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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and Homiletical

Matthew 18

Verses 1-14


Matthew 18:1-35.

Contents:This section furnishes a sketch of the Church in its priestly, or in its strictly ecclesiastical, relations. The basis of these is the hierarchy of the service of love (Matthew 18:1-14). Rising on this foundation, the Church is to display, on the one hand, spiritual earnestness by its discipline (Matthew 18:15-20), and, on the other, spiritual gentleness by its absolution (Matthew 18:21-35). This delineation of the priestly character of the Church is continued in the next section, which treats of marriage in the Church, of children in the Church, and of property in the Church.

Historical Succession.—The scene is still in Galilee, and in all likelihood at Capernaum. Once more had the hopes of the disciples been raised, probably in connection with the late miracles of Jesus in Judea and Galilee, and from a misunderstanding of His calmness and of the declaration which He had made when providing the tribute-money. Friends now gather around the Lord, preparatory to going up to Jerusalem. The disciples discuss the question of the primacy in the kingdom of heaven. This dispute (to Matthew 18:5) was no doubt occasioned, if not by the confession, yet by the general position, of Peter. According to Mark 9:38, John now gave occasion to the saying of Christ about offences ( Matthew 18:6 sqq.). Lastly, the question of Peter again evoked the teaching of Christ concerning absolution, and the parable connected with it. On comparing the corresponding passages in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we conclude that the sayings and events recorded in chap. 18 belong to the period of Christ’s stay at Capernaum. Of course, in holding this view, we imply at the same time that the Lord uttered on two different occasions the parable concerning the hundred sheep. These transactions were followed by the commencement of the journey to Jerusalem.

A. The Hierarchy of the service of Love. Matthew 18:1-14

(The Gospel for St. Michael, Matthew 18:1-11.—Parallels: Mark 9:33-50; Luke 15:4-7; Luke 17:1-2.)

1At the same time [At that time, ἐν ἐκελ́νῆ τῆ ώ̓ρᾳ]1 came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who [then, ά̓ρα] is the greatest2 in the kingdom of heaven? 2And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, 3And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted [Unless ye turn],3 and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. 4Whosoever therefore shall humble himself4 as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5And whoso shall receive one such child in my name receiveth me. 6But whoso shall offend [give offence to, σκυνδαλίση] one of these little ones which [that] believe in me, it were better for him 21[it profiteth him, yea for this]5 that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned [plunged] in the depth6 of the sea. 7Woe unto the world because of offences [ἀπὸ τῶν σκανδάλεν]! for it must needs be that offences come;7 but woe to 8that [the]8 man by whom the offence cometh! Wherefore if [But if, εἰ δέ] thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them [it]9 off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. 9And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. 10Take heed that ye despise no one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels [their angels in heaven]10 do always behold the face of my Father which [who] is in heaven. 11For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.11 How [What] think ye? if a man have a hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh [doth he not leave the ninety-nine upon the mountains, and go and seek]12 that which is gone astray? 13And if so be [if it be, ἐὰν γένηται] that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep [more over it, ἐπ̓ αὐτῷ μᾶλλον], than of [over] the ninety and nine which [that] went not astray. 14Even so it is not the will of your Father which [who] is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish [that … perish, ί̓ναἀπόληται].


Matthew 18:1. At that hour.—Referring to the hour in which the transaction about the tribute-money took place. The Messianic hopes of the disciples had been greatly raised, both by that miracle, and by the explanation of Jesus as to His relation to the theocracy.

Who then is the greatest? τίςά̓ρα.—The inference implied in ά̓ρα seems to allude to Peter, who had apparently again been honored by an extraordinary distinction.—The greater (major), in relation to all others, is the first. The Major Domus, or the Primus. Who is? in the present tense. From the statement of the Lord, that, as Son of the King, He was free from the legal obligations of the theocracy, they inferred that the kingdom of the Messiah was already founded. Besides, the question was evidently also intended for the purpose of eliciting a distinct statement on that subject.

Matthew 18:2. A little child.—A little boy. According to [a late and unreliable] tradition, the martyr Ignatius; according to Paulus, an orphan; according to Bolten, one of the young ministering disciples. Each of these views appears to us strained. The main point was, that He set before them a little child.

Matthew 18:3. Except ye be converted,13 etc.—The use of the aorist tenses deserves special notice. Jesus presupposes that all this had already taken place in His disciples—that they were converted, had become like children, and entered into the kingdom of heaven. Hence He refers only to the necessity of self-examination and probation, not to that of a new conversion. We note the antithesis in the expressions, “the greatest in the kingdom of heaven,” and “entering into the kingdom of heaven.” The meaning is: The first question which you should put, is about your having entered into the kingdom of heaven. If they had entered it, they had become like the child before them; in which case their question could only have been caused by temporary surprise. Hence, if any one should display hierarchical tendencies, or give vent to such feelings, the question would naturally arise, whether he was really converted at all. More than that, the statement implies that in a certain sense all hierarchism is opposed to, and incompatible with, the kingdom of heaven. In John 3:3; John 3:5, this condition of entering the kingdom of heaven is put in the present tense, and more strongly expressed, as being born again. Conversion, being a complete turning in moral respects, implies a new birth so far as its divine cause and the totality of the change are concerned; while, so far as its moral aspects and its claims to acknowledgment are concerned, it may be described as becoming children.

Matthew 18:4. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child.—Whoso will appear humble and small, like this child; not, humble himself like this child. Valla: iste parvulus non se humiliat, sed humilis est. The use of the future tense shows that something of this kind was now again to take place in the disciples as the condition of their future greatness. The expressions of the Saviour prove that the point of the comparison lay in the modesty of the child, in its want of pretension, which enabled it to enjoy whatever came before it, without seeking or claiming more as its due. The real greatness of the child consists in its perfect contentment with its littleness and dependence. By our outward demands and our claims upon the future, we only lose the present, and with it, both life and reality; while the want of pretension and care in the child secures to it, with each passing moment, the enjoyment of life. And this constitutes also the condition of its future greatness. If the child aimed at anything beyond the limits of its capacity, such a claim would of itself ensure disappointment. This absence of pretension in the disciple of Christ constitutes true humility, to which, even after our conversion, we must ever and again revert. Only by thus reverting to our littleness before God and the brethren, can we hope to realize the life of the kingdom of God, or to enter upon the path of development and future greatness. The use of the simple future (ταπεινώσει) seems to indicate that this conversion would take place at a later period in the history of the disciples, and especially in that of Peter. In this connection, the reader will also recall the last hours of Jesus.—The greatest.—According to the measure of humility, and each one according to his own idiosyncrasy.

Matthew 18:5. And whoso shall receive [even or only] one such little child.—The consequence and evidence of humility is, to receive one such little child. The question has been raised, Whether we are to understand the terms in a literal or in a spiritual sense, in other words, of a child in years, or of a child in spirit, as just described. The former view is adopted by Bengel, Paulus, Neander, and de Wette; the latter, by Erasmus, Beza, Calvin, Grotius, and Meyer. But it could scarcely be regarded as a special evidence of humility, to receive in the name of Jesus a Christian of such marked humility. Besides, the context and Matthew 25:0 are in favor of the former view. It is the most honorable office in the kingdom of heaven to receive the King Himself; hence our Lord says: This distinguished office commences even when you receive a child in My name (comp. John 21:15, and the end of Gerson’s life14). But this does not imply that the Saviour here referred to a natural, in opposition to a spiritual, child. Even a poor negro, who is desirous of being admitted into the school of Christ, may be such a child. In general, the expression applies to those who are apparently small, as contrasted with those who are apparently great, in the kingdom of heaven; hence, to catechumens and Sunday-school scholars, or to those who receive instruction, in opposition to those who impart it—to the Church under guidance, in opposition to that part of it which guides. The real glory of office, and the real primacy of the Apostles, was to appear in their spiritual service and in their condescension to those who were small, in the care of the Lamb of Christ in the school and the catechetical class. And this promise applied in all its fulness to such service of love, even in a single case.—Shall receive, i.e., into spiritual fellowship.

In My name.—Properly, on the ground of My name; the fellowship of faith combining and uniting the teacher and the taught in the name of Christ. Hence, neither referring exclusively to the faith of him who was to receive (de Wette), nor to that of those who were to be received.

Matthew 18:6. But whoso shall give offence.—Whoso shall give him occasion for relapsing into unbelief, as was done by hierarchical arrogance. This was the offence with which the Church was at that moment threatened. There the hearts of the fathers were turned from their children, giving occasion for the hearts of the children turning from the fathers (see Malachi 4:6, the concluding utterance of the Old Testament, and Luke 1:17). These later generations were led into unbelief by the hierarchical pretensions of the fathers, with their traditions.

One of these little ones (a single one).—Those of whom this child was a type. As formerly, the little ones being the beginners in the faith, or occupying a lower place in the Church; hence those who were naturally or spiritually little. But evidently those who had become little, in the sense of being thoroughly humbled, are not so easily shaken in their faith by hierarchical pretensions.

It were better for him, or literally: it profiteth him for this (σuμφέρει αν̓τῶ ἰνα) that a millstone were hanged, etc.—Meyer deems it imperative to take the λ̓να, in the expression σνμφέρει ἰνα, in the proper sense. He explains, though not very clearly, that the text implies that his conduct would subserve that special purpose. Following the trace here indicated, we infer that the offence given arose from a desire after spiritual domination. This motive, then, of his offence (domination over the conscience) is ironically characterized in the text as profiting him (badly), for the purpose of having a millstone hanged, etc. We may illustrate this by quoting an analogous saying of Luther, addressed to the Elector John: “A forced Christian is a very pleasant and agreeable guest in the kingdom of heaven, in whom God takes special delight, and whom He will certainly set highest up among the angels—in the deepest bottom of hell.” Of course, the statement applies much more fully to hierarchical pretensions. His arrogance and his domination profiteth him—yes, for this purpose, that a millstone shall be hanged, etc.—We are now prepared to understand the symbolical expressions, millstone and sea. From other passages we learn that hierarchism is destined to perish in the angry waves of the sea of nations, or in the midst of revolutions (Matthew 7:6; Revelation 13:1, etc.). The expression millstone is, in the first instance, intended to designate a very large stone (Revelation 18:21), more especially the large upper millstone which was driven round by asses.15 However, the term is not merely intended to refer to the weight of the stone, but also to the object which it serves in the mill. The latter is a figure of life, in its means of support (Matthew 24:41; Revelation 18:22), while the millstone refers to the motive power. But the possessions of the temple were the load by which a corrupt hierarchy was ultimately drawn into the depths of the sea of perdition (James 5:1). To the Jews generally, the temple became in the end a millstone hung round their neck, which drew them into the depth of the sea of nations. But this was not the end of offences. The καταποντισμός “was a mode of punishment common among the Greeks, Romans, Syrians, and Phœnicians, but not among the Jews. Hence it may be regarded as a dramatic and strong expression of the idea: he shall be deprived of life.” (Meyer.) But even this heathen form of punishment deserves notice. The Jewish hierarchy was to be swept away by heathens.

