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Bible Commentaries

John Broadus' Commentary on Matthew
Matthew 18

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-14

Matthew 18:1-14.
The Subjects Of The Messianic Reign Must Be Childlike

We are approaching the close of our Lord's ministry in Galilee. (Matthew 19:1) Convinced that their Master is the Messiah, (Matthew 16:16) the disciples begin to dispute which of them shall have the highest office in the Messianic kingdom, which they conceive of as secular rather than spiritual. They bring him this question, and he says at once that only by being childlike can they have any place at all in the Messianic kingdom; it follows that the childlike ought to be received for Christ's sake, and that any one incurs great guilt who caused them to sin (Matthew 18:5-9); and they must not be despised, for the Saviour and the Father are specially concerned for their salvation, Matthew 18:10-14. Compare Mark 9:33-50, Luke 9:46-50.

I. Matthew 18:1-4. The Subjects Of The Messianic Reign Must Be Childlike

At the same time, or in that hour, is best taken strictly, (Matthew 10:19, Matthew 26:45) but may mean more generally, at that precise period. The time must be when Jesus was in the house at Capernaum, (Matthew 17:25, Mark 9:33) and perhaps while Peter was gone to find the shekel. Came the disciples unto Jesus, saying. Luke, in his very brief account, speaks only of Jesus as seeing the reasoning of their heart. Mark says they had 'disputed one with another in the way,' apparently on the road from Cesarea Philippi to Capernaum (compare on Matthew 17:22), and that when Jesus asked them about it they were silent. Not knowing all the circumstances, we need not be nervously anxious to harmonize these accounts; but it is not difficult to suppose that they came intending to ask him the question, but hesitated; that perceiving their thought (Luke) he inquired, and they were at first silent (Mark), but at length spoke (Matt.). Who, literally, who then, who in the state of things present to their minds, implies some previous occurrence or conversation which led to the inquiry, and this may be the conversation to which Mark refers. Is greatest in the kingdom of heaven, i. e., the Messianic kingdom (see on "Matthew 3:2"). They were thinking of it as a temporal kingdom, in which there would of course be higher and lower officials. 'Greatest' is literally 'greater,' i.e., greater than all others, compare on Matthew 11:11, Matthew 13:32, and see Buttm. p. 84. Luke (Luke 9:46) says that the point in their thoughts was 'which of them should be greatest'; but they asked the question in a more general form. Notice that the dispute closely follows a prediction that he would die (Mark and Luke), as in similar cases afterwards. (Matthew 20:20, Luke 22:24) Convinced that he was the Messiah,(Matthew 16:16) and not understanding how be could literally rise again (see on "Matthew 17:9"), their minds fastened exclusively upon the idea that somehow or other he was about to set up Messianic kingdom. (Matthew 18:28) And though he had recently declared it impossible to follow him save in self-renunciation, (Matthew 16:24) they were intent on self-aggrandizement. The statement in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:19) concerned a greatness which many might attain; here the question is, who shall have the single highest place. Our Lord had treated Peter, James, and John with marked distinction, in permitting them alone to witness the Transfiguration. (Matthew 17:1) Forbidden to tell any one what they had seen, (Matthew 17:9) they would naturally say so to the other disciples when asked where they and the Master had been. Besides, Peter was some time before addressed in the presence of the others in a manner which gave him special prominence. (Matthew 16:17 ff.) And just now Jesus has directed that Peter's temple-contribution shall be paid along with his own through a special miracle, taking no notice of the others. About six months later, we shall find James and John, with their mother as spokesman, actually requesting that they may have the two highest places in the kingdom, (Matthew 20:20) and the other ten greatly displeased about it. And the dispute will be renewed even on the night before the crucifixion. As to the probable grounds for individual claims of pre-eminence, see on "Matthew 19:30". From all this it appears that we here reach a turning-point, the disciples beginning a contention which will be renewed unto the end.

