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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 12

Haydock's Catholic Bible CommentaryHaydock's Catholic Commentary

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Verse 1

And his disciples being hungry. How truly admirable is the conduct of the apostles, who would not depart from the company of Jesus, though pressed by the greatest hunger and fatigue, not even to take a little refreshment for the body. (St. John Chrysostom) --- It is remarked by St. Jerome, that the Pharisees did not accuse the disciples of theft, but of a breach of the sabbath. St. Luke calls this sabbath, Sabbatum secundo primum, which is differently explained by interpreters. Ribeira, following St. John Chrysostom and Theophilactus, thinks that every sabbath was so called, which followed immediately any feast. Maldonatus is of opinion that some particular sabbath is pointed out by this name, and conjectures that it was the sabbath of Pentecost, because it is the second of the great feast, viz. the Passover, Pentecost, Scenopegia, or of the Tabernacles. --- In the Greek, sabbath is in the plural, and means the days of the sabbath or rest, which were a part of the feast. The three great feasts lasted a whole week each. They were all three called Greek: prota, i.e. great, solemn feasts. The first was that of the Passover, with the seven days of unleavened bread, called Greek: protoproton, the first-first sabbath by excellence: the second was the great feast of Pentecost, Greek: deteroproton, the second-first sabbath, (which seems to have been the feast meant by the evangelist in this place, as at this season the corn was ripe in Palestine) and the third was the feast of tabernacles, Greek: tritoproton, the third-first great sabbath. Many, however, are of the opinion, that by the second-first sabbath is meant the octave day of the feast, which was ordered to be equally solemnized with the first day of the feast. (Leviticus xxiii. 36. 39. and Numbers xxix. 35.)

Verse 2

That which is not lawful to do on the sabbath-days. The Pharisees blame not the disciples for plucking the ears of corn, as they passed by, (this being allowed, Deuteronomy xxiii. 25.) but for doing it on a sabbath-day, as if it had been a breach of the sabbath. (Witham) --- Behold, &c. The Pharisees here mildly rebuke our Lord; but afterwards, when he restored the withered hand, they rose up against him with such rage, that they formed upon the spot designs of killing him, as in ver. 14. When there is nothing great or sublime, they are more quiet, but when with his word only he restores health to the infirm, like furious beasts, they grow enraged. (St. John Chrysostom, hom. xl.)

Verse 3

What David, &c.[1] Christ shews them that the law need not always be taken according to the bare letter. --- Into the house of God; i.e. where the tabernacle was then kept: not into the temple, which at that time was not built. --- Eat the loaves, &c. Christ speaks of those loaves which were ordered to be placed on a table within the tabernacle, and changed from time to time. This translation seems as literal as may be, and more intelligible than loaves of proposition, or shew-bread. (Witham) --- To refute this calumny of the Jewish leaders, Jesus reminds them of the conduct of David when pursued by Saul, who, reduced to the like extremity, eat of that bread which the priests alone were allowed to touch. Achimelec, the high priest, thinking it a more pleasing sacrifice to God to preserve the life of man, than to make an offering of bread. (St. Jerome) --- And they that were with him. In the place alluded to, (1 Kings xxi.) it is said, that he was alone. It may be answered, that no one was with him when he received the loaves. (Menochius)



Panes Propositionis. Greek: tous artous protheseos. They are also elsewhere called, panes faciales, Greek: artous enopious, (Deuteronomy xxv. 30.) and faciei, Greek: tou prosopou. (2 Esdras x. 33.)

Verse 4

How he entered, &c. The house of God was then at Nobe. In St. Mark, the high priest is called Abiathar. See Chap. ii. 26. To this difficulty some answer, that the father and son bore these two names, Achimelec and Abiathar. This they attempt to prove from 2 Kings viii. 19, and 1 Paralipomenon xxiv. 3. Others say that Abiathar, son of Achimelec, was present, and sanctioned the action of his father, thus making it his own. Others again contend, that it ought to have been translated, in the chapter called Abiathar, instead of under Abiathar: for the Jews divided the Scriptures into parts, and called them by the names of the most remarkable person or thing spoken of in them. Thus Romans, ii. 2. In Elias, means in the part called Elias. --- The loaves of proposition. So were called the twelve loaves which were placed before the sanctuary, in the temple of God. (Challoner) --- These were exposed every sabbath, on the golden table, before the Lord. (Bible de Vence)

Verse 5

Break the sabbath; i.e. they do that, which if the divine worship did not require, would not be allowed on the sabbath, as the work they do, of its own nature, is servile.

