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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
Matthew 13

 

 

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Verse 1

Matthew 13:1. On that day. Probably, but not certainly, the same day. The interval was brief in any case. Comp. however, Luke 11, 12

Out of the house. If a particular house is meant, that in which ‘his mother and brethren’ sought Him (chap. Matthew 12:46).

The sea-side, the shore of the Lake of Galilee.


Verses 1-23

The occasion (Matthew 13:1); the scene (Matthew 13:2); the first parable (Matthew 13:3-9); the question of the disciples (Matthew 13:10); the twofold answer; (1) why He taught in parables (Matthew 13:11-17); (2) what He taught in this parable (Matthew 13:18-23). The parable which begins the discourse refers primarily to the beginnings of Christianity. The generous sowing of the Apostolic age; though the hearers differ, the sowing always the same; with good seed, a full hand and a wide reach.—The four classes of hearers, the same in every age. The unfruitful hearers: the first class, careless, corrupt, utterly hardened; the second, enthusiastic but fickle, full of feeling not of faith; the third, earnest but legal, self-seeking, serious-minded worldlings—the worst of the three, though often awakening most hope. The first have the faults of childhood; the second, of youth; the third, of more mature years.

The good ground; broken up, deeply stirred, cleared of thorns. The proportion of fruit varies, but the whole is fruitful. Historical application: 1. The Jews (who failed to receive the word); 2. The Greeks (shortlived in their devotion); 3. The Romans (choked by temporal power); 4. As we hope, the Teutonic races (thus far the most fruitful). ‘The mysteries of the kingdom of heaven:’ 1. Revealed by Christ, as they are revealed in Christ; 2. Revealed to faith, concealed from unbelief; 3. To one class God freely gives; to the other He denies, the responsibility is theirs; 4. Willingness to receive leads to abundance, unwillingness results in inability; 5. The new revelation fulfils the Old Testament (Matthew 13:14-15), yet far exceeds it in the privilege it bestows (Matthew 13:16-17). The longing of the O. T. saints, the privilege of Christians.


Verses 1-52

INTRODUCTORY NOTE. The Evangelist has just represented our Lord in opposition to the Pharisees. (A few events probably intervened; see Luke 11-13.) Thus His claims as the Messiah came out more fully. Instruction as to the nature of His kingdom naturally followed; but in view of the opposition already encountered, the best method was by parables (see below, on the purpose of the parables).

The parable has been variously defined. Alford: ‘a serious narration within the limits of probability, of a course of action pointing to some moral or spiritual truth.’ In the widest sense it includes all illustrations from analogy, but in the strict sense, it differs from a mere simile or metaphor, which is not a narration; from a fable (two fables occur in the Old Testament; 4:8-15; 2 Kings 14:9; but both are given as purely human productions) which is not within the limits of probability, nor designed to teach spiritual truth; from a myth which is told as the truth, while the design of the parable is evident; from a proverb, which is briefer and which may not contain a figure; from an allegory, which is self-interpreting, the imaginary persons receiving names, performing actions which declare the meaning, so that allegory is less natural than parable. (On type, symbol, and allegory, as elements of the parable, see Lange, Matthew, pp. 234-235.) It is not necessary to suppose that our Lord’s parables were always founded on fact, and generally composed of real incidents. We indeed resort to fiction in teaching moral truth, because unaware of facts adapted to convey the same lesson; while Christ’s knowledge of course included such facts. It is, however, enough to say that Christ’s parables (His figures also) are based on analogies which He alone had wisdom to discern, and authority to proclaim. His parables give no warrant for new ones; nor do they determine the propriety of our using fiction to spread or illustrate the truth. The purpose of our Lord in teaching by parables was twofold (Matthew 13:10-17): to reveal and to conceal the truth. To reveal to those who really sought the truth; to conceal from those who did not desire such knowledge; thus rewarding the former, and punishing the latter. The purpose of concealing is plainly stated by our Lord Himself, and may have been in mercy, since it prevented a greater perverting of the truth to their condemnation. The Pharisees were plotting to kill Him; His disciples required much more instruction before He could leave them; hence a method involving this twofold purpose was not only gracious and just, but prudent also. The Old Testament parable, spoken by Nathan (2 Samuel 12:1-6), also concealed and revealed; it called forth from David an unprejudiced judgment on his own conduct, and then produced conviction of sin. This special purpose is also evident in a few of our Lord’s parables, e. g., that spoken in the house of Simon (Luke 7:41-42).

