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Bible Commentaries

Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
Matthew 17

 

 

Other Authors
Introduction

CHAPTER 17

Matthew 17:3. ὤφθησαν] Lachm. and Tisch.: ὤφθη, after B D א, Curss. and Codd. of the It. The plural is a grammatical correction; the sing. can scarcely be taken from Mark 9:4.

Matthew 17:4. ποιήσωμεν] Lachm. and Tisch.: ποιῇσω, after B C א, 17 :Corb. 1, Germ. 1. Correctly; the plural is from Mark and Luke.

The arrangement ἠλίᾳ μίαν (Lachm. Tisch.) is supported by decisive testimony.

Matthew 17:5. φωτεινή] Only on the authority of a few Curss. and Ephr. Griesb. and Fritzsche have φωτός, which Olshausen also prefers. An interpretation for the purpose of defining the wonderful nature of the cloud.

The order ἀκούετε αὐτοῦ (inverted in Elz.) is, with Lachm. and Tisch. 8, after B D א, 1, 33, to be preferred. The reading of the Received text is according to the LXX.

Matthew 17:7. Lachm. and Tisch. 8 : καὶ προσῆλθεν . καὶ ἁψάμενος αὐτῶν εἶπεν, after B (in the first half of the sentence also D) א, Verss. Seeing how much the reading fluctuates in the various authorities, the Received text, from having the balance of testimony in its favour, is not to be abandoned.

Matthew 17:9. ἐκ] Elz.: ἀπό. Approved by Scholz, against decisive testimony. From Mark 9:9, for the sake of conformity with the ordinary usage.

ἀναστή] Lachm. and Tisch: ἐγερθῇ, after B D, Sahid. The reading of the Received text is from Mark 9:9.

Matthew 17:11. On important testimony, ἰησοῦς and αὐτοῖς are, with Lachm. and Tisch., to be deleted. Common interpolations.

πρῶτον] is omitted after ἔρχ. in B D א, Curss. Verss. Aug. Hil.; L inserts it after ἀποκατ. Suspected by Griesb., deleted by Fritzsche, Lachm., Tisch. Repetition from Matthew 17:10, in accordance with Mark 9:12.

Matthew 17:14. αὐτῶν] which Lachm. and Tisch. have deleted, is omitted in B Z א, 1, 124, 245, Sahid.; it might easily have been overlooked from coming, as it does, immediately after ἐλθόντων.

αὐτόν] Elz.: αὐτῷ, against decisive testimony.

Matthew 17:15. πάσχει] Lachm.: ἔχει, after B L Z א, Or. Either an involuntary alteration occasioned by the current use of the expression κακῶς ἔχειν (Matthew 4:24, Matthew 8:16, Matthew 9:12, Matthew 14:35), or intentional, on account of the apparent pleonasm.

Matthew 17:17. The order μεθʼ ὑμῶν ἔσομαι (Lachm. Tisch.) is supported by the preponderating testimony of B C D Z א, Curss. Or., and ought to be adopted. Comp. Mark and Luke.

Matthew 17:20. ἀπιστίαν] Lachm. Tisch. 8 : ὀλιγοπιστίαν, after B א, Curss. Syrcur Sahid. Copt. Arm. Aeth. Or. Chrys. An ancient emendation to soften the expression, ἀπιστίαν, after Matthew 17:17 especially, may have offended pious sensibilities.

The reading μετάβα ἔνθεν (Lachm. Tisch.) is neither satisfactory nor has it uniform testimony in its favour.

Matthew 17:21. Tisch. 8 has deleted the whole verse, but only after B א* 33, and a few Verss. The great preponderance of testimony is in favour of retaining it, although Weiss likewise rejects it. It might have been regarded as inserted from Mark 9:29 had the terms of the two passages coincided more fully. Why it was omitted, it is really impossible to say; it may only have happened accidentally, and the omission remains an isolated instance.

Matthew 17:22. ἀναστρεφ.] Lachm. and Tisch. 8 : συστρεφ., after B א, 1, Vulg. Codd. of the It. A gloss, in order that ἀναστρεφ. might not be taken in the sense of return.

Matthew 17:23. ἐγερθήσεται] Lachm.: ἀναστήσεται, after B, Curss. Or. Chrys. From Mark 9:31.

Matthew 17:25. ὅτε εἰσῆλθεν] Lachm. and Tisch. 8 : εἰσελθόντα, which is found in א*; in B it is: ἐλθόντα; in C: ὅτε ἦλθον; in D: εἰσελθόντι. Others have: ὃτε εἰσῆλθον, εἰσελθόντων, εἰσελθόντος. Seeing there is such variety in the readings, we ought to prefer, not the simple verb, which B and C concur in adopting, but the compound form, which is supported by D א and the numerous authorities in favour of the reading of the Received text; further, the plural is to be rejected, inasmuch as it is without adequate testimony and has been inserted from Matthew 17:24; and finally, the reading ὅτε is to be regarded as an analysis of the participle. Consequently the reading εἰσελθόντα should be adopted.

Matthew 17:26. For λέγει αὐτῷ πέτρος read, with Lachm. and Tisch. 8, simply εἰπόντος δέ, after B C L א, Verss. Or. Chrys. The reading of the Received text is somewhat of a gloss.


Verse 1

Matthew 17:1. Comp. Mark 9:2 ff.; Luke 8:28 ff.; 2 Peter 1:16 ff. ΄εθʼ ἡμέρας ἕξ] Luke 9:28 : ὡσεὶ ἡμέραι ὀκτώ. This ὡσεί makes it unnecessary to have recourse to any expedient for reconciling the numbers. Chrysostom, Jerome, Theophylact, Erasmus, and many others, are of opinion that Luke has included the dies a quo and ad quem.

