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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 12

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This chapter delineates the growing alienation between Jesus and the Pharisees and scribes. The note of time ( ἐν ἐκείνῷ τῷ καιρῷ , Matthew 12:1 ) points back to the situation in which the prayer Matthew 11:25-30 was uttered ( vide Matthew 12:25 , where the same expression is used). All the incidents recorded reveal the captious mood of Israel’s “saints and sages”. They have now formed a thoroughly bad opinion of Jesus and His company. They regard Him as immoral in life (Matthew 11:19 ); irreligious, capable even of blasphemy (assuming the divine prerogative of forgiving sin, Matthew 9:3 ); an ally of Satan even in His beneficence (Matthew 12:24 ). He can do nothing right. The smallest, most innocent action is an offence.

Verses 1-2

Matthew 12:1-2 . σάββασιν : dative plural, as if from σάββατ - ος , other cases (genitive, singular and plural, dative, singular, accusative, plural) are formed from σάββατον ( vide Matthew 12:2 ). διὰ τῶν σπορίμων might mean through fields adapted for growing grain, but the context requires fields actually sown; fields of corn. ἐπείνασαν : for the form vide Matthew 4:2 . This word supplies the motive for the action, which Mark leaves vague. ἤρξαντο : perhaps emphasis should be laid on this word. No sooner had they begun to pluck ears than fault was found. Pharisees on the outlook for offences. So Carr, Camb. G. T.

Verses 1-8

Matthew 12:1-8 . Plucking ears of corn on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-28 ; Luke 6:1-5 ). Sabbath observance was one of the leading causes of conflict between Jesus and the guardians of religion and morality. This is the first of several encounters reported by the evangelist. According to Weiss he follows Mark, but with sayings taken directly from the Apostolic Source.

Verse 2

Matthew 12:2 . ὃ οὐκ ἔξεστιν π . ε . σαββάτῳ . The emphasis here lies on the last word. To help oneself, when hungry, with the hand was humanely allowed in the Deuteronomic law (Deuteronomy 23:25 ), only to use the sickle was forbidden as involving waste. But according to the scribes what was lawful on other days was unlawful on Sabbath, because plucking ears was reaping . “Metens Sabbato vel tantillum, reus est” (Lightfoot rendering a passage from the Talmud). Luke adds ψώχοντες , rubbing with the hands. He took the offence to be threshing . Microscopic offence in either case, proving primâ facie malice in the fault-finders. But honest objection is not inconceivable to one who remembers the interdict placed by old Scottish piety on the use of the razor on Sabbath. We must be just even to Pharisees.

Verses 3-8

Matthew 12:3-8 . Christ’s defence . It is twofold. (1) He shields disciples by examples: David and the priests; to both the faultfinders would defer (Matthew 12:3-5 ); (2) He indicates the principles involved in the examples (Matthew 12:6-8 ). The case of David was apposite because ( a ) it was a case of eating, ( b ) it probably happened on Sabbath, ( c ) it concerned not only David but, as in the present instance, followers ; therefore οἱ μετʼ αὐτοῦ , Matthew 12:3 , carefully added. ( b ) does not form an element in the defence, but it helps to account for the reference to David’s conduct. In that view Jesus must have regarded the act of David as a Sabbatic incident, and that it was may not unnaturally be inferred from 1 Samuel 21:6 . Vide Lightfoot, ad loc. This was probably also the current opinion. The same remark applies to the attendants of David. From the history one might gather that David was really alone, and only pretended to have companions. But if, as is probable, it was usually assumed that he was accompanied, Jesus would be justified in proceeding on that assumption, whatever the fact was ( vide Schanz, ad loc ).

Verse 4

Matthew 12:4 . εἰσῆλθεν , ἔφαγον , he entered, they ate. Mark has ἔφαγεν . Weiss explains the harsh change of subject by combination of apostolic source with Mark. The two verbs point to two offences against the law: entering a holy place , eating holy bread . The sin of the disciples was against a holy time . But the principle involved was the same = ceremonial rules may be overruled by higher considerations. ὃ οὐκ ἐξὸν ἦν . οὓς in Mark and Luke agreeing with ἄρτους , and here also in T. R., but ὃ doubtless the true reading; again presenting a problem in comparative exegesis ( vide Weiss-Meyer). ὃ ought to mean “which thing it was not lawful to do,” but it may be rendered “which kind of bread ,” etc. εἰ μὴ , except; absolutely unlawful, except in case of priests.

Verse 5

Matthew 12:5 . his reference to the priests naturally leads on to the second instance taken from their systematic breach of the technical Sabbath law in the discharge of sacerdotal duty. ἢ οὐκ ἀνέγνωτε , have ye not read? not of course the statement following, but directions on which such a construction could be put, as in Numbers 28:9 , concerning the burnt offering of two lambs. They had read often enough, but had not understood. As Euthy. Zig. remarks, Jesus reproaches them for their vain labour, as not understanding what they read ( μὴ ἐπιγινώσκουσιν ἃ ἀναγινώσκουσι ). βεβηλοῦσι , profane, on the Pharisaic view of the Sabbath law, as an absolute prohibition of work. Perhaps the Pharisees themselves used this word as a technical term, applicable even to permissible Sabbath labour. So Schanz after Schöttgen.

Verse 6

Matthew 12:6 . λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν : solemn affirmation, with a certain tone in the voice. τοῦ ἱεροῦ μεῖζον . Though they might not have thought of the matter before, the claim of the temple to overrule the Sabbath law would be admitted by the Pharisees. Therefore, Jesus could base on it an argument a fortiori . The Sabbath must give way to the temple and its higher interests, therefore to something higher still. What was that something? Christ Himself, according to the almost unanimous opinion of interpreters, ancient and modern; whence doubtless the μείζων of T. R. But Jesus might be thinking rather of the kingdom than of the king; a greater interest is involved here, that of the kingdom of God. Fritzsche takes μεῖζον as = teaching men, and curing them of vice then going on. It may be asked: How did the interest come in? The disciples were following Jesus, but what was He about? What created the urgency? Whence came it that the disciples needed to pluck ears of standing corn? We do not know. That is one of the many lacunæ in the evangelic history. But it may be assumed that there was something urgent going on in connection with Christ’s ministry, whereby He and His companions were overtaken with extreme hunger, so that they were fain to eat unprepared food ( ἀκατέργαστον σῖτον , Euthy. Zig. on Matthew 12:7 ).