Matthew 18:7. Woe unto the world because of offences.—The world as such does not give, but receive offences from false disciples; and that in what may be designated its border land, where it is represented by the little ones. The offence of these little ones would accumulate to such an amount as to bring a woe upon the whole world (comp. Matthew 23:15; Revelation 17:5).

For it must needs be.—Not referring to fate, or to a metaphysical, but to a historical ὰνάγκη, or the necessary connection between guilt and judgment; and in this sense not merely allowed by God, but “ultimately traceable to the divine counsel.” (Meyer.)

But woe to the man by whom the offence cometh.The offenceὸσκάνδαλον) is the guilt of an individual, giving rise to offences (τὰσκάνδαλα), which themselves are sent by way of judgment. And if woe descends on the world on account of these offences, how much more does it hold true of the man who is the cause or the occasion of them! Instances of individuals who gave such offences will readily occur to the reader; as, for example, Judas, Caiaphas, etc. (On the other aspect of historical necessity, comp. the word of Paul, 1 Corinthians 11:19.)

Matthew 18:8. Wherefore, if thy hand or thy foot offend thee.—Comp. Matthew 5:29. De Wette and others regard this as a mere repetition not suitable in this connection, as referring to seduction by our own senses and not by the instrumentality of others. But it should be noted, that in the former passage the expression is used in connection with marriage offences; and here, in regard to ecclesiastical offences,—the link of connection being the mystical idea of marriage. Hence it means, If thine hand, or thy foot, or thine eye, threaten to sever the union between thy heart and Christ The ministers of Christ are themselves offended by their hand, their foot, or their eye, before they become an offence to others. The text aptly adds, the foot, to the other emblems mentioned in Matthew 5:29, which in this connection have a different meaning from the earlier passage. The hand here designates special aptitude and inclination for ecclesiastical government; the foot, for ecclesiastical exertion and missionary undertakings; the eye, for ecclesiastical perception and knowledge. All these gifts should remain in subjection to the Spirit of Christ, and serve for the advancement and edification of the little ones, instead of inducing pride or contempt of inferiors.

It will loch fairer, καλόν σοί ἐστιν (it is better for thee).—The Hebrews combined the two ideas of goodness and, beauty under the term good, while the Greeks comprehended them under that of fair. Both views may equally be expressed in Christian language. In the present instance, the idea of beauty is brought prominently forward, with special reference to the maiming caused by moral necessity. Philologically we note, that the positive degree καλόν is here combined with the comparative ή̓, on account of the attractive combination of the two constructions. (Comp. Meyer.)

Halt.—The loss of one foot causes the other to halt. The expression “maimed,” refers more particularly to the arms.

Matthew 18:10. Take heed.—Our Lord again addresses Himself to the disciples, who were not to give offence. He mentions the cause of such offence as consisting in contempt, more especially of these little ones. Accordingly, He now points out the high value which God sets upon them.

Their angels in heaven do always behold.—De Wette: “In the Old Testament we only read of guardian angels of empires (Daniel 10:13; Daniel 10:20). But at a later period the Jews believed also in the existence of guardian angels for individuals (Targ. Jonathan; Genesis 33:10; Genesis 35:10; Genesis 48:16. Eisenmenger, Neuentdecktes Judenthum, i. 389). Similarly also the New Testament (Acts 12:7?) The expression, that the guardian angels of these children always behold the face of God, or are near unto Him (as the servants of a king, 2 Kings 25:19), implies, that God specially cares for them. But as Jesus cannot ascribe any partiality to God, even for innocent children, the whole statement must be regarded as a figurative expression, indicating the high value attaching to these children, and the importance of their spiritual welfare.” Meyer, in opposition to de Wette, justly remarks: “The belief in guardian angels is here clearly admitted by Christ. Critics should simply acknowledge the fact, without adopting the idea that it applies to patron saints enjoying peculiar bliss in heaven.” Grotius takes the Roman Catholic view of this passage, which of course most Protestant divines controvert. Grotius appeals to Origen (Homil. viii. in Genesin), to Tertullian (de Baptismo), and to Clement, who speaks of the protecting demon in which the Platonists believed. Still, Clement does not maintain in so many words that every one had his patron angel. Origen, and after him Gregory of Nyssa, held that every person was accompanied both by a good and by an evil angel. The view of Grotius is somewhat different. He believes in the general guardianship of angels, rather than in the attendance of individual messengers of mercy. Olshausen applies the passage to the pre-existent ideal of men. But it deserves notice, that while Jesus evidently admits the doctrine concerning guardian angels, which had been fully developed during the period of the Apocrypha, He lays special emphasis not so much on that subject, as on the fact, that the angels of these little ones always behold the face of God. Not only are they highly placed, but they do not seem to be actively employed—as if God were through them always Himself looking upon these little ones. There is a most special Providence watching over the little ones, of which the angels are the medium, and in which the angelic life of these children is combined with the highest guardianship in heaven and on earth. The fundamental idea is, that the highest angels of God in heaven represent the smallest subjects of His kingdom on earth, Psalms 115:8; Psalms 115:6. The eye of God rests in special protection on the young seed in His kingdom (Matthew 19:0.). But as Christ is the Angel of His presence in a unique sense, while here we read of angels of the presence in the plural (the idea being formed after the analogy of the ministers of eastern kings, 2 Kings 25:19, comp. with 1 Kings 10:8), it follows, that Christ Himself, as the great Advocate and Intercessor, is Himself the central-point of this angelic guardianship.

Matthew 18:11. That which is lost.—A strong general expression, designating those who are lost. Meyer: those who had incurred eternal damnation. But the succeeding parable shows that our Lord rather refers to those who had strayed and were in misery. The conduct of Christ forms a direct contrast to that of the men giving offence. He came to save that which was lost; while they, in their pride, repelled those who had lately given hope of escaping from their lost state. Hence also, as the Angel of the presence, and as Saviour of the lost, Christ Himself is surety to us that these little ones are represented in the presence of His Father by Himself and His associates.

[Stier: “Here is Jacob’s ladder planted before our eyes: beneath are the little ones [the children of age and of grace];—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 to save those that were lost; and above Him again ( Matthew 18:14) the Father Himself, and His good pleasure.”—P. S.]

Matthew 18:12. What think ye?—In Matthew 15:4, this parable is again introduced in a different context. But we readily trace an internal connection between these two occasions, both in reference to the circumstances in which they were uttered, and to the state of feeling prevailing at the time. The difference, that in the one case the ninety-nine sheep are represented as left in the mountains, and in the other in the wilderness, is unimportant. Of greater moment is the fact, that in the Gospel of Matthew the parable is addressed to the Pharisees, who themselves represent the ninety-nine sheep, while in the Gospel of Luke it is spoken to the New Testament shepherds, who, after the example of the Master, were to take special charge of the lost.

Matthew 18:14. Even so it is not the will of your Father.—He has no fixed purpose that one of these little ones perish. We regard this as a decisive statement against the doctrine of actual predestination to condemnation. This negation implies, in the first instance, a denial of all those assumptions according to which hierarchical minds attempt judicially to fix the state of souls. For this they have no authority whatever in the gospel; on the contrary, their human traditions are in direct opposition to the will of God. The statement of Christ, also, evidently implies an affirmation, that God willeth that all should be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). He would secure for Himself the full number of His flock; and hence calleth sinners, and more particularly the lost. On this very ground, then, His great care is on behalf of that which is lost; His is saving grace. To such an extent is His administration directed by grace, that, in view of it, one lost sheep may exceed in importance ninety-nine who are not lost. These ninety-nine sheep either feed themselves (according to the passage in the text), or else deem themselves independent of special help (according to the passage in Luke). At all events, the case is quite different with the lost sheep, whether the idea of “lost” be taken in the objective, as in the text, or in the subjective sense, as in Luke. To all such the blessed decree of grace applies, and for such the Son and the Spirit are waiting.


1. It scarcely requires any argument to show that this statement of the Lord concerning the little child affords no evidence against the doctrine of original sin. When Jesus called Peter blessed, He referred to his faith as Peter, not to his individuality as Simon. Similarly, when setting the child in the midst, it is its childlikeness, and not the mere fact of its youth, far less that of its innocence, which is intended as an emblem and model. Children are here a symbol of humility, just as natural birth is a symbol of regeneration. Hence we also infer that the Lord here alluded to the natural humility of the child, to its dependence, need of affection, and consequent want of pretension, as well as to its enjoyment of the passing moment.
2. Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?—Who has the primacy? It might almost seem as if the disciples were relapsing into their old Jewish views of a carnal kingdom, with political offices, ranks, and dignities attaching to it. But this was not the case. They knew that their ἐκκλησίὰ was destined to form a contrast to the ancient theocracy, and to the kingdoms of this world. Still, they had as yet no adequate conception of a spiritual order of things, and accordingly transferred to the Church their political and hierarchical associations. If a Church was to be founded, a hierarchy must, in their opinion, be instituted along with it. This idea seems to have been further confirmed in their minds after the transaction about the tribute-money, in which they seem to have noted rather the distinction conferred on Peter, than the humiliation which he had experienced.

