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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

Matthew 7



Verse 1

1. μὴ κρίνετε κ.τ.λ. This is the form which the ‘lex talionis,’ or law of reciprocity, takes in the kingdom of heaven.

The censorious spirit is condemned, it is opposed to the ἐπιείκεια, ‘forbearance,’ ‘fairness in judgment,’ that allows for faults, a characteristic ascribed to Jesus Christ Himself, 2 Corinthians 10:1; cp. also Romans 14:3 foll.

ἵνα μὴ κριθῆτε. By Christ on the Last Day.

Verses 1-27


After contrasting the New Law with the Mosaic Law and with Pharisaic rules and conduct, Jesus proceeds to lay down rules for the guidance of His disciples in the Christian life.

The passage occurs in St Luke’s report of the Sermon on the Mount (ch. Luke 6:37-38), with a different context, and a further illustration of ‘full measure.’

Verse 2

2. κρίμα, ‘judgment’ either [1] in the sense of a judicial sentence as Romans 2:2, τὸ κρίμα τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστὶν κατὰ ἀλήθειαν, or [2] a rule or principle of judging, apparently the meaning here. The notion of ‘censure’ or ‘condemnation’ passes into the word from the context as: οὗτοι λήμψονται περισσότερον κρίμα. Mark 12:40. The word is somewhat rare in the classics. In Æsch. Supp. 397 it means ‘the question in dispute,’ οὐκ εὔκριτον τὸ κρῖμα. For the accent see Winer’s Grammar, 57:2 and note 2. Penultimates long in Attic were sometimes shortened in later Greek, as θλίψις, ch. Matthew 24:9.

Verse 3

3. βλέπεις. Of seeing the external surface of a thing contrasted with κατανοεῖς, which implies thoughtful perception. It is the contrast between judging from the outside and examination of the heart.

κάρφος. A ‘twig,’ ‘splinter,’ dry particle of hay (κάρφη Xen. Anab. I. 5, 10), straw, &c. Cp. Aristoph. Av. 641, εἰσέλθετʼ ἐς νεοττίαν τε τὴν ἐμὴν | καὶ τἀμὰ κάρφη καὶ τὰ παρόντα φρύγανα.

τὴν ἐν τῷ σῷ ὀφθαλμῷ δοκόν. Which [1] ought to prevent condemnation of another for a less grave offence; and which [2] would obscure the spiritual discernment, and so render thee an incapable judge. The Pharisaic sin of hypocrisy (see next verse) was deeper and more fatal to the spiritual life than the sins which the Pharisee condemned.

δοκόν. From δέχομαι, in the sense of receiving, = ‘a beam let in’; cp. ἱστοδόκη, and Hom. Il. XVII. 744, ἢ δοκὸν ἠὲ δόρυ μέγα νήϊον. See also Aristoph. Vesp. 201. The word appears to be Homeric and vernacular, not used in literary language.

Verse 4

4. ἄφες ἐκβάλω. ‘Let me cast out.’ See Winer, p. 356 b, and note 3, where instances of this case of ἄφες with conjunctive are quoted from Epictetus, e.g. ἄφες ἴδω, ἄφες δείξωμεν. The expression belongs to the vernacular. In modern Greek ἄς, a corruption of ἄφες, is used with the subjunctive whenever let occurs in the English imperative. Clyde’s Modern Greek, p. 17.

τὸ κάρφος ἐκ τοῦ ὀφθ. ἀπὸ for ἐκ, though probably not the true reading, has considerable MS. support (see Crit. Notes). The gloss if it be a gloss shows a sense of the contrast already indicated by βλέπειν and κατανοεῖν. ἀπὸ implies removal from the surface, ἐκ removal from deep within.

(b) The Father’s love for the children of the Kingdom shown by answering prayer, 7–11

Verse 6

6. The connection between this verse and the preceding section is not quite obvious. It seems to be this. Although evil and censorious judgment is to be avoided, discrimination is needful. The Christian must be judicious, not judicial.

τὸ ἅγιον, i.e. ‘spiritual truths.’ Some have seen in the expression a reference to the holy flesh of the offering (Haggai 2:12). But this allusion is very doubtful; see Meyer on this passage.