Verses 6-8

Matthew 12:6-8 . The principles involved . The facts stated raise questions as to the reasons. The Pharisees were men of rules, not accustomed to go back on principles. The passion for minutiæ killed reflection. The reasons have been already hinted in the statement of the cases: ὅτε ἐπείνασεν , Matthew 12:3 ; ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ , Matthew 12:5 : hunger , the temple ; human needs, higher claims. These are referred to in inverse order in Matthew 12:6-7 .

Verse 7

Matthew 12:7 . he principle of human need stated in terms of a favourite prophetic oracle (Matthew 9:13 ). εἰ δὲ ἐγνώκειτε … οὐκ ἂν κατεδικάσατε : the form of expression, a past indicative in protasis, with a past indicative with ἂν in apodosis, implies that the supposition is contrary to fact (Burton, N. T. Moods and Tenses, § 248). The Pharisees did not know what the oracle meant; hence on a previous occasion Jesus bade them go and learn (Matthew 9:13 ). If their pedantry blinded them to distinctions of higher and lower in institutions, or rather made them reckon the least the greatest command, minutiæ testing obedience, it still more deadened their hearts to the claims of mercy and humanity. Of course this idolatry went on from bad to worse. For the Jews of a later, templeless time, the law was greater than the temple (Holtz., in H.C., quoting Weber). ἀναιτίους : doubly guiltless: as David was through imperious hunger, as the priests were when subordinating Sabbath, to temple, requirements.

Verse 8

Matthew 12:8 . his weighty logion is best understood when taken along with that in Mark 2:27 = the Sabbath for man, not man for the Sabbath. The question is: Does it merely state a fact, or does it also contain the rationale of the fact? That depends on the sense we give to the title Son of Man . As a technical name = Messiah, it simply asserts the authority of Him who bears it to determine how the Sabbath is to be observed in the Kingdom of God. As a name of humility, making no obtrusive exceptional claims, like Son of David or Messiah, it suggests a reason for the lordship in sympathy with the ethical principle embodied in the prophetic oracle. The title does not indeed mean mankind, or any man, homo quivis , as Grotius and Kuinoel think. It points to Jesus, but to Him not as an exceptional man (“der einzigartige,” Weiss), but as the representative man, maintaining solidarity with humanity, standing for the human interest, as the Pharisees stood for the supposed divine , the real divine interest being identical with the human. The radical antithesis between Jesus and the Pharisees lay in their respective ideas of God . It is interesting to find a glimpse of the true sense of this logion in Chrysostom: περὶ ἑαυτοῦ λέγων . Ὁ δὲ Μάρκος καὶ περὶ τῆς κοινῆς φύσεως αὐτὸν τοῦτο εἰρηκέναι φησίν . Hom. xxxix. κύριος , not to the effect of abrogation but of interpretation and restoration to true use. The weekly rest is a beneficent institution, God’s holiday to weary men, and the Kingdom of Heaven, whose royal law is love, has no interest in its abolition.

Verse 9

Matthew 12:9 . καὶ μεταβὰς … αὐτῶν . The αὐτῶν seems to imply that our evangelist takes the order as one of close temporal sequence (Mark says simply “into a synagogue,” Matthew 3:1 ). In that case the αὐτῶν would refer to the fault-finding Pharisees of the previous narrative, piqued by Christ’s defence and bent on further mischief ( vide Weiss-Meyer). The narrative comes in happily here as illustrating the scope of the principle of humanity laid down in connection with the previous incident.

Verses 9-14

Matthew 12:9-14 . A Sabbath cure (Mark 3:1-6 ; Luke 6:6-11 ): not necessarily happening immediately after. Matthew and Luke follow Mark’s order, which is topical, not historical; another instance of collision as to Sabbath observance.

Verse 10

Matthew 12:10 . καὶ ἰδοὺ , here, as in Matthew 8:2 , Matthew 9:2 , introducing in a lively manner the story. ξηράν , a dry hand, possibly a familiar expression in Hebrew pathology (De Wette); useless, therefore a serious enough affliction for a working man (a mason, according to Hebrew Gospel, Jerome ad loc. ), especially if it was the right hand, as Luke states. But the cure was not urgent for a day, could stand over; therefore a good test case as between rival conceptions of Sabbath law. ἐπηρώτησαν . The Pharisees asked a question suggested by the case, as if eager to provoke Jesus and put Him to the proof. Mark says they observed Him, waiting for Him to take the initiative. The former alternative suits the hypothesis of immediate temporal sequence. εἰ ἔξεστιν , etc. After λέγοντες we expect, according to classic usage, a direct question without εἰ . The εἰ is in its place in Mark (Mark 12:2 ), and the influence of his text may be suspected (Weiss) as explaining the incorrectness in Matthew. But εἰ in direct questions is not unusual in N. T. (Matthew 19:3 ; Luke 13:23 ; Luke 22:49 ), vide Winer, § 57, 2, and Meyer ad loc. In Mark’s account Christ, not the Pharisees, puts the question.

