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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 12

Alford's Greek Testament Critical Exegetical CommentaryAlford's Greek Testament Commentary

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Verses 1-8

1 8. ] THE DISCIPLES PLUCK EARS OF CORN ON THE SABBATH. OUR LORD’S ANSWER TO THE PHARISEES THEREON. Mark 2:23-28 . Luke 6:1-5 . In Mark and Luke this incident occurs after the discourse on fasting related Mat 9:14 sq.; but in the former without any definite mark of time: St. Mark has ἐγένετο παραπορεύεσθαι αὐτὸν ἐν τοῖς σάββασιν κ . τ . λ .: St. Luke ἐγέν . δὲ ἐν σαββάτῳ [ δευτεροπρώτῳ ] κ . τ . λ ., on which see note there. The expression ἐν ἐκείνῳ τῷ καιρῷ is, I conceive, a more definite mark of connexion than we find in the other Gospels, but cannot here be fixed to the meaning which it clearly has in ch. Matthew 11:25 , where the context determines it. We can merely say that it seems to have occurred about the same time as the last thing mentioned in the same journey or season.

The plucking the ears was allowed Deuteronomy 23:25 , but in the Talmud expressly forbidden on the Sabbath. (Lightfoot in loc.) It was also (Leviticus 23:14 , apparently, but this is by no means certain: see note on Luke) forbidden until the sheaf of first-fruits had been presented to God, which was done on the second day of the feast of unleavened bread at the Passover. This incident, on that supposition, must have occurred between that day and the harvest. It is generally supposed to have been on the first Sabbath after the Passover. For a fuller discussion of the time and place, see note on Luke as before.

Verse 3

3. ] It appears from 1 Samuel 21:6 , that hot bread had been put in on the day of David’s arrival; which therefore, Leviticus 24:8 , was a sabbath. The example was thus doubly appropriate. Bengel maintains, on the commonly received interpretation of σάβ . δευτερόπρωτον Luke 6:1 , that 1Sa 21:1-15 was the lesson for the day. But the Jewish calendar of lessons cannot be shewn to have existed in the form which we now have, in the time of the Gospel history.

Verse 4

4. ] εἰ μή , in the construction, is not for ἀλλά , but belongs to οὐκ ἐξὸν ἦν , and retains its proper meaning of except.

Verse 5

5. ] The priests were ordered to offer double offerings on the Sabbath ( Num 28:9-10 ), and to place fresh ( hot , and therefore baked that day) shewbread. In performing these commands they must commit many of what the Pharisees would call profanations of the Sabbath. So that, as Stier ( Mat 2:4 ), not only does the sacred history furnish examples of exception to the law of the Sabbath from necessity , but the Law itself ordains work to be done on the Sabbath as a duty .

Verse 6

6. ] μεῖζον seems the better supported reading, and sustains the parallel better: a greater thing than the temple is here. See John 2:19 . The inference is, ‘If the priests in the temple and for the temple’s sake, for its service and ritual, profane the Sabbath, as ye account profanation, and are blameless, how much more these disciples who have grown hungry in their appointed following of Him who is greater than the temple, the true Temple of God on earth , the Son of Man!’ I cannot agree with Stier that the neuter would represent only “something greater, more weighty than the temple, namely, merciful consideration of the hungry, or the like:” it seems to me, as above, to bear a more general and sublime sense than the masculine; see Matthew 12:41 , &c.

Verse 7

7. ] The law of this new Temple-service is the law of charity and love: mercy and not sacrifice, see ch. Matthew 9:13 : all for man’s sake and man’s good; and if their hearts had been ready to receive our Lord, and to take on them this service, they would not have condemned the guiltless.

Verse 8

8. ] On the important verse preceding this in Mark 2:27 , see note there. The sense of it must here be supplied to complete the inference. Since the Sabbath was an ordinance instituted for the use and benefit of man, the Son of Man, who has taken upon Him full and complete Manhood, the great representative and Head of humanity, has this institution under his own power. See this teaching of the Lord illustrated and expanded in apostolic practice and injunctions, Romans 14:4-5 ; Romans 14:17 ; Colossians 2:16-17 .

Verse 9

9. μεταβὰς ἐκεῖθεν ] This change of place is believed by Greswell to have been a journey back to Galilee after the Passover. (Diss. viii. vol. ii.) It is true that no such change is implied in Mark and Luke; but the words here point to a journey undertaken, as in ch. Matthew 11:1 ; Matthew 15:29 , the only other places in this Gospel where the expression occurs. In John 7:3 , the cognate expression μετάβηθι ἐντεῦθεν is used of a journey from Galilee to Judæa. So that certainly it is not implied here (as Meyer, a [120] ., suppose) that the incident took place on the same day as the previous one. We know from Luk 6:1-49 that it was on another (the next?) sabbath.

