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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible

Matthew 9

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-38


The Sick of the Palsy. Call of Matthew. Raising of Jairus' Daughter

1-8. The paralytic healed and his sins forgiven (Mark 2:1; Luke 5:17). The peculiarity of this miracle is that it was worked to prove a doctrine, and that in the face of opposition. There were present certain scribes and Pharisees, some of whom had doubtless come from Jerusalem expressly to oppose Jesus. Jesus at once threw them a challenge by saying to the man, 'Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.' The scribes understood this to mean that He claimed to forgive sins as God only can do. Instead of repudiating this suggestion, as a mere man would have done, Jesus accepted it, and proceeded to prove His claim by a miracle. 'Whether is easier,' said He, 'to say, Thy sins are forgiven; or to say, Arise, and walk?' The former, of course, is easier. Any impostor can say, 'Thy sins are forgiven,' because it is impossible for men to know whether the words have taken effect or not. But not gvery one can say, 'Arise, and walk,' because if such words are spoken without authority, the speaker is at once convicted of imposture.

This miracle, like the resurrection, maybe regarded as a vindication by God Himself of the character of Jesus. No man could make the claims that Jesus did, without rendering himself liable to the most serious imputations upon his character. Either He was the Son of God, or, as the scribes rightly said from their point of view, a blasphemer. Hence in this miracle Jesus deliberately appealed to the judgment of God, and God by working the miracle vindicated the character of Jesus.

1. His own city] i.e. Capernaum.

2. They brought to him] According to the fuller accounts in St. Mark and St. Luke the bed of the paralytic was carried by four men, who, unable to approach Jesus for the crowd, ascended to the roof of the house by the outside stairs with which most Eastern houses are furnished, and making a hole in the flat roof ('the tiling,' Luke), let down the bed by cords in front of Jesus, who was addressing a great multitude. Where was Jesus at the time? Some say in the upper chamber of the house, but this would hardly have held so many. More satisfactory is the suggestion of Edersheim that Jesus was preaching in the covered gallery or verandah of the house, and that the hole was made, not in the roof of the house, but in the roof of the verandah. The house was probably Peter's, and one of considerable size, as befitted a man of some means. It was built, as the better class of Eastern houses generally are, like an English college. A single gate or door opened into a large square courtyard, planted with trees. Round it were the various apartments of the house, opening directly into the courtyard. There was also a roofed verandah running round the court. Jesus was sitting in the verandah, addressing the crowds that filled the courtyard and the doorway and the street beyond, when the men unroofed the verandah from above and let the sick man down.

2. Son, be of good cheer] Words of encouragement and comfort to the man, who, we may conclude, knew that his disease was the result of past sin, and was therefore ashamed of himself. Not only drunkenness, but various other sins of self-indulgence produce paralysis. Jesus, who knew at a glance the whole history of the case (cp. John 5:14), first removed the sick man's spiritual trouble, and then healed him. The absolution was given for the man's own sake, but it was also a challenge to the Pharisees, who were present as enemies. Their hostility had been roused not only by the cleansing of the leper (Matthew 8:1), but by the very similar miracle worked shortly before at Jerusalem (John 5:2), in connexion with which also Jesus had incurred the charge of blasphemy ('He called God His own father, making Himself equal with God,' John 5:18).

6. The Son of man] i.e. the Son of God in the humiliation of His life on earth. Hath power (RM 'authority') on earth to forgive sins] What is the force of on earth? Bengel rightly says, 'This speech hints at His celestial origin.' Christ's design is to prove that His Incarnation has not emptied Him of His divine prerogatives. Though humbled on earth, the divine power of pardon was still His. By becoming man He had not ceased to be God.

8. Which had given such power (RM 'authority') unto men] The saying is a striking one. Although one man alone had exercised the power, the people rightly perceived that there had been established the principle that the divine forgiveness can be committed to man. Christ afterwards gave such power unto men when He committed to His Church the power to forgive sins (John 20:23). A strong distinction must, however, be drawn between Christ's own power to forgive, which is original and absolute, and the ministerial power of absolution which is delegated and conditional: see on John 20:23.

9-13. Call of Matthew (Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27 : see Intro.). The call of a publican was another challenge to the Pharisaic party. Considering the low estimation in which publicans were held (see on Matthew 5:46), it was an act of extraordinary boldness, and, if human success was aimed at, a most unwise one. But Jesus had a mission to the despised and outcast, whom He regarded as in many respects nearer the kingdom of God than the respectable Pharisees. The most obvious way to win their confidence and to acquire influence over them, was to call one of their number to the apostolate. He did so, and followed up the step by holding a great feast, at which He and His disciples publicly ate and drank with publicans and sinners. The incident has a double significance. (1) It is a protest by Jesus against the practice of social ostracism. If publicans are treated as if they were thieves, they are likely to become so. If actors are regarded as disreputable people, disreputable they will be. But if men are treated with respect, they are thereby taught to respect themselves, and to try to deserve the good opinion of others. (2) It is an intimation that the Church has a mission to the poor, the outcast, and the criminal, as well as to the respectable classes. Many signs show that this duty is now much more appreciated than it was. Parochial missions to the poor, street preaching, the police-court missionaries, the missions in prisons, are all imitations of our Lord's feast to publicans and sinners.