κυσίνχοιρῶν. Unclean animals; see the proverb quoted 2 Peter 2:22; cp. Philippians 3:2, βλέπετε τοὺς κύνας, βλέπετε τοὺς κακοὺς ἐργάτας; also Hor. Ep. I. 2. 25, ‘vel canis immundus vel amica luto sus.’ See note on ch. Matthew 15:26.

μαργαρίτας. The only gems mentioned in the Gospels, twice named by Jesus: here, where they signify the deepest spiritual thoughts of God and heaven, and ch. Matthew 13:46, where ‘the pearl of great price’ is the kingdom of heaven itself. The general sense is ‘use discrimination, discern between holy and unholy, between those who are receptive of these high truths and those who are not.’ The profane will despise the gift and put the giver to shame. Want of common sense does great harm to religion.

μήποτε καταπατήσουσιν. The future indicative is sometimes used in final clauses in place of the subjunctive after ὅπως and ὄφρα, very rarely (in Classics) after μή. Goodwin, Greek Moods and Tenses, § 44, note 1.

ἐν τοῖς ποσίν. [1] ‘with their feet,’ or [2] ‘at their feet.’

This verse is a good example of Hebrew poetical form; the fourth line, καὶ στραφέντες ῥήξωσιν ὑμᾶς, being in parallel relation to the first, μὴ δῶτε κ.τ.λ.; the third, μήποτε καταπατήσουσιν κ.τ.λ. in relation to the second. Thus the appropriate actions are ascribed to the κύνες and the χοιροί.

Verse 7-8

7, 8. Here each verse contains a triplet with ascending climax, αἰτεῖτεζητεῖτεκρούετε. Each line of the one answers to the corresponding line of the other, with which it might be read continuously. It is a simple instance of a special characteristic of Hebrew poetry, of which examples sometimes elaborated with the greatest skill may be seen in Jebb’s Sacred Lit. sec. IV. Comp. with this triple climax of rising earnestness in prayer, the triple climax of things desired in the Lord’s Prayer. A close relation between the two might be shewn.

αἰτεῖτε, καὶ δοθήσεται. The connection is again difficult. The verse may be the answer to the disciples’ unspoken questions: [1] ‘How shall we discriminate?’ or [2] ‘Who are fit to receive these divine truths?’ The words of Christ teach, [1] that discernment will be given, among other ‘good things,’ in answer to prayer; [2] that prayer in itself implies fitness, because it implies desire for such truths.

αἰτεῖτε, αἰτεῖν used of the petition to a superior. ἐρωτᾶν, in its unclassical sense of ‘requesting,’ is used of equals, a distinction which is strictly observed in the N.T. Trench (N.T. Syn. p. 169) remarks, ‘our Lord never uses αἰτεῖν or αἰτεῖσθαι of Himself in respect of that which He asks on behalf of His disciples from God.’

Verse 9

9. Translate: ‘Or what man is there from among you of whom his son shall ask a loaf—he will not give him a stone, will he?’ Here the regular interrogative form of the sentence is checked and gives place to a fresh form of interrogation which is more pointed as definitely involving the reply. μὴ asks affirmatively and expects a negative answer.

ἄρτονλίθονἰχθὺνὄφιν. The things contrasted have a certain superficial resemblance, but in each case one thing is good, the other unclean or even dangerous.

Verse 10

10. ἢ καὶ ἰχθὺν αἰτήσει. See Critical Notes. Regarding the construction as independent, translate [1] ‘Or again (the son) will ask a fish—will (the father) give him a serpent?’ or [2] understanding the relative δν from the previous clause, ‘or will he of whom his son shall ask,’ &c.

It may be noted that both ἄρτος and ἰχθὺς became for different reasons symbols of Christ.

Verse 11

11. πονηροί. ‘Evil’ as compared with the perfect righteousness of God.

ἀγαθά. For this St Luke (Luke 11:13) has ‘the Holy Spirit,’ shewing that spiritual rather than temporal ‘good things’ are intended.

Verse 12

12. οὖν. The practical result of what has been said both in regard to judgment and to prayer is mutual charity. The thought of the divine judgment teaches forbearance; the thought of the divine goodness teaches kindness.