εἰς ὅρος ὑψηλόν] Since the fourth century there has been a tradition that the mountain here referred to was mount Tabor, the situation of which, however, was such as altogether to preclude this view. If we are to understand that Jesus remained during the six days in the neighbourhood of Caesarea Philippi, we may, with some probability, suppose that the height in question was one of the peaks of Hermon, a clump of hills standing to the north-east of that town.

Those three disciples were the most intimate friends of Jesus. Comp. Matthew 26:37. For ἀναφέρει, comp. Luke 24:51; 2 Maccabees 6:10; Polyb. viii. 31. 1.

κατʼ ἰδίαν] so that they alone accompanied him to this mountain solitude.


Verse 2

Matthew 17:2. ΄ετεμορφ.] was transfigured, in the way about to be described. That is to say, His external aspect was changed (“non substantialis, sed accidentalis fuit transformatio,” Calovius); His face gleaming like the sun, and His raiment being so white that it shone like light. He appeared in outward heavenly δόξα, which μεγαλειότης (2 Peter 1:16) was the foreshadowing of His future glorified state (John 12:16; John 12:23; John 17:5; John 21:24; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Matthew 13:43). The analogy presented by Exodus 34:29 comes short in this respect, that, whereas the brightness on the face of Moses was the result of God’s having appeared before him, in the case of Christ it proceeded from His own divine nature and life, the δόξα of which radiated from within.

ὡς τὸ φῶς] The aspect of it, therefore, was luminous, radiant.


Verse 3

Matthew 17:3. αὐτοῖς] the disciples, Matthew 17:2. They saw conversing with Jesus, Moses and Elias, who, as forerunners of the Messiah, represented the law and the prophets (Schoettgen, Wetstein). Comp. Matthew 17:5; Matthew 17:8. It was not from what Jesus told them afterwards that they came first to know who those two were, but they themselves recognised them at once (Matthew 17:4), though not from their conversation, as has been arbitrarily supposed (Theophylact). The recognition was immediate and directly involved in the marvellous manifestation itself.

The subject of conversation, so far as the accounts of Matthew and Mark are concerned, does not appear to have been once inquired into. According to Ebrard, Jesus communicated to the fathers of the old dispensation the blessed intelligence of his readiness to redeem them by His death. According to Luke 9:31, Moses and Elias converse with Jesus about His impending death.


Verse 4

Matthew 17:4. ἀποκριθ.] see note on Matthew 11:25. Taking occasion from what he now saw before him, he proceeded to say.

καλόν ἐστιν κ. τ. λ.] is usually interpreted thus: “Amoenus est, in quo commoremur, locus” (Fritzsche, Keim); or, what is much to the same effect, it is referred—particularly by Chrysostom, Theophylact, Euth. Zigabenus, Erasmus—to the security of the place, protected as it was by the two celestial visitants, in contrast to Jerusalem, where Jesus was destined to suffer. But, inasmuch as the terms used by Peter are ἡμᾶς (not ἡμῖν) and the simple εἶναι (not μένειν); further, inasmuch as what he says is occasioned by the presence of Moses and Elias, and has reference to them, as is likewise proved by the following εἰ θέλεις κ. τ. λ., which implies that he wishes to do something towards enabling Jesus to have a longer interview with them,—it is preferable, with Paulus, Baumgarten-Crusius, Klostermann, Weiss, Volkmar, to interpret as follows: It is highly opportune that we (disciples) happen to be here (in which case, therefore, the ἡμᾶς is emphatic); accordingly, I would like to erect ( ποιήσω, see critical remarks) tabernacles (out of the brushwood growing around) for you here, with a view to a more prolonged stay. The transition to the singular is in keeping with Peter’s temperament; he would like to make the tabernacles.


Verse 5

Matthew 17:5 ff. ἰδοὺ καὶἰδού] lively way of introducing the various points of importance.

νεφέλη φωτεινή] a luminous, clear, bright cloud, represented in Matthew as, without doubt, a marvellous phenomenon, not in itself certainly, but in connection with the incident which it accompanies.

ἐπεσκίασεν] A luminous cloud overshadows them, casts a kind of light and shade over their forms, so that they are rendered less clear than they were before the cloud intervened. Olshausen unwarrantably fancies that ἐπεσκ. has been employed in consequence of the light having been so strong as to dazzle the eyes and affect the sight.

αὐτούς] viz. Jesus, Moses, and Elias (Matthew 17:4). The disciples hear the voice from out the cloud (Matthew 17:5-6), are therefore not to be regarded as being within it, as is likewise manifest a priori from the fact that the cloud, as was so frequently the case in the Old Testament, is here the sacred symbol of the divine presence (Wetstein on this passage, comp. Fea, ad Hor. Od. i. 2. 31), and therefore accompanies those three divine personages as a σημεῖον for the disciples, on whose account likewise the voice sounds from the cloud. This in answer to Olearius, Wolf, Bengel, Baumgarten-Crusius, who refer αὐτούς to the disciples; and to Clericus, who refers it to all who were present.

φωνὴ κ. τ. λ.] no less the voice of God than that in Matthew 3:17.

ἀκούετε αὐτοῦ (see critical remarks) is the divine ratification of the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15, according to their Messianic import. However, the hearing (i.e. faith and obedience) is the point on which stress is to be laid, as is evident from its being put first. This command is now in order (not so, as yet, in Matthew 3:17), coming as it does at a time when Jesus had attained to the full dignity of His prophetic office, but when, at the same time, the prospect of what awaited Him was calculated to put the ἀκούειν of the disciples to the severest test.

Matthew 17:6-7 occur only in Matthew. Comp. Daniel 10:9 f.; Revelation 1:17.

ἥψατο] “Tactus familiaris et efficax,” Bengel.


Verse 9

Matthew 17:9. ὅραμα] the thing seen, spectaculum. Acts 7:31; Sirach 43:1; Xen. Cyr. iii. 3. 66; de re equestr. ix. 4; Dem. 1406. 26; Pollux, ii. 54; used in the LXX. with reference to whatever is seen in vision by a prophet.