Parables may be pressed too far; the general truth is always the central one; others are usually involved, but only as related to it. Resemblances which we discover at every point, although founded on analogies which God has created, are not to be placed on a level with what our Lord distinctly teaches. The uninspired lessons from the parables exceed in number the inspired lessons of the parables. The former include possible meanings, the latter necessary ones. The former may be used to enforce truth revealed elsewhere, the latter are revelations of truth. Seeking the many lessons makes us rich in spiritual knowledge, grasping the necessary one makes us confident.

The seven parables of this chapter seem to have been spoken on one occasion, and they relate to one definite subject. The natural and easy transition in the order, the advance in thought cannot be accidental. They present the development of the kingdom of heaven in its conflict with the world, bringing out its lights and shadows. ‘Accordingly, we cannot fail to trace in the parable of the sower a picture of the apostolic age; in the parable of the tares, the ancient Catholic Church springing up in the midst of heresies; in the parable of the mustard bush, resorted to by the birds of the air as if it were a tree, and loaded with their nests, a representation of the secular state-Church under Constantine the Great; in the leaven that is mixed among the three measures of meal, the pervading and transforming influence of Christianity in the mediaeval Church, among the barbarous races of Europe; in the parable of the treasure in the field, the period of the Reformation; in the parable of the pearl, the contrast between Christianity and the acquisitions of modem secular culture; and in the last parable, a picture of the closing judgment’ Lange.

Other applications, however true, should never ignore the original one, out of which they grow. All, however, are always instructive and applicable. The history of the kingdom as a whole finds its counterpart in the experience of each of its subjects, and in every period of its development. They remain ‘like apples of gold in pictures of silver,’ the gospel to the poor, to children, and yet inexhaustible in meaning.


Verse 2

Matthew 13:2. Great multitudes. Comp. Mark 4:1; Luke 7:4.

A boat. Comp, the previous occasion (Mark 3:9), when ‘he spake to his disciples that a small boat should wait on him, because of the crowd, lest they should throng him.’ The people stood on the shore, in order to hear Him. From the boat, the first four parables were spoken; the other three, to the disciples in the house.


Verse 3

Matthew 13:3. Many things. Out of the ‘many,’ Matthew selects these parables; for this selection we seek a reason (see note on the whole discourse).

Behold, calling attention to what follows, not to some object in sight, which would have distracted attention from the parable.

The sower, standing for the class; went forth, i.e., as usual, pointing rather to a supposed case, than to something occurring before their eyes.


Verse 4

Matthew 13:4. By the way-side. The paths or roads pass close to the edge of the ploughed ground in unenclosed fields; or the reference may be to the path across the field on which the sower walked as he sowed. In any case the seed was exposed, and quickly picked up by the birds.


Verse 5

Matthew 13:5. Upon the rocky places. Not full of stones, but thin soil over rocks.

Forthwith they sprung up, because, etc. The greater heat of the shallow soil would cause a rapid growth upwards.


Verse 6

Matthew 13:6. Scorched, or ‘burnt.’ The heat of the sun, so necessary to vegetable life, did this; but the effect must be connected with the cause: they had no root. Plants need both sunshine and moisture; they get the first from their growth above ground, the second from their growth below ground; the root however being the principal channel of nourishment (comp. Luke: ‘moisture’). Hence these withered away.


Verse 7

Matthew 13:7. Upon the thorns, i.e., upon soil where there were roots of thorns, etc., not necessarily among thorn-bushes.

And the thorns grew up and choked them. The thorns were of ranker growth. Both ideas are implied in the phrase ‘sprung up.’ Matthew 13:8.

Good ground. The proportion of the harvest is large, but not unexampled. Palestine was once exceedingly fertile. The remarkable variety in the form of the parallel passages shows independence.


Verse 9

Matthew 13:9. He that hath, etc. Comp. chap. Matthew 11:15. A peculiarly appropriate ending to a parable. It here refers to the understanding of the parable; the parable itself, as our Lord shows, signified the outward hearing. The former would in this case imply the latter.


Verse 10

Matthew 13:10. The disciples, more than the Twelve (Mark 4:10). Evidently this method of instruction had not been used by our Lord to any great extent before this discourse. Mark and Luke omit the question.


Verse 11

Matthew 13:11. Because it is (‘hath been and is’) given to you. ‘To you’ is emphatic. A gift of God, is here said to be bestowed on one class of hearers (you), and not bestowed on another (them).

To know. Without this gift there could not be proper knowledge of the truth to be conveyed by the parable. The two classes are, as in this case, separated by their own choice. God’s good pleasure, the ultimate ground, involves the free choice of the persons concerned.