3. As the inquiry of the disciples bore so distinctly upon the establishment of a hierarchy, the symbolical action of the Master, in placing a child in the midst of them, formed the most complete refutation of their theory. Still, this transaction does not in the least invalidate the institution of the apostolical and ecclesiastical office ( Matthew 16:0). Hence the passage must be regarded as only more clearly defining the ecclesiastical office, as a ministry of love (a ministerial office for the sacerdotium of the whole congregation, according to the principles of the gospel),—a ministry of humility, in opposition to hierarchical claims; of condescension to little ones, in opposition to that of ascending grades; and of pastoral watchfulness, in opposition to hierarchical pride and domination, which is here characterized and condemned both as the grand offence of New Testament times, and as the greatest temptation and corruption of the Christian world. From this explanation of the Lord, we are enabled to gather the great outlines of New Testament Church order: 1. Its leading principles (in our section); again, 2. the rules of Christian discipline; 3. those of Christian and ecclesiastical absolution. The leading principles are as follows:

a. First principle: Except ye be converted.—Conversion is the primary condition, not only of being leaders in the kingdom of heaven, but even of being members of it. This conversion must be more particularly characterized by a childlike want of pretension,—i.e., by spiritual humility, which may be described as repentance in a permanent form. Hence the imperious hierarch excludes himself, both by his spirit and by his conduct, not only from office, but even from the kingdom of heaven itself. He ceases not merely to be a servant of Christ, but even a Christian. All such desires after primacy must be removed by conversion and regeneration. Luther: “Who has ever seen an animal living after its head was dead?”

b. Second principle: Whosoever therefore shall humble himself.—Rank or dignity in the kingdom of heaven is to be proportionate to humility and to the ministry of love. In other words, real condescension (not merely by such phrases as the papal servus servorum) is to be the measure of our real exaltation. The general basis underlying all is, that all are equal and one in Christ. The desires after primacy are to give place to an opposite desire after fraternal service of love.

c. Third principle: Whoso shall receive one such little child.—Christ would have us recognize and receive Himself in these little ones, or in beginners in the faith. Our evangelical ministry is to be characterized by respect and veneration for the life that is of God, or for Christ in His little ones. Thus the pastoral office is to combine the qualities of freedom on the one, and of love on the other, hand; while it is at the same time made the means of training the young and the weak in faith to the manhood and full stature in Christ.

Thus there are three degrees of evangelical primacy—humble faith, condescension to the little ones, and the training and elevating them—in opposition to the three stages of hierarchical primacy. The latter are—1. Progressive symbolical conversion to hierarchism; 2. hierarchical gradations; 3. contempt of the congregation of the little ones. Accordingly, the triple crown of the true minister of Christ consists in conversion and humility, fraternal service of love, and veneration for the priestly character of the congregation (Christ in the little ones).
4. But whoso shall offend.—We have now a delineation of the opposite conduct.

a. From the context we gather that the passage applies exclusively to offences arising from hierarchical pride, self-exaltation and contempt of these little ones. The Lord first refers to the sin, and then to the punishment.

b. Jesus announces that great danger and corruption would accrue to the world from these offences. Woe unto the world because of offences!

c. The Lord shows how His servants may come to give offence to others, having been first tempted and seduced themselves (being offended by their hand, their foot, or their eye). From the context we gather that in this connection the term hand refers to ecclesiastical despotism (Matthew 23:13-14), foot to activity in proselytizing (Matthew 23:15), and eye to pride of knowledge which would seek to exalt patristic, gnostic, theosophic, or mystical lore and fellowship above the Church, Romans 12:3. The Apostle John, who was the occasion of this saying, himself afforded a signal instance of the manner in which a right hand was to be cut off (see the author’s Leben Jesu, ii 2, p. 1021). Stier (John 3:26) seems to overlook the necessity of John’s special training for the high place which he was to occupy in the kingdom of God.

d. The source of these offences: contempt of the little ones. This is to give place to a proper acknowledgment of their character, of their mysterious proximity to God, of their calling and object in the kingdom of heaven, and of their glorious and blessed representatives and guardians, viz., the angels and Christ Himself.

5. Both the above antitheses are now explained and illustrated by the fundamental idea and characteristic feature of the kingdom of heaven, which is compassion. For the Son of Man is come to save that which was lost. Christ primarily came to seek that which was lost, and not merely the little ones. In this economy of sovereign pity, where the Saviour descends to the lowest depth of misery, there to display in ail its fulness His character as Redeemer, it is impossible that His subordinate servants should enter upon an opposite course. The watchfulness of the faithful shepherd in the mountains serves as an emblem of the faithfulness of our heavenly Shepherd. But the root and spring of their life must ultimately be traced to the gracious purpose of our Father in heaven, who willeth not that one of these little ones perish.

6. The fact, that in Matthew 18:0 the disciples are introduced as asking the Lord who was the greatest hi the kingdom of heaven, incontestably proves that He could not have meant His statement in Matthew 16:0 to imply that Peter was to enjoy any primacy in the Church.

7. We may here remark, that for educational purposes it is well, wisely to set before children the two great dangers—of excessive childishness, on the one hand, and, on the other, of an unchildlike spirit.


The Lord Himself must settle the question about primacy.—Primacy in the kingdom of heaven belongs to obscure children.—The solemn declaration of the Lord against any human primacy in His Church.—Let us take the little ones, and not the great of this world, as our model for the offices and dignities in the Church.—The little child a warning lesson set before the Apostles.—How the Lord has made children a perpetual and living condemnation of spiritual and ecclesiastical pretensions.—The child a twofold emblem: 1. A model to those who deem themselves great, how they are to become little, and thereby really great; 2. a symbol of those who are little in a spiritual sense, and who are not to be offended by spiritual domination.—Personal regeneration the condition of ecclesiastical greatness.—It is altogether vain to contend for a position in the kingdom of God, if there is any question as to our having entered into it.—“Except ye be converted;” or, aims after worldly greatness in the Church, are in reality aims after going beyond its pale.—A perversion of the office of minister into ruler, as raising the question of the genuineness of our first conversion.—In what respect may children serve as models to the ministers of Christ?—To Christians generally?—Self-abasement the only road to exaltation in the kingdom of heaven.—How the little ones grow, just because they are little.—How the want of pretension in children secures their enjoyment of life and their pre-eminence.—The threefold sermon of the Lord on the subject of the little ones: 1. Become as little children, in order to become Christians; 2. Receive these little children for Christ’s sake; 3. Offend not these little children, who enjoy the guardianship of the angels and of the Father who is in heaven.—Whoso shall receive one such little child.—Only he who can feed the lambs can feed the sheep; see John 20:15.—Honorable distinction of the office of teacher.—Sacredness of the catechetical office.—Solemn judgment resting on those who give offence to the little ones.—To what offences did the Lord specially refer in the text?—Offences are unavoidable, yet their authors are chargeable with them.—If we are to avoid giving offence to the members of Christ, let us beware of taking offence in our own members.—How a Christian may become an offence in the Church: 1. By the domination of his hand; 2. by the spurious proselytizing zeal of his foot; 3. by the fanatical and distorted perceptions of his eye.—How a Christian is to make sure of his fellowship with the Church, even at the cost of the most painful sacrifices, Romans 12:3; in the same manner also to secure his own salvation.—The abuse of God’s gifts for selfish purposes will ensure our ruin.—Christ condescending to seek that which was lost a model to His servants.—How the ways of the Lord, and of those who would assume the mastery in the Church, are opposed: 1. Christ descended, and then ascended; 2. they ascend, and then descend, as if a millstone were hanged round their necks, and they drawn into the depths of the sea.—The ministry of the gospel not priestly domination, but pastoral service.—The faithfulness of earthly shepherds a symbol of that of the Great Shepherd.—Why the Shepherd cherishes so much the lost sheep: 1. Because it is a lost life, and not a dead possession; 2. because He is a faithful Shepherd, full of compassion, not one who reckons closely.—One lost sheep may be of greater importance to the Good Shepherd than ninety and nine who have not gone astray; or, the infinite glory of the kingdom of grace.—“It is not the will of your Father,” etc. Lessons to be derived from this by the Church: 1. In respect of doctrine; 2. in respect of rule; 3. in respect of the mission of the Church.—The threefold will: to save that which was lost. The will, 1. in heaven above; 2. on Golgotha; 3. in the heart of the Church.

Starke:—Hedinger: What a shame that the disciples of Christ should be engrossed with pride and ambition, when their Head has become their servant, and for their sake humbled Himself even unto death!—Zeisius: It is the wicked way of man that each one seeks to become high, not lowly—to rule, not to serve.—It is not said, Become little children, but, Become as little children.—Langii opus bibl.: The innocence of children appears especially in their simplicity, humility, love, kindliness, and obedience, viewing these qualities alone, and irrespective of their faults.—Zeisius: He who is lowest in his own eyes, and in those of the world, is greatest before God.—Think not how you may become great, but rather how ye may be made small.—What a blessed work, and what glorious reward, to become the patron and friend of children, of orphans, and of the weak!—Canstein: To build orphanages is a great work.—What precious treasure have parents in their children, since for their sakes the holy angels and Christ Himself lodge with them! Bibl. Wurt.—Quesnel: If to offend one soul is to incur the wrath of God, how awful must be the judgment of those who offend a whole town or country!—Offences are the source of fearful evil to the world; but they are made to work together for good to them that love God.

Lisco:—The main point consists in that sense of weakness and dependence which is characteristic of children.

Gerlach:—On account of their weakness, children require the special protection of angels; but they are so precious in the sight of God, that He selects for that purpose His most exalted messengers.

Heubner:—The human heart is naturally inclined to self-exaltation, and both ambition and pride find their way even into the kingdom of Christ.—How Christ answered the inquiry, what constituted true and what spurious greatness.—Each one of us requires a thorough conversion of the heart.—A child like spirit, the basis of true religion.—A childlike spirit: humility, guilelessness, forgetfulness of self, teachableness, faith.—Goltz (from Spangenberg and Luther): The child the living symbol of the destiny of man.—The more willing thou art to become a child, the more fully wilt thou experience that God is thy Father.—The time will come when God will acknowledge quiet, humble, and retiring souls.—Those who seduce simple and unsuspecting minds incur the heaviest guilt.—The world the scene of offences.—Every other evil is as nothing compared with the number of seductions in the world.—Children and childlike persons the special favorites of Heaven.—To train children is to give joy to the angels.—Brentius, Prœfatio catechismi: In medio puerorum versari est esse in medio angelorum.—On the whole section:—The conversion to childlikeness of spirit which the Lord here requires: 1. Its character; 2. its importance.—How Christ, the Friend of children, recommends children to our care.—Christ is that faithful Shepherd who has left His thousands on the heavenly mountains (the angelic hosts, as Cyril of Jerusalem has it, Cat. 15) to comedown and seek the lost sheep of humanity.—Rieger (Five Sermon, Leipzig, 1766): The gracious care of our Father in heaven and of Christ even for a single soul.