ἐκ νεκρῶν] from Sheol, as the abode τῶν νεκρῶν. On the omission of the article, see Winer, p. 117 [E. T. 153]. The reason of the prohibition can only be the same as in Matthew 16:20, where see note. According to the mythical view (see observations after Matthew 17:12), it was intended to explain the circumstance of a narrative composed in a later age, and, nevertheless, one which proceeded from the three witnesses.


Verse 10

Matthew 17:10. οὖν] can have no other reference than to the foregoing prohibition (comp. Matthew 19:7): “Seeing that we are forbidden to tell any one about the appearing of Elias which we have just witnessed, and so on, what reason, then, have the scribes for saying that Elias must first come (before the Messiah appears, to establish His kingdom)?” Does it not follow from Thy prohibition that this teaching of the scribes must be erroneous, seeing that, if it were not so, Thou wouldst not have enjoined us to keep silence regarding this manifestation of Elias? This is likewise in harmony with the answer of Jesus, which is to this effect: “That teaching is quite correct; but the Elias whom it speaks of as being the Messiah’s forerunner is not the prophet who has just been seen upon the mount, but John the Baptist, whom they did not recognise, and so on.” This view is so entirely in accordance with the context as to exclude any others, as, for example, that of Euth. Zigabenus, Erasmus, Kuinoel, who, emphasizing πρῶτον, interpret thus: διατί οἱ γρ. λέγ., ὅτι ἠλίαν χρὴ ἐλθεῖν πρὸ τοῦ χριστοῦ; πῶς οὖν οὐκ ἠλθεν οὗτος πρὸ σοῦ; or that which ascribes to the disciples the idea, of which there is not the remotest hint, that Christ is going to be revealed before the world in His glory, and that therefore there is really no further room for the manifestation and the services of Elias (Hofmann, Schriftbew. II. 1, p. 518); or that of Grotius, Michaelis, Fritzsche, Lange, Olshausen, Bleek, Hengstenberg, who understand the question of the disciples as referring to the circumstance that Elias had not remained, but had so quickly disappeared again (it was believed, though of this the question contains no hint whatever, that Elias would teach the Jews, settle the disputes among their instructors, restore the pot of manna and Aaron’s rod, and so on; Lightfoot on this passage; Winzer, de ἀποκαταστάσει πάντων, II., 1821, p. 9); or, again, that of Chrysostom, Theophylact, Neander, Krabbe, Ebrard, who suppose that the object of the question was to know whether the manifestation of Elias, which the scribes had in view, was that which had just taken place, or whether it was some other one yet to come; or, lastly, the expedient of Schleiermacher and Strauss, who think that the whole conversation originated in the disappointment felt in consequence of the prediction regarding the coming of Elias not having been fulfilled, and that it has only found its way into the present connection through an erroneous process of combination. According to Köstlin, p. 75, οὖν does not refer back to the transfiguration at all, but seems to say: “Seeing that the Messiah is already come,” which is the idea supposed to be contained in Matthew 16:13-27. He thinks the connection has been interrupted by the evangelist interpolating the story of the transfiguration between Matthew 16:27 and Matthew 17:10.


Verse 11

Matthew 17:11. In His reply, Jesus admits the correctness of the teaching of the scribes in regard to this matter, and at the same time supplements the quotation made from it by the disciples (by adding κ. ἀποκατ. π.), in which supplement the use of the future-present ἔρχεται and the future ἀποκαταστ. are to be justified on the ground that they are the ipsissima verba of the teaching in question. “Unquestionably it is precisely as they say: Elias is coming and will restore everything again.” Inasmuch as what is here meant is the work of the coming Elias, and not the whole moral work of the Messiah in regenerating the world (as in Acts 3:21), the ἀποκατάστασις πάντων, an expression taken from the rendering of Malachi 4:6 by the LXX., refers, in the sense of the scribes, to the restitutio in integrum (for such is the meaning of the word, see note on Acts 3:21) of the entire theocratic order of things by way of preparation for the Messiah, in which case we are not to think merely of a moral regeneration of the people, but also of the restoration of outward objects of a sacred character (such as the urna mannae, and so on). Jesus, on the other hand, knowing as He does that the promised coming of Elias has been fulfilled in the Baptist (Matthew 11:14), refers to the preaching and preparatory labours of the latter, in which he believes the ἀποκαταστήσει πάντα to have been realized in the highest sense, and in the way most in keeping with the prophet’s own words in Malachi 4:6 (Sirach 48:10; Luke 1:17; Luke 3:1). The coming of the real Elias, who is expected to appear before the second advent (Hilary, Chrysostom, Augustine, Theophylact, Euth. Zigabenus, the majority of the older Catholic expositors, likewise Arnoldi, Schegg), is taught by Jesus neither here nor elsewhere. See, on the contrary, Matthew 17:12 f., Matthew 11:14. This also in answer to Lechler in the Stud. u. Krit. 1854, p. 831.


Verse 12

Matthew 17:12. οὐκ ἐπέγνωσαν αὐτόν] that is, as the expected Elias. The subject is the γραμματεῖς, Matthew 17:10.

ἐν αὐτῷ] towards him, not classical, but comp. LXX. Genesis 40:14; Daniel 11:7; Luke 23:31.

ὅσα ἐθέλησαν] indicating the purely arbitrary manner in which they treated him, in contradistinction to the way in which God desired that he should have been received.

REMARK.

