Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, July 20th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
Take your personal ministry to the Next Level by helping StudyLight build churches and supporting pastors in Uganda.
Click here to join the effort!

Bible Commentaries
Matthew 18

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors


Matthew 18:0


The Greatest in the KingdomWho is Greatest?Sayings on Humility and ForgivenessWho is the Greatest?Who is the Greatest?
Matthew 18:1-5Matthew 18:1-5Matthew 18:1-5Matthew 18:1Matthew 18:1-4
Matthew 18:2-5
Temptations to SinJesus Warns of OffensesWarnings of HellTemptations to SinOn Leading Others Astray
Matthew 18:5-7
Matthew 18:6-9Matthew 18:6-9Matthew 18:6-7Matthew 18:6-7
Matthew 18:8-9Matthew 18:8-9Matthew 18:8-9
The Parable of the Lost SheepThe Parable of the Lost SheepThe Lost SheepThe Parable of the Lost Sheep
Matthew 18:10-14Matthew 18:10-14Matthew 18:10-14Matthew 18:10-11Matthew 18:10; Matthew 18:11 (not included)
The Lost Sheep
Matthew 18:12-14Matthew 18:12-14
A Brother Who SinsDealing With a Sinning BrotherDiscipline Among FollowersA Brother Who SinsBrotherly Correction
Matthew 18:15-17Matthew 18:15-20Matthew 18:15-20Matthew 18:15-17Matthew 18:15-17
Prohibiting and Permitting
Matthew 18:18-20 Matthew 18:18Matthew 18:18
Prayer in Common
Matthew 18:19-20Matthew 18:19-20
The Parable of the Unforgiving ServantThe Parable of the Unforgiving ServantForgivenessThe Parable of the Unforgiving ServantForgiveness of Injuries
Matthew 18:21-35Matthew 18:21-35Matthew 18:21-22Matthew 18:21Matthew 18:21-22
Matthew 18:22-27
Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor
Matthew 18:23-35 Matthew 18:23-35
Matthew 18:28-34
Matthew 18:35

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. This context is not addressed to children, but to new believing adults using children as an object lesson.

B. This context does not relate to winning the lost, but to the characteristics of believers.

C. The Church discipline of verses Matthew 18:15-19 is related to the issue of our love for one another in Christ, cf. Romans 14:1-13; 1 Corinthians 8:0; 1 Corinthians 10:23-33.

D. The parable of verses Matthew 18:21-35 is related to believers'treatment of weak or new Christians based on God's treatment of believers in Christ. Forgiveness issues in forgiving! It is not the basis but the result of God's action in our lives!


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Does this passage define children's relationship with God?

2. What two examples are given us in the passage to show the radical nature of our personal sin?

3. Does this parable in verses Matthew 18:12-14 convey the same truth as in Luke 15:4-7?

4. What is the parable of verses Matthew 18:23-25 saying to us about forgiveness?

Verses 1-6

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 18:1-6 1At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, "Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" 2And he called a child to Himself and set him before them, 3and said, "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; 6but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Matthew 18:1 "the disciples came to Jesus" This shows that Jesus was speaking to believers, not unbelievers!

"Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven" This question set the stage for all that followed. See Mark 9:33-34; Luke 9:46-48. The question showed that the disciples still radically misunderstood the nature of the kingdom. It also shows that the disciples did not consider Peter as greatest!

Matthew 18:2 "a child" Mark 9:33 suggests that this was Peter's child.

Matthew 18:3 "Truly" See Special Topic at Matthew 5:18.

"unless you are converted" "Convert" denotes a conversion experience whereby an inner repentance is expressed in a change of lifestyle (NRSV, NJB). In John 12:40 this word is used to translate Isaiah 6:10, where it refers to "repentance" (Hebrew shub, BDB 996). Notice that in Matthew 18:4 "humility" is parallel with "convert." Children innocently trust and depend on others. They are readily teachable and obedient to authority (here divine authority).

This is an aorist passive subjunctive. The aorist tense implied a decisive act, while the subjunctive mood showed there was an element of contingency and choice involved. The passive voice implied God's initiative (cf. John 6:44, John 6:65).

"you will not enter the kingdom of heaven" This is a STRONG DOUBLE negative meaning, "never, no never under any circumstances." Also note that entrance into the Kingdom is immediate! Trusting Jesus and His message is tantamount to entering to new age! The Kingdom was available to all who heard and responded to Jesus.