[120] alii = some cursive mss.

αὐτῶν , not, of the Pharisees; but of the Jews generally, of the people of the place.

Verses 9-14

9 14. ] HEALING OF THE WITHERED HAND. Mark 3:1-6 . Luke 6:6-11 .

Verse 10

10. ] This narrative is found in Mark and Luke with considerable variation in details from our text, those two Evangelists agreeing however with one another. In both these accounts, they ( the Scribes and Pharisees , Luke) were watching our Lord to see whether He would heal on the Sabbath: and He ( knowing their thoughts , Luke) ordered the man to stand forth in the midst, and asked them the question here given. The question about the animal does not occur in either of them, but in Luke 14:5 , on a similar occasion. The additional particulars given are very interesting. By Luke, it was the right hand; by Mark, our Lord looked round on them μετ ʼ ὀργῆς , συνλυπούμενος ἐπὶ τῇ πωρώσει τῆς καρδίας αὐτῶν : and the Herodians were joined with the Pharisees in their counsel against Him. See notes on Luke.

ξηράν = ἐξηραμμένην Mark, of which the use had been lost and the vital powers withered.

Verse 11

11. ] The construction of this verse is involved: there is a double question, as in ch. Matthew 7:9 .

Our Lord evidently asks this as being a thing allowed and done at the time when He spoke: but subsequently (perhaps, suggests Stier, on account of these words of Christ), it was forbidden in the Gemara; and it was only permitted to lay planks for the beast to come out .

Verse 13

13. ] Our Lord does no outward act: the healing is performed without even a word of command. The stretching forth the hand was to prove its soundness, which the divine power wrought in the act of stretching it forth. Thus his enemies were disappointed, having no legal ground against Him.

Verse 14

14. ] This is the first mention of counsel being taken by the Pharisees ( and Herodians , Mark, as above) to put our Lord to death.

Verse 15

15. ] αὐτοὺς πάντας : see similar expressions, ch. Matthew 19:2 : Luke 6:19 ; i.e. ‘ all who wanted healing .’

Verses 15-21

15 21. ] Peculiar in this form to Matthew . See Mark 3:7-12 .Luke 6:17-19; Luke 6:17-19 .

Verse 16

16. ἐπετίμησεν ] see ch. Matthew 8:4 , and note.

Verse 17

17. ] On ἵνα πληρωθῇ , see note on ch. Matthew 1:22 . Neither it nor ὅπως πλ . must be understood ‘ and thus was fulfilled ,’ as Webster and Wilkinson: both are used only of the purpose, not of the result, here or any where. It is strange that any should be found, at this period of the progress of exegesis, to go back to a view which is both superficial and ungrammatical. The prophecy is partly from the LXX, partly an original translation. The LXX have Ἰακὼβ ὁ παῖς μου … Ἰσραὴλ ὁ ἐκλεκτός μου …, but the Rabbis generally understood it of the Messiah.

Verse 18

18. κρίσιν τ . ἔθν . ἀπ . ] He shall announce judgment to the Gentiles, viz. in his office as Messiah and Judge. In these words the majesty of his future glory is contrasted with the meekness about to be spoken of: q. d. ‘And yet He shall not,’ &c.

Verse 20

20. κάλαμ . συντ . κ . τ . λ .] A proverbial expression for, ‘He will not crush the contrite heart, nor extinguish the slightest spark of repentant feeling in the sinner.’ The form κατεάξω for the future seems to have crept in from the aor., as a convenient distinction from κατάξω from κατάγω . See Winer, § 12. 2. [Moulton, p. 82, note 6, cites κατεάξω from Psa 47:8 Symm.] In ref. Hab. the regular future κατάξω is used.

ἕως ἂν ἐκβ . ] Until He shall have brought out the conflict, the cause, the judgment, unto victory, caused it, i.e., to issue in victory: ἐκβάλῃ , exire jusserit , see reff.: i.e. such shall be his behaviour and such his gracious tenderness, during the day of grace: while the conflict is yet going on, the judgment not yet decided.

Verses 22-45

22 45. ] ACCUSATION OF CASTING OUT DEVILS BY BEELZEBUB, AND OUR LORD’S DISCOURSE THEREON. DEMAND OF A SIGN FROM HIM: HIS FURTHER DISCOURSE. Mark 3:20-30 . Luke 11:14-36 , where also see notes. This account is given by Luke later in our Lord’s ministry, but without any fixed situation or time, and with less copiousness of detail. See also ch. Matthew 9:32 , and notes there. St. Mark ( Mar 3:23-29 ) gives part of the discourse which follows, but without any determinate sequence, and omitting the miracle which led to it.

