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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 22

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

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Verse 1


(1) And Jesus answered.—The word implies a connection of some kind with what has gone before. The parable was an answer, if not to spoken words, to the thoughts that were stirring in the minds of those who listened.

Verse 2

(2) Which made a marriage for his son.—The germ of the thought which forms the groundwork of the parable is found, in a passing allusion, in Luke 12:36—“When he shall return from the wedding.” Here, for the first time, it appears in a fully developed form. The parable of Luke 14:15-24 is not specially connected with the idea of a wedding feast. The thought itself rested, in part at least, on the language of the older prophets, who spoke of God as the Bridegroom, and Israel as His bride (Isaiah 62:5), who thought of the idolatries of Israel as the adultery of the faithless wife (Jeremiah 3:1-4) who had abandoned the love of her espousals (Jeremiah 2:2). Here the prominent idea is that of the guests who are invited to the feast. The interpretation of the parable lies, so far, almost on the surface. The king is none other than God, and the wedding is that between Christ and His Church, the redeemed and purified Israel (Revelation 19:7-9). We have to remember the truth, which the form of the parable excludes, that the guests themselves, so far as they obey the call, and are clothed in the wedding garment, are, in their collective unity, the Church which is the bride. (Comp. Ephesians 5:23-27.)

Verse 3

(3) Sent forth his servants.—As in the parable of the Vineyard (Matthew 21:33-46), the servants represent the aggregate work of the prophets up to the time of the Baptist. The refusal of guests invited to what seems to us so great an honour may seem, at first sight, so contrary to human nature as to be wanting in the element of dramatic probability. That refusal, however, would be natural enough, we must remember, in subjects who were in heart rebellious and disloyal; and it is precisely that character which the parable was intended to portray. The summons, it may be noted, came in the first instance to those who had long ago been “bidden” to the wedding. The proclamation of the kingdom was addressed to the Jews, who, as such, had all along been children of the kingdom.

Verse 4

(4) My dinner.—The Greek word points to a morning meal, as contrasted with the “supper,” or evening meal; but, like all such words, (as, e.g., our own dinner), was applied, as time passed on, to meals at very different hours. In Homer it is used of food taken at sunrise; in later authors, of the repast of noon.

My oxen and my fatlings are killed.—The words point, under an imagery which Isaiah had already used (25:6), to the spiritual blessings of peace and joy which Christ came to offer. In the “fatlings” we have nearly the same word as in the “fatted calf” of Luke 15:30.

Verse 5

(5) They made light of it.—The words point to the temper of neglect which slights the offer of the kingdom of God, and prefers the interest of this world. This was one form of neglect. Another ran parallel with it, and passed on into open antagonism.

Verse 6

(6) Entreated them spitefully.—The Greek word implies the wanton infliction of outrage. The parable at this stage looks forward as well as backward, and seems to include the sufferings of Christian preachers and martyrs as well as those of the prophets who were sent to Israel.

Verse 7

(7) He sent forth his armies.—As in other parables that shadow forth the judgment of the Son of Man, the words find an approximate fulfilment, first, in the destruction of Jerusalem, and afterwards, in all times of trouble that fall upon nations and churches as the punishment of unbelief and its consequent unrighteousness. The word “armies” suggests in its modern use, action on a larger scale than that indicated by the Greek. Better, troops.

Verse 9

(9) Into the highways.—Literally, the openings of the ways, the places where two or more roads met, and where, therefore, there was a greater probability of meeting way-farers. In the interpretation of the parable, we may see in this feature of it a prophecy of the calling of the Gentiles, and find an apt illustration of it in St. Paul’s words when he turned from the Jews of the Pisidian Antioch who counted, themselves “unworthy of eternal life” (Acts 13:46) to the Gentiles who were willing to receive it.