Matthew 18:3, Matthew 18:4, Matthew 18:6 "and become like children. . .child. . .one of these little ones" These statements all relate to new, innocent, immature believing adults, and not to children. However, the trusting dependence of children is the proper attitude for adults.

18:,34 "you will not enter into the kingdom. . .of heaven" In context this referred to (1) how someone comes to Christ and (2) how one continues in Christ.

Matthew 18:5 This is similar to the emphasis of Matthew 10:40. Also notice Matthew 25:35-45; Luke 10:16; Acts 9:4; and 1 Corinthians 8:12. Jesus is fully identified with His followers!

Matthew 18:6 "it would be better" Death, though traumatic, is a one-time event, but judgment has eternal consequences (cf. Matthew 25:31-46).

Another "it would have been better" statement is found in 2 Peter 2:20-22.

"a heavy millstone" This referred to the large top stone pulled by animals for grinding grain.

"to be drowned in the depth of the sea" The Jews were fearful of water, as are many desert people. Therefore, this phrase related to a terrible physical death which was better than leading new believers to sin (cf. Matthew 18:8-10; Romans 14:0). See SPECIAL TOPIC: DEGREES OF REWARDS AND PUNISHMENTs at Matthew 5:12.

Verse 7

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 18:7 7Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!

Matthew 18:7 "woe to the world. . .woe to that man" This was put in the literary form of the OT prophets, a funeral dirge which symbolized the judgment of God (cf. Matthew 11:21; Matthew 18:7; Matthew 23:13, Matthew 23:15, Matthew 23:16, Matthew 23:23, Matthew 23:25, Matthew 23:27, Matthew 23:29; Matthew 24:19; Matthew 26:24; Luke 17:1-2). Causing new believers to stumble has eternal consequences!

"stumbling blocks" This same noun (skandalon, cf. Luke 17:1) was used in Matthew 16:23 for Peter's statements. It refers literally to a baited animal trap trigger (cf. LXX of Amos 3:5). New believers are vulnerable to deception and trickery by false teachers (Jewish and later false Christian teachers, cf. Matthew 7:15-27; 1 Timothy 4:1-5; 2 Timothy 2:14-26; 2 Timothy 3:1-9; 2 Peter 2:0).

The verb is recurrent in Matthew's Gospel (cf. Matthew 5:29, Matthew 5:30; Matthew 11:6; Matthew 13:21, Matthew 13:57; Matthew 15:12; Matthew 17:27; Matthew 18:6, Matthew 18:8, Matthew 18:9; Matthew 24:10; Matthew 26:31, Matthew 26:33). Problems and temptations are always present!

Verses 8-9

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 18:8-9 8If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. 9If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.

Matthew 18:8-9 "If. . .if" These are both first class conditional sentences which are assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes. These shocking hypothetical statements stress the seriousness of personal sin, as well as sinners that causes others to stumble (cf. Matthew 18:6, Matthew 18:7).

Matthew 18:8, Matthew 18:9 "cut it off. . .pluck it out" These were not meant to be taken literally, but to show the seriousness of sin and its consequences (cf. Matthew 5:29-30).

"eternal fire" See Special Topic following.


Matthew 18:9 "the fiery hell" Gehenna is from two Hebrew words ge meaning "valley" and henna meaning "sons of Hinnom" (cf. 2 Kings 23:10; Matthew 18:2 Cor. 28:3; 33:6; Jeremiah 7:31). This was the valley outside of Jerusalem where the Phoenician fire god was worshiped by child sacrifice (the practice was called molech). The Jews turned it into a garbage dump. See SPECIAL TOPIC: Where Are the Dead? at Matthew 5:22. Jesus Himself used this place metaphorically to describe Hell. Only Jesus uses this term (except one verse in James 3:6).

This is a frightening verse. However, one must remember the use of overstatement (hyperbole) in Jesus' teaching. The context relates to followers, believers. Yet Jesus wants to warn even His own followers of the need for a continuing and loving faith (cf. Matthew 5:22).

Verses 10-11

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 18:10-11 10"See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven." 11[" For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost." ]

Matthew 18:10 "see that you do not despise one of these little ones" This whole section (i.e., Matthew 18:9, Matthew 18:10-11) expresses this same truth.

"their angels" This could be understood to teach that all believers have an individual guardian angel (cf. Psalms 91:11; Acts 12:15; Hebrews 1:14). This is an interesting concept, but there is so little biblical evidence on which to build a doctrine. Psalms 24:7 is the same truth, but in a corporate sense.