Matthew 18:2-4. A little child. The house was probably that of Peter, (Matthew 17:25) and so the child may have been Peter's child. Called unto him, shows a child able to walk; it could sit by his side (Luke), yet was small enough to be naturally taken in his arms (Mark), and so young as to be appropriately a pattern, to afford an object-lesson. It cannot therefore have been personally a believer (Matthew 18:6). A late tradition makes this child Ignatius, martyred about A. D. 115, but it is without authority, and evidently arose from a fanciful misinterpretation of certain phrases in his letters. Verily I say unto you, indicating something very important, see on "Matthew 5:18". Except ye be converted, or turn,(1) viz., from your present sinful ambition and jealousy. The Latin term 'convert,' 'be converted,' formerly expressed this meaning exactly, but it has come to have an exclusively technical sense in our religious usage, which makes it quite misleading in this and some other passages. Persons long ago "converted " may often need to turn from some wrong practice or disposition. And become as little children. Like other illustrations, this must not be rigorously pressed. Little children are by no means faultless, and they sometimes plainly shew envy and jealousy. But we naturally regard a little child as a pattern (i. e., compared with adults) of tender affections, confiding trust, humility, docility, simplicity, readiness to believe and obey. Chrys.: "Both from envy the little child is pure, and from vainglory, and from longing for the first place; and he is possessed of the greatest of virtues, simplicity, and whatever is artless and lowly.... And the child which he set in the midst I suppose to have been a very young child indeed, free from all these passions." Origen suggests a child's readiness to cease from grief, fear, anger, and its disregard of social distinctions among its playmates. Theophyl.: "We must be children in humility of mind, not in childishness of thought; in being without evil, not in being without sense." Ye shall not, simply the strong doubled negative (see on "Matthew 16:22"), enter into the kingdom of heaven (compare on Matthew 5:20). While they are disputing which is to have the highest official position in the kingdom, let them see to it that they get into the kingdom at all. This interpretation of the object lesson is omitted here by Mark and Luke, who however give the same thought as spoken on a later occasion, (Mark 10:15, Luke 18:17) where Matt. omits it. (Matthew 19:15) Nothing is more natural than that so weighty a sentence should have been uttered on both occasions. Men had long been pressing vehemently into the kingdom. (Matthew 11:12) Were the apostles at this moment still entirely out of it, still unrenewed, (John 3:3) essentially destitute of saving faith? They would decide this question by turning from their worldly ambition and jealousy, and becoming childlike. Judas, for example, did not do so (John 12:4-6), for he was not a child of God, but a 'devil.' (John 6:70 f.) Whosoever therefore. Since in general, they must resemble little children in order to enter the kingdom, it follows that whosoever shall humble himself as this little child is humble, will be the greatest in the kingdom. Humility is thus presented as the principal thing in a child to be imitated by Messiah's subjects, and in that the disciples had just shown themselves particularly lacking. Observe that the question was particular, 'who'; the answer is general, 'whosoever.' 'Shall humble' is the same root as 'lowly' in Matthew 11:29; compare Matthew 23:12. 'As this little child' humbles himself, would be grammatically possible, but is forbidden by the connection. The same is (the) greatest, with the article, because a definite person (compare Matthew 18:1).

II. Matthew 18:5-9. These Lowly Subjects Of Messiah Should Be Kindly Received, And Should Not Be Led Into Sin

This is a kindred truth, suggested by the use of the little child as an object lesson. In my name, literally, upon my name (as in Matthew 24:5, Acts 2:38), Christ's name being the ground of the reception—receiving not on the ground of distinction, wealth, personal agreeableness, etc., but on the ground of Christ's name. (Compare on Matthew 28:19.) One such little child. So Mark, 'one of such little children.' These expressions do not refer to the literal child but to the childlike believer. (Compare Matthew 18:6.) Chrys.: "By a little child here, he means the men that are thus simple and lowly, and abject and contemptible in the judgment of the common sort." If we bear in mind the frequent association in Scripture language of lowly spirit and lowly lot, (Matthew 5:3) it will seem likely that this latter idea enters here, as it certainly does in Matthew 18:10. The reference in Matthew and Mark then, is plainly to the lowly believer. But Luke says, (Luke 9:48, R.V.) 'whosoever shall receive this little child in my name.' Luke's account is very brief, omitting the sayings of our Matthew 18:3 and Matthew 18:4. The idea had become familiar to all Christian minds that Jesus used a little child for an object-lesson, and so it is likely that Luke meant 'this little child' representatively, the lowly believer who is like this child. Oosterzee (Lange): "It is self-evident that the expression is applicable, not to the child in itself, but to the child as a type of childlike minds." The usual interpretation is to this effect. If, however, we understand receiving this little child itself, the idea will still be to receive it, not for its own sake, but 'in my name,' and thus as the Saviour's pattern (Weiss) of what his disciples ought to be, and that involves an honest desire to be what the pattern proposes. The disciples were in a jealous mood, not disposed to be lowly themselves, nor to treat the lowly with kindness. Jesus teaches that his followers, though they possess no earthly grandeur, no place of power and pride, should be received in his name; that to receive the lowliest Christian in character and condition—yea, to receive a little child as his appointed pattern of such lowly character—would be receiving Christ himself; and Mark and Luke add, 'whosoever shall receive me receiveth him that cent me.' (Compare on Matthew 10:40 f.; Matthew 25:40) Receiving here seems to denote, not merely hospitality, but companionship, friendship, etc. Those who are not personally or socially attractive may be heartily received as Christ's representatives. Observe 'one,' to receive even a single such person is to receive Christ.

