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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

Matthew 27



Verse 1


St Mark 15:1; St Luke 22:66-71; not mentioned by St John.

Verse 2

2. Πιλάτῳ. Pontius Pilatus was the governor, or more accurately, the Procurator of Judæa, which after the banishment of Archelaus (see ch. Matthew 2:22) had been placed under the direct government of Rome, and attached as a dependency to Syria. Pilate filled this office during the last ten years of the reign of Tiberius, to whom as Procurator in an imperial province he was directly responsible. In the year A.D. 35 or 36, he was sent to Rome on a charge of cruelty to the Samaritans. The death of Tiberius probably deferred his trial, and according to Eusebius, ‘wearied with his misfortunes,’ he put himself to death. In character Pilate appears to have been impolitic, cruel and weak. On three signal occasions he had trampled on the religious feelings of the Jews, and repressed their resistance with merciless severity. A further instance of cruelty, combined with profanation, is alluded to, St Luke 13:1 : ‘the Galilæans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.’ The name Pontius connects Pilate with the gens of the Pontii, to which the great Samnite General, C. Pontius Telesinus, belonged. The cognomen Pilatus probably signifies ‘armed with a pilum’ (javelin). Tacitus mentions Pontius Pilate in a well-known passage (Ann. XV. 44), ‘Auctor nominis ejus Christus Tiberio imperitante per procuratorem Pontium Pilatum supplicio affectus erat.’ ‘Christus, from whom the Christians are called, suffered death in the reign of Tiberius, under the procurator P. Pilate.’ Many traditions have gathered round the name of Pontius Pilate. According to one, he was banished to Vienne in the south of France; according to another, he ended a restless life by plunging into a deep and gloomy lake on Mount Pilatus, near Lucerne. The shallow pool, often dry in the summer months, sufficiently disproves this story. The usual residence of the Roman Procurator in Judæa was Cæsarea Stratonis (see map).

The wish of the Sanhedrin in delivering Jesus to Pilate was to have their sentence confirmed without enquiry, see ch. Matthew 26:66.

τῷ ἡγεμόνι. Pilate’s special title as dependent governor of an imperial province was ἐπίτροπος (procurator), or ‘high steward.’ In the plural ἡγεμόνες is used as a general term. Cp. ἐπὶ ἡγεμόνας, ch. Matthew 10:18, and 1 Peter 2:14. In the singular ἡγεμὼν is applied in the N.T. to the Procurators of Judæa, as here and elsewhere to Pilate, in Acts 23:24 and elsewhere to Felix. In Luke 3:1, ἡγεμονία means the imperium of Cæsar, ἡγεμονεύειν is used of the Proprætor Quirinus, Luke 2:2. In the Acts St Luke distinguishes with great historical accuracy the various titles of the provincial governors. See note, ch. Matthew 10:18.

Verse 3

3. ἰδὼν ὅτι κ.τ.λ. It has been argued from these words that Judas had not expected this result of his treachery. He had hoped that Jesus would by a mighty manifestation of His divine power usher in at once the Kingdom whose coming was too long delayed. The whole tenour of the narrative, however, contradicts such an inference.

μεταμεληθεὶς implies no change of heart or life, but merely remorse or regret that a wiser course had not been followed. Cp. καὶ μετεμέλοντο τὰς σπονδὰς οὐ δεξάμενοι, Thuc. IV. 27; οὐ μεταμέλομαι εἱ καὶ μετεμελόμην, 2 Corinthians 7:8; ὤμοσεν θεὸς καὶ οὐ μεταμεληθήσεται, Hebrews 7:21; also ἀμεταμέλητα γὰρ τὰ χαρίσματα καὶ ἡ κλῆσις τοῦ Θεοῦ, Romans 11:29. See note, ch. Matthew 21:29-30.

Verses 3-10


Peculiar to St Matthew.

Verse 4

4. ἀθῷον, ‘innocent,’ here and Matthew 27:24 only in N.T., der. from θωὴ (Homeric), ‘a penalty:’ σοὶ δέ, γέρον, θωὴν ἐπιθήσομεν, Od. II. 192. In the classics it is used [1] absolutely, ἀθῷον ἐᾶν, ‘free from penalty,’ or [2] with a genitive, ἀθῷος πληγῶν, Aristoph. Nub. 1413. In the LXX., after the Hebrew idiom, it is constructed with ἀπὸ as in Matthew 27:24. The expression αἷμα ἀθῷον occurs Psalms 94:21, and is frequent in Jeremiah; cp. the expression νίψομαι ἐν ἀθῴοις τὰς χεῖράς μου, Psalms 25:6.

ὄψῃ. ‘Thou shalt see,’ it shall be thy concern. Cp. τάδε μὲν θεὸς ὄψεται, Soph. Phil. 839, ‘This shall be the care of heaven.’ Bengel’s comment is: ‘Impii in facto consortes post factum deserunt.’ For the form ὄψῃ see critical notes.

Verse 5

5. εἰς τὸν ναόν. ‘Into the holy place, which only the priests could enter.

ἀπελθὼν ἀπήγξατο. A different account of the end of Judas is given Acts 1:18, either by St Peter, or by St Luke in a parenthetical insertion. It is there stated [1] that Judas, not the Priests, bought the field; [2] that ‘falling headlong he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out;’ [3] that the field was called Aceldama for that reason, not for the reason stated in this passage. The two accounts are not actually inconsistent, but the key to their concordance is lost. No entirely satisfactory solution of the discrepancy has been given.

Verse 6

6. εἰς τὸν κορβανᾶν. For the prohibition cp. Deuteronomy 23:18.

Verse 7

7. τὸν ἀγρὸν κ.τ.λ. Tradition places Aceldama (Acts 1:19) in the valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem. The Athenians also had their κεραμεικός, the Potters’ Quarter, in the most beautiful suburb of their city, where the illustrious dead were buried.

