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Bible Commentaries

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

Matthew 20

Verse 1

For (γαρ). The parable of the house illustrates the aphorism in Matthew 19:30.

A man that is a householder (ανθρωπω οικοδεσποτη). Just like ανθρωπω βασιλε (Matthew 18:23). Not necessary to translate ανθρωπω, just "a householder."

Early in the morning (αμα πρω). A classic idiom. Hαμα as an "improper" preposition is common in the papyri. Πρω is just an adverb in the locative. At the same time with early dawn, break of day, country fashion for starting to work.

To hire (μισθωσασθα). The middle voice aorist tense, to hire for oneself.

Verse 2

For a penny a day (εκ δηναριου την ημεραν). See on Matthew 18:28. "Penny" is not adequate, "shilling" Moffatt has it. The εκ with the ablative represents the agreement (συνφωνησας) with the workmen (εργατων). "The day" the Greek has it, an accusative of extent of time.

Verse 3

Standing in the marketplace idle (εστωτας αγορα αργους). The market place was the place where men and masters met for bargaining. At Hamadan in Persia, Morier in Second Journey through Persia, as cited by Trench in his Parables, says: "We observed every morning, before the sun rose, that a numerous band of peasants were collected, with spades in their hands, waiting to be hired for the day to work in the surrounding fields."

Verse 4

Whatsoever is right (ο εαν η δικαιον). "Is fair" (Allen), not anything he pleased, but a just proportionate wage. Indefinite relative with subjunctive εαν αν.

Verse 6

All the day idle (ολην την ημεραν αργο). Extent of time (accusative) again. Αργο is α privative and εργον, work, no work. The problem of the unemployed.

Verse 10

Every man a penny (ανα δηναριον κα αυτο). Literally, "themselves also a denarius apiece" (distributive use of ανα). Bruce asks if this householder was a humorist when he began to pay off the last first and paid each one a denarius according to agreement. False hopes had been raised in those who came first who got only what they had agreed to receive.

Verse 11

They murmured (εγογγυζον). Onomatopoetic word, the meaning suiting the sound. Our words murmur and grumble are similar. Probably here inchoative imperfect, began to grumble. It occurs in old Ionic and in the papyri.

Verse 12

Equal unto us (ισους αυτους ημιν). Associative instrumental case ημιν after ισους. It was a regular protest against the supposed injustice of the householder.

The burden of the day and the scorching wind (το βαρος της ημερας κα τον καυσωνα). These last "did" work for one hour. Apparently they worked as hard as any while at it. A whole day's work on the part of these sweat-stained men who had stood also the sirocco, the hot, dry, dust-laden east wind that blasted the grain in Pharaoh's dream (Genesis 41:6), that withered Jonah's gourd (Jonah 4:8), that blighted the vine in Ezekiel's parable (Ezekiel 17:10). They seemed to have a good case.

Verse 13

To one of them (εν αυτων). Evidently the spokesman of the group. "Friend" (εταιρε). Comrade. So a kindly reply to this man in place of an address to the whole gang. Genesis 31:40; Job 27:21; Hosea 13:15. The word survives in modern Greek.

Verse 14

Take up (αρον). First aorist active imperative of αιρω. Pick up, as if he had saucily refused to take it from the table or had contemptuously thrown the denarius on the ground. If the first had been paid first and sent away, there would probably have been no murmuring, but "the murmuring is needed to bring out the lesson" (Plummer). The δηναριυς was the common wage of a day labourer at that time.

What I will (ο θελω). This is the point of the parable, the will of the householder.

With mine own (εν τοις εμοις). In the sphere of my own affairs. There is in the Koine an extension of the instrumental use of εν.

Verse 15

Is thine eye evil? (ο οφθαλμος σου πονηρος εστιν?) See on Matthew 6:22-24 about the evil eye and the good eye. The complainer had a grudging eye while the householder has a liberal or generous eye. See Romans 5:7 for a distinction between δικαιος and αγαθος.

Verse 16

The last first and the first last (ο εσχατο πρωτο κα ο πρωτο εσχατο). The adjectives change places as compared with Matthew 19:30. The point is the same, though this order suits the parable better. After all one's work does not rest wholly on the amount of time spent on it. "Even so hath Rabbi Bun bar Chija in twenty-eight years wrought more than many studious scholars in a hundred years" (Jer. Berak. ii. 5c).

Verse 17

Apart (κατ' ιδιαν). This is the prediction in Matthew of the cross (Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:22; Matthew 20:17). "Aside by themselves" (Moffatt). The verb is παρελαβεν. Jesus is having his inward struggle (Mark 10:32) and makes one more effort to get the Twelve to understand him.

Verse 19

And to crucify (κα σταυρωσα). The very word now. The details fall on deaf ears, even the point of the resurrection on the third day.