Verses 11-12

Matthew 12:11-12 . Christ’s reply , by two home-thrusting questions and an irresistible conclusion. τίς … ἄνθρωπος . One is tempted here, as in Matthew 7:9 , to put emphasis on ἄνθρωπος : who of you not dead to the feelings of a man? Such questions as this and that in Luke 15:4 go to the root of the matter. Humanity was what was lacking in the Pharisaic character. πρόβατον ἕν : one sheep answering to the one working hand, whence perhaps Luke’s ἡ δεξιὰ (Matthew 6:6 ). ἐὰν ἐμπέσῃ . The case supposed might quite well happen; hence in the protasis ἐὰν with subjunctive, and in the apodosis the future (Burton, N. T. Moods and Tenses, § 250). A solitary sheep might fall into a ditch on a Sabbath; and that is what its owner would do if he were an ordinary average human being, viz. , lift it out at once. What would the Pharisee do? It is easy to see what he would be tempted to do if the one sheep were his own. But would he have allowed such action as a general rule? One would infer so from the fact that Jesus argued on such questions ex concesso . In that case the theory and practice of contemporary Pharisees must have been milder than in the Talmudic period, when the rule was: if there be no danger, leave the animal in the ditch till the morrow ( vide Buxtorf, Syn. Jud., c. xvi.). Grotius suggests that later Jewish law was made stricter out of hatred to Christians.

Verse 12

Matthew 12:12 . πόσῳ οὖν διαφέρει , etc. This is another of those simple yet far-reaching utterances by which Christ suggested rather than formulated His doctrine of the infinite worth of man. By how much does a human being differ from a sheep? That is the question which Christian civilisation has not even yet adequately answered. This illustration from common life is not in Mark and Luke. Luke has something similar in the Sabbath cure, reported in Matthew 14:1-6 . Some critics think that Matthew combines the two incidents, drawing from his two sources, Mark and the Logia. ὥστε , therefore, and so introducing here rather an independent sentence than a dependent clause expressive of result. καλῶς ποιεῖν : in effect, to do good = εὖ ποιεῖν , i.e. , in the present case to heal, θεραπεύειν , though in Acts 10:33 , 1 Corinthians 7:37 , the phrase seems to mean to do the morally right, in which sense Meyer and Weiss take it here also. Elsner, and after him Fritzsche, take it as = præclare agere , pointing to the ensuing miracle. By this brief prophetic utterance, Jesus sweeps away legal pedantries and casuistries, and goes straight to the heart of the matter. Beneficent action never unseasonable, of the essence of the Kingdom of God; therefore as permissible and incumbent on Sabbath as on other days. Spoken out of the depths of His religious consciousness, and a direct corollary from His benignant conception of God ( vide Holtz., H. C., p. 91).

Verse 13

Matthew 12:13 . τότε λέγει . He heals by a word: sine contactu sola voce, quod ne speciem quidem violati Sabbati habere poterat (Grotius). Ἔκτεινόν σου τ . χ . Brief authoritative word, possessing both physical and moral power, conveying life to the withered member, and inspiring awe in spectators. καὶ ἐξέτ . καὶ ἀπεκατ . The double καὶ signifies the quick result (“celeritatem miraculi,” Elsner). Grotius takes the second verb as a participle rendering: he stretched out his restored hand, assuming that not till restored could the hand be stretched out. The healing and the outstretching may be conceived of as contemporaneous. ὑγιὴς ὡς ἡ ἄλλη : the evangelist adds this to ἀπεκατ . to indicate the completeness. We should have expected this addition rather from Luke, who ever aims at making prominent the greatness of the miracle, as well as its benevolence.

Verses 13-14

Matthew 12:13-14 . The issue: the hand cured, and Pharisaic ill-will deepened .

Verse 14

Matthew 12:14 . ἐξελθόντες : overawed for the moment, the Pharisaic witnesses of the miracle soon recovered themselves, and went out of the synagogue with hostile intent. συμβούλιον ἔλαβον , consulted together = συμβουλεύεσθαι . κατʼ αὐτοῦ , against Him. Hitherto they had been content with finding fault; now it is come to plotting against His life a tribute to His power. ὅπως , etc.: this clause indicates generally the object of their plotting, viz. , that it concerned the life of the obnoxious one. They consulted not how to compass the end, but simply agreed together that it was an end to be steadily kept in view. The murderous will has come to birth, the way will follow in due course. Such is the evil fruit of Sabbath controversies.

Verses 15-21

Matthew 12:15-21 . Jesus retires; prophetic portraiture of His character . Matthew 12:15-16 are abridged from Mark 3:7-12 , which contains an account of an extensive healing ministry. The sequel of the Sabbatic encounter is very vague. The one fact outstanding and noteworthy is the withdrawal of Jesus, conscious of having given deep offence, but anxious to avoid tragic consequences for the present. It is to that fact mainly that the evangelist attaches his fair picture of Jesus, in prophetic language. It is happily brought in here, where it gains by the contrast between the real Jesus and Jesus as conceived by the Pharisees, a miscreant deserving to die. It is not necessary to suppose that the historical basis of the picture is to be found exclusively in Matthew 12:15-16 , all the more that the statement they contain is but a meagre reproduction of Mark 3:7-12 , omitting some valuable material, e.g. , the demoniac cry: “Thou art the Son of God”. The historic features answering to the prophetic outline in the evangelist’s mind may be taken from the whole story of Christ’s public life as hitherto told, from the baptism onwards. Luke gives his picture of Jesus at the beginning (Matthew 4:16-25 ) as a frontispiece, Matthew places his at the end of a considerable section of the story, at a critical turning point in the history, and he means the reader to look back over the whole for verification. Thus for the evangelist Matthew 12:18 may point back to the baptism (Matthew 3:13-17 ), when the voice from heaven called Jesus God’s beloved Son; Matthew 12:19 to the teaching on the hill (Matthew 12:5-7 ), when the voice of Jesus was heard not in the street but on the mountain top, remote from the crowd below; Matthew 12:20 to the healing ministry among the sick, physically bruised reeds, poor suffering creatures in whom the flame of life burnt low; Matthew 12:21 to such significant incidents as that of the centurion of Capernaum (Matthew 8:5-13 ). Broad interpretation here seems best. Some features, e.g. , the reference to judgment, Matthew 12:20 , second clause, are not to be pressed.

