, who adopted the Cause later than the Twelve. In a secondary and less immediate sense they seem to indicate the successive periods at which the various nations were admitted to the Church of Christ. Was it unjust that European nations should have equal privileges with the Jews in the Church of Christ, or that Paul should be equal to Peter?

Note the reproach conveyed by ἀργοί. Even they to whom no message has come may do some ἔργον for Christ. See Romans 2:10; Romans 2:14.

Verse 7

7. After ἀμπελῶνα omit as אBDLZ the words καὶ ὃ ἐὰν ᾖ δίκαιον λήψεσθε. The thought of . 4 was probably repeated in a marginal note.

Verse 8

8. τῷ ἐπιτρόπῳ. ‘To his steward,’ as in Luke 8:3, Ἰωάννα γυνὴ Χουζᾶ ἐπιτρόπου Ἡρώδου. In the only other passage where the word occurs in the N.T., Galatians 4:2, ἐπίτροποι, ‘guardians’ of a minor’s person, are distinguished from οἰκόνομοι, stewards of his property. The word was Hebraized and used in both these senses by Rabbinical writers (Schöttgen ad loc. cit.).

Verse 9

9. ἀνὰ δηνάριον, ‘a denarius each.’

Verse 11

11. γογγύζειν and γογγυσμὸς were ancient Ionic words synonymous with τονθυρίζειν and τονθυρισμὸς in the Attic dialect. Phrynichus quotes from Phocylides of Miletus χρή τοι τὸν ἑταῖρον ἑταίρῳ | φροντίζειν ἅσσʼ ἂν περιγογγύζωσι πολῖται. The word was probably formed from the sound of the cooing of doves, and is therefore like τρύζειν both in original and derived meanings: cp. Il. IX. 311, ὡς μή μοι τρύζητε παρήμενοι ἄλλοθεν ἄλλοι. The verb occurs more frequently in St John’s gospel, written in an Ionic city, than in any other book of the N.T. Verb and noun are found in the LXX. and in Epictetus and other late writers. See Lob. Phryn. 358.

Verse 12

12. μίαν ὥραν ἐποίησαν. Cp. Acts 15:33, ποιήσαντες δὲ χρόνον ἀπελύθησαν. So facere in Latin, ‘quamvis autem paucissimos una fecerimus dies tamen multi nobis sermones fuerunt.’ Seneca, Epist. 67.

ὥραν. ‘During the residence in Babylon the Hebrews adopted the division of the day into twelve hours whose duration varied with the length of the day.’ Edersheim, Temple, &c., in the Time of our Lord, p. 174).

τοῖς βαστάσασι τὸ βάρος τῆς ἡμέρας καὶ τὸν καύσωνα. This may be regarded as man’s estimate of his own merits, which is not the divine estimate. The words echo the tone of ‘what shall we have?’ ch. Matthew 19:27. Man does not here acquiesce in the Judge’s decision, as in the parable of the debtors, ch. 18. What is just does not at first seem just, but, as in science many things that seemed untrue are proved to be true, what seems unjust will be proved just when we know all. Further, time is not the only element in service. An act of swift intelligence or of bravery wrought in the space of a single minute has saved an army or a people, and merited higher reward than a lifetime of ordinary service; a Romaic proverb says: τὰ φέρνει ἡ ὥρα ὁ χρόνος δὲν τὰ φέρνει, ‘what an hour brings, a year brings not.’

βαστάσασι. Geldart, Mod. Greek Lang. pp. 191, 192, notices the frequent occurrence of βαστάζειν in N.T. as a modernism. No word has a longer literary history, it occurs in almost every Greek writer, from Homer to the N.T.