The mysteries. A mystery is not necessarily something inscrutable in its nature, but it may be that which is unknown to man in his natural condition, before it is revealed to him by God. The mysteriousness arises mainly from the sinful state of man; yet God for wise purposes often withholds the revelation without which these things remain ‘mysteries.’ The great mystery is Christ Himself (1 Timothy 3:16), making peace between God and man, between man and man (Jew and Gentile; Ephesians 3:4-11). This was not fully revealed to the Apostles until long after the death of Christ, although they already had clearer views than the mass of the people. Where this gospel mystery has been preached, sin alone hides it from men; however much may remain not fully revealed to us.

Of the kingdom of heaven. These parables relate to the kingdom of Christ as a whole.

It is not given. They hear the parables as parables, not as vehicles of spiritual truth.


Verse 12

Matthew 13:12. Mark and Luke put this verse after the exposition of the parable of the sower.

For whosoever hath. Applied more generally in chap. Matthew 25:29. A rule of God’s dealings with men, holding good even in the lower forms of creation; here to be applied to knowledge of spiritual things. The phrase: from him shall be taken away that which he hath, points to a seeming or supposed knowledge. This twofold result is not arbitrary, but a necessary development, akin to what we perceive in every form of growth. To the disciples, with a desire for spiritual knowledge, an interpretation was given, and their knowledge grew through the outward and inward revelation; the people, without this desire, did not hear the interpretation, consequently they had less and less spiritual apprehension of the truth they possessed as Jews, since they got further away from Christ who alone fulfilled and explained that truth.


Verse 13

Matthew 13:13. Therefore. According to the principle just mentioned.

Because seeing they see not, etc. Here the reason is based on the character of the persons concerned; Mark and Luke emphasize the purpose, namely, that this state of ignorance should go on unchecked to work out its own results. The two thoughts can be distinguished, but not divided. The paradoxical form points to merely external perception without consequent mental or moral results.


Verse 14

Matthew 13:14. In them, lit., ‘to them,’ in the sense, ‘in their care’

It fulfilled. A stronger word than that commonly used; a complete fulfilment, which may or may not have been preceded by a partial one.

Isaiah (Isaiah 6:9-10). Quoted in John 12:40; Acts 28:26-27; comp. Romans 11:8; referred to by Mark and Luke, but not formally quoted.

By hearing, etc. The sense of the original prophecy is given, but not its form. In Isaiah is a command; here a strong prediction, indicating that judgment is a result of what is done by man as well as what is done to man.


Verse 15

Matthew 13:15. For this people’s heart. A more exact quotation, but changed into a prediction.

Waxed gross, become fat, carnal, losing its spiritual life.

Their eyes they have closed; a persistent course of action.

Lest haply. What they would not do, was what they at length could not do. The result of their own doings fulfilled God’s righteous judicial purpose, but the blame was theirs. The parables themselves betokened the existence of this state of things both as a result and as a punishment.


Verse 16

Matthew 13:16. But blessed are your eyes. ‘Your’ is emphatic; ‘your eyes, blessed are they,’ etc.


Verse 17

Matthew 13:17. That many prophets, etc. Over against the responsibility of the ignorant (Matthew 13:13-15), prominence is given to the great and unmerited privilege of the disciples. They were permitted to see and know what had been denied even to inspired and good men who longed for such knowledge.

Righteous men, not merely according to the law, but who longed for something higher, with the anticipative faith here implied.

Desired to see those things which ye behold (a stronger word, meaning ‘to gaze upon’), and did not see them. The privilege of the disciples exceeded not only the privilege but even the desire of these good men of former times. Hence all was of grace.


Verse 18

Matthew 13:18. Hear ye therefore. ‘Hear, in your hearts, ye who are so highly favored, the true meaning of these parables.’ Our Lord’s explanation is to guide us in the interpretation of other parables. He does not say: it teaches this general principle, nor does He give a significance to all the objects and actions which may be linked with sowing in a grain-field.


Verse 19

Matthew 13:19. The word of the kingdom. This is the seed (comp. Mark 4:14; Luke 8:11); the sower being Christ (Matthew 13:37), Himself and His ministers (1 Corinthians 3:6). The spoken word is made most prominent, as this was almost the only means used in the Apostolic age, to which this parable primarily refers.

Understandeth it not. Active, personal apprehension is involved.

Then someth the evil one (‘Satan,’ Mark; ‘the devil,’ Luke) and snatcheth away. Almost during the act of hearing. This is done through ‘birds,’ passing thoughts and desires; the purpose being ‘lest they should believe and be saved’ (Luke 8:12). The immediate cause is hardness of the soil.

