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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
Matthew 19

 

 

Verse 1

Matthew 19:1. The borders of Judea, beyond the Jordan, i.e., on the east side. Perea proper is probably meant. This was part of the territory of Herod Antipas, and extended from the Arnon on the south to Pella on the north; or from the head of the Dead Sea to a point nearly opposite the boundary between Samaria and Galilee. The name was also given to the territory between the Arnon and the sources of Jordan, and sometimes included the whole eastern part of the Jordan valley down to the Elamitic Gulf. The breadth of the district in all three senses was not very great. The Christians of Jerusalem sought refuge in Perea (in Pella) just before the destruction of that city. Some identify this visit with the retirement to Bethabara, or Bethany, beyond Jordan (John 10:40) immediately before the raising of Lazarus; we place it after that event and the retirement to Ephraim (John 11:54).


Verses 1-12

CHRONOLOGY. Shortly after the discourse recorded in chap. 18 our Lord finally left Galilee, passing toward Jerusalem. This chapter (comp. Mark 10) takes up the history after an interval of some length, omitting a number of events which are recorded by Luke and John. Intervening occurrences (Robinson): the sending out of the Seventy (Luke 10:1-16); the final departure from Galilee, passing through Samaria (Luke 9:51-56; John 7:2-10); the healing of the ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19); the public teaching of Jesus at the feast of Tabernacles (John 7:11-53); the account of the woman taken in adultery (John 8:1); the reproof of the unbelieving Jews, and the escape from their hands (John 8:12-59); the instruction of the lawyer, and the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:28-37); the incidents in the house of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42); the return of the Seventy (Luke 10:17-24), which should probably be placed earlier; then in regular order the events narrated in John 11; ‘Ephraim’ (John 11:54) being in Perea, and this chapter taking up the history at that point Lange, without sufficient reason, refers Matthew 19:1-2, to a previous journey along the borders between Samaria and Perea. At all events Matthew 19:3 belongs to the visit to Perea just before the last Passover.


Verse 2

Matthew 19:2. Great multitudes. Comp. Mark 10:1 : ‘And the people resort to him again, and, as he was wont, he taught them again.’ The harmonists insert here the record of Luke, Luke 13:22 to Luke 18:14; consisting mainly of parables appropriate to the advanced stage of our Lord’s ministry. This assumes that He was already on the way toward Jerusalem, when the Pharisees came.


Verse 3

Matthew 19:3. Came unto him Pharisees. Even in remote Perea, almost the only remaining field of labor, Christ’s opposers sought Him.

Tempting him, or, ‘trying Him.’

It is lawful, etc. A matter of dispute between the schools of Hillel and Shammai. Herod Antipas, in whose dominions Christ now was, had imprisoned John the Baptist for too free an utterance on this point.

For every cause.—The school of Hillel held that almost any charge on the part of a husband would justify divorce. They wished not only to entangle Him in their party disputes but also to place Him in opposition to the law of Moses (Matthew 19:7). An affirmative answer would probably have called forth the charge of lax morality.


Verse 4

Matthew 19:4. Have ye not read, etc. An implied rebuke for their misunderstanding of the Scripture teaching on this point.

He who made them, etc. The historical truth of the narrative in Genesis 1:11. is assumed as the basis of an important argument. The creation of man is affirmed.

Male and female (Genesis 1:27). The question of the Pharisees is answered by what God did, in the original creation of man, instituting the sexual relation, and marriage as an indissoluble union between one man and one woman.


Verse 5

Matthew 19:5. And said (Genesis 2:24). Either said by Adam before the fall, and here cited as said by God through Adam as the representative of the race, or by Moses, and cited as an inspired utterance.

For this cause. Comp. Ephesians 5:31, where the passage is applied also to Christ and the Church. God says, Christ says, that the relationship between a man and his wife is closer, higher, and stronger, than even that between children and parents. Notice: it is the man who leaves his parents.

The twain shall become one flesh. ‘Unity of soul and spirit,’ is not mentioned. The absence of it, however great a source of unhappiness, is not a ground of divorce. The essential bond is the fact that the twain, by marriage, ‘became one flesh,’ one man within the limits of their united life in the flesh, for this world. The one cause of divorce (Matthew 19:9) is incompatible with the unity as ‘one flesh.’


Verse 6

Matthew 19:6. what therefore God joined together, etc. Our Lord’s conclusion. The sentence forms a proper part of every Christian marriage ceremony. It is Christ’s protection of this holy relation. It also implies a warning against hasty marriages, against ignorance and forgetfulness of the fact that it is God who forms the indissoluble tie.


Verse 7

Matthew 19:7. Why then did Moses command? Deuteronomy 24:1-4 (comp. chap. Matthew 5:31) had been transformed into a command that divorces should take place.