τὸ βάρος τῆς ἡμέρας καὶ τὸν καύσωνα. ‘The burden of the day and the hot morning wind.’ καύσωνα, emphatic by its position at the end of the sentence, heightens the effect of the picture, and gives reality to it. The labourers hired in the cool evening hours would escape the long toil, and what is more the scorching sirocco which blows from the desert at sunrise. Cp. ἀνέτειλεν γὰρ ὁ ἥλιος σὺν τῷ καύσωνι, James 1:11. It was from the combined influence of sun and sirocco that Jonah ‘fainted and wished himself to die:’ καὶ ἐγένετο ἅμα τῷ ἀνατεῖλαι τὸν ἥλιον καὶ προσέταξεν ὁ θεὸς πνεύματι καύσωνι συγκαίοντι. Jonah 4:8. See also Psalms 103:16 and Isaiah 40:6, and read Dr Thomson’s account of the two kinds of sirocco (Land and Book, pp. 536, 537). Describing the effect of the sultry sirocco he says: ‘The birds hide in thickest shades; the fowls pant under the walls with open mouth and drooping wings; the flocks and herds take shelter in caves and under great rocks; the labourers retire from the fields, and close the windows and doors of their houses.’

Verse 13

13. ἑταῖρος is used of any temporary connection, without the idea of affectionate friendship. It is used by a master to his slave; by a guest to a fellow-guest; as a general address on meeting. Cp. ch. Matthew 22:12 and Matthew 26:50, where it is a term of reproachful rebuke.

Verse 15

15. ὀφθαλμὸς πονηρός. The belief in the evil eye still prevails in the East. The envious or malevolent glance is thought to have an injurious effect. Here the sense is: Art thou envious because I am just?

Verse 16

16. οἱ πρῶτοι. Not only as primarily in the parable the first called, but the first in position, knowledge and influence.

Verse 17

17. παρέλαβεν κατʼ ἰδίαν. Cp. Plat. Apol. Socr. 26 A, ἰδίᾳ λαβόντα διδάσκειν καὶ νουθετεῖν.

Verses 17-19


See chs. Matthew 16:21, Matthew 17:22-23; and Mark 10:32-34; Luke 18:31-34. St Mark and St Luke add ‘shall spit upon him’ (Mark); ‘shall be spitted on’ (Luke); St Matthew alone names ‘crucifixion;’ St Luke, who mentions only the share which the Gentiles had in the Passion, adds ‘they understood none of these things, and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.’

The disciples, as Jews, still placed their hopes in the present world: ‘what shall we have?’ They still thought Jesus might be using a figure of speech. Jesus was alone in the certainty of His awful secret. He had no sympathy from His followers.

For distinctive points in the several predictions of the Passion see notes ch. Matthew 17:22-23.

Verse 18-19

18, 19. Observe the exactness of the prediction; the Sanhedrin shall condemn but not kill, the Gentiles shall scourge and crucify.

Verse 19

19. εἰς τὸ ἐμπαῖξαι κ.τ.λ. The use of εἰς with the infinitive is equivalent to a final clause. Thus the guilt of the crucifixion is fastened on the Jews. St Mark has (τὰ ἔθνη) ἐμπαίξουσινἐμπτύσουσιν κ.τ.λ., denoting independent action on the part of the Gentiles. St Luke, the Gentile Evangelist, passes over in silence the guilt of the Jewish chief priests and Scribes. That this is not accidental, but part of the evangelistic plan, seems proved by comparing the language of St Peter, Acts 3:13-14 (where the crime is pointedly brought home to Israel) with his speech in the house of Cornelius, Acts 10:39, ὅν καὶ ἀνεῖλαν κρεμάσαντες ἐπὶ ξύλου, where the subject of ἀνεῖλαν is tacitly dropped, and the Gentile mode of execution named.

Verse 20

20. ἡ μήτηρ τῶν υἱῶν Ζεβεδαίου. Her name was Salome, as we learn by comparing Matthew 27:56 with Mark 15:40.

‘Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children.’ Matthew 27:56.

‘Among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome.’ Mark 15:40.

προσκυνοῦσα. The act of prostration before an Eastern King—though the word ‘crucify’ might have suggested a slave’s death. The Kingdom of heaven introduces many such contrasts.

αἰτοῦσα. She dares not speak until her Lord addresses her.

Verses 20-28


Mark 10:35-45. St Mark begins ‘And James and John the sons of Zebedee came unto him, saying, &c.’ For once St Matthew is more graphic and true to detail than St Mark.

