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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
Matthew 18

 

 

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Verse 1

Matthew 18:1. In that hour. As Peter returned from paving the temple tax. According to Mark (Mark 9:33), our Lord first asked them about their dispute on this subject ‘in the way,’ probably to Capernaum. Hence the declaration: ‘surely then the sons are free’ (chap. Matthew 17:26), could not have occasioned this discourse. Nor did they answer His question (Mark 9:34); His knowledge of their thoughts (Luke 9:47) probably shamed them. An indication of the moral power of His Person.

Who then, etc. ‘Then’ hints at a previous discussion.

The greater. Priority, not primacy. This gives room for a more general discussion.


Verses 1-14

The whole chapter forms one discourse, delivered upon one occasion, after the return to Capernaum, probably immediately succeeding the miracle just mentioned. Two distinct topics are spoken of: the first, the nature of true greatness (Matthew 18:1-14), called forth by the question of the disciples (Matthew 18:1); the second, Christian discipline and forgiveness. The latter points to the founding of the Christian Church, distinct from the Jewish theocracy. The question of the disciples may have recognized this purpose of the Master (so plainly indicated in chaps, 16, 17) and not have been entirely owing to carnal views of the kingdom of heaven. But at all events they needed to learn what was necessary to enter that kingdom, before they could understand who would be the greatest in it. The disciples had not understood our Lord’s previous saying (chap. Matthew 16:18) as conferring any primacy upon Peter.


Verse 2

Matthew 18:2. A little child, probably a little boy. An untrustworthy tradition says it was the martyr Ignatius.

Set him in the midst of them. He took the child in His arms (Mark). The whole transaction would of itself show the child’s ‘submission and trustfulness.’


Verse 3

Matthew 18:3. Except ye turn. As the context shows, return from this path of ambition to childlike humility; not implying that they had never been converted. Conversion should follow every fall. The wider application is to the absolute necessity of conversion (turning ourselves to God) in entering the kingdom of heaven. The necessity of regeneration, of which true conversion is a manifestation, is declared in John (John 3:37 [John 6:63 ?]).

And become as little children. In what respect is shown in Matthew 18:4.

Ye shall in no wise enter. ‘Instead of discussing who shall be greater, you need to inquire whether you have entered it.’ This is not denied, but the ambitious question, opposed to the humility which is essential, should raise a doubt.


Verse 4

Matthew 18:4. Humble himself as this little child. Not humble himself as this little child has done, but become humble as this little child is in this company. The absolute innocence of children is not implied, but simply this: ‘The real greatness of the child consists in its perfect contentment with its littleness and dependence.’ This is necessary for entrance to the kingdom; our greatness there is measured by our humility. The answer virtually forbids the putting of such a question, and is then expanded into a discourse about ‘the dignity of Christ’s little ones.’


Verse 5

Matthew 18:5. And whoso shall receive one such child. The consequence and evidence of humility; still more prominent in the other accounts. The primary reference is to children in years, but the context (comp. Matthew 18:6; Matthew 18:9) extends it to children in spirit. The general application is to those apparently small, those needing and receiving instruction, forbidding pride and a hierarchical spirit on the part of Christ’s disciples. ‘Shall receive,’ i.e., into spiritual fellowship. This implies that little children can be Christians and members of Christ’s Church.

In my name, i.e., on the ground of my name; referring either to those who receive, or to those who were received, probably to both.

Receiveth me, since the ‘little one’ represents Christ. Mark and Luke insert here a remark of John’s, about one who cast out devils in Christ’s name, without following with them. The hierarchical spirit manifested in forbidding him was rebuked in part by what follows.


Verse 6

Matthew 18:6. Cause to offend, or ‘stumble.’ By pride, to cause others to fall into unbelief (the opposite of ‘receiving’); not a mere wounding of over sensitive feelings, or offending a morbid and incorrect sense of right. Such an application would destroy all right as well as all hope. A warning in regard to our treatment of humble Christians, especially of Christian children.

One of these little ones which believe in me. The weak, unpretending, outwardly insignificant, the children, the poor, the ignorant, and the weak-minded are all included. Only he who feeds the lambs can feed the sheep (John 20:15).

It is profitable for him that (to this end). This would be the purpose subserved by such conduct.

A great millstone. The large stone used in a mill driven by asses.