Matthew 18:11 This verse is not in the ancient Greek manuscripts א, B, L, or the Greek texts used by Origen, Eusebius, and Jerome. Nor is it found in the Syriac and Coptic versions. It was possibly not an original part of Matthew. It is an addition from Luke 19:10 by early copyists. The UBS4 rates its exclusion as "B" (almost certain).

Verses 12-14

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 18:12-14 12"What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? 13If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. 14So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish."

Matthew 18:12-14 "a hundred sheep" This parable relates in context to believers who have become backslidden and then returned to God. Believers are to help and restore one another (cf. Galatians 6:1-3). In Luke 15:4-7 this same parable refers to the spiritually lost, self righteous Pharisees. This shows that Jesus used the same parables in different ways to different audiences.

Matthew 18:13 "if" Both verses Matthew 18:12 and 13 are third class conditional sentences, which meant possible future action.

"Truly" See Special Topic at Matthew 5:18.

Matthew 18:14 "the will of your Father who is in heaven" See Special Topic at Matthew 7:21.

"that one of these little ones perish" There are several Special Topics that relate to this phrase.

1. Destruction (appollumi) at Matthew 2:13

2. Apostasy (aphistami) at Matthew 7:21

3. Perseverance at Matthew 10:22

Verses 15-18

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 18:15-18 15"If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven."

Matthew 18:15-17 "go and show him his fault in private" This third class conditional sentence is followed by two imperatives.

1. Go, present active imperative

2. Reprove, aorist active imperative (only here in Matthew, but note its use in John 3:20; John 8:46; John 16:8; and by Paul in Ephesians 5:11; 1 Timothy 5:20)

This is practical wisdom on how to deal with sin in a congregation. It relates to a later period in church history. Notice the steps.

1. go to the offender privately (Matthew 18:15)

2. take one or two witnesses and go again

3. bring the matter before the whole congregation

4. cut off fellowship

These guidelines were not addressed to leadership only, but to all believers. We are our brother's keeper (cf. Luke 17:3; Galatians 6:1-2). The goal of church discipline must always be redemptive not punitive. However, the reputation of the body and the peace of the body as well as the health (spiritual and physical) of the sinning saints must be dealt with.

Matthew 18:15 "If your brother sins" This paragraph deals with church discipline in light of verses Matthew 18:1-14. This is a series of third class conditional sentences, 15 (twice), 16, 17 (twice). This refers to possible future action.

"sins" There is a Greek manuscript variation here. The earliest complete Greek uncial New Testaments, א and B, do not have "against you" after "sins." It does appear in the uncial manuscripts D, L, and W, as well as the Vulgate and Armenian translations. The UBS4 text includes it in brackets and gives its inclusion a "C" rating.

"you have won your brothers" This phrase parallels James 5:15, James 5:19-20.

Matthew 18:16 "so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses" This is a quote from Deuteronomy 19:15. The OT required at least two witnesses to confirm a matter in court (cf. Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6).

Matthew 18:17 "the church" For a discussion of the origin of ekklesia see note at Matthew 16:18. This seems like a reference to a later period when groups of believers must discipline their members. Several of Jesus' statements do not fit this early period of His ministry, but are prophetic of the church's future needs. Matthew, living in this later period, would be reminded (by the Spirit) of Jesus' earlier statements, which only after Pentecost did he fully understand.

The term "church" appears only in the Gospels, two times in Matthew. The term is common in Acts, which shows that Luke was conscious of a change after Pentecost.

"let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector" Matthew was written to Jews. Gentiles were regarded as unclean and tax-collection was a profession despised by the Jews (cf. Matthew 5:46; Matthew 9:10-11; Matthew 11:19). This phrase with its two descriptive examples, would have been misunderstood by Gentiles, so it is not in the other Gospels.

Matthew 18:18 "Truly" See Special Topic at Matthew 5:18.

"I say to you" "You" is plural. Jesus was addressing the Twelve not just Peter as in Matthew 16:19.

"bind. . .loose" These words might alternatively be rendered "forbid" and "permit." They were both rabbinical terms for legal decisions about how the Law should be applied to a current situation. See discussion at Matthew 16:19. In John 20:23 these terms also refer to the forgiveness of sins, as it does here!

"shall have been bound in heaven. . .shall have been loosed in heaven" These periphrastic perfect passive participles were a roundabout way of saying that something already is. This passage does not assert human's initiative in spiritual matters, but God's will being fulfilled on earth by the Spirit's guidance of His people (cf. Matthew 16:19-20; John 20:23). Church discipline should always be redemptive (cf. Galatians 6:1-10), following God's dealing with believers.

