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The assertion in the last verse of 1 Corinthians 8:0 of his willingness to sacrifice for ever his own right to eat meat, about which he had himself no conscientious scruple, out of a tender regard to the spiritual welfare of others, seems to have reminded the Apostle that another act of self-sacrifice on his part had not only been unappreciated, but made the grounds of an unworthy attempt on the part of some (probably the Jewish Christians) to depreciate and even call in question his apostolic dignity and authority. At Corinth (Acts 18:3), and elsewhere (Acts 20:34, and 1 Thessalonians 3:7; 1 Thessalonians 3:9), the Apostle, instead of depending upon the Church for support, had laboured as a tent-maker. Cilicium, a kind of cloth used for tent-coverings, took its name from Cilicia, where the goats out of whose hair it was made were found in abundance; and the manufacture of it was naturally the handicraft which a native of Tarsus in Cilicia would, according to general custom, have learnt in his boyhood. The followers of St. Peter, with maliciously ingenious logic, argued from this practice of St. Paul’s that his dignity and authority were thereby proved to be somewhat inferior to that of St. Peter and the Lord’s brethren, who were supported by the Christian Church. It is to this subject the Apostle now turns, and the chapter (9) is occupied with his reply to their insinuations. If we remember that so long an epistle could not have been written at a single sitting, but probably occupied many days in its composition, such change in subject and style as we have an example of in the last verse of 1 Corinthians 8:0 and the first verse of this chapter, will not seem so abrupt and startling as at first sight they may appear. This chapter deals with its subject in a style eminently characteristic of the Apostle. While in the earlier part the style is argumentative, with here and there flashes of sarcasm or of passionate appeal, towards the end it is full of earnest and loving pathos. The subject of the entire chapter is “The vindication of his personal conduct as an Apostle,” and this is arranged in the following order:—
1 Corinthians 9:1-18. THE ASSERTION OF HIS RIGHTS AS AN APOSTLE, AND HIS VOLUNTARY ABNEGATION OF THEM.
1 Corinthians 9:1-3. The assertion of his apostolic dignity.
1 Corinthians 9:4-14. The assertion of his right to be supported by the Church, and that he did not avail himself of it.
This right is maintained from the following considerations:—
1 Corinthians 9:4-6. The fact that others and their wives are so supported.
1 Corinthians 9:7. An appeal to the facts of ordinary life, illustrated by the cases of a soldier, a vine-keeper, and a shepherd.
1 Corinthians 9:8-10. A reference to the principles of Jewish law.
1 Corinthians 9:11-12. The treatment of other Christian teachers.
1 Corinthians 9:13. The support of the Jewish priesthood.
1 Corinthians 9:14. The command of Christ Himself.
1 Corinthians 9:15-18. The cause and motive of the Apostle’s voluntary abnegation of this right.
1 Corinthians 9:19-27. IN OTHER MATTERS AS WELL AS IN THIS, THE APOSTLE WAS INFLUENCED BY A REGARD FOR OTHERS.
1 Corinthians 9:19-22. The various forms which this self-sacrifice assumed for their sakes.
1 Corinthians 9:22-27. The bearing of it on himself personally.
(1) Am I not an apostle?—Better, Am I not free? am I not an Apostle? such being the order of the words in the better MSS. Thus the thought grows more naturally out of the previous chapter than it seems to do in the English version. He had mentioned his solemn resolve to give up a freedom to which he had a right in regard to eating meat. He had on another occasion, in regard to his right of maintenance by the Church, also voluntarily sacrificed his freedom, and the Jewish party had in consequence denied the existence of the rights, and questioned his apostolic dignity. He asks, with abrupt emphasis, “Was it because I am not free to demand such support? My freedom in this case is as real as in that other case when you questioned it, and to which I shall now refer. Was it because I am not an Apostle?”
Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?—To have seen Christ was a necessary qualification for the Apostolate (Acts 1:21). From the manner in which the Apostle here asks the question, and does not answer it, it would seem that although some small minority might, for some party purpose, have at some time questioned it, yet that the fact was generally admitted and universally known that St. Paul did actually see the Lord at the time of his conversion (Acts 9:4), and on other occasions (Acts 18:9; Acts 22:17).