(c) The narrow entrance to the Kingdom, 13, 14

These verses are linked to the preceding by the thought of prayer, for it is by prayer chiefly that the narrow entrance must be gained.

Verse 13

13. εἰσέλθατεπύλης., Luke 13:24-25. The illustration seems to be drawn from a mansion having a large portal at which many enter, and a narrow entrance known to few, with broad and narrow ways leading respectively to each. One is the gate and the way of destruction (ἀπώλεια), the other is the gate and the way of life (ζωὴ or σωτηρία). Cp. the contrast between οἱ ἀπολλύμενοι, ‘those in the way of destruction,’ and οἱ σωζόμενοι, ‘those on the way of salvation or life,’ 1 Corinthians 1:18. The πύλαι are probably the palace or city gates, not, as some have inferred from the position of the words, the entrances to the two ways. πύλη is named before ὁδὸς according to a not uncommon Greek usage, as being first in thought though second in point of fact; cp. Plato, Apol. Soc. p. 18, where παῖδες is named before μειράκια, and p. 32, where ἠναντιώθην is named before ἐψηφισάμην.

To the use of ὁδὸς in this passage we may probably refer ἡ ὁδὸς and αὕτη ἡ ὁδός, meaning the Christian Church (Acts 9:2; Acts 19:9). Such usage was however influenced by the philosophic meaning of ὁδός, and the common Hebraisms ‘the way of the Lord,’ ‘the paths of righteousness,’ &c.

Verse 14

14. ὅτι. This ὅτι equally with the first, Matthew 7:13, is in construction with εἰσέλθατε διὰ τῆς στενῆς πύλης.

For the reading τί στενὴ see Crit. Notes. The internal evidence against it is strong. [1] The meaning assigned to τί, ‘how narrow,’ is unexampled in the N.T.; Luke 12:49 is not an instance. [2] The reading is harsh and breaks the constructive rhythm of the passage.

τεθλιμμένη, (θλίβω), lit. ‘pressed,’ ‘confined.’ Cp. Theocr. XXI. 18, παρʼ αὐτὰν | θλιβομέναν καλύβαν (angustam casam).

ὀλίγοι οἱ εὑρίσκοντες. An answer to one of the disputed questions of the day, εἰ ὀλίγοι οἱ σωζόμενοι, Luke 13:23, the parallel passage to this (St Luke has instead of εἰσέλθατε the stronger phrase ἀγωνίζεσθε εἰσελθεῖν). It was a question that had been canvassed most earnestly in the reflective period after the cessation of prophecy. An answer to it would be demanded of every great teacher. See Prof. Westcott’s Introduction to N.T., p. 105, especially the quotation from 2 Esdras 7:1-13. ‘The entrance to the fair city was made by one only path, even between fire and water, so small that there could but one man go there at once.’ Before Adam’s transgression it was wide and sure.

Verse 15

15. προσέχετε ἀπό. The classical constructions of προσέχειν (νοῦν) are τινί, πρός τι, πρός τινι: from the idea of attention to a thing comes that of caution about a thing, and ἀπὸ denotes the source of expected danger, cp. φοβεῖσθαι ἀπό. St Luke has this unclassical usage Luke 12:1, προσέχετε ἑαυτοῖς ἀπὸ τῆς ζύμης, and Luke 20:46, ἀπὸ τῶν γραμματέων. The construction is not used in N.T. except by St Matthew and St Luke.

ψευδοπροφητῶν, who will not help you to find the narrow way.

ἐν ἐνδύμασιν προβάτων. Not in a literal sense, but figuratively, ‘wearing the appearance of guilelessness and truth.’

λύκοι ἅρπαγες. Cp. Acts 20:29, where St Paul, possibly with this passage in his thoughts, says to the presbyters of Ephesus, ἐγὼ οἶδα ὅτι ἐλεύσονται μετὰ τὴν ἄφιξίν μου λύκοι βαρεῖς εἰς ὑμᾶς μὴ φειδόμενοι τοῦ ποιμνίου. Cp. Ezekiel 22:27, οἱ ἄρχοντες αὐτῆς ἐν μέσῳ αὐτῆς ὡς λύκοι ἁρπάζοντες ἁρπάγματα τοῦ ἐκχέαι αἶμα κ.τ.λ. Such images as this contain implicitly a whole range of thoughts which would be present to the instructed disciples of the Lord—the fold of Christ—the Good Shepherd—the thief ‘whose own the sheep are not.’

