1. At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in
the kingdom of heaven?
[Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?] It cannot be passed over without
observation, that the ambitious dispute of the disciples concerning primacy, for the most
part followed the mention of the death of Christ and his resurrection. See this story in
Mark 9:31-33, and Luke 9:44-46: "He said to his disciples, Lay up these discourses in
your ears: for the time is coming that the Son of man is delivered into the hands of men.
But they knew not that saying, &c.; and there arose a contest between them, who among
them should be greatest." Also Matthew 20:18-20: "He said to them, Behold, we go
up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests, &c. Then
came to him the mother of Zebedee's children with her sons, saying, Grant that these my
two sons may sit, one on thy right hand," &c. And Luke 22:22-24; "The Son of
man indeed goeth as it is determined, &c.; and there arose a contention among them,
who of them should seem to be the greater."
The dream of the earthly kingdom of the Messias did so possess their minds (for they
had sucked in this doctrine with their first milk), that the mention of the most vile
death of the Messias, repeated over and over again, did not at all drive it thence. The
image of earthly pomp was fixed at the bottom of their hearts, and there it stuck; nor by
any words of Christ could it as yet be rooted out, no, not when they saw the death of
Christ, when together with that they saw his resurrection: for then they also asked,
"Wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" Acts 1:6.
However, after Christ had oftentimes foretold his death and resurrection, it always
follows in the evangelists that "they understood not what was spoken"; yet the
opinion formed in their minds by their doctors, that the resurrection should go before the
kingdom of the Messias, supplied them with such an interpretation of this matter, that
they lost not an ace of the opinion of a future earthly kingdom.
See more at chapter 24:3.
6. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were
better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were
drowned in the depth of the sea.
[It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, &c.] It
is good for him, in Talmudic language.
A millstone seems to be said in distinction from those very small mills
wherewith they were wont to grind the spices that were either to be applied to the wound
of circumcision, or to be added to the delights of the sabbath. Hence the Gloss of R.
Solomon upon Jeremiah 25:10; "The sound of mills and the light of the candle":
"The sound of mills (saith he), wherewith spices were ground and bruised for the
healing of circumcision."
That Christ here speaks of a kind of death, perhaps nowhere, certainly never used among
the Jews; he does it either to aggravate the thing, or in allusion to drowning in the Dead
sea, in which one cannot be drowned without some weight hung to him: and in which to
drown any thing, by a common manner of speech, implied to devote to rejection, hatred,
and execration; which we have observed elsewhere.
10. Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That
in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.
[Their angels in heaven do always behold, &c.] This one may very well
expound by laying to it that which is said, Hebrews 1:14, "The angels are ministering
spirits, sent to minister for them who shall be heirs of the salvation to come": as
if he should say, "See that ye do not despise one of these little ones, who have been
received with their believing parents into the gospel-church: for I say unto you, that
after that manner as the angels minister to adult believers, they minister to them
12. How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray,
doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that
which is gone astray?
[If one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety-and-nine, &c.]
A very common form of speech:--"In distributing some grapes and dates to the poor,
although ninety-nine say, 'Scatter them'; and only one, 'Divide them': they
hearken to him, because he speaks according to the tradition." "If ninety-nine
die by an evil eye," that is, by bewitchings; "and but one by the hand of
Heaven," that is, by the stroke of God, &c. "If ninety-nine die by
reason of cold, but one by the hand of God," &c.
15. Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault
between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
[Tell him his fault between thee and him alone.] The reason of the precept is
founded in that charitable law, Leviticus 19:17; "Thou shalt not hate thy brother in
thy heart; but thou shalt surely reprove him, and shalt not suffer sin in him."