The quotation is a very free reproduction from the Hebrew, with occasional side glances at the Sept [73] It has been suggested that the evangelist drew neither from the Hebrew nor from the Sept [74] , but from a Chaldee Targum in use in his time (Lutteroth). It is certainly curious that he should have omitted Isaiah 42:4 , “He shall not fail nor be discouraged,” etc., a most important additional feature in the picture = Messiah shall not only not break the bruised reed, but He shall not be Himself a bruised reed, but shall bravely stand for truth and right till they at length triumph. Admirable historic materials to illustrate that prophetic trait are ready to our hand in Christ’s encounters with the Pharisees (Matthew 9:1-17 , Matthew 12:1-13 ). Either Matthew has followed a Targum, or been misled by the similarity of Isaiah 42:3-4 , or he means Matthew 12:20 to bear a double reference, and read: He shall neither break nor be a bruised reed, nor allow to be quenched either in others or in Himself the feeble flame: a strong, brave, buoyant, ever-victorious hero, helper of the weak, Him self a stranger to weakness. ᾑρέτισα (Matthew 12:18 ), an Ionic form in use in Hellenistic Greek, here only in N. T., often in Sept [75] = αἱρέομαι . Hesychius under ᾑρετισάμην gives as equivalents ἠγάπησα , ἐπιθύμησα , ἠθέλησα , ἠράσθην . κραυγά . σει (Matthew 12:19 ), late form for κράζω . Phrynichus, p. 337, condemns, as illiterate, use of κραυγασμός instead of κεκραγμός . On the words οὐδὲ κρ . Pricaeus remarks: “Sentio clamorem intelligi qui nota est animi commoti et effervescentis”. He cites examples from Seneca, Plutarch, Xenophon, etc. ἀκούσει is late for ἀκούσεται . Verbs expressing organic acts or states have middle forms in the future ( vide Rutherford, New Phrynichus , pp. 138, 376 412). ἕως , Matthew 12:20 , followed by subjunctive, with ἄν , as in classics, in a clause introduced by ἕως referring to a future contingency. τῷ ὀνόματι , Matthew 12:21 , dative after ἐλπιοῦσιν ; in Sept [76] , Isaiah 42:4 , with ἐπί . This construction here only in N. T.

[73] Septuagint.

[74] Septuagint.

[75] Septuagint.

[76] Septuagint.

Verses 22-23

Matthew 12:22-23 . τυφλὸς καὶ κωφός , blind as well as dumb. The demoniac in Matthew 9:32 dumb only. But dumbness here also is the main feature; hence in last clause κωφὸν only, and λαλεῖν before βλέπειν . ὥστε with infinitive, expressing here not merely tendency but result.

Verses 22-37

Matthew 12:22-37 . Demoniac healed and Pharisaic calumny repelled (Mark 3:22-30 ; Luke 11:14-23 cf. Matthew 9:32-34 ). The healing of a blind and dumb demoniac has its place here not for its own sake, as a miracle, but simply as the introduction to another conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees. It is a story of wicked calumny repelled. The transition from the fair picture of the true Jesus to this hideous Pharisaic caricature is highly dramatic in its effect.

Verse 23

Matthew 12:23 . ἐξίσταντο : not implying anything exceptionally remarkable in the cure; a standing phrase (in Mark at least) for the impression made on the people. They never got to be familiar with Christ’s wonderful works, so as to take them as matters of course. μήτι implies a negative answer: they can hardly believe what the fact seems to suggest = can this possibly be, etc.? Not much capacity for faith in the average Israelite, yet honest-hearted compared with the Pharisee. ὁ υἱὸς Δαβιδ : the popular title for the Messiah.

Verse 24

Matthew 12:24 . Οἱ δὲ φαρισαῖοι . They of course have a very different opinion. In Mark these were men come down from Jerusalem, to watch, not to lay hold of Jesus, Galilee not being under the direct jurisdiction of the Sanhedrim then ( vide on Mark). Οὗτος οὐκ ἐκβάλλει , etc.: theory enunciated for second time, unless Matthew 9:34 be an anticipation by the evangelist, or a spurious reading. What diversity of opinion! Christ’s friends, according to Mark, thought Him “beside himself” mad, Messiah, in league with Beelzebub! Herod had yet another theory: the marvellous healer was John redivivus , and endowed with the powers of the other world. All this implies that the healing ministry was a great fact. οὐκ … εἰ μὴ : the negative way of putting it stronger than the positive. The Pharisees had to add εἰ μὴ . They would gladly have said: “He does not cast out devils at all”. But the fact was undeniable; therefore they had to invent a theory to neutralise its significance. ἄρχοντι , without article, might mean, as prince , therefore able to communicate such power. So Meyer, Weiss, et al. But the article may be omitted after Βεελζεβοὺλ as after βασιλεύς , or on account of the following genitive. So Schanz. Whether the Pharisees believed this theory may be doubted. It was enough that it was plausible. To reason with such men is vain. Yet Jesus did reason for the benefit of disciples.

Verse 25

Matthew 12:25 . εἰδὼς τὰς ἐνθυμήσεις . Jesus not only heard their words , but knew their thoughts, the malicious feelings which prompted their words, and strove so to present the case as to convict them of bad faith and dishonesty. πᾶσα βασιλεία , etc.: statement of an axiom widely exemplified in human affairs: division fatal to stability in kingdoms and cities. σταθήσεται : 1st future passive with an intransitive sense, vide Winer, § 38, 1.

Verses 25-30

Matthew 12:25-30 . The theory shown to be absurd .