This is he that was sown by the way-side, not, ‘he which received seed.’ The form used throughout points, not to the ground, but to the result of the sowing in the different cases as representing the different classes of hearers. Here there may also be a hint that the loss of the seed is the loss of real life, avoiding however the thought that Satan could really keep the word of God itself. This apparent mixing of metaphors should caution us against pressing the analogies too far.


Verse 20

Matthew 13:20. Forthwith receiveth it with joy. The effect is immediate and apparently good; but beneath the surface easily stirred, is a soil harder than the trodden path. Great joy without deep spiritual conviction or conflict.


Verse 21

Matthew 13:21. Yet hath he not root in himself. His apparent Christian life is rooted only in the temporary excitement about him.

Endureth for a while. The expression implies also: ‘is the creature of circumstances.’

Tribulation, afflictions; persecution, a special form of affliction; all arising because of the word, and intended to strengthen, as the sunshine the plant; but the plant without root is withered.

Forthwith (as in the reception of the word) he is offended, or ‘taketh offence and falleth.’ Sentimental, superficial, changeful, one-sided professors of Christianity. The parable does not decide whether such have really been subjects of grace.


Verse 22

Matthew 13:22. The third class hold out longer, but are unfruitful, from a divided heart, in which evil triumphs; the thorns being hardier than the wheat

The care of the world, not pure worldliness, which belongs to the first class, but anxieties about worldly things distracting persons of serious mind.

The deceitfulness of riches. Whether in the pursuit or possession of wealth. A false expectation or a false confidence in regard to wealth will choke the word. Mark adds: ‘the lusts of other things,’ other than those presented by the word.

He becometh unfruitful. Notwithstanding the previous (and perhaps long continued) promise of fruit.


Verse 23

Matthew 13:23. The good ground. This has been prepared. All is of divine grace, yet the verse plainly teaches that the persons referred to actively and willingly accept and understand the truth; the result being continued fruitfulness. The degrees vary, since characters and capacities and gifts vary. This class alone fulfils the purpose of the sower.


Verse 24

Matthew 13:24. Set he before them. With the double purpose already spoken of; the word being often used in reference to food.

The kingdom of heaven. The subject in all seven parables. Christ’s reign in the new economy of salvation.

Is likened, or ‘made like.’ Not ‘is like,’ as in the succeeding parables. The speedy establishment of the kingdom is implied; hence this parable is referred to the first stage of Christianity.

Good seed, i.e., of a good kind and good of its kind.

His field. The ‘world’ (Matthew 13:38) is His’ though ‘the devil’ works in it.


Verses 24-42

The three other parables spoken in public (Matthew 13:24-33), with the interpretation of the parable of the tares in private (Matthew 13:36-43). The Evangelist inserts, as is his habit, a prophecy fulfilled by this method of instructing the multitudes (Matthew 13:34-35). The parable of the tares follows that of the sower; the development of evil is soon apparent; it was foretold to prevent discouragement. The third and fourth, setting forth the expansive and permeating power of the kingdom of heaven, were an assurance that the tares would not dispossess the wheat. The historical application of the parable of the tares, is to the early days of Christianity, when evil tendencies, not yet rooted up, manifested themselves. It has an application for every succeeding age; not however as a whole to individuals. Its various parts enjoin: zeal in extending the gospel over the world, vigilance against Satan, patience in the midst of recognized evil, hope of final triumph for Christ’s cause; the final scene is impressive. The Son of man who here speaks will send forth the reapers at the end of the world. The parables of the mustard-seed and of the leaven, form a pair: both pointing to the growth of Christianity from small beginnings; the former presenting its extensive power, in consequence of its inherent capacity for development; the latter its intensive power, all the more pervasive because noiseless. The historical application of the one is to the rapid extension of Christianity in the early centuries; of the other, to its gradual and hidden effects on humanity, especially among barbarous nations in the Dark Ages. The individual application of the former is not prominent; it encourages by showing that the beginnings of grace in the heart are small, and warms by asserting its rapid extension. The parable of the leaven points directly to the mystery of regeneration transforming the soul. For other lessons see comments.


Verse 25

Matthew 13:25. But while men slept, i.e., ‘at night,’ the opportune time for such an act of malice. No censure of the servants is expressed; though their natural weakness may be implied.

His enemy came and sowed tares also amidst the wheat. ‘Tares,’ ‘darnel’ or bastard wheat, looking like wheat, but with a fruit which is injurious in its effects. An act of malice not unexampled.

Went away. The hostile sowing required no further care; in the beginnings of evil Satan conceals himself.


Verse 26

Matthew 13:26. Then appeared the tares also. After a time, and at a time of promise in the wheat the evil result of the malicious sowing is apparent.


Verse 27-28

Matthew 13:27-28. Simple life-like dialogue requiring little explanation. The servants in perplexity resort to the master, who checks their impatient zeal.