Verse 23

23. Μήτι ] This form of question is properly a doubtful denial, involving in fact a surmise in the affirmative. ‘Surely this is not …?’

ὁ υἱὸς Δ . ] see ch. Matthew 9:27 , and note.

Verse 24

24. οἱ δὲ Φ . ἀκούσ . ] St. Mark states ( Mar 3:22 ) that this accusation was brought by the γραμματεῖς οἱ ἀπὸ Ἱεροσολύμων καταβάντες . Luke ( Luk 11:15 ), by τινὲς ἐξ αὐτῶν , i.e. τῶν ὄχλων . On the charge itself, Trench remarks, ‘A rigid monotheistic religion like the Jewish, left but one way of escape from the authority of miracles, which once were acknowledged to be indeed such, and not mere collusions and sleights of hand. There remained nothing to say but that which we find in the N.T. the adversaries of our Lord continually did say, namely, that these works were works of hell.’

Verse 25

25. ] The Pharisees said this covertly to some among the multitude; see Luke 15:1-32 ; Luke 17:1-37 . “There is at first sight a difficulty in the argument which our Saviour draws from the oneness of the kingdom of Satan: viz. that it seems the very idea of this kingdom, that it should be this anarchy; blind rage and hate not only against God, but each part of it warring against every other part. And this is most deeply true, that hell is as much in arms against itself as against Heaven: neither does our Lord deny that in respect of itself that kingdom is infinite contradiction and division: only He asserts that in relation to the kingdom of goodness it is at one: there is one life in it and one soul in relation to that. Just as a nation or kingdom may embrace within itself infinite parties, divisions, discords, jealousies, and heart-burnings: yet, if it is to subsist as a nation at all, it must not, as regards other nations , have lost its sense of unity; when it does so, of necessity it falls to pieces and perishes.” Trench, Miracles, p. 58. We may observe (1) that our Lord here in the most solemn manner re-asserts and confirms the truths respecting the kingdom of evil which the Jews also held. The βασιλεῖαι are so set parallel with one another, that the denial of the reality of the one with its ἄρχων , or the supposing it founded merely in assent on the part of our Lord to Jewish notions, inevitably brings with it the same conclusions with regard to the other. They are both real , and so is the conflict between them. (2) That our Lord here appeals not to an insulated case of casting out of devils, in which answer might have been made, that the craft of Satan might sometimes put on the garb and arts of an adversary to himself, for his own purposes, but to the general and uniform tenor of all such acts on his part, in which He was found as the continual Adversary of the kingdom of Satan. (3) That our Lord proceeds to shew that the axiom is true of all human societies, even to a family, the smallest of such. (4) That He does not state the same of an individual man, ‘ Every man divided against himself falleth ,’ rests upon deeper grounds, which will be entered on in the notes on Matthew 12:30-31 .