Verse 26

Matthew 12:26 applies the axiom to Satan, εἰ , introduces a simple particular supposition without reference to its truth. ἐμερείσθη : the aorist has the force of a perfect. Satan casting out Satan means self-stultification; ipso facto , self-division results. Against the argument it might be objected: Kingdoms and cities do become divided against themselves, regardless of fatal consequences, why not also Satan? Why should not that happen to Satan’s kingdom which has happened even to the Christian Church? Jesus seems to have credited Satan with more astuteness than is possessed by states, cities, and churches. Satan may be wicked, He says in effect, but he is not a fool. Then it has to be considered that communities commit follies which individuals avoid. Men war against each other to their common undoing, who would be wiser in their own affairs. One Satan might cast out another, but no Satan will cast out himself. And that is the case put by Jesus. Some, e.g. , De Wette and Fritzsche, take ὁ Σατανᾶς τ . Σ . ἐκβάλλει as = one Satan casting out another. But that is not Christ’s meaning. He so puts the case as to make the absurdity evident. Ex hypothesi He had a right to put it so; for the theory was that Satan directly empowered and enabled Him to deliver men from his (Satan’s) power.

Matthew 12:27 . To the previous convincing argument Jesus adds an argumentum ad hominem , based on the exorcism then practised among the Jews, with which it would appear the Pharisees found no fault. οἱ υἱοὶ ὑμῶν , not of course Christ’s disciples (so most of the Fathers), for the Pharisaic prejudice against Him would extend to them, but men belonging to the same school or religious type, like-minded. By referring to their performances Jesus put the Pharisees in a dilemma. Either they must condemn both forms of dispossession or explain why they made a difference. What they would have said we do not know, but it is not difficult to suggest reasons. The Jewish exorcists operated in conventional fashion by use of herbs and magical formulæ, and the results were probably insignificant. The practice was sanctioned by custom, and harmless. But in casting out devils, as in all other things, Jesus was original, and His method was too effectual . His power, manifest to all, was His offence. κριταί . Jesus now makes the fellow-religionists of the Pharisees their judges. On a future occasion He will make John the Baptist their judge (Matthew 21:23-27 ). Such home-thrusts were very inconvenient.

Verse 28

Matthew 12:28 . The alternative : if not by Satan then by the Spirit of God, with an inevitable inference as to the worker and His work. ἐν πνεύματι θεοῦ . Luke has ἐν δακτύλῳ θ . The former seems more in keeping with the connection of thought as defending the ethical character of Christ’s work assailed by the Pharisees. If, indeed, the spirit of God were regarded from the charismatic point of view, as the source of miraculous gifts, the two expressions would be synonymous. But there is reason to believe that by the time our Gospel was written the Pauline conception of the Holy Spirit’s influence as chiefly ethical and immanent , as distinct from that of the primitive apostolic church, in which it was charismatic and transcendent, had gained currency ( vide my St. Paul’s Conception of Christianity , chap. xiii.). A trace of the new Pauline view may be found in Matthew 10:20 : “It is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking in you”. The influence is within , and the product is not unintelligible utterance, like that of the speaker with tongues (1 Corinthians 12:14 ), but wise, sincere apology for the faith. But why then did Luke not adopt this Pauline phrase? Because one of his main aims was to bring out the miraculousness of Christ’s healing works; that they were done by the very finger of God (Exodus 8:19 ). ἔφθασεν . Fritzsche takes this word strictly as signifying not merely: the kingdom of God has come nigh you ( ἤγγικεν , Luke 10:9 ), but: has come nigh sooner than you expected. The more general sense, however, seems most suitable, as it is the usual sense in the N. T. The point at issue was: do the events in question mean Satan’s kingdom come or God’s kingdom come? It must be one or other; make up your minds which.

Verse 29

Matthew 12:29 . o help them to decide Jesus throws out yet another parabolic line of thought. ἢ : if all that I have said does not convince you consider this. The parable seems based on Isaiah 49:24-25 , and like all Christ’s parabolic utterances appeals to common sense. The theme is, spoiling the spoiler, and the argument that the enterprise implies hostile purpose and success in it superior power . The application is: the demoniac is a captive of Satan; in seeking to cure him I show myself Satan’s enemy ; in actually curing him I show myself Satan’s master . τοῦ ἰσχυροῦ : the article is either generic, or individualising after the manner of parabolic speech. Proverbs and parables assume acquaintance with their characters. σκεύη , household furniture (Genesis 31:37 ); ἁρπάσαι , seize (Judges 21:21 ). διαρπάσει , make a clean sweep of all that is in the house, the owner, bound hand and foot, being utterly helpless. The use of this compound verb points to the thoroughness of the cures wrought on demoniacs, as in the case of the demoniac of Gadara: quiet, clothed, sane (Mark 5:15 ).

Verse 30

Matthew 12:30 . ne begins at this point to have the feeling that here, as elsewhere, our evangelist groups sayings of kindred character instead of exactly reproducing Christ’s words as spoken to the Pharisees. The connection is obscure, and the interpretations therefore conflicting. On first view one would say that the adage seems more appropriate in reference to lukewarm disciples or undecided hearers than to the Pharisees, who made no pretence of being on Christ’s side. Some accordingly ( e.g. , Bleek, after Elwert and Ullmann) have so understood it. Others, including Grotius, Wetstein, De Wette, take the ἐγώ of the adage to be Satan, and render: he who, like myself, is not with Satan is against him. Kypke, Observ. Sac. , says: “Prima persona posita est a servatore pro quacunque alia, proverbialiter, hoc sensu: qui socius cujusdam bella cum alio gerentis non est, is pro adversario censeri solet. Cum igitur ego me re ipsa adversarium Satanae esse ostenderim, nulla specie socius ejus potero vocari .” This certainly brings the saying into line with the previous train of thought, but if Jesus had meant to say that He surely would have expressed Himself differently. The Fathers (Hilary, Jerome, Chrys.) took the ἐγώ to be Jesus and the ὁ μὴ ὢν to be Satan. So understood, the adage contains a fourth concluding argument against the notion of a league between Jesus and Satan. Most modern interpreters refer the ὁ μ . ω . to the Pharisees. Schanz, however, understands the saying as referring to the undecided among the people. The only serious objection to this view is that it makes the saying irrelevant to the situation. σκορπίζει : late for the earlier σκεδάννυμι , vide Lob., Phryn., p. 218. As to the metaphor of gathering and scattering, its natural basis is not apparent. But in all cases, when one man scatters what another gathers their aims and interests are utterly diverse. Satan is the arch-waster, Christ the collector, Saviour.