Wolves are still common in Palestine. Canon Tristram observes that they are larger than any European wolf and of a lighter colour.

Verses 15-23

(d) The false guides to the narrow entrance, and the test of the true, Matthew 7:15-23

Verse 16

16. ἄκανθα. A thorn tree, a kind of acacia. Athenæus describes it as having a round fruit on small stalks. It would give additional point to the saying if there were a distant but deceptive likeness between grapes and the berries of the ἄκανθα.

τρίβολος. The caltrop, a prickly plant reckoned by Virgil among the farmer’s plagues, Lappœque tribulique interque nitentia culta | infelix lolium et steriles dominantur avenœ. Georg. I. 153.

Verse 19

19. μὴ ποιοῦν. ‘If it does not produce.’ To this day in the East trees are valued only so far as they produce fruit.

Verse 20

20. ἀπὸ τῶν καρπῶν κ.τ.λ. Re-echoed by a beautiful poetical figure from Matthew 7:16. See Jebb’s Sacred Lit. p. 195–197. The well-known lines of Dryden, ‘What passion cannot music raise and quell’; and those of Southey in a passage beginning and ending ‘How beautiful is night!’ are quoted in illustration.

Verse 22

22. ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ. A well-known Hebraism for ‘the last day.’ This is a forecast far into the distant future, when it would be worth while to assume Christianity, when hypocrisy would take the form of pretending to be a follower of the now despised Jesus. (See Canon Mozley’s sermon, On the reversal of human judgment.)

Κύριε, κύριε. The iteration implies affection and reverence; it was usual in an address to a Rabbi. Here it is the repetition of hypocrisy. The chain of meanings in φάσκειν shows that reiterated assertion brings no impression of truthfulness.

ἐπροφητεύσαμεν, i.e. preached. The greatest of preachers dreads such a sentence. 1 Corinthians 9:27, ‘Lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.’ There is a reference to these words in the so-called second epistle of Clement, § 4: μὴ μόνον οὖν αὐτὸν καλῶμεν Κύριον· οὐ γὰρ τοῦτο σώσει ὑμᾶς· λέγει γὰρ οὐ πᾶς ὁ λέγων μοι, Κύριε Κύριε, σωθήσεται ἀλλὰ ὁ ποιῶν τὴν δικαιοσύνην. See at Matthew 7:23.

For the position of the augment see Winer, p. 84, and note; Tisch. and Treg. place the augment before the preposition wherever the word occurs, Lach. excepts Judges 1:14, προεφήτευσεν. With later authors the position in the text is not unusual, and as there is no simple verb φητεύω it must be regarded as regular.

Verse 23

23. ὁμολογεῖν. Properly to ‘agree,’ ‘admit’: in late Greek to ‘assert,’ ‘affirm.’

οὐδέποτε ἔγνων. ‘Never recognised you as being my disciples, with my name on your lips your heart was far from me.’ Each false claim is answered by the Judge. As prophets he does not recognise them. He bids the false casters-forth of demons begone as though they themselves were demons,—the workers of δυνάμεις were really workers of ἀνομία. Comp. Clem. Ep. II. loc. cit. above: εἶπεν ὁ Κύριος ἐὰν ἦτε μετʼ ἐμοῦ συνηγμένοι ἐν τῷ κολπῷ μου καὶ μὴ ποιῆτε τὰς ἐντολάς μου ἀποβαλῶ ὑμᾶς καὶ ἐρῶ ὑμῖν· ὑπάγετε ἀπʼ ἐμοῦ, οὐκ οἶδα ὑμᾶς πόθεν ἐστέ, ἐργάται ἀνομίας.