Verse 10

(10) Both bad and good.—The words imply, as in the parable of the Drag-net (Matthew 13:47-48), (1) the universality of the offer of the gospel, so that none were shut out through any previous sins; (2) that the assembly of the guests so gathered answers to the visible Church of Christ in which the evil are mingled with the good, waiting for the coming of the King “to see the guests.”

The wedding was furnished.—Some of the most ancient MSS. give “the bride-chamber was furnished;” but it looks like a gloss or explanatory note.

Verse 11

(11) To see the guests.—The verb conveys the idea of inspecting. The king came to see whether all the guests had fulfilled the implied condition of coming in suitable apparel. The framework of the parable probably pre-supposes the Oriental custom of providing garments for the guests who were invited to a royal feast. Wardrobes filled with many thousand garments formed part of the wealth of every Eastern prince (Matthew 6:19; James 5:2), and it was part of his glory, as in the case of the assembly which Jehu held for the worshippers of Baal (2 Kings 10:22), to bring them out for use on state occasions. On this assumption, the act of the man who was found “not having a wedding garment” was one of wilful insult. He came in the “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) of his old life, instead of putting on the “white linen” meet for a kingly feast (Ecclesiastes 9:8; Revelation 3:4-5) which had been freely offered him. Even without this assumption, the parable pre-supposes that the man might easily have got the garment, and that it was, therefore, his own fault that he had it not. What, then, is the “wedding garment?” Answers have been returned to that question from very different dogmatic standpoints. Some have seen in it the outward ordinance of Baptism, some the imputed righteousness of Christ covering the nakedness of our own unrighteousness. These answers, it is believed, are at once too narrow and too technical. The analogy of Scriptural symbolism elsewhere (Revelation 3:4-5; Revelation 3:18; Revelation 19:8; 1 Peter 5:5; Isaiah 1:18; Psalms 109:18), leads us to see in the “garment” of a man the habits of good or evil by which his character is manifested to others. Here, therefore, the “wedding garment” is nothing less than the “holiness” without which “no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14), and that holiness, as in the framework of the parable and in the realities of the spiritual life, Christ is ever ready to impart to him that truly believes. It is obvious that no inference can be drawn from the fact that in the parable one guest only is without the wedding garment, any more than from there being only one “wicked and slothful servant” in the parables of the Talents and the Pounds.

Verse 12

(12) Friend.—(See Note on Matthew 20:13.) The question implies that the act was strange, unlooked-for, inexcusable.

He was speechless.—The verb is the same as the “put to silence” of Matthew 22:34, and points literally to the silence of one who has been gagged.

Verse 13

(13) Take him away.—The words are wanting in many of the best MSS., and may have been inserted to meet the supposed difficulty of the man being simply “thrust out” after he had been bound hand and foot.

Into outer darkness.—The description is reproduced from Matthew 8:12, and, in part also, from Matthew 13:50. (See Notes on those passages.) Here it is emphasized by the contrast between the bridal-chamber, with its lights, and mirth, and music, and the midnight darkness outside the palace, filled with the despairing groans of those who were excluded from the feast.

Verse 14

(14) Many are called.—(See Note on Matthew 20:16.) The “calling” answers, both verbally and in substance, to the “bidding” or invitation of the parable. The “chosen” are those who both accept the invitation and comply with its condition; those who, in the one parable, work in the vineyard, and in the other, array themselves with the wedding garment of holiness. The “choice,” as far as the parable is concerned, appears as dependent upon the answer given to the calling. The further truth of an election “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (1 Peter 1:2) is not here within view, but it follows necessarily on the assumption of that foreknowledge. The “choice,” which in the parable comes as the close of all, must be thought of as having been present to the mind of the All-knowing from all eternity. No one can fix time limits for the thoughts of God, and say that at such a time a purpose came into His mind as it comes into the minds of men. We are compelled in such matters to use anthropomorphic language, but we should remember, as we do so, its necessary limitations.