Verse 8

Matthew 19:8. Suffered you. The Mosaic regulations were merely permissive, growing out of their sinfulness, especially their disposition to be harsh toward their wives.

But from the beginning it hath not been so. In the original state in Paradise. Polygamy appears first (Genesis 4:19) in conjunction with murder, and in the line of Cain.


Verse 9

Matthew 19:9. And I say unto you. Spoken in the house (Mark 10:10-11).

Except for fornication. This one ground for divorce, mentioned as a matter of course, makes no exception to the rule laid down in Matthew 19:5-6; this offence is in direct antagonism to the idea of marriage. The Church of Rome denies the validity even of this ground. All sins of unchastity are sins against the marriage tie (comp. chap. Matthew 5:27-32), loosening it in spirit, but this act of sin is the only ground for dissolving it in form.—The woman referred to is one divorced on improper grounds. Divorce laws should be framed in the light of Matthew 19:8; not to facilitate, but to regulate, a matter arising solely from the sinfulness of mankind. The elevation of women from a condition of slavery has been the result of Christ’s teaching in regard to marriage; yet some women, thus elevated, have advocated divorce ‘for any cause.’


Verse 10

Matthew 19:10. If the case. The whole theory of marriage just announced is referred to. The low views then held may be inferred from what the disciples said: it is not good to marry; the ideal seemed so high, that its application seemed almost impossible.


Verse 11

Matthew 19:11. All men cannot receive, or, ‘not all can receive,’ this saying. This high ideal can be understood and put into practice only by those who get illumination and power from God. As a rule, the less Christianity, the lower the ideal of marriage, the more numerous the sins against this state.


Verse 12

Matthew 19:12. For there are. Assuming that the married state is the normal one, three classes are here mentioned who should (or may) remain in celibacy: (1.) those who from natural incapacity or inaptitude, have no desire to marry; (2.) those who have been mutilated, a class very common once and not unknown now; (3.) those who abstain from marriage, whether for the first or second time, to work the better for Christ’s cause. The first case has no moral quality, the second implies misfortune, the third has a moral value. But it is not set forth here as a law for the ministry, nor is there any superior merit in celibacy. The figurative exposition which understands by the second and third classes those who remain unmarried from moral considerations, or sacrifice, when married, their conjugal enjoyments to their spiritual calling, is forced and incorrect, since all Christians are bound to the latter course and exceptional cases are here spoken of.

He that is able to receive it. This does not imply a superiority in those who can receive it, but simply that such a sacrifice would be expected from some of His disciples.—On the whole subject of marriage and celibacy, comp. Schaff’s History of the Apostolic Church, § 112, pp. 448-454.


Verse 13

Matthew 19:13. Then were brought unto him; probably by their parents. An encouragement to parents to bring even ‘infants’ to Christ, since, according to Luke, such were among the little children. Thus the doubts of the disciples about the marriage state were answered.

Lay his hands on them. A recognition of Christ’s power to bless, since He healed by laying on His hands.

And the disciples rebuked them. They were engaged in an interesting discussion about marriage, etc. Abstract theories about household relations should not stand between the Lord and little children.


Verses 13-26

This incident seems to be in proper chronological position. Luke’s account at this point again becomes parallel to that of Matthew and Mark.


Verse 14

Matthew 19:14. Suffer the little children, etc. The natural impulse would be to bring children to Him, do not check it.

Forbid them not, as the disciples did, and many since then.

To such belongeth the kingdom of heaven. As in Matthew 18:1-14, the reference is to children in spirit (comp. Mark 10:15; Luke 18:17), but not to the exclusion of actual children, who probably form the majority in the kingdom of heaven. Lessons: 1. Since ‘to such belongeth the kingdom of heaven,’ the earlier children become Christians the better: 2. Since they are to come (or be brought) to Christ, who is a Saviour, the doctrine of universal depravity is not denied here. 3. They may be ‘forbidden,’ both by neglect and injudicious teaching: (a.) by not being taught of Christ, through word and example; (b.) by being taught legalism, i.e., ‘Be good, or God will not love you,’ instead of this: Christ loves you, therefore go to Him in order to be good. 4. As they were brought, and were actually blessed by Christ (Mark 10:16); through the faith of parents a seed of faith may exist in the heart of a child, so that the infant members of a Christian family ought to be Christian children, and their education conducted in the confident expectation that they will show the fruits of faith.


Verse 16

Matthew 19:16. Behold. The circumstance was remarkable in view of the opposition of the Pharisees.

One came. This young ruler, who ran and kneeled to Christ (Mark 10:17), was an honest, earnest seeker after truth and life, with some admiration for, and confidence in, Jesus as a human teacher. But he was in error, as honest and earnest seekers may be.

