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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 18

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

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Verse 1

1. ] In Mark we learn that this discourse arose out of a dispute among the disciples who should be the greatest . It took place soon after the last incident. Peter had returned from his fishing: see Matthew 18:21 . The dispute had taken place before, on the way to Capernaum. It had probably been caused by the mention of the Kingdom of God as at hand in ch. Matthew 16:19 ; Matthew 16:28 , and the preference given by the Lord to the Three. In Mark it is our Lord who asks them what they were disputing about , and they are silent.

ἄρα need not necessarily refer to the incident last related. As De Wette remarks, it may equally well be understood as indicating the presence in the mind of the querist of something that had passed in the preceding dispute.

Verses 1-35


Verse 2

2. ] From Mar 9:36 it appears that our Lord first placed the child in the midst, and then took it in His arms: possibly drawing a lesson for His disciples from its ready submission and trustfulness.

Verse 3

3. ] στραφῆτε = μετανοῆτε : it also conveys the idea of turning back from the course previously begun, viz. that of ambitious rivalry. Without this they should not only not be pre-eminent in, but not even admitted into, the Christian state the Kingdom of Heaven.

Verse 4

4. ] Not ὡς τὸ παιδ . τ . ταπεινοῖ ἑαυτό : ‘iste parvulus non se humilitat , sed humilis est .’ Valla (in Meyer). ‘Quales pueri natura sunt, ab ambitu scilicet alieni, tales nos esse jubemur τῇ προαιρέσει .’ Grotius.

Verse 5

5. ] Having shewn the child as the pattern of humility, the Lord proceeds to shew the honour in which children are held in His heavenly kingdom; and not only actual, but spiritual children for both are understood in the expression ἓν παιδίον τοιοῦτον .

The receiving in My name is the serving ( ἔσται πάντων διάκονος Mar 9:35 ) with Christian love, and as belonging to Christ (see also ch. Mat 25:40 ).

Verse 6

6. ] Here St. Mark and St. Luke insert the saying of John respecting one casting out dæmons in Jesus’ name, who followed not with the Apostles: which it appears gave rise to the remark in this verse. St. Luke however goes on no further with the discourse: St. Mark inserts also our ch. Matthew 10:42 .

The verbs κρεμασθῇ , καταποντισθῇ , may perhaps be understood in their strict tenses: it is better for him that a millstone should have been hanged, &c., and he drowned.… before the day when he gives this offence . But this is somewhat doubtful. The aorists more probably, as so often, denote an act complete in itself and accomplished at once: without any strict temporal reference. The punishment here mentioned, drowning , may have been practised in the sea of Galilee (‘secundum ritum provinciæ ejus loquitur, quo majorum criminum ista apud veteres Judæos pœna fuerit, ut in profundum ligato saxo demergerentur.’ Jerome in loc.). De Wette however denies this, saying that it was not a Jewish punishment; but it certainly was a Roman, for Suetonius mentions it as practised by Augustus on the rapacious attendants of Caius Cæsar (Aug [146] ch. xlvii.): and a Macedonian (Diod. Sic. xvi. 35, ὁ δὲ Φίλιππος τὸν μὲν Ὀνόμαρχον ἐκρέμασε , τοὺς δ ʼ ἄλλους ὡς ἱεροσύλους κατεπόντισε ). Compare also Livy i. 51, where Turnus Herdonius (“novo genere leti,” it is true) “dejectus ad caput aquæ Ferentinæ, crate superne injecta, saxisque congestis, mergitur.”

[146] Augustine, Bp. of Hippo , 395 430

ὀνικός , as belonging to a mill turned by an ass, and therefore larger than the stones of a handmill. In the Digests, the ‘ mola jumentaria ’ is distinguished from the ‘ mola manuaria ;’ and in Cato, de re rustica, c. 10, we have ‘molas asinarias duas, trusatiles unas.’

πελάγει , i.e. the deep part, in the open sea.

Verse 7

7. ] See 1 Corinthians 11:19 . Stier suggests that Judas, who took offence at the anointing in Bethany, may have been on other occasions the man by whom the offence came, and so this may have been said with special reference to him. Still its general import is undeniable and plain. See also Acts 2:23 .

Verse 8

8. ] The connexion is ‘ Wilt thou avoid being the man on whom this woe is pronounced? then cut off all occasion of offence in thyself first .’ The cautions following are used in a wider sense than in ch. Matthew 5:29-30 . In Mark, the ‘ foot ’ is expanded into a separate iteration of the command.

