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Bible Commentaries

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

Matthew 20

Verse 1

1. ἅμα πρωΐ ] see Jeremiah 35:14 , and other places.

ἐργάτας ] in the primary meanings of the parable, ‘apostles, prophets, ministers:’ distinct from the vines in the vineyard. But inasmuch as every workman is himself subject to the treatment of the husbandman (see Joh 15:1-2 ), and every man in the Kingdom of God is in some sense or other a worker on the rest, the distinction is not to be pressed the parable ranges over both comparisons.

ἀμπελῶνα ] not the Jewish church only , as Greswell, Parables, iv. 355 ff., maintains. The Jewish Church was God’s vineyard especially and typically; His Church in all ages is His true vineyard, see John 15:1 .

Our language admits of the idiom εἰς τὸν ἀμ . αὐ . being exactly rendered into his vineyard, E. V.

Verses 1-16

1 16. ] PARABLE OF THE LABOURERS IN THE VINEYARD. Peculiar to Matthew . In interpreting this difficult parable, we must first carefully observe its occasion and connexion. It is bound by the γάρ to the conclusion of chap. 19, and arose out of the question of Peter in Matthew 20:27 , τί ἄρα ἔσται ἡμῖν ; (1) Its ‘punctum saliens’ is, that the Kingdom of God is of grace , not of debt; that they who were called first, and have laboured longest, have no more claim upon God than those who were called last: but that to all, His covenant promise shall be fulfilled in its integrity . (2) Its primary application is to the Apostles , who had asked the question. They were not to be of such a spirit, as to imagine, with the murmurers in Matthew 20:11 , that they should have something supereminent (because they were called first, and had laboured longest) above those who in their own time were to be afterward called (see 1Co 15:8-11 ). (3) Its secondary applications are to all those to whom such a comparison, of first and last called , will apply: nationally , to the Jews, who were first called, and with a definite covenant , and the Heathens who came in afterwards, and on a covenant, though really made (see Jeremiah 31:33 ; Zechariah 8:8 ; Heb 8:10 ), yet not so open and prominent; individually , to those whose call has been in early life, and who have spent their days in God’s active service, and those who have been summoned later; and to various other classes and persons between whom comparison, not only of time , but of advantages, talents, or any other distinguishing characteristic, can be made: that none of the first of these can boast themselves over the others, nor look for higher place and greater reward, inasmuch as there is but one “gift” of God according to the covenant of grace. And the “first” of these are to see that they do not by pride and self-righteousness become the “last,” or worse be rejected, as nationally were the Jews; for among the many that are called, there are few chosen many who will fail of the reward in the end. (4) In subordination to this leading idea and warning of the parable must the circumstances brought before us be interpreted. The day and its hours are not any fixed time, such as the duration of the world, or our Lord’s life on earth, or the life of man, exclusively: but the natural period of earthly work as applied to the various meanings of which the parable is capable. The various times of hiring are not to be pressed as each having an exclusive meaning in each interpretation: they serve to spread the calling over the various periods, and to shew that it is again and again made. They are the quarters of the natural day, when the aliquot parts of the day’s wages could be earned, and therefore labourers would be waiting. The last of these is inserted for a special purpose, and belongs more expressly to the instruction of the parable. (5) The μισθος bears an important part in the interpretation. I cannot with Stier (whose comment on this parable I think much inferior to his usual remarks) suppose it to mean “the promise of this life” attached to godliness. His anxiety to escape from the danger of eternal life being matter of wages , has here misled him. But there is no such danger in the interpretation of the parable which I believe to be the true one. The μισθός is the promise of the covenant , uniformly represented by our Lord and His Apostles as a ‘ reward ,’ Matthew 5:12 ; Luke 6:35 ; Luke 14:14 ; John 4:36 ; 1Co 3:14 ; 2 John 1:8 ; Hebrews 10:35 ; Hebrews 11:6 a [152] ., reckoned indeed of free grace; but still, forensically considered, answering to, and represented by, ‘wages,’ as claimed under God’s covenant with man in Christ. (The freeness and sovereignty of God’s gift of grace is pointedly set before us in Matthew 20:14 , θέλω δὲ τού . τ . ἐσχ . δοῦναι .…) This μισθός I believe then to be eternal life , or, in other words, GOD HIMSELF ( Joh 17:3 ). And this, rightly understood, will keep us from the error of supposing, that the parable involves a declaration that all who are saved will be in an absolute equality. This gift is, and will be, to each man, as he is prepared to receive it. To the envious and murmurers, it will be as the fruit that turned to ashes in the mouth; by their own unchristian spirit they will “lose the things that they have wrought” ( 2Jn 1:8 ), and their reward will be null: in other words, they will, as the spiritual verity necessitates, not enter into that life to which they were called . God’s covenant is fulfilled to them they have received their denarius but, from the essential nature of the μισθός , are disqualified from enjoying its use: for as Gregory the Great remarks (Hom. 19 in Evv., p. 1512) ‘cœlorum regnum nullus murmurans accipit: nullus qui accipit murmurare poterit.’ To those who have known and loved God, it will be, to each as he has advanced in the spiritual life, joy unspeakable and full of glory. (In the 2nd edn. of the Reden Jesu (p. 299, note), Stier has even more emphatically declared himself in favour of his former view, and that with reference to my note; wenn auch Alford mir widerspricht und meine Eregese hier “much inferior to his usual remarks” nennt, so muss ich erwarten, ob oielleicht die zweite Auflage mit ihren genaueren Beziehungen ihn beffer uberzeugt. But after carefully weighing the whole, I am quite unable to accede to his view; indeed I feel more repugnance to it than ever. The “promise of the life that now is” seems to me wholly beneath the dignity of the parable, and in his explanation he appears painfully to feel it so. The text above quoted, 2 John 1:8 , seems to me to furnish the key to the parable, and to have been written with reference to it: and there no one surely could interpret μισθός otherwise than of the μισθὸς ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς of our ch. 5.)