The incident of the transfiguration has been regarded as a vision by so early a writer as Tertullian, c. Marc. iv. 22, by Herder, Gratz, Krabbe, Bleek, Weizsäcker, Pressensé, Steinmeyer; it would have been nearer the truth if a distinction had been made between the real and the visionary elements contained in it. We have no vision, but a reality in the glorious change which came over the outward appearance of Jesus, Matthew 17:1-2, that objective element to which the ecstatic subjective manifestation owed its origin. On the other hand, we cannot but regard as visionary the appearing of Moses and Elias, and that not merely in consequence of ὤφθη, Matthew 17:3 (Acts 2:3; Acts 7:26; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 Corinthians 15:5 ff.), but owing to the vanishing away of the heavenly visitants in the cloud, and the impossibility of any bodily manifestation, at least of Moses (whose resurrection would, according to Deuteronomy 34:5 f., have to be presupposed).(461) Moreover, Matthew and Mark themselves represent the manifestation of both in such a way, that it is impossible to assert that they regarded it in the light of an actual fact; notice, on the contrary, the different modes of conception as implied in καὶ μετεμορφώθη ἔμπροσθεν αὐτῶν (not: κ. ὤφθη αὐτοῖς ΄ετα΄ορφωθείς) and ὤφθη αὐτοῖς ΄ωσῆς, etc. Only in the case of Luke is it manifest that he has followed a tradition which has divested the incident of its visionary character (Luke 9:30-31). The of course obvious and common objection, that three persons must be supposed to have witnessed the same phenomena and to have heard the same voice, is deprived of its force if it is conceded, as must necessarily be done, that a supernatural agency was here at work with a view to enable the three leading disciples to have a glimpse beforehand of the approaching glory of Him who was more to them than Moses and the prophets. However, it is attempting too much to attempt to show the higher naturalism of the incident (Lange, L. J. II. p. 904 ff., thinks that the heavenly nature of Jesus flashed forth from under the earthly; that the disciples had actually had a peep into the spirit world, and had seen Moses and Elias, which was rendered possible in their case through the peculiar frame of Christ’s mind and the intercourse with those spirits which He enjoyed), in opposition to which Ewald insists that the event was altogether of an ideal character; that the eternal perfection of the kingdom of God was unquestionably disclosed to view, in such a manner, however, that everything of a lower nature, and which was at all calculated to suggest the form which the narrative ultimately assumed, was lost sight of amid the pure light of a higher sphere of things (Gesch. Chr. p. 462). To assume as the foundation of the story (Baumgarten-Crusius) only some inward manifestation or other in Jesus Himself, such as led to His obtaining a glimpse of the glory that was to follow His death, is as decidedly at variance with the statements of the Gospels as it is to trace the matter to a vision in a dream (Rau, Symbola ad ill. ev. de metamorph., etc., 1797; Gabler in the neuest. theol. Journ. 1798, p. 517 ff., Kuinoel, Neander), in connection with which view some have likewise had recourse to the idea of a thunderstorm (Gabler), and the presence of two secret followers (Kuinoel). This way of looking at the matter is not favoured by Luke 9:32. No less inconsistent with the gospel narrative is the hypothesis of a secret interview with two unknown personages (Venturini, Paulus, Hase, Schleiermacher), in connection with which, again, a good deal has been made of atmospheric illumination, and the effect of the shadows that were projected (Paulus; Theile, z. Biogr. J. p. 55; Ammon, L. J. p. 302 ff.). The mythical view (Strauss, Scholten, Keim)—which regards the narrative as a legendary invention, and substantially ascribes its origin to a desire to see the glory of Moses on Sinai repeated in a higher form in the case of Jesus, and to represent the latter as the fulfilment of the law and the prophets—can least of all be justified here, where it is not only at variance with the studied unanimity of the evangelists in regard to the date of the occurrence, but also with the fact that the testimony of the three apostles must have gone far to prevent the myth from finding its way into the circle of their brethren; while, as regards the silence of John, it is certainly not to be explained on anti-docetic grounds (in answer to Schneckenburger, Beitr. p. 62 ff., see Strauss, II. p. 250), but it is explicable, to say the least of it, on the ground of his ideal conception of Christ’s mundane δόξα, and no more disproves the reality of the incident in question than his silence regarding so many other important historical facts already recorded by the Synoptists. Further, we must regard as purley supjective, and subversive of the intention and meaning of the evangelists, not merely the rationalistic explanation of the incident, according to which Jesus is represented as telling the three disciples in what relation He stood to Moses and Elias, and as thereby bringing them “into the light of His Messianic calling” (Schenkel), but likewise the imaginary notion of an admonitory symbol, after the manner of Revelation 1:12 ff; Revelation 11:3 ff., the historical basis of which is supposed to be contained in the fact that Peter and the first disciples had seen the risen Lord appear in heavenly radiance (Volkmar); and lastly, also the allegorical view (Weisse), according to which we are understood to have before us the symbolical conception, originating with the three enraptured apostles themselves, of the light which then dawned upon them in regard to the mission of Jesus, especially in regard to His relation to the old theocracy.

But, according to Bruno Bauer, the incident is to be regarded as the product of the conviction on the part of the church, that, in the principle on which it is founded, the powers of the past have found their glorified centre of unity.

The passage 2 Peter 1:16-18 can be of no service in the way of confirming the historical character of the incident, except for those who see no reason to reject this Epistle as spurious; but it is of great importance, partly as furnishing, all the same, an ancient testimony in favour of the occurrence itself, and the significance attached to it as a historical event; partly in reference to the telic point of view from which it is to be regarded, namely, as a foreshadowing of the impending δόξα of the Lord, in which He is to come back again, and into which His most intimate disciples were in this wonderful way privileged to gaze previous to His sufferings, in order that they might be strengthened for fulfilling the difficult task that would devolve upon them after His ascension. So far as the object of the incident is concerned, it must have been intended expressly for the disciples, as is evident from ἀκούετε αὐτοῦ.

