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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 3

International Critical Commentary NTInternational Critical

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Verses 1-99


(1) 3:1-12. He was heralded by the Baptist

1-12. The editor now begins to copy Mk. But he considerably paraphrases and expands Mark 1:1-8.

(M) 1. And in those days cometh John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judæa.] Mk. has, v. 4 “John the Baptizer was in the wilderness preaching.”

ἐν δὲ ταῖς ἡμέραις ἐκείναις] is a loose connecting link (cf. Exodus 2:11) anticipated from Mk v. 9. Between chs. 2 and 3 is a gap of some thirty years.—παραγίνεται] occurs once in Mk. (14:43), where Mt. substitutes as usual an aorist. The present here is unexpected.—ὁ βαπτιστής] Mk. has ὁ βαπτίζων. For the same change, cf. Mark 6:14 = Matthew 14:2.—ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ] the editor adds the explanatory τῆς Ἰουδαίας.

(M) 2. Saying, Repent: for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand.] Mk has: “preaching a baptism of repentance unto remission of sins.” The editor omits the last clause in view of the fact that Christ came to be baptized.—μετανοεῖτε] On repentance as necessary for the coming of the Messianic period, see Volz, Jüd. Eschat. 112 f.; and for μετάνοια in Alexandrine Jewish Philosophy, see Philo, De Pænit. ii. 405; De Præm. et Pæn. ii. 410. For sayings about repentance in the Talmud, see Joma 86b. It brings healing to the world, reaches to the throne of glory, cancels a prohibition in the Torah, brings salvation, and lengthens the life of men.

βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν] See Introduction, p. lxvii. The conception here involved is obviously one of warning and judgement: “Repent: for the kingdom is near”; that is to say, the coming of the kingdom will involve judgement upon the unrepentant.

(M) 3. For this is he that was spoken of through Isaiah the prophet, saying, A voice of a crier in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths.] Mk vv. 1, 2 has: “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, Behold, I send My messenger before Thy face, who shall prepare Thy way. A voice of a crier in the wilderness,” etc. Mt. omits the citation from Malachi as irrelevant after the express reference to Isaiah, but he has inserted it later at 11:10.—οὖτος γάρ ἐστιν] The sanction of the Baptist’s message lay in his personality. He was the “voice” spoken of by Isaiah. The quotation is from Isaiah 40:3. It was clearly taken by Mk. from the LXX., in which ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ is connected with βοῶντος, whereas the Hebrew connects it with the following imperative. Mk.’s context demanded the LXX. order.—διὰ Ἠσαίου] Mk. has ἐν τῷ Ἠσαίᾳ. Mat_13 times uses διά in this sense; cf. 1:22.

(M) 4. Now he, John, had his raiment (made) of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins.1 And his food was locusts and wild honey.] Mk. has: “And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins, and (was) eating locusts and wild honey.”—αὐτὸς δέ] For αὐτός before the proper name, cf. Mark 6:17. “Nach aramäscher Weise,” Wellhausen. But cf. Moulton, p. 91.—εἷχεν] Mt. avoids Mk.’s harsh construction ἦν ἐνδεδυμένος τρίχας καμήλου καὶ ζώνην.—ἡ δὲ τροφὴ ἦν αὐτοῦ] Mt. thus avoids Mk.’s loosely connected participle καὶ ἔσθων.—ἀκρίδες] Vegetarian tendencies in the early Church led to the alteration of locusts into “milk” (so Tatian; see Harris, Fragments of the Commentary of Ephrem, p. 17) or “cakes” (so the Ebionites, according to Epiph. Hœr. 30, 13).

(M) 5. Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judæa, and all the district of the Jordan.] Mk. has: “And there went out to him all the country of Judæa, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” The περίχωρος τοῦ Ἰορδάνου, cf. Genesis 13:10, Genesis 13:11, is found also in Luke 3:3. For τότε, see on 2:7.