Verse 29

Matthew 13:29. Lest haply while ye gather up, etc. The answer of a wise husbandman. The servants might distinguish the two, but their roots were intertwined. Impatient zeal for purity in the Church has often rooted up the wheat.


Verse 31

Matthew 13:31. A third parable, also from agricultural experience. A grain of mustard-seed. The plant grows wild, but was often found in the gardens of the Jews. In the fertile soil of Palestine it reached the height of several feet ‘A grain of mustard seed’ was the proverbial expression for the smallest thing conceivable (comp. chap. Matthew 17:20).

Took. Probably a hint that the small seed must be taken up carefully or it would be lost.


Verse 32

Matthew 13:32. Less than all seeds, i.e., those sown by the Jews.

Greater than the herbs. The literal meaning leaves it uncertain whether the plant referred to was itself an herb. The main point is the rapid growth from a diminutive seed.

The birds of the heaven represent the external adherents of the kingdom, nations nominally Christian; oftentimes ‘outward church form,’ since the kingdom itself is not the Church organization.

Lodge in the branches thereof. Seeking shelter and remaining there. The permanent external adhesion is thus indicated.


Verse 33

Matthew 13:33. Leaven. In those days a piece of the leavened loaf was put amongst the new dough to cause fermentation. This illustrates the power of pervading and assimilating foreign substances. The figure is generally applied to evil influences, but here probably to gracious ones, see below.

A woman. There may be no significance in this part of the figure, though some find in it a reference to the Church.

Took and hid. Two important points: ‘took, ’ from without; ‘and hid,’ i.e., put it where it seemed lost in the larger mass.

Three measures of meal, probably the usual amount taken for one baking, an ephah (comp. Genesis 18:6; 6:19; 1 Samuel 1:24). A large mass is to be pervaded and assimilated by the small piece of leaven. ‘Three’ is not necessarily significant, though referred by some to ‘body, soul, and spirit,’ by others to the three sons of Noah; the first not applicable historically, the second far-fetched.

Till it was all leavened. The length of time not indicated; the transformation of the whole mass is the one fact stated. This influence triumphs. ‘Leaven. ‘therefore does not represent evil here, as is usually the case. The parables indeed affirm a development of evil side by side with that of the kingdom, but the kingdom itself ‘is like leaven.’ Leaven is used in a good sense (Leviticus 23:17); in household economy it has a wholesome influence. The parable indicates that the influence is internal and noiseless, not dependent upon external organization so much as upon quiet personal agency and example, since the leaven transforms the dough lying next, until it is ‘all leavened.’ The last clause is not to be interpreted absolutely, since an evil development is set forth in the second and seventh parables, and hinted at in the third.


Verse 34

Matthew 13:34. And without a parable spake he nothing unto them. On that occasion; probably true also of the subject of discourse, the kingdom of heaven.


Verse 35

Matthew 13:35. That, i.e., ‘in order that.’

The prophet. From Psalms 78:2, the author of which was Asaph, ‘the seer’ (2 Chronicles 29:30), or prophet. The Psalm is historical, but the events it mentions have a reference to Christ (comp. 1 Corinthians 10:6; 1 Corinthians 10:11, where the same events are spoken of).


Verse 36

Matthew 13:36. Into the house. Probably His usual residence. The purpose was to explain the parables more fully and to add others for the benefit of His disciples that were about Him, with the Twelve; Mark 4:10.

The parable of the tares would be less likely to be understood by the multitudes.


Verse 37

Matthew 13:37. The Son of man. Christ Himself. Our Lord uses the present tense, but this does not forbid an application to later events, in which Christ is represented by those who preach Him.


Verse 38

Matthew 13:38. The field is the world. ‘His field’ (Matthew 13:24), hence some would limit this to the Church. But in that case the parable would not differ from the last of the series. The phrase can only mean the Church, as the Church is seeking to occupy the whole world. The gospel is good seed to be scattered everywhere; the intertwining of the roots suggests that the tares are in the Church also, as indeed Matthew 13:41 plainly implies.

The sons of the kingdom—the sons of the evil one. The reference is to persons, who represent and embody the two opposing influences and developments. In the world, and in the Church both as an organized body and as engaged in its missionary enterprises, there exist side by side two such classes; those made heirs of Christ’s kingdom by Divine sowing and those who are of the seed of the serpent.


Verse 39

Matthew 13:39. The devil is here represented as the author of evil in the world (and in the Church as affected by the world).