According to what has been said above, and judging from what is stated in Matthew 9:31 as to the subject of conversation, it may be affirmed that Luke’s account bears the impress of a later stage of development (Fritzsche, Strauss, de Wette, Weisse, Ewald, Weiss), so that in point of originality we must give Matthew the preference (in answer to Schulz, Schleiermacher, Holtzmann, and others), and that even over Mark (comp. Ewald, Köstlin, p. 90; Keim, II. p. 588). See also note on Mark 9:2 ff.


Verse 14

Matthew 17:14. Notwithstanding divergence in other respects, the healing of the lunatic ( σεληνιάζ., see note on Matthew 4:24) comes next in order in all the three Synoptists (Mark 9:14 ff.; Luke 9:37 ff.),—a circumstance which also militates against the mythical view of the transfiguration.

αὐτόν] Comp. Mark 1:40; Mark 10:17. The accusative is to be understood as conveying the idea that He was directly touched by the man, as much as to say: he clasped Him by the knees. Comp. προσκυνεῖν τινα, προσπίτνειν τινα, προσπίπτειν γόνυ τινος (Pflugk, ad Eur. Hec. 339; Kühner, II. 1, p. 251).


Verse 15

Matthew 17:15. The lunatic, whose malady was regarded as the result of demoniacal possession (Matthew 17:18; Mark 5:16; Luke 5:39), was evidently suffering from epilepsy, and, according to Mark, deprived of the power of speech as well.

κακῶς πάσχειν] to be ill (opposite of εὖ πάσχ.), is likewise very common among classical writers. Hom. Od. xvi. 275; Plat. Menex. p. 244 B Xen. Anab. iii. 3. 7; Herod, iii. 146.


Verse 17

Matthew 17:17. O unbelieving and perverse generation! Comp. Philippians 2:15. By this Jesus does not mean the scribes (Calvin), but is aiming at His disciples, who are expected to apply the exclamation to themselves, in consequence of their not being able to cure the lad of his disease. In no sparing fashion, but filled with painful emotion, He ranks them, owing to their want of an energetic faith, in the category of the unbelieving generation, and hence it is that He addresses it. Bengel fitly observes: “severo elencho discipuli accensentur turbae.” That the disciples are intended (Fritzsche, Baumgarten-Crusius, Steinmeyer, Volkmar), is likewise evident from Matthew 17:20. They wanted the requisite amount of confidence in the miraculous powers conferred upon them by Christ. The strong terms ἄπιστος κ. διεστραμμ. (Deuteronomy 32:5; Philippians 2:5; Philippians 2:15), are to be explained from the deep emotion of Jesus. Nor can the people be meant, who are not concerned at all, any more than the father of the sufferer, who, in fact, invoked the help of Jesus because he had faith in Him. The words are consequently to be referred neither to all who were present (Paulus, Kuinoel, Olshausen, Krabbe, Bleek, Ewald), nor to the father (Chrysostom, Theophylact, Euth. Zigabenus, Grotius), nor to him and the people (Keim), in which latter case many go the length of holding that the disciples are exculpated, and the blame of the failure imputed to the father himself ( οὐ τῆς ἐκείνων ἀσθενείας τοσοῦτον τὸ πταῖσμα, ὅσον τῆς σῆς ἀπιστίας, Theophylact). In opposition to the context (Matthew 17:16; Matthew 17:20). Neander and de Wette explain the words in the sense of John 4:48, as though Jesus were reflecting upon those who as yet have not known what it is to come to Him under a sense of their deepest wants, and so on.

ἕως πότε κ. τ. λ.] a passing touch of impatience in the excitement of the moment: How long is the time going to last during which I must be amongst you and bear with your weakness of faith, want of receptivity, and so on?

φέρετε] like what precedes, is addressed to the disciples; it was to them that the lunatic had been brought, Matthew 17:16. This in answer to Fritzsche, who thinks that Jesus “generatim loquens” refers to the father.


Verse 18

Matthew 17:18. ἐπετίμ. αὐτῷ] He rebuked him, namely, the demon (Fritzsche, Ewald), reproached him for having taken possession of the boy. Comp. Matthew 8:26. For this prolepsis in the reference of αὐτός (which Vulgate, Theophylact, de Wette, Winer, Bleek, refer to the lunatic), see Fritzsche, Conject. p. 11 f.; Bornemann, ad Xen. Symp. viii. 34.

ἀπὸ τ. ὥρας ἐκ.] as in Matthew 15:28, Matthew 9:22.


Verse 20

Matthew 17:20. The disciples ought to have applied to themselves the general exclamation in Matthew 17:17. This they failed to do, hence their question. But the ἀπιστία with which Jesus now charges them is to be understood in a relative sense, while the πίστις, of which it is the negation, means simply faith in Jesus Christ, the depositary of supernatural power, so that, in virtue of their fellowship with His life, the disciples, as His servants and the organs of His power, were enabled to operate with greater effect in proportion to the depth and energy of the faith with which they could confide in Him.

ἐὰν ἔχητε] if you have (not: had).

ὡς κόκκον σιν.] found likewise in Rabbinical writers as a figurative expression for a very small quantity of anything. Lightfoot on Matthew 13:32. The point of the comparison does not lie in the stimulative quality of the mustard (Augustine; on the other hand, Maldonatus).

To remove mountains, a figurative expression for: to accomplish extraordinary results, 1 Corinthians 13:2. Lightfoot on Matthew 21:21; Buxtorf, Lex. Talm. p. 1653. For legends in regard to the actual removing of mountains, see Calovius.

οὐδέν] the hyperbole of popular speech. For ἀδυνατ., comp. Job 42:2.


Verse 21

Matthew 17:21. τοῦτο τὸ γένος] this species of demons to which the one just expelled belongs. Otherwise, Euth. Zigabenus: τὸ γένος τῶν δαιμόνων πάντων. So Chrysostom, Theophylact, Elsner, Fritzsche, Bleek. But the τοῦτο, used with special reference to the fact of its being a case of epilepsy, must be intended to specify a kind of demons which it is peculiarly difficult to exorcise.