Bachmann:—The high value attaching to children in the kingdom of God.


[1] Matthew 18:1.—Lachmann reads ἡμέρα (day) for ώ̓ρᾳ (hour), according to certain authorities of Origen. Less attested. [Origen leaves the matter undecided, saying simply: κατὰ μέν τινα τῶν ̓ρᾳ προοῆλθον οἱ μυθηταὶ τῳ ̓Ιησοῦ, κατὰ δὲ ά̓λλα ἐν ἐκείντῇ ἡμέρα. Cod Sinait. with the great majority of witnesses read ώ̓ρᾳ, which has been retained by Tischendorf and Alford.—P. S.]

[2] Matthew 18:1.—[Literally: greater (than others, or the rest), major; Lange: der Grössere. It is a superlative in effect, though not in form. The English idiom requires here the superlative, as μικρότερος in Matthew 11:11 is correctly rendered in the Authorized Version: he that is least, etc. Comp. my notes on pp. 205 and 206.—P. S.]

[3] Matthew 18:3.—[̓Εὰν μὴ στραφῆτε, equivalent as to sense to μετανοῆτε. The older English trsls., Tyndale, Coverdale, Cranmer, Rogers, the Genevan N. T. of 1557, the Bishops Bible, also Conant, the N. T. of the A. B. U. (1864) unanimously render: except ye turn; Luther: es sei denn, dass ihr umkehret (Luther, however, inserts euch, which is omitted in some modern editions); Lange: wenn ihr nicht umgekehrt seid. The Authorized Version: except ye be converted, is derived from the ed. of the Genevan Bible of 1560. Similarly the Rheims’ New Test. of Matt 1582: unless ye be converted. Campbell and Norton translate: unless ye be changed. Στρέφεσθαι, to turn oneself, is here evidently used as term a for conversion under the figure of turning back from a path previously pursued, or a return to our proper and normal relation to God, as His obedient and confiding children. It is thus equivalent to μετανοεῖν, to change the mind, which implies repentance and faith. Lange presses the aorist (unless ye shall have turned), as implying that the disciples were already converted and needed only to be confirmed, See his Exeg. Notes. But the Saviour refers here more particularly to a return of His disciples from the path of ambitious rivalry, which is Implied in the question of Matthew 18:1, to a spirit of childlike simplicity and humility. Conversion may be repeated and should be repeated after every fall, but regeneration cannot be repeated any more than natural birth. Conversion is the act of man (under the influence of the Holy Spirit), regeneration is the act of God.—P. S.]

[4] Matthew 18:4.—Lachmann and Tischendorf [and Alford] adopt the future ταπεινώσει [for the lect. rec. ταπεινώση], after Codd. B., D. Z., etc.

[5] Matthew 18:6.—[This is a more literal translation of συμφέρει αὐτῶ͂, and corresponds with Dr. Lange’s Version: es nützt ihm—ja dazu. Comp. his Exeg. Note below. But for popular use I would prefer the Authorized Version: it were better for him, and Luther’s Version: dem ware es besser, which Ewald retained, while de Wette renders: ihm frommete es.—P. S.]

[6] Matthew 18:6.—[Ενπελάγει, literally: the high, the open, the deep sea, as distinct from the shallows near the shore. Lange: auf der Höhe (in die Tiefe) des Meeres. The drowning is a necessary consequence of being plunged in the high sea with a mill-stone around the neck, but is not necessarily implied in καταποντζω, to cast or sink down in the sea (πόντο)—P. S.]

[7] Matthew 18:7.—[Dr. Lange inserts here in the text in smaller type: geworden—historisches Gerichtsverhängniss, i.e., scandals have become (are not originally) necessary, as a judgment of history.—P. S.]

[8] Matthew 18:7.—[Lachmann and Tregelles with some of the oldest authorities, to which must now be added also the Codex from Mt. Sinai, omit ἐκείνῳ after τψ͂ ἀνθπώπψ. Lange translates accordingly: wehe dem Menschen, but does not notice the difference of reading. Tischendorf and Alford, however, retain ἐκείῳ.—P. S.]

[9] Matthew 18:8.—B., D., L., and many other Codd., read αὐτόν (it) for αὐτά, which looks like an emendation. [The former conforms in gender to the nearest noun, but as to sense refers to both.

[10] Matthew 18:10.—[The order in the Greek: οἰ ά̓γγελοι αὐτῶν ἐνο ὐρανοῖς. The order of the E. V. misleads, as if in heaven belonged to the verb.—P. S.]

[11] Matthew 18:11.—[̓Ηλθε γὰρ δ υἱὸς τοῦ ] is omitted by Lachmann and Tischendorf, on the authority of Codd. B., L., I., [Cod. Sinait. likewise omits it], and in some ancient versions. But it is found in Cod. G., al., and required by the connection. It was perhaps omitted, as de Wette suggests, to avoid the appearance of numbering the children with the lost. [It is generally supposed that Matthew 18:11 is an insertion from Luke 19:10, but there is no good reason for such insertion, and it is made improbable by the omission of the verb ζητῆσαι of Luke before σῶσαι (to seek and save), which would have suited the ξητεῖ of Matthew 18:12. See Alford, who retains the received text.—P. S.]

[12] Matthew 18:12.—[This is the proper construction, connecting ἐπὶ τὰ ό̓ρη with ὰφείς. So the Vulgate (nonne relinquit nonagintanovem in montibus, et vadit, etc.), the Peschito, Luther, Bengel, de Wette, Ewald, Lange, Wiclif, Tyndale (doeth he not leave ninety nine in the mountains, and go and seek), Cranmer, Genevan, Rheims Verss., Campbell, Conant, etc. The error in the Authorized Version seems to be derived from the Bishops’ Bible, where I find it. ̓Επί with the accusative suits the verb ἀφεὶς and the idea of a flock of sheep scattered over a mountain. Lachmann reads ἀφήσεικαὶ πορευθείς, will he not leave—and going seek, etc. (instead of ὰφεὶςποοενθείς). Dr. Lange, following this reading, stops the question with ό̓ρη. Objectionable.—P. S.]

[13][In Germ.: Wenn ihr nicht umgekehrt seid, unless ye shall have turned. Comp. the Critical Note, No. 3, p. 322.—P. S.]

[14][Dr. Lange refers here to the celebrated John Charlier Gerson, who was chancellor of the university of Paris and the theological leader of the reformatory councils of Pisa (1409) and Constance (1415). After taking a prominent part in all the great questions of his age, he retired to a convent at Lyons, and found his chief delight in the instruction of little children. As he felt the approach of death, he called once more the children that they might pray with him; Lord of mercy, have mercy upon Thy poor servant! He appears greater in this humility, than when he swayed by his eloquence the council of bishops. He died A. D. 1429, 6[illegible] years old.—P. S.]

[15][Hence de Wette and Meyer translate μύλος ὀνικός literally: Eselsmühlstein, in distinction from the smaller hand-millstones, — P. S.]

Verses 15-20

B. The Discipline of the Church Matthew 18:15-20

15Moreover [But] if thy brother shall trespass [sin, ἁμαρτήση]16 against thee,17 go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gainedthy brother. 16But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established [σταθῆ]. 17And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church:18 but if he neglect to hear the church [also, καί], let him be unto thee as a heathen man [heathen] and a publican. 18Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; 19and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again [verily]19 I say unto you, That if [only] two of you shall agree20 on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which [who] is in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.


Logical Connection.—Meyer denies the existence of such a connection with the preceding context, and objects to the construction of Beza: “Ubi de iis disseruit, qui sunt aliis offendiculo, nunc quid sit iis faciendum declarat, quibus objectum est offendiculum,” The connection lies in the condemnation of hierarchical practices. Hence the view of Beza is substantially correct. Give no offence to your neighbor, but rather overcome by love the offence which he gives to you. Or, in the special form in which it is expressed in the text, Put no stumbling-block in the way of your neighbor by hierarchical offence, but rather assist the Church in removing such offences.

Matthew 18:15. Against thee.—Not merely referring to personal offences, but rather to sins, which, being done in presence of others, cannot but excite attention and give offence. Viewed in the context, it might be paraphrased: Sin not against thy brother by giving him offence. Again, on the other hand, overcome by the discipline of love the offence which he has given thee.

Between thee and him alone.—First measure. Brotherly admonition, or private entreaty. Meyer: “The administration of reproof is here represented as intervening between the two parties.” But this critic is mistaken in supposing that the text refers to party disputes. Of course, the expression implies that the guilt rests with our brother.

Thou hast gained thy brother.—Euthym, Zigab.: In respect of brotherly fellowship. Meyer, more correctly: For the kingdom of the Messiah. Both ideas, however, seem combined in the text. The person who has been gained for the kingdom of the Messiah becomes the brother of him who has thus gained him. He has been gained by wisdom and cautious dealing, when serious loss seemed impending. Such private expostulation implies self-denial and courage, while it gives our brother the impression that we feel for him, that we love him, and would willingly spare him. Such an assault of love upon his heart may gain him. The opposite course, of hastily divulging his fault, is an evidence of pride, harshness, cowardice, want of love and of prudence. In all probability, it will only tend to embitter, and thus further to alienate our brother. Besides, in our personal dealings as individuals, we are not entitled to go beyond this private expostulation, unless we know that we act in the spirit of the whole Church (Acts 5:0; 1 Corinthians 5:0).

Matthew 18:16. One or two more.—This is the second measure to be adopted. One or two witnesses are now to be called in. The law of Moses enjoined the judicial examination of witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15). In this instance, the final judgment of God is supposed to be already commencing, and witnesses are called in, because the guilty brother is to become his own judge.

The question has been asked, whether the word σταθῆ here means, “be established,” or else, “stand still, rest, depend.” The latter meaning seems to be preferable, as the guilt of the offending brother is apparently admitted. The fault of our brother is not to be prematurely published. Hence, while in the first clause of the verse we read, “Take with thee one or two,” the last clause speaks of two or, three witnesses. If our brother confesses his fault, he becomes himself the third witness, and there are no longer merely two, but three who know of the fault.