τοῖς ξένοις. i.e. for the Jews of the dispersion, Hellenists and proselytes. It is a note of the exclusiveness of those Jews whose home was still the Holy Land, that a plot of ground should be set apart for the burial of all who were not par excellence Hebrews. See Philippians 3:5.

At the time of the Passover, when hundreds of thousands were crowded in a confined space, the question of burying strangers was doubtless urgent.

Verse 8

8. ἕως τῆς σήμερον (ἡμέρας). Cp. Latin, ‘hodierno die,’ Cic. Cat. III. 9. 21, and frequently.

Verse 9

9. τὸ ῥηθὲν κ.τ.λ. The citation is from Zechariah 11:12, but neither the Hebrew nor the LXX. version is followed exactly. The Hebrew literally translated is: “And Jehovah said to me, ‘Cast it into the treasury;’ a goodly price that I was prised at by them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them into the treasury in the house of Jehovah.” Zechariah, under the image of a shepherd, refuses any longer to lead the disobedient and divided flock, and asks for the price of his hire, which he then casts into the treasury. The discrepancy is probably due to the citation being made from memory. The ascription of the words to Jeremiah instead of to Zechariah may be assigned [1] to the same cause, or [2] explained, with Lightfoot (Hor. Hebr. ad loc.), by supposing that Jeremiah, who begins the Book of the Prophets according to one tradition, is intended to indicate the whole of that division of the Scriptures (see note ch. Matthew 16:14). Two other conjectures have been made: [3] That chs. 9, 10 and 11 of Zechariah in the present Canon are the work of Jeremiah. [4] That in the original text the words διὰ τοῦ προφήτου stood alone and the name was added by an early copyist. The fact that St Matthew not unfrequently quotes in this manner without naming the book from which the citation is made is in favour of the conjecture. See chs. Matthew 1:22, Matthew 2:5, Matthew 13:35, and Matthew 21:4 (Horne’s Introd., P. I. ch. 9, § 1.)

Verse 11

11. Σὺ εἶ ὁ βασιλεὺς κ.τ.λ.; The answer of Jesus to this question, and His explanation to Pilate of the Kingdom of God are given at length, John 18:33-37; observe especially that the servants of the kingdom would fight, if they fought at all, not against Rome but against Israel who had rejected the Messiah: ‘If my Kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight that I should not be delivered to the Jews.’

Σὺ λέγεις. See note, ch. Matthew 26:25.

Verses 11-26


St Mark 15:2-15; St Luke 23:2-5; Luke 23:13-24; St John 18:29 to John 19:16

St Luke states the threefold charge most clearly: ‘We found this [fellow] [1] perverting the nation; [2] and forbidding to give tribute to Cæsar; [3] saying that he himself is Christ a King.’

Pilate, true to the Roman sense of justice, refused merely to confirm the sentence of the Sanhedrin. ‘He asked, what accusation bring ye against this man?’ (John 18:29), being determined to try the case. This accusation amounted to a charge of treason—the greatest crime known to Roman law. Of the three points of accusation, [2] was utterly false; [1] and [3] though in a sense true, were not true in the sense intended. The answer or defence of Jesus is that He is a King, but that His ‘kingdom is not of this world,’ therefore (it is inferred) the ‘perversion of the people’ was not a rebellion that threatened the Roman government; see note Matthew 27:11. The defence was complete, as Pilate admits: ‘I find no fault in him.’

Verse 12

12. ἀπεκρίνατο. 1 aor. mid. for the more usual 1 aor. passive. Of this form four instances occur in the Synoptic gospels, three in the parallel accounts of the Passion, the fourth Luke 3:16.

Verse 14

14. Note the emphatic position of λίαν. Reserve during his trial was the last thing that Pilate’s experience had led him to expect from a Jew.

Verse 15

15. ἀπολύειν κ.τ.λ. The origin of this custom is quite unknown; St Mark says, ‘as he had ever done unto them,’ as if the custom originated with Pilate; St Luke has, ‘of necessity he must release;’ St John, ‘Ye have a custom.’

No trace of this custom is found in the Talmud. But the release of prisoners was usual at certain festivals at Rome, and at Athens during the Panathenaic festival prisoners enjoyed temporary liberty. It is not, therefore, improbable that Herod the Great, who certainly familiarised the Jews with other usages of Greece and Rome, introduced this custom, and that the Roman governor, finding the custom established and gratifying to the Jews, in accordance with Roman practice (see Introd. p. 22 [3]) retained the observance of it.

Verse 16

16. Βαραββᾶν = ‘Son of a father,’ or perhaps ‘Son of a Rabbi.’ The reading, Ἰησοῦν Βαραββᾶν, which appears in some copies, is rightly rejected by the best editors; see critical notes. As Alford remarks, Matthew 27:20 is fatal to the insertion. St Mark and St Luke add that Barabbas had committed murder in the insurrection.

Verse 17

17. συνηγμένων κ.τ.λ. In accordance, probably, with the custom named, Matthew 27:15, an appeal was made to the people, not to the Sanhedrin. Pilate was sitting on the tribunal to ascertain the popular decision; at this point he was interrupted by his wife’s messengers, and while he was engaged with them, the chief priests employed themselves in persuading the people to demand Barabbas rather than Christ.

Verse 19

19. ἐπὶ τοῦ βήματος. The βῆμα, or tribunal, was generally a raised platform in the Basilica or court where the judges sat; here a portable tribunal, from which the sentence was pronounced; it was placed on a tesselated pavement called Gabbatha (John 19:13).