ἐν προσευχῇ κ. νηστείᾳ] inasmuch as the πίστις is thereby strengthened and elevated, and attains to that pitch which is necessary in order to the casting out of such demons. The climax in Matthew 17:20-21 may be represented thus: If you have only a slender amount of faith, you will, no doubt, be able to accomplish things of an extraordinary and seemingly impossible nature; but, in order to expel spirits of so stubborn a character as this, you require to have such a degree of faith as can only be reached by means of prayer and fasting. You have neglected the spiritual preparation that is necessary to the attainment of so lofty a faith. Comp. Acts 14:23. Prayer and fasting are here represented as means for promoting faith, not as good works, which are of themselves effectual in dealing with the demons (Schegg and the older Catholics). Paulus and Ammon incorrectly suppose that the prayer and fasting are required of the sick persons themselves, with a view to some dietetic and psychological effect or other being produced upon their bodies; while Chrysostom, Theophylact, and Euth. Zigabenus are of opinion that they are demanded not merely from the healer, but also from the patient, as necessary weapons to be used against the demon. Inasmuch as ἐκπορεύεται is, according to the context, the correlative of ἐκβαλεῖν, Matthew 17:19 (comp. also ἐξῆλθεν, Matthew 17:18), we must likewise discard the view of Ewald, who thinks that in Matthew there is an allusion to a class of men whose character is such that they cannot be induced to set to work but with fasting and prayer. Comp. on the contrary, ἐκπορ., Acts 19:12 (and Mark 9:29 : ἐξελθεῖν).

Those who adopt the mythical view of the whole incident (Strauss) pretend to find the origin of the legend in 2 Kings 4:29 ff., which is no less unwarrantable than the interpretation, according to which it is treated as a symbolical narrative, intended to rebuke the want of faith on the part of the disciples (Scholten), or as a didactic figure as an admonition of the hidden Christ for an increase of faith amid the violent demoniacal excesses of the time (Volkmar). Moreover, the somewhat more circumstantial account of Mark is of a stamp so peculiar, is so clear and full of meaning, that it is not to be regarded as a later amplification, but the account in Matthew (and Luke) is rather to be looked upon as an abridgment of the former.


Verse 22-23

Matthew 17:22-23. Comp. Mark 9:30 ff.; Luke 9:43 ff.

While they were still in Galilee ( ἀναστρεφ., Xen. Cyr. viii. 8. 7, Mem. iv. 3. 8; Thuc. viii. 94; Joshua 5:5), and before they entered Capernaum (Matthew 17:24), Jesus once more (comp. Matthew 16:21) intimated to His disciples His approaching sufferings, death, and resurrection. This is not a meaningless repetition of Matthew 16:21 (Köstlin, Hilgenfeld); but this matter was introduced again because Jesus knew how much they required to be prepared for the impending crisis.

εἰς χεῖρας ἀνθρ.] into men’s hands, uttered with a painful feeling, sensible as He was of the contrast between such a fate and what He knew to be His divine dignity. It was in keeping with the feelings now present to the mind of Jesus, not to indicate that fate with so much detail as on the former occasion (Matthew 16:21).

ἐλυπήθησαν σφόδρα] therefore not impressed by the announcement of the resurrection, although it is said to have been made with so much clearness and precision. This announcement, however, is not found in Luke. See note on Matthew 16:21.


Verse 24

Matthew 17:24 ff. Peculiar to Matthew.

After the return from the Babylonian captivity, all males among the Jews of twenty years of age and upwards (on the ground of the command in Exodus 30:13 f.; comp. 2 Chronicles 24:6 : Nehemiah 10:32; 2 Kings 12:4 ff.) were required to contribute annually the sum of half a shekel, or two Attic drachmae, or an Alexandrian drachma (LXX. Genesis 23:15; Joshua 7:21), about half a thaler (1s. 6d. English money), by way of defraying the expenses connected with the temple services. See Saalschütz, Mos. R. p. 291 f.; Ewald, Alterth. p. 403; Keim, II. p. 599 f. After the destruction of the temple the money went to the Capitol, Joseph. 7:6. 6. The time for collecting this tax was the fifteenth of the month Adar. See Tract. Schekalim i. 3, ii. 7; Ideler, Chronol. I. pp. 488, 509. Certain expositors have supposed the payment here in question to have been a civil one, exacted by the Roman government—in other words, a poll-tax (see Wolf and Calovius; and of modern writers, consult especially, Wieseler, Chronol. Synopse, p. 265 ff., and Beitr. p. 108 ff.). This, however, is precluded, not merely by the use of the customary term τὰ δίδραχμα, which was well known to the reader as the temple-tax, but likewise by the incongruity which would thereby be introduced into the succeeding argument, through making it appear as though Jesus had strangely and improperly classed Himself among the kings of this world, with a view to prove with how much reason He could claim to be free. Even had He regarded Himself as David’s son, He would have been wrong in arguing thus, while, so far as the case before us is concerned, He was, to all intents and purposes, one of the ἀλλοτρίοι.

οἱλαμβάνοντες] used as a substantive: the collectors. That there were such, though Wieseler denies it, is not only evident from the nature of the case, seeing that it was not possible for everybody to go to Jerusalem, but is also proved by statements in the Tr. Schekalim (“trapezitae in unaquaque civitate,” etc.); see also Lightfoot. The plural τὰ δίδραχμα indicates the large number of didrachmae that were collected, seeing that every individual contributed one; and the article points to the tax as one that was well known. In the question put by the collectors (which question shows that this happened to be the time for collecting, but that Jesus had not paid as yet, though it is impossible to determine whether or not the question was one of a humane character, which would depend entirely upon the tone in which it was put) the plural τὰ δίδραχμα indicates that the payment had to be repeated annually, to which the present τελεῖ likewise points. That the collectors should not have asked Jesus Himself, and that Peter should have happened to be the particular disciple whom they did ask, are probably to be regarded merely as accidental circumstances. But why did they ask at all, and why in a dubious tone? They may have assumed or supposed that Jesus would claim to rank with the priests (who did not consider themselves liable for temple-tax, Tr. Schekal. i. 4), seeing that His peculiarly holy, even His Messianic, reputation cannot certainly have remained unknown to them.


