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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

Matthew 25



Verse 1

1. τότε. In the Last Day—the time just spoken of.

ὁμοιωθήσεται ‘shall be like,’ not, ‘shall be compared (by me).’ The condition of the Church at the End of the World shall be like the condition of the ten virgins described in the parable.

This parable is another warning for the disciples of Christ ‘to watch.’ Like the rest of the discourse it is primarily addressed to the Apostles, and after them to the pastors of the Church, who are posted as sentinels for the coming of Christ; lastly, to all Christians. Whatever interpretation may be put on the lesser incidents they must be subordinated to the lesson of the parable—vigilance, and the reason for vigilance—the certainty of the event, and the uncertainty as to the time of its occurrence.

αἵτινες. The more frequent use of ὅστις in the N.T. may be regarded as a tendency to modern idiom: for in Romaic the relative ὃς is rarely used, but ὅστις frequently occurs in the nominative, both singular and plural (Corfe’s Modern Greek Grammar, p. 67). But in most cases where ὅστις occurs in N.T. the classical usage is observed. Here αἵτινες denotes the kind or class of persons to whom the similitude relates, giving a reason for the analogy. Cp. Æsch. Prom. Matthew 25:37-38, τί τὸν θεοῖς ἔχθιστον οὐ στυγεῖς θεὸν | ὅστις τὸ σὸν θνητοῖσι προὔδωκεν γέρας; ‘one who has betrayed;’ see Paley’s note. For the distinction between ὃς and ὅστις see Winer, pp. 209, 210; and Ellicott on Galatians 4:24.

λαμπάδας. ‘Torches,’ the only meaning which the word bears in Greek literature early or late. Lat. lampas sometimes signifies a ‘lamp,’ as Juv. III. 285 ‘aenea lampas.’

εἰς ὑπάντησιν κ.τ.λ. The usual Jewish custom was for the ‘friends of the bridegroom’ to conduct the bride to her husband’s home; and when the procession arrived, the bridegroom went forth to lead the bride across the threshold (Lightfoot, Hor. Hebr. ad loc., and Dr Ginsburg in Kitto’s Cycl. of Bib. Lit.). The imagery of the parable, however, implies that the bridegroom himself went to fetch his bride perhaps from a great distance, while a group of maidens await his return ready to welcome him in Oriental fashion with lamps and flambeaux.

εἰς ὑπάντησιν. εἰς denotes purpose. For ὑπάντησιν see ch. Matthew 8:28.

Verses 1-13


In St Matthew only.

Verse 2

2. φρόνιμοι. Used of prudence or practical intelligence, a characteristic of the steward, ch. Matthew 24:45, and Luke 16:8.

Verse 3

3. αἱ γὰρ μωραὶ κ.τ.λ. All watch for their Lord, but some only—‘the wise’—with true intensity and with due provision for the watch. The foolish virgins have sufficient oil if the Lord come quickly; not sufficient for long and patient expectation. It is a rebuke to shallow religion that dies away when the excitement passes.

The oil seems to mean generally the spiritual life or preparedness for the Lord’s coming.

Verse 5

5. τοῦ νυμφίου. The thought of Christ as the Bridegroom of the Church is hardly appropriate here, for in the parable the maidens, and not the bride, are the expectant Church. The thought of the ‘children of the bridechamber,’ ch. Matthew 9:15, is a nearer parallel.

ἐνύσταξαν πᾶσαι κ.τ.λ. ‘Nodded from drowsiness, and fell asleep.’ The two stages of sleep are noted in Plato, Apol. Socr., p. 31, ὑμεῖς δʼ ἴσως τάχʼ ἂν ἀχθόμενοι ὥσπερ οἱ νυστάζοντες ἐγειρόμενοιεἶτα τὸν λοιπὸν βίον καθεύδοντες διατελοῖτʼ ἄν. Sleep represents the ignorance as to the time of Christ’s coming; it is not to be interpreted of unwatchfulness, it is not a guilty or imprudent sleep, as in the parable of the thief coming by night (ch. Matthew 24:43).

Verse 6

6. κραυγὴ γέγονεν. ‘A cry is raised’. fit sonus (Verg.). The tense gives vividness.

ἐξέρχεσθε. The Codex Alexandrinus commences at this word.

Verse 7

7. ἐκόσμησαν. ‘Trimmed,’ by addition of oil, and by clearing the fibres with a needle.