ἡ γυνὴ αὐτοῦ. Claudia Procula or Procla: traditions state that she was a proselyte of the gate, which is by no means unlikely, as many of the Jewish proselytes were women. By an imperial regulation provincial governors had been prohibited from taking their wives with them. But the rule gradually fell into disuse, and an attempt made in the Senate (A.D. 21) to revive it completely failed. ‘Severus Cæcina censuit ne quem magistratum cui provincia obvenisset uxor comitaretur … paucorum hæc assensu audita plures obturbabant, neque relatum de negotio neque Cæcinam dignum tantæ rei censorem.’ Tac. Ann. III. 33, 34. The dream of Pilate’s wife is recorded by St Matthew only.

πολλὰ ἔπαθον. Not ‘suffered many things’ in the sense of suffering pain, but ‘experienced many sensations,’ i.e. ‘felt much.’

Verse 20

20. ἵνα αἰτήσωνται κ.τ.λ. St Peter brings out the full meaning of this choice: ‘ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; and killed the Prince of life’ (Acts 3:14-15). They saved the murderer, and slew the Saviour.

Verse 21

21. τίνα θέλετε κ.τ.λ.; Once more the question is put to the people (see Matthew 27:17). His wife’s message had made Pilate anxious to acquit Jesus. But the very form of the question implied condemnation. Jesus was classed with Barabbas in the category of condemned prisoners.

Verse 22

22. τί οὖν ποιήσω τὸν Ἰησοῦν; ποιεῖν has the classical construction τι τινὰ (instead of the usual τι τινί) here only for certain. In the parallel passage, Mark 15:12, the reading of Lachm. and Treg. (ὃν λέγετε om.) gives another instance, and the reading of Tisch. is not inconsistent with this construction. The coincidence would imply an exact reproduction of Pilate’s words, (the trial would be conducted in Greek), and the correctness of structure in this single instance seems to indicate the higher culture of an educated Roman.

Verse 23

23. οἱ δὲ περισσῶς κ.τ.λ. There is no further question even of a show of legality or justice: the traditional clemency is quite forgotten; the fanatical crowd, pressing round the doors of the Prætorium, which they cannot enter, join with excited gesticulation in one loud and furious cry for the blood of Jesus.

It is a forecast of the brutal popular cry ‘Christianos ad leones,’ which in that or more subtle forms doomed many martyrs in all ages.

This is often quoted as an instance of the fickleness of popular favour, and a contrast is drawn between the shouts of ‘hosanna’ a few days before and the cries of σταυρωθήτω now. But when the Jews present at the feast were numbered by hundreds of thousands, it is not necessary to think that the same crowds who hailed Jesus as the Messiah were now demanding his death.

Verse 24

24. ἰδὼν δὲ κ.τ.λ. St Luke relates a further attempt on Pilate’s part to release Jesus, ‘I will chastise Him and let Him go’ (Luke 23:22). Will not the cruel torture of a Roman scourging melt their hearts?

St John, at still greater length, narrates the struggle in Pilate’s mind between his sense of justice and his respect for Jesus on the one hand, and on the other his double fear of the Jews and of Cæsar. [1] He tried to stir their compassion by shewing Jesus to them crowned with thorns and mangled with the scourging; [2] hearing that Jesus called Himself the ‘Son of God,’ he ‘was the more afraid;’ [3] at length he even ‘sought to release Him,’ but the chief priests conquered his scruples by a threat that moved his fears, ‘If thou let this man go thou art not Cæsar’s friend.’ This was the charge of treason which Tacitus says (Ann. III. 39) was ‘omnium accusationum complementum.’ The vision of the implacable Tiberius in the background clenched the argument for Pilate. It is the curse of despotism that it makes fear stronger than justice.

λαβὼν ὕδωρ κ.τ.λ. Recorded by St Matthew only. In so doing Pilate followed a Jewish custom which all would understand. Deuteronomy 21:6; Psalms 26:6.

ὑμεῖς ὄψεσθε. See note Matthew 27:4.

Verse 25

25. τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ κ.τ.λ. Also peculiar to Matthew. St Peter finds as the sole excuse for his fellow countrymen, ‘I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers’ (Acts 3:17). The prayer of Jesus on the cross for his murderers was meant for these as well as for the Roman soldiers.

Verse 26

26. φραγελλώσας. Here and Mark 15:15, from Latin ‘flagello.’ Scourging usually preceded crucifixion. It was in itself a cruel and barbarous torture, under which the victim often perished.

Verse 27

27. οἱ στρατιῶται τοῦ ἡγεμόνος. The Procurator’s body-guard as opposed to ὅλην τὴν σπειραν.

τὸ πραιτώριον meant originally [1] the general’s tent; [2] it was then used for the residence of the governor or prince, cp. Acts 23:35; [3] then for an official Roman villa or country house; [4] barracks especially for the Prætorian guard; [5] the Prætorian guard itself (Philippians 1:13). The second meaning [2] is to be preferred here.

ὅλην τὴν σπεῖραν, ‘the whole maniple.’ The article is explained by a passage of Josephus, B. J. 27:5. 8, where it is stated that during the great festivals a ‘maniple.’ (σπεῖρα or τάγμα, see Schweighäuser’s Lex. Polyb. sub voc. τάγμα) was kept under arms to quell any disturbance that might arise. It was this body that was sent to arrest Jesus λαβὼν τὴν σπεῖραν, John 18:3. Cp. Acts 21:31, where allusion is made to the same force, ἀνέβη φάσις τῷ χιλιάρχῳ τῆς σπείρης ὅτι ὅλη συγχύννεται Ἱερουσαλήμ. The manipulus was the thirtieth part of the Roman legion, and the third part of a cohort, consisting therefore nominally of 200 men. Cp. Theophylact (quoted by Wetstein), κουστωδία ξʼ [60] ἐστι στρατιωτῶν ἡ δὲ σπεῖρα σʼ [200]. This agrees with the number of the escort sent to conduct Paul to Cæsarea, Acts 23:23. There seems to be no good reason for translating σπεῖρα ‘cohort,’ in Acts 10:1. Polyb. says expressly (xi. 23, 1) τρεῖς σπείρας· τοῦτο δὲ καλεῖται τὸ σύνταγμα τῶν πεζῶν παρὰ Ῥωμαίοις κοόρτις.