[152] alii = some cursive mss.

Verse 2

2. ] ἐκ seems to point, as commonly in other references, at the source or foundation of the συμφωνία : see reff. This view is more probable than that which supposes μισθώσασθαι understood. Meyer remarks that the accus. τὴν ἡμέραν must not be regarded as one of time, which would not suit with συμφων . to which it belongs, but as one of secondary reference.

The denarius a day was the pay of a Roman soldier in Tiberius’ time, a few years before this parable was uttered (see Tacitus, Annal. i. 17). Polybius, ii. 15. 6 (but in illustrating the exceeding fertility and cheapness of the country), mentions that the charge for a day’s entertainment in the inns in Cisalpine Gaul was half an as, = 1/20th of the denarius. This we may therefore regard as liberal pay for the day’s work.

Verses 3-4

3, 4. ] The third hour , = at the equinox, our 9 a.m., and in summer 8, was the πλήθουσα ἀγορά , or ἀγορᾶς πληθώρα when the market was fullest.

“The market-place of the world is contrasted with the vineyard of the Kingdom of God: the greatest man of business in worldly things is a mere idle gazer, if he has not yet entered on the true work which alone is worth any thing or gains any reward.” Stier, ii. p. 307.

No positive stipulation is made with these second, but they are to depend on the justice of the householder. They might expect ¾ths of a denarius. From the same dialogue being implied at the sixth and ninth hour ( ἐποίησεν ὡσαύτως ) the ὃ ἐὰνδίκαιον is probably in each case the corresponding part of the denarius, at least in their expectation ; so that it cannot be said that no covenant was made .

Verse 8

8. ] By the Mosaic law ( Deu 24:15 ) the wages of an hired servant were to be paid him before night . This was at the twelfth hour, or sunset: see Matthew 20:12 . I do not think the ἐπίτροπος must be pressed as having a spiritual meaning. If it has, it represents Christ (see Hebrews 3:6 , and ch. Mat 11:27 ).

ἀρξάμενος is not merely expletive, but definite, as in Luke 23:5 .

Verse 9

9. ] After ὥραν supply ἀπεσταλμένοι εἰς τὸν ἀμπελῶνα .