(M) 6. And were being baptized in the river Jordan by him, confessing their sins.] Mk. has: “And were being baptized by him in the river Jordan,” etc. Mk. has the description of the Baptist and the thronging to him of the people in the reverse order. Mt.’s change is due to a sense of literary fitness. The description of the Baptist comes more appropriately after the statement of his appearance as a preacher, than it does after the account of the effect of his preaching upon the people. There is no reason to suppose that Mt. had any other source than Mk. for these six verses, unless παραγίνεται is a hint of such a source (cf. Introduction, p. lx). In Mk. they stand at the beginning of the Gospel, and are written in Mk.’s abrupt style. The construction of Mk vv. 1-4 is not altogether clear (see Swete, in loc.), and v. 7 is awkward. Mt. rewrites the passage in a smoother and more connected style.

3. διἀ] So א B. C D 1 13 33 124 157 209 latt.; ὑπό, E K al.—φωνὴ βοῶντος ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ] Om. S1.—εὐθείας ποιεῖτε τὰς τρίβους αὐτοῦ] Om. S1 k. αύτοῦ is substituted by Mk. and Mt. for the LXX. τοῦ θεοῦ ἠμῶν; b S2 assimilate to the LXX.

4. καὶ ζώνην—ὀσφὺν αὐτοῦ is omitted in Mk. by D a b fl2.

μέλι ἄγριον] S1 has “honey of the hills,” S2 “honey of the waste.”

7. The next two verses in Mk. contain a summary of the Baptist’s preaching. Mk. had selected from Peter’s account of the Baptist’s preaching a few words which suited his introductory section (1:1-11), because they represented the Baptist as looking forward to the coming of Christ. John contrasts the work of the coming Messiah with his own as being not merely symbolical “with water,” nor merely preparatory “of repentance,” but spiritual and final “with the Holy Spirit.” Mt. takes these words, and, combining with them other sayings traditionally attributed to the Baptist, frames a discourse of which the keynote is “judgement.” He represents it as addressed to the Pharisees and Sadducees, and indeed it is very unlikely that the Baptist should have spoken words like these to the common people who crowded to his baptism. If the first two chapters have been apologetic, rebutting Jewish calumnies, this speech of the Baptist’s is marked by the tendency to anti-Jewish polemic which runs through the whole Gospel. The authorities and representatives of the Jewish nation had been forewarned, even so far back as the days of John’s preaching, of the fatal results of their short-sighted policy towards the Messiah and His teaching.

(X) 7. And seeing many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, O offspring of vipers, who bade you to flee from the coming wrath?] Lk. has: “He said, therefore, to the multitudes who went out to be baptized by him,” etc. Both τίς and ὑμῖν are emphatic, and the tone is one of ironical surprise. “Can it actually be the case that you have been persuaded to believe that the divine judgement is near, and stirred to endeavour to escape from it?” For the divine wrath, cf. Enoch 90:18 “the staff of His wrath”; 91:7 “the holy Lord will come forth with wrath”; Wis 5:20 “He shall sharpen stern wrath for a sword”; Jub. 24:30 “the day of wrath”; Secrets of Enoch 50:5A “lest the wrath of God come upon you”; Romans 1:18 “the wrath of God is revealed”; 1 Thessalonians 1:10 “the coming wrath”; Romans 2:5 “the day of wrath”; Revelation 6:16 etc.

(X) 8. Bring forth therefore fruit worthy of repentance.] So Lk. with “fruits” for “fruit.” If you are really alive to the necessity of escape from the divine wrath, take the only possible way: repent, and act as only men who have repented can act. For the connection between repentance and good works, cf. Rabbi Eleazer ben Jacob1 (Ab 4:13), “Repentance and good works are a shield against punishment.”

(X) 9. And think not to say in yourselves, We have Abraham as (our) father: for I say to you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham.] Lk. has: “And do not begin to say,” etc. Do not suppose that you can substitute for repentance and good works the plea of descent from Abraham. The divine wrath is about to break in judgement. The Jew will not escape by virtue of his nationality. For a commentary on the idea that membership of the Jewish polity could save from judgement, cf. Romans 2:17-29.

