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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Matthew 18

 

 

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Verses 1-20

Matthew 18:1-20. A Conversation with the Twelve.—For Matthew 18:1-5, the question of precedence, cf. Mark 9:33-37*, also Matthew 20:26 f., Mark 10:43 f., Luke 9:48; Luke 22:26. Mt. makes the disciples begin the discussion, but characteristically omits the derogatory intimation that they had been disputing. In his account Jesus does not embrace the child (cf. Matthew 19:15, Mark 10:16), and the saying of Mark 9:35 is omitted, or rather reserved till Matthew 23:11. By way of compensation we have the vivid sayings of Matthew 18:3 f., an anticipation of Mark 10:15, and perhaps more suitable in that context.

Matthew 18:1. In that hour may be meant as a link with the preceding incident, which has given a prominence to Peter.

Matthew 18:3 f. The point is not so much the humility of children as that the disciples are bidden to be "in spirit and in feeling what children are in reality and status, little ones" (Loisy). In Matthew 18:5 the child symbolises the unassuming character of the true disciple of Jesus.

Mt. omits the incident of "the exorcist who stood outside the apostolic succession" (Mark 9:38-41 is found at Matthew 10:42), and passes on to the passage about hindrances or stumbling-blocks (Matthew 18:6-10), for which cf. Mark 9:42-48. "Little ones" in Matthew 18:6 and in Matthew 18:10 means believers, not children (cf. Matthew 10:42). 7 is not found in Mk., but occurs in Luke 17:1; it reflects Jesus' early experience of apostate followers. Matthew 18:8 f. has already been met with (Matthew 5:29) in the Sermon on the Mount; it breaks the connexion here, and is introduced to contrast offences against oneself with offences against others, a theme resumed in Matthew 18:10, which is peculiar to Mt. and leads up to the parable of the strayed sheep (better in Luke 15:12 ff.), which Mt. uses to emphasize further the value set by God on the humble believer. A later hand tried to improve the connexion by inserting n from Luke 19:10.

Matthew 18:10. A reference to the idea of guardian counterpart-angels (cf. Acts 12:15, Jubilees, 35:17), or that the angels which represent and protect the unassuming disciple are the angels of the presence, who see God's face continually (cf. Tobit 12:15, Luke 1:19, also 1 Kings 10:8, 2 Kings 25:19). See further JThS, iii. 514, and DCG, art. "Little Ones." [In addition to his article "It is his Angel," in JThS, J. H. Moulton has touched on the subject in his Early Zoroastrianism, pp. 324f. He says of Matthew 18:10, Acts 12:15, "These two passages seem to be explicable by the presence of a belief in angels very much like the Fravashis on the side which was independent of ancestor-Worship." (This side, it may be explained, was a belief in a kind of external soul.) He continues, "The same may be said of the ‘princes' of the nations in Daniel and the Talmud, and the ‘angels of the Churches' in Revelation 2-3. These Fravashis of communities answer very well to Avestan conceptions." He suspects foreign influence on the Biblical ideas. In his article "Fravashi" (ERE, vol. vi., p. 118), he says, "Matthew 18:10 makes the ‘angels' of the little ones dwell perpetually in the Presence. The declaration is completely interpreted if these are the heavenly counterparts, the Fravashis, of those who have not yet learned to sin; no other conception of angels suits it so well, since tutelary angels of children would have no special reason for precedence over those of adults. In Acts 12:15 ‘Peter's angel is clearly his double'—his counterpart which has taken his place while he still lives." See also Matthew 21-12*.—A. S. P.]

Matthew 18:12-14. Montefiore points out the advance made by Jesus on Rabbinical religion; it is not enough to welcome and appreciate repentance when it occurs, one must seek out the sinner and get him to repent.

In Matthew 18:15-20 Mt. gives a short collection of ecclesiastical sayings not found in Mk. and only partially in Lk. (Luke 17:3), of which Mt. seems to be an expansion, just as Luke 17:4 is greatly amplified in Matthew 18:21-35. A brother who goes astray (some MSS. omit "against thee" in Matthew 18:15) is to be reproved privately (cf. Leviticus 19:17, Test. Gad, Matthew 6:3); if this fails, a couple of witnesses are to be called in (Deuteronomy 19:15). If this in turn fails, the community or brotherhood is to be notified, and if the wrongdoer is still impenitent, he is to be excommunicated, and may be proceeded against in the public courts. Matthew 18:17 contrasts with Matthew 18:12 ff. as with Matthew 18:21 f., and it may be that here we have the practice of the early Church (with the problem of sin as affecting not only individuals and God, but also the brotherhood) not unnaturally seeking shelter under the Founder's (supposed) sanction.

In any case, "church" here is used in the local sense (= synagogue), not as in Matthew 16:18*, though Wellhausen sees in both cases a reference to the mother-congregation of Jerusalem. The decisions of the community (not simply of its officials, one or more than one) as to what or who within it is tolerable, are final, because (Matthew 18:19) God hears the petitions of even two believers who are in agreement, and this because (Matthew 18:20) Jesus is with the two or three who meet (and pray) m His name. Jesus adopts the OT idea of the mystic presence of God in Israel (cf. Joel 2:27, Malachi 3:16, and Pirke Aboth, Matthew 3:8, "Two that sit together and are occupied in the words of the Law have the Shekinah among them"; similarly, Sayings of Jesus, Matthew 18:5, "Wherever there are (two) they are not without God, and wherever there is one alone I say I am with him"). Still the connexion of Matthew 18:19 with Matthew 18:18 suggested by "on earth" and "in heaven" is not original; Matthew 18:19 is really an encouragement to prayer. Clement of Alexandria has the pretty fancy that the "two or three" are husband and wife and child, the ecclesia of the family.


Verses 21-35

Matthew 18:21-35. The Duty of Forgiveness Illustrated by the Parable of the Ungrateful Servant.—With Matthew 18:21 cf. Luke 17:4, which makes repentance a condition. The Rabbis taught (Yoma, 86b) that one must forgive one's "brother" (OT "neighbour") three times (cf. Amos 1:3; Amos 1:6; Amos 1:9). According to Jesus, men's forgive ness should be limitless, like that of His Father in heaven. The natural man longs for limitless revenge (Genesis 4:24), "the spiritual man's ambition is to exercise the privilege of boundless forgiveness." The parable that follows presents no difficulty. "Judgment is without mercy to him that hath showed no mercy" (James 2:13). The Divine forgiveness is not so absolute as it seems: he who fails to observe its conditions loses even that which he seems to have. Note the vast discrepancy between the two sums, say two million pounds against ten, and cf. the beam and the splinter of Matthew 7:3. The great defaulter must be one of the king's ministers, through whose hands the royal taxes passed. For the king's order cf. Leviticus 25:39; Leviticus 25:47, 2 Kings 4:1, and note the subsidiary lesson that the wrongdoer involves others in the consequences of his sin. Torture (Matthew 18:34) had been introduced into Judæa by Herod, its mention here is a literary detail not to be pressed for interpretation.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Matthew 18:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/matthew-18.html. 1919.

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