He be sunk in the depth of the sea. Capital punishment by drowning was common among the Greeks and Romans, probably not among the Jews.—The profit of dominating over the conscience, is a burden about the neck of the offender which involves his destruction. A warning both to individual and ecclesiastical bodies. The principle proved true in the case of the Jewish hierarchy.


Verse 7

Matthew 18:7. Woe unto the world, etc. False disciples, causing Christ’s humble followers to stumble, laying burdens on the conscience, cause sin, bring woe on the world.

For it must needs be, in view of the existence of sin.

But woe to that man. If the world receives woe from the offences, much more he who causes them. There is an inevitable connection between guilt and judgment. A reference to Judas is possible, but the general application is obvious: whatever the necessity of offences from the actual state of things in the world, and from the permissive plan of God, those who lay stumbling-blocks in the way of Christ’s little ones are responsible and shall be punished.


Verse 8

Matthew 18:8. And. The connection is: In view of this woe, remove all causes of offence in thyself! Comp. chap. Matthew 5:29-30. Here the reference is more general, namely, to whatever in us, however dear or necessary, which would lead us astray, sever our fellowship with Christ. Special application (not to be pressed): the hand denotes aptitude for government, the foot for exertion, the eye for knowledge, all in ecclesiastical matters. The context suggests that all these members (representing talents, etc.) should be used, not for purposes of pride, but to the edification of the little ones.


Verse 9

Matthew 18:9. The hell of fire. The only variation between this verse and the last and a suggestive one (comp. the more detailed form in Mark 9:43-48). Certain and awful future punishment is threatened in cases where some darling sin (or cause of sin) is preferred to Christ.


Verse 10

Matthew 18:10. See. Little ones are made to offend through contempt or disregard for them in their littleness.

These little ones. A direct address to the disciples in view of their question: Who shall be the greater? ‘Little ones,’ not Christians in general, nor even truly humble Christians, but rather weak, growing Christians, including children, who may and ought to be Christians.

Their angels in heaven. They are not to be despised, since they enjoy angelic guardianship. Both the words and form are against the explanation: ‘their spirits after death.’ The incorrect order of the common version encourages this view, which is a reaction from the Romish angel-worship.

Do always behold. An allusion to the fact that the ministers of eastern kings had access to them; suggesting that these angels were not actively employed, ‘as if God were through them always looking upon the little ones.’ The general sense is: God’s highest angels represent the least subjects of His kingdom. ‘Christ Himself, as the Great Advocate and Intercessor, is the central point of their angelic guardianship.’


Verse 11

Matthew 18:11. This verse is omitted in the most ancient manuscripts. It seemed apt at this point, both in view of what follows, and as a reason for the admonition in Matthew 18:10, presenting Christ’s conduct in contrast to this ‘despising.’ He came to save those altogether lost, such contempt repels those who are apparently on the path of salvation.


Verse 12

Matthew 18:12. How think ye. This parable (with a similar one) was spoken on a later occasion to a different audience (Luke 15:4-7). Here it is a lesson for the disciples (the under-shepherds), showing them their duty: there it is a rebuke for the Pharisees, who objected to this seeking and saving on the part of the good Shepherd.


Verse 13

Matthew 18:13. The ninety and nine which have not gone astray. Either the unfallen beings in other worlds, whom Christ in a certain sense left, to save the ‘one’ in this lost world, or those who think they are not lost and who cannot be saved as long as they think so. The former meaning seems more appropriate here, the latter in Luke. The general lesson is: The good Shepherd’s special care was for those in greatest need, so should yours be; even if the needy be but the smallest fraction of those committed to your care.


Verse 14

Matthew 18:14. The will of your Father. In Matthew 18:10 where the dignity of the little ones is asserted, our Lord says ‘my rather;’ here where the duty is enforced by God’s gracious will, ‘your Father.’

One of these little ones, as above, weak, humble, believers: God will not that a single one of them perish, reach the final state of the lost. ‘Little ones’ cannot refer to all mankind; here as throughout, it includes children. It warrants the belief that children, dying in childhood, are all saved. The parable snows that it cannot be on the ground of their innocence, but because the Son of man came to save them. As a child is trustful, going to the arms opened to receive it, so we may well believe that at death that trustfulness places it in the arms of Jesus, who saves it, its infantile trustfulness expanding under the impulse of a higher state of existence, into a living faith, no less real and justifying than that of adults.


Verse 15

Matthew 18:15. And if thy brother. A Christian brother.

