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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Greek Testament

Matthew 20

 

 

Verse 1

Matthew 20:1. ὁμοία γὰρ etc.: γὰρ points back to previous sentence about first-lasts and last-firsts.— ἀνθ. οἰκοδ.: vide Matthew 13:52.— ἅμα πρωῒ: at early dawn (similar use of ἅμα in classics), at the beginning of the day, which was reckoned from six to six.— μισθώσασθαι: hiring has a prominent place in this parable, at the first, third, sixth, ninth, eleventh hour. Why so many servants wanted that day? This feature obtains natural probability by conceiving that it is the season of grape-gathering, which must be done at the proper time and promptly; the more hands the better (Koetsveld, De Gelijk.).


Verses 1-16

Matthew 20:1-16. Parable of the hours, peculiar to Mt., and, whatever its real connection as spoken by Jesus, to be interpreted in relation to its setting as here given, which is not impossible. The parable is brought in as illustrating the aphorism in Matthew 19:30.


Verse 2

Matthew 20:2. ἐκ δηναρίου: on the basis of a penny; the agreement sprang out of the offer, and acceptance, of a denarius as a day’s wage (so Meyer, Weiss, etc.).— τὴν ἡμέραν = per diem, only a single day is contemplated in the parable.


Verse 3

Matthew 20:3. τρίτην .: the article τὴν before τρίτην in T. R., omitted in W. H(111), is not necessary before an ordinal.— ἑστῶτας . τ. ἀγ.: the marketplace there as here, the place where masters and men met.— ἀργούς (a and ἔργον), not = idle in habit, but unemployed and looking for work.


Verse 4

Matthew 20:4. καὶ ὑμεῖς: he had got a fair number of workers in the morning, but he is pleased to have more for an urgent piece of work. The expression has reference to the Master’s mood rather than to the men’s knowledge of what had taken place at the first hour.— ἐὰν δίκαιον: no bargain this time, only a promise of fair equitable dealing, will be just at least, give in proportion to length of service; privately intends to do more, or at least is that way inclined.


Verse 5

Matthew 20:5. ἐποίησεν ὡσαύτως: repetition of the action at sixth and ninth hours; more men still on similar footing.


Verse 6

Matthew 20:6. περὶ δὲ τὴν ἑνδεκ.: the δὲ marks this final procedure as noteworthy. We begin to wonder at all this hiring, when we see it going on even at the last hour. Is the master a humorist hiring out of benevolence rather than from regard to the exigencies of the work? Some have thought so (Olshausen, Goebel, Koetsveld), and there seems good ground for the suggestion, though even this unusual procedure may be made to appear probable by conceiving the master as anxious to finish the work on hand that day, in which case even an hour’s work from a sufficient number of willing hands may be of value.— τί ὧδε ἑστήκατε, etc., why stand ye here ( ἑστήκ., perfect active, neuter in sense, and used as a present) all the day idle? The question answers itself: no man would stand all the day in the market-place idle unless because he wanted work and could not get it.


Verse 7

Matthew 20:7. ὑπάγετε καὶ ὑμεῖς: these words said this time with marked emphasis = you too go, though it be so late. This employer would probably be talked of among the workers as a man who had a hobby—a character; they might even laugh at his peculiar ways. The clause about payment in T. R. is obviously out of place in this case. The pay the last gang were entitled to was not worth speaking about.


Verse 8

Matthew 20:8. ἀρξάμενος: a pregnant word, including not only the commencement of the process of paying but its progress. There is an ellipsis, καὶ ἐλθὼν being understood before ἔως (Kypke). Grotius thinks this does not really mean beginning with the last comers, but without regard to order of coming in, so that no one should be overlooked. He fails to see that the idiosyncrasy of the master is a leading point, indeed the key to the meaning of the parable. This beginning with the last is an eccentricity from an ordinary everyday-life point of view. The master chooses to do so: to begin with those who have no claims.


Verses 8-12

Matthew 20:8-12. The evening settlement.


Verse 9

Matthew 20:9. ἀνὰ δηνάριον, a denarius each; ἀνὰ is distributive = “accipiebant singuli denar.”. For this use of ἀνὰ vide Herrmann’s Viger, p. 576.