Verse 27

27. ] The interpretation of this verse has been much disputed; viz. as to whether the casting out by the υἱοὶ Φαρισαίων ( scholars, disciples; see 2Ki 2:3 and passim) were real or pretended exorcisms. The occurrence mentioned Luk 9:49 does not seem to apply; for there John says, ἐπιστάτα , εἴδομέν τινα ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματί σου ἐκβάλλοντα δ ., which hardly could have been the case with those here referred to. Nor again can the περιερχόμενοι Ἰουδαῖοι ἐξορκισταί of Act 19:13 be the same as these, inasmuch as they also named over the possessed the name of the Lord Jesus: or at all events it can be no such invocation which is here referred to. In Josephus (Antt. viii. 2. 5) we read that Solomon τρόπους ἐξορκώσεων κατέλειπεν , οἷς ἐνδόμενα τὰ δαιμόνια ὡς μηκέτ ʼ ἐπανελθεῖν ἐκδιώκουσι . καὶ αὕτη μέχρι νῦν παρ ʼ ἡμῖν ἡ θεραπεία πλεῖστον ἰσχύει . It is highly necessary to institute this enquiry as to the reality of their exorcisms: for it would leave an unworthy impression on the reader, and one very open to the cavils of unbelief, were we to sanction the idea that our Lord would have solemnly compared with his own miracles, and drawn inferences from, a system of imposture, which on that supposition, these Pharisees must have known to be such. I infer then that the υἱοὶ Φαρ . did really cast out devils; and I think this view is confirmed by what the multitudes said in ch. Matthew 9:33 , where upon the dumb speaking after the devil was cast out they exclaimed οὐδέποτε ἐφάνη οὕτως ἐν τῷ Ἰσραήλ : meaning that this was a more complete healing than they had ever seen before. The difficulty has arisen mainly from forgetting that miracles, as such , are no test of truth , but have been permitted to, and prophesied of, false religions and teachers. See Exodus 7:22 ; Exodus 8:7 ; ch. Matthew 24:24 , &c.: Deuteronomy 13:1-5 . There is an important passage in Justin Martyr, Dial. with Trypho, § 85, p. 182, as follows: κατὰ γὰρ τοῦ ὀνόματος αὐτοῦ τούτου τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ … πᾶν δαιμόνιον ἐξορκιζόμενον νικᾶται καὶ ὑποτάσσεται . ἐὰν δὲ κατὰ παντὸς ὀνόματος τῶν παρ ʼ ὑμῖν γεγενημένων ἢ βασιλέων , ἢ δικαίων , ἢ προφητῶν , ἢ πατριαρχῶν ἐξορκίζητε ὑμεῖς , οὐχ ὑποταγήσεται οὐδὲν τῶν δαιμονίων . ἀλλ ʼ εἰ ἄρα ἐξορκίζοι τις ὑμῶν κατὰ τοῦ θεοῦ Ἀβραὰμ καὶ θεοῦ Ἰσαὰκ καὶ θεοῦ Ἰακώβ , ἴσως ὑποταγήσεται . Irenæus (cited by Grotius) says that “hujus invocatione etiam ante adventum Domini nostri salvabantur homines a spiritibus nequissimis, et a dæmoniis universis,” and adds, “Judæi usque nunc hac ipsa invocatione dæmonas fugant.” Jer [121] , Chrys., Hil [122] , understand υἱοὶ ὑμῶν to mean the Apostles: ὅρα κἀνταῦθα τὴν ἐπιείκειαν · οὐ γὰρ εἶπεν Οἱ μαθηταί μου , οὐδὲ Οἱ ἀπόστολοι , ἀλλ ʼ Οἱ υἱοὶ ὑμῶν … ὃ δὲ λέγει τοιοῦτόν ἐστιν · Οἱ ἀπόστολοι ἐν τίνι ἐκβάλλουσι ; … θέλων δεῖξαι ὅτι φθόνου ἦν τοῦ πρὸς αὐτὸν τὰ εἰρημένα μόνον .… Εἰ γὰρ ἐγὼ οὕτως ἐκβάλλω , πολλῷ μᾶλλον ἐκεῖνοι οἱ παρ ʼ ἐμοῦ τὴν ἐξουσίαν λαβόντες . ἀλλ ʼ ὅμως οὐδὲν τοιοῦτον εἰρήκατε αὐτοῖς . Chrys. Hom. xli. 2, p. 446.

[121] Jerome , fl. 378 420

[122] Hilary, Bp. of Poictiers , 354

κριταὶ ὑμῶν ] your judges, in the sense of convicting you of partiality .

Verse 28

28. ] ἐν πνεύματι θ . = ἐν δακτύλῳ θ ., Luke; see Exodus 8:19 .

ἔφθασεν ] emphatic in position: but merely, has come upon you: not in the more proper sense of φθάνω , ‘is already upon you,’ i.e. ‘before you looked for it,’ as Stier and Wesley. It does not seem to occur in this latter sense in the N.T. But Fritzsche’s dictum, ad Rom. 2:356, “Alexandrinis scriptoribus φθάνειν nihil nisi venire, pervenire, pertinere valet,” certainly is not right; for we have it indisputably in the sense of to anticipate, prevent , 1 Thessalonians 4:15 .

Verse 29

29. ] Luke has the word ἰσχυρότερος applied to the spoiler in this verse; a title given to our Lord by the Baptist, ch. Matthew 3:11 [123] , and also in prophecy, Isaiah 40:10 ( μετὰ ἰσχύος , LXX). See also Isaiah 53:12 (LXX); Isaiah 49:24-25 . See note on Luke 11:21 f., which is the fuller report of this parabolic saying.

[123] When, in the Gospels, and in the Evangelic statement, 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 , the sign (║) occurs in a reference, it is signified that the word occurs in the parallel place in the other Gospels, which will always be found indicated at the head of the note on the paragraph. When the sign (║) is qualified , thus, ‘║ Mk.,’ or ‘║ Mt. Mk.,’ &c., it is signified that the word occurs in the parallel place in that Gospel or Gospels, but not in the other or others .