9. Matthew] The other Gospels call him 'Levi.' Matthew ('gift of Jehovah') was the name by which he was known among Christians. He may have adopted it at his call.

The receipt of custom] RV 'the place of toll.' Custom, or toll (Gk. telos), was a tax levied on goods imported or exported from one district to another, as distinguished from tribute (Gk. censos, or phoros), an annual tax on houses, lands, and persons. As customs generally went to the native government, Matthew was probably in the employ of Herod Antipas, not of the Romans. J. Lightfoot thinks that the toll was levied on vessels plying on the lake. More probably it was levied on the caravans trading between Egypt and Damascus, most of which passed through Capernaum. Follow me] St. Luke says that St. Matthew 'left all' and followed Jesus. Probably he had been a disciple for some time and expected the call.

10. As Jesus sat at meat (lit. 'reclined') in the house] From St. Matthew and St. Mark it might be supposed that the meal took place in the house of Jesus, i.e. of Peter; but it is clear from St. Luke that it was in the house of Matthew, who made a great feast for his Master. This feast is not to be regarded as a mere farewell banquet given by him to his old associates, but as part of a definite design on the part of Jesus to reach the despised and outcast classes. There being so great a multitude of guests, it is probable that the feast was held not in the upper-room, but in the great courtyard of the house. For the attitude of sitting (reclining) at meat, see on Luke 7:38; John 13:23.

11. When the Pharisees saw it] The Pharisees were not invited, but they walked in to see what was happening. In the East a banquet is a public affair, and any casual wayfarer may enter as a spectator. Why eateth your master with publicans and sinners?] The Pharisees spoke to the disciples to seduce them from their allegiance to their Master. Publicans were social outcasts, and religiously halfexcommunicate. It was said, 'A religious man who becomes a publican, is to be driven out of the society of religion.' 'It is not lawful to use the riches of such men, of whom it is presumed that all their wealth was gotten by rapine, and that all their business was the business of extortioners, such as publicans and robbers are.' Publicans were forbidden to be judges or to give evidence: see on Matthew 5:46. Some think that 'sinners' is a mere Pharisaic term of abuse for publicans.

12. They that be whole, i.e. the Pharisees, have no need of a physician, i.e. of Christ, but they that are sick, i.e. the publicans and sinners. The saying is spoken in irony, for the Pharisees, wanting charity, wanted a physician even more than the publicans.

13. I will have mercy, and not sacrifice] i.e. I would rather see love and charity towards fellowmen than ritual observances. Ritual without love is an abomination. Quoted from Hosea 6:6, and again in Matthew 12:7. The righteous] i.e. those who think themselves such, viz. the Pharisees. Ironically spoken. Of course Christ did come to call the Pharisees, but they refused to be called.

14-17. Controversy with the disciples of John and with the Pharisees on fasting (Mark 2:18; Luke 5:33). Matthew's feast probably took place on a Monday or a Thursday, days which were observed by the Pharisees and John's disciples as fasts: see Mk, 'The disciples of John and the Pharisees were fasting.' The jealousy of the disciples of John had showed itself even before John had been cast into prison (John 3:26). Now that John was in prison, they readily became the tools of the Pharisees, who instigated them to come forward and say, 'Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?' The question had two purposes. (1) It was intended to hold up to public odium the laxity of the religious practices of Jesus as compared with the strictness of those of the Pharisees and of John. (2) It was intended to produce a breach between John and Jesus. The reputation of Jesus had been established very largely by the witness which John had borne to His Messiahship. If Jesus could be induced to condemn John (and it seemed impossible that He could defend His own disciples without doing so), John would perhaps disown Jesus, whose reputation would thereby be seriously diminished.

Jesus disappointed them by an answer at least as diplomatic as the famous one about the tribute-money. Addressing the disciples of John, He reminded them that their own master had called Him the Bridegroom, and added that at a wedding not even the Pharisees would desire the guests to fast. When the weddingfeast was over, or rather when the bridegroom was taken from them by a violent death, they would mourn and fast. Then in three parables (the last of which is in St. Luke only) He showed that the disciples of John were as right from their point of view as His own disciples were from theirs. In the first parable He compared the religious practices of John to an old garment, and His own to a new garment. John, He said, was not so foolish as to tear a piece of cloth from the new garment of Christianity in order to patch with it his own Jewish garment. He could not, for instance, consistently borrow from Christ the dispensation from fasting, and teach it to his disciples, without making a complete breach in his system. Let the disciples of John continue to fast until they came to Jesus, when they would adopt different practices altogether.