καλὸν …, , a mixture of the two constructions, καλὸν .… καὶ μὴ …, and κάλλιον … ἢ … See reff. τὸ πῦρ τὸ αἰώνιον , which here first occurs, is more fully in Mark τὸ πῦρ τὸ ἄσβεστον , ὅπου ὁ σκώληξ αὐτῶν οὐ τελευτᾷ καὶ τὸ πῦρ οὐ σβέννυται .

Verse 9

9. ] μονόφθαλμος , in classical Greek, is ‘ born blind of one eye; ’ here it is used for ἑτερόφθαλμος . See Herod. iii. 116.

Verse 10

10. ] Hitherto our text has been parallel with that of Mark 9:1-50 ; from this, Matthew stands alone.

The warning against contempt of these little ones must not be taken as only implying ‘maxima debetur puero reverentia’ (Juv [147] xiv. 47), nor indeed as relating exclusively, or even principally, to children. We must remember with what the discourse began a contention who should be greatest among them: and the μικροί are those who are the furthest from these ‘greatest,’ the humble and new-born babes of the spiritual kingdom. And καταφρονήσητε must be understood of that kind of contempt which ambition for superiority would induce for those who are by weakness or humility incapacitated for such a strife. There is no doubt that children are included in the word μικροί , as they are always classed with the humble and simple-minded, and their character held up for our imitation.

[147] Juvencus , 330

The little children in the outward status of the Church are in fact the only disciples who are sure to be that in reality, which their Baptism has put upon them, and so exactly answer to the wider meaning here conveyed by the term: and those who would in afterlife enter into the kingdom must turn back, and become as these little children as they were when they had just received the new life in Baptism. The whole discourse is in deep and constant reference to the covenant with infants , which was to be made and ratified by an ordinance, in the Kingdom of Heaven, just as then.

On the reason assigned in the latter part of this verse ( λέγω γὰρ κ . τ . λ .), there have been many opinions; some of which (e.g. that given by Webster and Wilkinson, ‘ ἄγγελοι , their spirits after death:’ a meaning which the word never bore, see Suicer sub voce, and one respecting which our Lord never could have spoken in the present tense, with διὰ παντός ) have been broached merely to evade the plain sense of the words, which is that to individuals (whether invariably, or under what circumstances of minor detail, we are not informed) certain angels are allotted as their especial attendants and guardians . We know elsewhere from the Scriptures, both of the Old and New Testament (Psalms 34:7 ; Psalms 91:11 ; Hebrews 1:14 a [148] .), that the angels do minister about the children of God: and what should forbid that in this service, a prescribed order and appointed duty should regulate their ministrations? Nay, is it not analogically certain that such would be the case? But this saying of our Lord assures us that such is the case, and that those angels whose honour is high before God are entrusted with the charge of the humble and meek, the children in age and the children in grace.

[148] alii = some cursive mss.

The phrase λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν , or λέγω ὑμῖν , as in Luke 15:7 ; Luke 15:10 , is an introduction to a revelation of some previously unknown fact in the spiritual world.

Stier has some very beautiful remarks on the guardian angels, and on the present general neglect of the doctrine of angelic tutelage, which has been doubtless a reaction from the idolatrous angel-worship of the Church of Rome (see Acts 12:15 ; Daniel 12:1 ; in the former case we have an individual, in the latter a national, guardianship).

βλέπουσιν τὸ πρόσωπον κ . τ . λ ., i.e. are in high honour before God; not perhaps especially so, but the meaning may be, ‘for they have angelic guardians, who always,’ &c. See Tob 12:15 .

[ 11. The angels are the servants and messengers of the Son of Man; and they therefore ( ἦλθ . γὰρ κ . τ . λ .) are appointed to wait on these little ones whom He came to save: and who, in their utter helplessness, are especially examples of τὸ ἀπολωλός . ‘Here,’ remarks Stier (ii. 241), ‘is Jacob’s ladder planted before our eyes: beneath are the little ones; then their angels; then the Son of Man in heaven, in whom alone man is exalted above the angels, Who, as the Great Angel of the Covenant, cometh from the Presence and Bosom of the Father; and above Him again ( Mat 18:14 ) the Father Himself, and His good pleasure.’]

Verses 12-13

12, 13. ] See notes on Luke 15:4-6 , where the same parable is more expanded. Compare also Ezekiel 34:6 ; Ezekiel 34:11-12 .

ἐπὶ τὰ ὄρη belongs to ἀφείς , not to πορευθ . See var. read. The preposition of motion, ἐπί , gives the idea of the wandering and scattering of the flock over the mountains. If we join the words to πορευθείς , we give them an unmeaning emphasis, besides destroying the elegance of the sentence.