The harvest, up to which time the tares are to be left, is the end of the world. The phrase may be rendered: ‘the consummation of the age.’ According to Jewish notions the coming of the Messiah was to be the end of the present age. Our Lord and His Apostles refer the Jewish phrase to the second coming of the Messiah. Our Lord does not interpret more fully the conversation of the servants and the householder (Matthew 13:27-29). Where He has been silent, controversy has been loudest. The application to the question of discipline has been hotly discussed from the fourth century until now. The parable assumes that earnest Christians will be zealous to remove impurities and offences (from the Church and the world as well) by forcible means. Without positively forbidding this which may at times be absolutely necessary, the whole drift of the parable enjoins caution and charity. Brute force, persecution, whether civil (rooting out of the world) or ecclesiastical (rooting out of the Church) finds little warrant here, and has generally resulted in actually tearing up the wheat. As regards discipline; when necessary, it is to be exercised with a prudential not a punitive purpose. The case is much simplified, when the Church is free, and not compelled by alliance with the State to allow wheat and tares to intertwine yet more closely.


Verse 40

Matthew 13:40. The destruction of the wicked is first declared; it is to take place at the end of the world, i.e., of the present order of things.


Verse 41

Matthew 13:41. The Son of man. Christ Himself is Lord of angels and Ruler in this kingdom.

Out of His kingdom. The angels sent forth by Christ will accomplish what men could not do, ought not to attempt to do, namely, remove all evil from the Church and from the world, which will stand only so long as the purpose of the kingdom requires it.

All stumbling-blocks, lit., ‘scandals.’ As punishment is spoken of, this must refer to persons, those who cause others to fall

And them that do iniquity. This class includes the former and yet more. How long this gathering out will continue is not stated.


Verse 42

Matthew 13:42. And shall cast them, etc. As the tares were burned, this may be figurative, but it undoubtedly refers to intolerable suffering, resulting not simply from the circumstances of the evildoers in a future state but from their character.

There shall be the weeping. Comp. chap. Matthew 8:12. These awful words must mean something positive and punitive.


Verse 43

Matthew 13:43. Then shall the righteous shine forth. The gospel tells how men become ‘righteous.’ As such they have a glory, a light which is here obscured, but shall then burst forth, as Christ’s glory shall appear.

In the kingdom of their Father. The righteous being God’s adopted sons, He is ‘their Father.’ This kingdom of final glory seems to be distinguished from the mediatorial kingdom of Christ spoken of throughout the chapter; comp. 1 Corinthians 15:24.

He that hath ears, etc. This conclusion befits the importance of the parable. The prophecy respecting the destiny of all men deserves the attention of all men. Yet even on this point many have no ears to hear.


Verse 44

Matthew 13:44. A treasure hidden in the field. It is; possible, but not probable, that our Lord refers to some case of ‘treasure trove,’ which had lately occurred.

In his joy. Natural to those who find unexpectedly. The legality or morality of the transaction does not enter into the discussion; the man who had made this discovery used all the means in his power to possess himself of the treasure. This suggests the general application and lesson. Notice: He obtained the ‘treasure,’ worth more than he could pay, and also ‘the field,’ which he could buy. In this result the parable differs from the next. Many, therefore, refer ‘the field’ to the external Church, in which a man may, as it were, stumble on the treasure of true religion; he naturally possesses himself also of the means of grace, the external forms of the Church.

We may aptly apply it historically to the days of the Reformation, when true religion was sought and obtained at the cost of everything; the discovery of the treasure was apparently accidental, and great joy attended it. The field was doctrinal theology. In this, the treasure had been hidden, but the reformers obtained this also as a possession.


Verses 44-52

These three parables relate mainly to human effort in the development of the kingdom of heaven. The last one corresponds to the second, while the fifth and sixth form a pair; the transition of thought being easy and natural in every case. The Hidden Treasure (Matthew 13:44), finding without seeking; The Pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46), seeking and finding; in both cases, proper effort to appropriate the valuable possession; The Net cast into the Sea (Matthew 13:47-50), the Church and her efforts, the mixed result and the final separation. Application in the form of a comparison (Matthew 13:51-52).


Verse 45

Matthew 13:45. Merchant seeking goodly pearls. One who is making it his business to seek what is valuable, what is true and right.


Verse 46

Matthew 13:46. One pearl of great price. Christ Himself, not religion; when this pearl becomes ours, we have true religion. The seeker finds and obtains the pearl in its purity. No mention is made of joy in this case, since this is more characteristic of those who make the discovery without seeking. This parable has a historical application to the present age of investigation and discovery. True science seeks goodly pearls, and leads to the discovery of the one pearl of great price. The pride of science is hostile to all truth, hence sometimes the ‘merchant’ is too well contented with the ‘goodly pearls’ already found, to look for the one pearl of great price. The two parables refer to two different classes of persons; yet both make a discovery, both strive to make the treasure their own at every cost. The seeker is perhaps the superior character, and obtains the superior treasure. We may hope for a purer Christianity as the result of intense and earnest investigation; yet the whole discourse shows that side by side with this we must expect an intense and earnest search in the interest of Satan’s kingdom.


