Bible Commentaries

George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Matthew 3

Verse 1

"In those days," i.e. at the time of Jesus Christ, whose history this book contains. This expression does not always mean that what is going to be narrated, happened immediately after that which precedes. (Bible de Vence) --- 'Tis a way of speaking used by the Hebrews, even when there is no connection of time, as here are passed over 30 years of Christ's life. John the Baptist was so called from his baptizing the people in water. The Jews took this for some token of their Messias: for they said to him, (John i. 25,) why dost thou baptize if thou art not the Christ? --- In the desert, not in the house of his Father Zacharias, as some pretend, but in a true wilderness, as appears by the circumstances of his food, apparel, &c. (Witham) --- The Baptist was about 30 years of age. He, as well as our Lord, in conformity with the Jewish law, did not enter upon his public ministry before that age. (Haydock)

Verse 2



Pœnitentiam agite. Greek: metanoeite. There is no need of translating in Latin, recipiscite, though more according to the etymology of the word. The judicious Mr. Bois, prebend. of Ely, in his book entitled, Veteris Interpretis cum Beza, &c. Collatio. Londini. an. 1655, commended by Walton in his Polyglot, declares he would not have this common translation of pœnitentiam agite changed: and brings these words of Melancthon, Let us not be ashamed of our mother tongue; the Church is our Mother, an so speaks the Church.

Verse 3

spoke these words of the deliverance of the Jews from Babylon; but this was a figure of the freedom of mankind through Jesus Christ. The Jews expected Elias would come in person to prepare the ways of the Messias; but John the Baptist was raised up by God in the spirit and power of Elias, to precede the first coming of Jesus Christ, as Elias in person was to precede the second coming of this divine Saviour. (Bible de Vence)

Verse 4



St. Hierom. [St. Jerome] lib. 2. con. Jovin. tom. 4. part. 2. p. 201. Orientales, et Libyæ populos . . . locustis vesci, moris est. Theophylactus by Greek: akrides, understands buds of trees.

Verse 5

great was the celebrity of St. John's sanctity, so much did his mortified life, and powerful preaching, weigh upon the minds of the people, that all wished to receive baptism at his hands. (Haydock)

Verse 6



confitentes peccata sua. Greek: exomologoumenoi tas amartias auton.


Verse 7

Pharisees and Sadducees. These are the names of two sects at that time among the Jews. There are different conjectures about the name of the Sadducees. This at least we find by the Gospels, and by the Acts of the Apostles, that they were a profane sort of men, that made a jest of the resurrection, and of the existence of spirits, and of the immortality of souls. To these the Pharisees were declared adversaries, as being a more religious sect, who pretended to be exact observers of the law, and also of a great many traditions, which they had, or pretended to have, from their forefathers. St. Epiphanius (hær. 16, p. 34,) derives their name from the Hebrew word Pharas, signifying separated, divided, or distinguished from others by a more holy way of living. So the proud Pharisee (Luke xviii.) said of himself, I am not like the rest of men, &c. --- Brood of vipers. St. John the Baptist, and also our Saviour himself, (Matthew xxii. 33,) made use of this sharp reprehension to such as come to them full of hypocrisy. --- the wrath to come: meaning punishments for the wicked after death. Or as some expound it, the destruction that was shortly to fall on the city of Jerusalem, on the temple, and the whole nation of the Jews. (Witham)

Verse 8

note for ver. 2.

Verse 9

not, therefore, wantonly imagine, that the fear of destroying the posterity of this patriarch, and of annulling the promises which God had made to him and to his seed, will hinder Him from punishing you. (Bible de Vence)

Verse 10

the least attention to its origin, or other advantages. Hence you must not rest your hopes of salvation on your birth alone, nor on the baptism alone you receive at my hands. (Bible de Vence)

Verse 11

baptism is only calculated to lead you to a penitential life, and not to give you true justice; but he who comes after me, is stronger than I, and whose shoes I am not worthy to carry: (it was customary with the attendant slave to carry a change of shoes for his master) he will baptize you in the Holy Ghost, and in the fire of his divine charity, which he will infuse into your hearts, to purify you from all your sins. (Bible de Vence) --- Here St. John tacitly insinuates the divinity of Jesus Christ. He acknowledges his unworthiness, and it is this his humility that makes him the more acceptable to God, "I ought to be baptized by thee, and comest thou to me?" (Tirinus) --- Whose shoes I am not worthy to carry. In St. Mark, (chap. i. 7.) and in St. Luke, (iii. 21.) we read, the latchet of whose shoes . . . I am not worthy to untie. The sense is the same, and St. John might use both these expression. His meaning is, that he was not worthy to do him the least, or the lowest service. --- He shall baptize you in, or with the Holy Ghost, i.e. by his baptism, he will give you the remission of your sins, and the graces of the Holy Ghost, signified also by fire, which may allude to the coming of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost, in the shape of fiery tongues. (Witham)

Verse 12

yourselves then to Him, and prevent, by a prompt and sincere conversion, that dreadful judgment which the just and severe Judge, whom I now announce to you, will most undoubtedly pass upon sinners, when he shall remove the chaff from the good grain, i.e. the bad from the good, calling the latter with him to his heavenly kingdom, and sending the former to burn in unquenchable fire. (Haydock)

Verse 16

He . . . went up, &c. Christ was in the river when he was baptized. As soon as he went out, and was praying, says St. Luke, (iii. 21,) the heavens were opened to him, or in favour of him; and he saw the Spirit of God descending: i.e. Christ himself saw the shape of the dove, which was also seen by the Baptist, as we find, John i. 33. And it was perhaps seen by all that were present. --- As a dove, or like a dove in a bodily shape. The dove was an emblem of Christ's meekness and innocence. (Witham) --- Calmet supposes that it was St. John that saw the Spirit of God descend thus upon Jesus Christ. The Greek text is favourable to this interpretation. But the Vulgate supposes it was Jesus Christ himself. St. John declares that he saw the Spirit; (John i. 32,) but this apparent disagreement is easily cleared, by supposing that both saw the shape of the dove, and also the surrounding crowd, and that they all heard the voice of the Father, as it was heard by the disciples in the transfiguration on Mount Thabor, (chap. xvii,) and by the crowd in the temple. John xii. (Tirinus)

Verse 17

most solemn testimony of God the Father, relative to his own beloved Son, is repeated below in chap. xvii; and is of such great moment, that the Holy Ghost would have it repeated not only by three evangelists, Matthew, Mark and Luke, but also by St. Peter, as a fourth evangelist, 2nd epistle chap. i. (Tirinus) --- In Greek, the emphatic article Greek: o uios mou o agapetos, strengthens the proof that Jesus Christ, upon whom the Spirit of God descended in the shape of a dove, was not the adoptive, but natural Son of God, born of Him before all ages, and should silence every blasphemous tongue and pen that can attempt to rob Jesus Christ of his divinity, and poor man of all hopes of salvation, through this God-man, Christ the Lord. But if it here be asked, why Jesus Christ, who was innocence itself, yes, and the very essence of sanctity, condescended so far as to be baptized with sinners, we answer, with the Holy Fathers, that it was, 1. to sanction the baptism and ministry of his precursor; 2. not to lose this opportunity of teaching humility, by placing himself among sinners, as if he had stood in need of the baptism of penance for the remission of sins; and lastly, with St. Ambrose, that it was to sanctify the waters, and to give to them the virtue of cleansing men from their sins by the laver of baptism. (Haydock)

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Bibliographical Information
Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on Matthew 3". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". 1859.