Matthew 18:6 f. At this point, as recorded by Mark (Mark 9:38) and Luke, (Luke 9:49) John interrupted our Lord. The idea of receiving in his name suggested a recent occasion on which John and other disciples, perhaps while coming in a separate party from Cesarea Philippi (see on "Matthew 17:22"), had seen a man casting out demons in the name of Jesus and had forbidden him, because he did not join them in following Jesus about. The Master's beautiful and instructive reply (with which compare above on Matthew 12:30), is so managed as to come naturally back to the subject he had just touched. upon before the interruption (compare Mark 9:41 with 42). Perhaps Matthew's reason for omitting the incident was his anxiety to preserve the continuity of the discourse, Matthew 18:6 being closely connected with Matthew 18:5. In Matthew 18:5 the thought was of receiving one such little child; here it is that of causing such a one to sin; afterwards the discourse passes by natural association of ideas to various persons and things that cause men to sin (Matthew 18:7-9), finally returning (Matthew 18:10 ff.) to another thought concerning childlike believers. One of these little ones which believe in me (see also in Mark 9:42), shows that the reference is certainly not to unconscious infants, but to childlike believers; this would seem to settle the question as to Matthew 18:5 and Matthew 18:10. Comparatively young children are sometimes believers, but infants cannot be (compare Beza). Offend—or, cause to stumble, or to sin, see on "Matthew 5:29". It were better (or is profitable) for him, viz., in comparison with the fate that awaits him. So on a later occasion. (Luke 17:2) A mill-stone.(1) The ordinary mill-stone, turned by hand, (Matthew 24:41) was comparatively small; here it is (Rev. Ver., margin) 'a millstone turned by an ass,' which would be quite large, and this makes the expression very strong. Equally strong are the phrases drowned, sunk, to the very bottom, and in the depth of the sea, far from the shore, where the sea is deep. Drowning was a punishment common among the Greeks and Romans, the Syrians and Phoenicians, and had been once practised, that we know of, in the Lake of Galilee, in the early part of Herod's reign. ("Ant.," 14,15,10.) Wicked men often think it great sport to induce a Christian to sin, especially one who seems very meek and gentle. If they can make him violently angry, or lead him into excessive levity, to say nothing of gross vices, they are prodigiously amused and gratified. Such persons ought to remember these solemn and awful words of the compassionate Saviour. Woe unto the world because of offences, of occasions of stumbling (see on "Matthew 5:29"); compare Matthew 26:24, Luke 17:1. Theophylact: "In his philanthropy he laments over the world, as destined to be damaged by the stumbling-blocks. But why not rather help? We answer, that lamenting is a sort of help. For often those whom our exhortation did not profit, come to their senses when we lament over them." For it must needs be. Stumbling-blocks are a necessary part of a state of probation and corrective discipline, and God will not prevent their coming. Beza: "There is a distinction between necessity and compulsion." Compare 1 Corinthians 11:19. Chrys : "As though a physician should say, it must needs be that this disease should come on, but it is not a necessary consequence that he who gives heed should be of course destroyed by the disease."

Matthew 18:8 f. Having shown the guilt of causing lowly Christians to stumble, he adverts to cases in which we become stumbling-blocks to ourselves. Observe the pointed address in the second person singular, thy, etc.; compare Matthew 18:15 ff., and see on "Matthew 6:2". For Matthew 6:8 f. see on "Matthew 5:29"f., which is substantially the same. Cut it off, is the correct Greek text, easily changed to cut them off, Mark 9:48-50 adds some kindred solemn thoughts.

III. Matthew 18:10-14. These Lowly Christians Must Not Be Despised

The idea of childlike or lowly character is here connected by a natural suggestion with that of lowly station, humble circumstances. The same association of ideas is seen in Matthew 5:3 and Matthew 11:5, and probably above in Matthew 11:5. Little ones here denote, not little children, but childlike believers, as in Matthew 11:3, Matthew 11:6; so the Fathers, so Calvin and Beza, and nearly all modern commentators.(1) Men are very apt to despise Christians on the ground that they include so large a proportion of persons in humble life, poor, and often ignorant; (1 Corinthians 1:26 ff.) and their very humility, though one of the loveliest of all human dispositions, is regarded by many proud, ungodly people as nothing but mean spiritedness. To prevent despising a single one of these little ones, lowly in character and lot, our Lord calls special attention to the reason which follows.

I say unto you, see on "Matthew 5:18". However humble in the estimation of worldly men, believers have angels as their attendants, sent forth to serve God for their benefit, (Hebrews 1:14) and these angels of theirs enjoy in heaven the highest dignity and consideration, like persons admitted to the very presence of a monarch, and allowed, not once, but continually, to behold his face. The seclusion in which Oriental monarchs live made this image very expressive; see 1 Kings 10:8, 2 Kings 25:19, Esther 1:14; Tobit 12:15; Luke 1:19, and compare above on Matthew 5:8. Surely they who have as their attendants these high and honoured ministers of the court of heaven, are not to be despised, whatever may be their earthly condition.

There is in this no sufficient warrant for the popular notion of "guardian angels," one angel especially assigned to each individual; it is simply said of believers as a class that there are angels which are their angels; but there is nothing here or elsewhere to show that one angel has special charge of one believer. Daniel and Zechariah speak of the angel of a particular country, as the angel of Persia, the angel of Greece; we know nothing beyond the fact thus revealed, nothing as to the nature or extent of the protection or influence implied. But the Jews were not satisfied with this idea of national influence or guardianship, and advanced to the notion of a guardian angel for each individual, as in the beautiful story of Tobit, and in the Rabbinical writings. Compare the Greek fancy of a guiding and protecting daimon, as spoken of by Socrates, and especially by Epictetus (I. 14). The disciples who were praying for Peter during his imprisonment, when the girl insisted that he was at the gate, sprang to the conclusion that he had just been put to death and this was "his angel", (Acts 12:15) according to a notion that a man's guardian angel was apt to appear to friends just after his death, with his form and voice. But the views of these disciples were erroneous on many subjects, and are not an authority for us unless sanctioned by inspiration. It cannot be positively asserted that the idea of guardian angels is an error, but there is no Scripture which proves it true, and passages which merely might be understood that way do not suffice for the basis of a doctrine. On the other hand it would appear that not sufficient importance is popularly attached to the agency of angels with reference to Christians in general. They are represented as God's messengers (both the Hebrew and Greek words signifying messenger), and his agents in both ordinary and extraordinary matters with reference to the bodies and the souls of men. Their agency is represented as both concurring with, and controlling, the action of physical causes. They minister to God especially for the benefit of them that shall inherit salvation (Hebrews 1:14, where 'minister for them' really meant this, but is popularly misunderstood as meaning minister to them) They protect the human servant of God when in danger and difficulty. (Psalms 91:11, Matthew 4:6) They are present during our worship, and we are enjoined to preserve decorum through respect for them. (1 Corinthians 11:10) In the judgment they will be agents in separating the righteous from the wicked. (Matthew 13:41, Matthew 24:31). They can doubtless reach and affect our minds in the same way as is done by Satan and his subordinates, all of whom appear to be merely fallen angels; but like human teachers they can influence the mind to spiritual good only by the help of the Holy Spirit, while our fallen nature offers itself readily to the influence of the fallen angels. While avoiding all mere sentimental fancies about the angels, and everything that approaches to worshipping them (Colossians 2:18, Revelation 22:8 f.) we may well feel for them a personal gratitude and affection, as fellow-servants of God and exalted friends to ourselves. The common notion that human beings may become angels after death, is utterly unscriptural. The redeemed in glory will "judge angels," involving superiority over them. (1 Corinthians 6:3). The once popular Sunday-school song,"I want to be an angel," is quite misleading. It may be added that the word 'angel' or 'messenger' has some other applications in Scripture, as to prophets, (Haggai 1:13, Malachi 3:1) to priests, (Malachi 2:7) and to the commissioner of God put in charge of a particular church. (Revelation 1:20, Revelation 2:1, etc.)