Verse 14

14. ] This verse sets forth to us the work of the Son as accomplishing the will of the Father; for it is unquestionably the Son who is the Good Shepherd, searching for the lost, Matthew 18:11 . For similar declarations see Ezekiel 18:23 ; Ezekiel 33:11 ; 2 Peter 3:9 .

The inference from this verse is ‘then whoever despises or scandalizes one of these little ones, acts in opposition to the will of your Father in Heaven.’ Observe, when the dignity of the little ones was asserted, it was πατρός μου : now that a motive directly acting on the conscience of the Christian is urged, it is πατρὸς ὑμῶν .

Verse 15

15. ] The connexion of this with the preceding is: Our Lord has been speaking of σκάνδαλα , which subject is the ground-tone of the whole discourse.

One kind is, when thou sinnest against another , Matthew 18:7-14 . A second kind, when thy brother sins against thee . The remedy for the former must be, in each individual being cautious in his own person, that of the latter, in the exercise of brotherly love, and if that fail, the authority of the congregation, Matthew 18:15-17 .

Then follows an exposition of what that authority is, Matthew 18:18-20 .

On this verse see Leviticus 19:17-18 . This direction is only in case of personal offence against ourselves, and then the injured person is to seek private explanation , and that by going to his injurer , not waiting till he comes to apologize.

The stop must be after μόνου , as ordinarily read, and not after αὐτοῦ , as proposed by Fritzsche and Olshausen, which construction would be contrary to the usage of the N.T.

An attempt has apparently been made (see var. readd.) to render the passage applicable to sin in general , and so to give the Church power over sins upon earth.

ἐκέρδησας , in the higher sense, reclaimed, gained for God, see reff.: and for thyself too: πρῶτον γὰρ ἐζημίου τοῦτον , διὰ τοῦ σκανδάλου ῥηγνύμενον ἀπὸ τῆς ἀδελφικῆς σου συναφείας . Euthym [149]

[149] Euthymius Zigabenus, 1116

Verses 15-20


Verse 16

16. παρ ἔτι ] Go again, and take … The first attempt of brotherly love is to heal the wound, to remove the offence, in secrecy: to cover the sin: but if this cannot be done, the next step is, to take two or three, still, in case of an adjustment, preventing publicity; but in the other event, providing sufficient legal witness . See reff. and John 8:17 .

ῥῆμα , not thing , but word , as always. Cf. St. Paul’s apparent reference to these words of our Lord, 2 Corinthians 13:1 .

Verse 17

17. παρακούσῃ ] a stronger word than μὴ ἀκ ., implying something of obduracy .

τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ , by what follows, certainly not ‘the Jewish synagogue’ (for how could Mat 18:18-20 be said in any sense of it? ), but the congregation of Christians; i.e. in early times, such as in Acts 4:32 , the one congregation, in after times, that congregation of which thou and he are members. That it cannot mean the Church as represented by her rulers , appears by Matthew 18:19-20 , where any collection of believers is gifted with the power of deciding in such cases. Nothing could be further from the spirit of our Lord’s command than proceedings in what were oddly enough called ‘ecclesiastical’ courts.

ἔστω σοὶ κ . τ . λ .] ‘let him no longer be accounted as a brother, but as one of those without,’ as the Jews accounted Gentiles and Publicans.

Yet even then not with hatred , see 1 Corinthians 5:11 , and compare 2 Corinthians 2:6-7 , and 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 . The articles ἐθν ., τελ ., are generic; the expressions being the singulars of οἱ ἐθνικοί , οἱ τελῶναι . And thus the quality expressed by ἐθνικός and τελώνης , rather than the individual who may happen to bear these characters, is prominent in the sentence: the ἐθν . or the τελ ., inasmuch and as far as he is ἐθν . or τελ . But this is not, as Words., the effect of the article only; the predicate ἐθνικός conveys plainly enough, that it is as a heathen , not as a man, that he is here introduced.

Verse 18

18. ] This verse reasserts in a wider and more general sense the grant made to Peter in ch. Matthew 16:19 . It is here not only to him as the first stone, but to the whole building. See note there, and on John 20:23 , between which and our ch. Mat 16:19 this is a middle point.

Verse 19

19. παντὸς πρ . ] ‘ every thing: ’ but the construction is an instance of attraction: πᾶν πρᾶγμα , the subject of the sentence, is thrown into government after the verb: the plain construction would be ὅτι πᾶν πρ ., ἐὰν δύο ὑμ . συμφ . ἐπὶ τ . γ . περὶ αὐτοῦ , οὗ ἐὰν αἰτήσωνται , γενήσεται κ . τ . λ .: so that παντὸς πρ . amounts in English to any thing. This refers to that entire accordance of hearty faith, which could hardly have place except also in accordance with the divine will.