Having defended John, Jesus, in a second parable, defended Himself. John's wine was old, and was contained in bottles which suited it. His own was new, and required new bottles. In other words, the two different types of piety required different outward methods of expression. John's preparatory ministry of repentance was rightly accompanied by fasting and mourning, but now the fulness of joy was come, the time of feasting and rejoicing had begun.

In a third parable, given only by St. Luke, Jesus again defends the disciples of John. 'No one,' He says, 'having drunk old wine, desires new, for he says, The old is good enough.' In other words, the disciples of John, having tasted John's wine and found it to be good, are not to be blamed if they are not over anxious to taste new wine, i.e. to adopt the new and to them untried practices of Christ's disciples (Luke 5:39).

14. Fast oft] Some ancient authorities omit 'oft.'

15. The children (RV 'sons') of the bridechamber] i.e. the friends of the bridegroom, who, amid singing and playing of instruments, conducted the bride, accompanied by her companions, to the house of the bridegroom and to the bridechamber, and remained to take part in the wedding-feast, which usually lasted seven days. Here the 'sons of the bridechamber' are the disciples of Christ. Christ was first called the Bridegroom by the Baptist himself (John 3:29). Shall be taken from them] The first prediction in St. Matthew of the Passion. And then shall they fast] The first reference is to the sorrow of Christ's disciples after His death. The words, however, may be taken to suggest for fasting a permanent place in the Christian system of devotion, but a less prominent one than in the austere system of John and the formal self-righteous one of Pharisaic Judaism: see on Matthew 6:16.

16. A piece of new cloth] lit. 'undressed cloth.' According to St. Luke the piece of new cloth is taken from the new garment of Christianity. It signifies the bright and joyous character of the religion of Christ, which cannot be successfully grafted upon the austere and joyless system of the Baptist.

Taketh from the garment] i.e. parts, or separates itself from the garment. And the rent is made worse] RV 'a worse rent is made.'

17. Old bottles] The most usual Eastern bottles are simply goat-skins drawn off the animal entire. The neck of the animal forms the neck of the bottle. Those used for wine are tanned with oak-bark and seasoned in smoke, which gives a flavour to the wine that is much appreciated. New wine is liable to a certain amount of after-fermentation, so that it cannot safely be stored in old bottles. Our Lord's saying about the old and the new bottles applies properly to the Baptist's teaching, but it may also be applied to Judaism in general. So taken, it means that the forms of Judaism are inadequate to express the spirit of Christianity, and that those who, like the Judaising Christians in the Acts, try to combine the Law with the Gospel and to enforce the Mosaic ritual, are trying to put new wine into old bottles.

18-26. The raising of Jairus' daughter, and the healing of the woman with an issue of blood (Mark 5:21; Luke 8:40). The most important point in the raising of Jairus' daughter is the reality of the death. This has been denied on account of our Lord's words, 'The maid is not dead, but sleepeth.' It is perfectly true that the mourners understood them in this sense, 'for they laughed him to scorn, knowing that she was dead' (Lk), but inasmuch as the narrative comes from Peter himself, who was present, and is told as a miracle, it must be held that she was really dead, and that Jesus spoke of her as sleeping, because He was about to wake her. He used the same words of Lazarus, and on that occasion explained them (John 11:11).

Some who are able to credit the miracles of healing, find difficulties in crediting the miracles of resurrection. There is, however, no more real difficulty in believing the resurrection of Jairus' daughter than in believing that of Jesus Himself. The former illustrates the latter, and is rendered probable by it. It should be observed in this connexion, (1) That miracles of healing, important as they are as proofs of God's benevolence, are entirely inadequate to illustrate the cardinal doctrine of a future life (2) That Jesus Himself regarded raising the dead as part of His ordinary ministerial work (Matthew 11:5; Luke 7:22), and, according to St. Matthew, delegated the power to the Apostles (Matthew 10:8), in accordance with which St. Peter afterwards raised Tabitha (Acts 9:40).

Christ's three miracles of resurrection form a graduated series. In the case of Jairus' daughter the spirit had hardly fled. The widow's son (Luke 7:12) had been dead longer, but not more than twenty-four hours. Lazarus (John 11) had been dead four days, and decomposition had probably begun. Yet we are not to suppose that one miracle was more difficult than another to Him who is the Resurrection and the Life.