Verse 8

8. σβέννυνται. ‘Are going out,’ not ‘are gone out,’ A.V. A picture in the newly discovered Codex Rossanensis (sixth cent.) gives this point accurately. Three of the foolish virgins hold torches nearly extinguished, but still burning. This parable is a favourite subject in the catacombs.

Verse 9

9. ΄ήποτε οὐκ ἀρκέσῃ ἡμῖν καὶ ὑμῖν. The bridal procession was still to be made in which there would be need of burning lamps. The wise cannot impart their oil:—an incident necessary to the leading idea of the parable;—nothing can make up for unreadiness at the last moment. This point has been adduced as an argument against works of supererogation.

μήποτε οὐκ ἀρκέσῃ. ‘Lest haply it suffice not.’ There is an ellipse of a refusal or of a word signifying fear. The reading οὐ μὴ ἀρκ. need not alter the construction, οὐ μὴ being merely a strengthened negative; but by some μήποτε is taken by itself, ‘no, in no wise.’

Verse 10

10. εἰς τοὺς γάμους. To the marriage feast, as ch. Matthew 22:2. The happiness of the blest is often described by the image of a great supper, cp. ch. Matthew 26:29.

Verse 11

11. Κύριε κύριε. Cp. ch. Matthew 7:22-23.

Verse 13

13. γρηγορεῖτε οὖν. Our Lord’s explanation of the parable, shewing the true purport of it.

Verse 14

14. παρέδωκεν αὐτοῖς τὰ ὑπάρχοντα αὐτοῦ. Cp. Mark 13:34. ‘A man taking a far journey, who left his house and gave authority (rather, his authority) to his servants, and to every man his work.’ Christ in his absence gives to each a portion of his own authority and of his own work on earth.

A great deal of the commerce of antiquity was managed by slaves, who were thus often entrusted with responsible functions (cp. ch. Matthew 24:45). In this case they are expected to use their Master’s money in trade or in cultivation of the soil, and to make as large an increase as possible.

Verses 14-30


in this Gospel only.

The parable of the Pounds, Luke 19:12-27, is similar, but there are important points of distinction; [1] in regard to the occasions on which the two parables are given; [2] in the special incidents of each.

The lesson is still partly of watchfulness, it is still in the first instance for the apostles. And mainly always for those who bear office in the Church. But fresh thoughts enter into this parable: [1] There is work to be done in the time of waiting; the watching must not be idle or unemployed; [2] Even the least talented is responsible.

Verse 15

15. ᾧ μὲν ἔδωκεν κ.τ.λ. In the parable of the Pounds or ‘minæ’ (Luke 19), each subject receives one pound. Here the truth is indicated that there is variety in the services wrought for God in respect of dignity and of difficulty. More will be required of the influential and enlightened than of the ignorant and poor. ‘Nemo urgetur ultra quam potest’ (Bengel).

ᾧ μὲνᾧ δέ. See note on ch. Matthew 13:4.

τάλαντα. See ch. Matthew 18:24. It is from this parable that the word ‘talents’ has passed into modern languages in the sense of ‘abilities,’ or ‘mental gifts,’ though it seems properly to mean ‘opportunities’ or ‘spheres of duty.’

Verse 16

16. πορευθεὶςεἰργάσατο. The ideas of trade and travelling were very nearly connected in ancient times, as the Greek words for traffic shew: ἔμπορος, ἐμπορία, ἐμπορεύομαι, πωλέω. Cp. also the connection between venio, veneo and vendito, ventito. See James 4:13, Ἄγε νῦν οἱ λέγοντες· Σήμερον ἢ αὔριον πορευσόμεθα εἰς τήνδε τὴν πόλιν καὶ ποιήσωμεν ἐκεῖ ἐνιαυτὸν καὶ ἐμπορεύσομεθα καὶ κερδήσομεν. Contrast therefore πορευθὶς here with ἀπελθὼν, Matthew 25:18.

εἰργάσατο ἐν αὐτοῖς. ‘Traded with them.’ Made money (χρήματα) by them. A technical use of the word. cp. Demosth., Contr. Dionys., καὶ δὶς ἢ τρὶς ὑπῆρχεν αὐτοῖς εἰργάσασθαι τῷ αὐτῷ ἀργυρίῳ; Aristoph. Eq. 840, ᾗ πολλὰ χρήματʼ ἐργάσει σείων τε καὶ ταράττων.