Verse 31

Matthew 12:31 . διὰ τοῦτο connects not merely with preceding verse, but with the whole foregoing argument. Mark more impressively introduces the blasphemy logion with a solemn ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν . πᾶσα ἁμαρτία , etc. A broad preliminary declaration of the pardonableness of human sin of all sorts, and especially of sins of the tongue, worthy and characteristic of Jesus, and making what follows more impressive. ἡ δὲ τ . Π . βλας . οὐκ ἀφεθήσεται : pointed, emphatic exception. Evidently the Spirit here is taken ethically. He represents the moral ideal, the absolutely good and holy. Blasphemy against the Spirit so conceived, unpardonable that is our Lord’s deliberate judgment. βλασφημία , injurious speech (from βλάπτω and φήμη ), in such a case will mean speaking of the holy One as if He were unholy, or, in the abstract, calling good evil, not by misunderstanding but through antipathy to the good.

Verses 31-32

Matthew 12:31-32 . Jesus changes His tone from argument to solemn warning .

Verse 32

Matthew 12:32 . o serious a statement needs to be carefully guarded against misapprehension; therefore Jesus adds an explanatory declaration. λόγον κατὰ τ . υ . τ . ἀνθρώπου . Jesus distinguishes between a word against the Son of Man and a word against the Holy Ghost. The reference in the former is to Himself, presumably, though Mark at the corresponding place has “the sons of men,” and no special mention of a particular son of man. Christ gives the Pharisees to understand that the gravamen of their offence is not that they have spoken evil of Him. Jesus had no exceptional sensitiveness as to personal offences. Nor did He mean to suggest that offences of the kind against Him were more serious or less easily pardonable than such offences against other men, say, the prophets or the Baptist. Many interpreters, indeed, think otherwise, and represent blasphemy against the Son of Man as the higher limit of the forgiveable. A grave mistake, I humbly think. Jesus was as liable to honest misunderstanding as other good men, in some respects more liable than any, because of the exceptional originality of His character and conduct. All new things are liable to be misunderstood and decried, and the best for a while to be treated as the worst. Jesus knew this, and allowed for it. Men might therefore honestly misunderstand Him, and be in no danger of the sin against the Holy Ghost ( e.g. , Saul of Tarsus). On the other hand, men might dishonestly calumniate any ordinary good man, and be very near the unpardonable sin. It is not the man that makes the difference, but the source of the blasphemy. If the source be ignorance, misconception, ill-informed prejudice, blasphemy against the Son of Man will be equally pardonable with other sins. If the source be malice, rooted dislike of the good, selfish preference of wrong, because of the advantage it brings, to the right which the good seek to establish, then the sin is not against the man but against the cause, and the Divine Spirit who inspires him, and though the agent be but a humble, imperfect man, the sinner is perilously near the unpardonable point. Jesus wished the Pharisees to understand that, in His judgment, that was their position. οὔτε , οὔτε analyse the negation of pardon, conceived as affecting both worlds, into its parts for sake of emphasis ( vide on Matthew 5:34-36 ). Dogmatic inferences, based on the double negation, to possible pardon after death, are precarious. Lightfoot (Hor. Heb.) explains the double negation by reference to the Jewish legal doctrine that, in contrast to other sins, profaning the name of God could be expiated only by death, unpardonable in this life. Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, says Jesus, in conscious antithesis, pardonable neither here nor there: “neque ante mortem, neque per mortem”.

Verse 33

Matthew 12:33 . ποιήσατε = εἴπατε (Euthy. Zig.), judge, pronounce; call both tree and fruit good, or evil; they must both be of one kind, in fact and in thought ( vide Kypke, ad loc. ). The reference of the adage has been much discussed: to the Pharisees or to Christ? Kypke replies: to Christ if you connect with what goes before, to the Pharisees if with what follows. As an adage the saying admits of either application. The Fathers favoured the reference to Christ, whom Meyer follows.

Verses 33-37

Matthew 12:33-37 . Kindred Logia . With the word concerning blasphemy the self-defence of Jesus against Pharisaic calumny reached its culmination and probably (as in Mark’s report) its close. The sentences following seem to be accretions rather than an organic part of the discourse. They substantially reproduce sayings found in Sermon on Mount (Matthew 7:16-20 ), there directed against false prophets, here against false religionists.

Verse 34

Matthew 12:34 . Γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν , vide Matthew 3:7 . John and Jesus agree in thinking the Pharisees a viper-brood. Both conceive them as morally hopeless. The Baptist wonders that they should come to a baptism of repentance. Jesus thinks them far on the way to final impenitence. But the point He makes here is that, being what they are, they cannot but speak evil. The poison of their nature must come out in their words.

Verse 35

Matthew 12:35 . ὁ ἀγαθὸς ἀ .: good in the sense of benignant, gracious, kindly, the extreme moral opposite of the malignant viper-nature. θησαυροῦ : in Matthew 12:34 the heart is conceived as a fountain, of which speech is the overflow, here as a treasure whose stores of thought and feeling the mouth freely distributes. ἐκβάλλει suggests speech characterised by energy, passion. There was no lack of emphasis in Pharisaic comments on Jesus. They hissed out their malevolent words at Him, being not heartless but bad-hearted. But cf. texts referred to on margin.