Verse 6

A greater than the temple: so what can be done for the temple without a sin, may be done for him without a crime. (Bible de Vence)

Verse 7

Mercy, and not sacrifice. (Osee vi. 6.) The meaning of this is, if you then approve of the mercy of the high priest, who refreshed the famished fugitive David, why do you condemn my disciples? (St. Jerome)

Verse 8

Lord ... of the sabbath. He proves that he can dispense with the observation of the feast, because he is master of the feast. In St. Mark (ii. 27.) it is written, the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath; i.e. man’s salvation is to be preferred to the observation of the sabbath. (Menochius) --- In the concurrence of two incompatible precepts, we must give the preference to that which is the end and object of the other; thus we must prefer the preservation of life to the observance of the sabbath. (Haydock) --- These loaves were twelve, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. They were set six and six, one upon another, at each end of the table. Upon the uppermost loaf of each heap stood a vessel, smoking with the sweetest incense. These loaves at the week’s end were, according to God’s order, eaten by the priests only, when they were replaced by twelve fresh ones, made like them, with the finest flour, tempered with oil. This offering of the shew-bread before the Lord, was a continual sacrifice, as the holy Fathers observe, and a figure of a more excellent kind of shew-bread, viz. Jesus Christ himself in the holy eucharist. (Haydock)

Verse 9

He came into the synagogue. This happened some days later, but again on a sabbath. (Menochius)

Verse 10

Is it lawful? His enemies perceiving in what manner he excused his disciples, have recourse to a fresh stratagem. (St. Jerome) --- By this question they did not seek learning or improvement, but merely an occasion to ensnare Jesus in his words. If he answered in the affirmative, they would accuse him of violating the repose of the sabbath, enjoined by the law of Moses; if in the negative, of cruelty and want of feeling, and would infallibly have objected his own practice against him, as he had before justified his disciples for plucking corn on the sabbath. Jesus seeing their malice, avoids their captious question by proposing one to them, as we read in St. Mark. Is it lawful to do good or ill on the sabbath? As if he had said, whether is it better to assist your neighbor on the sabbath, or to abandon him in his distress, when you are able to afford him relief? Unable to give an answer, that would not be a justification of his actions, they remain silent; but he still presses the subject, by retorting their own actions upon themselves. They afforded relief to brute animals that stood in need of it on the sabbath. It was therefore cruelty, or mere malice, to cavil at his relieving the sick man on the sabbath. (Jansenius)

Verse 13

Stretch forth. Our Saviour places the man that had the withered hand in the midst of the Jews, and looking round upon the multitude, (according to St. Mark) he ordered him to stretch out his hand, that by these several ways, he might excite the pity of the stiff-necked people; but no sooner had he performed this act of charity, than they, swelling with anger, went out, meditating destruction. So ruinous and pestiferous is the vice of envy! (St. John Chrysostom, hom. xli). --- St. Matthew having mentioned this miracle, takes occasion to narrate others which Christ performed on his second return from Judea. We have frequently to mention that the particle tunc, then, and such like, do not always relate to what immediately goes before. A soul in sin may be said to resemble the withered hand, but obedience with faith to God’s commands can and will restore it to its pristine state. Jesus bids him stretch out his hand, and power accompanies the command; he stretches it forth, and is made whole like the other. (Haydock)

Verse 18

Behold my servant, &c. The words are out of the prophet Isaias, Chap. xli. 1. And it is observed that the Jews, before the coming of Jesus, used to expound them of their Messias. (Witham) --- Our Lord Jesus Christ may be called the Servant of the Almighty, because, as himself assures us, he came down not to be served, but to serve; or, as St. Remigius says, not on account of his divinity, but on account of his humanity, which he received from the pure flesh and blood of the immaculate Virgin. (in St. Thomas Aquinas) There is some difference in the text of Isaias, whence this is taken. The apostles and evangelists did not confine themselves to cite the very words of the text, but only the sense. (Bible de Vence)

Verse 19

He shall not contend. These words do not occur in the prophet, but are added by St. Matthew to express more fully the sense, because he offered himself up to the will of his heavenly Father, and delivered himself into the hands of those who persecuted him. (St. Thomas Aquinas) Nor cry out; because, like a lamb, in the hands of the shearer, he opened not his mouth.