Sin. The omission of ‘against thee’ extends the precept. The passage, however, does not extend the power of the Church over all sins (since the rebuke against a hierarchical spirit forbids this), nor warrant meddlesome interference and rebuke. Our disapproval does not prove that the ‘brother’ has sinned. The first step is to be in private.

Shew, not simply ‘tell,’ but convince him of his fault.

Between thee and him alone. Privacy is for his sake, and as a fact this rebuke is the more difficult one.

Thou hast gained thy brother. Regained him for God, by inducing repentance: regained him for thyself, by regaining his love and fellowship, which is disturbed by his sin whether an offence against the reprover or not. Proclaiming his fault is dangerous for him, encouraging him in his sins: and for us, fostering our worst passions.


Verses 15-35

Matthew 18:1-14 forbade offences against the humble. This section teaches how the humble should deal with offences: (1.) as regards the Christian assembly (Matthew 18:15-20); (2.) as regards his own spirit (Matthew 18:21-35). Our Lord seems to say: you have taken ‘the keys’ into your hands too soon, and used them improperly (see Mark 9:38-39; Luke 9:49-50). After the caution, however, came the renewed declaration of authority (Matthew 18:18); Peter asked a question (Matthew 18:21) which showed his fuller apprehension of the Christian rule of forgiveness, and called forth dearer instruction. The closing parable (Matthew 18:23-35) contains truth, the easiest to perceive, the hardest to receive, of any practical lesson in the New Testament; it is based on God’s full and free forgiveness.


Verse 16

Matthew 18:16. The next step is less private, but intended to prevent publicity.

One or two more as witnesses. The offence must be grave enough to warrant this step.

Or three, parenthetical, implying that the offending party may be a witness against himself.

Established. It is assumed, not that both are in the wrong, but that the two witnesses, on hearing the facts, pronounce against the party to whom they go.


Verse 17

Matthew 18:17. If he refuse to hear them. Does not acknowledge his wrong under their influence.—The public step follows: Tell it unto the church, i.e., the particular Christian congregation.

If he refuse to hear the church also. The admonition and entreaty of the Church is to be used as a means of regaining the brother.

Let him be unto thee as the heathen and the publican, i.e., as outside the Christian fellowship, though in a Christian, not a Jewish spirit. A man of high spirituality would be won by the first step, a lukewarm Christian by the second or third; when all fail, it is not distinctly commanded that the Church should pronounce him no Christian. His character has proved itself so far unchristian that the person injured cannot have fellowship with him. The next verse, however, hints at formal acts of discipline on the part of the Church.


Verse 18

Matthew 18:18. What things soever ye shall bind, etc. What was said to Peter (chap. Matthew 16:19) is here addressed to the Twelve, with the solemn introduction: ‘Verily I say unto you.’ A general application, to the organized Church, as well as to the Apostles, is possible. But the government is committed to our Lord; such an application without limitation has led to the greatest errors and crimes, and we may interpret. His spoken words by His Providence. This verse then, in its full meaning, refers to the special power and wisdom given to the Apostles by means of which their foundation work ‘on earth’ corresponded to God’s designs ‘in heaven.’ Matthew 18:19-20, show the means by which the power of the Church may rise toward this Apostolic height. Were these conditions (agreement in prayer, and the presence of Christ) wanting in the case of the Apostles, even the promise of this verse would be invalid.


Verse 19

Matthew 18:19. If two of you. ‘Two’ could still constitute a fellowship.

Shall agree on earth. This agreement could only be wrought by the Holy Spirit, selfish ends being excluded from the nature of the case. An encouragement to united prayer.


Verse 20

Matthew 18:20. For. The ground of the promised answer is not human agreement, but the presence of Christ.

Where two or three. The order gives an intimation of increase.

In my name, i.e., as a Christian community, or church, although the application to Christian assemblies is a natural consequence.

There am I in the midst of them. Agreement in prayer had the promise of an answer; unity in the name of Jesus that of Christ’s presence. The marks of a true Church: not size, success, nor succession, but an inward life of prayer and an outward life of confession (‘in my name’). When ecclesiasticism abuses the authority indicated in Matthew 18:17-18, the two or three (agreeing in prayer and conscious of the presence of Christ) are assured that they are still Christ’s people. This passage, despite the abuse of it, remains a justification of Protestantism.


Verse 21

Matthew 18:21. Then came Peter, etc. The question was a moral fruit of the previous discourse.