Verse 30

30. ] These words have been variously understood. Chrysostom and Euthymius understand them to refer to the devil: Bengel, Schleiermacher, and Neander, to the Jewish exorcists named above. Grotius and others understand it as merely a general proverb, and the ἐμοῦ to mean ‘ any one ,’ and here to apply to Satan, the sense being, ‘ If I do not promote Satan’s kingdom, which I have proved that I do not, then I must be his adversary .’ But this is on all accounts improbable: see below on συνάγων and σκορπίζει . I believe Stier is right in regarding it as a saying setting forth to us generally the entire and complete disjunction of the two kingdoms, of Satan and God. There is and can be in the world no middle party: they who are not with Christ, who do not gather with Him, are against Him and his work, and as far as in them lies are undoing it. See Romans 8:7 . And thus the saying connects itself with the following verse: this being the case, διὰ τοῦτο λέγω ὑμῖν , the sin of an open belying of the present power of the Holy Spirit of God working in and for His Kingdom, assumes a character surpassingly awful. This saying is no way inconsistent with that in Mark 9:40 ; Luke 9:50 . That is not a conversion of this, for the terms of the respective propositions are not the same. See note on Mark 9:40 .

As usual, this saying of our Lord reached further than the mere occasion to which it referred, and spoke forcibly to those many half-persuaded hesitating persons who flattered themselves that they could strike out a line avoiding equally the persecution of men and the rejection of Christ. He informed them (and informs us also) of the impossibility of such an endeavour.

In the συνάγων there is an allusion to the idea of gathering the harvest: see ch. Matthew 13:30 : John 11:52 , and for σκορπίζει , John 10:12 , in all which places the words exactly bear out their sense here.

Verses 31-32

31, 32. ] διὰ τοῦτο , because this is the case: see last note. Notice again the λέγω ὑμῖν , used by our Lord when He makes some revelation of things hidden from the sons of men: see ch. Matthew 6:29 ; Matthew 18:10 ; Matthew 18:19 : and Mat 12:36 below. The distinction in these much-controverted verses seems to be, between (1) the sin and blasphemy which arises from culpable ignorance and sensual blindness, as that of the fool who said in his heart ‘There is no God,’ of those who, e.g. Saul of Tarsus, opposed Jesus as not being the Christ; which persons, to whatever degree their sin may unhappily advance, are capable of enlightenment, repentance, and pardon: and (2) the blasphemy of those who, acknowledging God, and seeing his present power working by His Holy Spirit, openly oppose themselves to it, as did, or as were very near doing (for our Lord does not actually imply that they had incurred this dreadful charge), these Pharisees. They may as yet have been under the veil of ignorance; but this their last proceeding, in the sight of Him who knows the hearts, approximated very near to, or perhaps reached, this awful degree of guilt. The principal misunderstanding of this passage has arisen from the prejudice which possesses men’s minds owing to the use of the words, ‘the sin against the Holy Ghost.’ It is not a particular species of sin which is here condemned, but a definite act shewing a state of sin, and that state a wilful determined opposition to the present power of the Holy Spirit; and this as shewn by its fruit, βλασφημία . The declaration, in substance, often occurs in the N.T. See 1 John 5:16 , and note on ἁμαρτία there: 2 Timothy 3:8 ; Jude 1:4 ; Jude 1:12-13 ; Hebrews 10:26-31 ; Hebrews 6:4-8 . Euthymius expands the sense well and clearly: ὃς μὲν ἂν ἁμάρτῃ κατὰ τῆς ἀνθρωπότητός μου , φησί , τουτέστιν , ὅστις ἂν εἴπῃ βλάσφημον λόγον κατ ʼ αὐτῆς , … ὁ τοιοῦτος συγγνωσθήσεται πάντως ὡς οὐκ ἐθελοκακήσας , ἀλλ ʼ ἐν ἀγνοίᾳ τῆς ἀληθείας βλασφημήσας · ὁ δὲ βλέπων τὰς θεοπρεπεῖς μου ἐνεργείας , ἃς μόνος δύναται ποιεῖν ὁ θεός , καὶ τῷ Βεελζεβοὺλ ταύτας ἐπιγραφόμενος , ὡς καὶ ὑμεῖς νῦν , καὶ οὕτω βλασφημῶν κατὰ τοῦ πνεύματος τοῦ ἁγίου , ἤτοι κατὰ τῆς θεότητος ( ταύτην γὰρ νῦν καλεῖ πνεῦμα ἅγιον (?)) οὗτος ὡς ἐθελοκακήσας προδήλως καὶ ἐν γνώσει καθυβρίσας τὸν θεὸν καὶ ἀναπολόγητα πλημμελήσας οὐ συγχωρηθήσεται .