The word itself, σπεῖρα, anything twisted round like a ball of thread, is a translation of ‘manipulus’ (a wisp of hay).

Verses 27-30


Mark 15:16-19. John 19:1-3

St Luke, who records the mockery of Herod’s soldiers, makes no mention of these insults on the part of the Roman guard.

Verse 28

28. χλαμύδα κοκκίνην. A soldier’s scarf, Lat. chlamys: it was generally worn by superior officers, but its use was not confined to them. This may have been a worn-out scarf belonging to Pilate; it is different from ἐσθῆτα λαμπράν, (Luke 23:11), which Herod’s soldiers put on Jesus. Scarlet was the proper colour for the military chlamys; cp. ‘coccum imperatoriis dicatum paludamentis.’ Plin. H. N. xxii. 10. (See Dict. of Ant.) St Mark has the less definite πορφύραν; St John ἱμάτιον πορφυροῦν. Purpureus, however, is used by Latin writers to denote any bright colour.

Verse 29

29. στέφανον κ.τ.λ. It cannot be ascertained what especial kind of thorn was used. The soldiers, as Bp. Ellicott remarks, would take what first came to hand, utterly careless whether it was likely to inflict pain or no.

ὁ βασιλεὐς τῶν Ἰουδαίων. Cp. ch. Matthew 2:2, and Matthew 27:37.

Verse 31

31. ἀπήγαγον. See note ch. Matthew 26:57. St Mark has φέρουσιν, possibly implying that Jesus through physical weakness needed support on the way to the Cross.

Verse 31-32


Mark 15:20-21; Luke 23:26-32; John 19:16-17

St Luke has several particulars of what happened on the way to Golgotha, omitted in the other Gospels. The great company of people and of women who followed Him; the touching address of Jesus to the women; the last warning of the coming sorrows; the leading of two malefactors with Him.

Verse 32

32. ἄνθρωπον Κυρηναῖον. [1] ‘coming out of the country’ (Mark and Luke), [2] the father of Alexander and Rufus (Mark).

[1] This has been thought to imply that Simon was returning from work, and hence that it cannot have been the actual day of the Feast. Simon was probably coming into the city for the Paschal sacrifice, the hour for which was close at hand. [2] Rufus is probably the Christian named Romans 16:13, who would be known to St Mark’s readers. May not Simon have been one of those ‘Men of Cyrene’ who preached the word to Greeks when others preached to the Jews only? (Acts 11:20.) The inference that he was already an adherent of Christ is quite uncertain.

For an account of the foundation of Cyrene see Hdt. III. 158 foll. For the origin of the Jewish colony there see Joseph. c. Apion. II. 4: Πτολεμαῖος ὁ ΛάγουΚυρήνης ἐγκρατῶς ἄρχειν βουλόμενος καὶ τῶν ἄλλων τῶν ἐν τῇ Λιβύῃ πόλεων εἰς αὐτὰς μέρος Ἰουδαίων ἔπεμψε κατοικῆσον. The expression in Acts 2:10, τὰ μέρη τῆς Λιβύης τῆς κατὰ Κυρήνην, points to its position as metropolis of the district. The Cyrenians had a synagogue in Jerusalem (Acts 6:9), of which Simon was probably a member. Lucius of Cyrene is named among the ‘prophets and teachers’ at Antioch (Acts 13:1) who bidden by the Holy Ghost separated Barnabas and Saul for the work, and laid their hands on them and sent them away. This Lucius, according to tradition, was first bishop of Cyrene. The district was however connected politically with Crete, together with which it formed a Roman Province—this arrangement would probably, as in other cases, determine the ecclesiastical jurisdiction.

ἠγγάρευσαν. See note ch. Matthew 5:41, where the same word is used, and the custom referred to of which this is an instance. If, as was probable, Simon became a Christian, it would be his pride to have been ‘pressed into the service’ of the Great King.

Verse 33

33. εἰς τόπον κ.τ.λ. The site of Golgotha is not known for certain, but see notes to Plan of Jerusalem; it was outside the walls, but ‘nigh to the city’ (John 19:20), probably near the public road where people passed by (Matthew 27:39), it contained a garden (John 19:41). The name, which = ‘place of a skull,’ is generally thought to be derived from the shape and appearance of the hillock or mound on which the crosses were reared. This, however, is uncertain. Pictures often mislead by representing the crucifixion as taking place on a lofty hill at a considerable distance from the city.

The English ‘Calvary’ comes from the Vulgate translation of Luke 23:33, ‘Et postquam venerunt in locum qui vocatur Calvariæ.’ Calvaria = ‘a bare skull.’

Verses 33-50


Mark 15:22-37; Luke 23:33-46; John 19:18-30

St Mark’s account differs little from St Matthew’s. St Luke names the mockery of the soldiers and the words of the robbers to one another and to Jesus. Three of the sayings on the cross are related by St Luke only: ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do;’—‘Verily, I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise;’—‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.’ Among other particulars recorded by St John alone are the attempt to alter the superscription—the commendation of His mother to John—the breaking of the malefactors’ legs—the piercing of Jesus—three sayings from the cross: ‘Woman, behold thy son!’ and to the disciple, ‘Behold thy mother!’—‘I thirst’—‘It is finished.’ St Matthew and St Mark alone record the cry of loneliness: ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’

Verse 34

34. οἶνον κ.τ.λ. ‘Wine mingled with myrrh’ (Mark). This was the ‘sour wine,’ or posca, ordinarily drunk by the Roman soldiers. ‘Vinum atque acetum milites nostros solere accipere: uno die vinum, alio die acetum’ (Ulpian, quoted by Wetstein). The potion was a stupefying draught given to criminals to deaden the sense of pain. ‘Some of the wealthy ladies of Jerusalem charged themselves with this office of mercy’ (Lightfoot, ad loc.). Jesus refuses this alleviation of his sufferings.

