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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Wedding Garment

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WEDDING GARMENT.—The parable in which the incident of the wedding garment occurs is recorded in Matthew 22:1 ff. As there is good reason to “believe that the similar story told in Luke 14:16 ff. is not a different version of the same parable, but another teaching given on a different occasion, there will be no attempt made to find what light Lk.’s parable of the Great Supper throws on it. The wedding garment fits in as naturally with Mt.’s story as it would be out of place in Lk.’s.

Questions have been discussed with much learning as to whether the wedding garment means the righteousness of Christ or the righteousness of good works, whether it be something that we must do for ourselves or something that is done for us. The story, however, makes it quite plain that it is nothing we can do for ourselves. Those gathered from the highways and lanes had certainly no opportunity for making themselves garments that would be fit for the royal presence. There is no occasion to search for illustrations showing that in the East it was not uncommon at high festivals to provide guests with suitable garments, because whether that was the case or not historically, it is certainly the case parabolically. The attitude of the king throughout the story is represented as so generous that it is inconceivable that he should fling one of his guests into a dungeon because he was unable to find for himself a suitable marriage garment. The man is punished for his impudence in supposing that he could come into the king’s presence just as he was. If, then, we inquire what the truth is that our Lord wishes to express, it is plainly this, which we find again and again in Scripture, that no one is clean in God’s sight. And when this sinful condition is contrasted with God’s absolute holiness, no conclusion can be drawn but that man as he is cannot stand in God’s presence.

The wedding garment means, then, something that God supplies, enabling the sinner to stand in His presence. Now there is nothing in the spiritual world that properly answers to a cloak or garment. Here, dress may effect a deception, may make a man appear to be what he is not, but there all is real, and the character is seen through and through. Commentators have therefore rightly felt that the wedding garment must denote an element in character. It is not, on the one hand, what is popularly known as good works, because they may have no root in the character; nor is it some fictitious imputation of what does not really belong to us; nor is it, as Archer Butler suggests, a spirit of sympathetic joy with the wedding festivities. It is something the lack of which deserves searching judgment, the presence of which is absolutely necessary. What is it? Is it not that definite relationship with Christ which is so clearly expressed in the hymn—

‘Rock of Ages cleft for me,

Let me hide myself in thee,’

a relationship implying the closest possible union? It is not something fictitious or unreal, but something which the fact of sin demands. For just as the spirit of independence is a ridiculous assumption for the creature in the presence of his Creator, so that of dependence on a perfect character carries with it a definite moral quality.

It may be said that this interpretation explains the substantive but not the adjective, that we have a meaning for ‘garment’ but not for ‘wedding garment.’ The wedding of the parable stands for the union of God with humanity—the Incarnation, as we call it. The indifference to that fact is the heaviest condemnation the world can receive. That was the blunder of the commercial people of our Lord’s time, who were so engrossed with their own business as to pay no attention to the presence of Christ in the world, and who, when it seemed as though it would interfere with their concerns, did their best to destroy it. The blunder of the outcast is to suppose that this wonderful condescension was not necessary. It is this that is depicted in the incident of the wedding garment.

G. H. S. Walpole.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Wedding Garment'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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