No sure inference can be drawn from the words οὔτε ἐν τῷ μέλλοντι with regard to forgiveness of sins in a future state. Olshausen remarks that a parallel on the other side is found in ch. Matthew 10:41-42 , where the recognition of divine power in those sent from God is accompanied with promise of eternal reward. He himself however understands the passage (as many others have done) to imply forgiveness on repentance in the imperfect state of the dead before the judgment, and considers it to be cognate with 1 Peter 3:18 ff. Augustine speaks very strongly, de Civ. Dei xxi. 24, vol. vii.: ‘Neque enim de quibusdam veraciter diceretur, quod non eis remittatur neque in hoc sæculo neque in futuro, nisi essent quibus, etsi non in isto, tamen remittatur in futuro.’ See, on the whole subject, note on 1 Peter 3:18 ff. In the almost entire silence of Scripture on any such doctrine, every principle of sound interpretation requires that we should hesitate to support it by two difficult passages, in neither of which does the plain construction of the words absolutely require it.

The expressions αἰὼν οὗτος (= ὁ νῦν αἰών , Titus 2:12 ; 2 Timothy 4:10 ; καιρὸς οὗτος , Mark 10:30 ; αἰὼν τοῦ κόσμου τούτου , Ephesians 2:2 ; αἰὼν ἐνεστὼς πονηρός , Gal 1:4 ) and αἰὼν μέλλων (= αἰὼν ὁ ἐρχόμενος , Mark 10:30 ; αἰὼν ἐκεῖνος , Luke 20:35 ; αἰῶνες ἐπερχόμενοι , Eph 2:7 ) were common among the Jews, and generally signified respectively the time before and after the coming of the Messiah. In the N.T. these significations give place to the present life , and that to come: the present mixed state of wheat and tares, and the future completion of Messiah’s Kingdom after the great harvest. The expression κόσμος μέλλων is not found. αἰὼν μέλλων , &c., seem to differ from βασιλ . τ . οὐρανῶν or τ . θεοῦ , in never being spoken of, or as in, individuals, but as an age of time belonging to the universal Church.

Verses 33-34

33, 34. ] ποιήσατε , not, as generally understood, = ‘ponite,’ ‘ represent … as: ’ for then the clause ἐκ γὰρ κ . τ . λ . loses its meaning: but literally, make. The verse is a parable, not merely a similitude. ‘There are but two ways open: either make the tree and its fruit both good , or both bad: for by the fruit the tree is known.’ How make , the parable does not say: but let us remember, the Creator speaks, and sets forth a law of his own creation, with which our judgments must be in accord. This verse resumes again the leading argument, and sets forth the inconsistency of the Pharisees in representing Him as in league with evil, whose works were uniformly good. But the words have a double reference: to our Lord Himself, who could not be evil, seeing that His works were good; and (which leads on to the next verse) to the Pharisees, who could not speak good things, because their works were evil.

Verses 35-37

35 37. ] The treasure spoken of is that inner storehouse of good and evil only seen by God and (partially) by ourselves. And on that account because words, so lightly thought of by the world and the careless, spring from the inner fountains of good and ill, therefore they will form subjects of the judgment of the great day, when the whole life shall be unfolded and pronounced upon. See James 3:2-12 .

Verse 36

36. ] ῥῆμα ἀργόν is nom. pendens, as ch. Matthew 10:14 ; Matthew 10:32 . αἱρετώτερόν σοι ἔστω λίθον εἰκῆ βάλλειν , ἢ λόγον ἀργόν , Pythag. in Stobæus, xxxiv. 11. Wets [124] .

[124] Wetstein.

ἀργός = ἀεργός , and is perhaps best taken here in its milder and negative sense, as not yet determined on till the judgment: so that our Lord’s saying is a deduction “a minori,” and if of every ῥῆμα ἀργόν , then how much more of every ῥῆμα πονηρόν !

Verse 37

37. ] The λόγος being the περίσσευμα τῆς καρδίας , is a specimen of what is within; is the outward utterance of the man , and on this ground will form a subject of strict enquiry in the great day, being a considerable and weighty part of our works.

Verse 38

38. ] St. Luke ( Luk 11:15-16 ) places the accusation of casting out devils by Beelzebub and this request together, and then the discourse follows. It seems that the first part of the discourse gave rise, as here related, to the request for a sign (from Heaven); but, as we might naturally expect, and as we learn from St. Luke, on the part of different persons from those who made the accusation . In consequence of our Lord declaring that his miracles were wrought by the Holy Ghost, they wish to see some decisive proof of this by a sign, not from Himself, but from Heaven .

The account in ch. Mat 16:1-4 manifestly relates to a different occurrence: see notes there. Cf. John 6:30-31 ; John 12:28 .