Matthew 18:11-14. There can be no doubt that Matthew 18:11 is spurious here, being omitted by the earliest Greek manuscripts and several early versions and Fathers, and manifestly borrowed by copyists from Luke 19:10, where all documents contain it. In such a case there is nothing lost to Scripture as a whole. Our Lord here gives a further reason why no on should despise his believing little ones (Matthew 18:10, Matthew 18:14.) One of them may seem to men as unimportant as a single sheep gone astray from a large flock; but the kindly shepherd goes after the wandering sheep, and God will take pains to save the lowliest believer. The same parabolic illustration was employed on a later occasion. (Luke 15:4) How think ye, or, what do you think? He appeals to their own sense of propriety and judgment of probability, compare 1 Corinthians 11:13. And goeth into the mountains. The Greek of the common text is ambiguous, and might mean 'doth he not leave the ninety and nine upon the mountains and go and seek'; and more probably correct is the reading of several early documents 'will he not leave the ninety and nine upon the mountains,' etc. Of course the substantial sense is the same. Between the readings your Father and 'my Father' (Rev. Ver. margin), it is difficult to decide, as the latter, though strongly attested, may have come from 1 Corinthians 11:10; the difference in meaning would be slight. That in 1 Corinthians 11:14 represents a peculiar Greek construction, explained on Matthew 6:29. Observe 'one of these little ones,' as in Matthew 6:12, Matthew 6:10, Matthew 6:6, Matthew 6:5. The application of the parable in Matthew 6:14 would be inexplicable if 'little ones' meant infants as distinguished from adults; and would be obscure if that phrase meant simply believers regarded as humble in character like little children (Matthew 18:3 f.), for such believers in no sense correspond to the straying sheep. But when there has been introduced the associated idea of lowly condition (see on Matthew 18:10), with the ignorance and grossness which so often attach to the lowest classes of men and cause them to seem of little account, not worth caring for, then the application becomes plain.

Homiletical And Practical

Matthew 18:1. The disciples contending who shall be greatest. (1) This shows that they were like us, and so that we may become like them. (2) It was an evil hard to cure in them, and it will not easily be cured in us. (3) The Saviour took great pains to correct it in them; let us learn from the lessons he taught them, Matthew 18:2-4, Luke 18:14, Matthew 20:24-28, Luke 22:24-27, John 21:15.

Matthew 18:2-4. Our Lord's object lessons. (Compare the old prophets and Acts 21:11) (1) The scourge of cords, John 2:15, compare Matthew 21:12. (2) The little child, Matthew 21:2, compare Matthew 19:13, Matthew 19:15. (3) The barren fig-tree, Matthew 21:18 f. (4) Washing the disciples' feet, John 13:3 ff. (5) Baptism. (6) The bread and wine.—Christians must be childlike. (1) Not in mind and speech, 1 Corinthians 14:20, 1 Corinthians 13:11. (2) In humility and freedom from jealousy, compare 1 Corinthians 14:20. (3) In teachableness and submission to divine authority, compare Ephesians 6:1. Vinet (in Luketter.): "While in the world the teacher says to the child, behave like a man, Jesus Christ says to the man, behave like a child." Henry: "Humility is a lesson so hardly learned that we have need by all ways and means to be taught it. When we look upon a little child, we should be put in mind of the use Christ made of a child."

Matthew 18:4. Our Lord's lessons in humility. (1) Precepts, Matthew 20:26 f.; Matthew 28:12. (2) Illustrations, Luke 14:7-11, Luke 18:9-14. (3) Object-lessons, Luke 18:2-4, John 13:3 if. (4) His own character and example, Matthew 11:29, Philippians 2:8.

Chrys.: "Where envy is and love of glory, there even sincere friendship has no strength. For as those of the same craft cannot love one another with a perfect and genuine love, so is it with rivals in honour also, and with them that long for the same worldly objects."

Matthew 18:6. Leading Christians to sin. (1) Why wicked men do this. For amusement, through contempt (Matthew 18:10), to quiet their own consciences, to promote their own sinful aims. (2) How wicked men do this. By intentional example, by pretended friendship, by argument, by flattery, by ridicule, by sudden temptation of the senses, etc. (3) Wherein lies the guilt of doing this. (a) It shows delight in sin, and makes one a willing helper of Satan. (b) It shows hatred of holiness, and open hostility to God. (c) It is doing the greatest possible unkindness and injustice to a fellow-creature. (d) It reacts upon one's own soul to produce a yet more aggravated wickedness. Thus may we partially see the ground for the Saviour's awful warning. Compare Matthew 25:45.

