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Bible Commentaries

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

Matthew 18

Verse 1

Who then is greatest (τις αρα μειζων εστιν). The αρα seems to point back to the tax-collection incident when Jesus had claimed exemption for them all as "sons" of the Father. But it was not a new dispute, for jealousy had been growing in their hearts. The wonderful words of Jesus to Peter on Mount Hermon (Matthew 16:17-40.16.19) had evidently made Peter feel a fresh sense of leadership on the basis of which he had dared even to rebuke Jesus for speaking of his death (Matthew 16:22). And then Peter was one of the three (James and John also) taken with the Master up on the Mount of Transfiguration. Peter on that occasion had spoken up promptly. And just now the tax-collectors had singled out Peter as the one who seemed to represent the group. Mark (Mark 9:33) represents Jesus as asking them about their dispute on the way into the house, perhaps just after their question in Matthew 18:1. Jesus had noticed the wrangling. It will break out again and again (Matthew 20:20-40.20.28; Luke 22:24). Plainly the primacy of Peter was not yet admitted by the others. The use of the comparative μειζων (so ο μειζων in verse Matthew 18:4) rather than the superlative μεγιστος is quite in accord with the Koine idiom where the comparative is displacing the superlative (Robertson, Grammar, pp. 667ff.). But it is a sad discovery to find the disciples chiefly concerned about their own places (offices) in the political kingdom which they were expecting.

Verse 2

Called to him (προσκαλεσαμενος). Indirect middle voice aorist participle. It may even be Peter's "little child" (παιδιον) as it was probably in Peter's house (Mark 9:33).

Set him (εστησεν). Transitive first aorist active indicative, not intransitive second aorist, εστη.

In the midst of them (εν μεσω αυτων). Luke adds (Luke 9:47) "by his side" (παρ' εαυτω). Both are true.

Verse 3

Except ye turn and become (εαν μη στραφητε κα γενησθε). Third-class condition, undetermined but with prospect of determination. Στραφητε is second aorist passive subjunctive and γενησθε second aorist middle subjunctive. They were headed in the wrong direction with their selfish ambition. "His tone at this time is markedly severe, as much as when He denounces the Pharisaism in the bud He had to deal with" (Bruce). The strong double negative ου μη εισελθητε means that they will otherwise not get into the kingdom of heaven at all, let alone have big places in it.

Verse 4

This little child (το παιδιον τουτο). This saying about humbling oneself Jesus repeated a number of times as for instance in Matthew 23:12. Probably Jesus pointed to the child by his side. The ninth-century story that the child was Ignatius is worthless. It is not that the child humbled himself, but that the child is humble from the nature of the case in relation to older persons. That is true, however "bumptious" the child himself may be. Bruce observes that to humble oneself is "the most difficult thing in the world for saint as for sinner."

Verse 5

In my name (επ τω ονοματ μου). For "one such little child" (ανψ βελιεςερ ιν Χριστ) Luke (Luke 9:48) has "this little child" as a representative or symbol. "On the basis or ground of my name," "for my sake." Very much like εις ονομα in Matthew 10:41 which does not differ greatly from εν ονοματ (Acts 10:48).

Verse 6

These little ones (των μικρων τουτων). In the same sense as "one such little one" above. The child is the type of believers.

A great millstone (μυλος ονικος), literally, "a millstone turned by an ass." The upper millstone was turned by an ass (ονος). There were no examples of the adjective ονικος (turned by an ass) outside the N.T. until the papyri revealed several for loads requiring an ass to carry them, stones requiring an ass to move them, etc. Deissmann (Light from the Ancient East, p. 81) notes it also in papyri examples about the sale of an ass and tax for an ass's burden of goods.

The depth of the sea (τω πελαγε της θαλασσης). "The sea of the sea." Πελαγος probably from πλησσο, to beat, and so the beating, splashing waves of the sea. "Far out into the open sea, a vivid substitute for εις την θαλασσαν" (McNeile).

Verse 7

Through whom (δι' ου). Jesus recognizes the inevitableness of stumbling-blocks, traps, hindrances, the world being as it is, but he does not absolve the man who sets the trap (cf. Luke 17:1).

Verse 8

In verses Matthew 18:8 and Matthew 18:9 we have one of the dualities or doublets in Matthew (Matthew 5:29-40.5.30). Jesus repeated his pungent sayings many times. Instead of εις γεενναν (Matthew 5:29) we have εις το πυρ το αιωνιον and at the end of verse Matthew 18:9 του πυρος is added to την γεενναν. This is the first use in Matthew of αιωνιος. We have it again in Matthew 19:16; Matthew 19:29 with ζοη, in Matthew 25:41 with πυρ, in Matthew 25:46 with κολασιν and ζοην. The word means ageless, without beginning or end as of God (Romans 16:26), without beginning as in Romans 16:25, without end as here and often. The effort to make it mean "αεονιαν" fire will make it mean "αεονιαν" life also. If the punishment is limited, ipso facto the life is shortened. In verse Matthew 18:9 also μονοφθαλμον occurs. It is an Ionic compound in Herodotus that is condemned by the Atticists, but it is revived in the vernacular Koine. Literally one-eyed. Here only and Mark 9:47 in the New Testament.