(X) 10. And already the axe is laid at the root of the trees. Every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is cut down, and cast into the fire.] So Lk. Moreover, delay will be fatal. Already the judgement is beginning.

(M) 11. I indeed baptize you with water to repentance. But He who comes after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit, and with fire.] Mk. has these four clauses in the order 2, 3, 1, 4. Lk. agrees with Mt.—ἐγὼ μὲν ὑμᾶς βαπτίζω] Mk. has the aor. ἐβάπτισα, which is due to Semitic influence.—ἐν ὔδατι] For the instrumental ἐν, cf. Blass, 116 f. Mk. has the simple dative.—εἰς μετάνοιαν] with a view to repentance, i.e. the baptism denoted that those who submitted to it repented of their sins and wished to be cleansed from them. It symbolised both a present and future state of repentance. Mt. adds these words by way of compensation for the βάπτισμα μετανοίας which he has omitted from Mk v. 4. For the prepositional use of ὀπίσω, cf. Blass, p. 129.—τὰ ὑποδήματα βαστάσαι] Mk. has κύψας λῦσαι τὸν ἱμάντα τῶν ὑποδημάτων αὐτοῦ. To carry the sandals after his master is the duty of a slave.—αὐτός] Cf. Blass, p. 164: ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ. Baptism with water and baptism with the Holy Spirit need not be regarded as antithetical and exclusive. The former symbolised repentance. But repentance anticipates the gift of righteousness. Baptism with the Holy Spirit conveys this righteousness. The former is preparatory, the latter final. The Messiah was Himself to be endowed with the Spirit; cf. Isaiah 11:2, Enoch 49:3, 62:2, Ps.-Sol. 17:42 ὁ θεὸς κατειργάσατο αὐτὸν δυνατὸν ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ, and so able to transmit it to other people. Cf. Test. Lev_18Lev_18, Juda 24. But if His work should in one direction be a work of transmission of righteousness, in another it would be one of judgement. He should baptize with fire καὶ πυρί. Not in Mk. The words are interpreted in the next verse. The fire is that of judgment upon sinners.

(X) 12. Whose fan is in His hand, and He will purge His threshing floor, and will gather His wheat into the granaryi; but the chaff He will burn with fire unquenchable.] So Lk. with infinitives for the future tenses. These words furnish a commentary on καὶ πυρί of the last verse. The Messiah will separate between the repentant and the unrepentant. The former He will baptize with the Holy Spirit, and gather them like wheat into a granary (i.e. into His kingdom). The latter He will exclude from His kingdom, and commit them to fire to be burned like chaff. For the work of the Messiah in destroying sinners, cf. Enoch 69:27 “He caused the sinners and those who have led the world astray to pass away and be destroyed from off the face of the earth”; 62:2 “And the word of His mouth slew all the sinners, and all the unrighteous were destroyed before His face.” The unrighteous descend, 63:10 “into the flame of the pain of Sheol.”

7. βάπτισμα αὐτοῦ] Om. αὐτοῦ, א* B.

8. L U al a g2 S1 S2 have “fruits,” assimilating to Lk.

11. πνεύματι�1 has “with fire and with the Holy Spirit.” Om. καὶ πυρί, E S V al. But the words are essential to the context.