Matthew 18:10. Despising Christians. (1) Why Christians are often despised. Many of them are ignorant; most are poor; they eschew fashionable vices; they will not defend their honour by brute force; their seriousness can be easily ridiculed; their humility can be regarded as mean spiritedness; their goodness can be represented as hypocrisy; their faults attract attention by contrast with general good conduct; they often incur reproach through unwise action when their intentions are good. (Colossians 4:5) (2) Why Christians ought not to be despised. They are at least trying to do what all ought to be doing; many of them are without reproach and above suspicion, and some are the excellent of the earth; they render great service to society; (Matthew 5:13 f.) all real Christians are children of God, who sends angels from his own presence to care for them; they will finally become free from all fault, and glorious forever: (Matthew 18:14). Chrys.: "See by how many things he is urging the care of our mean brethren. Say not then, such a one is a blacksmith, a shoemaker, a ploughman, a fool—and so despise him."


Verses 15-35

Matthew 18:15-35.
How To Deal With A Brother Who Has Wronged Us

This is found here in Matthew only, though stone of the expressions are paralleled on other occasions in Luke. The disciples having shown jealousy and selfish ambition (Matthew 18:1), our Lord urged upon them humility and mutual kindness, and pointed out the great wickedness of causing the humblest Christian to sin. (Matthew 18:2-14.) He now proceeds to give directions as to what course one is to pursue towards a fellow-Christian who has sinned. This is divided into two parts, (1) efforts to win back such a brother, Matthew 18:15-20; (2) readiness to forgive great and often repeated offences, Matthew 18:21-35.

I. Matthew 18:15-20. Efforts To Win Back A Brother Who Has Sinned

If thy brother shall trespass, or sin. The addition in the common text against thee, is wanting in several of the earlier documents,(1) and was doubtless brought in by copyists from Matthew 18:21, just as in Luke 17:3, it was inserted from the next verse. In this general form the directions of the passage apply to all attempts to win back a brother from sin. (Compare James 5:19 f.; Leviticus 19:17) To act quietly, and if possible privately, is hardly less important in other cases than when the sin was against ourselves. Still, the following context suggests personal offences, and that is still more plainly the case in Luke 17:3 f. The word 'sin' was by Tyn. and followers translated 'trespass,' probably because that word is used in Matthew 6:14; and they translate it likewise in Luke 17:3 f. Notice 'thy brother,' the following precepts being for individual action (Matthew 18:15-17), after which he returns to the plural. (Compare on Matthew 6:2.) In Luke 5:23 the injurer is addressed; here it is the injured. Brother' might mean any man (see on Matthew 5:22), but here means a brother Christian, as shown by the reference to the church in Luke 5:17. Go and tell (show) him his fault. 'And' after 'go,' is omitted by the correct text. The word means go right along, as in Matthew 4:10, Matthew 5:24, Matthew 13:44, etc. 'Show him his fault' is, more strictly, convict him of his fault, as in John 8:46, John 16:8, James 2:9. To convince a man that he has erred, especially that he has wronged the person addressing him, is a difficult and delicate task. Some wise counsels were given in Ecclus. Sirach 19:13-17. A famous Rabbi of later times said (Wun.), "I wonder whether there is any one in these times that accepts reproof" (compare above on Matthew 7:4). Another replied, "I wonder whether any one nowadays knows how to give admonition." Between thee and him alone. Thus the injurer would be more likely to acknowledge his fault than if approached in company, so as to arouse his pride; and thus the difficulty if settled need never be known at all. Thou hast gained thy brother,(2) might mean only gained him for thyself, but probably means also (Ewald, Meyer, Weiss) gained him for God and salvation. (1 Corinthians 9:19-22, 1 Peter 3:1) In, or at, the mouth of two or three witnesses. It would seem to us more natural to say 'two or three witnesses,' but 'two witnesses or three,' is the Greek order, and so in 2 Corinthians 13:1, both corresponding to Deuteronomy 17:6, Deuteronomy 19:15. Compare John 8:17, Hebrews 10:28. There is nothing to forbid the 'one or two more' from also helping to convince him. But with these as witnesses he cannot afterwards deny, or profess to have forgotten, what he had conceded. And if the matter has at last to come before the church, these witnesses can declare what passed in the private interview.