Verse 15

(15) How they might entangle him.—Literally, ensnare. The phrase is identical in meaning with our colloquial “set a trap.” The plot implies that they did not dare to take measures openly against Him as long as popular feeling was at the same level.

Verse 16

(16) With the Herodians.—The party thus described are known to us only through the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark; and their precise relation to the other sects or schools among the Jews are consequently matters of conjecture. The form of the name (like Mariani, Pompeiani, and, we may add, Christiani) is Latin, and may be noted as an example of the influence of that language in the public life of Palestine. The Herodians were known, first to the Romans and then to the people, as adherents of the house of the Herods. In what sense they were adherents, and why they now joined with the Pharisees, is less clear; and two distinct theories have been maintained: (1) That, as it was the general policy of all the princes of the Herodian family to court the favour of Rome, their partisans were those who held that it was lawful to “give tribute to Cæsar.” On this supposition the narrative brings before us the coalition of two parties usually opposed to each other, but united against a common foe. (2) That they were partisans of the Herods, in the sense of looking to them to restore the independence of the nation, and were therefore of one mind with the Pharisees on the tribute question, though they differed from them on most other points. A fact recorded by Jewish writers probably gives us the origin of the party. In the early days of Herod the Great, when Hillel, the great scribe, was at the height of his fame, he had as his colleague, Menahem, possibly the Essene of that name of whom Josephus tells us that he prophesied Herod’s future greatness (Ant. xv. 10, § 5). The latter was tempted by the king’s growing power, and, with eighty followers, entered into his service, forsook the ranks of the Pharisees, and appeared in forgeous apparel, glittering with gold (Jost, Gesch. judenthums, i. 259; see Note on Matthew 11:8). In Mark 3:6 we find them at Capernaum conspiring with the Pharisees who had come from Jerusalem, and are thus led to see in their present action a renewal of the previous alliance. A comparison of Matthew 16:6 and Mark 8:15 suggests a general affinity with the policy and tenets of the Sadducees. From St. Luke (Luke 23:7) we learn the fact that the Tetrarch himself (and therefore probably his followers) was at this time at Jerusalem, so that the renewed combination was natural enough. On the whole, the drift of the facts seems towards the conclusion that they were advocates of national submission to the emperor rather than assertors of independence.

Master, we know that thou art true.—Insidious as the praise was, intended, as it were, to goad Him who was thus addressed into showing, by some rash utterance, that He deserved it, it may be noted as an admission from the lips of adversaries of the supreme truthfulness and fearlessness of our Lord’s teaching. The record of our Lord’s Jerusalem ministry in St. John’s Gospel (e.g., John 3:5, John 3:7, John 3:8, John 3:9) presents us with many of the occasions to which the Pharisees tacitly referred.

Verse 17

(17) Is it lawful to give tribute . . .?—The question was obviously framed as a dilemma. If answered in the affirmative, the Pharisees would be able to denounce Him to the people as a traitor to His country, courting the favour of their heathen oppressors. If in the negative, the Herodians (on the assumption which seems the more probable) could accuse Him, as He was eventually accused, of “perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Cæsar” (Luke 23:2).

Tribute.—The original gives the Latin “census,” i.e., the poll-tax of a denarius per head, assessed on the whole population, the publicans being bound to transmit the sum so collected to the Roman treasury. As being a direct personal tax it was looked on by the more zealous Jews as carrying with it a greater humiliation than export or import duties, and was consequently resisted (as by Judas of Galilee and his followers) by many who acquiesced more or less readily in the payment of the customs (Acts 5:37).

Verse 18

(18) Ye hypocrites.—The special form of the hypocrisy was that the questioners had come, not avowedly as disputants, but as “just men” (Luke 20:20) perplexed in conscience and seeking guidance as from One whom they really honoured.

