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Go to Bible: Matthew 18
“Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” The word translated “greatest” is actually “greater,” the comparative, not the superlative (This record occurs in Matt. 18:1-5; Mark 9:33-37, and Luke 9:46-48. See commentary on Luke 9:46).(top)
“him.” The same record is in Matthew 18:2 and Mark 9:36 (see commentary on Mark 9:36).(top)
|Mat 18:3||- (top)|
|Mat 18:4||- (top)|
|Mat 18:5||- (top)|
“millstone turned by a donkey.” The Greek literally reads, “millstone of a donkey,” and it refers to the large commercial millstones, which weighed many hundreds of pounds and were turned by donkeys or oxen; see commentary on Mark 9:42.
“the lake.” At that time Jesus and the disciples were in Galilee, and near the Sea of Galilee, which is a lake. The name, “the Sea of Galilee,” was given by people who had never seen it. It is actually quite a small lake. Using “the sea” here makes Jesus’ statement much more general and removes it from its geographical context.(top)
“how terrible.” The Greek word is ouai (#3759 οὐαί; pronounced ooh-'eye). For an explanation of the meaning of “woe,” see commentary on Matthew 11:21. In the phrase, “Woe to the world,” the “world” is put by metonymy for the people in the world, and woe to them because of the skandalon (#4625 σκάνδαλον) that are in the world. A skandalon is technically the movable stick or trigger of a trap; a trap-trigger; then, a trap or snare; and then any impediment placed in the way and causing one to stumble or fall, thus a “stumbling block.” Here, a skandalon could be translated as a stumbling block, a trap or snare, or even a “death trap,” since final and ultimate death is the result of being caught in the world’s trap. In this context, “how terrible” is an expression of warning of grief and disaster that is coming. Woe to the world, and especially “woe,” a warning about divine retribution, to the person who is so caught up in the Devil’s trap that he or she becomes a trap to others.(top)
“life.” This refers to “everlasting life”. See commentary on Luke 10:28.
“the fire of the age to come.” See commentary on Matthew 25:46 for information about a parallel passage.(top)
“tear it out.” The Greek is literally “tear it out,” which is different from the phrase in Mark 9:47.
“life.” The Greek is literally, “the life,” which refers to the life in the Age to Come, that is “everlasting life.” See commentary on Luke 10:28.
“fire of Gehenna.” The Greek is literally, “the Gehenna of the fire,” which could be more literally understood as “the Gehenna which has the fire,” or we would say, “the fire of Gehenna.” See commentary on Matthew 5:22.
[For information on annihilation in the lake of fire, see Appendix 5: “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire.”](top)
|Mat 18:10||- (top)|
The textual evidence is that this verse was not in the original text, but was added by copyists to harmonize with Luke 19:10.a
“does he not leave the 99.” This is similar to the parable in Luke 15 (see commentary on Luke 15:4).(top)
|Mat 18:13||- (top)|
|Mat 18:14||- (top)|
“sins.” It is very important to pay attention to the word “sins” here. Far too often in the Church someone becomes offended at the behavior of someone else and makes it his or her job to “set them straight.” This verse is not about enforcing our opinions as to what is right, but correcting someone who is actually sinning in the eyes of God. While having friendly relations in the Church is important, there is a huge difference between helping people to not be offensive to each other and helping people to stop sinning.
“against you.” Early and important manuscripts of this passage omit “against you.” It is possible that scribes added the words “against you” to make it agree with what Peter said in Matthew 18:21, about a brother sinning “against me.” It is also possible, however, that the scribes copying the earlier manuscripts omitted the words to make the text have a wider application: i.e., that a person did not have to wait until someone sinned “against him,” he could intervene if he saw someone sinning. However, it was the tendency of scribes to add material to the text for clarity or harmony, rather than delete material from the text, making the shorter reading more likely to be original. Although most modern versions leave “against you” in the text, some modern versions omit the phrase (cp. GWN; NASB; NET; NIV2011; NJB; and Rotherham).
Whether the words “against you” are in the text or not, it is clear from the scope of Scripture, including verses such as Galatians 6:1, Ephesians 5:11, and 1 Timothy 5:20, that Christians do not have to wait until someone actually specifically sins against them personally before going to the person and pointing out the problem.