Verse 35

35. σταυρώσαντες. From the fact of the titulus or inscription being placed over the Saviour’s head, it is inferred that the cross on which He suffered was such as is usually shewn in pictures, the crux immissa (†) or Latin cross as distinguished from the crux commissa (T) or the crux decussata (X), the form of cross on which St Andrew is said to have suffered. The height was from 9 to 12 feet; at a short distance from the ground a projecting rest supported the sufferer’s feet, which, as well as the hands, were nailed to the cross.

According to St Mark (Mark 15:25) the Crucifixion took place at the third hour—nine o’clock. St. John (John 19:14) says it was about the sixth hour when Pilate delivered Jesus to be crucified.

This discrepancy has received no entirely satisfactory solution. It has however been suggested that St John, writing at a later period and in a different part of the world, may have followed a different mode of reckoning time. How easily such difficulties may arise can be seen by the curious fact that noon, which means the ninth hour (nona hora) or three o’clock, is now used for twelve o’clock. The explanation would be difficult to those who did not know the historical facts.

διεμερίσαντο κ.τ.λ. St John describes the division more accurately; they divided His ἱμάτια, or outer garments, but cast lots for the seamless χιτών, or tunic. The latter is said to have been a dress peculiar to Galilæan peasants.

The Greek of the quotation from Psalms 22:18 (see below) does not convey the same distinction.

Verse 36

36. ἐτήρουν αὐτόν, fearing lest a rescue should be attempted by the friends of Jesus.

Verse 37

37. τὴν αἰτίαν κ.τ.λ. It was the Roman custom to place on the cross over the criminal’s head, a titulus, or placard, stating the crime for which he suffered. St John records Pilate’s refusal to alter the inscription, and mentions that the title was written in Hebrew and Greek and Latin.

ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων. See note ch. Matthew 2:2.

The inscription is given with slight variations by the four Evangelists. ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων (Mark 15:26). ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων οὗτος (Luke 23:38). Ἰησοῦς ὁ Ναζωραῖος ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ιουδαίων (John 19:19). This variation points to the independence of the different Gospels, and also indicates that a real though not a verbal accuracy should be looked for in the records of the Evangelists.

Verse 38

38. δύο λῃσταί, ‘Two robbers’; in all probability partners in the crime of Barabbas. The mountain robbers, or banditti, were always ready to take part in such desperate risings against the Roman power. In the eyes of the Jews they would be patriots.

Josephus tells of one leader of robbers who burnt the palaces in Jericho (B. J. II. 6), and of another who for twenty years had wasted the country with fire and sword.

Note the absence of αὐτοῦ after δεξιῶν and εὐωνύμων. See notes, ch. Matthew 25:31 [1].

Verse 39

39. See Psalms 22:7. This was not a Psalm of David, but was probably ‘composed by one of the exiles during the Babylonish Captivity … who would cling to the thought that he suffered not only as an individual, but as one of the chosen of God. But it has more than an individual reference. It looks forward to Christ.’ Dean Perowne on Psalms 22.

Verse 40

40. ὁ καταλύων κ.τ.λ. This is the mockery of the Jewish populace, who have caught up the charges brought against Jesus before the Sanhedrin. The taunts of the soldiers are named by St Luke alone: ‘If thou be the King of the Jews, save thyself’ (Matthew 23:37).

Verse 41

41. οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς κ.τ.λ. Members of the Sanhedrin, the ‘rulers’ of Luke 23:35.

Verse 42

42. ἄλλους ἔσωσεν κ.τ.λ. These words in the original would recall the ‘hosannas’ in the Temple which had enraged the chief priests; see note, ch. Matthew 21:9. They also connect themselves with the name of Jesus (σωτήρ).

βασιλεὺς Ἰσραήλ. Comp. ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδ. supra Matthew 27:37, and see John 1:49; John 12:13.

Verse 43

43. πέποιθεν κ.τ.λ. See Psalms 22:8 [LXX. Matthew 21:9]: ἤλπισεν ἐπὶ Κύριον, ῥυσάσθω αὐτὸν σωσάτω αὐτὸν ὅτι θέλει αὐτόν. The chief priests unconsciously apply to the true Messiah the very words of a Messianic psalm.

εἰ θέλει αὐτόν. A late construction frequent in LXX. Cp. the quotation chs. Matthew 9:13 and Matthew 12:7 : ἔλεον θέλω καὶ οὐ θυσίαν (Hosea 6:6). On the still more unclassical idiom, θέλων ἐν ταπεινοφροσύνῃ, Colossians 2:18, see Bp. Lightfoot ad loc.

Verse 44

44. τὸ δʼ αὐτὸ κ.τ.λ. They would naturally catch at the thought that the deliverer failed to give deliverance. St Luke alone relates that ‘one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him … the other answering rebuked him.’ It is by no means impossible that the penitent robber may have seen and heard Jesus in Galilee.

Verse 45

45. ἀπό δὲ ἕκτης κ.τ.λ. From 12 to 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the hours of the Paschal sacrifice.