Verse 19

(19) Shew me the tribute money.—The parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:2) indicates that the denarius was in common circulation. It was probably part of the fiscal regulation of the Roman government that the poll-tax should be paid in that coin only. In any case, wherever it passed current, it was a witness that the independence of the country had passed away, and that Cæsar was in temporal things its real ruler.

Verse 20

(20) Image and superscription.—Better, inscription. The coin brought would probably be a silver denarius of Tiberius, bearing on the face the head of the emperor, with the inscription running round it containing his name and titles.

Verse 21

(21) Render therefore unto Cæsar.—As far as the immediate question was concerned, this was of course an answer in the affirmative. It recognised the principle that the acceptance of the emperor’s coinage was an admission of his de facto sovereignty. But the words that followed raised the discussion into a higher region, and asserted implicitly that that admission did not interfere with the true spiritual freedom of the people, or with their religious duties. They might still “render to God the things that were His”—i.e. (1), the tithes, tribute, offerings which belonged to the polity and worship that were the appointed witnesses of His sovereignty, and (2) the faith, love, and obedience which were due to Him from every Israelite. The principle which the words involved was obviously wider in its range than the particular occasion to which it was thus applied. In all questions of real or seeming collision between secular authority and spiritual freedom, the former claims obedience as a de facto ordinance of God up to the limit where it encroaches on the rights of conscience, and prevents men from worshipping and serving Him. Loyal obedience in things in different on the part of the subject, a generous tolerance (such as the Roman empire at this time exercised towards the religion of Israel) on the part of the State, were the two correlative elements upon which social order and freedom depended. Questions might arise, as they have arisen in all ages of the Church, as to whether the limit has, or has not, been transgressed in tins or that instance, and for these the principle does not, and in the nature of things could not, provide a direct answer. What it does prescribe is that all such questions should be approached in the temper which seeks to reconcile the two obligations, not in that which exaggerates and perpetuates their antagonism. Least of all does it sanction the identification of the claims of this or that form of ecclesiastical polity with the “things that are God’s.”

Verse 22

(22) They marvelled.—We can picture to ourselves the surprise which the conspirators felt at thus finding themselves baffled where they thought success so certain. The Herodians could not charge the Teacher with forbidding to give tribute to Cæsar. The Pharisees found the duty of giving to God what belonged to Him pressed as strongly as they had ever pressed it. They had to change their tactics, and to fall back upon another plan of attack.

Verses 23-28

(23-28) The Sadducees.—(See Note on Matthew 3:7.) These, we must remember, consisted largely of the upper class of the priesthood (Acts 5:17). The form of their attack implies that they looked on our Lord as teaching the doctrine of the resurrection. They rested their denial on the ground that they found no mention of it in the Law, which they recognised as the only rule of faith. The case which they put, as far as the principle involved was concerned, need not have gone beyond any case of re-marriage without issue, but the questioners pushed it to its extreme, as what seemed to them a reductio ad absurdum. Stress is laid on the childlessness of the woman in all the seven marriages in order to guard against the possible answer that she would be counted in the resurrection as the wife of him to whom she had borne issue.

Verse 29

(29) Ye do err.—This is, it may be noted, the one occasion in the Gospel history in which our Lord comes into direct collision with the Sadducees. On the whole, while distinctly condemning and refuting their characteristic error, the tone in which He speaks is less stern than that in which He addresses the Pharisees. They were less characterised by hypocrisy, and that, as the pessima corruptio optimi, was that which called down His sternest reproof. The causes of their error were, He told them, two-fold: (1) an imperfect knowledge even of the Scriptures which they recognised; (2) imperfect conceptions of the divine attributes, and therefore an à priori limitation of the divine power. They could not conceive of any human fellowship in the life of the resurrection except such as reproduced the relations and conditions of this earthly life.