The healing of the woman with the issue is an example of the way in which Jesus accepted imperfect faith in order to render it perfect. The woman was superstitious. She thought that a kind of magical virtue resided in our Lord's body, ready to flow out to heal without any act of will on His part, or any act of faith on hers. All that she had to do was to touch, and in doing so she was careful to touch (Matthew 9:20) that portion of His garment which to a Jew was holiest, viz. the tassel, which, in accordance with Numbers 15:37, every Jew was required to wear on the four corners of his cloak to remind him of Jehovah's commands. But since there was real faith mingled with her superstition, Jesus allowed her to be healed, only calling her back afterwards to make her faith perfect. By saying 'Who touched me?' and insisting on a full confession, He made it clear to the woman and to others that He had healed her by His own deliberate act, and was fully aware of all the circumstances of the case. By saying 'Thy faith hath saved thee,' He reproved her superstition. Not the touch, nor the holy tassel, nor the supposed magic virtue had. healed her, but her faith.

18. While he spake] According to this Gospel the ruler came to Jesus as He was sitting at meat with Matthew the publican. The other Gospels record the incident immediately after the return from the country of the Gadarenes (Gerasenes).

Is even now dead] According to the fuller narrative of St. Mark and St. Luke, Jairus says that his daughter is at the point of death. Afterwards a messenger arrives announcing that she is dead.

20. A woman] Eusebius (Church Historian, Bishop of Cæsarea in the 4th cent. a.d.) says that she was a heathen, residing at Paneas (Cæsarea Philippi), near the sources of the Jordan. Her house is shown in the city, and the wonderful monuments of our Saviour's benefit to her are still remaining. At the gates of her house, on an elevated stone, stands a brazen statue of a woman on her bended knee, with her hands stretched out before her like one entreating. Opposite to this is another statue of a man, erect, of the same materials, decently clad in a mantle, and stretching out his hand to the woman. This statue they said was a likeness of Jesus Christ.' It may, however, have been a statue of Æsculapius, the god of healing, who was in great favour at the beginning of the Christian era. Touched the hem (RV 'border,' or, rather, 'tassel') of His garment] see prefatory remarks on Matthew 9:18-26.

23. According to St. Mark and St. Luke only Peter, James, and John, and the parents witnessed the miracle. The minstrels] RV 'the flute-players.' The rabbis said, 'Even the poorest among the Israelites (his wife being dead) will afford her two flutes (i.e. two male flute-players to play at the funeral procession), and one woman to make lamentation.' The multitude of hired mourners marks the wealth and position of Jairus.

25. St. Mark gives our Lord's actual Aramaic words, Talitha cumi, i.e. 'Maid, arise.'

26. St. Mark and St. Luke add that our Lord commanded the parents to be silent about the miracle. Some think that this was only a warning against religious gossip. More probably, since the house was surrounded by an excited crowd, His design was to prevent a tumult.

27-31. Healing of two blind men in the house (peculiar to St. Matthew). Blindness, chiefly as the result of ophthalmia, is exceedingly common in the East, and several miracles of restoring sight to the blind are recorded in the Gospels: Matthew 12:22; Matthew 20:30; Matthew 21:14; John 9. In this case Christ elicited a definite act of faith from the men before healing them. The act of touching their eyes was probably intended to aid their faith. Their addressing Him as Son of David need not imply that they believed Him to be the Messiah.

30. Straitly charged] i.e. sternly (see RV) charged them, because He foresaw that they would disobey: cp. Matthew 12:16, etc.

32-34. Healing of a dumb man (Luke 11:14). This miracle is given by St. Luke in another connexion, and is there followed by a reply by Jesus to the criticisms of the Pharisees.

32. A dumb man] The Gk. word may either mean deaf or dumb, or both.

33. It was never so seen] Their wonder was excited not merely by this miracle, but by a long series of miracles worked in succession, of which this was the last.

34. The prince of the devils] St. Luke 'by Beelzebub': see on Matthew 12:24.

35-38. Tours of Jesus in Galilee (peculiar to St. Matthew, but cp. Mark 6:6, Mark 6:34; Luke 10:2). The early tours of Jesus in Galilee enabled Him to gain a comprehensive view of the actual spiritual condition of the people. It was a very unfavourable one, yet He was not moved to anger, but to pity, for the fault was not in them, but in their guides. 'They were distressed and scattered as sheep not having a shepherd.' True they had the scribes and Pharisees, but these were no true shepherds, but blind leaders of the blind. Yet the situation was hopeful. The people had received Him gladly, and were eager to be taught. 'The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few.' What was wanted was more missionaries to assist Him in His work. Hence the mission of the Twelve.

36. Cp. Mark 6:34.

37, 38. St. Luke introduces this saying in connexion with the mission of the Seventy (Luke 10:2).

 


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Bibliography Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Matthew 9:4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/dcb/matthew-9.html. 1909.

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