7-12. In place of Mk vv. 7, 8, both Mt. and Lk. have a longer discourse, Mt 7-12, Luke 3:7-17, which embodies Mk.’s two verses. In the parallels to Mark 3:7, Mark 3:8, Mt. and Lk. agree against Mk. in the following respects. Both arrange the four clauses in the order 3, 1, 2, 4 as against Mk.’s 1, 2, 3, 4. Both have μέν after ἐγώ, and βαπτίζω for ἐβάπτισα. Both have ἐν before πνεύματι, and καὶ πυρί at the end. In the remaining verses there is very great verbal agreement. The only divergences in the words of the Baptist are Mat_9 μὴ δόξητε = Luk_8 μὴ ἄρξησθε, Mat_12 the ind., Luk_17 the inf. It seems possible, therefore, that the two Evangelists had before them a second source, containing words ascribed to the Baptist. It is not, however, likely that in this source the sayings were set in any historical connection; for whilst Mt. makes of them a discourse of warning to the Pharisees and Sadducees, Lk. divides them into short addresses to the multitude, viz. 7-9, 16, 17 separated by other sayings to the multitudes, to toll-gatherers, and to soldiers. The source, therefore, seems to have contained sayings only without historical incident. Again, it is possible that the two Evangelists drew these verses from oral tradition or from different Greek sources. Such short summaries of sayings may well have been preserved orally, and would tend to become stereotyped in language during the process of transmission and use in the services of the Christian Churches and in the discourses of preachers. Or, lastly, Lk. may have read the first Gospel and been influenced by its phraseology. Against the theory of one common source may be urged (a) the different descriptions of the audience; (b) the absence of Lk vv. 10-14 from Mt.; (c) the variations in language. Matthew 3:9 δόξητε = Luke 3:8 ἄρξησθε; Matthew 3:11a εἰς μετάνοιαν; Lk. omits; Matthew 3:11b τὰ ὑποδήματα βαστάσαι = Luke 3:16b λῦσαι τὸν ἱμάντα τῶν ὑποδημάτων αὐτοῦ; Matthew 3:12 καὶ διακαθαριεῖ, καὶ συνάξει = Luke 3:17 διακαθᾶραι, καὶ συναγαγεῖν. On the other hand, the otherwise close and minute agreement in language may be urged in its favour. But we are possibly dealing with fragments of four (three) and two verses in length. There seems to be no reason why such scraps should not have been stereotyped in language and widely known. It is a matter of indifference whether the Evangelists borrowed them from oral tradition or from independent written sources. But admitting that close verbal identity does not necessarily presuppose direct and immediate community of source, the variations in Mat_9 = Luk_8, Mat_12 = Luk_17, combined with the differences of setting, are clearly adverse to a common written source. It must remain probable that Mt. drew the words from an unknown source, whilst Lk. also had them in an independent source.

(2) 13-17. At His Baptism He received the Holy Spirit, and was supernaturally proclaimed to be the Son of God, the Beloved whom God has chosen = Mark 1:9-11.

(M) 13. Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to the Jordan unto John, to be baptized by him.] Mk. has: “And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized in the Jordan by John.” Mt. substitutes τότε (see on 2:7) for καὶ ἐγένετο. The latter connecting formula is common in Lk. Mk. has it rarely—1:9, 2:15 (καὶ γίνεται) 2:23, 4:4, 9:7? Mt. retains it only in 9:10 = Mark 2:15. Elsewhere he has it five times in the formula καὶ ἐγένετο ὄτε ἐτέλεσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς, 7:28, 11:1, 13:53, 19:1, 26:1. ἐν ἐκείναις ταῖς ἡμέραις he omits here, having anticipated it in 3:1. For Mk.’s ἧλθεν he has παραγίνεται to assimilate to 3:1.�Mark 1:13 “and He was—tempted.” The editor has in mind the fulfilment of the divine purpose in the life of the Messiah. For τοῦ with the inf. (7 times in Mt.) expressing purpose, cf. Blass, p. 235 and 2:13. The aorist implies a definite and completed action.