Verse 30

(30) They neither marry, nor are given in marriage.—In St. Luke’s report (Luke 20:34-35) our Lord emphasises the contrast in this respect between the children of this world and the children of the resurrection. His words teach absolutely the absence from the resurrection life of the definite relations on which marriage rests in this, and they suggest an answer to the yearning questions which rise up in our minds as we ponder on the things behind the veil. Will there, we ask, be no continuance there of the holiest of the ties of earth? Will the husband and the wife, who have loved each other until death parted them, be no more to each other than any others who are counted worthy to obtain that life? Will there be no individual recognition, no continuance of the love founded upon the memories of the past? The answer to all such questionings is found in dwelling on the “power of God.” The old relations may subsist under new conditions. Things that are incompatible here may there be found to co-exist. The saintly wife of two saintly husbands may love both with an angelic, and therefore a pure and unimpaired affection. The contrast between our Lord’s teaching and the sensual paradise of Mahomet, or Swedenborg’s dream of the marriage state perpetuated under its earthly conditions, is so obvious as hardly to call for notice.

Verse 31

(31) That which was spoken unto you by God.—In St. Mark and St. Luke we find the addition “at the bush,” the words probably being a reference to the section of the Law containing Exodus 3:0, and known by that title. There are, it need scarcely be said, many passages scattered here and there through the Old Testament (such, e.g., as Job 19:25-26; Psalms 16:10-11; Daniel 12:2) in which the hope of immortality, and even of a resurrection, is expressed with greater clearness; but our Lord meets the Sadducees on their own ground, and quotes from the Law which they recognised as of supreme authority. The principle implied in the reasoning is, that the union of the divine Name with that of a man, as in “I am the God of Abraham,” involved a relation existing, not in the past only, but when the words were uttered. They meant something more than “I am the God whom Abraham worshipped in the past.” But if the relation was a permanent one, then it followed that those whose names were thus joined with the name of God were living and not dead.

Verse 33

(33) They were astonished at his doctrine.—Better, teaching. The wonder was apparently caused by the way in which the truth of the popular creed had been proved from words which seemed to the careless reader to be altogether remote from it. It was the mode of teaching rather than the doctrine taught that astonished them. The other Gospels (Mark 12:28, Luke 20:39) record the admiration of agreement (“Master, Thou hast well spoken”) as well as astonishment. The better section of the Pharisees rejoiced to hear their opponents refuted with what seemed to them a greater dexterity than that of their ablest scribes.

Verse 34

(34) Had put the Sadducees to silence.—The primary meaning of the Greek verb is to stop a man’s power of speaking with a gag, and even in its wider use it retains the sense of putting men to a coerced and unwilling silence. (Comp. 1 Peter 2:15.)

Verse 35

(35) A lawyer.—The precise distinction between the “lawyer” and the other scribes rested, probably, on technicalities that have left little or no trace behind them. The word suggests the thought of a section of the scribes who confined their attention to the Law, while the others included in their studies the writings of the Prophets also. In Luke 7:30; Luke 11:45, they appear as distinct from the Pharisees. The question asked by the “lawyer” here and in Luke 10:25 falls in with this view. So it would seem, in Titus 3:13, that Zenas the “lawyer” was sent for to settle the strivings about the Law that prevailed in Crete.

Tempting him.—There does not appear to have been in this instance any hostile purpose in the mind of the questioner; nor does the word necessarily imply it. (Comp. John 6:6; 2 Corinthians 13:5, where it is used in the sense of “trying,” “examining.”) It would seem, indeed, as if our Lord’s refutation of the Sadducees had drawn out a certain measure of sympathy and reverence from those whose minds were not hardened in hypocrisy. They came now to test His teaching on other points. What answer would He give to the much-debated question of the schools, as to which was the great commandment of the Law? Would He fix on circumcision, or the Sabbath, or tithes, or sacrifice, as that which held the place of pre-eminence? The fact that they thus, as it were, examined Him as if they were His judges, showed an utterly imperfect recognition of His claims as a Prophet and as the Christ; but the “lawyer” who appeared as their representative was, at least, honest in his purpose, and “not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34).