Verse 25

Matthew 17:25. From the ναί of Peter it is clear that Jesus had hitherto been in the habit of paying the tax.

προέφθασεν] Since it is stated in Matthew 17:24 that the collectors came to Peter, and as one is at a loss to see why, if Jesus had been present at the same time, they should not have asked Himself, it follows that the evangelist must have ascribed what Jesus says to Peter to His immediate knowledge of the thoughts of others. Comp. Chrysostom, Theophylact, Euth. Zigabenus, Steinmeyer, Ewald, Keim. Instead of προέφθασεν λέγων (Arist. Eccl. 884; Thuc. vii. 73. 3) we might also have had προφθάσας ἔλεγε (Plat. Rep. vi. p. 500 A Thuc. viii. 51. 1). See Kühner, II. 1, p. 626 f.

σίμων] “appellatio quasi domestica et familiaris,” Bengel. Comp. Mark 14:37.

τέλη] duty upon goods.

κῆνσος] Tax upon individuals and landed property, Matthew 22:17; Matthew 22:19, the Greek φόρος in contradistinction to τέλος (indirect tax). Comp. note on Luke 20:22; Romans 13:7.

ἀπὸ τῶν ἀλλοτρ.] from those who are not members of their family, i.e. from their subjects.


Verse 26

Matthew 17:26. ἄραγευἱοί] Application: Therefore I, as the Son of God, am exempt from the tax which is payable to Jehovah, i.e. to His temple. The inference in this argument, which is of the nature of a dilemma, and which proceeds on the self-consciousness of Jesus regarding His supernatural sonship (comp. note on Matthew 22:45), is an inference a minori ad majus, as is indicated by οἱ βας. τῆς γῆς. If, indeed, in the case of earthly kings their sons are exempted from the taxes they impose, it follows that the Son of the heavenly King, the Son of God, can be under no obligation to pay the taxes which He imposes (for the temple). The plural οἱ υἱοί is justifiable in the general proposition as a generic (comp. note on Matthew 2:20) indefinite plural, but the application must be made to Jesus only, not to Peter as well (Paulus, Olshausen, Ewald, Lange, Hofmann, Schriffbew. II. 1, p. 131, Gess, Keim), inasmuch as the predicate, in the sense corresponding to the argument, was applicable to Jesus alone, while υἱοί, taken in the wider spiritual sense, would embrace not merely Peter and the apostles, but those believers in general whose connection with the Jewish temple was not broken off (John 4:21) till a somewhat later period.

The principle laid down by Jesus, that He is under no obligation to pay temple-tax on the ground of His being the Son of God, is, in thesi, to be simply recognised, and requires no justification (in answer to de Wette); but, in praxi, He waives His claim to exemption, and that from a regard to the offence which He would otherwise have given, inasmuch as the fact of His divine sonship, and the μεῖζον εἶναι τοῦ ἱεροῦ (Matthew 12:6) which it involved, were not recognised beyond the circle of believers, and He would therefore have been looked upon exclusively as an Israelite, as which He was, of course, subject to the law (Galatians 4:4). If on some other occasion we find Him asserting His Messianic right to subordinate certain legal enactments to His own will (see Matthew 12:8; John 7:21 ff.), it must be borne in mind that in such cases He had to do with enemies, in answer to whose accusation He had to appeal to the authority implied in His being commissioned to bring about the Messianic fulfilment of the law (Matthew 5:17). This commission did not supersede His personal obligation, imposed upon Him in His birth and circumcision, to comply with the law, but only gave to His obedience the higher ideal and perfect character which distinguished it.

ἐλεύθεροι] put well forward for sake of emphasis.

The idea that the δίδραχμον is given to God, is found likewise in Joseph. Antt. xviii. 4. 1.


Verse 27

Matthew 17:27. But in order that we may not scandalize them (the collectors), that we may not give them occasion to misjudge us, as though we despised the temple. Bengel: “illos, qui non noverant jus Jesu.” Jesus thus includes others along with Himself, not because He regarded Peter as strictly entitled to claim exemption, nor because He was anticipating the time when His followers generally would cease to have such obligations in regard to the temple (Dorner, Jesu sündlose Volk. p. 37), but because Peter, who, in like manner, had his residence in Capernaum (Matthew 8:14), had not paid, as yet, any more than Himself.

πορευθείς] belongs to εἰς τὴν θάλασς. (to the sea), which latter Fritzsche connects with βάλε, which, however, would have the effect of rendering it unduly emphatic.

ἄγκιστρον] It is a fish-hook (Hom. Od. iv. 369; Herod, ii. 70, al.), and not a net, which Jesus asks him to throw in, because in this instance it was a question of one particular fish. Consequently this is the only occasion in the Gospels in which mention is made of a fishing with a hook.

τὸν ἀναβάντα] out of the depths.

πρῶτον] the adjective: the first fish that has come up.

ἆρον] lift it with the hook out on the land. Jesus is therefore aware that this one will be the first to snap at the hook.

εὑρήσεις στατῆρα] that is, in the mouth of the fish. The stater was a coin equivalent to four drachmae, for which reason it is likewise called a τετράδραχμος, and must not be confounded with the gold stater (20 drachmae).

ἀντὶ ἐμοῦ κ. σοῦ] not an incorrect expression for καὶ ἀντὶ ἐμοῦ (Fritzsche), but ἀντί is used with reference to the original enactment, Exodus 30:12 ff., where the half-shekel is represented as a ransom for the soul. Comp. Matthew 20:28. With condescending accommodation, Jesus includes Himself in this view.