Are not ye my work in the Lord?—This is a further proof of his Apostleship, and therefore of his right or freedom to have demanded support from the Church. (See 1 Corinthians 4:15.)
(2) If I be not an apostle unto others.—The allusion here is probably to some who may have arrived at Corinth subsequent to St. Paul’s departure, and who, not recognising his Apostleship in relation to themselves, stirred up some of the Corinthians to repudiate it also. So the Apostle says, “Even if I am not an Apostle to these others, I am, at all events, to you; for you are yourselves the very proof and witness—the seal affixed to my appointment to the Apostolate.” The repetition of the words “in the Lord” in both these verses expresses the strong conviction, which is characteristic of the Apostle, that the source of all power and of all success is Christ Himself.
(3) Mine answer. . . .—The verse refers to what has gone before, and not to what follows. That (emphatic) is my answer to those who examine me as to the truth of my Apostleship. Both the words “answer” and “examine” are in the Greek the technical terms for a legal defence and examination before a tribunal.
(4) Have we not power . . .?—This follows 1 Corinthians 6:0 after the parenthetical argument contained in 1 Corinthians 9:2-3. Having established his right to be called an Apostle by the fact that he had seen the Lord, and had been instrumental in their conversion, he now in the same interrogative style asserts his rights as an Apostle. The use of the plural “we” carries on the thought that he is claiming this right as being one of the Apostles—all of whom have, as Apostles, such a right. The form in which the question is asked implies, Surely we have this right. This verse, taken in connection with 1 Corinthians 8:9, where the same word in the Greek, “liberty,” occurs in connection with eating, shows how this line of thought has grown out of the preceding subject. The question there, however, was that of eating meat offered to idols; the question here is the right to eat and drink (i.e., live) at the expense of the Church (Luke 10:7).
(5) To lead about a sister, a wife—i.e., to take with us on our journeys a Christian woman as a wife. Roman divines have interpreted this as referring to “the custom of Christian matrons attending as sisters upon the Apostles.” But as the Apostle illustrates his meaning by a reference to Peter, who we know had a wife, such an interpretation is inadmissible. St. Paul, in this verse, carries his statement of apostolic right to support one step further. Not only had he a right to be supported himself, but the support of the married Apostles and their wives by the Church implied the same right on the part of all. A practice which grew out of a misapprehension of the real meaning of this passage, led to grave scandal, and was finally condemned by the first Council of Nicæa (A.D. 325).
The brethren of the Lord, and Cephas.—These are mentioned specially, not as distinct from the Apostles (for Cephas, of course, was one), but as examples which would have great weight with the particular Jewish faction to whom this argument was adduced. James was Bishop of Jerusalem (Acts 15:13; Acts 21:18). The other brethren of our Lord were Joses, Simon, and Judas (Matthew 13:55). They were not of the twelve Apostles, even after their conversion being mentioned as distinct from the Twelve (Acts 1:14), although James subsequently occupied an apostolic position (Galatians 2:9). Various and ingenious suggestions have been made as to who these “brethren of the Lord” were; amongst others, that they were cousins, or that they were children of Joseph by a former marriage. These views grew out of a desire to establish the perpetual virginity of Mary. The natural conclusion from a study of the mention of their names in the Gospels, without preconceived prejudice, would be that Joseph and Mary lived together after the miraculous birth of Christ, and that these were their children. This, too, is supported by the use of the word “first-born” in reference to our Lord (Matthew 1:25; Luke 2:7), and the word “till” (Matthew 1:25), and “before they came together” (Matthew 1:18), and the repeated mention of them as brethren in connection with His mother Mary. (See Note on Matthew 12:46.)
(6) Or I only and Barnabas.—“Or” here does not introduce a question which implies a new right in addition to the rights already claimed, but it completes the argument. Granting the existence of the rights established by the previous questions, the Apostle now says—still preserving the interrogative form—“These things being so, the only way you can possibly do away with this right is by making exceptions of myself and Barnabas.” The form in which the question is put shows the impossibility of any such arbitrary exception being made. They as well as the others had the right to abstain from working for their living. Barnabas’ early association with St. Paul (Acts 11:30; Acts 12:25; Acts 15:38) probably led him to adopt the Apostle’s practice of supporting himself, and not being dependent on his fellow-Christians. The word “only” implies that all the other Apostles and brethren of the Lord exercised their right of maintenance by the Church.