Verse 19

19. μετὰ πολὺν χρόνον. Another hint that the second coming of Christ would be long deferred.

συναίρει λόγον. ‘Reckoneth with them,’ in order to have his stipulated share of the profits. συναίρ. λόγ. Not a classical expression; it appears in this Gospel only, and may have been a business phrase familiar to Matthew the publican.

Verse 21

21. ἐπὶ ὀλίγα πιστός. Accusative from notion of extending over. ἐπὶ πολλῶν, over or upon, without the closer connection indicated by ἐπὶ with the dative.

εἴσελθε εἰς τὴν χαρὰν τοῦ κυρίου σου. Either [1] share the life of happiness which thy lord enjoys, and which shall be the reward of thy zeal; or [2] the joyous feast; as in the last parable; cp. also Esther 9:18-19. (See especially the LXX. version.)

Verse 22

22. λαβὼν after τάλαντα omitted (ABCL, &c.), inserted (א D, &c.).

Verse 24

24. ὁ εἰληφώς. A variety from ὁ λαβών, Matthew 25:16.

εἶπεν κ.τ.λ. This slave anticipates his lord’s condemnation; ‘qui s’excuse s’accuse.’

σκληρός. ἄνθρωπον μὲν σκληρὸν λὲγουσι τὸν μονότροπον καὶ δυσπειθῆ καὶ πρὸς ἅπαν ἀντιτείνοντα. Galen, quoted by Wetstein.

συνάγων ὅθεν οὐ διεσκόρπισας. i.e. ‘gathering into the garner from another’s threshing-floor where thou hast not winnowed’ (Meyer); so, ‘exacting interest where thou hast invested no money.’ The accusation was false, but the Lord takes his slave at his word, ‘thou oughtest therefore,’ for that very reason.

συνάγειν is used of the Israelites gathering straw in Egypt; αὐτοὶ πορευέσθωσαν καὶ συναγαγέτωσαν ἑαυτοῖς ἄχυρα, Exodus 5:7; σκορπίζων is used of the sower: ὁ σκορπίζων τὸν σῖτον σπορεύς ἐστιν (Eustathius, quoted by Wetstein). This verb and its compounds are Ionic, and do not belong to the Attic dialect. Lob. Phryn., p. 218.

Verse 26

26. ᾔδεις ὅτιδιεσκόρπισα; ‘Thou knewest that I was,’ &c.? It is an interrogation ex concesso. The Lord does not admit the truth of this description, but judges the slave from his own standpoint. Even a low conception of the divine nature brings some responsibility, and has some promise of reward. This view brings this picture into agreement with the other descriptions of the last judgment.

Verse 27

27. τὸ ἀργύριόν μου. It was not thine own.

τοῖς τραπεζίταις. To the bankers, who set up tables or counters (τράπεζαι) for the purpose of lending or exchanging money. In the cities of eastern Russia Jewish bankers (τραπεζῖται) are still to be seen seated at their tables in the market-place. Such bankers’ tables in the ἀγορὰ were places of resort. Socrates asks his judges not to be surprised if he should use the same arguments, διʼ ὧνπερ εἴωθα λέγειν καὶ ἐν ἀγορᾷ ἐπὶ τῶν τραπεζῶν, Apol. Socr., p. 17; cp. also κἀμοὶ μὲν τὰ προειρημένα διείλεκτο ἐπὶ τῇ φιλίου τραπέζῃ, Lysias, IX. 5, p. 114.

σὺν τόκῳ. τόκος, lit. ‘offspring,’ then the offspring of money ‘interest,’ or usury. Aristotle playing upon the word argues against usury as being a birth contrary to nature (παρὰ φύσιν), Arist. Pol. I. 10. 5. Shakespeare has the same thought when he calls ‘interest’ ‘the breed of barren metal,’ and Bacon who terms it ‘the bastard use of money.’ The high rates of interest in the ancient world and the close connection between debt and slavery naturally brought usury into odium. The Jew was forbidden to lend money upon usury to his brother (Deuteronomy 23:20); in later times, however, the practice of usury was reduced to a system and carried on without restriction of race. See Bib. Dict., Articles ‘Loan’ and ‘Usury.’

This was the very least the slave could have done: to make money in this way required no personal exertion.

Verse 29

29. The thought conveyed by this verse is true, even in worldly matters: talents not used pass away from their possessor: and the strenuous worker seems to gather to himself what is lost by the idle. Demosthenes says (Phil. i. 5) ‘the possessions of the negligent belong of right to those who will endure toil and danger.’