Verse 20

The bruised reed. The prophet here shews the mildness of our Saviour, who, though he could have broken them like a reed, and as a bruised reed, yet would not do it; and though he could have easily extinguished their rage and anger, yet he bore with it for a while, with singular clemency, till he should send forth judgment unto victory, i.e. till justice shall have appeared triumphant, till Christ shall have fulfilled all things, and raised his most illustrious trophy: till the Gentiles shall have placed their confidence in his most adorable name, and the Jews have no plea, notwithstanding their unparalleled obduracy, to make in reply. (St. John Chrysostom, hom. xli). --- Judgment unto victory. St. Jerome and St. Hilary expound these words in conformity with their interpretation of the two foregoing verses, as follows: "The Lord will cherish and support the infirm and weak in this time of penance and probation, inviting them to greater strength, and light, and perfect charity, till the power of death be taken away, till he return to judge the world, when his judgment shall be victorious; though, in the mean while, it often may appear suppressed, and even subdued by the obstinate will of man." But the exposition, most conformable to the literal sense of the prophet, is: he will support the weak by his mildness, until it come to pass that his judgment, which he came to announce to the Gentiles, be led to victory, by his truth becoming universally triumphant over the world, and in his name all nations shall hope. (Jansenius). --- Thus will he bear with the little light and virtue of his enemies, till the bright light of his faith, and the warmth and strength of his grace, obtain in their hearts, and triumph over every opposition. (Haydock)

Verse 21

In his name the Gentiles. Here are two words differing from those used by the prophet: in the Hebrew text we have, in his law the islands shall hope: probably the oversight of the amanuensis substituting Greek: onoma for Greek: nomo; the latter variation is of still less moment, as the prophets understand by islands, countries far removed; and also the poet, Et penitus toto divisos orbe Britannos.

And, Mittam ad insulas longe ad eos, qui non auderunt de me. (Isaias, lx. 9, and lxvi. 19)

Verse 25

Every kingdom. Strong as a kingdom may appear, it is easily overturned by divisions; and lest it should be objected, that ruin was brought upon it by a multiplicity of clashing affairs, it is added that cities and families share the same fate, if subject to similar divisions. (St. John Chrysostom, hom. xlii). --- The Pharisees, on a former occasion, had laid a similar accusation against him. Then indeed he did not correct them, wishing them to discover his virtue from the miracles he performed, and the dignity of his character from the doctrines he delivered; but as they still continue the old accusation, he now wishes to convince them of their error. Envy does not so much seek how to speak, as what to speak. Yet Christ does not despise them, but answers them in the most meek and humble manner, teaching us to be charitable to our enemies, though they behave to us in the most inimical manner. By this also, our divine Saviour evidently demonstrates the falsity of the accusation; for it is never in the power of a possessed person to know another’s thoughts, nor give so mild an answer. And as his enemies did not dare, from fear of the people, openly to broach this base calumny, seeing their thoughts, he answered them; still he does not expose to public infamy the malice of their hearts, but gives them a private solution of their difficulty. (St. John Chrysostom in St. Thomas Aquinas)

Verse 27

Your children, &c. Some by their children understand, exorcists, that were among the Jews, that sometimes cast out devils; but it is more commonly taken for Christ’s disciples and apostles, who were of the Jewish nation, to whom he had given power to cast out devils: as if he had said, If you allow them to cast out devils by divine power, why do not you also believe this of me, their master? (Witham) --- St. John Chrysostom says the apostles and disciples of Christ are here meant, for they had already cast out devils in virtue of the power conferred upon them by their divine Master, without ever having it said of them, that in the prince of devils they cast out devils. Thus he shews that envy was the origin and cause of their persecuting spirit, and that not his actions but his person gave them such great umbrage. (hom. xlii). --- If Christ alludes here to their own exorcists, who drove out devils by the invocation of the adorable name of God, he confounds the unjust malice and prevention of the Pharisees; if to the apostles, he constitutes them his umpires. (St. Thomas Aquinas)

Verse 28

Kingdom of God. Christ either calls himself and his coming the kingdom of God, because it was the beginning of the kingdom of God, and laid open the way to us: or the sense may be, If I, as proved in an argument above, cast out devils by the spirit of God, therefore what I, my apostles, and John preach, is true, viz. that the kingdom of God is at hand; because the Holy Ghost, who worketh miracles by us, proveth that our preaching is true. (Maldonatus)

Verse 29

How can any one enter; how can I drive Satan from his possession? i.e. cast him out from the bodies of men, unless I am stronger than he, and first unarm him. (Maldonatus)

Verse 30

He that is not with me. This sentence is not to be understood as directly spoken of heretics and schismatics, although at first sight it may appear so, but of the devil, who wishes to dead the souls of men captive, whilst Christ wishes to free them. He entices men to wickedness, Jesus Christ draws them to virtue: how therefore can the works of Christ be compared with those of Satan! (St. Jerome) --- There is no medium. We must either be with Christ, or against Christ: if we are not of Christ, whose then must we be, when nothing but sin can separate us from Christ and God? Oh, where will the generality of Christians, who shew themselves so indifferent with regard to salvation, find themselves at the last day? Can they say they are with Christ?