Verse 24

24. πᾶς ὅστις ἀκούει. Cp. Matthew 7:26, every one that heareth. Both classes of men hear the word. So far they are alike. Moreover the two houses have externally the same appearance. The great day of trial shews the difference. The imagery is from a mountain-country where the torrent-beds, sometimes more than half a mile in width in the plain below the mountain, are dry in summer, and present a level waste of sand and stones. We may picture the foolish man building on this sandy bottom, while the wise or prudent man builds on a rock planted on the shore, or rising out of the river-bed, too high to be affected by the rush of waters. In the autumn the torrents stream down, filling the sandy channel and carrying all before them. For the spiritual sense of the parable see 1 Corinthians 3:10 foll.

The effect of the two pictures is heightened by the poetical form. Observe the three long slow lines that describe the building of the houses succeeded by the brief vivid sentences that recall the beating of a fierce tropical tempest, and then the lasting result when the tempest passes away described by another long line.

The points of similarity in the two descriptions give prominence to the points of difference. ἄμμον and πέτραν are contrasted in the third line of each stanza. But the fatal and infinite distinction is reserved for the close. Like line and like condition succeed each other in the parallel images, and all seems safe and well for each alike until the fatal last line falls on heart and ear with a crash.

Verse 27

27. κατέβηἦλθονἔπνευσαν. Both the tense and the emphatic position of the verbs give great vivacity to the description.

οἱ ποταμοί. ‘Streams,’ rather than ‘floods,’ A.V. ἦλθαν, ‘came,’ because before there had been only a dry channel.

Verse 28

28. ἐξεπλήσσοντο. The tense implies the continuance of the astonishment, or the passing of it from group to group.

The meaning of this astonishing discourse was not lost upon the audience. No word could express more clearly the wonder and sense of novelty excited by the language and (as we may believe) the looks and bearing of Jesus. It was the astonishment of men who find themselves listening to the proclamation of a revolution set forth with marvellous force and beauty of language, who quite unconsciously find themselves face to face with a national crisis, the greatness of which was recognised by the listeners with a swiftness of spiritual perception only paralleled by the intellectual quickness of an Athenian crowd.

οἱ ὄχλοι. The crowds, i.e. the various groups that composed the assemblage.

τῇ διδαχῇ αὐτοῦ. ‘His teaching,’ both the matter and the manner of it.

Verse 29

29. ἦν γάρ διδάσκων. The analytic imperfect indicates vividly the continuance of the action, ‘He was teaching,’ not as A.V. ‘taught.’ The thought of the listeners was: ‘While He was teaching we felt all along that He was a lawgiver, not merely an interpreter of the law.’

ὡς οἱ γραμματεῖς αὐτῶν. Whose highest boast it was that they never spoke save in the words of a Rabbi.

οἱ γραμματεῖς. Sopherim = either [1] ‘those who count’ (Heb. saphar); because the Scribes counted each word and letter of the Scriptures; or [2] ‘those occupied with books’ (Heb. sepher). The Scribes, as an organised body, originated with Ezra, who was in a special sense the ‘Sopher’ or Scribe. This order of Sopherim, strictly so called, terminated B.C. 300. Their successors in our Lord’s time were usually termed Tanaim, ‘those who repeat, i.e. teach the Law.’ They are called ‘lawyers’ (ch. Matthew 22:35; Luke 5:17; Acts 5:34), also ‘the wise,’ ‘Elders,’ and ‘Rabbis.’

A scribe’s education began as early as in his fifth year. At thirteen he became a ‘son of the law,’ Bar-mitsvah. If deemed fit, he became a disciple. At thirty he was admitted as a teacher, having tablets and a key given him. See note, ch. Matthew 16:19. His functions were various; he transcribed the law (here the greatest accuracy was demanded); he expounded the law, always with reference to authority—he acted as judge in family litigation, and was employed in drawing up various legal documents, such as marriage-contracts, writings of divorce, &c. (See Kitto’s Cycl. Bib. Lit. and Smith’s Bib. Dict. Art. ‘Scribes.’)

The alliance between Scribes and Pharisees was very close, each taught that the law could be interpreted, ‘fenced round’ and aided by tradition, in opposition to the Sadducees, who adhered to the strict letter of the written law.


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Bibliography Information
"Commentary on Matthew 7:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

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