Verse 21

21. εἰπὲ ἵνα καθίσωσιν κ.τ.λ. Cp. for the thought ch. Matthew 19:28, for the construction ch. Matthew 1:22.

Verse 22

22. οὐκ οἴδατε. Observe, Jesus addresses the sons, not the mother.

τί αἰτεῖσθε. There is some force in the middle voice ‘ask for yourselves,’ or ‘cause to be asked.’

πιεῖνπίνειν. If the difference between the tenses be pressed, the aor. πιεῖν implies a single draught—a taste of the cup, the present πίνειν a continued drinking of the cup.

τὸ ποτήριον ὅ ἐγὼ μέλλω πίνειν, i.e. the destiny in store for me. Cp. among other passages, Isaiah 51:17, ‘Thou hast drunken the dregs of the cup of trembling, and wrung them out,’ and Psalms 75:8; the prophets use the figure in reference to the vengeance of God and His wrath against sin. When the disciples afterwards recalled the image it would signify to them the mediation of Christ, who by His passion and death drank for man the cup of suffering. Maldonatus suggests the thought of ‘the poison cup,’ the cup of death. For the image, cp. ‘quot bella exhausta canebat.’ Verg. Aen. IV. 14.

Verse 23

23. τὸ μὲν ποτήριόν μου πίεσθε. James was slain by the sword of Herod Agrippa I. (Acts 12:2). John suffered many persecutions, but died a natural death. The rebuke of Jesus is very gentle; his soul knew what suffering was in store for the two brothers.

ἀλλʼ οἷς ἡτοίμασται. The A.V. is right in understanding δοθήσεται ἐκείνοις ‘but it shall be given, &c.,’ thus retaining the proper force of ἀλλά, which never = εἰ μή. In Mark 9:8, οὐκέτι οὐδένα εἶδον ἀλλὰ τὸν Ἰησοῦν μόνον, εἶδον must be repeated in the second clause. See Winer, 566, 728.

Verse 24

24. οἱ δέκα ἠγανάκτησαν. In his ingenuus Evangelistes. Bengel. The indignation of the ‘Ten’ displayed the same spirit and motive as the request of the sons of Zebedee. It seemed as if the jealousies and intrigues of an earthly court were breaking out among the disciples of Jesus.

Verse 25

25. Jesus points out the inversion of earthly ideas in the Kingdom of heaven. This important ‘rule’ of the Master is thrown into the form of Hebrew parallelism. The antithesis is complete. In the Kingdom of heaven the ambition must be to serve not to reign; that Kingdom is in every way the reverse of the kingdoms of the world. In the latter the gradation of rank is [1] the supreme prince (ἄρχων); [2] the nobles (μεγάλοι); [3] the ministers or attendants (διάκονοι); [4] the slaves (δοῦλοι). In the Kingdom of heaven he that will be the noble must be the minister or attendant; he that will be supreme must be the slave. What Jesus teaches is the dignity of service in the Kingdom of heaven.

κατακυριεύουσιν. The word occurs in two other passages of the N.T. besides the parallel passage (Mark 10:42). In one there is probably a reference to our Lord’s words here. St Peter, teaching the same lesson of humility, says (1 Peter 5:3), μήδʼ ὡς κατακυριεύοντες τῶν κλήρων ἀλλὰ τύποι γενόμενοι τοῦ ποιμνίου. In Acts 19:16 it is used in the account of the sons of Sceva, the possessed man, κατακυριεύσας ἀμφοτέρων ἴσχυσεν κατʼ αὐτῶν. Here it is used appropriately of supreme authority, just as κατεξουσίαζειν is appropriate to the delegated authority of the μέγας or subordinate governor. κατεξ. here only and in the parallel passage Mark 10:42. It is a novel compound formed perhaps for the sake of the parallelism.