Verse 31

31. ἅγιοι, omitted before ἂγγελοι (א BDL and others). A heads the evidence for the retention of ἅγιοι.

Verses 31-46


Verse 32

32. πάντα τὰ ἔθνη. Either [1] all the nations of the world, including the Jews; or [2] all the Gentiles. The almost invariable use of τὰ ἔθνη to signify the Gentiles; the unconsciousness of service to Christ shewn by just and unjust alike; the simplicity of the standard proposed by the Judge, favour the second interpretation. On the other hand the special warning to the Apostles, and to the Jewish race, in the previous parts of the discourse render it probable that Jews and Christians are not excluded from this picture of the judgment. The unconsciousness of the judged may be referred not to ignorance of Christ, but to unconsciousness that in relieving the distressed they were actually relieving Christ. The simplicity of the standard may be intended to include what is called ‘natural’ religion, as well as revealed religion. The nations are judged by a standard of justice which all recognise. (Read Romans 1:18-20; Romans 2:9-16.)

ὥσπερ ὁ ποιμὴν κ.τ.λ. Cp. Ezekiel 34:17, ‘And as for you, O my flock, thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I judge between cattle and cattle, between the rams and the he goats.’ ‘The sheep and goats are always seen together under the same shepherd and in company; yet they never trespass on the domain of each other … When folded together at night they may always be seen gathered in distinct groups; and so, round the wells they appear instinctively to classify themselves apart, as they wait for the troughs to be filled.’—Tristram.

Verses 34-46

34–46. These verses are constructed according to the rules of Hebrew poetry: they fall into two divisions, the first extends from Matthew 25:34-40, the second from Matthew 25:41-46.

Each division consists of a triplet or stanza of three lines containing the sentence of the Judge (Matthew 25:34 answering to Matthew 25:41), followed by a stanza of six lines, which in the form of a climax state the reason of the sentence (Matthew 25:35-36 answering to 42, 43), then the response of those who receive the sentence (Matthew 25:37-39 answering to Matthew 25:44), then the reply of the Judge (Matthew 25:40 answering to 44), lastly the concluding couplet describing the passage to their doom of just and unjust.

The contrast between the sentences is impressively shown in the corresponding verses:

[1] (α) τότε ἐρεῖ ὁ βασιλεὺς τοῖς ἐκ δεξιῶν αὐτοῦ.

(β) τότε ἐρεῖ καὶ τοῖς ἐξ εὐωνύμων.

The form of Hebrew poetry emphasizes differences in the corresponding lines.

Note first here the absence in (β) of the subject to ἐρεῖ (Bengel says of ὁ βασιλεύς, ‘appellatio majestatis plena solisque piis læta’) and secondly the absence of the qualifying genitive αὐτοῦ. That the omission of the subject is not unintentional appears to be proved by the repeated omission in Matthew 25:40; Matthew 25:45. The meaning of these two points of difference seems to be that at this dread moment the connection is severed between God and those whom He had sought in vain. He is now no King to them, no longer their God.

[2] (α) Δεῦτε οἱ εὐλογημένοι τοῦ πατρός μου | κληρονομήσατε τὴν ἡτοιμασμένην ὑμῖν βασιλείαν ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου.

(β) πορεύεσθε ἀπʼ ἐμοῦ οἱ κατηραμένοι | εἰς τὸ πῦρ τὸ αἰώνιον τὸ ἡτοιμασμένον τῷ διαβόλῳ καὶ τοῖς ἀγγέλοις αὐτοῦ.

Observe here that the righteous are said to be blessed of the Father, but the unrighteous are not cursed of the Father.

Then note the righteous as Sons of the Father inherit of right the Kingdom that has been prepared for them, whereas the disinherited children pass into the fire of the ages prepared not for them but for the devil and his angels.

In the parallel passages that follow the respective sentences contrast the brief agitated questions of the doomed with the words of the righteous lingering over the particulars of their unconscious service to Christ. Rather their words do not breath service (διηκονήσαμεν, Matthew 25:44) but friendship (ἐθρέψαμεν ἐποτίσαμεν κ.τ.λ.). See on the whole of this passage Jebb, Sacred Lit., pp. 363–367.