Matthew 18:17. To the church (congregation).—Third measure. From Matthew 16:18, the term ἐκκλησία must always be understood as referring to the Christian Church, or to the meeting of believers, whether it be large or small. Calvin, Beza, and others mistake equally the meaning and the connection of the passage in applying it to the Jewish synagogue. In opposition to this, de Wette remarks, 1. That the term ἐκκλησία is never applied to the synagogue; 2. that Jesus could not have meant to direct His disciples to apply to a community which was estranged from them in spirit, for the purpose of restoring brotherly relations among themselves; 3. that Matthew 18:18-20 evidently refer to Christian fellowship, and to its power and quickening by His presence. But when de Wette suggests that both this passage and Matthew 16:18 were a historical prolepsis, he must have wholly missed the connection of the gospel history in the mind of Matthew. Similarly, Roman Catholic interpreters are entirely in error in explaining the passage: Tell it to the bishops. Even de Wette and Vitringa go beyond the text, in supposing that it applies to the function of the rulers of the Church as arbitrators or judges on moral questions. On the contrary, the έκκλησία is in this passage put in antithesis to the question touching the μελ́ζων ἐν τῆ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανων. Hence this would have been the most unsuitable place for anything like the sanction of a hierarchy. It is indeed true that the Church is, in the first place, approached and addressed through its officials. But then we must also bear in mind, that there is an entire accordance between the views and dealings of these officials and those of the Church, and not anything like hierarchical assumption on their part (comp. 1 Corinthians 5:4). [Alford: “That ἐκκλητία cannot mean the Church as represented by her rulers, appears by (from) 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 sprit of our Lord’s command than proceedings in what were oddly enough called ‘ecclesiastical courts.’ ”—P. S.]

Let him be unto thee.—The Jews regarded heathens and publicans as excommunicated persons. As such we are to consider a Christian who perseveres in his offence: he is no longer to be acknowledged as belonging to the fellowship of saints. The accord of the Church in this step is implied. Still the verse reads, Let him be to thee—not, to the church; the personal impulse being in this case a prophetic manifestation of the gift of discerning the spirits. Viewing it in this light, we cannot imagine how Meyer could infer that it did not apply to excommunication—all the more so, that he himself refers it to the cessation of all fellowship with such a person. However, we question the correctness of the latter statement. In our opinion, the text only implies the cessation of ecclesiastical fellowship, not of civil or social intercourse. In point of fact, it was the mistake of the Jews to convert what was intended as an ecclesiastical censure into a civil punishment. Perhaps this might be excusable under the ancient theocracy, when State and Church were not yet distinct. Nay, when the theocracy was first founded, it was even necessary under certain conditions, and for a season (see the laws against the Canaanites). But under the New Testament dispensation this confusion of civil and sacred matters has entirely ceased. Christ did not regard the publicans and heathens, viewed as such, as belonging to His communion; but He considered them the objects of His mission. Accordingly, we must take the idea of excommunication in this light. The Roman Catholic Church has, on the question of discipline, again lapsed into Judaism. Regarding those who are excommunicated as heretics, if not as heathens and publicans, it hands them over to the civil tribunals.

Matthew 18:18. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth.—It is very remarkable that Christ should have employed a solemn adjuration, when according the power of the keys to all His disciples, and with them to the Church generally, or rather to the Church along with the disciples. For, evidently, while Matthew 18:17 lays down the rule for the conduct of the Church, Matthew 18:18 shows that the Church is warranted in this conduct. This right is again solemnly confirmed by the amen in Matthew 18:19. The similarity of expression with Matthew 16:19 shows that this passage also refers to the office of the keys; and hence that both Matthew 18:17-18 referred to its exercise. The privilege therefore of Peter only consisted in this, that he was the first to make confession and to bear witness (see Acts 5:8, Acts 5:11), in accordance with the Church generally, to which he also was subject. But whenever he occupied a separate position, he also subjected himself to the discipline and reproof of the Church (Galatians 2:11).

Matthew 18:19. Again, verily I say unto you.—The reading πάλιν is very fully attested. This amen was afterward omitted from the text, probably from an apprehension that it might be quoted in support of separatism.—That if [only] two of you shall agree.—The smallest number which could form a fellowship. They shall agree on earth, i.e., in forming a social and visible fellowship. This, however, does not imply that two believers will always suffice to form a church. The emphasis rests on the word τυμφωνία. Such a full agreement of two persons could only be wrought by the Holy Spirit. Hence it represents in principle the catholicity of the whole Church. The smallest fragment of a straight line may be closely and homogeneously joined to all similar fragments. Suffice it, that the Church may commence, continue and be reformed with two individuals. The prayer of these two humble individuals on earth brings dawn the gracious answer of the Father who is in heaven, thereby attesting and confirming the character of the Church.

Matthew 18:20. For where two or three are gathered together.—A confirmation and explanation of what had preceded. The two individuals must not stand aloof in a sectarian spirit, but seek to become three. Similarly, their σνμφωνια must consist in being gathered together in the name of Jesus. If such be the case, Himself is in the midst of them by His Spirit. It is this presence of the Shechinah, in the real sense of the term, which forms and constitutes His ὲκκλησία, or Kahal. Hence it also enjoys both the blessings and the protection of our Father who is in heaven. Lightfoot: “Simile dicunt Rabbini de duobus aut tribus considentibus in judicio, quod Schechina sit in medio eorum.

The statement in Matthew 18:19 must evidently be regarded as primarily a continuation of the second measure prescribed in cases of offence, when two or three witnesses were to be called in. It is as if the Lord hoped that, by their earnest continuance in prayer, these witnesses would prevent the necessity of extreme measures. But if they should be obliged to assemble in His name in order to lay a formal accusation before the Church, the Lord promised to be in the midst of them. The fact that the phraseology of the text so closely resembles that of Matthew 18:16, seems to imply, in a certain sense, an antithesis. Probably the meaning is: The two or three who form a true Church shall not be entirely dependent upon the large majority of a larger ἐκκλησία, nor upon the possible abuse of the power of the keys. Their outward minority is compensated by the blessing of the Father, and by the presence of Christ, or by an inward and real excess of power. Thus the Lord points to the circumstance, that the essential characteristics and the power of the Church lie not in the existence of an outward majority, or in the presence of great masses of people. Christ intervenes between the first and the third measure of discipline.


1. According to the direction of the Lord in the passage under consideration, ecclesiastical discipline should above all things rest on the basis of brotherly faithfulness in the private intercourse of Christians. This is the first condition for the proper exercise of Church discipline.
2. According to apostolic direction, excommunication was only to take place if the person who gave offence obstinately resisted the Church itself. In that case, both truth and honor required that such bold and open opposition, either to the principles, doctrines, or practice of the Church, should not be tolerated in the midst of it. More than this; esteem, love, and faithfulness toward the offending brother himself demanded such a step. Still, such an one was only to be ranked with that class from which he had at first been taken, and from which the Church is ever willing to receive proselytes, and hence also to welcome penitents. All this implies that the excommunicated person was not to be subjected to civil pains and penalties by the Church.—“Let him be unto thee as a heathen and a publican.” These words convey a very different meaning to Christiana from what they did to the Jews. The latter despised and condemned heathens and publicans; Christ received them. In other words, where the discipline of the Church ceases, its missionary work commences anew. Perhaps we might rather call it the catechetical office—as the penitent professes a desire to have the bond which had been broken restored, and hence does not require to be again admitted by a new baptism, but only to be restored to the fellowship of the Church.

3. The characteristic of true catholicity is not outward uniformity, but inward unity in the Spirit of Christ. Therefore, when even two are completely united, they are, in point of fact, in fellowship with all the holy spirits both in heaven and on earth, and Christ Himself is in the midst of them.
4. Not “three or two” but “two or three.” The pure Church may for a time be very small, but it must always aim after universality. Besides, it deserves notice that this saying of the Lord was closely connected with His teaching about primacy in the Church, and about offences, hence we may see with what tender care He watched over the interests and how He defended the origin of the evangelical Church.

5. On the subject of Jewish excommunication, comp. Winer’s Real-Wörterbuch, sub Bann, and on Christian excommunication, Herzog’s Real-Encyclop., sub Bann. The lesser excommunication implied only the cessation of full and purely ecclesiastical fellowship. The person excluded became, for the time, a non-communicant. A deep meaning attached to the practice of the ancient Church, by which such an individual was in certain respects ranked among the general hearers of the word and the catechumens. In truth, his connection with the Church had not wholly ceased; it may be regarded rather as suspended for a time, than as completely terminated. Hence the greater excommunication may be said to be no longer applicable to any individuals, as it necessarily involved civil consequences. At first sight, some of the statements of Paul seem to imply such a procedure; but a further examination of the passages in question will modify our ideas on that point. Thus, 1 Corinthians 5:11 refers probably to the common meal of brotherly fellowship; while the formulas in 1 Corinthians 16:22, and Galatians 1:8-9, appear to us to be couched in hypothetical language, as a thing that might and should take place in certain circumstances, not as one that had actually occurred. Of recent writers on the subject, we mention Meyer of Rostock, Otto (Bonn, 1856), M. Göbel, On Eccl. Discipline in the Reformed Church until Calvin (Kirchl. Vierteljahr’s Schrift, 2 Jahrg., Berlin, 1845). Also the Transactions of the German Church Diet for 1856.