Verse 10

Matthew 20:10. οἷ πρῶτοι: the intermediates passed over, as non-essential to the didactic purpose, we arrive at the first, the men hired on a regular bargain in the morning.— ἐνόμισαν: they had noticed the paying of the last first, and had curiously watched to see or hear what they got, and they come with great expectations: twelve hours’ work, therefore twelve times the sum given to the one-hour men.— καὶ αὐτοί: surprising! only a penny! What a strange, eccentric master! He had seen expectation in their faces, and anticipated with amusement their chagrin. The money was paid by the overseer, but he was standing by enjoying the scene.


Verse 11

Matthew 20:11. ἐγόγγυζον: imperfect; the grumbling went on from man to man as they were being paid; to the overseer, but at ( κατὰ) the master, and so that he could overhear.


Verse 12

Matthew 20:12. heir grievous complaint.— οὗτοι, these, with a workman’s contempt for a sham-worker.— ἐποίησαν. Some (Wetstein, Meyer, Goebel, etc.) render, spent = they put in their one hour: without doing any work to speak of. The verb is used in this sense (e.g., Acts 15:33), and one is strongly tempted to adopt this rendering as true to the contemptuous feeling of the twelve-hour men for the one-hour men. Kypke remarks against it that if ἐποίησαν had been meant in this sense = “commorati sunt,” the word ὧδε = ἐν τῷ ἀμπελῶνι would have been added. Perhaps the strongest reason against it is that the one-hour men had worked with such good will (that goes without saying) that even prejudiced fellow-workers could not ignore the fact. So we must take ἐποίησαν = worked.— τὸ βάρος, τὸν καύσωνα: these the points of their case: not that they had worked hard while the others had not, but that they had borne the burden of a whole day’s work, and worked through the heat of the day, and now came to be paid, weary and sweat-stained. (Some take καύσωνα as referring to the sirocco or south-east wind; hot, dry and dust-laden. On the winds of Palestine, vide Benzinger, Heb. Arch., p. 30.) What was one hour in the late afternoon, however hard the last comers worked, to that! And yet they are made equal ( ἴσους)! Surely good ground for complaint!


Verse 13

Matthew 20:13. ἐνὶ, to one of them. It would have been undignified to make a speech in self-defence to the whole gang. That would have been to take the matter too seriously. The master selects a man, and quietly speaks his mind to him.— ἑταῖρε, friend, comrade; familiar and kindly. Cf. Luke 15:31.


Verses 13-15

Matthew 20:13-15. The master’s reply.


Verse 14

Matthew 20:14. ἆρον τὸ σὸν, take thine, thy stipulated denarius. It looks as if this particular worker had refused the penny, or was saucily handing it back.— θέλω, I choose, it is my pleasure; emphatically spoken. Summa hujus verbi potestas, Beng.— τούτῳ τ. ἐσχ.: one of the eleventh-hour men singled out and pointed to.


Verse 15

Matthew 20:15. οὐκ ἔξεστι: right asserted to act as he chooses in the matter.— ἐν τοῖς ἐμοῖς, in matters within my own discretion—a truism; the question is: what belongs to that category? Fritzsche and De Wette render: in my own affairs; Meyer: in the matter of my own property.— (W.H(112)) introduces an alternative mode of putting the case, which explains how the complainants and the master see the matter so differently, they seeing in it an injustice, he a legitimate exercise of his discretion.— πονηρός, vide on Matthew 6:22-24.— ἀγαθός, generous; doing more than justice demands. So Bengel. Cf. Romans 5:7 for the distinction between δίκαιος and ἀγαθός.


Verse 16

Matthew 20:16. Christ here points the moral of the parable = Matthew 19:30, the terms ἔσχατοι πρῶτοι changing places, the better to suit the story. The meaning is not: the last as the first, and the first as the last, all treated alike. True, all get the same sum; at least the last and first do, nothing being said of those between; but the point of the parable is not that the reward is the same. The denarius given to all is not the central feature of the story, but the will of the master, whose character from a commercial point of view is distinctly eccentric, and is so represented to make it serve the didactic purpose. The method of this master is commercially unworkable; combination of the two systems of legal contract and benevolence must lead to perpetual trouble. All must be dealt with on one footing. And that is what it will come to with a master of the type indicated. He will abolish contract, and engage all on the footing of generously rewarding generous service. The parable does not bring this out fully, as it gives the story only of a single day. It suggests rather than adequately illustrates its own moral, which is that God does not love a legal spirit. In the parable the men who worked on contract, and, as it came out at the end, in a legal temper, got their penny, but what awaits them in future is not to be employed at all. Work done in a legal spirit does not count in the Kingdom of God. In reward it is last, or even nowhere. This is the trend of the parable, and so viewed it has a manifest connection with Peter’s self-complacent question. On this parable vide my Parabolic Teaching of Christ.