σκότος ἐγένετο κ.τ.λ. Not the darkness of an eclipse, for it was the time of the Paschal full moon, but a miraculous darkness symbolic of that solemn hour, and veiling the agonies of the Son of Man, when human soul and body alike were enduring the extremity of anguish and suffering for sin

Verse 46

46. Ἠλὶ ἠλί, λεμὰ σαβαχθανεί; (Psalms 22:1). Sh’baktani is an Aramaic form and occurs in the Chaldee paraphrase for the Hebrew azabtani. Such quotations of the Aramaic are very valuable and interesting as evidence of the language most familiar to Jesus, and also of the reverent accuracy of the Evangelists.

The repetition, θεέ μου, θεέ μου, gives a deeply pathetic force; cp. ch. Matthew 23:37. It is an expression of utter loneliness and desolation, the depth of which it is not for man to fathom. Yet, ‘it is going beyond Scripture to say that a sense of God’s wrath extorted that cry. For to the last breath He was the well-beloved of the Father, and the repeated ‘My God! My God!’ is a witness even then to His confidence in His Father’s Love’ (Dean Perowne. Psalms 22:1).

Just as we are permitted to know that a particular passage of Zechariah was passing through the Saviour’s mind as He crossed the valley of Kedron, so now we learn that Jesus, who in his human agony on the Cross had watched the various incidents that brought the words of that particular Psalm to his soul, found no words more fit to express the sense of awful desolation in that dark hour than the cry of the unknown psalmist—a captive perhaps by the waters of Babylon—in whose breast was such deep sorrow that it was like the sorrow of the Son of Man.

θεέ. Noticeable as perhaps the only instance of this—the regular form of the vocative of θεός.

ἱνατί; Elliptical for ἵνα τί γένηται; ‘in order that what may happen?’ So ‘to what end?’ precisely synonymous with εἰς τί (Mark 15:34).

ἐγκατέλιπες; Cp. John 16:32 : ἰδοὺ ἔρχεται ὥρα καὶ ἐλήλυθεν ἵνα σκορπισθῆτε ἕκαστος εἰς τὰ ἴδια κἀμὲ μόνον ἀφῆτε· καὶ οὐκ εἰμὶ μόνος ὅτι ὁ πατὴρ μετʼ ἐμοῦ ἐστίν. Now even the sense of the Father’s presence was lost.

This was probably the fourth word from the cross; the fifth ‘I thirst’ (John); the sixth ‘It is finished’ (John); the seventh ‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit’ (Luke). It is thought by some that after these words the darkness, which had lasted to the ninth hour, rolled away; others think that it lasted till the death of Jesus.

The thought of the Saviour’s loneliness upon the cross has perhaps never been more feelingly expressed than in the smaller of Vandyke’s two pictures of ‘Christ on the Cross’ in the Museum at Antwerp—the single figure dimly seen with none beside Him, or near, and a background of impenetrable darkness.

Verse 47

47. Ἡλίαν κ.τ.λ. This was probably spoken in pure mockery, not in a real belief that Jesus expected the personal reappearance of Elijah, Wetstein notes that there were tales current among the Jews of the intervention of Elijah to rescue persons from the imminent peril of death.

Verse 48

48. λαβὼν σπόγγον κ.τ.λ. The soldiers’ sour wine (posca), the reed, or hyssop stalk (John), and the sponge, were kept in readiness to quench the sufferers’ thirst.

Verse 49

49. ἄφες ἴδωμεν. We must understand this to mean either [1] leave him, do not assist him; or [2] leave it, do not give the draught to him; or [3] ἄφες coalesces with the verb following as in modern Greek, and = ‘let us see.’ For the construction cp. ch. Matthew 7:4 and Luke 6:42. In Mark the words ἄφετε ἴδωμεν are put in the mouth of him who offered the wine to the Saviour. There ἄφετε may mean, ‘let me alone.’

Verse 50

50. κράξας φωνῇ μεγάλῃ. Perhaps an inarticulate cry is meant, or perhaps the sixth word from the cross, τετέλεσται. John 19:30.

ἀφῆκεν κ.τ.λ. As in classical Greek, Hdt. IV. 190, φυλάσσοντες ἐπεὰν ἀπίῃ τὴν ψυχήν: and Eur. Hec. 571, ἑπεὶ δʼ ἀφῆκε πνεῦμα. St Luke preserves the exact words, πάτερ, εἰς χεῖράς σου παρατίθεμαι τὸ πνεῦμά μου (Luke 23:46).

Verse 51

51. τὸ καταπέτασμα κ.τ.λ. The veil meant is that which separated the holy of holies from the holy place. The rending of the veil signifies that henceforth there is free access for man to God the Father through Jesus Christ. Cp. ‘Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh’ (Hebrews 10:19-20). The incident would be observed and made known to the Church by the priests, of whom afterwards ‘a great company were obedient unto the faith’ (Acts 6:7).

ἐσχίσθηεἰς δύο. Examples of this expression are given from Polybius, Lucian, and other late authors. St Luke has the more classical idiom, ἐσχίσθη τὸ καταπ. τοῦ ναοῦ μέσον.

Verses 51-56


Of these, [2] and [3] are peculiar to St Matthew

Mark 15:38-41; Luke 23:45; Luke 23:47-49, where the grief of the spectators is an additional fact. St John omits these incidents, but records the breaking of the malefactors’ legs and the piercing of Jesus’ side.

Verse 52

52. τῶν κεκοιμημένων ἁγίων. κοιμᾶσθαι twice in this gospel, here figuratively of death; ch. Matthew 28:13, of literal sleep. The figure is quite classical, as ὡς ὁ μὲν αὖθι πεσὼν κοιμήσατο χάλκεον ὕπνον, Il. λ. 241. Cp. the beautiful lines of Moschus, Id. III. 109–111:

ἄμμες δʼ οἱ μεγάλοι καὶ καρτεροί ἢ σοφοὶ ἄνδρες

ὅπποτε πρᾶτα θάνωμες ἀνάκοοι ἐν χθονὶ κοίλᾳ

εὕδομες εὖ μάλα μακρὸν ἀτέρμονα νήγρετον ὕπνον.

and Verg. Æn. VII. 277, ‘et consanguineus leti sopor.’ With Christianity it became the usual word to express the sleep of death, see 1 Corinthians 15:6; 1 Corinthians 15:18; hence κοιμητήριον (cemetery), the resting-place of the dead.