Verse 39

39. ] μοιχαλίς (see reff.), because they had been the peculiar people of the Lord, and so in departing from Him had broken the covenant of marriage , according to the similitude so common in the Prophets.

The expression σημεῖον οὐ δοθ . αὐτῇ does not, as De Wette maintains, exclude our Lord’s miracles from being σημεῖα : but is the direct answer to their request in the sense in which we know they used σημεῖον , ‘a sign, not wrought by Him, and so able to be suspected of magic art , but one from Heaven .’ Besides, even if this were not so, how can the refusing to work a miracle to satisfy them , affect the nature or signification of those wrought on different occasions, and with a totally different view? And yet on ground like this it is (De Wette, vol. i. p. 147) that rationalistic systems are built. τί οὖν ; οὐκ ἐποίησεν ἔκτοτε σημεῖον ; ἐποίησεν , ἀλλ ʼ οὐ δι ʼ αὐτούς , πεπωρωμένοι γὰρ ἦσαν , ἀλλὰ διὰ τὴν τῶν ἄλλων ὠφέλειαν . Euthym [125] in loc. Notice ἐπιζητεῖ ; not merely quærit, but requirit; misses, and demands as a sine quâ non. See Palm and Rost’s Lex. sub voce.

[125] Euthymius Zigabenus, 1116

The sign of Jonas is the most remarkable foreshadowing in the O.T. of the resurrection of our Lord. It was of course impossible that His resurrection should be represented by an actual resurrection, as his birth was by births (Isaac, Samson, Samuel, Mahershalalhashbaz), and His death by deaths (Abel; the substitute for Isaac; Zechariah the prophet; the daily and occasional sacrifices); so that we find the events symbolic of his resurrection (Joseph’s history; Isaac’s sacrifice; Daniel’s and Jonah’s deliverance), representing it in a figure (Hebrews 11:19 , ἐν παραβολῇ ). In the case before us the figure was very remarkable, and easily to be recognized in the O.T. narrative. For Jonah himself calls the belly of the sea monster בֶּטֶן שְׁאוֹל ( Jon 2:2 ), ‘the belly of Hades,’ = καρδίᾳ τῆς γῆς here. And observe, that the type is not of our Lord’s body being deposited in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, for neither could that be called ‘the heart of the earth,’ nor could it be said that ‘the Son of Man’ was there during the time; but of our Lord’s personal descent into the place of departed souls: see Ephesians 4:9 ; 1 Peter 3:19 , and note on Luke 23:43 .

Verse 40

40. ] If it be necessary to make good the three days and nights during which our Lord was in the heart of the earth, it must be done by having recourse to the Jewish method of computing time. In the Jerusalem Talmud (cited by Lightfoot) it is said “that a day and night together make up a עוֹנָה (a νυχθήμερον ), and that any part of such a period is counted as the whole.” See Genesis 40:13 ; Genesis 40:20 ; 1 Samuel 30:12-13 ; 2 Chronicles 10:5 ; 2 Chronicles 10:12 ; Hosea 6:2 .

Verse 41

41. ] In this verse there is no reference to the sign of Jonas spoken of above , but to a different matter, another way in which he should be a sign to this generation. See Luke 11:29 f., and note. (But the preaching of Jonas to the Ninevites was a sign after his resurrection: so shall the preaching of the Son of Man by His Spirit in His Apostles be after His resurrection. Stier.)

Verses 41-42

41, 42. πλεῖον Ἰωνᾶ ὧδε πλεῖον Σολ . ὧδε ] On the neuter, see above, Matthew 12:6 , note. There is more than Jonas here. No matter so worthy of arousing repentance had ever been revealed or preached as the Gospel: no matter so worthy of exciting the earnest attention of all. And the Lord Himself , the Announcer of this Gospel, is greater than all the sons of men: his preaching , greater than that of Jonah: his wisdom , than that of Solomon.

Verse 42

42. βασίλισσα νότου ] Josephus, Antt. viii. 6. 5, calls her τὴν τῆς Αἰγύπτου καὶ τῆς Αἰθιοπίας τότε βασιλεύουσαν γυναῖκα , i.e. of Meroe (whose queens were usually called Candace. Plin. Hist. vi. 29). Abyssinian tradition agrees with this account, calls her Maqueda, and supposes her to have embraced the Jewish religion in Jerusalem. The Arabians on the other hand also claim her, calling her Balkis (Koran, c. xxvii., cited by Winer), which latter view is probably nearer the truth, Sheba being a tract in Arabia Felix, near the shores of the Red Sea, near the present Aden (see Plin. vi. 23), abounding in spice and gold and precious stones.