Verse 47

Matthew 13:47. A net, that was cast into the sea. A drag-net or seine is meant. Appropriate for an audience largely made up of fishermen. The parable resembles that of the tares; that, however, represented the two developments of good and evil, side by side in the world (and in the church); this one is applicable rather to the missionary effort of the Church. ‘The sea’ is a Scriptural figure for ‘the nations’ (Revelation 17:15; Isaiah 8:7; Psalms 65:7).—Gathered of every kind. This predicted result of Christian effort is sufficiently evident at all times.


Verse 48

Matthew 13:48. When it was filled. A caution against too hasty attempts at separating before the Church has finished her work. If fishermen stop to sort while drawing in their net, they catch little, good or bad.

They drew up on the shore, i.e., the limit of the sea, the end of nations and of time. The next verse shows that the work of discriminating is not committed to men, however successful or zealous in the work of gathering of every kind.

The good—the bad, i.e., fishes, though other animals usually get into the net. There are but two classes, one the children of God, and the other those whose destiny is described in Matthew 13:49-50.


Verse 49

Matthew 13:49. Sever the wicked from among the just. Comp. Matthew 13:41. The phrase ‘sitting down,’ in Matthew 13:48, and other minor points in the two parables, suggest that this may occupy a period of some length. In the parable of the tares, however, the final separating process accounts for the command: ‘Let both grow together till the harvest;’ here it is the main point. That parable emphasized the existence with evil side by side with good; this, the separation and destruction of the evil.


Verse 50

Matthew 13:50. Repeats word for word the awful language of Matthew 13:42, giving great solemnity to the close of the discourse in parables.

The historical application is obviously to the closing period and scene of the Church militant.


Verse 51

Matthew 13:51. Have ye understood? A test of their progress in the art of interpretation. They answered rightly, but the next verse suggests that they did not yet fully understand.


Verse 52

Matthew 13:52. Every scribe. Official expounder of the Scriptures, applicable now to the Christian ministry.

Hath been made a disciple, of Jesus, the Teacher as well as King.

For the kingdom of heaven. Not simply for his own benefit but for the advantage of this kingdom.

Householder, whose duty it is to provide for those of the household.

Bringeth forth out of his treasure. The ‘treasure’ is a constantly increasing knowledge of God’s word, in the Bible, in nature, in experience. This he must use to instruct others; he must not selfishly conceal it, nor so set it forth that few can understand it.

Things new and old. Explanations: (1) the law and the gospel; (2.) things hitherto unknown and those already known; (3.) the old truths in new lights, new truths brought into proper accord with the old ones. This is preferable. He who forgets the old, will get hold of novelties, but bring few new things out of his treasure; he who forgets the new, will find that his old methods have become antiquated even to himself, and others will discover it even sooner. Christ’s methods of instruction give point to these words, for the old familiar occupations are here used to illustrate the truths of the new kingdom, and yet the thoughts and yet even words of the Old Testament appear again and again throughout.


Verse 53

Matthew 13:53. He departed thence. The departure was to Gadara (comp. chap. Matthew 8:18; Mark 6:35 ff.); a number of events intervening between this and the second visit to Nazareth.


Verses 53-58

CHRONOLOGY, and relation to the account in Luke 4:14-30. Views: (1.) Two distinct visits. That in Luke at the beginning of the Galilean ministry, and occasioning the removal to Capernaum (Matthew 4:17). This one much later, after the discourse in parables (chap. 13), the visit to Gadara and the subsequent miracles (chaps, Matthew 8:18 to Matthew 9:34). (2.) Different accounts of the same visit, which took place at the earlier period; (3.) which took place at the later period. We prefer (1), for the following reasons: He would probably visit His early home a second time; a second rejection would be the result of a second visit. It seems unlikely that the visit, if there was but one, took place at the later period, yet Mark, who is chronologically most exact, agrees with Matthew in placing it about this time. Matthew and Mark would scarcely omit to mention the attempt at violence detailed by Luke, while the unbelief of the Nazarenes would express itself in much the same way, and the answer of our Lord convey the same thought. The points of agreement and of difference are thus most satisfactorily accounted for.


Verse 54

Matthew 13:54. Into his own country. Nazareth as the home of His parents and the place ‘where he had been brought up’ (Luke 4:16).