Verse 10

Despise (καταφρονησητε). Literally, "think down on," with the assumption of superiority.

Their angels (ο αγγελο αυτων). The Jews believed that each nation had a guardian angel (Daniel 10:13; Daniel 10:20; Daniel 12:1). The seven churches in Revelation (Revelation 1:20) have angels, each of them, whatsoever the meaning is. Does Jesus mean to teach here that each little child or child of faith had a special angel who appears in God's presence, "see the face of my Father" (βλεπουσιν το προσωπον του πατρος μου) in special intimacy? Or does he simply mean that the angels do take an interest in the welfare of God's people (Hebrews 1:14)? There is comfort to us in that thought. Certainly Jesus means that the Father takes special care of his "little ones" who believe in Him. There are angels in God's presence (Luke 1:19).

Verse 12

Leave the ninety and nine (αφησε τα ενενηκοντα εννεα επ τα ορη κα πορευθεις ζητε το πλανωμενον?). This is the text of Westcott and Hort after BL, etc. This text means: "Will he not leave the ninety and nine upon the mountains and going does he not seek (change to present tense) the wandering one?" On the high pastures where the sheep graze at will one has wandered afield. See this parable later in Luke 15:4-42.15.7. Our word "planet" is from πλαναομα, wandering (moving) stars they were called as opposed to fixed stars. But now we know that no stars are fixed. They are all moving and rapidly.

Verse 14

The will of your Father (θελημα εμπροσθεν). Observe that Westcott and Hort read μου here rather than υμων after B Sahidic Coptic. Either makes good sense, though "your" carries on the picture of God's care for "each one of these little ones" (εν των μικρων τουτων) among God's children. The use of εμπροσθεν with θελημα is a Hebraism like εμπροσθεν σου in Matthew 11:25 with ευδοκια, "before the face" of God.

Verse 15

If thy brother sin against thee (εαν αμαρτηση αδελφος σου). Literally, commit a sin (ingressive aorist subjunctive of αμαρτανω). Aleph B Sahidic do not have "against thee" (εις σε).

Shew him his fault (ελεγξον). Such private reproof is hard to do, but it is the way of Christ.

Thou hast gained (εκερδησας). Aorist active indicative of κερδαινω in conclusion of a third-class condition, a sort of timeless aorist, a blessed achievement already made.

Verse 16

Take with thee (παραλαβε μετα σου). Take alone (παρα) with (μετα) thee.

Verse 17

Refuse to hear (παρακουση). Like Isaiah 65:12. Many papyri examples for ignoring, disregarding, hearing without heeding, hearing aside (παρα-), hearing amiss, overhearing (Mark 5:36).

The church (τη εκκλησια). The local body, not the general as in Matthew 16:18 which see for discussion. The problem here is whether Jesus has in mind an actual body of believers already in existence or is speaking prophetically of the local churches that would be organized later (as in Acts). There are some who think that the Twelve Apostles constituted a local εκκλησια, a sort of moving church of preachers. That could only be true in essence as they were a band of ministers and not located in any one place. Bruce holds that they were "the nucleus" of a local church at any rate.

Verse 18

Shall be bound in heaven (εστα δεδεμενα εν ουρανω). Future passive periphrastic perfect indicative as in "shall be loosed" (εστα λελυμενα). In Matthew 16:19 this same unusual form occurs. The binding and the loosing is there addressed to Peter, but it is here repeated for the church or for the disciples as the case may be.

Verse 19

Shall agree (συμφωνησωσιν). Our word "symphony" is this very root. It is no longer looked at as a concord of voices, a chorus in harmony, though that would be very appropriate in a church meeting rather than the rasping discord sometimes heard even between two brethren or sisters.

Of my Father (παρα του πατρος μου). From the side of, "by my Father."

Verse 20

There am I (εκε ειμ). This blessed promise implies that those gathered together are really disciples with the spirit of Christ as well as "in his name" (εις το εμον ονομα). One of the Oxyrhynchus Sayings of Our Lord is: "Wherever there are (two) they are not without God, and wherever there is one alone I say I am with him." Also this: "Raise the stone and there thou shalt find me, cleave the wood and there am I." See Malachi 3:16.

Verse 21

Until seven times? (εως επτακισ?) Peter thought that he was generous as the Jewish rule was three times (Amos 1:6). His question goes back to verse Matthew 18:15. "Against me" is genuine here. "The man who asks such a question does not really know what forgiveness means" (Plummer).