Matthew 18:17. Only as a third step, when the two more private efforts have failed, must he tell it unto the church. As to the general uses of the word ekklesia, rendered 'church,'(1) see on Matthew 16:28. In the present passage it cannot mean the Jewish synagogue (Calvin, Beza, Fritz.); for it is impossible that Matthew 16:18-20 should have been spoken with reference to a Jewish synagogue. It must here mean one of two things. (1) It may be the body of Christ's disciples existing at the time he speaks, including the apostles. (Matthew 18:18.) It seems to be intimated by this passage, together with Matthew 16:18, that as the end of his ministry approached, Jesus began to regard and speak of his followers as a sort of community or association, a thing which would in itself appear not unnatural. The twelve apostles seem to have been grouped in companies of four (see on "Matthew 10:2"). Yet we can hardly suppose that they alone constituted the ekklesia here spoken of, since there is no clear analogy for applying the term to them, and since Matthew 16:19 f. refers, by common consent, to any gathering of believers, and not simply to a gathering of apostles. Upon this view, then, the word must denote a general community, including the apostles. The exact constitution of this supposed community cannot be determined. Some would liken it more to the Jewish synagogues, others to the churches described in Paul's Epistles; neither side can prove its point. (1) The word 'church' may be used by anticipation for one of the churches founded by the apostles. It might be taken for granted from the general analogy of the synagogues, that there would be some sort of assembly or congregation to which the person addressed in these instructions would belong. Perhaps the two ideas might be combined; 'the church' might mean at the moment the existing loosely organized community of Christ's followers then after the Day of Pentecost the one organized assembly at Jerusalem, and still later the local assembly with which the persons in question should be connected; e. g., 'the church at Corinth,' 1 Corinthians 5:12. This question is of no great importance for the interpretation of the passage before us, whatever interest it may possess in general ecclesiastical theory. Tyndale, Cram, and Gen., correctly translated the word by 'congregation'; Wyc. and Rheims gave 'church;' and this was one of "the old ecclesiastical words" which, by direction of King James, his Revisers retained. The Rev. Ver. of 1881 has placed 'congregation' here in the margin, probably through recognition of the fact that the meaning of the originalis in this case somewhat undefined; for the word congregation has become gradually modified in meaning by usage, and can no longer be in general employed as the equivalent of church. Let him be unto thee, etc. The Rev. Ver. properly translates, as the Gentile and the publican, one with whom you have no communion or association, Romans 16:17; 2 Thessalonians 3:14 (compare on Matthew 5:46 f). This does not distinctly teach what we call excommunication, but contains the germs of that which Paul afterwards clearly taught.(1 Corinthians 5, 3-5)

Matthew 18:18. Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth. He is directly addressing the disciples alone, (Matthew 18:1) probably only the Twelve; but he has just mentioned the action of a church, and so the reference here seems to be not to apostolic action, but to church action (Bleek, Keim). Whatever Christ's people, assembled in their organized congregation or church, may decide, is ratified in heaven, i.e., by God—unless, of course, the decision be in itself wrong. The point is that the church has God's authority to decide. The reference here is especially to the settlement of a difficulty between brethren, but the statement is a general one. The power some time before given to Peter, (Matthew 16:19) is now clearly given to others; the only question being whether it is to the apostles or to a church.

Matthew 18:19 f. This is closely connected with the preceding. The church expresses the view, hotel an individual, but a number of Christians concurring in an opinion, and so is more likely to have the divine approval. He now adds that any petition in which two Christians unite, will be granted by God. Agree. The Greek word is used primarily of musical instruments that make the same sound, then of harmony, symphony, where the sounds agree, though not identical, then of agreement in general. Origen on this passage revels in the fancy of symphony in prayer. But it is doubtful whether more is here intended than the general idea of agreeing. On earth, as in Matthew 18:18. You pray "on earth." the "Father who is in heaven" answers. As touching, or simply 'about,' 'concerning.' Anything that they shall ask, not simply any decision that a church shall make (is), but any petition which even two shall agree in offering. It shall be done, or 'shall come to pass,' 'take place,' see on "Matthew 6:10". My Father which is in heaven, as in Matthew 18:10; he gives his assurance concerning his Father (see on "Matthew 6:9"). This promise is of course understood as limited, compare on Matthew 7:7. The words 'in my name' are naturally reflected back from Matthew 7:20 upon the foregoing promise by the connecting 'for,' so that we have here an implied anticipation of John 16:23. Men are more influenced by the united request of many persons than by the request of one; and this holds of requests to God. It applies also not merely to a large assembly, but to even two or three, when gathered in the Saviour's name, and agreeing in their petition. In my name is here in Greek a different construction from John 18:5, but without substantial difference of meaning (see on "Matthew 28:19"). They are assembled with reference to Christ, and not to some other person or object—assembled according to his teaching, in reliance on him as their Saviour, with desire to please him and to advance his cause. The pronoun I is not expressed in the Greek, and so is not emphatic, though commonly so uttered in English.(1) The point is not that I am there, but that I am there, in the midst of them. Theophyl: "There, not far away to be sent after and waited for, but there." Our Lord here distinctly points forward to a time when he will be corporeally absent but spiritually present. So in some of the instructions in Matthew 10, in the farewell discourse of John 14-17, and in the parting words of Matthew 28:20. Notice that the language is perfectly general. It is no longer 'two of you,' but in general 'two or three'; it is not 'there I shall be,' but 'there I am,' a general fact. And it holds, not merely of a large assembly, but of the smallest gathering in his name. He is there to give authority to their action as a church (Matthew 18:18), by making it his action, and to give efficiency to their petitions (Matthew 18:19), by adopting them as his own. It shall be done for them of my Father, for I am there. The Mishna (Aboth) has a similar expression: "Where two sit and occupy themselves with the law, the Shekinah is between them. Malachi 3:16."

II. Matthew 18:21-35. Readiness To Forgive A Brother Who Has Wronged Us

Compare on Matthew 6:12, Matthew 6:14. Jesus had just been speaking of the proper way to act when a brother "sins," with special reference to personal offences. (Matthew 18:15.) This suggests to Peter a practical inquiry, which he approaches the Master to make. Then (Matthew 18:21) is therefore clearly to be understood strictly. (Compare on Matthew 3:13) Jesus replies (Matthew 18:22), and then goes on to enforce the duty of forgiveness by a parable. (Matthew 18:22-35.)