Verse 17

Matthew 20:17. ἀναβαίνων: going up from Peraea to the ridge on which the Holy City stood. The reading μέλλων ἀναβ. may indicate that they are already on the west side of the Jordan, and about to commence the ascent (Weiss-Meyer).— εἰς ἰεροσόλυμα: face being now turned directly towards Jerusalem, thought naturally turns to what is going to happen there.— κατʼ ἰδίαν: there is a crowd of pilgrims going the same way, so Jesus must take aside His disciples to speak on the solemn theme what is specially meant for their ear.— ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ, in the way, vide Mk.’s description, which is very graphic.


Verses 17-19

Matthew 20:17-19. Third prediction of the passion (Mark 10:32-34; Luke 18:31-34).—The first in Matthew 16:21; the second in Matthew 17:22. In the first it was stated generally that Jesus was about πολλὰ παθεῖν. Here the πολλὰ are detailed. In the second mention was made of betrayal ( παραδίδοται, Matthew 17:22) into the hands of men. Here the “men” resolve into priests, scribes, and Gentiles.


Verse 18

Matthew 20:18. ἰδού, ἀναβαίνομεν! a memorable fateful anabasis! It excites lively expectation in the whole company, but how different the thoughts of the Master from those of His followers!— κατακρινοῦσι, they shall sentence Him to death; a new feature.


Verse 19

Matthew 20:19. ἐμπαῖξαι, μαστιγῶσαι, σταυρῶσαι, mock, scourge, crucify; all new features, the details of the πολλὰ παθεῖν. Note the parts assigned to the various actors: the Jews condemn, the Gentiles scourge and crucify.


Verse 20

Matthew 20:20. τότε (in Mk. the vaguer καὶ), then; let us hope not quite immediately after, but it need not have been long after. How soon children forget doleful news and return to their play; a beneficent provision of nature in their case, that grief should be but a summer shower. Or did James and John with their mother not hear the sad announcement, plotting perhaps when the Master was predicting?— μήτηρ: in Mk. the two brothers speak for themselves, but this representation is true to life. Mothers can be very bold in their children’s interest.— αἰτοῦσα, begging; the petitioner a woman and a near relative, not easy to resist.— τι: vague; no verbal indication as yet what is wanted; her attitude showed she had a request to make, the manner revealing that it is something important, and also perhaps that it is something that should not be asked.


Verses 20-28

Matthew 20:20-28. The two sons of Zebedee (Mark 10:35-45).


Verse 21

Matthew 20:21. εἰπὲ ἵνα: vide on Matthew 4:3.— καθίσωσιν, etc. = let them have the first places in the kingdom, sitting on Thy right and left hand respectively. After ἐκ δεξιῶν, ἐξ εὐωνύμων, μερῶν is understood = on the right and left parts. Vide Bos, Ellipses Graecae, p. 184, who cites an instance of the latter phrase from Diod. Sic. So this was all that came out of the discourse on child-likeness! (Matthew 18:3 ff.). But Jesus had also spoken of thrones in the new Genesis, and that seems to have fired their imagination and stimulated their ambition. And “the gentle and humble” John was in this plot! Conventional ideas of apostolic character need revision.


Verse 22

Matthew 20:22. Jesus meets this bold petition as He met the scribe’s offer of discipleship (Matthew 8:19), aiming at disenchantment by pointing out what it involved: throne and suffering going together.— τὸ ποτήριον, the cup, emblem of both good and evil fortune in Hebrew speech (Psalms 11:6; Psalms 23:5); here of suffering.— δυνάμεθα, we are able; the prompt, decided answer of the two brothers to whom Jesus had addressed His question. Had they then laid to heart what Jesus had said shortly before concerning His passion, and subsequent resurrection, and made up their minds to share His sufferings that they might so gain a high place in the kingdom? Had they already caught the martyr spirit? It is possible. But it is also possible that they spoke without thinking, like Peter on the hill.