Verse 53

53. ἐκ τῶν μνημείων. There were doubtless other tombs besides Joseph’s near Golgotha.

ἔγερσιν, late in this sense.

Verse 54

54. ἑκατόνταρχος. The centurion in command of the guard of four soldiers who watched the execution. It is interesting to think that this officer would in all probability generally be quartered in the garrison town of Cæsarea, where the centurion Cornelius (Acts 10:1) was also stationed.

As the Roman centurions were not chosen so much for impetuous courage as for judgment, firmness and presence of mind, there were doubtless many noble and thoughtful characters among them; cp. (especially the last phrase): βούλονται δὲ εἶναι τοὺς ταξιάρχους (centurions) οὐχ οὕτω θρασεῖς καὶ φιλοκινδύνους ὡς ἡγεμονικοὺς καὶ στασίμους καὶ βαθεῖς μᾶλλον ταῖς ψυχαῖς κ.τ.λ. Polyb. VI. 24. 9.

ἀληθῶς θεοῦ υἱὸς ἦν οὗτος. In Luke 23:47, ὄντως ὁ ἄνθρωπος οὗτος δίκαιος ἦν—a translation of St Matthew’s phrase for Gentile readers.

διακονοῦσαι. The beginning of the ministry of women—the female diaconate—in the Christian Church. The loving tendance of these women is a relief to the dark picture of the ‘afflictions of Christ,’ a relief recognised and feelingly expressed by all the great mediæval painters.

Verse 56

56. St Mark (Mark 15:40) specifies the group as ‘Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less (rather, the little) and of Joses, and Salome.’

΄αρία ἡ ΄αγδαληνή. Mentioned here for the first time by St Matthew. She was probably named from Magdala (Mejdel) on the Lake of Gennesaret; see map. She had been a victim of demoniacal possession, but was cured by Jesus (Luke 8:2), and then joined the company of faithful women who followed Him with the Twelve. Mary Magdalene is named by St John as standing by the cross of Jesus, together with ‘his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas’ (Matthew 19:25). With these she watched the entombment of the Lord, and, after the Sabbath rest, early in the morning she was present at the sepulchre with sweet spices to anoint Him.

The great Italian painters have identified Mary Magdalene either with the ‘woman that was a sinner’ who anointed Jesus in the house of Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50), or with Mary the sister of Lazarus. But neither identification can be sustained on critical grounds.

΄αρία κ.τ.λ. Perhaps the same Mary who was the wife of Cleophas, Clopas, or Alphæus (different forms of one name), mentioned John 19:25. If so, according to one interpretation of the passage in John, the sister of the Blessed Virgin.

ἡ μήτηρ κ.τ.λ. Salome. See ch. Matthew 20:20.

The record of the names of these women and the special note of their presence seems intended to be an express testimony to their high courage and devotion, which kept them on the scene of danger when the disciples had fled. The deed of them contrasts with the words of Peter and of all the Apostles (ch. Matthew 26:35).

Verse 57

57. Arimathæa is generally identified with Ramathaim-zophim, on Mount Ephraim, the birth-place of Samuel (1 Samuel 1:1), the site of which is undetermined. Many authorities place it much nearer to Jerusalem than the position indicated in the map.

Ἰωσήφ. From the other two Synoptic Gospels we learn that he was ‘an honourable (Mark) counsellor (Mark and Luke),’ i.e. a member of the Sanhedrin. Like Nicodemus, he was a secret disciple of Jesus, and must undoubtedly have absented himself from the meetings of the Sanhedrin when Jesus was condemned. He ‘had not consented to the counsel and deed of them’ (Luke).

An ancient but groundless legend has connected Joseph of Arimathæa with Glastonbury, where, it is said, he built of osier-twigs the first Christian Church in England. It is with this legend that the ‘Quest of the San Grail’ is connected.

Verses 57-66


Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42

Matthew 27:62-66 are peculiar to St Matthew. St Mark notes the wonder of Pilate that Jesus was already dead, and the evidence of the centurion to the fact. St John mentions the co-operation of Nicodemus—like Joseph, a member of the Sanhedrin, who ‘consented not to the deed of them;’ who brought ‘a mixture of myrrh and aloes about a hundred pound weight.’

Verse 58

58. ἐκέλευσεν ἀποδοθῆναι, after having ascertained from the centurion that Jesus was dead. Usually those who suffered crucifixion lingered for days upon the cross. By Roman law the corpse of a crucified person was not buried except by express permission of the Emperor. A concession was made in favour of the Jews, whose law did not suffer a man to hang all night upon a tree. Deuteronomy 21:23. (See Jahn, Bib. Ant. 296.) ‘The readiness of Pilate to grant Joseph’s request is quite in accordance with his anxiety to release Jesus and his displeasure against the Jews. If Joseph had not made this request, the body of Jesus would have been placed in one of the common burying-places appointed by the Council’ (Lightfoot, Hor. Hebr. ad loc.).

Verse 59

59. ἐντυλίσσειν, an Aristophanic word, meaning, ‘to wrap or envelope closely,’ so to swathe the dead body with bandages. Cp. Acts 5:6, where συστέλλειν is used in a similar sense, and John 11:44, δεδεμένος τοὺς πόδας καὶ τὰς χεῖρας κειρίαις, καὶ ἧ ὄψις αὐτοῦ σουδαρίῳ περιδέδετο.