Verse 36

(36) Which is the great commandment . . .?—Literally, of what kind. The questioner asked as if it belonged to a class. Our Lord’s answer is definite, “This is the first and great commandment.”

Verse 37

(37) Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.—In St. Mark’s report (Mark 12:29) our Lord’s answer begins with the Creed of Israel (“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord”), and so the truth is in its right position as the foundation of the duty. It is significant (1) that the answer comes from the same chapter (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) which supplied our Lord with two out of His three answers to the Tempter (see Notes on Matthew 4:4; Matthew 4:7); and (2) that He does but repeat the answer that had been given before by the “certain lawyer” who stood up tempting Him, in Luke 10:25. In their ethical teaching the Pharisees had grasped the truth intellectually, though they did not realise it in their lives, and our Lord did not shrink, therefore, so far, from identifying His teaching with theirs. Truth was truth, even though it was held by the Pharisees and coupled with hypocrisy.

Verse 39

(39) Thou shalt love thy neighbour.—The words were found, strangely enough, in the book which is, for the most part, pre-eminently ceremonial (Leviticus 19:18), and it is to the credit of the Pharisees, as ethical teachers, that they, too, had drawn the law, as our Lord now drew it, from its comparative obscurity, and gave it a place of dignity second only to that of the first and great commandment.

Verse 40

(40) All the law and the prophets.—The words are coupled, as in Matthew 5:17; Matthew 7:12, to indicate the whole of the revelation of the divine will in the Old Testament. The two great commandments lay at the root of all. The rest did but expand and apply them; or, as in the ceremonial, set them forth symbolically; or, as in the law of slavery and divorce, confined their application within limits, which the hardness of men’s hearts made necessary. For the glowing assent of the scribe to our Lord’s teaching, and our Lord’s approval of him, see Notes on Mark 12:32-34.

Verse 41

(41) While the Pharisees were gathered together.—St. Mark and St. Luke add here, as St. Matthew does in Matthew 22:46, that “no man dared ask Him any more questions.” They have recourse from this time forth to measures of another kind, and fall back upon treachery and false witness. It was now His turn to appear as the questioner, and to convict the Pharisees of resting on the mere surface even of the predictions which they quoted most frequently and most confidently as Messianic.

Verse 42

(42) The son of David.—Both question and answer gain a fresh significance from the fact that the name had been so recently uttered in the Hosannas of the multitude (Matthew 21:9; Matthew 21:15). The Pharisees are ready at once with the traditional answer; but they have never asked themselves whether it conveyed the whole truth, whether it could be reconciled, and if so, how, with the language of predictions that were confessedly Messianic.

Verse 43

(43) Doth David in spirit call him Lord?—The words assume (1) that David was the writer of Psalms 110:0; (2) that in writing it, he was guided by a Spirit higher than his own; (3) that the subject of it was no earthly king of the house of David, but the far off Christ. On this point there was an undisturbed consensus among the schools of Judaism, as represented by the Targums and the Talmud. It was a received tradition that the Christ should sit on the right hand of Jehovah and Abraham on His left. Its application to the Christ is emphatically recognised by St. Peter (Acts 2:34), and by St. Paul, though indirectly (Colossians 3:1). In the argument of the Epistle to the Hebrews, it occupies well-nigh the chief place of all (Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 5:6). The only hypothesis on which any other meaning can be assigned to it is, that it was written, not by David, but of him. Here it will be enough to accept our Lord’s interpretation, and to track the sequence of thought in His question. The words represent the LORD (Jehovah) as speaking to David’s Lord (Adonai), as the true king, the anointed of Jehovah. But if so, what was the meaning of that lofty title? Must not He who bore it be something more than the son of David by mere natural descent? If the scribes had never even asked themselves that question, were they not self-convicted of incompetency as religious teachers?

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Matthew 22". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/matthew-22.html. 1905.
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