Verse 23

Matthew 20:23. τὸ μὲν π. μ. πίεσθε, as for my cup, ye shall drink of it: predictive of the future fact, and also conferring a privilege = I have no objection to grant you companionship in my sufferings; that favour may be granted without risk of abuse.— τὸ δὲ καθίσαι, etc., but as for sitting on right and left, hand that is another affair.— οὐκ ἔστιν ἐμὸν δοῦναι = is not a matter of mere personal favour: favouritism has no place here; it depends on fitness. That is the meaning of the last clause, οἷς ἡτοίμασται . τ. π. μ. = it is not an affair of arbitrary favour on the part of the Father any more than on my part. Thrones are for those who are fit to sit on them, and prepared by moral trial and discipline to bear the honour worthily: τοῖς ἀπὸ τῶν ἔργων δυναμένοις γενέσθαι λομπροῖς—Chrys., Hom. lxv. The same Father illustrates supposing an ἀγωνοθέτης to be asked by two athletes as assign to them the crowns of victory, and replying: “it is not mine to give, but they belong to those for whom they are prepared by struggle and sweat” ( ἀπὸ τῶν πόνων καὶ τῶν ἱδρώτων).


Verse 24

Matthew 20:24. οἱ δέκα: the Twelve were all on one moral level, not one superior to ambitious passion, or jealousy of it in another. Therefore the conduct of the two greatly provoked the ten.— ἠγανάκτησαν Passow derives from ἄγαν and ἄγω, and gives as original sense to be in a state of violent excitement like new wine fermenting. The ten were “mad” at the two; pitiful exhibition in the circumstances, fitted to make Jesus doubt His choice of such men. But better were not to be found.


Verses 24-28

Matthew 20:24-28. Commotion in the disciple-circle.


Verse 25

Matthew 20:25. προσκαλεσάμενος: Jesus had to call them to Him, therefore they had had the decency not to quarrel in His presence. Magistro non praesente, Beng.— κατακυριεύουσιν: in the Sept(113) used in the sense of rule, Genesis 1:28, Psalms 72:8; here the connection requires the idea of “lording it over,” the κατὰ having intensive force; so also in the ἅπ. λεγ. κατεξουσιάζουσιν, following = play the tyrant.— τῶν ἐθνῶν: from these occasional references to the outside peoples we get Christ’s idea of the Pagan world; they seek material good (Matthew 6:32), use repetition in prayer (Matthew 6:7), are subject to despotic rule.— οἱ μεγάλοι, the grandees.— αὐτῶν after the two verbs in both cases refers to the ἐθνῶν. Grotius takes the second as referring to the ἄρχοντες, and finds in the passage this sense: the rulers, monarchs, lord it over the people, and their grandees lord it over them, the rulers, in turn; a picture certainly often true to life. Perhaps the intention is to suggest that the rule of the magnates is more oppressive than that of their royal masters: they strain their authority. “Ipsis saepe dominis imperantiores,” Beng.


Verse 26

Matthew 20:26. οὐχ οὔτως ἐστὶν . . It is not so among you. The ἔσται of T. R. is probably conformed to the two following ἔσται, but it is true to the meaning. Jesus speaks of a state of matters He desires, but which does not yet exist. The present spirit of the Twelve is essentially secular and pagan.— μέγας, διάκονος: greatness by service the law of the Kingdom of God, whereby greatness becomes another thing, not self-asserted or arrogated, but freely conceded by others.


Verse 27

Matthew 20:27. πρῶτος may be a synonym for μέγας = μέγιστος (De W.) and δοῦλος for διάκονος; or in both cases increased emphasis may be intended, πρῶτος pointing to a higher place of dignity, δοῦλος to a lower depth of servitude. Burton (M. and T. in N.T., § 68) finds in the two ἔσται in Matthew 20:26-27 probable instances of the third person future used imperatively.