What good thing, etc. Whether a Pharisee or not, he thought to earn eternal life. Hence the passage must not be wrested in favor of legalism.


Verses 16-26

This section is in its proper chronological position. Our Lord ‘departed thence’ (Matthew 19:15), but on the way (Mark 10:17) He was met by this ‘ruler’ (Luke 18:18). Our Lord first presented the high ideal of marriage, the closest human tie, with a hint that even this must be subordinate to the claims of His kingdom; then the position of children, next in order of intimacy; now comes the relation to earthly possessions, which men value next (though through the influence of sin sometimes most of all). Our Lord meets the young ruler, whom he loved, on his ground, leads him to a recognition of the idol that prevents him from entering the kingdom.—Going away sorrowful is not entering into life.—Riches are a hindrance so great, that just here comes in the declaration of God’s saving omnipotence.—Our Lord speaks the truth to rich and poor alike. There is no word here that points to a ‘community of goods,’ though this was the occasion, were that doctrine correct. The giving up of wealth when it is an idol, the crucifixion to the world, here enjoined, have a moral quality. There is none in a forced equality of possessions, nor involuntary poverty with the hope of winning heaven. Agrarianism, no less than avarice, makes wealth the chief good; trusting in poverty, no less than trusting in riches, fosters pride.


Verse 17

Matthew 19:17. Why askest thou me of that which is good? One there is who is good. The common version follows a reading corrected to conform with the other two. The variety sheds light on the whole conversation. Either two questions and answers occurred, or Matthew gives this form to bring out the true sense. There is but one good Being and one good thing, namely, God Himself.—What the young ruler needed was not to do some good work or’ to learn some speculative morality, but to acknowledge God as the Supreme Good and act accordingly. This strikes at his sin, the love of riches. It does not mean: ‘ask God; read His commandments, do not ask me.’ The other accounts present this alternative: Christ either claims that He is Himself God, or denies His own perfect goodness. The answer rebukes the error of the question, that eternal life can be won by good works.

But if thou wouldest enter into life, keep the commandments. The possibility of doing this perfectly had just been denied. Our Lord therefore seeks to show the young man how much he falls short of such a keeping of the commandments. What follows shows that his obedience, however strict, did not recognize God as the supreme good.


Verse 18

Matthew 19:18. Which? That is, of what kind.

Thou shalt not kill, etc. Those commandments involving duties toward our fellow men are cited, so as to meet the young man on his own ground.


Verse 19

Matthew 19:19. Honour thy father and thy mother. This commandment connects the two classes of duties enjoined in the Decalogue, but is here presented as involving duty to man. Hence the position it occupies in all three accounts.

Thou shalt love thy neighbour at thyself. A summing up of our duties to men, taken from Leviticus 14:18. Comp. Mark 12:28 ff.


Verse 20

Matthew 19:20. All these have I kept. Externally moral, perhaps self-righteous, he yet felt that he lacked something. Peace of conscience had not been attained by his keeping of ‘all these.’ He had yet to learn how much he lacked of even comprehending the spirituality of the law.


Verse 21

Matthew 19:21. If thou wouldest be perfect. Mark and Luke: ‘one thing thou lackest.’ One duty still remained to make his obedience complete, judged from his own point of view. Not that he had done all except this one duty, but a test is proposed, to prove that the whole obedience lacked the proper motive.

Sell all thy goods. In his case love of his possessions was the great hindrance; in another it might have been something else. All we have belongs to Christ, but this command is not to be literally obeyed by every one. The gospel is here put in a legal form to reach the conscience of the young man; the ‘treasure in heaven’ is not bought by voluntary poverty. (Comp, chaps, Matthew 5:12; Matthew 6:20.)

Come, follow me. The final test. Whenever property interferes with following Christ, it must be given up; and he who would be a Christian must be ready to relinquish it for Christ’s sake, not to win salvation nor to buy a superior place in heaven.


Verse 22

Matthew 19:22. He went away sorrowful. Not unaffected, he yet went away. Nothing further if known of him. As Jesus ‘loved him,’ and therefore taught him his duty, that love may have followed him and led him to a right decision. But the silence about his future course hints, that whatever light and love one receives, the decision is to be made by the man himself.—Our Lord’s comments on ‘riches’ show that this young man’s pride was intrenched in his wealth; a part of it he might have been willing to pay for ‘eternal life;’ but being his idol, it must be entirely relinquished before he could enter the kingdom of heaven. The hindrance is often removed by God’s Providence.


Verse 23

Matthew 19:23. A rich man shill enter hardly, i.e., ‘with difficulty,’ into the kingdom of heaven. Comp. Mark 10:24 : ‘them that trust in riches.’ Yet such trust is the natural result of possession, or of even the strong desire to possess.