(E) 14, 15. And John tried to forbid Him, saying, I have need to be baptized by Thee, and dost Thou come to me? And Jesus answering said to him, Suffer it now: for so it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffers Him.] These verses are not found in Mk., and appear to be an attempt to explain why the Messiah submitted to John’s baptism. πληρῶσαι πᾶσαν δικαιοσύνην apparently means “to leave nothing undone that had been revealed as the righteous will of God.” John’s baptism had the divine sanction, and the Messiah therefore must submit to it. In Mk.’s Gospel the baptism of Christ would seem to be recorded as the period when He received His Messianic authority. Then the Spirit came down into Him, and the divine voice declared Him to be the beloved Son. But when Mt. prefixed the narrative of the supernatural birth, the question was at once raised, How could one who was conceived of the Holy Spirit need to be baptized in order to receive Him? Mt. leaves the question unsolved, but attempts a partial solution by suggesting that the baptism was not necessary to the Messiahship of Christ. The Spirit, indeed, then came down upon Him, but He was not then constituted the Son of God. This He had been from His birth. The divine voice only ratified and publicly proclaimed an already existing Sonship. With this insertion and its attempt to explain why Christ was baptized, cf. the omission of Mk.’s statement that John’s baptism was εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν. A somewhat parallel account is quoted by Jerome, Contra Pelag. iii. 2 from the Gospel according to the Hebrews: “Ecce mater domini et fratres ejus dicebant ei: ‘Joannes baptista baptizat in remissionem peccatorum; eamus et baptizemur ab eo.’ Dixit autem eis ‘Quid peccavi ut vadam et baptizer ab eo? nisi forte hoc ipsum quod dixi ignorantia est.’ ” Here the point seized for explanation is the sinlessness of Christ. How could one who was sinless submit to a baptism “of repentance unto remission of sins,” Mark 1:4? The editor of the first Gospel has also felt the difficulty, and partially removed it, by omitting εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν. See on v. 2. But since he has prefixed to the account of the baptism the narrative of the supernatural birth and the words of the Baptist, “He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire,” the question was raised in a new form, How could one who was begotten of the Holy Spirit (1:20) receive the Holy Spirit at baptism? And how could one who was Himself to baptize with the Holy Spirit come to John for baptism? I have marked the insertion vv. 14-15 as editorial, but of course the editor may be borrowing from a source known to him.—τότε] see on 2:7.—ἀφίησιν] For the historic present, cf. Introduction, p. lx.

(M) 16. And Jesus, having been baptized, went up straightway from the water: and, behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God coming down as a dove, and coming upon Him.] Mk. has: “And straightway going up out of the water, He saw the heavens being rent, and the Spirit as a dove coming down into Him”.

Mt. by substituting�

After the insertion of vv. 14, 15 he adds βαπτισθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς as a connecting link = Mk.’s καί. He then retains Mk.’s εὐσύς, which he elsewhere generally omits. καὶ εὐθύς is characteristic of Mk., and seems to be used by him without any emphasis on the idea of immediacy, but rather as a mere connecting link. Mt. prefers τότε; Lk. καὶ ἐγένετο—καί ἰδού] See on 1:20.—ἀνεῴχθησαν] a commonplace word for Mk.’s graphic σχιζομένους, which is not used elsewhere in this sense. Cf. Isaiah 64:1 “O that thou wouldest rend the heavens,” where the LXX. has ἐὰν�Ezekiel 1:1 καὶ ἠνοίχθησαν οἱ οὐρανοί, καὶ εἶδον.—καὶ εἶδεν τὸ πνεῦμα θεοῦ καταβαῖνον ὡσεὶ περιστερὰν ἐρχόμενον ἐπʼ αὐτόν] Mk. has: “the Spirit as a dove coming down into Him.” The ὡσεὶ περιστερὰν must mean like a dove in appearance. Lk. so interpreted it and explained it. Philo describes Wisdom as a dove, Quis Rer. Div. Her. i. 491. Mk.’s “coming down as a dove into Him” is rather harsh. Mt. expands to smooth the construction: “coming down as a dove and coming upon Him.” The editor may have felt that “coming down into” seemed to suggest too forcibly that up to this time Jesus had been without the Spirit. The τὸ—θεοῦ—ἐπʼ may be due also to Isaiah 42:1 τὸ πνευμὰ μου ἐπʼ αὐτὸν.

(M) 17. And behold a voice from the heavens, saying, This is My Son, the Beloved, in whom I was well pleased.] Mk. has: “And there came a voice from the heavens, Thou art My Son, the Beloved, in whom I was well pleased.”—καὶ ἰδοὺ φωνή] Mk. has καὶ φωνὴ ἐγένετο. For καὶ ἰδού, see on 1:20. In Mk. it would seem that the voice was heard by Jesus alone. Mt. alters σὺ εἶ into οὗτός ἐστιν to make it clear that the proclamation was a public one. The passage is modelled on Isaiah 42:1 as quoted in Matthew 12:18-21 Ἰδού, ὁ παῖς μου, ὀ͂ν ᾑρέτισα· ὁ�Ephesians, pp. 229 ff.; Dict. Bib. art. “Isaiah, Ascension of.”