Came, or approached, stepped forward from the group of disciples and came close to Jesus and asked him. Every person who attempts to exercise a forgiving spirit towards those who do him wrong, will sometimes have occasion to feel that Peter's question was a practical one. We bring ourselves up from a sense of duty, to the point of forgiving; behold! very soon the same man commits an equal or greater wrong; and so, perhaps, again and again. How long are we bound to let this go on? How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? The former clause is simply the basis of the latter; so in the much discussed passage, Romans 6:17, and so perhaps in Luke 24:18. Tyndale, Cram, Gen., render, 'how oft shall I forgive my brother, if he sin against me?' This expresses the thought, but takes unnecessary liberties with the phrase. Until seven times? He probably thought this a very high number. Chrys.: "Peter supposed he was saying something great." The Talmud of Babylon says, "When a man sins against another, they forgive him once, they forgive him a second time, they forgive him a third time, but the fourth time they do not forgive him" 'Seven,' among its many uses, was sometimes a round number, Leviticus 26:21; Deuteronomy 28:25; Psalms 79:12; Proverbs 24:16, etc. So our Lord, when speaking of this subject on a subsequent occasion, says, 'Seven times in the day.' (Luke 17:4) Seventy times seven is the natural meaning of the Greek But it may mean (Rev. Ver. margin) 'seventy-seven times,' which some of the best expositors prefer (Origen, Bengel, Ewald, Keim, Meyer), because precisely the same expression is found in the Sept. translation of Genesis 4:24, where the Hebrew can signify nothing else than 'seventy-seven times.' Compare Moulton in Winer, 314, n. Either way it is a general expression, which practically removes all limit to the repetitions of forgiveness. (Theophyl.) Of course all this rests on the supposition that we believe the man sincerely repents. (Luke 17:4) Otherwise we are not bound to forgive even once, in the full sense of restoring to confidence and affection. (See on "Matthew 6:14").

Matthew 18:23. Therefore. Since the Messiah requires his followers to forgive, and no matter how often (Matthew 18:21 f.), therefore the Messianic reign resembles the story about to be told; under that reign men will be severely dealt with if they refuse to forgive (Matthew 18:35). The kingdom of heaven, see on "Matthew 3:2". Is likened, or has been likened, see on "Matthew 13:24". Unto a certain king, literally, to a man, a king. The action of the Divine King is illustrated by that of a human king. Would take account, (wished to make a reckoning). This and 'to reckon' in Matthew 13:24 are kindred expressions, and ought not to have been differently rendered. Besides, 'take account of,' is misleading, the idea being to settle accounts with. His servants, literally slaves (doulos), see on "Matthew 8:6". It has always been common in the East to call the court officials the slaves of the king.—They are as dependent on his arbitrary will as a slave on his master, and with the servility which despotism engenders, they often seem even to delight in calling themselves by that name. This word doulos is similarly used in Matthew 23:2 ff., and in 1 Kings 1:47; the more common word in that sense is pals (see on "Matthew 14:2"). In a kindred but not degrading spiritual sense Paul delights to call himself a doulos of Jesus Christ, and so James, Peter, Jude. In the parable, therefore, the king's 'servants' are the great officers of government, who received his revenues and attended to their disbursement. It was quite possible in one of the great Oriental despotisms for a treasurer, or the satrap of a province, to embezzle as much as twelve millions of dollars. Our Lord purposely supposes a very strong case, in order the better to illustrate the vast disparity between what God forgives to us, and what we are called to forgive to others.

Matthew 18:24-27. Ten thousand talents. Besides the difference between a talent of silver and of gold, the gold talent varied greatly in value for different countries and periods. Archaeological exactness is here of no importance. According to margin of Rev. Ver., the ten thousand talents would amount to near twelve million dollars. We may see how vast the sum is by comparisons. The amount provided by David for building the temple was three thousand talents of gold, and seven thousand of silver, and the princes gave over five thousand talents of gold and ten thousand of silver, (1 Chronicles 29:4, 1 Chronicles 29:7) and the amount which Haman offered the King of Persia, for the destruction of the Jews, was ten thousand talents of silver. (Esther 3:9) It is not necessary to suppose that the parable narrates a historical fact, but such things did happen. (Compare on Matthew 13:3) To be sold, and his wife and children, and all that he had. It is still common in Oriental countries to inflict all this upon a man of the highest station. The law of Moses allowed a man himself to be sold for theft, (Exodus 22:3) or debt. (Leviticus 25:39, 2 Kings 4:1) Worshipped, the prostration before a monarch, see on "Matthew 2:11"; the Greek has here the imperfect tense, describing him as engaged in this lowly homage. The man only asked for indulgence, and he would pay. Perhaps he really hoped to do so; for men who go into vast fraudulent operations are usually of very sanguine temperament. Loosed (released) him, and forgave him the debt. 'Loosed' (Com. Ver.) would now imply that he had been bound or imprisoned, a thing not indicated nor probable; he was 'released' from arrest and from obligation. 'The debt' is here more exactly (Rev. Ver., margin) 'the loan.' In his compassionate mood the king chooses to speak of it as a loan, not an embezzlement; afterwards, in Matthew 18:32, it is literally 'debt.'