Verse 28

28. οὐκ ἦλθεν κ.τ.λ. ‘Came not to be ministered unto, but to minister,’ i.e. (as the parallelism shews) came not to be a μέγας, ‘a great one,’ but to be a servant (διάκονος), καὶ δοῦναι τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ λύτρον ἀντὶ πολλῶν, a still further humiliation—to be a slave and render a slave’s supreme service—to die a slave’s death for others. This view, to which the poetical form of the whole paragraph points, brings the passage into close relation with St Paul’s words: μορφὴν δούλου λαβὼνἐταπείνωσεν ἑαυτὸν γενόμενος ὑπήκοος μέχρι θανάτου θανάτου δὲ σταυροῦ (Philippians 2:7-8). The conception of a redemption from the slavery of sin through Christ is enriched by that of a life sacrificed to win life for us.

The bearing of such passages as this on the alleviation of slavery in the ancient world should be considered. Their influence towards the abolition of slavery in modern times might have been still greater if the translators had used the word ‘slave’ rather than ‘servant’ in the E.V.

λύτρον only here and Mark 10:45 in the N.T., a ransom or price paid for the redemption of a captive from slavery. For the thought cp. Romans 3:24; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Peter 1:19. The English word is derived through the French rançon from Lat. redemptionem. The act of redeeming is expressed by ἀπολύτρωσις, as δικαιούμενοι δωρεὰν τῇ αὐτοῦ χάριτι διὰ τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως τῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, Romans 3:24; ἐν ᾧ ἔχομεν τὴν ἀπολύτρωσιν διὰ τοῦ αἵματος αὐτοῦ τὴν ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν, Ephesians 1:7. See also 1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Peter 1:19.

ἀντὶ πολλῶν. Cp. 1 Timothy 2:6, ὁ δοὺς ἑαυτὸν ἀντίλυτρον ὑπὲρ πάντων. The difference between the πολλῶν and the πάντων in these two passages must be explained by the difference between the offer of salvation and the acceptance of it. It is offered to all, accepted by many. The preposition ἀντὶ denotes the vicarious nature of Christ’s death.

Verse 29

29. ὄχλος πολύς. The caravan of Galilæans and others going up to Jerusalem for the Passover. Their numbers would protect them from attack in the dangerous mountain defiles leading to the capital.

Jericho was at this time a flourishing city. It was opulent even in the days of Joshua from the fertility of the surrounding plain, its extensive commerce, and from the metals found in the neighbourhood. Levelled to the ground and laid under a curse by Joshua, it was afterwards rebuilt by Hiel the Bethelite, and regained a portion of its former prosperity. At this period the balsam trade was a principal source of its wealth.

Herod the Great beautified the city with palaces and public buildings, and here he died. After Herod’s death Jericho was sacked and burnt, but restored by his son Archelaus.

‘Jericho was once more a ‘City of Palms’ when our Lord visited it. As the city that had so exceptionally contributed to His own ancestry; as the city which had been the first to fall, amidst so much ceremony, before ‘the captain of the Lord’s host and his servant Joshua,’ we may well suppose that His eyes surveyed it with unwonted interest.’—Smith’s Bib. Dict. Art. ‘Jericho.’

Verses 29-34


Mark 10:46-52. Luke 18:35-43

There are remarkable divergences in the Synoptic accounts of this miracle. Some indeed have supposed that different miracles are related by the Evangelists. St Mark speaks of one man, ‘blind Bartimæus, the son of Timæus.’ St Luke also mentions one only, but describes the incident as taking place ‘when Jesus came nigh unto Jericho,’ whereas St Matthew and St Mark state that the miracle was wrought ‘as they departed from Jericho.’

It is of course possible that St Luke narrates a separate miracle. The only other solution is to suppose an inaccuracy in an unimportant detail.

Verse 30

30. υἱὲ Δαυείδ. An appeal which reflects the thought that especially signalizes this period of our Lord’s ministry, the Son of David entering upon his kingdom.

Verse 34

34. ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῷ. It is probable that very many of those who had received sight and soundness of limb by the word or touch of Jesus followed Him to Jerusalem.

ἠκολούθησαν. Jesus Himself leads the procession. See Luke 19:28.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 20". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.