“go and tell him his fault.” This passage of Scripture in Matthew 18:15-17 gives four stages of action that a believer should take if there is someone in the congregation who is sinning. First, take the person aside and discuss it between yourselves. Second, take two or three other witnesses with you and discuss it together. Third, take the issue to the congregation, and fourth, if the person will not even listen to what the whole church congregation has to say, excuse that person from your company. The disciplined believer follows this pattern. Far too many believers are scandalized by the behavior of someone else and then go and tell lots of other people about it before they ever (if they ever!) tell the sinner to his or her face. If we want the Church to be a loving and godly place for people, we must follow Christ’s directives about how to handle problems.
We should also be aware that in many cases there is a fifth action, a very first action, that is not mentioned in the list of four actions here, and that is to overlook the sin if that can be done without compromising godliness (Prov. 19:11). Many times the best action to take when someone sins, especially since many sins are accidental and/or not habitual, is simply to overlook them. We sin too, and it would cause many hard feelings and be divisive in the Church if every time someone sinned another person tried to reprove him for it (cp. Ecc. 7:21-22).(top)
|Mat 18:16||- (top)|
|Mat 18:17||- (top)|
See commentary on Matthew 16:19.(top)
“again.” The Greek word palin (#3825 πάλιν), here rendered as “again,” could be translated “furthermore.” The sense of the word is described by BDAG as a “marker of a discourse or narrative item added to items of a related nature, also, again, furthermore, thereupon” The word is not necessarily totally changing subjects but introducing a slightly related subject—that is, the topics of binding and loosing covered in Matt. 18:18 and of agreeing together in Matt. 18:19 are technically different subjects, although they are slightly related. Other examples of palin being used to change subjects are Matthew 5:32-33 and 2 Corinthians 11:15-16.(top)
|Mat 18:20||- (top)|
|Mat 18:21||- (top)|
“seventy times seven.” Forgiveness: “77” or “70 times 7?” The versions differ. The King James Version says, “Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” In contrast, the NIV says: “Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’”
Although the Greek reads in a way that means seventy times seven in regular Greek, Matthew 18:22 may not be “regular” Greek. The Greek in Matthew 18:22 is the exact wording of the Septuagint (LXX) of Genesis 4:24, where Lamech is bragging to his wives about the vengeance he will take on his enemies: “77” times. The Hebrew text of Genesis 4:24 is very clear: 77 times, and very noted linguists assert that the accepted translation of the LXX came into Greek usage such that what in classical Greek meant “70 times 7,” in this biblical context of revenge and forgiveness it meant “77.” If this is the case, Jesus was contrasting the vengeful Lamech, who stated he would avenge himself “77 times” with the behavior of a godly person, who should forgive “77 times.” If the allusion is to Lamech, it forces us to be forgiving, but also to face the end of our forgiving. Will we act like the vengeful Lamech, willing to take vengeance on those we will not forgive?
Scholars who assert that the number should be “70 times 7” play down the association with Lamech and assert that the standard reading of the Greek should apply here. Some argue that “77 times” is not enough, and that the larger figure, 70 times 7, is hyperbole (exaggeration), which was common in oriental thought. In that case, the hyperbole would be simply making the point that all the forgiving we can do is not enough—we must keep on forgiving.
Michael Hall (unpublished manuscript) pointed out that there were 70 periods of 7 in Daniel 9:24, from the going forth of the commandment to restore Jerusalem until the Messiah came and set up the Millennial Kingdom. Thus, he suggested that “70 times 7” was a veiled way of saying, “until the Millennial Kingdom.” If that is the case, then Jesus told us to forgive and forgive until this age of sin is over and he sets up his kingdom on earth. Mitigating against that idea are the number of scriptures showing that sin and forgiveness will still be necessary in the Messianic Age. Although Christ will reign, he will rule with a rod of iron, and although he, and the judges he appoints, will judge justly, they will still have to “settle disputes for many peoples” (Isa. 2:4). Furthermore, the existence of the Temple and the sin offering (Ezek. 43:19ff) show that mankind will still make mistakes and need forgiveness.
There is a good reason why scholars are in profound disagreement about this verse: the real meaning is not clear. If we had the original Hebrew or Aramaic that Jesus was speaking we could be sure, but we do not have them. It could also be argued that Jesus knowingly used a number that was unclear, driving us to both conclusions at the same time: by hyperbole, we should always forgive people, and by comparison, when we refuse to forgive anymore, we become like ungodly Lamech who boasted of his revenge. However, there is no way to know that either.(top)
“That is why.” The Greek is dia touto, and it connects the parable which follows with the forgiveness in the verses above. Jesus was teaching on unlimited forgiveness, and after making the statement that Peter should forgive seventy times seven times, he said that is why what we should be doing can be compared to the Kingdom of Heaven, because God practices unlimited forgiveness.a
“a certain king.” The certain king in the parable represents God, who will one day in the future have a Day of Judgment and settle accounts with people. In Christ’s parables, the “king,” and often the “man” or “landowner” represented God.