15, 16. τότε�1 has: “Then he suffered Him to be baptized. And when He was baptized.” S2 “Then He suffered Him to be baptized. And Jesus had been baptized; and when He was baptized.” a g1 have; “et cum baptizaretur (Jesus) lumen ingens (magnum) circumfulsit (fulgebat) de aqua ita at timerent omnes qui advenerunt (congregati erant).” For the light, cf. the Ebionite Gospel as quoted by Epiphanius, xxx. 13: καί εὐθῦς (after the voice) περιέλαμψε τὸν τόπον φῶς μέγα; and Just. Dial. lxxxviii. κατελθόντος τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ἐπὶ τὸὔδωρ καὶ πῦρ�

Wellhausen and Blass both note that the text presents difficulties, and both come to the conclusion that καὶ βαπτισθεὶς—ὔδατος is an interpolation from Mk. But the difficulties are due to the work of the editor in dove-tailing his insertion vv. 14, 15 into the text of Mk. After the insertion he comes to Mk.’s words: καὶ εὐθὐς άναβαίνων ἐκ τοῦ ὔδατος εἶδεν. As he has previously changed Mk.’s καὶ ἐβαπτίσθη εἰς τὸν Ἰορδάνην ὑπὸ Ἰωάνου into ἐπὶ τὸν Ἰορδάνην πρὸς τὸν Ἰωάνην τοῦ βαπτισθῆναι ύπʼ αύτοῦ, he feels it necessary to take up the thread of the narrative, and to state the fact of the baptism by inserting βαπτισθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς. This carries with it the change of Mk.’s εὐθὺς�John 1:32. We might have expected Mt. to make the publicity of the whole scene more emphatic by introducing John or others as the subject of εῖδεν. But he has followed Mk. in this particular, contenting himself with suggesting the publicity of the divine proclamation by changing Σὺ εί into οὑτός έστιν. S1 S2 add “to be baptized” in order to relieve the ambiguity of ὰφίησιν and its Syriac equivalent. Both might mean “leaves Him.” S2 adds also: “And Jesus had been baptized,” from an over-scrupulous desire to have the fact of baptism explicitly stated.

17. οὑτός ὲστιν] D a S1 S2 Iren. have σὺ εἶ as in Mar_1:ll. The fact that Mt. in 17:5 assimilates to 3:17 by adding ἰδού, λέγουσα, and ἐν ῷ εὐδόκησα, makes it probable that οὖτός ὲστιν of 17:5 occurred also in 3:17. If σὺ εἶ had stood there, we should probably also have found it in 17:5.

ὁ υἰός μου ὸ�1 S2 have “My Son and My beloved.”

13-17. Mt. and Lk. agree against Mk. in the following: ἠνεῴχθησαν, Mat_16 =�Luk_21 for σχιζομένους, Mar_10; ὲπʼ αὐτόν, Mat_16, Luk_22 for εἰς αὐτόν, Mar_10.

M the Second Gospel.

LXX. The Septuagint Version.

1 ζώνην—αὐτοῦ. Cf. 2 K 1:8.

B. Babylonian Talmud.

latt. Manuscripts of the Old Latin Version.

E editorial passages.

al i.e. with other uncial MSS.

S Syriac version: Sinaitic MS.

S Syriac version: Curetonian.

X passages in which Mt. and Lk. agree closely, borrowed from an unknown source or sources.

Jub. jubilees.

1 A disciple of Akiba. See Baeher, Die Agada der Tannaiten, ii. 283.

Ps.-Sol. The Psalms of Solomon.

L the Matthæan Logia.

Iren. Irenæus.

Bibliographical Information
Driver, S.A., Plummer, A.A., Briggs, C.A. "Commentary on Matthew 3". International Critical Commentary NT. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/icc/matthew-3.html. 1896-1924.
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