Verse 10

10. ] The precedent cited by Greswell for this method of payment, from Josephus, Antt. xx. 9. 7, does not apply. It is there said that in the rebuilding of the temple, εἰ μίαν τις ὥραν τῆς ἡμέρας ἐργάσαιτο , τὸν μισθὸν ὑπὲρ ταύτης εὐθέως ἐλάμβανεν : the ταύτης referring to the μίαν ὥραν , not to τῆς ἡμ ., and the fact related being that if any one worked only one hour in the day, he was immediately paid for that hour . Indeed the manifest effect of such a rule as Greswell supposes, would have been to stop the building, not to hasten it, for if a man could get his day’s pay for an hour’s work, why work more?

Verse 12

12. ] Some take ἐποίησαν , as in Acts 15:33 , to mean “ have tarried ,” but the sense in the former reff. seems the best.

Verses 13-14

13, 14. ] ἑταῖρε , at first sight a friendly word merely, assumes a more solemn aspect when we recollect that it is used in ch. Mat 22:12 to the guest who had not the wedding garment; and in ch. Mat 26:50 by our Lord to Judas.

ὕπαγε hardly denotes (as Stier in his 1st edn.) expulsion and separation from the householder and his employment: it is here only a word of course, commanding him to do what a paid labourer naturally should do.

Verse 15

15. ὀφθ . πον . ] here envious: so רַע is used Proverbs 28:22 .

Verse 16

16. ] The last were first, as equal to the first ; first, in order of payment ; first, as superior to the first (no others being brought into comparison), in that their reward was more in proportion to their work, and not marred by a murmuring spirit. The first were last in these same respects.

The last words of the verse belong not so much to the parable, as to the first clause, and are placed to account for its being as there described; for, while multitudes are called into the vineyard, many, by murmuring and otherwise disgracing their calling, will nullify it, and so, although first by profession and standing, will not be of the number of the elect: although called, will not be chosen. In ch. Mat 23:14 the reference is different.

Verses 17-19

17 19. ] Mark 10:32-34 .Luke 18:31-34; Luke 18:31-34 . FULLER DECLARATION OF HIS SUFFERINGS AND DEATH revealing His being delivered to the Gentiles and (but in Matthew only) His crucifixion . See the note on the more detailed account in Mark.

Verses 20-28

20 28. ] AMBITIOUS REQUEST OF THE MOTHER OF THE SONS OF ZEBEDEE; OUR LORD’S REPLY. Mark 10:35-45 . Not related by Luke. This request seems to have arisen from the promise made to the twelve in ch. Matthew 19:28 . In Mark’s account, the two brethren themselves make the request. But the narration in the text is the more detailed and exact; and the two immediately coincide, by our Lord addressing His answer to the two Apostles ( Mat 20:22 ). The difference is no greater than is perpetually to be found in narrations of the same fact, persons being often related to have done per se what, accurately speaking, they did per alterum . The mother’s name was Salome ; she had followed our Lord from Galilee, and afterwards witnessed the crucifixion, see Mark 15:40 . Probably the two brethren had directed this request through their mother , because they remembered the rebuke which had followed their former contention about precedence.

Verse 21

21. ] The places close to the throne were those of honour , as in Josephus, speaking of Saul (Antt. vi. 11. 9), τοῦ μὲν παιδὸς Ἰωνάθου ἐκ δεξιῶν , Ἀβενήρου δὲ τοῦ ἀρχιστρατήγου ἐκ τῶν ἑτέρων … In the Rabbinical work Midrasch Tehillim, cited by Wetstein, God, it is said, will seat the King Messiah at His right hand, and Abraham at his left.

One of these brethren , John, the beloved disciple, had his usual place close to the Lord, John 13:23 ; the other was among the chosen Three (this request hardly can imply in their minds any idea of the rejection of Peter from his peculiar post of honour by the rebuke in ch. Matthew 16:23 , for since then had happened the occurrences in ch. Matthew 17:1-8 , and especially ib. Mat 17:24-27 ). Both were called Boanerges, or the sons of thunder, Mark 3:17 .

They thought the kingdom of God was immediately to appear , Luke 19:11 .

Verse 22

22. ] One at least of these brethren saw the Lord on His Cross on His right and left hand the crucified thieves . Bitter indeed must the remembrance of this ambitious prayer have been at that moment! Luther remarks, ‘The flesh ever seeks to be glorified, before it is crucified: exalted, before it is abased.’