Verse 43

43. ] ὅταν , not ‘ whenever; ’ the indefinite conj. does not assert universality, but is hypothetical; δέ connects strictly with what has preceded. This important parable, in the similitude itself, sets forth to us an evil spirit driven out from a man, wandering in his misery and restlessness through desert places, the abodes and haunts of evil spirits (see Isaiah 13:21-22 ; Isa 34:14 ), and at last determining on a return to his former victim, whom he finds so prepared for his purposes, that he associates with himself seven other fiends, by whom the wretched man being possessed, ends miserably. In its interpretation we may trace three distinct references, each full of weighty instruction. (1) The direct application of the parable is to the Jewish people , and the parallel runs thus: The old dæmon of idolatry brought down on the Jews the Babylonish captivity, and was cast out by it. They did not after their return fall into it again, but rather endured persecution, as under Antiochus Epiphanes. The emptying, sweeping, and garnishing may be traced in the growth of Pharisaic hypocrisy and the Rabbinical schools between the return and the coming of our Lord. The re-possession by the one, and accession of seven other spirits more malicious ( πονηρότερα ) than the first, hardly needs explanation. The desperate infatuation of the Jews after our Lord’s ascension, their bitter hostility to His Church, their miserable end as a people, are known to all. Chrysostom, who gives in the main this interpretation, notices their continued infatuation in his own day: and instances their joining in the impieties of Julian. (2) Strikingly parallel with this runs the history of the Christian Church. Not long after the Apostolic times, the golden calves of idolatry were set up by the Church of Rome. What the effect of the captivity was to the Jews, that of the Reformation has been to Christendom. The first evil spirit has been cast out. But by the growth of hypocrisy, secularity, and rationalism, the house has become empty, swept, and garnished: swept and garnished by the decencies of civilization and discoveries of secular knowledge, but empty of living and earnest faith. And he must read prophecy but ill, who does not see under all these seeming improvements the preparation for the final development of the man of sin, the great re-possession, when idolatry and the seven πνεύματα πονηρότερα shall bring the outward frame of so-called Christendom to a fearful end. (3) Another important fulfilment of the prophetic parable may be found in the histories of individuals. By religious education or impressions, the devil has been cast out of a man; but how often do the religious lives of men spend themselves in the sweeping and garnishing (see Luk 11:39-40 ), in formality and hypocrisy, till utter emptiness of real faith and spirituality has prepared them for that second fearful invasion of the Evil One, which is indeed worse than the first! (See Hebrews 6:4 ; Hebrews 6:6 ; 2 Peter 2:20-22 .)

Verse 46

46. ] In Mar 3:21 we are told that his relations went out to lay hold on Him, for they said, He is beside Himself: and that the reason of this was his continuous labour in teaching, which had not left time so much as to eat . There is nothing in this care for his bodily health (from whatever source the act may have arisen on the part of his brethren , see Joh 7:5 ) inconsistent with the known state of his mother’s mind (see Luke 2:19 ; Luk 2:51 ).

They stood ἔξω , i.e. outside the throng of hearers around our Lord; or, perhaps, outside the house. He meets their message with a reproof, which at the same time conveys assurance to His humble hearers. He came for all men , and though He was born of a woman, He who is the second Adam, taking our entire humanity on Him, is not on that account more nearly united to her, than to all those who are united to Him by the Spirit; nor bound to regard the call of earthly relations so much as the welfare of those whom He came to teach and to save.

It is to be noticed that our Lord, though He introduces the additional term ἀδελφή into his answer, does not (and indeed could not) introduce πατήρ , inasmuch as He never speaks of an earthly Father. See Luke 2:49 .

All these characteristics of the mother of our Lord are deeply interesting, both in themselves, and as building up, when put together, the most decisive testimony against the fearful superstition which has assigned to her the place of a goddess in the Romish mythology. Great and inconceivable as the honour of that meek and holy woman was, we find her repeatedly (see Joh 2:4 ) the object of rebuke from her divine Son, and hear Him here declaring, that the honour is one which the humblest believer in Him has in common with her.

Stier remarks (Reden Jesu, ii. 57 note), that the juxtaposition of sister and mother in the mouth of our Lord makes it probable that the brethren also were his actual brothers according to the flesh: see note on ch. Matthew 13:55 .

Verses 46-50

46 50. ] HIS MOTHER AND BRETHREN SEEK TO SPEAK WITH HIM. Mark 3:31-35 .Luke 8:19-21; Luke 8:19-21 . In Mark the incident is placed as here: in Luke, after the parable of the sower.

Bibliographical Information
Alford, Henry. "Commentary on Matthew 12". Alford's Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hac/matthew-12.html. 1863-1878.
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