REMARK.

The naturalistic interpretation of this incident, so far as its miraculous features are concerned,—which, in a teleological respect, and on account of the magical character of the occurrence, Schleiermacher, L. J. p. 228, also regarded with suspicion,—has, in conformity with earlier attempts of the kind, been advocated above all by Paulus and Ammon, and consists substantially in supposing that εὑρήσεις στατ. was accomplished by the selling of the fish. But whether ἀνοίξας τὸ στόμα ατοῡ͂ be referred to the act of taking the fish from the hook (Paulus, Komment.), or even to Peter as offering it for sale, in which case αὐτοῦ is said to signify on the spot, we always have, as the result, an incongruous representation and unwarrantable perversion of what, for the narrative of a miracle, is extremely simple and appropriate, to say nothing of so enormous a price for a single fish, and that especially in Capernaum, though Paulus, in spite of the πρῶτον, understands the ἰχθύν in a collective sense. The mythical mode of explaining away this incident (Strauss, II. p. 184, according to whom it is “a legendary offshoot of tales of the sea”)—the occasion of which is to be found partly in a take of fish by Peter, partly in the(462) the stories current about jewels (for example, the ring of Polycrates, Herod, iii. 42) having been found in the inside of fish—breaks down in consequence of its own arbitrariness, and the absence of any thought or Old Testament event in which the myth might be supposed to originate. Again, it would be to make it simply a curiosity (in answer to Strauss in Hilgenfeld'sZeilschr. 18G3, p. 293 ff.) to treat it as an invention for the purpose of exhibiting the superiority of Jesus over the circumstances to which He was accommodating Himself. But Hase's hypothesis, that what was a figurative way of expressing the blessing that attended the labor by means of which the little sum was handily raised, has been transformed, in the popular legend, into an apocryphal miracle, is inconsistent with the fact that the actual miraculous capture of the fish is not once mentioned, an omission which is scarcely in keeping with the usual character of apocryphal narratives. Lastly, the view is no less unfounded which derives the narrative from a parable, in which our Lord is supposed to be representing the contrast between the righteousness of faith that distinguishes the children of God, and the legal righteousness of those who are only slaves (Weisse,Evangelienfr. p. 263 ff.).

Besides, this would be to import into the passage the Pauline contrast of a similar kind. In short, the incident must continue to be regarded as in every way as historical as the evangelist meant it to be. As for the difficulties involved in so doing, such as that of the fish snatching the hook with the stater in its mouth (not in the stomach), or that implied in the circumstance that, of all places, Capernaum was tho one where Jesus had no need whatever to have recourse to miraculous means for raising the little sum required, they must likewise continue unsolved, belonging as they do to those mysteries that are connected with miracles generally ; and while not justifying us in discarding the narrative without other reasons for so doing, they will at least warrant us in letting it stand as it is (de Wette), no matter whether the miraculous character of the affair, so fur as Jesus is concerned, is supposed to lie in what He there and then performed ("piscis eo ipso momento staterem ex fundo maris afferre jussus est," "tho fish was ordered to bring a stater at that very moment from the bottom of the sea," Bengel), or in what he knew, which latter is all that the terms of tho passage permit us to suppose (Grotius). Finally, the fact that the execution of the order given by Jesus, Matthew 17:27, is nol expressly recorded, is no reason why the reality of the thing itself should be questioned ; for, considering the character of tho Gospel, as well as the attraction which the thing must have had for Peter, the execution in question is to be assumed as a matter of course. But even apart from this, the result promised by Jesus would he sure to follow in the event of His order being complied with. For this reason Ewald's view also is unsatisfactory, which is to the effect that Jesus merely wanted to indicate with what readiness the money for the tax could be procured, the phraseology which He employed being supposed to proceed upon well-known, although extremely rare, instances of such things being found in fish.

NOTE BY AMERICAN EDITOR

The distinction which Dr. Meyer draws between tho objective reality of the Transfiguration of Jesus and the purely visionary manifestation of Moses and Elias is hardly sustained by the text. For as to the words ucjQijaav avroic, the same form is used by Paul in speaking of the appearances of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:5-7), after His resurrection, which were certainly as objectively real as tho Transfiguration itself. Nor is the possibility of any bodily manifestation of Moses an insuperable difficulty. Olshausen solves this by assuming the bodily glorification of Moses as well as Elias. "In support of this idea," he writes, "Scripture itself gives sufficient intimations (Dent, 34:6 compared with Jude 1:9 ; 2 Kings 2:11 compared with Sirach xlviii. 9, 13), which men have accustomed themselves to set down as biblical mythology ; but whatright they had to do so is another question.''1 Lange makes the better point, that "spirits of the blessed are not necessarily destitute of all corporeity."

Dr. Meyer disposes of the very serious objection to the assumed visionary character of the appearance of Moses and Elias—to wit, "that three persons must be supposed to have witnessed the same phenomena, and to have heard the same voice"—by saying that this is deprived of its force if " it is conceded that a supernatural agency was here at work with a view to enable the three leading disciples to have a glimpse beforehand of the glory" of their Master. But if a supernatural agency is here found, may we not suppose that it was equal to the task of bringing Moses and Elias before the eyes of the disciples in visible form? Where is the occasion for departing from the obvious meaning of the text, if the supernatural is fully admitted? In disposing of the natural and mythical interpretations of this event, however, Dr. Meyer is exceedingly clear.

For a full exposition of the history of the Transfiguration, from the supernatural point of view, the reader is referred to Trench, '' Studies in the Gospels,'' pp. 184-214.

 


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Bibliography Information
Meyer, Heinrich. "Commentary on Matthew 17:4". Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hmc/matthew-17.html. 1832.

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Friday, September 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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