The ‘ cup ’ is a frequent Scripture image for joy or sorrow: see Psalms 23:5 ; Psalms 116:13 ; Isaiah 51:22 ; Matthew 26:42 . It here seems to signify more the inner and spiritual bitterness, resembling the agony of the Lord Himself, and the baptism , which is an important addition in Mark, more the outer accession of persecution and trial, through which we must pass to the Kingdom of God. On the latter image see Psalms 42:7 ; Psalms 69:2 ; Psalms 124:4 .

Stier rightly observes that this answer of our Lord contains in it the kernel of the doctrine of the Sacraments in the Christian Church: see Rom 6:1-7 ; 1 Corinthians 12:13 , and note on Luke 12:50 .

Some explain their answer as if they understood the Lord to speak of drinking out of the royal cup , and washing in the royal ewer : but the words δύνασθε πιεῖν , and δυνάμεθα , indicating a difficulty , preclude this.

Verse 23

23. ] The one of these brethren was the first of the Apostles to drink the cup of suffering, and be baptized with the baptism of blood , Acts 12:1-2 ; the other had the longest experience among them of a life of trouble and persecution .

The last clause of the verse may be understood as in the E. V., ‘is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father;’ so Meyer, a [153] .; or, taking ἀλλά as = εἰ μή (see reff.), ‘is not mine to give, except to those for whom,’ &c. So Chrys. &c., Grot. a [154] . If however we understand after ἀλλά ‘it shall be given by Me ,’ we may say with Bengel, ‘res eodem recidit, sive oppositione, sive exceptione.’

[153] alii = some cursive mss.

[154] alii = some cursive mss.

Verse 25

25. ] The two clauses, … κατακυρ . αὐτῶν and … κατεξ . αὐτῶν , are parallel, and αὐτῶν in both cases refers to τῶν ἐθνῶν . Grotius and others would take the second αὐτῶν to refer to οἱ ἄρχοντες , but wrongly.

Observe the κατα in composition in both verbs, signifying subjugation and oppression.

Verses 26-28

26 28. ] μέγας .… πρῶτος , i.e. in the next life , let him be διάκ . and δοῦλος here . Thus also the ἦλθεν , Matthew 20:28 , applies to the coming of the Son of man in the flesh only .

λύτρον ἀντὶ πολ . is a plain declaration of the sacrificial and vicarious nature of the death of our Lord. The principal usages of λύτρον are the following: (1) a payment as equivalent for a life destroyed, Exodus 21:30 ; (2) the price of redemption of a slave, Leviticus 25:51 a [155] .; (3) ‘propitiation for,’ as in Proverbs 13:8 , where Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion have ἐξίλασμα .

[155] alii = some cursive mss.

λύτρον ἀντὶ πολλῶν here = ἀντίλυτρον ὑπὲρ πάντων 1 Timothy 2:6 . No stress is to be laid on this word πολλῶν as not being πάντων here; it is placed in opposition to the one life which is given the one for many and not with any distinction from πάντων . (I may observe once for all, that in the usage of these two words, as applied to our redemption by Christ, πάντων is the OBJECTIVE, πολλῶν the SUBJECTIVE designation of those for whom Christ died. He died for all , objectively; subjectively, the great multitude whom no man could number, πολλοί , will be the saved by Him in the end.) ‘As the Son of man came to give His life for many and to serve many, so ye, being many, should be to each one the object of service and self-denial.’ Hofmann, Schriftbeweis, ii. 1, p. 197, argues for ἀντὶ πολλῶν being taken with δοῦναι , not with λύτρον . But Meyer well remarks, 1) that the sense of ἀντί will not be altered by this, and 2) that this sense is clearly marked by λύτρον to be that of substitution , not, as Hofm., that of compensation merely.