[For more on the “king,” “landowner,” “ruler,” or “man” in Christ’s parables being God, see commentary on Luke 15:11. For more on Christ ruling the earth in the future, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth.”]
“10,000 talents.” In the New Testament, the “talent” was once used as a unit of weight (cp. Rev. 16:21), but otherwise, it was a unit of money. Different cultures had different talents, but most scholars believe Christ would have been referring to the Attic talent, which was equal to 6,000 denarii, or 6,000 days’ wages. One denarius (the plural is denarii) was a day’s wage for a field hand or a soldier. Different classes of workers worked different weeks, most would work 6 days per week in the biblical world. If we assume they would have two weeks off for sickness and perhaps a small vacation, the worker would work 50 weeks, or 50 X 6 days, which equals 300 days. Thus, to be paid a talent he would work 6000 ÷ 300, or 20 years. If one talent was 20 years wage, then 10,000 was the wages for 200,000 years, or 60 million days. To arrive at an idea of how much money is being referred to, if a field hand made $8 per hour ($64 per day), then one talent was $384,000, and 10,000 talents was $3,840,000,000 dollars (3 billion, 840 million dollars), a ridiculously huge sum. According to Josephus, the total taxes that Judea, Samaria, and Idumea made to imperial Rome was only 600 talents a year. The figure is meant to make the point that no one can ever actually pay off their debt to God. Another way of looking at the debt would be that a minimum wage worker would have to work 6,000 days times 10,000 talents, or 60 million days to work off the debt. Even if a person had a working life of 100 years he or she would only work 30,000 days, far short of the 60 million he would need to pay off the debt. At the time of Christ, the average lifespan for a woman was in the early 30s and for men, it was their late 30s. Since a person usually only worked about 300 days per year, if a boy started to work at 10 and worked to 50, he would only work 12,000 days in his life, not even getting a good start on the sixty million days needed to work to pay his debt.(top)
“His lord commanded him to be sold…” Slave owners were under no obligation to keep families together, and it was common for slave families to be separated by being sold one by one to others, although sometimes more compassionate owners tried to keep families together. This was at least as true in Rome as in Israel and the other countries of the East. Furthermore, people sometimes even sold their own children to pay their debt (Nehemiah 5:5).(top)
|Mat 18:26||- (top)|
|Mat 18:27||- (top)|
“100 denarii” This equals one hundred days’ wages, which, by the figures given for Matt. 18:24 above, would be $6,400. Not a small sum, but infinitesimal compared to the 10,000 talents. Jesus made an important point in his parable. Notice that he did not act as if the slave was owed nothing by his fellow slave. When people sin against us it hurts, sometimes very deeply. Jesus knows that and used the figure of 100 denarii to demonstrate that the debt we feel that is created by the sin of others is very real. Nevertheless, if we keep in mind how much we have been forgiven for, we can forgive it.(top)
|Mat 18:29||- (top)|
|Mat 18:30||- (top)|
|Mat 18:31||- (top)|
|Mat 18:32||- (top)|
|Mat 18:33||- (top)|
“the torturers.” Prisoners were often tortured, so what Jesus said would have made sense in his social context. At the time Jesus was teaching, under the Law Administration, salvation was not guaranteed, and thus if lack of forgiveness was profound enough to destroy a person’s trust (“faith”) in God, it could jeopardize his everlasting life. Today in the Grace Administration, everlasting life is guaranteed after a person has trust in Christ, but rewards are not, so profound disobedience in the form of unforgiveness could lead to a loss of rewards in the Kingdom.
“until he paid back all that was owed.” This is one of the many verses that supports that unsaved people will be annihilated in the Lake of Fire and that they will not “burn forever in hell,” as many Christians teach. The Bible teaches that the unsaved will be thrown into the Lake of Fire where they will suffer until their crimes have been paid for and then they will be annihilated—completely burned up. Christians who teach that people burn forever in the Lake of Fire assert that no one can ever pay back what they owe to God so they must burn forever, but the Bible never says that, and furthermore that contradicts what Jesus clearly said; that the unsaved will suffer until they have paid for their sin. Sin can be paid for just as Jesus taught, it is not an unpayable amount.
[For more on people being annihilated in the Lake of Fire, see Appendix 5, “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire.”](top)
|Mat 18:35||- (top)|