Whence hath this man. As if to say: This is our townsman, what better schooling did he have than we; what his family is, we all know, etc.


Verse 55

Matthew 13:55. The carpenter’s son. The word rendered ‘carpenter’ is sometimes applied to artisans in general, but it means strictly a worker in wood. The question, though not contemptuous, implies: He is one of us, no better than we are, etc. — They knew His family, and mention the name of His mother and brothers, speaking also of His sisters, who possibly still resided in Nazareth. On the brothers of our Lord, see the close of the section.


Verse 57

Matthew 13:57. And they were offended in him, made to stumble. They were led into error and sin with regard to Him.

A prophet is not without honor, etc. The rejection is accounted for by a proverbial expression, verified by human experience. ‘Familiarity breeds contempt,’ ‘Distance lends enchantment to the view,’ are still more general expressions of the same principle.


Verse 58

Matthew 13:58. And he did not there many mighty works because of their unbelief. This unbelief was inconsistent and criminal, for they acknowledged His wisdom and power (Matthew 13:54). Jesus does not force His love or blessings on us, and His miracles were not mere displays of Almighty Power. Where there was no faith, no moral condition to justify such displays, there our Lord ‘could do no mighty works’ (Mark 6:5). Want of faith is always the great hindrance.

THE BROTHERS OF OUR LORD. Mention is made fourteen or fifteen times in the New Testament of the brothers of our Lord, named in Matthew 13:55. In an ordinary history, this could only mean that they were the younger children of Joseph and Mary, or possibly the children of Joseph by a former marriage. The well-known terms, ‘cousin’ and ‘kinsman,’ would have been used had the relationship been a different one. Notwithstanding this, three views have been held: (1.) That they were the children of Joseph and Mary; the theory of Tertullian, Helvidius, and many of the best modern Protestant commentators. (2.) That they were the children of Joseph by a former marriage; the theory of Epiphanius, and the ancient Greek Church. (3.) That they were the children of Mary, the wife of Alphaeus (Clopas), the sister of our Lord’s mother, and hence his cousins. This was the theory of Jerome, adopted by the Roman Catholic Church, and by the older (and some modem) Protestant commentators. Lange modifies this view, by supposing that Alphaeus was the brother of Joseph, and that in consequence of his early death the children were adopted by Joseph.

1. The first view is the most natural one. Objections: (a.) It denies the perpetual virginity of Mary. But this is nowhere asserted, while Matthew 1:25 and Luke 2:7, suggest the contrary. (b.) Galatians 1:19, seems to intimate that James, our Lord’s brother, was an Apostle, while this view involves the non-identity of this James with James the son of Alphæus, who undoubtedly was an Apostle. But the passage in Galatians has, from the earliest times, been interpreted as not implying the Apostleship of our Lord’s brother. The identity of names in the list of Apostles and in that of our Lord’s brothers is of itself, no proof of identity of persons; the name of James especially being very common among the Jews. Further, at a point in the history after the choice of the Twelve (John 7:5), His brethren did not believe on Him; they are distinguished from the ‘Apostles’ in Acts 1:14; 1 Corinthians 9:5, and by implication in Matthew 12:46-50. (c.) Our Lord on the cross commended His mother to the care of John, which is regarded as strange, if she had other sons. But the spiritual nearness of John, and the probable kinship (see below, and notes on John 19:25) will account for this.

2. The view that they were the sons of Joseph by a former marriage is not open to any great objection, though supported by no positive evidence. It too, fails to identify ‘James the son of Alphæus’ and ‘James the Lord’s brother.’

3. The cousin-theory is beset with difficulties. (a.) It assumes that two sisters had the same name (Mary). (b.) It does not account for ‘Simon’ and ‘Judas’ who were our Lord’s brothers. Indeed, the better supported reading (‘Joseph,’ Matthew 13:55) destroys the identity of name with Mark 15:40 (‘Joses’), (c.) It is probable that ‘Salome’ and not ‘Mary’(John 19:25) was the sister of our Lord’s mother. The view of Lange is free from some of these difficulties, but assumes what is extremely improbable, namely, that at least half a dozen children were adopted into the family of a poor carpenter. Besides it is a pure hypothesis.

The view that Mary had other children furnishes an argument in favor of the historical character of the Gospels. Had the story of the miraculous conception been a fiction, the Evangelists, to give consistency to the tale, would have denied that our Lord had any brothers, instead of speaking of them without reserve. For a full presentation of all the views, see Lange’s Comm., Matthew, pp. 255-260.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Matthew 13:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/matthew-13.html. 1879-90.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, September 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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