Verse 22

Until seventy times seven (εως εβδομηκοντακις επτα). It is not clear whether this idiom means seventy-seven or as the Revised Version has it (490 times). If επτακις were written it would clearly be 490 times. The same ambiguity is seen in Genesis 4:24, the LXX text by omitting κα. In the Test. of the Twelve Patriarchs, Benj. vii. 4, it is used in the sense of seventy times seven. But it really makes little difference because Jesus clearly means unlimited forgiveness in either case. "The unlimited revenge of primitive man has given place to the unlimited forgiveness of Christians" (McNeile).

Verse 23

Make a reckoning (συναρα λογον). Seen also in Matthew 25:19. Perhaps a Latinism, rationes conferre. First aorist active infinitive of συναιρω, to cast up accounts, to settle, to compare accounts with. Not in ancient Greek writers, but in two papyri of the second century A.D. in the very sense here and the substantive appears in an ostracon from Nubia of the early third century (Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East, p. 117).

Verse 24

Ten thousand talents (μυριων ταλαντων). A talent was 6,000 denarii or about a thousand dollars or 240 pounds. Ten thousand times this is about ten or twelve million dollars, an enormous sum for that period. We live today in the age of national debts of billions of dollars or even of pounds sterling. The imperial taxes of Judea, Idumea, and Samaria for one year were only 600 talents while Galilee and Perea paid 200 (Josephus, Ant. xi. 4). But oriental kings were free in the use of money and in making debts like the native kings of India today.

Verse 25

Had not wherewith to pay (μη εχοντος αυτου αποδουνα). There is no "wherewith" in the Greek. This idiom is seen in Luke 7:42; Luke 14:14; Hebrews 6:13. Genitive absolute though αυτον in the same clause as often in the N.T.

To be sold (πραθηνα). First aorist passive infinitive of πιπρασκω. This was according to the law (Exodus 22:3; Leviticus 25:39; Leviticus 25:47). Wife and children were treated as property in those primitive times.

Verse 27

The debt (το δανιον). The loan. Common in the papyri for a loan. The interest had increased the debt enormously. "This heavy oriental usury is of the scenery of the parable" (McNeile).

Verse 28

A hundred pence (εκατον δηναρια). A denarius was worth about eight and a half pence. The hundred denarii here were equal to some "fifty shillings" (Bruce), "about 4 pounds" (McNeile), "twenty pounds" (Moffatt), "twenty dollars" (Goodspeed), "100 shillings" (Weymouth) . These are various efforts to represent in modern language the small amount of this debt compared with the big one.

Took him by the throat (επνιγεν). "Held him by the throat" (Allen). It is imperfect, probably inchoative, "began to choke or throttle him." The Roman law allowed this indignity. Vincent quotes Livy (iv. 53) who tells how the necks were twisted (collum torsisset) and how Cicero (Pro Cluentio, xxi.) says: "Lead him to the judgment seat with twisted neck (collo obtorto)."

What thou owest (ε τ οφειλεις). Literally, "if thou owest anything," however little. He did not even know how much it was, only that he owed him something. "The 'if' is simply the expression of a pitiless logic" (Meyer).

Verse 30

And he would not (ο δε ουκ ηθελεν). Imperfect tense of persistent refusal.

Till he should pay (εως αποδω). This futuristic aorist subjunctive is the rule with εως for a future goal. He was to stay in prison till he should pay. "He acts on the instinct of a base nature, and also doubtless in accordance with long habits of harsh tyrannical behaviour towards men in his power" (Bruce). On imprisonment for debt among the Greeks and Romans see Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East, pp. 270,330.

Verse 31

Told (διεσαφησαν). Made wholly clear to their own lord. That is the usual result in the long run. There is a limit to what people will put up with.

Verse 33

Shouldst thou not? (ουκ εδε σε?) "Was it not necessary?" The king fits the cap on this wicked slave that he put on the poor debtor.

Verse 34

The tormentors (τοις βασανισταις). Not to prison simply, but to terrible punishment. The papyri give various instances of the verb βασανιζω, to torture, used of slaves and others. "Livy (ii. 23) pictures an old centurion complaining that he was taken by his creditor, not into servitude, but to a workhouse and torture, and showing his back scarred with fresh wounds" (Vincent).

Till he should pay all (εως [ου] αποδω παν). Just as in verse Matthew 18:30, his very words. But this is not purgatorial, but punitive, for he could never pay back that vast debt.

Verse 35

From your hearts (απο των καρδιων υμων). No sham or lip pardon, and as often as needed. This is Christ's full reply to Peter's question in Matthew 18:21. This parable of the unmerciful servant is surely needed today.

Copyright Statement
The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright © Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)
Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Matthew 18". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwp/matthew-18.html. Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.