(7) Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges?—Three illustrations from human life and business show that the principle which has been adopted in the Christian Church is not exceptional. A soldier receives his pay; the planter of a vineyard eats the fruit of it; and the owner of a flock is supported by selling the milk. The best MSS. omit the word “of” before “fruit.” It probably crept into later texts from the occurrence of that word with the “milk”; but a vineyard owner actually eats his fruit, whereas not only would it be strange to speak of “eating” milk, but the owner of flocks would really be sustained chiefly by the sale of the milk and the purchase of food with the money so obtained. He would eat “of” the milk. It is worth noticing that St. Paul never (with the one exception of Acts 20:28-29) takes up the image supplied by the Lord Himself of Christ being the Shepherd, and the Church His flock. Even here, where the occurrence of the word “flock” must have suggested it, it is not alluded to. On the other hand, St. Peter’s favourite image is that of “the flock.” The command, “Feed My flock,” would have made it touchingly familiar to him. St. Paul’s imagery from nature and country life are on the practical rather than the poetic side; whereas his images from military, political, and social life have the vivid reality which we should expect from one whose life was spent chiefly in towns. It has been observed that St. Paul’s vindication falls naturally into three divisions. (1) The argument from induction, 1 Corinthians 9:1-6; (2) that from analogy, 1 Corinthians 9:7; (3) that from authority, 1 Corinthians 9:8.
(8) Say I these thing as a man?—He proceeds to show that his appeal is not to a human principle, but to the recognition by men of a principle which is itself divine. The divinely given Law also says these things.
(9) The ox that treadeth out the corn.—Better, the ox while treading out the corn. In this verse the question of the previous one is answered. The Law does say the same: “For it is written in the Law of Moses,” etc. The pointed and emphatic mention of the Law of Moses would give the words great weight with Jewish opponents. On a space of hard ground called a threshing-floor the oxen were driven to and fro over the corn collected there, and thus the separation of the grain from the husk was accomplished.
Doth God take care for oxen?—We must not take these and the following words as a denial of the divine regard for the brute creation, which runs through the Mosaic law and is exemplified in Jonah 4:11, but as an expression of the Apostle’s belief as to the ultimate and highest object of God’s love. The good which such a provision as the Law achieved for the oxen was nothing compared to the good which it accomplished for man. God did not do this simply as a provision for the ox, but to teach us men humanity—to teach us that it is a divine principle that the labourer should have his reward.
(10) That he that ploweth should plow in hope.—There is considerable variation in the MSS. here. The best rendering of the text is, that the plougher is bound to plough in hope, and the thresher (to thresh) in the hope of having his share. It has been much discussed whether this passage is to be taken literally as referring to actual ploughing and threshing, or whether we are to give them a spiritual significance. I think it is, perhaps, best to take them literally, as expressing the sanction given by God in the legal provision previously mentioned to the divine principle which unites earthly labour and reward; and the argument, of course, is that this principle applies à fortiori to the higher work of a spiritual nature; and this application is brought out clearly in the next verse.
(11) If we have sown unto you spiritual things.—The two sentences in this verse contain a striking double antithesis, the “we” and “you” being emphatic, and “spiritual” being opposed to “carnal.” The spiritual things are, of course, the things of the Spirit of God, by which their spiritual natures are sustained; the carnal things those which the teachers might expect in return, the ordinary support of their physical nature. The force of the climax will be better realised if we notice that the previous argument proved the right of a labourer to receive a remuneration the same in kind as was the quality of his labour. A plougher or a sower would have his reward in a harvest of the same kind as he had sown. That being the principle recognised in civilised life, and sanctioned by the object which the Law of God had in view, the Apostle adds, with a slight touch of sarcasm—Such being an ordinary thing in life, is it a great thing for us to have a reward as inferior to our work as carnal things are to spiritual things?
(12) If others be partakers. . . .—You do recognise this principle in regard to other teachers, and they actually partake of this right to be supported by you; we, your first teachers, have a stronger right. St. Paul had been literally their “planter” (1 Corinthians 3:6).