Verse 28

Matthew 20:28. ὤσπερ, καὶ γὰρ in Mk.; both phrases introducing reference to the summum exemplum (Bengel) in an emphatic way.— περ lends force to ὡς = even as, observe.— . τ. ἀνθρώπου: an important instance of the use of the title. On the principle of defining by discriminating use it means: the man who makes no pretensions, asserts no claims.— οὐκ ἦλθε points to the chief end of His mission, the general character of His public life: not that of a Pretender but that of a Servant.— δοῦναι τὴν ψυχὴν, to give His life, to that extent does the service go. Cf. Philippians 2:8 : μέχρι θανάτου, there also in illustration of the humility of Christ. It is implied that in some way the death of the Son of Man will be serviceable to others. It enters into the life plan of the Great Servant.— λύτρον, a ransom, characterises the service, another new term in the evangelic vocabulary, suggesting rather than solving a theological problem as to the significance of Christ’s death, and admitting of great variety of interpretation, from the view of Origen and other Fathers, who regarded Christ’s death as a price paid to the devil to ransom men from bondage to him, to that of Wendt, who finds in the word simply the idea that the example of Jesus in carrying the principle of service as far as to die tends by way of moral influence to deliver men’s minds from every form of spiritual bondage (Die Lehre Jesu, ii. 510–517). It is an interesting question, What clue can be found in Christ’s own words, as hitherto reported, to the use by Him on this occasion of the term λύτρον, and to the sense in which He uses it? Wendt contends that this is the best method of getting at the meaning, and suggests as the most congenial text Matthew 11:28-30. I agree with him as to method, but think a better clue may be found in Matthew 17:27, the word spoken by Jesus in reference to the Temple Tax. That word began the striking course of instruction on humility, as this word (Matthew 20:28) ends it, and the end and the beginning touch in thought and language. The didrachmon was a λύτρον (Exodus 30:12), as the life of the Son of Man is represented to be. The tax was paid ἀυτὶ ἐμοῦ καὶ σοῦ. The life is to be given ἀντὶ πολλῶν. Is it too much to suppose that the Capernaum incident was present to Christ’s mind when He uttered this striking saying, and that in the earlier utterance we have the key to the psychological history of the term λύτρον? On this subject vide my book The Kingdom of God, pp. 238–241.


Verse 29

Matthew 20:29. ἀπὸ ἰεριχὼ, from Jericho, an important town every way; “the key—the ‘Chiavenna’—of Palestine to any invader from this quarter” (Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, p. 305; the whole account there given should be read), situated in an oasis in the Judaean desert, caused by streams from the mountains above and springs in the valley; with a flourishing trade and fine buildings, Herod’s palace included; two hours distant from the Jordan; from thence to the summit a steep climb through a rocky ravine, haunt of robbers.— ὄχλος πολύς, a great crowd going to the feast in Jerusalem.


Verses 29-34

Matthew 20:29-34. Blind men (man) at Jericho (Mark 10:46-52, Luke 18:35-43). The harmonistic problems as to the locality of this incident (leaving Jericho, Mt. and Mk.; entering, Lk.) and the number of persons healed (one Mk. and Lk., two Mt.) may be left on one side, as also the modern critical attempts to account for the origin of the discrepancies. Those interested may consult for the former Keil and Nösgen, for the latter Holtz., H.C., and Weiss-Meyer.


Verse 30

Matthew 20:30. ἀκούσαντες, etc. Luke explains that the blind man learnt that Jesus was passing in answer to inquiry suggested by the noise of a crowd. He knew who Jesus was: the fame of Jesus the Nazarene (Mk. and Lk.), the great Healer, had reached his ear.— υἱὸς δ.: popular Messianic title (Matthew 9:27, Matthew 15:22).


Verse 31

Matthew 20:31. ἐπετίμησεν: same word as in Matthew 19:13, and denoting similar action to that of the disciples in reference to the children, due to similar motives. Officious reverence has played a large part in the history of the Church and of theology.— μεῖζον ἔκραζον, they cried out the more; of course, repression ever defeats itself; μεῖζον, adverb, here only in N.T.


Verse 32

Matthew 20:32. ἐφώνησεν might mean “addressed them” (Fritzsche), but “called them” seems to suit the situation better; cf. the parallels.— τί θέλετε, etc., what do you wish me to do for you? Not a superfluous question; they were beggars as well as blind; they might want alms (vide Mark 10:46). Mt. says nothing about their being beggars, but the question of Jesus implies it.


Verse 33

Matthew 20:33. ἴνα ἀνοιγῶσιν οἱ ὀφ. They desire the greater benefit, opening of their eyes, which shows that the eyes of their mind were open as to Christ’s power and will.— ἀνοιγῶσιν, 2nd aorist subjunctive, for which the T. R. has the more common 1st aorist.


Verse 34

Matthew 20:34. σπλαγχνισθεὶς. Note the frequent reference to Christ’s pity in this gospel (Matthew 9:36, Matthew 14:14, Matthew 15:32, and here).— τῶν ὀμμάτων, a synonym for ὀφθαλμῶν, as if with some regard to style which the scribes might have been expected to appreciate, but have not ( ὀφθ., thrice, T.R.). ὄμμα is poetic in class. Greek.— ἠκολούθησαν, they followed Him, like the rest, without guide (sine hodego, Beng.), so showing at once that their eyes were opened and their hearts grateful.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Matthew 20:4". The Expositor's Greek Testament. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/egt/matthew-20.html. 1897-1910.

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