Verses 29-34

29 34. ] HEALING OF TWO BLIND MEN ON HIS DEPARTURE FROM JERICHO. Mark 10:46-52 .Luke 18:35-43; Luke 18:35-43 ; Luke 19:1 , with however some remarkable differences. In the much more detailed account of St. Mark, we have but one blind man, mentioned by name as Bartimæus; St. Luke also relates it of only one, and besides says that it was ἐν τῷ ἐγγίζειν αὐτὸν εἰς Ἱεριχώ . The only fair account of such differences is, that they existed in the sources from which each Evangelist took his narrative. This later one is easily explained, from the circumstance having happened close to Jericho in two accounts, just on leaving it in the third, on approaching to it: but he must be indeed a slave to the letter , who would stumble at such discrepancies, and not rather see in them the corroborating coincidence of testimonies to the fact itself (see Olshausen, Comment, i. 752). Yet Mr. Greswell (as Theophylact, Neander, and Ebrard, Evangelien-kritik, p. 572) strangely supposes our Lord to have healed one blind man (as in Luke) on entering Jericho , and another (Bartimæus, as in Mark) on leaving it , and Matthew to have, ‘with his characteristic brevity in relating miracles,’ combined both these in one . But then what becomes of Matthew’s assertion, ἐκπορευομένων αὐτῶν ἀπὸ Ἱερ .? Can we possibly imagine, that the Evangelist, having both facts before him, could combine them and preface them with what he must know to be false? It is just thus that the Harmonists utterly destroy the credibility of the Scripture narrative. Accumulate upon this the absurd improbabilities involved in two men, under the same circumstances, addressing our Lord in the same words at so very short an interval, and we may be thankful that biblical criticism is at length being emancipated from ‘forcing narratives into accordance.’ See notes on Mark: and a more curious and more recent example of harmonistic ingenuity, in Wordsw.’s note here. It is highly instructive to us, that a Commentator, with the marks of sequence in time given by ἐν τῷ ἐγγίζειν αὐτὸν εἰς Ἱερ . and ἐκπορευομένων αὐτῶν ἀπὸ Ἱερ ., should fly for a solution to the Rabbinical canon, “non est prius aut posterius in Scriptura.”

JERICHO, 150 stadia (= 18 rom. miles) N.E. of Jerusalem (Jos. B. J. iv. 8. 3), and 60 (= 7.2 rom. miles) W. from the Jordan (Jos. ibid.), in the tribe of Benjamin ( Jos 18:21 ), near the borders of Ephraim ( Jos 16:7 ). The environs were like an oasis surrounded by high and barren limestone mountains, well watered and fertile, rich in palmtrees (Deuteronomy 34:3 ; Judges 1:16 ; Jdg 3:13 ), roses ( Sir 24:14 ), and balsam (Jos. Antt. iv. 6. 1 a [156] .). After its destruction by Joshua, its rebuilding was prohibited under a curse ( Jos 6:26 ), which was incurred by Hiel the Bethelite in the days of Ahab ( 1Ki 16:34 ): i.e. he fortified it, for it was an inhabited city before (see Judges 3:13 ; 2Sa 10:5 ). We find it the seat of a school of the prophets, 2 Kings 2:4 ff. After the captivity we read of it Ezra 2:34 ; Nehemiah 7:36 ; and in 1Ma 9:50 we read that Jonathan strengthened its fortifications. It was much embellished by Herod the Great, who had a palace there (Jos. Antt. xvi. 5. 2 a [157] .), and at this time was one of the principal cities of Palestine, and the residence of an ἀρχιτελώνης on account of the balsam trade ( Luk 19:1 ). At present there is on or near the site only a miserable village, Richa or Ericha. Winer, RWB.

[156] alii = some cursive mss.

[157] alii = some cursive mss.

Verses 30-31

30, 31. ] The multitude appear to have silenced them, lest they should be wearisome and annoying to our Lord; not because they called Him the Son of David, for the multitudes could have no reason for repressing this cry, seeing that they themselves (being probably for the most part the same persons who entered Jerusalem with Jesus) raised it very soon after: see ch. Matthew 21:9 . I have before noticed (on ch. Mat 9:27 ) the singular occurrence of these words, ‘Son of David,’ in the three narratives of healing the blind in this Gospel.

Verse 32

32. ] ἐφώνησεν = εἶπεν Φωνήσατε Mark, = ἐκέλευσεν ἀχθῆναι Luke.

Verse 34

34. ] ἥψ . τῶν ὀμμ ., not mentioned in the other Gospels. In both we have the addition of the Lord’s saying, ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε . The question preceding was to elicit their faith.

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Bibliographical Information
Alford, Henry. "Commentary on Matthew 20". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. 1863-1878.