Verse 31

The blasphemy[2] against the Spirit, or against the Spirit and the Holy Ghost. St. Augustine takes notice, that this is one of the most difficult places in the Scriptures. According to the common exposition, here is not meant a sin committed by speaking against the third person of the blessed Trinity, the Holy Ghost, but that sin by which the obstinate Jews wilfully opposed Christ, and attributed those miracles to Beelzebub, which he performed by the Spirit of God, of which they could not be ignorant, but by a wilful blindness. (Witham) --- The sin here spoken of is that blasphemy, by which the Pharisees attributed the miracles of Christ, wrought by the Spirit of God, to Beelzebub, the prince of devils. Now this kind of sin is usually accompanied with so much obstinacy, and such wilful opposing the Spirit of God, and the known truth, that men who are guilty of it are seldom or ever converted; and therefore are never forgiven, because they will not repent. Otherwise there is no sin which God cannot, or will not forgive to such as sincerely request, and have recourse to the keys of the Church. (Challoner) --- Therefore I say: this therefore is not referred to what immediately precedes, but to what is said in verse 24. (Maldonatus) --- Whosoever he be, says St. Augustine, that believeth not man’s sins to be remitted in the Church of God, and therefore despiseth the bounteous mercies of God, in so mighty a work, if he continue in his obstinate mind till death, he is guilty of sin against the Holy Ghost. (Euchir. lxxxiii. ep. 50. in fine.)



Spiritus blasphemia, Greek: e de tou pneumatos blasphemia. St. Augustine (serm. lxxxi. de verbis Evang. Matt. chap. v. p. 388. tom. v.) says of this place: Forte in omnibus Scripturis Sanctis, nulla major quæstio, nulla difficilior. And again, (chap. xii. page. 394) he give this interpretation: ipsa ergo impœnitentia, est Spiritus blasphemia. See also St. Jerome on this place. St. John Chrysostom’s exposition is more easy, when he thinks the sense is, that such a sin shall scarcely be forgiven. Greek: uper part e amartia asuggnostos dm. ma. p. 274.

Verse 32

Whosoever, &c. It was their duty to have a knowledge of the Holy Ghost, and they obstinately refused to admit what was clear and manifest. Though they were ignorant of the divinity of Jesus Christ, and might take him to be merely the son of a poor artizan, they could not be ignorant that the expelling of demons, and miraculous healing of all diseases, were the works of the Holy Ghost. If, therefore, they refused to do penance for the insult offered to the Spirit of God, in the person of Christ, they could not hope to escape condign punishment. (St. John Chrysostom, hom. xlii). --- Against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; i.e. they who for want of sufficient instruction, were invincibly ignorant that Christ was God, might more easily be brought to the true knowledge and faith of Christ, and so receive forgiveness of their sins: but if he shall speak against the Holy Ghost, i.e. against the Spirit of God in Christ, and shall oppose the known truth, by attributing to the devil that doctrine, and those miracles, which evidently were from the Spirit and the hand of God, that sin shall never be forgiven him. But how is this consistent with the Catholic doctrine and belief, that there is no sin any man commits of which he may not obtain pardon in this life? To this I answer, that in what manner soever we expound this place, it is an undoubted point of Christian faith, that there is no sin which our merciful God is not ready to pardon; no sin, for the remission of which, God hath not left a power in his Church, as it is clearly proved by those words, Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them, &c. St. John Chrysostom therefore expounds these words, shall not be forgiven them, to imply no more, than shall scarcely, or seldom be forgiven; that is, it is very hard for such sinners to return to God, by a true and sincere repentance and conversion; so that this sentence is like that (Matthew xix. 26.) where Christ seems to call it an impossible thing for a rich man to be saved. In the same place St. John Chrysostom tells us, that some of those who had blasphemed against the Holy Ghost, repented, and had their sins forgiven them. St. Augustine, by this blasphemy against the Spirit, understands the sin of final impenitence, by which an obstinate sinner refuseth to be converted, and therefore lives and dies hardened in his sins. (Witham) --- Nor in the world to come. From these words St. Augustine (De Civ. lib. xxi. chap. 13.) and St. Gregory (Dial. iv, chap. 39.) gather, that some sins may be remitted in the world to come; and consequently that there is a purgatory, or a middle place. (Challoner) --- St. Augustine says these words would not be true, if some sins were not forgiven in the world to come; and St. Gregory says, we are to believe from these words in the existence of the fire of purgatory, to expiate our smaller offences, before the day of judgment. St. Isidore and Ven. Bede say the same. St. Bernard, speaking of heretics, says, they do not believe in purgatory: let them then inquire of our Saviour, what he meant by these words. --- It is well known that Ven. Bede, on his death-bed, bestowed several small tokens to the monks who were present, that they might remember to pray for his soul in the holy sacrifice of the mass. (Haydock)