Matthew 12:36 . πᾶν ρ . ἀργὸν : speech being the outcome of the heart, no word is insignificant, not even that which is ἀργόν , ineffectual ( α . ἔργον ), insipid, “idle”. It is an index of thoughtlessness if not of malice. This verse contains an important warning, whether spoken at this time or not.

Verse 37

Matthew 12:37 . ἐκ γὰρ τ . λόγων σου . Judgment by words here taught; in Matthew 25:31-46 judgment by the presence or absence of kind deeds. No contradiction, for words are viewed as the index of a good or bad heart: bad positively, like that of the Pharisees, who spoke wickedly; bad negatively, like that of the thoughtless, who speak senselessly. On the teaching of this passage cf. James 3:0 .

Verse 38

Matthew 12:38 . σημεῖον : what kind of a sign? They thought the cure of demoniacs a sign from hell . Elsewhere we read of their asking a sign from heaven (Matthew 16:1 ). From what quarter was the sign now asked to come from? Perhaps those who made the demand had no idea; neither knew nor cared. Their question really meant: these signs won’t do; if you want us to believe in you you must do something else than cast out devils. The apparent respect and earnestness of the request are feigned: “teacher, we desire from you (emphatic position) to see a sign”. It reminds one of the mock homage of the soldiers at the Passion (Matthew 27:27-31 ).

Verses 38-45

Matthew 12:38-45 . A sign asked and refused, with relative discourse (Luke 11:16 ; Luke 11:29-36 ). Both Matt.’s and Luke’s reports convey the impression that the demand for a sign, and the enunciation of the Satanic theory as to Christ’s cures of demoniacs, were synchronous. If they were, the demand was impudent, hypocritical, insulting. Think of the men who could so speak of Christ’s healing ministry wanting a sign that would satisfy them as to His Messianic claims!

Verse 39

Matthew 12:39 . γενεὰ as in Matthew 11:16 , a moral class, “quae in omni malitia et improbitate vivit,” Suicer, s. v. γενεά . μοιχαλὶς , unfaithful to God as a wife to a husband, apt description of men professing godliness but ungodly in heart. ἐπιζητεῖ , hankers after, as in Matthew 6:32 ; characteristic; men that have no light within crave external evidence, which given would be of no service to them. Therefore: οὐ δοθήσεται : it will not be given either by Jesus or by any one else. He declines, knowing it to be vain. No sign will convince them; why give one? εἰ μὴ , etc.: except the sign of Jonah the prophet, which was no sign in their sense. What is referred to? But for what follows we should have said: the preaching of repentance by Jonah to the Ninevites. So Luke 11:30 seems to take it. Jonah preached repentance to the men of Nineveh as the only way of escape from judgment. Jesus points to that historic instance and says: Beware! Jonah was not the only prophetic preacher of repentance; but, as Nineveh is held up as a reproach to the persons addressed, to single him out was fitting.

Verse 40

Matthew 12:40 gives an entirely different turn to the reference. he verse cannot be challenged on critical grounds. If it is an interpolation, it must have become an accepted part of the text before the date of our earliest copies. If it be genuine, then Jesus points to His resurrection as the appropriate sign for an unbelieving generation, saying in effect: you will continue to disbelieve in spite of all I can say or do, and at last you will put me to death. But I will rise again, a sign for your confusion if not for your conversion. For opposite views on this interpretation of the sign of Jonah, vide Meyer ad loc. and Holtzmann in H.C.

Verse 41

Matthew 12:41 . pplication of the reference in Matthew 12:39 . The men of Nineveh are cited in condemnation of the Jewish contemporaries of Jesus. Cf. similar use of historic parallels in Matthew 11:20-24 . πλεῖον Ἰωνᾶ , more than Jonah, cf. Matthew 12:6 ; refers either to Jesus personally as compared with Jonah, or to His ministry as compared with Jonah’s. In the latter case the meaning is: there is far more in what is now going on around you to shut you up to repentance than in anything Jonah said to the men of Nineveh (so Grotius).

Verse 42

Matthew 12:42 . βασίλισσα νότου is next pressed into the service of putting unbelievers to shame. The form βασίλισσα was condemned by Phryn., but Elsner cites instances from Demosthenes and other good writers. J. Alberti also (Observ. Philol.) cites an instance from Athenæus, lib. xiii. 595: βασίλισσʼ ἔσει Βαβυλῶνος . The reference is to the story in 1 Kings 10:0 and 2 Chronicles 9:0 concerning the Queen of Sheba visiting Solomon. ἐκ τῶν περάτων τῆς γῆς . Elsner quotes in illustration the exhortation of Isocrates not to grudge to go a long way to hear those who profess to teach anything useful. πλεῖον Σ ., again a claim of superiority for the present over the great persons and things of the past. On the apparent egotism of these comparisons, vide my Apologetics , p. 367; and remember that Jesus claimed superiority not merely for Himself and His work, but even for the least in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 11:11 ).

Verse 43

Matthew 12:43 . διʼ ἀνύδρων τόπων : the haunts of demons, as popularly conceived, were places uninhabited by men, deserts and graveyards. The demon in Tob 8:3 flies to the uppermost parts of Egypt; and in Bar 4:35 a land desolated by fire is to become tenanted by demons. διέρχεται ζητοῦν : the spirit keeps moving on in quest of a resting place; like a human being he feels ill at ease in the monotonous waste of sand. οὐκ εὑρίσκει : in Luke εὑρίσκον . The change from participle to finite verb is expressive. The failure to find a resting place was an important fact, as on it depended the resolve to return to the former abode.

