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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Matthew 11

 

 

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Verse 1

Matthew 11:1 (contrast Mark 6:12, Luke 9:6) is, like Matthew 7:28, a formula rounding off the collection of sayings.


Verses 2-19

Matthew 11:2-19. John the Baptist (Luke 7:18-35).—In place of Mk.'s narrative of John, deferred to ch. 14, Mt. gives material from Q.

Matthew 11:2-6. John's Perplexity.—It is a question whether doubt was supervening upon the Baptist's first faith, or whether Matthew 3:14 f. is unhistorical, and John had all along been uncertain. In 2 Cod. Bezæ reads "the works of Jesus." In Matthew 11:5 we have to decide whether Jesus refers the embassy to a series of physical miracles ending with the preaching of good tidings to the poor (Harnack, Plummer), or metaphorically (cf. Isaiah 35:5; Isaiah 42:1; Isaiah 61:1) to the spiritual work He was doing (Schmiedel, Loisy, Wellhausen). Jesus never paraded or made capital out of His miracles, and it would be like Him to meet John's question by emphasising His spiritual mission. Mt. and Lk., however, held that Jesus appealed to physical miracles, and in illustration of raising the dead (but see Matthew 9:24*) Mt. has given the case of Jairas' daughter from Mk. With Lk., Jairas' daughter comes later, so he inserts just before John's inquiry the story of the Nain widow's son. Jesus, while appropriating Isaiah 61:1-3 to Himself, and feeling sure that the rule of Satan was shaken, is unwilling as yet directly to declare Himself Messiah. It is for others to recognise the new light and truth; failing to do so, they increase their darkness and peril (Matthew 11:6).

Matthew 11:7-19. The Baptist and the Son of Man.

Matthew 11:7-10 may be independent of and earlier than Matthew 11:2-6, and Matthew 11:11-14 in turn independent of Matthew 11:7-10, and dealing rather less favourably with John. In Matthew 11:7-10 Jesus declares that the popular enthusiasm for the Baptist, now perhaps waning, was right. He was no weakling, but a strong man; no silken courtier, but a stern ascetic, a prophet—true, but the outstanding prophet predicted by Malachi. Yet John belongs to the old era, and so falls into the background. "The humblest Christian is, as a Christian, more than the greatest Jew" (Montefiore; see also his fine passage on Jesus as marking an era, pp 592-4). Between new and old there is a great gulf fixed. J. Weiss thinks, on the other hand, that John was not excluded from the new, and that Jesus meant, "he who is smaller is in the kingdom greater than he." This is not so tenable. Perhaps, as Oort suggests, we have in Matthew 11:11-14 not so much Jesus' own view as that of the Church towards the end of the first century, reflected again in the Fourth Gospel, where, however, the Baptist himself is made to declare his inferiority.

Matthew 11:7 f. Perhaps we should assimilate these verses to Matthew 11:9, and read: "Why . . . wilderness? To see . . . wind?" "Why went ye out? To see . . . raiment?"

Matthew 11:12. The following varied explanations have been offered: (a) Since John's day rash attempts have been made to speed the advent of the Kingdom, a reference to the Zealot propaganda. (b) The Kingdom suffers violence from men who steal it away, not to benefit by it, but to prevent believers from enjoying it (Loisy, cf. Matthew 23:13). (c) The Kingdom came with Jesus, but was hindered by the malice of men. (Loisy suggests this as the point of view of early Christians arguing against the Jews, and especially against followers of John.) (d) The Kingdom suffers violence (ironical) because the wrong people are taking possession of it—chance victors, tax-gatherers and sinners (cf. Matthew 21:28-32). (e) The Kingdom is violently treated in the persons of its messengers and heralds (so Dalman and Allen; cf. Luke 7:29 f.). The words are then an editorial paraphrase of a saying like Luke 16:16 inserted as a link between Matthew 11:7-11 and Matthew 11:16-19, in which John's career is viewed as closed.

Matthew 11:13 does not naturally follow Matthew 11:12, and should perhaps precede it as in Luke 16:16, which is easier but possibly less original. The OT pointed forward to John as the herald of the Messianic age; that period of preparation is now closed. Matthew 11:7-15 brings out the cleavage between the old and the new era. Christianity is severed from Judaism. John had great gifts, but he lacked the one thing needful; he never became a disciple of Jesus. Yet (Matthew 11:16-19), as opposed to the Jews, John and Jesus stand together.

Matthew 11:16-19. The contemporaries of Jesus are like children, not those who play at weddings and funerals, but their "fellows" who are unwilling to dance or to mourn, understanding neither John's asceticism and warnings, nor Jesus' good news and geniality. Jesus seems to be looking back on His mission, now drawing to an end.

Matthew 11:19 b. The verdict of the early Church. Wisdom, incarnate in Jesus, though doubted by many, has been proved right by its works. Lk. has "children" (so Syr. Sin. here, almost certainly correct), i.e. those who accepted Jesus; or, less probably, the Jews as the children of the Divine Wisdom (cf. Matthew 8:12, where they are called children of the Kingdom). In this case we must take "by" in the sense of "before" or "over against," or possibly "far from," i.e. amongst people remote from those who deemed themselves her children.