Verse 20

Then (τοτε). Surely an inopportune time for such a request just after the pointed prediction of Christ's crucifixion. Perhaps their minds had been preoccupied with the words of Jesus (Matthew 19:28) about their sitting on twelve thrones taking them in a literal sense. The mother of James and John, probably Salome, possibly a sister of the Master's mother (John 19:25), apparently prompted her two sons because of the family relationship and now speaks for them.

Asking a certain thing (αιτουσα τ). "Asking something," "plotting perhaps when their Master was predicting" (Bruce). The "something" put forward as a small matter was simply the choice of the two chief thrones promised by Jesus (Matthew 19:28).

Verse 22

Ye know not what ye ask (ουκ οιδατε τ αιτεισθε). How often that is true. Αιτεισθε is indirect middle voice, "ask for yourselves," "a selfish request."

We are able (δυναμεθα). Amazing proof of their ignorance and self-confidence. Ambition had blinded their eyes. They had not caught the martyr spirit.

Verse 23

Ye shall drink (πιεσθε). Future middle from πινω. Christ's cup was martyrdom. James was the first of the Twelve to meet the martyr's death (Acts 12:2) and John the last if reports are true about him. How little they knew what they were saying.

Verse 24

Moved with indignation (ηγανακτησαν). A strong word for angry resentment. In the papyri. The ten felt that James and John had taken advantage of their relation to Jesus.

Verse 25

Called them unto him (προσκαλεσαμενος αυτους). Indirect middle again, calling to him.

Verse 26

Would become great (ος αν θελη μεγας γενεσθα). Jesus does not condemn the desire to become great. It is a laudable ambition. There are "great ones" (μεγαλο) among Christians as among pagans, but they do not "lord it over" one another (κατακυριευουσιν), a LXX word and very expressive, or "play the tyrant" (κατεξουσιαζουσιν), another suggestive word.

Your minister (υμων διακονος). This word may come from δια and κονις (dust), to raise a dust by one's hurry, and so to minister. It is a general word for servant and is used in a variety of ways including the technical sense of our "deacon" in Matthew 1:1. But it more frequently is applied to ministers of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 3:5). The way to be "first" (πρωτος), says Jesus, is to be your "servant" (δουλος), "bond-servant" (verse Matthew 20:27). This is a complete reversal of popular opinion then and now.

Verse 28

A ransom for many (λυτρον αντ πολλων). The Son of man is the outstanding illustration of this principle of self-abnegation in direct contrast to the self-seeking of James and John. The word translated "ransom" is the one commonly employed in the papyri as the price paid for a slave who is then set free by the one who bought him, the purchase money for manumitting slaves. See examples in Moulton and Milligan's Vocabulary and Deissmann's Light from the Ancient East, pp. 328f. There is the notion of exchange also in the use of αντ. Jesus gave his own life as the price of freedom for the slaves of sin. There are those who refuse to admit that Jesus held this notion of a substitutionary death because the word in the N.T. occurs only here and the corresponding passage in Mark 10:45. But that is an easy way to get rid of passages that contradict one's theological opinions. Jesus here rises to the full consciousness of the significance of his death for men.

Verse 29

From Jericho (απο Ιερειχω). So Mark 10:46. But Luke (Luke 18:35) places the incident as they were drawing near to Jericho (εις Ιερειχω). It is probable that Mark and Matthew refer to the old Jericho, the ruins of which have been discovered, while Luke alludes to the new Roman Jericho. The two blind men were apparently between the two towns. Mark (Mark 10:46) and Luke (Luke 18:35) mention only one blind man, Bartimaeus (Mark). In Kentucky there are two towns about a half mile apart both called Pleasureville (one Old Pleasureville, the other New Pleasureville).

Verse 30

That Jesus was passing by (οτ Ιησους παραγε). These men "were sitting by the wayside" (καθημενο παρα τεν οδον) at their regular stand. They heard the crowd yelling that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by (παραγε, present indicative of direct discourse retained in the indirect). It was their one opportunity, now or never. They had heard of what he had done for other blind men. They hail him as "the son of David" (the Messiah). It is just one of many such incidents when Jesus stood still and opened their eyes, so many that even the multitude was impatient with the cries of these poor men that their eyes be opened (ανοιγωσιν, second aorist passive subjunctive).

Verse 34

Touched their eyes (ηψατο των ομματων). A synonym for οφθαλμων in Mark 8:23 and here alone in the N.T. In the LXX and a common poetic word (Euripides) and occurs in the papyri. In modern Greek ματια μου (abbreviation) means "light of my eye," "my darling." The verb απτομα is very common in the Synoptic Gospels. The touch of Christ's hand would sooth the eyes as they were healed.

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 20". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwp/matthew-20.html. Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.