Matthew 18:28-30. One of his fellow-servants. One of the other court-officials; from the smallness of the debt we should think of him as an inferior officer. A hundred pence, or shillings. The Roman denarius, the word always used where our English versions have 'penny,' varied in value at different periods; if we take the estimate in margin of Rev. Ver., 'a hundred pence' will be seventeen dollars of our money. See, then, the disparity of the two debts—twelve million dollars, seventeen dollars. Or we could get the effect of round numbers by saying ten million dollars and ten dollars. This pictures the difference between the guilt of our sins against God and that of a fellow-man's sins against us. Took him by the throat, or more literally, went to choking him. Pay that thou owest, or pay, if thou owest anything; the debt is small and hardly amounts to anything, but he is determined to have it. The Roman law allowed a creditor to seize his debtor and drag him before the judge, and Roman writers repeatedly speak of a man's twisting the neck of his debtor till tile blood flowed from mouth and nostrils. Fell down merely; at his feet being an unwarranted addition. Besought and would not (Matthew 18:29 f.) are in Greek in the imperfect tense, implying continued entreaty and refusal. All, at end of Matthew 18:29 in Com. Ver., was an addition by copyists from Matthew 18:26. The similarity of the plea to that which had just availed for himself failed to touch the creditor's heart.

Matthew 18:31-35. His fellow-servants, other court officials, high and low, saw what was done, what took place. (See on "Matthew 6:10".) Told is in the Greek a very strong word, signifying that they gave a clear and complete account. His lord, etc.... said, O thou wicked servant. Chrys.: "When he owed ten thousand talents he did not call him wicked nor upbraid him, but had compassion on him; but when regarding his fellow-servant he was unforgiving, then he says, wicked servant." Shouldst not thou also have had compassion (mercy).... even as I had pity (mercy) (Matthew 18:33), the same Greek word in both cases, and not that of Matthew 18:27, but that of Matthew 17:15, Matthew 5:7. Tormentors (Matthew 18:34), not simply 'jailers,' as Tyn., Cran., Gen, but strictly 'torturers'; he was to be not now sold into slavery (Matthew 18:25), but imprisoned, and from time to time tortured. This fearful punishment suggests the torments of Gehenna: compare Matthew 8:29, Luke 16:23, Luke 16:28, Revelation 14:10 f.; Matthew 20:10. So... unto you. The comparison of sins to debts was a familiar idea to the Jewish mind. (See on "Matthew 6:12".) From your hearts comes in at the close with emphasis. Their trespasses is a useless addition by copyists, and so is unto him, end of Matthew 18:34. Nobody would have cared to omit either phrase if originally present, yet both are wanting in a number of the earliest documents. Forgive, see on "Matthew 6:12"; 'hearts,' see on "Matthew 6:21".

Homiletical And Practical

Matthew 18:15 ff. How to deal with a brother who has wronged you. (1) Do not await his coming, but go right away to him. (2) Make loving, wise, and repeated efforts to gain him, by personal interview, by the help of other brethren, by the help of the church. (3) As soon (Luke 17:3) and as often as he repents, forgive him (Matthew 18:21 f.); and when tempted to be unforgiving, remember how much is forgiven you (Matthew 18:35).

Matthew 18:15. Chrys.: "He saith not, 'accuse,' nor 'charge him,' nor 'demand satisfaction,' but 'tell him of his fault.'" Aug.: (in Aq.): "But why do you correct your neighbour? If you do it from self-love, you do naught; if you do it from love of him, you do most rightly." Henry: "We should think no pains too much to take for the recovering of a sinner to repentance."

Matthew 18:16. Chrys.: "The physician, in like manner, when he sees the malady obstinate, doth not give up nor grow impatient, but then makes the more preparation."

Matthew 18:19 f. United Christian prayer. (1) The prayer of many, even of two, is more likely to be for right objects. (2) The sympathy of common supplication promotes earnestness. (3) The Saviour himself is in the midst, making it his prayer to his Father. Cyril: "For it is not the number of those coming together, but it is the power of their piety that will be effectual." Henry: "If there be no liberty and opportunity for large and numerous assemblies, then it is the will of God that two or three should gather together. When we cannot do what we would in religion, we must do as we can, and God will accept us."

Matthew 18:23-35. God's unforgiving servant. (1) God forgives him an immense debt. (2) He refuses to forgive his fellow-servant some comparatively trifling debt. (3) God will punish him with terrible severity. All turns upon the 'if' of Matthew 18:35; a true servant of God will take warning and forgive.

Matthew 18:32. Chrys: "Let us hearken, the covetous, for even to us is the word spoken. Let us hearken also, the merciless and the cruel, for not to others are we cruel, but to ourselves..... Let us not thrust the sword into ourselves by being revengeful."

Matthew 18:35. Forgiveness. (1) Who must forgive? 'Every one.' (2) Why must we forgive? (a) Fit in itself that they who wish to be forgiven should be willing to forgive. (b) Clearly taught that they who do not forgive are not forgiven; this parable and Matthew 6:14, James 2:13. (c) A great privilege that we can thus express to God our gratitude for his forgiveness, Colossians 3:13. (3) How must we forgive? 'From the heart.'— Bruce: "Obviously Jesus has no sense of incongruity between the Fatherhood of God and the strange work of stern judgment on the unmerciful. Neither was there room for such a feeling. Just because God is a Father, and because his inmost spirit is love, he must abhor a spirit so utterly alien from his own. It is only what we should expect, that under the government of a gracious God the spirit of mercilessness should have judgment without mercy."

 


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Bibliography Information
Broadus, John. "Commentary on Matthew 18:4". "John Broadus' Commentary on Matthew". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jbm/matthew-18.html. 1886.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, September 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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