Here the Talmudists speak not amiss: "The Rabbins deliver, 'Thou shalt not hate
thy brother in thy heart.' Perhaps he does not beat him, he does not pull off his hair, he
does not curse him: the text saith, 'in thy heart,' speaking of hatred in the heart. But
whence is it proved that he that sees his brother doing some foul action is bound to
reprove him? Because it is said, In reproving, thou shalt reprove. He reproves, but
he heareth not: whence is it proved he is bound to a second reproof? The text saith,
'In reproving, thou shalt reprove.'" And a little after, "How long must we
reprove? Rabh saith, 'Even to blows'"; that is, until he that is reproved strikes him
that reproves him: "Samuel saith, 'Until he is angry.'" See also Maimonides.
16. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that
in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
[Take with thee one or two more, &c.] The Hebrew lawyers require the same
thing of him that sins against his brother: "Samuel saith, 'Whosoever sins against
his brother, he must say to him, I have sinned against thee. If he hear, it is well: if
not, let him bring others, and let him appease him before them. If perhaps he die, let him
appease him at his sepulchre, and say, I have sinned against thee.'"
But our Saviour here requires a higher charity; namely, from him who is the offended
party. In like manner, "The great Sanhedrim admonished a city lapsed to idols, by two
disciples of the wise men. If they repented, well: if not, all Israel waged war against
it." In like manner also, "The jealous husband warned his wife before two
witnesses, 'Do not talk with N.'"
17. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he
neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican.
[Tell it unto the church.] That which was incumbent upon him against whom the
sin was committed was this, that he should deliver his soul by reproving his brother, and
by not suffering sin in him. This was the reason that he had need of witnesses, for what
else could they testify? They could not testify that the brother had sinned against him
that reproved him; for this, perhaps, they were altogether ignorant of: but they might
testify this, that he against whom the sin was committed used due reproof, and omitted
nothing which was commanded by the law in that case, whereby he might admonish his
brother, and, if possible, bring him back into the right way. The witnesses also added
their friendly admonition: whom if the offender hearkened not unto, "let it be told
We do not here enter upon that long dispute concerning the sense of the word church
in this place. However you take it, certainly the business here is not so much concerning
the censure of the person sinning, as concerning the vindication of the person reproving;
that it might be known to all that he discharged his duty, and freed his soul.
It was very customary among the Jews to note those that were obstinate in this or that
crime after public admonition given them in the synagogue, and to set a mark of infamy
All these have need of public admonition in the consistory. The business there
is about some shepherds, collectors, and publicans; and it is declared how incapable they
are of giving evidence in any judiciary matter; but not before public admonition is gone
out against them in the consistory.
"If any deny to feed his children, they reprove him, they shame him, they urge
him: if he still refuse, they make proclamation against him in the synagogue, saying, 'N.
is a cruel man, and will not nourish his children: more cruel than the unclean birds
themselves, for they feed their young ones,'" &c.
"A provoking wife who saith, 'I will create vexation to my husband, because he
hath done thus or thus to me, or because he hath miscalled me, or because he hath chid
me,' &c. The consistory by messengers send these words to her, 'Be it known unto you,
if you persist in your perverseness, although your dowry be a hundred pounds, you have
lost it all.' And moreover they set forth a public proclamation against her in the
synagogues, and in the divinity schools every day for four sabbaths."
[Let him be to thee as a heathen and a publican.] He saith, Let him be to
'thee'; not, Let him be to 'the church': because the discourse is of peculiar
and private scandal against a single man; who, after three admonitions given, and they to
no purpose, is freed from the law of brotherly obligation; and he who being admonished
does not repent, is not to be esteemed so much for a brother to him, as for a heathen,
I. Christ does not here prescribe concerning every offender, according to the full
latitude of that law, Leviticus 19:17; but of him that particularly offends against his
brother; and he does particularly teach what is to be done to that brother.
II. Although he, against whom the offence is committed, had a just cause, why he should
be loosed from the obligation of the office of a brother towards him, who neither would
make satisfaction for the wrong done, nor be admonished of it; yet to others in the church
there is not the same reason.