The necessity of ecclesiastical discipline. 1. The gospel cannot be preserved without salt; nor, 2. fraternal love without frankness: nor, 3. a particular church without discipline; nor, 4. the Church in general without the spirit of discipline.—The object of all Christian and ecclesiastical reproof is to gain our brother.—The frankness of affectionate, brother faithfulness, the basis of ecclesiastical discipline.—The exercise of ecclesiastical discipline implying the institution and the establishment of a Christian Church; but, on the other hand, churches must be trained and educated to this duty.—The training of the Church for the exercise of Christian discipline forms the commencement of that discipline.—How the discipline of the Church is to prove affectionate care for the spiritual welfare of our brother: 1. Its object is to exclude sin from the Church, but to retain our brother; 2. its mode of exercise—frankness, decision, wisdom, prudence.—How genuine Church discipline observes the principle of progressing from private to open dealings.—The object of Christian reproof being to awaken, not to harden, we must display—1. Compassion, to the extent of even appearing to share the guilt; 2. compassion, to the extent of even appearing to cry for help; 3. compassion, to the extent of even appearing to be inexorable.—The three different kinds of Church discipline: 1. Our brother is excommunicated, but sin is retained in the Church; 2. sin is cast out along with our brother; 3. sin is eliminated, and our brother restored.—The right of reproof: The individual may exercise f it privately, if he has strength and courage for it; a small number of friends may administer it in kindly intercourse; the Church may publicly exercise it, i.e., not in opposition to the ministry, but as represented by it.—The exercise of discipline incumbent on the Church and its representatives.—To whom did Christ say, “Tell it to the Church?” 1. He said it to Peter; 2. to all the Apostles.—The Church called to take an active part in the administration of its most sacred affairs.—The power of the keys vested in the apostolic Church.—How fellowship of prayer leads to fellowship of faith.—Agreement of the Spirit, a confirmation of the power of the keys.—Evidence of this.—How the keys have lost their power when the spirits are not subject to Christ.—How the whole Church of Christ may revive in the smallest community.—The great Church appears in a small community: 1. If there be agreement in the spirit of prayer, securing the answer of the Father 2. if there be union in the name of Jesus, and hence the presence of Christ.—The characteristic features of the true Church: 1. An inward life of prayer; 2. an outward life of confession.—What is the state of a church. If, 1. the former of these two characteristics is wanting; or, 2. the latter; or, 3. both are gone.—The great promises of Christ shall be fulfilled, even in the experience of the weakest church.—The watch word of the Church and the watchword of sectarianism. The former: two or three; the latter: three or two.—How this promise of the Lord was fulfilled in the formation of the Protestant Churches.

Starke:—Zeisius: Secret sins should be secretly rebuked and expiated, but open sins, openly.—Cramer: It is very dangerous to be excluded from the communion of the saints.—Hedinger: The prayer of a righteous man availeth much, nay, everything; James 5:16.

Gerlach:—What in Matthew 16:19 had (apparently) been bestowed upon Peter alone, is here conferred on the whole Christian Church, being ultimately traceable to the character of Christian communion as the outward manifestation of the invisible Church.—The Church of Christ on earth consists of a number of circles, drawn around the same centre, and always widening. Its well-being consists in this, that all have the proper centre, and that none of the circles interferes with the other.

Gossner:—The principal thing is the agreement.—All depends not on large numbers, but on the presence of Christ as the third or fourth in a spiritual communion.

Heubner:—We can only call those persons our own whom we have gained for the kingdom of heaven.—The decline of, and the difficulties attending upon, the exercise of scriptural discipline, constitute glaring evidence of the sad decay of our State Churches (or rather, of the hierarchical disinclination of office to train the congregation to spiritual self-government).21—Wherein may two be agreed? Manifestly, not in temporal things (or rather, in matters of pure egotism).

[16] Matthew 18:15.—[Compare Matthew 18:21, where the E. V. renders ἁμαρτἀνειν: sin.—P. S.]

[17] Matthew 18:15.—Lachmann and Tischendorf [not in his large critical edition of 1859], after Cod. B., al. omit εἰς σέ (against thee). The omission made the sense clearer; but for this very reason the words should be retained.

[18] Matthew 18:17.—[Here ἐκκλησὶα is used in the sense of a particular or local congregation, as often in the Epistles, while in Matthew 16:18 it means the church universal, since no individual congregation (or denomination) has the promise of indestructible life. Comp. on ὲκκλησία, and its proper translation, the Crit. Note No. 4 on p. 298.—P. S.]

[19] Matthew 18:19.—The reading πάλιν [instead of πάλιν without ἀμήν] is very strongly attested [and adopted by Tischendorf and Alford. Lachmann reads ὰμήν without πάλιν, and gives Cod. B. as his authority. But this is an error; the Vatican Codex, both in the edition of Angelo Mai and that of Phil. Buttmann jun., reads πάλιν ,—P. S.]

[20] Matthew 18:19.—The future συμφωνήσουσιν is best attested. [Adopted by Tischendorf and Alford. Sustained by Cod. Sinait. which reads: ἐἀν δύο συμφωνήσιν ἐξ ὑμῶν. Lachmann reads with Cod. Vaticanus and text. rec. the subjunctive συμφωνήσ ω σιν, which looks like a grammatical emendation. Meyer (1858) and Tischendorf (1859) quote Cod. B. in favor of the future, but both the editions of this Codex by Angelo Mai (Rome, 1857, and sec. ed., 1859) and that of Phil. Buttmann (Berlin, 1862) read the subjunctive, as stated previously by Birch and Lachmann. The ω or ου seems to be very indistinctly written in the original MS., so as to account for the difference among the collators and editors. Comp. the note in Buttmann’s edition of Cod. Vat., p. 501, sub Matthew 18:19.—P. S.]

[21]A Prussian regulation of March 27, 1748, prohibits the minister from excluding any of their church members from the holy communion. Now cases of the kind must be reported to the royal consistories.

Verses 21-35

C. Absolution in the Church.

Matthew 18:21-35

( Matthew 18:23-35 the Gospel for the 22d Sunday after Trinity.)

21Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till [until, ἔως] seven times? 22Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until [ἔως] seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

23Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king [a human king, ἰνθρώπῳ βασιλεῖ], which would take account of [who desired to make a reckoning with]22 his servants. 24And when he had [only] begun to reckon, one was brought23 unto him, which [who] owed him ten thousand talents. 25But forasmuch as he had not [as ho was not able] to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord,24 have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 27Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed [released] him, and forgave him the debt. 28But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow servants, which [who] owed him a hundred pence [shillings? lit.: denáries, δηνάρια]:25 and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me26 that thou [Pay if 29thou27 owest. And his fellow servant fell down at his feet,28 and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.29 30And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. 31So when his fellow servants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their [own, ἑαντῶν] lord all that was done. 32Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave then all that debt, because thou desiredst [besoughtest] me: 33Shouldest not thou also have had compassion [pity] on thy fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee? 34And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.30 35So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.31


Matthew 18:21. Until seven times, ἕως ἑπτάκις.—The directions of Christ in regard to the discipline of the Church presuppose readiness to forgive. If our brother listen to our admonition, and be reconciled, he is to be forgiven. But the Lord had not indicated how often this mercy was to be exercised. It seemed to Peter as if there must be some limit in the matter. His query indicated that he still regarded forgiveness as something outward and quantitative, rather than as something inward and spiritual. His proposal, “until seven times”—the sacred number—is very characteristic of his state of mind. It was, however, greatly in excess of the rabbinical ordinances, which prescribed forgiveness only three times: “Homini in alterum, peccanti semel remittunt, secundo remittunt, tertio remittunt, quarto non remittunt.” Babyl. Joma.—[The Jewish rabbins based the duty of forgiving three times and no more, upon Amos 1:3; Amos 2:6; Job 33:29-30. Peter, under the influence of the spirit of Christian charity, increased the number to seven, because in the Old Testament this number is closely linked with the idea of the covenant and of forgiveness, as well as with that of retribution; comp. Leviticus 25:28; Leviticus 26:18; Leviticus 26:21; Leviticus 26:24; Leviticus 26:28; Ps. 28:25; Daniel 4:15; Revelation 15:1.—P. S.]

Matthew 18:22. I say not unto thee;—i.e., I do not prescribe to thee.

Seventy times seven, ἑβδομηκοντάκ. ςἑπτά.—Jerome, Erasmus, Grotius, de Wette, [Trench], and others, explain seventy times sevenfold [i.e., four hundred and ninety times]. But Origen, Augustine, Bengel, Ewald, and Meyer, explain seventy times and seven, or seventy-seven times, as ἑπτάκις does not again occur at ἑβδομηκοντάκις ἑπτά. Meyer says: “According to the Greek idiom, this should have been expressed either by ἑσπτὰ καὶ ἑβδομηκοντάκις or by έβδομήκοντα ἑπτάκις. But the expression is derived from the Sept., Genesis 4:24 : ‘If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventyfold and seven.’ ”32 The reference seems to be in point; all the more, that the saying of Christ was probably intended to form a direct contrast to the revenge which Lamech imprecated. Still, even though we bear in mind the symbolical import of the number seven, yet the bare addition of that numeral seems peculiar, and almost detracting from the force of the injunction. It might, indeed, be urged, that, according to the analogy of 101, it implied nothing more than as it were the measure seventy shaken and pressed down. First, seventy times, and then, if you like, in addition to this, your own seven times! But Grotius translates Genesis 4:24,שׁבְעִים רְשׁבְעָח, septuagies et id ipsum septies; nor Joes the translation of the Sept seem to us decidedly in favor of the opposite view. Besides, seventy times sevenfold seems to us a more apt symbolical expression for never-ending forgiveness than seventy times seven. However, grammatically and philologically, the point is not clear. Seventy is seven times ten, or the symbolical number of the world multiplied by that of the covenant. Of course, the expression is intended to indicate by the figure of a large number the quality of endless forgiveness. This view was already advocated by Theophylact.

Matthew 18:23. Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened.—Referring to the reply which had been given to Peter. The parable which follows is intended to illustrate the teaching of Christ about our readiness to forgive. Meyer maintains that the Saviour insists upon unlimited forgiveness, and not, as de Wette suggests, merely upon readiness to forgive. But the latter implies the former; and, in fact, the two are identical in point of principle. The act of forgiveness presupposes genuine repentance on the part of our brother.—Likened. On account of the guilt of man, it had become necessary that the kingdom of heaven should rest on compassion as its foundation.

Unto a human king.33—The expression is intended to mark the antithesis to the heavenly King.—His servants.—Here represented as administering his possessions.—He desired to make a reckoning, or settlement.—This refers to eternal justice ever seeking to right matters, and to the impending judgment; hence more especially to the economy of the law and its results.

Matthew 18:24. But when he had only34 begun.

Very solemn and significant.—One was brought unto him,—i.e., one of the first and highest.—Ten thousand talents.—“An expression intended to indicate the infinite debt incurred, which could never be discharged. As it were an immense number of the largest coin.” The Attic talent was equal to 60 minœ [6,000 drachmæ], or 1,375 Prussian dollars (see Boeckh’s Staatshaushalt der Athener, Matthew 1:15),35 and the mine to 100 denarii.36 “Hence one talent = 6,000 denarii, and 10,000 talents = 60,000,000 denarii.” Gerlach suggests that the Saviour referred to the Syrian talent, which was much smaller than the Attic, amounting only to about one-fourth of it According to the value of the Attic talent, the sum. total would amount to over 13 millions of Prussian dollars.