Verse 24

Matthew 19:24. Easier for a camel, etc. A strong declaration of impossibility (comp. Matthew 19:26). This has been weakened in two ways: (1.) by the change of a single letter (in some manuscripts), of the original, altering ‘camel’ into ‘rope;’ (2.) by explaining the eye of a needle to mean the small gate for foot passengers at the entrance to cities. The first is incorrect, the second uncertain and unnecessary. The literal sense is not too strong, as both the context and abundant facts show. Our Lord had already spoken of a ‘camel’ as a figure for something very large (chap. Matthew 23:24); and in the Talmud the same saying occurs about an elephant ‘The camel was more familiar to the hearers of the Saviour than the elephant, and on account of the hump on its back, it was especially adapted to symbolize earthly wealth as a heavy load and serious impediment to entrance through the narrow gate of the kingdom of heaven.’


Verse 25

Matthew 19:25. Who then can be saved? Since all may have some possessions, and naturally love to have more. Their temporal views of the kingdom were also mixed with their question.


Verse 26

Matthew 19:26. Looked upon them. To give force to this profound statement, and perhaps in kindly sympathy with their weakness and want of understanding.

With men this is impossible. Not only in their judgment, but with their power.—With God all things are possible. God’s grace not only can, but does, save some who are rich in spite of all the hindrances their wealth occasions.


Verse 27

Matthew 19:27. Lo, we left all. Whatever they had, and not all of them were poor, they left.

What them shall we have. ‘We’ in contrast to this young man who did not stand the test. The answer indicates a little self-righteous boasting in the question; the parable would oppose any remnant of a mercenary spirit lurking in it. Preeminence was probably anticipated by Peter, and is promised in the next verse.


Verse 27

The direct reply to Peter’s question is found in all three accounts; the parable is peculiar to Matthew. It loses most of its seeming difficulties, when connected with the previous conversation. The question of Peter had reference to a preeminent reward, and after the promise to them (which is changed immediately into a promise to all) this parable teaches that this reward is of free grace, and that the Apostles themselves, though first called and first to forsake all, should not on that account expect a preeminent reward. Self-sacrifice for Christ, not priority in time, is the ground of preeminence. Chap. Matthew 19:30, introduces a statement to be illustrated (‘But many,’ etc.); chap. Matthew 20:16, repeats it as enforced (‘So the last,’ etc.).


Verse 28

Matthew 19:28. Ye, i.e., the Apostles.

In the regeneration, or ‘renovation’ (only here and Titus 3:5). Joined with what follows, which tells ‘when’ this will be, and shows that it means the accomplishment of the spiritual renovation of the world (comp. Revelation 21:5; Acts 3:21). As this will be the final stage of a continuous work, we find a secondary and partial fulfilment of the promise in the nigh position of the Apostles in the Church.

When the Son of man shall sit. A definite period, when our Lord shall appear on the throne of his glory, the throne which belongs to, results from, and manifests His glory, as conqueror, ruler, and judge.

Upon twelve thrones. Christ will take His seat upon His own throne; the Twelve will be promoted to thrones prepared for them. Whether Matthias or Paul takes the place of Judas among the Twelve is disputed. It is therefore difficult to press a literal meaning upon the promise.

Judging. This refers more to their high position, than to acts of judging.

The twelve tribes of Israel. Scarcely the Jewish nation, since our Lord had already told them that His Church was to be distinct from this. Probably Christ’s people, among whom the Apostles shall occupy the most exalted position at His return.


Verse 29

Matthew 19:29. And every one. The promise is of general application.

Houses. ‘Homes,’ household ties, rather than ‘possessions,’ which are mentioned afterwards.

Brethren, etc. ‘The family relations are mentioned in the order in which they would be left..’ ‘Wife’ is to be omitted both here and in Mark 10:29, but is found in Luke 18:29.

For my name’s sake. Mark adds: ‘and the gospel’s.’ Out of love to Christ and to advance His cause. The motive is everything; self-denial to buy God’s favor is no self-denial.

Hundred-fold. Mark adds: ‘Now in this time.’ Abundant compensation will be given even in this life. Lange: ‘Believers are to find a new and eternal home and country, new and eternal relationships, and new and eternal possessions, of which the blessings enjoyed by them on earth are to be the earnest and foretaste. All these promises are summed up in that of being made heirs of eternal life (Romans 8).’ Comp. Mark 10:29-30.


Verse 30

Matthew 19:30. But many shall be last that are first,; and first that are last. A general truth in proverbial form; here a caution against trusting to appearances or to the permanence of present circumstances and conditions. The promise must be accompanied by a caution, especially in view of the coming apostasy of Judas. The Twelve also were liable to mistake priority in time of calling for priority in position,—a frequent mistake in every human society, but doubly a mistake where God’s free grace is concerned.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Matthew 19:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/matthew-19.html. 1879-90.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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