σινδόνι καθαρᾷ, ‘fine linen.’ σινδών, as Professor Rawlinson shews (Hdt. II. 86, note 6), was in itself a general term, meaning any stuff of a very fine texture; Josephus even speaks of a σινδὼν of goats’ hair (Ant. III. 5. 4). Here, however, σινδὼν is certainly the βυσσίνη σινδών, in strips (τελαμῶσι) of which the mummy was wrapped (Hdt. II. 86); and that the mummy cloths are of linen has been proved by microscopic examination. The derivation of σινδὼν is uncertain, possibly from Ἴνδος, or Egyptian shevit or Hebr. sâdin.

Verse 60

60. ἔθηκεν αὐτὸ κ.τ.λ. καινῷ, ‘new,’ in the sense of not having been used. St John mentions that the tomb was ‘in a garden in the place where he was crucified’ (John 19:41). It was probably hewn out of the face of the rock near the ground (John 20:11), and the body of Jesus would lie horizontally in it.

προσκυλίσας κ.τ.λ., assisted by Nicodemus. This stone was technically called golal.

This was the first instance and a signal one of the power of the Cross of Christ to inspire enthusiasm and courage at the darkest hour. Up to this time Joseph had been a secret disciple, now he braves everything for the dead Christ.

Verse 61

61. ἡ ἄλλη ΄αρία. The mother of James the less (or little, ὁ μικρός) and Joses (Mark 15:47).

τοῦ τάφου. St Matthew is the only writer in the N.T. who uses the word τάφος (Romans 3:13 is a quotation): τάφος is strictly, the place where the dead is ‘laid or put away with care.’ See Curtius, Etym. 502. The Jews preferred to call the tomb ‘a memorial’ (μνημεῖον).

Verse 62

62. τῇ δὲ ἐπαύριον κ.τ.λ. It was after sunset on Nisan 14. The preparation (παρασκευή) was over, the Sabbath and the Paschal feast had commenced. This explanation of the somewhat unusual phrase accords with the view already taken of the Last Supper and the Passover.

While Christ’s enemies were busy this Sabbath day, his friends rested according to the commandment (Luke 23:56).

Verse 63

63. ἐμνήσθημεν. ‘We remembered,’ it occurred to us, aorist of an action just past.

πλάνοςπλάνη, ‘deceiver’ … ‘deceit.’ The relation between the two words is lost in A.V.

΄ετὰ τρεῖς κ.τ.λ. For this present cp. ch. Matthew 24:41, Matthew 26:2.

It appears from this that the priests and Pharisees understood the true import of Christ’s words, ‘Destroy this temple, and after three days I will raise it up,’ which they wilfully misinterpreted to the people.

Verse 64

64. τῷ λαῷ. As frequently in N.T. in a special sense, the people of Israel, the Jews.

Ἠγέρθη. ‘He rose.’

Verse 65

65. ἔχετε κουστωδίαν. The meaning is either [1] that Pilate refuses the request; ‘Ye have a watch of your own’—(a) the Levitical temple guard, or more probably (b) a small body of soldiers whom Pilate may have already placed at their disposal—or [2] he grants it curtly and angrily, ‘Take a watch; begone.’

The latter view is generally adopted now; but it involves a meaning of ἔχειν (‘to take’) of which no clear example appears either in classical or Hellenistic Greek. See, however, Alford on 1 Timothy 2:13, who argues for such a meaning in that passage: ὑποτύπωσιν ἔχε ὑγιαινόντων λόγων, ‘have (take) an ensample of (the) healthy words,’ &c. It should also be mentioned that in modern Greek ἔχειν and λαμβάνειν are so nearly connected in meaning that the defective parts of ἔχειν (aor. and 2nd future) are supplied from λαμβάνω. Still the argument in favour of retaining the ordinary meaning of ἔχειν in this passage is strong, and the objection that we have no record of a body of Roman soldiers being placed occasionally under the orders of the Sanhedrin need not have great weight. In this case Pilate may well have held it to be a measure on the side of order.

It seems quite clear from ch. Matthew 28:14 that the guard was of Roman soldiers.

In any view the asyndeton ἔχετε ὑπάγετε ἀσφαλίσασθε indicates impatience on the part of Pilate.

κουστωδίαν appears to have meant a guard of 60 men. See quotation from Theophylact, note on Matthew 27:27 of this chapter.

ἀσφαλίσασθεἠσφαλίσαντο. The middle voice has its proper form, ‘secure for yourselves.’ A providential point, for if the Roman soldiers had secured the sepulchre the Jews might still have affirmed that deceit had been practised.

ἀσφαλίζειν is a Polybian word which does not seem to have been used earlier. Cp. Acts 16:24, τοὺς πόδας ἠσφαλίσατο αὐτῶν εἰς τὸ ξύλον. The verb does not occur elsewhere in N.T.

Verse 66

66. σφραγίσαντες. ‘The sealing was by means of a cord or string passing across the stone at the mouth of the sepulchre and fastened at either end to the rock by sealing clay’ (Alford). Cp. Daniel 6:17 : καὶ ἐσφραγίσατο ὁ βασιλεὺς ἐν τῷ δακτυλίῳ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐν τῷ δακτυλίῳ τῶν μεγιστάνων αὐτοῦ (sc. τὸν λίθον ὃν ἐπέθηκαν ἐπὶ τὸ στὸμα τοῦ λάκκου).

σφραγίζειν is used in various figurative senses, all more or less nearly connected with this literal signification. See John 3:33 and 2 Corinthians 1:2, ‘certify.’ Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 4:30, ‘assure.’ Romans 15:28, ‘secure,’ ‘authenticate.’ Revelation 10:4; Revelation 22:10, ‘conceal.’ In Ecclesiastical Greek it is used of making the sign of the Cross in baptism and other rites.


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Bibliography Information
"Commentary on Matthew 27:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

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