Verse 33

Either make the tree good, &c. This is connected with what had been said of their attributing his works to Beelzebub. He condemns them for blaspheming him on all occasions, when at the same time they were not able to find fault with his life and doctrine. Christ therefore tells them, that the tree is known by its fruit; and that if they cannot blame his actions, and his doctrine, they ought to allow him to be good, to be like the good tree; and that if they continue to blame him, they ought consequently to condemn his doctrine, yet this they were not able to do. (Witham)

Verse 34

As the Pharisees were ever boasting of, and glorying in their ancestry, Christ here shews, that they have not much reason to boast, since their ancestors were but vipers. (St. John Chrysostom)

Verse 36

That every idle word.[3] By idle words, St. Jerome, &c. expound words that are neither profitable to the speaker nor the hearer: but St. John Chrysostom says, false and abusive language. (Witham) --- If, of every idle word, how much more of blasphemy, as when you say in Beelzebub I cast out devils. (Menochius) --- This shews there must be a place of temporal punishment hereafter, where these slighter faults shall be punished. (Challoner) --- If of every idle word we must make account before God in judgment, and yet shall not for every such idle word be damned eternally, there must necessarily be some temporal punishment in the next life. (Bristow)



De omni verbo otioso, Greek: pan rema argon. Some manuscripts have, Greek: poneron. St. Jerome says, Otiosum verbum est, quod sine utilitate et loquentis dicitur, et audientis. In like manner, St. Gregory, hom. vi. in Evang. St. Bernard &c. But St. John Chrysostom adds, Greek: to pseudes, to sukophantian echon.

Verse 38

We would see a sign. They wanted to see some new and unusual miracles. They wished, says St. Jerome, either that he would call down fire from heaven, like Elias; or, like Samuel, cause it to rain, to thunder and lighten in summer, contrary to the nature of the country. (Menochius) --- That they might be assured he was sent by God, and acted by his Spirit.

Verse 39

Sign of Jonas. I will give no other sign than my death and resurrection, as then, though unwillingly, they will acknowledge me, and people will believe and be converted: so in John (Chap. viii.) it is said, When you shall have exalted the Son of man, then you shall know that I am he. (Menochius)

Verse 40

In the whale’s belly.[4] The word signifies a great fish, and was not perhaps that which we commonly call a whale. In the prophet Jonas, it is called, a great fish. --- Three days and three nights; not three whole days and three nights, but part of three natural days, from which, in common computation, the nights used not to be separated. We have an instance of this, Esther iv. 16, where the Jews were ordered to fast with her three days, and three nights: and yet (Chap. v, ver. 1) Esther, after part of three days, went to the king. --- In the heart of the earth: by which is signified, Christ’s descent into hell; as St. Paul says (Ephesians iv. 9.) that he descended into the inferior parts of the earth, and this cannot be understood of the grave only. (Witham) --- Jesus Christ expired on the cross about the ninth hour, or 3 p.m. when the general and supernatural darkness that covered the earth, may be counted for the first night, and the light which again appeared, for the term of the first day. (Bible de Vence) --- As Jonas was a sign to the Ninivites, so is Christ to the Jews; for as he by the prodigy of remaining so long in the fish’s belly, and afterwards coming forth alive, gave such authority to his preaching, that the Ninivites were converted; so Christ, by his death and resurrection on the third day, shall shew that he is the true Christ, and this generation shall acknowledge him for the Messias. (Menochius)



In ventre Ceti, Greek: tou ketous. By Cete, is signified, any very large fish, and so it is said in the prophet Jonas to have been, piscem grandem.


Verse 42

Queen of Saba, a province of Arabia, situated to the south of Judea. (3 Kings x. 1. and seq.)

Verse 45

Seven is taken frequently, in Scripture, for an indefinite number; for several. (Bible de Vence)

Verse 46

His mother and his brethren; i.e. his mother and relations. (Witham) --- See verse 55 of the next chapter. (Challoner)

Bibliographical Information
Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on Matthew 12". "Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hcc/matthew-12.html. 1859.
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