Verse 35-36

35, 36. There is a climax in this enumeration. The first three are recognised duties, the last three are voluntary acts of self-forgetting love. Common humanity would move a man to relieve his bitterest foe when perishing by hunger or by thirst (see Romans 12:20). Oriental custom required at least a bare hospitality. But to clothe the naked implies a liberal and loving spirit, to visit the sick is an act of spontaneous self-sacrifice, to go to the wretched outcasts in prison was perhaps an unheard of act of charity in those days; it was to enter places horrible and foul beyond description; Sallust, speaking of the Tullianum (the state prison at Rome), says: ‘incultu, tenebris, odore fœda atque terribilis ejus facies est.’

Verse 40

40. ἐφʼ ὅσον. ‘So far as,’ ἐπὶ denotes the point to which the action extends.

ἐμοὶ ἐποιήσατε. This unconscious personal service of Christ may be contrasted with the conscious but unreal knowledge of Christ assumed by false prophets; see Luke 13:26.

Christ identifies Himself with his Church, as in his words to Saul, τί με διώκεις; (Acts 9:4).

Verse 41

41. κατηραμένοι. Without the article (א BL) against AD and many other uncials and fathers. The participle alone gives a reason, or indicates a state or condition, ‘under your curse;’ with the article it denotes a class.

Verse 44

44. σοι. The position of the personal pronouns throughout is emphatic.

Verse 45

45. ἐφʼ ὅσον κ.τ.λ. Men will be judged not only for evil done, but for good left undone. In this view sins are regarded as debts (ὀφειλήματα) unpaid.

Verse 46

46. οὗτοι. Those on the left are unnamed here and throughout the description, but the parallel δίκαιοι infuses a meaning into οὗτοι. Compare with this the unnamed rich man in the parable of Lazarus, Luke 16:19-31.

In this important passage αἰώνιος is translated in A.V. everlasting (punishment) and (life) eternal; in each case the adjective in the text follows the noun, though in A.V. it precedes one noun and follows the other. αἰώνιος = of or belonging to [1] an œon or period, (a) past, (b) present, (c) future, or [2] to a succession of aiôns or periods. In αἰών the idea of time is subordinate. It is the period required for the accomplishment of a specific result. τὰ τέλη τῶν αἰώνων (1 Corinthians 10:11) are the results of the æons since the world began. A man’s life is an αἰὼν not because it endures a certain number of years, but because it is complete in itself—with the life the life’s work ends. It does not, therefore, in itself = ‘unending,’ but ‘lasting through the required epoch.’ But life eternal, which is ‘to know the true God and Jesus Christ’ (John 17:3), can only be conceived of as unending and infinite; cp. ‘Art thou not from everlasting, O Lord my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die’ (Habakkuk 1:12).

κόλασις (der. from a root meaning to lop, prune, &c.) is ‘correction,’ punishment that checks and reforms, not vengeance (τιμωρία). The two are distinguished, Arist. Rhet. I. 10. 17. The rare occurrence of κόλασις draws attention to its use here. The only other passage where it is found in N.T. is 1 John 4:18, where the Apostle speaks of ‘perfect love’ (ἡ τελεία ἀγάπη) giving confidence in the day of judgment (ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῆς κρίσεως); fear is inconsistent with that perfect love, because φόβος ἔχει κόλασιν—‘hath the remedial correcting punishment even now, and so separates from good while it lasts.’ In a profound sense that passage is cognate to this. Cp. also the use of κολάζεσθαι, 2 Peter 2:9, ἀδίκους εἰς ἡμέραν κρίσεως κολαζομένους (suffering punishment now) τηρεῖν. Cp. Acts 4:21, μηδὲν εὑρίσκοντες τὸ πῶς κολάσωνται αὐτούς, where the notion of restraint and reform is evident. Two passages of Aristotle’s Ethics which exhibit the use of κόλασις agree with these instances: μηνύουσι δὲ καὶ αἱ κολάσεις γινόμεναι διὰ τούτων· ἰατρεῖαι γάρ τινές εἰσιν, Eth. Nic. II. 3. 5, ‘they are a sort of remedies.’ ἀπειθοῦσι δὲ καὶ ἀφυεστέροις οὖσι κολάσεις τε καὶ τιμωρίας ἐπιτιθέναι τοὺς δὲ ἀνιάτους (the incurable) ὅλως ἐξορίζειν, Eth. Nic. 10.

The rebuke of the king is the beginning of the κόλασις.


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Bibliography Information
"Commentary on Matthew 25:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

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