It was apparently misunderstood by the Apostles James and John; see St. Mark’s account, ch. Matthew 10:35 , in which they nearly repeat these words. Notice again the ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν : see on ch. 16 ult.

Verse 20

20. ] A generalization of the term ἐκκλησία , and the powers conferred on it, which renders it independent of particular forms of government or ceremonies, and establishes at once a canon against pseudo-catholicism in all its forms: cf. 1 Corinthians 1:2 .

ἐκεῖ εἰμί must be understood of the presence of the Spirit and Power of Christ, see chap. 28 ult.

Verses 21-35

21 35. ] REPLY TO PETER’S QUESTION RESPECTING THE LIMIT OF FORGIVENESS; AND BY OCCASION, THE PARABLE OF THE FORGIVEN BUT UNFORGIVING SERVANT. See Luke 17:3-4 . It is possible that Peter may have asked this question in virtue of the power of the keys before (ch. Mat 16:19 ) entrusted to him, to direct him in the use of them: but it seems more likely, that it was asked as in the person of any individual: that Peter wished to follow the rules just laid down, but felt a difficulty as to the limit of his exercise of forgiveness.

The Rabbinical rule was, to forgive three times and no more; this they justified by Amos 1:3 , &c.: Job 33:29-30 LXX, and mar [150] . E. V. The expression ‘seven times’ is found Proverbs 24:16 , in connexion with sinning and being restored: see also Leviticus 26:18-28 . In our Lord’s answer we have most likely a reference to Genesis 4:24 .

[150] Margin. ‘marg-eccles’ denotes that the reading cited is given on the margin as an alteration to be made in reading the passage in church, e.g. the name of our Lord, where the pronoun would otherwise stand at the beginning of a ‘Gospel for the day.’

Seventy times seven, not ‘ seven and seventy times ,’ is the rendering. οὐκ ἀριθμὸν τιθεὶς ἐνταῦθα , ἀλλὰ τὸ ἄπειρον καὶ διηνεκὲς καὶ ἀεί . Chrys. Hom. lxi. 1, p. 611.

Verse 23

23. διὰ τοῦτο ] ‘because this is so,’ because unlimited forgiveness is the law of the Kingdom of Heaven. The δοῦλοι here are not slaves , but ministers or stewards. By the πραθῆναι of Mat 18:25 they could not be slaves in the literal sense.

But in Oriental language (see Herodotus passim) all the subjects of the king, even the great ministers of state, are called δοῦλοι . The individual example is one in high trust , or his debt could never have reached the enormous sum mentioned. See Isaiah 1:18 .

Verse 24

24. ] Whether these are talents of silver or of gold, the debt represented is enormous, and far beyond any private man’s power to discharge.

10,000 talents of silver is the sum at which Haman reckons the revenue derivable from the destruction of the whole Jewish people, Esther 3:9 . Trench remarks (Parables, p. 124) that we can best appreciate the sum by comparing it with other sums mentioned in Scripture. In the construction of the tabernacle, twenty-nine talents of gold were used ( Exo 38:24 ): David prepared for the temple 3000 talents of gold, and the princes 5000 ( 1Ch 29:4-7 ): the Queen of Sheba presented to Solomon 120 talents ( 1Ki 10:10 ): the King of Assyria laid on Hezekiah thirty talents of gold ( 2Ki 18:14 ): and in the extreme impoverishment to which the land was brought at last, one talent of gold was laid on it, after the death of Josiah, by the King of Egypt ( 2Ch 36:3 ).

Verse 25

25. ἐκέλευσεν αὐτ .… κ . τ . λ .] See Exodus 22:3 ; Leviticus 25:39 ; Leviticus 25:47 ; 2 Kings 4:1 . The similitude is however rather from Oriental despotism: for the selling was under the Mosaic law softened by the liberation at the year of jubilee. The imprisonment also, and the tormentors, Matthew 18:30 ; Matthew 18:34 , favour this view, forming no part of the Jewish law.

ἀποδοθῆναι , impersonal, as in E. V., payment to be made.

Verse 26

26. ] Luther explains this as the voice of mistaken self-righteousness, which when bitten by sense of sin and terrified with the idea of punishment, runs hither and thither, seeking help, and imagines it can build up a righteousness before God without having yet any idea that God Himself will help the sinner. Trench remarks, “It seems simpler to see in the words nothing more than exclamations characteristic of the extreme fear and anguish of the moment, which made him ready to promise impossible things, even mountains of gold.” p. 127.