Matthew 18:25. His lord commanded him to be sold.—In accordance with the law of Moses, Exodus 22:8; Leviticus 25:39; 2 Kings 4:1. See also Michaelis’ Laws of Moses, § 148.—And (thus) payment to be made.—The sum obtained would, of course, prove wholly inadequate. Still Fritzsche is mistaken in explaining it as meaning that the sum realized was actually to be paid. De Wette renders it: “And that this should be paid.” Better Meyer in more general terms, “and payment to be made.” The leading idea is, that the king insists upon payment being made. The exact amount is subordinate.

Matthew 18:28. A hundred denaries.—Equal to nearly 21 Prussian [or 15 American] dollars. See the article in the Encycls.—Took him by the throat.—According to Roman law, a creditor was allowed to drag his debtor by the throat before the tribunal. The harsh form in which he demanded payment deserves special attention. His address to his fellow-servant implied his own condemnation. Meyer rightly objects to the view of Fritzsche and Olshausen, who explain the expression εἴ τι as due to Greek urbanity. Others regard it as equivalent to ὅτι. Paulus and Baumgarten-Crusius understand it as implying that it was uncertain whether such a debt had really been incurred. In our view, it was intended by way of expressing reproof—the claimant all the time forgetting his own case and difficulties, which were not only similar, but even much worse. In fact, it would seem as if the remission of his debt had only called forth pride and self-confidence. His fellow-servant humbled himself in a more becoming manner than he had done before his master (προσεκν́ελ αν̓τῶ, παρεκὰλει αν̓τόν); although we should bear in mind that in the latter case the creditor was the lord and king of the servant.

[Trench: “Such is man, so harsh and hard, when he walks otherwise than in a constant sense of forgiveness received from God. Ignorance or forgetfulness of his own guilt makes him harsh, unforgiving, and cruel to others; or, at best, he is only hindered from being such by those weak defences of natural character which may at any moment be broken down.”—P. S.]

Matthew 18:31. Their own (ἑαντῶν) lord.—Meyer accounts for the word ἑαντῶν by remarking, “They had recourse neither to their hard-hearted companion nor to any other person.” But this would scarcely have required special mention. On the other hand, their appeal to his and their lord exposed them to danger, if his anger should burst forth against them also. Still, they ventured to apply to him—compassion and sorrow inspiring them with courage. In this case, then, we see severity from pity, as formerly harshness in spite of mercy.

Matthew 18:34. And delivered him to the tormentors.—The imprisonment refers in both cases to temporary confinement, until payment should be made, But, besides this, the servant whom his master now sent to prison was also delivered τοῖς βασανισταῖς, “to the tormentors,” to be tormented by them. The punishment of being sold into slavery, with which he had formerly been threatened, was much lighter than that which he had now to endure. However, the king was generous, and the wife and children of the offender were not molested. In its first form, they shared the guilt of that wicked servant; but the sin which he bad now committed rested upon himself alone. Still, except in reference to the manner in which payment is now enforced, the language of the parable continues the same as before. The imprisonment and the torments are intended to enforce payment; but as, in the present instance, this is manifestly impossible, they serve in reality as a punishment. Fritzsche renders the term βασανισταί by “body-guard of the king” (!); Grotius, by “gaolers” [δεσμοφν́λακες]; Meyer, correctly, by “tormentors.”37 According to the sentence pronounced, the imprisonment would necessarily be both never-ending and hopeless (Chrysostom: τοντέστι διηνεκῶς, ον͂τε γάρ ). Still, we are scarcely warranted in referring these torments to the sufferings of Gehenna.


1. The symbolical import of the number seven is spiritual and festive rest after the work has been finished; ten, that of the world. Hence the number seventy represents the power of the Spirit as conquering the world (the 70 disciples). Again, seventy times seven would convey the all-conquering power of the Spirit in all His fulness, as reconciling us, and rendering us willing to be reconciled. The largeness of the number would indicate that there was to be no measuring or limitation in the exercise of kindness; but that infinite love was, in its fulness and strength, to sweep all barriers, and that forgiveness was to be bounded by no other limits than those demanded by truth, i.e., more especially, by the state of mind of him who had offended against us.

2. This parable must not be applied merely to the private relations subsisting between Christians; but also refers to the general administration of the servants of the Lord in the Church, which, however, if improperly exercised, may degenerate into a matter of private interest or favor. Under such circumstances, the contrast between the wondrous pardon granted by the Master, and the cruel exactions made by the servants, would appear in the most glaring manner. Strange, that the most harsh and heartless treatment should be connected with the dispensation of highest mercy! Compare the history of church discipline in the middle ages, and the bitter controversies on the doctrine of the holy Communion.
3. Faustus Socinus (“De Christo Servatore”) argues from this passage, that as the king forgave without ransom or surety, so God similarly pardons sinners. To this Olearius replies, that the object of this parable was to delineate the subjective condition of pardon on our part, not the objective ground of acceptance with God. Besides, each separate parable was not intended to give the whole scheme of salvation. Perhaps, however, it were more accurate to say, that the objective ground of compassion is embodied and presented in the atonement made by Christ But the latter point was not intended to be presented in this parable. [Meyer remarks that the parable implies a ν̔́στερον πρότερον, since the infinite forgiving mercy of God could only appear fully in the atoning death of Christ.—P. S.]

[4. Till he pay all that was due unto him, Matthew 18:34. The offender, it seems, is not imprisoned for the act of unmercifulness to his fellow-servant, but for his old debt to God which had been forgiven him. But it must be remembered that every sin against our neighbor, or against ourselves, is at the same time a sin against God, and so the conduct of the unmerciful servant contracted a new debt due to God. This passage is often quoted in the discussion of the question: Utrum peccata semel remissa redeant, whether sins once forgiven return on the sinner through his subsequent transgressions? Hammond says, the king revoked his designed mercy; but the debt was actually and absolutely forgiven; yet forgiven, of course, as always, on certain moral conditions, the violation of which implies the forfeiture of the benefit. Forgiveness is inseparable from union with Christ. If we forsake Him we relapse into a state of nature, which is a state of wrath; yea, our case becomes much worse than it was before conversion, and our guilt increases in proportion to the mercies received. How many, alas! forfeit the benefit of baptism, i.e., the remission of sins, by a life of impenitence and ingratitude, and become worse than heathen.—P. S.]

[5. The same verse (and Matthew 18:26) is also quoted by some Roman Catholic interpreters for the doctrine of purgatory, and by Universalists and Restorationists, for the doctrine of the final salvation of all men. In both cases the ἕωςον̀͂ is pressed as implying a final discharge of the debt and a consequent deliverance from the prison of purgatory or a temporary hell. But this argument proceeds on the radically wrong assumption that man can atone for his sins or discharge his moral debt to God. The debt is expressly represented, in Matthew 18:24, as enormous, so as to make it impossible for any human being to discharge it. The debt, moreover, instead of diminishing is daily accumulating; since the utmost that man can do is to perform his present duty, comp. Luke 17:10. The phrase: till he pay all, etc., ἑως οὗ , like the proverbial ad numum solvere, ad extremum assem solvere, signifies that the debtor shall have justice without mercy and taste the extreme rigor of the law. Trench (p. 158) goes even further, and says: “Since the sinner could never acquit the slightest portion of the debt in which he is indebted to God, the putting that as a condition of his liberation, which it is impossible could ever be fulfilled, is the strongest possible way of expressing the eternal duration of his punishment.” Maldonatus, one of the best Roman Catholic expounders, remarks: “Quousque redderet. Id est semper, ut Chrysostomus, Euthymius et Theophylactus interpretantur, non enim significatur, fore, ut, qui damnati sunt, pœnas aliquando persolvant et, quasi reddito debito, liberentur, qui Origenistarum error fuit; sed fore, ut numquam liberentur, nisi pœnas persolvant, quas quia persolvere numquam poterunt, numquam liberabuntur.” Olshausen in loc. (vol. i p. 594, American edition) admits that the debt of the sinner to God can never possibly be liquidated; nevertheless he infers partly from the ἕως οὗ, partly from the servant’s acknowledgment of his debt that he will be finally released. I cannot see how we can hold this opinion without adopting substantially the Roman Catholic dogma of purgatory. But ἕως does not necessarily fix a limit beyond which the preëxisting state of things must cease (comp. the Saviour’s promise to be with His people to the end of the world, ἕως τῆς συντελεὶς τον͂ αὶῶνος; and if the mere admission of sin and guilt insures ultimate salvation, a Judas might have been saved as well who confessed that he betrayed innocent blood.—Comp. also the Notes on Matthew 5:26 (p. 114) and on Matthew 12:32 (pp. 225 and 227 sqq.).—P. S.]


