Bible Commentaries

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

Matthew 18

Verse 1

Who then is greatest (τις αρα μειζων εστινtis ara meizōn estin). The αραara 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 16:17-19) 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 20:20-28; Luke 22:24). Plainly the primacy of Peter was not yet admitted by the others. The use of the comparative μειζωνmeizōn (so ο μειζωνho meizōn in Matthew 18:4) rather than the superlative μεγιστοςmegistos is quite in accord with the Koiné 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 (προσκαλεσαμενοςproskalesamenos). Indirect middle voice aorist participle. It may even be Peter‘s “little child” (παιδιονpaidion) as it was probably in Peter‘s house (Mark 9:33).

Set him (εστησενestēsen). Transitive first aorist active indicative, not intransitive second aorist, εστηestē the midst of them (εν μεσωι αυτωνen mesōi autōn). Luke adds (Luke 9:47) “by his side” (παρ εαυτωιpar' heautōi). Both are true.

Verse 3

Except ye turn and become (εαν μη στραπητε και γενηστεean mē straphēte kai genēsthe). Third-class condition, undetermined but with prospect of determination. ΣτραπητεStraphēte is second aorist passive subjunctive and γενηστεgenēsthe 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 εισελτητεou mē eiselthēte 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 τουτοto paidion touto). 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 (επι τωι ονοματι μουepi tōi onomati mou). For “one such little child” (ανψ βελιεςερ ιν Χριστany believer in Christ) 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 ονομαeis onoma in Matthew 10:41 which does not differ greatly from εν ονοματιen onomati (Acts 10:48).

Verse 6

These little ones (των μικρων τουτωνtōn mikrōn toutōn). In the same sense as “one such little one” above. The child is the type of believers.

A great millstone (μυλος ονικοςmulos onikos), literally, “a millstone turned by an ass.” The upper millstone was turned by an ass (ονοςonos). There were no examples of the adjective ονικοςonikos (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 (τωι πελαγει της ταλασσηςtōi pelagei tēs thalassēs). “The sea of the sea.” ΠελαγοςPelagos probably from πλησσοplēsso to beat, and so the beating, splashing waves of the sea. “Far out into the open sea, a vivid substitute for εις την ταλασσανeis tēn thalassan ” (McNeile).

Verse 7

Through whom (δι ουdi' ou). 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 Matthew 18:8 and Matthew 18:9 we have one of the dualities or doublets in Matthew (Matthew 5:29-30). Jesus repeated his pungent sayings many times. Instead of εις γεεννανeis geennan (Matthew 5:29) we have εις το πυρ το αιωνιονeis to pur to aiōnion and at the end of Matthew 18:9 του πυροςtou puros is added to την γεεννανtēn geennan This is the first use in Matthew of αιωνιοςaiōnios We have it again in Matthew 19:16, Matthew 19:29 with ζοηzoē in Matthew 25:41 with πυρpur in Matthew 25:46 with κολασινkolasin and ζοηνzoēn 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 “αεονιανaeonian ” fire will make it mean “αεονιανaeonian ” life also. If the punishment is limited, ipso facto the life is shortened. In Matthew 18:9 also μονοπταλμονmonophthalmon occurs. It is an Ionic compound in Herodotus that is condemned by the Atticists, but it is revived in the vernacular Koiné. Literally one-eyed. Here only and Mark 9:47 in the New Testament.

Verse 10

Despise (καταπρονησητεkataphronēsēte). Literally, “think down on,” with the assumption of superiority.

Their angels (οι αγγελοι αυτωνhoi aggeloi autōn). 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 μουblepousin to prosōpon tou patros mou) 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 (απησει τα ενενηκοντα εννεα επι τα ορη και πορευτεις ζητει το πλανωμενονaphēsei ta enenēkonta ennea epi ta orē kai poreutheis zētei to planōmenoṅ). 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 15:4-7. Our word “planet” is from πλαναομαιplanaomai 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 (τελημα εμπροστενthelēma emprosthen). Observe that Westcott and Hort read μουmou here rather than μωνhūmōn 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 τουτωνhen tōn mikrōn toutōn) among God‘s children. The use of εμπροστενemprosthen with τελημαthelēma is a Hebraism like εμπροστεν σουemprosthen sou in Matthew 11:25 with ευδοκιαeudokia “before the face” of God.

Verse 15

If thy brother sin against thee (εαν αμαρτησηι αδελπος σουean hamartēsēi adelphos sou). Literally, commit a sin (ingressive aorist subjunctive of αμαρτανωhamartanō). Aleph B Sahidic do not have “against thee” (εις σεeis se).

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

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

Verse 16

Take with thee (παραλαβε μετα σουparalabe meta sou). Take alone (παραpara) with (μεταmeta) thee.

Verse 17

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

The church (τηι εκκλησιαιtēi ekklēsiāi). 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 εκκλησιαekklēsia 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 (εσται δεδεμενα εν ουρανωιestai dedemena en ouranōi). Future passive periphrastic perfect indicative as in “shall be loosed” (εσται λελυμεναestai lelumena). 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 (συμπωνησωσινsumphōnēsōsin). 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 μουpara tou patros mou). From the side of, “by my Father.”

Verse 20

There am I (εκει ειμιekei eimi). 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 ονομαeis to emon onoma). 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 επτακισheōs heptakiṡ) Peter thought that he was generous as the Jewish rule was three times (Amos 1:6). His question goes back to 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 επταheōs hebdomēkontakis hepta). It is not clear whether this idiom means seventy-seven or as the Revised Version has it (490 times). If επτακιςheptakis were written it would clearly be 490 times. The same ambiguity is seen in Genesis 4:24, the lxx text by omitting καιkai 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 (συναραι λογονsunārai logon). Seen also in Matthew 25:19. Perhaps a Latinism, rationes conferre. First aorist active infinitive of συναιρωsunairō 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 ταλαντωνmuriōn talantōn). 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 αποδουναιmē echontos autou apodounai). There is no “wherewith” in the Greek. This idiom is seen in Luke 7:42; Luke 14:14; Hebrews 6:13. Genitive absolute though αυτονauton in the same clause as often in the N.T.

To be sold (πρατηναιprathēnai). First aorist passive infinitive of πιπρασκωpipraskō 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 δανιονto danion). 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 δηναριαhekaton dēnaria). 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 (επνιγενepnigen). “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 (ει τι οπειλειςei ti opheileis). 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 ητελενho de ouk ēthelen). Imperfect tense of persistent refusal.

Till he should pay (εως αποδωιheōs apodōi). This futuristic aorist subjunctive is the rule with εωςheōs 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 (διεσαπησανdiesaphēsan). 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 εδει σεouk edei sė) “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 βασανισταιςtois basanistais). Not to prison simply, but to terrible punishment. The papyri give various instances of the verb βασανιζωbasanizō 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 αποδωι πανheōs[hou] apodōi pan). Just as in 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 μωνapo tōn kardiōn hūmōn). 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". Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.