Verse 28

28. ] Perhaps we must not lay stress on ἐξελθών , as indicating any wrong frame of mind already begun, as Theophylact does: the sequel shews how completely he had ‘gone out’ from the presence of his Lord. At all events the word corresponds to the time when the trial of our principle takes place: when we ‘go out’ from the presence of God in prayer and spiritual exercises, into the world. We may observe, that forgiveness of sin does not imply a change of heart or principle in the sinner .

The fellow-servant is probably not in the same station as himself, but none the less a fellow-servant. The insignificance of the sum is to shew us how trifling any offence against one another is in comparison to the vastness of our sin against God. Chrysostom finely remarks: ὁ δὲ οὐδὲ τὰ ῥήματα ᾐδέσθη δι ʼ ὧν ἐσώθη · καὶ γὰρ αὐτὸς ταὐτὰ εἰπὼν ἀπηλλάγη τῶν μυρίων ταλάντων · καὶ οὐδὲ τὸν λιμένα ἐπέγνω δι ʼ οὗ τὸ ναυάγιον διέφυγεν · οὐ τὸ σχῆμα τῆς ἱκετηρίας ἀνέμνησεν αὐτὸν τῆς τοῦ δεσπότου φιλανθρωπίας · ἀλλὰ πάντα ἐκεῖνα ὑπὸ τῆς πλεονεξίας καὶ τῆς ὠμότητος καὶ τῆς μνησικακίας ἐκβαλών , θηρίου παντὸς χαλεπώτερος ἦν , ἄγχων τὸν σύνδουλον . τί ποιεῖς , ἄνθρωπε ; σεαυτὸν ἀπαιτῶν οὐκ αἰσθάνῃ , κατὰ σεαυτοῦ τὸ ξίφος ὠθῶν , καὶ τὴν ἀπόφασιν καὶ τὴν δωρεὰν ἀνακλούμενος ; Hom. lxi. 4, p. 616.

ἔπνιγεν ] So ‘obtorto collo ad prætorem trahor,’ Plaut. Pœnul. iii. 5. 45. See other examples in Wetstein. The εἴ τι ὀφείλεις , which is beyond doubt the true reading, must be understood as a haughty expression of one ashamed to meet the mention of the paltry sum really owing, and by this very expression generalizing his unforgiving treatment to all who owed him aught.

Verse 31

31. ] The fellow-servants ἐλυπήθησαν , the lord ὀργίζεται . Anger is not man’s proper mood towards sin, but sorrow (see Psa 119:136 ), because all men are sinners. These fellow-servants are the praying people of God , who plead with Him against the oppression and tyranny in the world.

Verse 32

32. ] ὅτε μὲν μυρία τάλαντα ὤφειλεν , οὐκ ἐκάλεσε πονηρόν , οὐδὲ ὕβρισεν , ἀλλ ʼ ἠλέησεν . Chrysost. Hom. lxi. 4, p. 616.

Verse 34

34. τοῖς βασανισταῖς ] not merely the prison-keepers , but the torturers. Remember he was to have been sold into slavery before, and now his punishment is to be greater . The condition following would amount in the case of the sum in the parable to perpetual imprisonment. So Chrysostom, τουτέστι διηνεκῶς · οὔτε γὰρ ἀποδώσει ποτέ . Hom. lxi. 4, p. 617. See note on ch. Matthew 5:26 .

There is a difficulty made, from the punishment of this debtor for the very debt which had been forgiven , and the question has been asked, ‘utrum peccata semel dimissa redeant.’ But it is the spiritual meaning which has here ruled the form of the parable. He who falls from a state of grace falls into a state of condemnation, and is overwhelmed with ‘all that debt,’ not of this or that actual sin formerly remitted, but of a whole state of enmity to God.

Meyer (Comm. in loc.) well remarks, that the motive held up in this parable could only have full light cast on it by the great act of Atonement which the Lord was about to accomplish. We may see from that consideration, how properly it belongs to this last period of His ministry.

Verse 35

35. ὁ π . μου ] not ὑμῶν , as in the similar declaration in ch. Matthew 6:14-15 . This is more solemn and denunciatory ( οὐ γὰρ ἄξιον τοῦ τοιούτου πατέρα καλεῖσθαι τὸν Θεόν , τοῦ οὕτω πονηροῦ κ . μισανθρώπου . Chrys. Hom. lxi. 4, p. 617). ἐπουράνιος is not elsewhere used by our Evangelist.

Bibliographical Information
Alford, Henry. "Commentary on Matthew 18". Alford's Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hac/matthew-18.html. 1863-1878.
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