But suffer all things—i.e., We endure all kinds of hard work and privation rather than use a power which I have demonstrated we possess, and which others actually avail themselves of, lest our doing so might, in a way, hinder the progress of Christ’s gospel by giving enemies any even apparent reason for attributing our zeal to unworthy motives.
(13) Do ye not know.—The Apostle now turns to appeal to an argument which would have weight with them as Christians. The rights of the ministry to be supported by the Church have already been established by an appeal to ordinary life and to the Jewish law; and the statement has been made that the Apostle having that right, did not, for wise reasons, use it. There is one higher step in the argument. It was not only a principle of Jewish law which Christ might have abrogated, but it was a provision of the Jewish economy which Christ Himself formally perpetuated.
They which minister. . . .—Better, They which minister about the holy things eat from the temple, and they which serve at the altar have their share with the altar. The first part of this passage refers to the general principle that the priests who were engaged in the Temple services were supported from the various offerings which were brought there, and the second clause more definitely alludes to the particular fact that when a sacrifice was offered on the altar, the sacrificing priests, as well as the altar, had a share of the animal. (See Leviticus 6:16; Leviticus 6:26; Leviticus 7:6; Numbers 5:0; Numbers 18:0; Deuteronomy 10:18) A suggestion that the allusion might be to the custom of the heathen priests is wholly inadmissible, for such would have no force for Christians, and would entirely destroy the sequence of the next verse.
(14) Even so.—These words explain why the Apostle again referred to Jewish law, after having in 1 Corinthians 9:9 already made use of an appeal to the Law as an argument. It is now again referred to only to introduce the crowning argument that Christ Himself perpetuated this law in its application to the Christian ministry. (See Matthew 10:10; Luke 10:7.)
They which preach the gospel.—The preaching of the gospel is in the Christian ministry the function which corresponds to the offering of sacrifice in the Jewish priesthood. Bengel well remarks, “If the Mass were a sacrifice, Paul would undoubtedly have accommodated to it the apodosis here.”
(15) But I.—Again, after the assertion of the right, we have the statement that though he had vindicated the right by the highest and unquestionable authority of Christ Himself, the Apostle had not seen fit to avail himself of it.
Neither have I written these things.—Better, neither am I writing. The Apostle in these words carefully guards against the possibility of their taking these arguments used here as an indication of any intention on his part to give up now the independent position which he had hitherto assumed.
It were better for me to die.—The meaning of these words is evidently that the Apostle would rather die than make void his right to boast or glory in his unremunerated work in the Church—which would be the case if he now or ever condescended to receive, as others did, any support from them. There is, however, a great variety of readings as to the actual mode of expression of this thought. One suggestion is that the words may read thus:—“It were better for me to die than (receive reward from you); no man shall make my ground of boasting void.” Another is; “It were better for me to die, rather than any one should make my ground of boasting void.” There is great weight in favour of both of these readings. The following have also been suggested as possible readings of the passage:—“It were better for me to die than that my ground of boasting should die; no one shall make it void;” and “It were better for me to die than that my ground of boasting ——; no man shall make it void.” In this last case the Apostle pauses in the middle of his impassioned declaration, and leaves the sentence unfinished, as he flings aside the thought that his ground of boasting could be removed, and exclaims earnestly and emphatically, “No man shall make it void.” Perhaps, on the whole, especially having regard to the character of the writer, this last rendering is most likely to be the true one. In any case, the general drift and meaning of the passage is the same. The Apostle would rather die than lose his ground of boasting, and he boldly asserts his determination to let no one deprive him of it.
(16) For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of.—Better, For though I preach the gospel, I have no ground of boasting. St. Paul proceeds now to show how his maintenance by the Church would deprive him of his right to boast or glory in his work. The mere preaching of the gospel supplies no ground of boasting; it is a necessity; God’s woe would await him in the judgment-if he did not so. A man can have no ground of boasting in doing that which he must do.
(17) For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward.—The previous words, “Yea, woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel,” are a parenthesis; and now the writer proves the truth of his assertion—that the necessity of preaching the gospel deprives the mere act itself of any grounds of boasting—by showing that if there were no necessity there would be a ground of boasting. The argument is this:—Suppose it to be otherwise, and that there is no such necessity, then, by voluntarily undertaking it, I have a reward. The undertaking it of my own free will would entitle me to a reward. But if (as is the case) not of my free will, but of necessity, then I am merely a steward—a slave doing his duty (1 Corinthians 4:1; Luke 17:7-10).
A dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me.—Better, I am entrusted with a stewardship.
(18) What is my reward then?—It seems better to omit the note of interrogation, and read the whole verse thus:—What reward then is to be mine, so that (i.e., which induces me) in preaching the gospel I make the gospel without charge (to my hearers), so that I use not my power in the gospel? The “power” being the right to support maintained in 1 Corinthians 9:6; 1 Corinthians 9:12.
(19) For.—The question is here answered. His reward was to gain the greater number of converts—Jews (1 Corinthians 9:20), Gentiles (1 Corinthians 9:21), weak ones (1 Corinthians 9:22). The only reward he sought for or looked for in adopting that course of conduct, for pursuing which they taunted him with selfishness, was, after all, their good.
The word “For,” introducing the answer, would seem to imply that the reward must be a greater one. “For” though an Apostle, I became a slave of all that I might gain the greater number. The words “greater number” probably include the two ideas, viz., a greater number than he could have gained had he used his rights as an Apostle, and also a greater number of converts than was gained by any other Apostle.
(20) And unto the Jews I became as a Jew.—This and the following verses are a categorical explanation of the previous statements. They show in detail both how he became the slave of all and the reward he had in view in doing so.
For example, of St. Paul’s conformity to Jewish law, see Acts 16:3; Acts 18:18; Acts 20:6; Acts 21:26.
To them that are under the law. . . .—Better, To them that are under the Law, as under the Law, not being myself under the Law. These last words are found in all the best MSS., but have been omitted by an oversight of the copyist in the text from which our own translation is made. Those spoken of as “Jews” are, of course, Jews by birth and religion; those “under the Law” are probably proselytes to Judaism. In neither case do they mean Christian converts, for the object of St. Paul’s conduct towards those of whom he here speaks was to win them to the Faith of Christ. He himself was no longer “under the Law” being a Christian (Galatians 2:19).
(21) To them that are without law—i.e., the heathen. St. Paul adapted himself to their habits and mode of thought when necessary. He quoted from their literature (Acts 17:28); he based an argument on the inscriptions on their altars (Acts 17:23); and he did not require them to adopt Jewish ceremonies (Galatians 2:9; Galatians 2:11). The parenthesis explains in what sense only St. Paul was “without” the Law, so as to prevent the possibility of this statement being used as a justification of lawlessness. As being one with Christ, he was indeed under the law of God as revealed in the person, work, and teaching of the Lord. (See Galatians 6:2.)
(22) To the weak.—We can scarcely take this (as some do) to refer to weak Christians, of whom he has spoken in 1 Corinthians 8:0. The whole passage treats of the attitude which the Apostle assumed towards various classes outside the Christian Church, that he might gain them as converts. The words “I became,” which have introduced the various classes in 1 Corinthians 9:20, are here again repeated, and this passage seems to be an explanation and reiteration of what had gone before. “It was to the weak points (not to the strong points) of Jews, proselytes, and Gentiles that I assimilated myself. To the weak ones among all these classes I became weak, that I might gain those weak ones.”
I am made all things to all. . . .—Better, I am become all things to all men that I should save at least some. Although he had thus accommodated himself, so far as was possible, consistently with Christian duty, to the weaknesses of all, he could only hope to win some of them. The natural climax would have been—“I become all things to all men that I might win all.” But the Apostle’s humility could not let him dare to hope for so great a reward as that. All the self-sacrifice he could make was necessary to gain “at all events some,” and that would be his ample reward. The word “save” means “win over to Christianity,” as in 1 Corinthians 7:16, and is used here instead of the previous word “gain,” being repeated to prevent any possible perversion of the Apostle’s meaning as to “gaining men.” His subject was not, as enemies might suggest, to win them to himself—but to Christ.
(23) And this I do . . .—Better, And all things I do for the gospel’s sake: such being the reading of the best MSS. Here a new thought is introduced. From them for whom he labours, the Apostle turns for a moment to himself. After all, the highest reward even an Apostle can have is to be a sharer in that common salvation which has been brought to light by the gospel. With argument and illustration, St. Paul had vigorously and unflinchingly maintained the dignity and rights of his office. The pathetic words with which he now concludes show that in defending the dignity of his Apostolate he had not been forgetful of that personal humility which every Christian minister feels more and more deeply in proportion as he realises the greatness of his office.