Verses 20-24

Matthew 11:20-24. Woe to Unbelieving Cities (Luke 10:13-16; in the address to the Seventy). We should rather have expected to find this passage in Matthew 10. Some scholars regard the denunciation as the product of a later generation rather than an utterance of Jesus. The Galilean cities had been comparatively receptive of His teaching, and it is not like Him to make miracles the basis of faith. Note, too, the contrast with the gentleness of Matthew 11:29. Still the passage may well reflect the tragic sense of failure experienced by Jesus at the crisis of His work in Galilee, when He had to leave to save Himself from Herod (Luke 13:1), and because of the changing attitude of the people. As He set out on the road to Phœnicia, the scene of His work lay spread out before Him. Here He had long laboured to lay the corner-stone of the new Kingdom, to banish pain and ignorance and sin, and to show men the way to the Father and to each other. The utterance is less a curse than a statement of fact put in the form of a dirge or lament, so characteristic of the East.

Matthew 11:21. Chorazin: the modern Kerzeh, two miles NNW. of Tell Hm (p. 29). The Gospels do not mention any incident as taking place here. An ancient Christian tradition (Pseudo-Methodius) connects it with Antichrist (ET, 15:524). Tyre and Sidon were often denounced by the OT prophets for their luxury and wickedness. So was Babylon, with which Capernaum (Matthew 11:23) is implicitly compared. See Isaiah 13:19 f.


Verses 25-30

Matthew 11:25-30. Jesus and His Mission.

Matthew 11:25-27 treats of the relation between the Father and the Son (Luke 10:21 f.), Matthew 11:28-30 of the yoke of Jesus (Mt. only). No stress can be laid on "at that time," though "these things" might mean the significance of the wonders which Chorazin and the other towns had not perceived, or (excluding Matthew 11:20-24) the methods of the Divine wisdom. Lk. makes the words refer to the theme of the preaching of the Seventy, and we may well place them after Mark 6:31. They mark that period in the ministry when the refusal of the religious teachers of Israel to accept Christ's teaching became unmistakably clear. "Answered and said" is merely an OT idiom. Jesus is thankful, not that the wise and prudent" (Isaiah 29:14, 1 Corinthians 1:19-28) are blind, but that the poor and simple see. After "Even so" (Matthew 11:26) supply "I thank thee." It is possible that the Aramaic word "Abba," which lies behind "father" in Matthew 11:27, should be taken as a vocative.

"All is now revealed to me, O

Father, And no one knows Thee, O Father, except Thy Son;

No one knows Thy Son, O Father, but Thou,

And those to whom the Son reveals Himself."

This would preserve the same type of prayer as is found in the previous stanza. The passage furnishes a strong link between the Synoptic Gospels and the Fourth Gospel, where the peculiar gift of Christ is the knowledge of God and of Himself, i.e. eternal life (John 17:3).

Matthew 11:27. There is no vital difference between the words for "know" used by Mt. (epiginôskei) and Lk. (ginôskei). The prefix does not imply fuller knowledge, but knowledge directed to a particular point. There are several variant readings in the verse, e.g. "knew" for "knoweth," and the transposition of the two clauses about the Son knowing the Father and the Father the Son (see Harnack, Sayings of Jesus, pp. 272-310; also JThS, July 1909).—all things: a complete revelation.—have been delivered: not necessarily in a state of pre-existence. The verb implies the communication of a mystery. M'Neile's additional note should be studied. He paraphrases the passage thus: "I thank Thee, O Father, that it was Thy good pleasure to reveal these things to babes through My teaching. I alone can do it because the whole truth has been entrusted to Me. None except Thee could know My Sonship so as to reveal it to Me; and none except Myself, the Son, could know Thee, the Father. Thus I can reveal both truths to whomsoever I will."

Matthew 11:28-30. The passage shows the influence of Sirach 51:23 ff. and Jeremiah 6:16. It need not have been originally connected with Matthew 11:25-27, but it forms a happy prelude to Matthew 12:1-13. The "weary and heavy laden" are those who toil under the demands of the Law and its Rabbinical amplifications. Jesus offers them rest or refreshment; His demands are few and easy—all He asks is trust and love. The yoke is a common figure in Jewish literature, e.g. "the yoke of the Law" (cf. Acts 15:10), "the yoke of the Kingdom," "the yoke of the commandments." Jesus goes on to say that His desire is to help and save; He is "meek," i.e. not overbearing like the Scribes, and gentle (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:1, and C. H. Robinson, Studies in the Character of Christ, i.).—your souls=yourselves.—The gentleness of Jesus guarantees the gentleness of His yoke. For complementary truth see Matthew 5:20, Matthew 10:38, Matthew 16:24. The yoke of Jesus is an inspiration rather than a code, and it gives those who accept it vigour and buoyancy fully and joyfully to fulfil demands greater than any imposed by the Jewish Law.

Montefiore and Loisy, like other scholars, notably Pfleiderer, contest the genuineness of Matthew 11:25-30. Harnack (Sayings of Jesus, Excursus I) stoutly defends the whole passage. [The discussion has recently passed into a new stage with the investigation devoted to the passage by Norden in his Agnostos Theos (1913), pp. 277-308, 394-396 (see also Bacon's article in the Harvard Theological Review for Oct. 1915).—A. S. P.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Matthew 11:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/matthew-11.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, November 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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