How oft. The Rabbins said, three times; Peter increased the number to the sacred one of seven.


Verse 22

Matthew 18:22. Until seventy times seven. It is doubtful whether the original means 490 or 77. But in either case it is a symbolical expression for never-ending forgiveness. Love is not to be limited by the multiplication table.


Verse 23

Matthew 18:23. Therefore. Because this readiness of forgiveness is the Christian principle.

A man that is a king. Perhaps in antithesis to the heavenly king, what is true of the former is much more true of the latter.

Would, ‘desired to,’ make a reckoning with his servants, represented as stewards over his property, or collectors of his revenues. The special application is to those enjoying high trusts in the Church. The final reckoning will be at the final judgment, but there is also a continual reckoning which God’s justice makes respecting the conduct of men.


Verse 24

Matthew 18:24. But when he had begun. With one foremost among the servants.

Ten thousand talents = £2,437,500, $11,700,000, if we understand Attic talents of silver. The Syrian talent was much smaller, but a talent of gold would, of course, be of much greater value. It signifies a debt which no one man could discharge, though he might incur it.


Verse 25

Matthew 18:25. To be sold, etc. The Mosaic law permitted something of this kind (Exodus 22:3; Leviticus 25:39; 2 Kings 4:1). But Matthew 18:34 favors a reference to the severer customs of Oriental despots.

And payment to be made. As far as possible, however insufficient. In the ordinary course of God’s dealings, strict justice is not only insisted upon, but begins its work.


Verse 26

Matthew 18:26. I will pay thee all. In fear and terror he makes a promise he could not fulfil. The special application is to one convicted of sin and fearing God’s wrath, promising a self-righteous obedience, which he hopes will in some way be a payment in full.


Verse 27

Matthew 18:27. Forgave him the loan. It was the lord’s money entrusted to him, not an ordinary debt. The mercy in its greatness, fulness, and freeness is the single point; the ground of it is not stated.


Verse 28

Matthew 18:28. An hundred pence (denaries)=£3 or $15. A comparatively small sum. The transgressions of our fellowmen against us are trifling in comparison to our sin against God.

Took him by the throat. Allowed by the Roman law. An unforgiving spirit is quick to apply the harshest legal measures.

Pay whatever thou owest. His own debt fully forgiven, yet he insists: He who owes must pay! The payment of ‘a just debt,’ is demanded; the worst crimes have been committed under plea of ‘justice.’ That the servant ‘went out’ may be significant, since it is true that when we ‘go out’ from, forsake the presence of, our forgiving Lord, we become unforgiving. Only when near Him are we like Him.


Verse 29

Matthew 18:29. Fell down and besought him. As he had done his greater creditor.

I will pay thee. The best authorities omit ‘all.’ This may hint that we are far more ready to promise God (Matthew 18:26) than men, all we owe, though the first promise cannot be fulfilled.


Verse 30

Matthew 18:30. And he would not, etc. Entreaty did not move him, his idea of justice must be carried out. Bitter controversy, unforgiving acts of discipline, are defended with ‘justice’ as the plea.


Verse 31

Matthew 18:31. So when his fellow-servants, etc. Not a warrant for complaints to God against the unforgiving. The fellow-servants were exceeding sorry, not ‘angry;’ the sorrowful cries of God’s people in a world of persecution and oppression are heard.


Verse 33

Matthew 18:33. Shouldest not thou? The duty of forgiveness is obvious, yet so imperfectly performed.


Verse 34

Matthew 18:34. To the tormentors. Not simply ‘jailers’ but those who (among the ancient Romans) sought by legal tortures to find out whether the debtor had any concealed hoard. It adds the thought of actual punishment.

Till he should pay. This condition ‘is the strongest possible way of expressing the eternal duration of his punishment’ (Trench). The debt incurred by sin cannot decrease, but increases even in a state of punishment; the original debt, according to the parable, is so great that no human being can discharge it. The passage opposes both the doctrine of purgatory and that of the final restoration of unbelievers.


Verse 35

Matthew 18:35. So shall also, etc. It is an overstraining of the parable to infer that God revokes His pardon. The character of the servant is not that of one actually forgiven, since with pardon from God power from God is inseparably joined. Where the moral conditions of a Christian life fail, the man who fancies he has been pardoned is actually more guilty that before. Yet the warning is one needed and efficient in practical Christianity.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Matthew 18:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/matthew-18.html. 1879-90.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, September 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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