(24) Know ye not . . .—The illustration which follows refers to these Isthmian games (so called from their taking place in the isthmus where Corinth stood) with which his readers would be familiar. These, like the other games of Greece—the Olympian, Pythian, and Nemean—included every form of athletic exercise, and stood on an entirely different footing from anything of the kind in modern times. For the Greek, these contests were great national and religious festivals. None but freemen could enter the lists, and they only after they had satisfied the appointed officers that they had for ten months undergone the necessary preliminary training. For thirty days previous to the contest the candidates had to attend the exercises at the gymnasium, and only after the fulfilment of these conditions were they allowed, when the time arrived, to contend in the sight of assembled Greece. Proclamation was made of the name and country of each competitor by a herald. The victor was crowned with a garland of pine leaves or ivy. The family of the conqueror was honoured by his victory, and when he returned to his native town he would enter it through a breach in the walls, the object of this being to symbolise that for a town which was honoured with such a citizen no walls of defence were needful (Plutarch). Pindar, or some other great poet, would immortalise the victorious hero’s name in his verse, and in all future festivals the foremost seats would be occupied by the heroes of former contests.
So run—i.e., run in the way referred to, so that you may gain a prize.
(25) Every man that striveth for the mastery.—Better, Every one that enters into the contest. The Greek word (agonizomenos) is identical with the English “agonise.” Hence the use in devotional works of the phrase “to agonise in prayer,” etc.
Is temperate in all things.—He fulfils not only some, but all of the necessary preliminary conditions. He indulges self in no way.
They do it to obtain a corruptible crown.—There are two striking points of contrast between the earthly race and the spiritual course. There is but one obtains a reward in the earthly contest; none need fail of it in the heavenly race. That reward in the one case is perishable; in the other it is imperishable. If, then—such is St. Paul’s argument—men show such extraordinary devotion and self-sacrifice for a reward which is merely perishable, and which each has only a chance of gaining, what should not be the devotion and self-sacrifice of those for all of whom an imperishable reward is certain!
(26) I therefore so run.—The Apostle appeals to his own conduct as an illustration of the lesson which he is teaching, and by means of it reminds the reader that the whole of this chapter has been a vindication of his own self-denial, and that he has a clear and definite object in view.
So fight I.—The illustration is changed from running to boxing, both being included in the word used in 1 Corinthians 9:25, “contending.” He has an adversary to contend against, and he strikes him, and does not wildly and impotently strike at him, and so only beat the air.
(27) But I keep under my body.—Better, but I bruise my body. The word is very strong, and implies to beat the flesh until it becomes black and blue. The only other place the word occurs is in Luke 18:5. The body is spoken of as his adversary, or the seat of those lusts and appetites which “war against the mind” (Romans 7:23; Galatians 5:17).
Bring it into subjection.—Better, and make it a slave. The idea is carried on that the body is not only conquered, but led captive. We must remember that the language all throughout this passage is figurative, and the statement here refers, not to the infliction of actual pain on the body, but to the subduing of the appetites and passions which are located in it. The true position of our natural appetites is that they should be entirely our servants, and not our masters; that we “should not follow or be led by them,” but that they should follow and be led by us.
Lest that by any means.—Better, lest having been a herald to others, I myself should be rejected. The image is carried on, and the Apostle says that he has a further motive to live a life of self-denial—viz., that he having acted as a herald, proclaiming the conditions of the contest and the requisite preliminaries for it, should not be found to have himself fulfilled them. It is the same image kept up still of this race, and of the herald who announced the name of the victor, and the fact that he had fulfilled the necessary conditions. It was not the custom for the herald to join in the contest, but the Apostle was himself both a runner in the Christian course, and a herald of the conditions of that race to others. Hence, naturally, he speaks of the two characters, which in the actual illustration would be distinct, as united in one when applied spiritually to himself. The word “cast away” conveys a wrong impression. The Greek word signifies one who had not behaved according to the prescribed regulations.
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29