“Till seven times?” or, the tendency of the class of which Peter is the type to count and limit spiritual acts.—Acts of forgiveness, prayers, and similar deeds, should not be counted.—Seventy times seven; or, the sacred number,—which implies that our love must not be limited by the rules of arithmetic.—The kingdom of heaven under the figure of reckoning: 1. The king reckoning; or, the remission of an infinite debt. 2. The servant reckoning; or, the harsh demand of a small claim. 3. The final reckoning of the king occasioned by that of the servant—The great alternations in the kingdom of heaven, occasioned by the unfaithfulness of man in opposition to the faithfulness of God: 1. From the judgment of the law to the mercy of the gospel; 2. from mercy to judgment.—The grace of God has converted the economy of the law into that of the gospel; but the unmercifulness of Christians seeks to transform the dispensation of the gospel into one of judgment—How could the servant who had been forgiven act with such cruelty against his fellow servant? 1. It was suspicious, that he who apparently was among the first of his fellow-servants should have incurred so heavy a debt without accounting for the money long before that; 2. it was still worse when he only plead for delay, promising payment which he well knew he never could make; 3. but it fully indicated his state of mind, when he could go from the presence of his master cherishing such feelings of pride and bitterness.—The unconditional and the conditional remission of debt in the kingdom of God: 1. The former is full and irrevocable; the latter is only granted to try us. 2. The former is real, both in respect of its basis and its character; the latter only emblematical. 3. The former leads to humility and compassion; the latter may readily call forth pride and harshness in the unconverted.—The unmerciful are equally destitute of feeling and memory, A. 1. They forget their own guilt and humiliation; 2. the pardon extended to them, 3. nor are they even reminded of it by the entreaty of a fellow-servant, so similar to their own pleading; 4. they only remember it in the hour of final judgment. B. Such persons have only a heartless memory for their own selfishness, for their own claims, demands, etc.—How the remission of our immeasurable debt should induce us to forgive the small debt incurred by our brother: 1. We are bound to do Song of Song of Solomon 2:0. enabled; and, 3. impelled to it.—How the harshness and cruelty of those who are proud and insecure seems to come out in all its fulness in the gospel kingdom of grace.—How the evil disposition of the servants has transformed: 1. The gospel of grace into compulsory conversions; 2. the call to repentance into forced penance; 3. the discipline of the Church into the tortures of the Inquisition; the exhibition of the Redeemer into a call for the Judge.—Guilt under the law called forth grace; but harshness under the gospel will bring down the judgment Matthew 25:31, etc.—The complaint of the fellow-servants in its effects, viewed historically.—Heavy judgments impending on those who show no mercy, James 2:13.—How unmercifulness introduces an order of things which ensures its own ruin.—The tormentors and torments of the next world in their relation to those of this life.—Unmercifulness is practical unbelief.—The practical bearing of this second fall.—The domestic guilt which is remitted, and the personal guilt which is retained.—” So likewise,” etc. Or, this parable as specially applicable to the Apostles, and the servants of Christ both in Church and State.—“My heavenly Father.” 1. The Father of mercy, and of the Saviour—grace itself. 2. The Father of the Judge of the world—justice itself. 3. The Father of Christ in the congregation, or of the Church.

Starke:—Canstein: It is a great honor to be in the employment of a mighty potentate; how much more, then, to be a servant of the King of kings and the Lord of lords! What faithfulness and care are requisite in such a service!—God will require an account of all that has been entrusted to our stewardship: Job 9:8; Psalms 130:8; Psalms 143:2.—Osiander: Sin has subjected not only our persons, but all we have, to the curse.—The natural man is not willing to rely on free grace, and to trust for atonement and righteousness to Christ alone; but would always like to contribute something of his own.—Forgetfulness of the freeness of God’s gifts a fruitful cause of relapse into sin.—Quesnel: As genuine love to God and compassionate affection toward our neighbor is a fruit of genuine conversion, so is ingratitude toward God and hardheartedness toward our neighbor an evidence of spurious religion.—Canstein: To insist on full restitution, is to be inexorable.—Your fellow-servants will see it, and lay the case before their Master.—Quesnel: To be unwilling to forgive an offence, is to provoke the wrath both of heaven and earth.—Feigned penitence is like that wicked servant, promising all, but performing nothing, Psalms 12:6.—The Lord quotes the example of men, in order to render them inexcusable.—Would we like to know whether we have obtained forgiveness from God? Let us ask ourselves how we stand affected toward others.—Forgive, and He will forgive you.

Lisco:—God reckons with us when setting before us, in our consciences and by His word, His law and His just demands.—By his harshness the wicked servant loses the affection and esteem of his fellow-servants, nor can his conduct remain concealed.

Heubner:—This command to be ever willing to forgive, implies much rich and blessed comfort.—If man is to forgive so frequently, how much more will our Father in heaven be ready to extend mercy!—Unless we rightly know the extent of our guilt, we cannot properly appreciate the fulness of grace which the Lord is willing and ready to vouchsafe.—How our sins ever involve others in ruin, and generally those nearest and dearest to us.—“We should despair of being ever able to discharge our debt, and rely on grace and mercy alone.”—What contrasts here! 1. God, the King of kings, toward a servant; and again a servant toward his fellow-servant. 2. An infinite debt, and again a small debt. 3. Impossibility and inability; and again, possibility and ability. 4. Compassion and kindness; and again, hard-heartedness and cruel behavior.—Woe to him whom the tears and sighs of those who are oppressed and injured accuse before the tribunal of God.—A harsh person calls down the judgments of God upon himself.

Reinhard:—What obligation God lays upon us to forgive those who offend against us.—Kuinoel:—The character of self-righteousness: 1. Confession of debt; 2. promise of payment; 3. the manner in which this promise is kept; 4. the sad issue of the whole matter.—[Bourdalue:—Sur le pardon des injures. Serm. 34. Pour Leviticus 21:0 Dimanche apres la Pentecôte.—Massilon:—Du pardon des offenses,—and other famous Catholic sermons on the pericope, Matthew 18:23-35.—P. S.]


[22] Matthew 18:23.—[Ὅς ἠθέλησε συνᾶραι λόγον μετά, κ.τ.λ.; Lange: welcher abrechnen wollte, i.e., to make a reckoning or settlement. Comp. 2 Kings 21:7, where the E. V. correctly ren lers: There was no reckoning made with them of the money, etc. The Authorized Version in our place conveys a different meaning in modern English.—P. S.]

[23] Matthew 18:24.—Προσήχθη [for the more usual word: προσηνεχθη] in Codd. B., D., Origen, Lachmann, Tischendorf, [Alford].

[24] Matthew 18:26.—Κύριε is omitted in B., D., etc, and by Lachmann, Tischendorf, [Alford].

[25] Matthew 18:28.—[The English penny Is less than one seventh of a denarius, a Roman silver coin equivalent to the Attie drachma, or about seven and a half pence sterling or fifteen American cents in value. See the Dictionaries. The inaptness of the usual English rendering (in all the old English version 8) appears more fully in Matthew 20:2, where laborers are hired “for a penny a day,” instead of nearly eight times that amount. About two thirds of a denarius a day was the pay of a Roman soldier. As there is no corresponding English coin, it is sary to adopt an inaccurate rendering or the foreign word denáry, which would require a marginal explanation. Shilling (in the New York sense, i.e. one eighth of an American dollar) would come nearest, but would lead to confusion, since, the English shilling is nearly double in value (23,cents). Ewald, however, in his German translation, renders: Schillinge. Lange retains Luther’s Groschen, but adds In parenthesis Denare, Zehner (dimes). Campbell and Norton: denarii (which might do in a learned Commentary, but not in a Bible for popular use): Conant, and the N. T. of the Am. Bible Union, better: denáries. It is surprising that Trench in his interpretation of the parable of the Unmerciful Servant (p. 151) and that of the Laborers in the Vineyard (p. 170), takes no notice whatever of this mistranslation and speaks repeatedly of an hundred pence as if it were all right.—P. S.]

[26] Matthew 18:28.—Codd. B., D., L., etc., omit μοι, me.

[27] Matthew 18:28.—The reading εἴτι is best attested and much stronger than ὅτι. It is a demand for payment In the form of a rebuke: Thou wretch, he who owes, must pay! [Ewald and Lange translate: Bezaihle, wenn du wus schuldig bist! Pay, if thou owest anything. Lachmann, Tischendorf, and Alford unanimously adopt the reading: Ἀπόδος εἴτι ὀφείλεις, which is now sustained also by Cod. Sinait. Dr. Conant ignores this difference of reading.—P. S.]

[28] Matthew 18:29.—The addition of the received text: εἰς τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ (at his feet) is omitted in Codd. B., C., D., etc. [Tischendorf and Alford retain and defend the words against Lachmann, Tregelles, and Meyer, who omit them.—P. S.]

[29] Matthew 18:29.—The best authorities [also Cod. Sinait.] omit πάντα (all), which seems to be inserted to conform to Matthew 18:26.

[30] Matthew 18:34.—B., D., etc., omit αὐτῷ. [Lachmann and Alford omit it, Tischendorf retains It—P. S.]

[31] Matthew 18:35.—B., D., L., etc., omit the words: τὰ παραπτώματα αυτῶν (their trespasses), which seem to be inserted from Matthew 6:14-15; Mark 11:25-26. [Cod. Sinait, and all the critical editors, Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles, Alford, omit the words.—P. S.]

[32][Jerome already observed this significant contrast of our Lord’s seventy times seven of forgiveness to the antediluvian Lamech’s seventy and sevenfold of revenge. So Trench asserts (p. 145), referring to Jerome’s works, vol. ii. p. 565. of the Benedictine edition. But I cannot find the passage in the Vallarsi edition, which I have before me. In his Commentary on Matt. in loc. (Opera, tom. 7 col 141, ed. Vall.) Jerome makes no allusion to Genesis 4:24, and says simply: “Non usque septies, sed usque septuagies septies, id est, quadringentis nonaginta vicibus, ut toties peccanti fratri dimitteret In die, quoties ille peccare non possit.”—P. S.]

[33][Meyer likewise emphasizes ἀνθρώπφ, which the English Version renders: a certain king. “Ζιι βασιλεῖ ist nicht ohne Grund ἀνθρώπφ zugesetst, da das Himmelreich mil sinem Menschlichen Könige verglichen wird. Vergleiche übrigens das Hiomerische ἀνὴρ βασιλεύς.”—P. S.]

[34][Dr. Lange inserts only, to emphasize ἀρξαμένου at the beginning of the sentence.—P. S.]

[35][Dr. Robinson, Dictionary, sub τάλαντον, estimates the common Attic talent at £ 243 15s). sterling, or about 81, 170.–P. S]

[36][The original reads 10 for 100 denarii.—a palpable printing error, which the Edinb. transl. faithfully copies. “Attica μνᾶ (mina) fuit centum drachmarum; Romana, drachmarum nonaginta seœ; Alexandrina 160 drachmarum Atticarum.” See Joa. Scapvle, Lexicon Græco Lat., Oxford ed., p. 1006. An Attic δμα χμή nearly equa in value to a Roman denarius.—P. S.]

[37][Among the ancient Romans there were certain legal tortnres, as a heavy chain and a system of half starvation, which the creditor might apply to his debtor, for bringing him to terms. See Arnold, History of Rome, i. p. 186, and Trench, Notes on the Parables, p. Matt 154: “The tormentors are those who shall make the life of the prisoner bitter to him; wring out from him the confess on of any concealed hoards which he may still possess; even as there are tormentors in that world of woe, whereof this prison is a figure—fellow-sinners and evil angels—instruments of the just yet terrible Judgments of God.”—P. S.]

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Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Matthew 18". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". 1857-84.