Verses 19-20

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 18:19-20 19"Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst."

Matthew 18:19 "if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask" This is a third class conditional sentence, which meant potential future action. The context relates this promise to church discipline and our treatment of other believers.

Matthew 18:19 This verse must be taken in the context of God's will being revealed by the Spirit from Matthew 18:18. Believers are only promised answers under certain spiritual circumstances. The worst thing that could happen to most modern believers is that God answer their selfish, materialistic prayers.

The Bible presents a paradoxical view on prayer. Some passages speak of its unlimited scope and promise of answers (cf. Matthew 18:19; John 14:13-14; John 15:7, John 15:16; John 16:23). Other passages speak of prayer being limited by

1. our persistence (cf. Matthew 7:7-8; Luke 11:5-13; Luke 18:1-8)

2. our attitude (cf. Matthew 21:22; Mark 11:23-24; Luke 18:9-14; James 1:6-7; James 4:1-10)

3. the will of God (cf. 1 John 3:22; 1 John 5:14-15)

Theologically believers agree that

1. God is affected by His children's prayers

2. the greatest gift is not the answer but the fellowship with the Father

3. all prayer is answered

4. prayer does change our lives and the lives of those we pray for

However, when all is said and done, there is still "mystery" in prayer. It is best summed up by the truth that God has chosen in His sovereignty to limit Himself to the prayers of His children. We have not because we asked not or asked amiss.


Matthew 18:20 The number mentioned is the same as verse Matthew 18:16. This could be a husband and wife (family setting) or two or more believers (worship or disciple setting). However, it may be implied (i.e., an application) that when believers meet to pray Jesus is there (i.e., Matthew 28:20)!

"in My name" See Special Topic following.


Verses 21-22

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 18:21-22 21Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" 22Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven."

Matthew 18:21

NASB, NKJV, TEV" seventy times seven" NRSV, NJB"seventy-seven times"

Peter was trying to be generous by using seven times (cf. Luke 17:4)! The Babylonian Talmud had three times as the maximum (cf. Amos 1:3, Amos 1:6; Amos 2:6). Jesus took forgiveness to the new metaphorical height of 7 x 70 (or possibly 77). This does not mean on the 491st time believers do not forgive, but that covenant brothers must always be ready to forgive other covenant brothers (cf. Luke 17:4) as God forgives them (cf. Matthew 18:35). The new covenant has a radically new orientation to life (cf. Matthew 18:15).

Verses 23-35

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 18:23-35 23"For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. 26So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.'27And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. 28But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, 'Pay back what you owe.'29So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you.'30But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. 31So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. 32Then summoning him, his lord said to him, 'You wicked slave, I forgave you all the debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?'34And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."

Matthew 18:23 "a king" This parable is unique to Matthew. In Aramaic (Jesus spoke Aramaic, not Hebrew) this term could have meant "a king's official."

Matthew 18:24 "ten thousand talents" This was a huge amount. Six hundred talents was the yearly Roman tax for southern Palestine. This parable is purposeful oriental exaggeration (hyperbole). Often Jesus used this literary technique to drive home the point of His parables. See Special Topic at Matthew 17:24.

Matthew 18:25 People (and their families) could be sold into slavery for debts (cf. Leviticus 25:39; 2 Kings 4:1; Nehemiah 5:5; Isaiah 50:1). The king's threat was a real threat!

Matthew 18:26, Matthew 18:29 "have patience with me and I will repay you everything" These are the exact words of both Matthew 18:26 and 29. This is the heart of the parable. In Matthew 18:30 he has no mercy on another human who pleads for it!

Matthew 18:34 "the torturers" In Aramaic this was possibly " jailers."

Matthew 18:35 "My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart" This is a third class conditional sentence which meant potential future action. Forgiveness should/must result in forgiving (cf. Matthew 5:7; Matthew 6:14-15; Matthew 7:1-2; Matthew 10:8; Luke 6:36; Colossians 3:13; James 2:13; James 5:9). Forgiveness is not the basis of our salvation but a sure evidence of being forgiven. However, Jesus leaves open the question about those who claim to know Him, but refuse to forgive other believers! Parables cannot, do not, answer all the theological questions!

"heart" See Special Topic at Matthew 5:8.

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Matthew 18". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/matthew-18.html. 2021.
Ads FreeProfile