Verses 43-45

Matthew 12:43-45 . A comparison. Cf. Luke 11:24-26 . Formerly Jesus had likened the evil race of Pharisaic religionists to children playing in the market-place (Matthew 9:16-19 ). Now He uses expelled demons to depict their spiritual condition. The similitude moves in the region of popular opinion, and gives a glimpse into the superstitions of the time. We gather from it, first, that the effects of the arts of exorcists were temporary; and, second, the popular theory to explain the facts: the demon returned because he could not find a comfortable home anywhere else. On this vide Lightfoot, Hor. Heb. The parable was naturally suggested by the cure of the demoniac (Matthew 12:22 ).

Verse 44

Matthew 12:44 . σχολάζοντα σ . καὶ κ . = untenanted and ready for a tenant, inviting by its clean, ornamented condition. The epithets simply describe in lively pictorial manner the risk of repossession. But naturally commentators seek spiritual equivalents for them. Ornamented how? With grace , say some (Hilary, Chrys., Godet), with sin , others (Orig., Jer., Euthy., Weiss, etc.). The ornamentation must be to the taste of the tenant. And what is that? Neither for sin nor for grace, but for sin counterfeiting grace; a form of godliness without the power; sanctity which is but a mask for iniquity. The house is decorated reputedly for God’s occupancy, really for the devil’s σεσαρωμένον ; σαροῦν is condemned by Phryn.; “when you hear one say σάρωσον bid him say παρακόρησον ”.

Verse 45

Matthew 12:45 . ἑπτὰ ἕτερα πνεύματα , etc. This feature is introduced to make the picture answer to the moral condition of the Pharisees as conceived by Jesus. The parable here passes out of the region of popular imagination and natural probability into a region of deeper psychological insight. Why should the demon want associates in occupancy of the house? Why not rather have it all to himself as before? οὕτως ἔσται , etc. Ethical application. The general truth implied is: moral and religious reform may be, has been, succeeded by deeper degeneracy. The question naturally suggests itself: what is the historical range of the application? It has been answered variously. From the lawgiving till the present time (Hil., Jer.); from the exile till now (Chrys., Grotius, etc.); from the Baptist till now (Weiss. etc.). Christ gives no hint of what period was in His thoughts, unless we find one in the epithet μοιχαλὶς (Matthew 12:39 ), which recalls prophetic charges of unfaithfulness to her Divine Husband against Israel, and points to the exile as the crisis at which she seriously repented of that sin. It is not at all likely that Christ’s view was limited to the period dating from John’s ministry. Moral laws need large spaces of time for adequate exemplification. The most instructive exemplification of the degeneracy described is supplied by the period from Ezra till Christ’s time. With Ezra ended material idolatry. But from that period dates the reign of legalism, which issued in Rabbinism, a more subtle and pernicious idolatry of the letter , the more deadly that it wore the fair aspect of zeal for God and righteousness.

Verse 46

Matthew 12:46 . ἀδελφοὶ , brothers in the natural sense, sons of Mary by Joseph? Presumably, but an unwelcome hypothesis to many on theological grounds. εἱστήκεισαν , pluperfect, but with sense of imperfect (Fritzsche). They had been standing by while Jesus was speaking. ἔξω , on the outskirts of the crowd, or outside the house into which Jesus entered (Mark 3:19 ).

Verses 46-50

Matthew 12:46-50 . The relatives of Jesus (Mark 3:31-35 ; Luke 8:19-21 ). Matthew and Mark place this incident in connection with the discourse occasioned by Pharisaic calumny. Luke gives it in a quite different connection. The position assigned it by Matthew and Mark is at least fitting, and through it one can understand the motive. Not vanity: a desire to make a parade of their influence over their famous relative on the part of mother and brethren (Chrys., Theophy., etc.), but solicitude on His account and a desire to extricate Him from trouble. This incident should be viewed in connection with the statement in Mark 3:21 that friends thought Jesus beside Himself. They wished to rescue Him from Himself and from men whose ill-will He had, imprudently, they probably thought, provoked.

Verse 47

Matthew 12:47 (wanting in [77][78][79] ) states what is implied in Matthew 12:48 ( τῷ λέγοντι ), hat some one reported to Jesus the presence of His relatives.

[77] Codex Sinaiticus (sæc. iv.), now at St. Petersburg, published in facsimile type by its discoverer, Tischendorf, in 1862.

[78] Codex Vaticanus (sæc. iv.), published in photographic facsimile in 1889 under the care of the Abbate Cozza-Luzi.

[79] Codex Regius--eighth century, represents an ancient text, and is often in agreement with א and B.

Verse 48

Matthew 12:48 . τίς ἐστιν ἡ μήτηρ μου . One might have expected Jesus, out of delicacy, to have spoken only of His brethren, leaving the bearing of the question on His mother to be inferred. But the mention of her gave increased emphasis to the truth proclaimed. The question repels a well-meant but ignorant interference of natural affection with the sovereign claims of duty. It reveals a highly strung spirit easily to be mistaken for a morbid enthusiasm.

Verse 49

Matthew 12:49 . ἐκτείνας τ . χ .: an eloquent gesture, making the words following, for those present, superfluous. ἰδού , etc. There are idealists, promoters of pet schemes, and religious devotees whom it would cost no effort to speak thus; not an admirable class of people. It did cost Jesus an effort, for He possessed a warm heart and unblighted natural affections. But He sacrificed natural affection on the altar of duty, as He finally sacrificed His life.

Verse 50

Matthew 12:50 . efinition of spiritual kinsmanship. The highest brotherhood based on spiritual affinity. ὅστις γὰρ ἂν ποιήσῃ : a general present supposition expressed by the subjunctive with ἂν followed by present indicative. τὸ θέλημα τ . πατρός μ . τ . ἐν οὐρανοῖς : this probably comes nearest to Christ’s actual words. In such a solemn utterance He was likely to mention His Father, whose supreme claims His filial heart ever owned. Mark has “the will of God”; Luke “those who hear and do the word of God” obviously secondary.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Matthew 12". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/egt/matthew-12.html. 1897-1910.
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