III. The words plainly mean this; "If, after a threefold and just reproof, he that
sinned against thee still remains untractable, and neither will give thee satisfaction for
the injury, nor, being admonished, doth repent, thou hast delivered thine own soul, and
art free from brotherly offices towards him"; just as the Jews reckon themselves
freed from friendly offices towards heathens and publicans. That of
Maimonides is not much different: "A Jew that apostatizes, or breaks the sabbath
presumptuously, is altogether like a heathen."
1. They reckoned not heathens for brethren or neighbours: "If any one's ox
shall gore his neighbour's ox: his neighbour's, not a heathen's: when he saith neighbour's,
he excludes heathens." A quotation which we produced before.
2. They reputed publicans to be by no means within religious society: A
religious man, who becomes a publican, is to be driven out of the society of religion.
3. Hence they ate neither with heathens nor with publicans: concerning
which thing they often quarrel [with] our Saviour. Hence that of the apostle, 1
Corinthians 5:11; "With such an one no not to eat," is the same with what is
spoke here, "Let him be to thee as a heathen," &c.
"It is forbidden a Jew to be alone with a heathen, to travel with a
4. They denied also brotherly offices to heathens and publicans: "It
is forbidden to bring home any thing of a heathen's that is lost." "It is
lawful for publicans to swear that is an oblation which is not; that you are of the
king's retinue when you are not," &c. that is, publicans may deceive, and
that by oath.
18. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in
heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
[Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth, &c.] These words depend upon the former.
He had been speaking concerning being loosed from the office of a brother in a
particular case: now he speaks of the authority and power of the apostles of loosing
and binding "any thing" whatsoever seemed them good, being guided in all
things by the Holy Ghost. We have explained the sense of this phrase at chapter 16; and he
gives the same authority in respect of this, to all the apostles here, as he did to Peter
there; who were all to be partakers of the same Spirit and of the same gifts.
This power was built upon that noble and most self-sufficient foundation, John 16:13,
"The Spirit of truth shall lead you into all truth." There lies an emphasis in
those words, "into all truth." I deny that any one, any where, at any time, was
led, or to be led, into all truth, from the ascension of Christ, unto the world's
end, beside the apostles. Every holy man, certainly, is led into all truth necessary to
him for salvation: but the apostles were led into all truth necessary both for themselves
and the whole church; because they were to deliver a rule of faith and manners to the
whole church throughout all ages. Hence, whatsoever they should confirm in the law was to
be confirmed; whatsoever they should abolish was to be abolished: since they were endowed,
as to all things, with a spirit of infallibility, guiding them by the hand into all truth.
19. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any
thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.
[That if two of you shall agree upon earth, &c.] And these words do closely
agree with those that went before: there the speech was concerning the apostles'
determination in all things respecting men; here, concerning their grace and power of
obtaining things from God.
I. [Two of you.] Hence Peter and John act jointly together among the Jews, Acts
2, 3, &c., and they act jointly among the Samaritans, Acts 8:14; and Paul and Barnabas
among the Gentiles, Acts 13:2. This bond being broke by Barnabas, the Spirit is doubled as
it were upon Paul.
II. [Agree together.] That is, to obtain something from God; which appears also
from the following words, touching any thing that they shall ask: suppose,
concerning conferring the Spirit by the imposition of hands, of doing this or that
20. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst
[For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of
them.] The like do the Rabbins speak of two or three sitting in judgment, that the
divine presence is in the midst of them.
21. Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me,
and I forgive him? till seven times?
[Shall I forgive him? till seven times?] This question of Peter respects the
words of our Saviour, verse 15. "How far shall I forgive my brother before I proceed
to the extremity? What! seven times?" He thought that he had measured out, by these
words, a large charity, being, in a manner, double to that which was prescribed by the
schools: "He that is wronged (say they) is forbidden to be difficult to pardon; for
that is not the manner of the seed of Israel. But when the offender implores him once and
again, and it appears he repents of his deed, let him pardon him: and whosoever is most
ready to pardon is most praiseworthy." It is well; but there lies a snake under it;
"For (say they) they pardon a man once, that sins against another; secondly, they
pardon him; thirdly, they pardon him; fourthly, they do not pardon him," &c.