Matthew 3
Pulpit Commentary
In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,
Verses 1-12. - THE HERALD. (Parallel passages: Mark 1:1-8; Luke 3:1-18.) His public appearance and proclamation (vers. 1, 2), as foretold by Scripture (ver. 3). His Elijah-like dress (ver. 4). He is listened to by multitudes (vers. 5, 6). His faithful warning to typical Jews, and his pointing not to himself, but to the Coming One (vers. 7-12). The date at which he appeared is stated, in Luke 3:1, to have been "in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar; i.e. between August, A.D. 28, and August, A.D. 29" (Schurer, I. 2, p. 31). Verse 1. - In those days; and in those days (Revised Version). Probably merely contrasting those past days of the beginning of the gospel with the present, when the evangelist wrote (cf. Matthew 24:19, 22, where the days yet future are contrasted with those present). In Mark 1:9 the expression is used directly of the Lord's baptism. And (Revised Version); δέ; Hebrew usage taking up the narrative (cf. Joshua 1:1; Judges 1:1; Ruth 1:1; Esther 1:1). Came; cometh (Revised Version); historic present (cf. Matthew 2:19); παραγίνεται, here equivalent to "come forward publicly," make one's public appearance (cf. especially Luke 12:51; Hebrews 9:11; also especially 1 Macc. 4:46; also infra, ver. 13 and Matthew 2:1). John; Johanan. The name occurs first as that of a high priest in, apparently, the days of Rehoboam (1 Chronicles 6:9, 10, Authorized Version). "The Lord is gracious" was a fitting title for one born by the special grace of God, and sent to be the herald of his grace to all men (Titus 2:11). The Baptist.

(1) The Jews were far from having attained the simplicity of our present system, by which each person has both a family and a Christian name, and is thus designated with sufficient exactness for all the ordinary purposes of life. Their custom of name-giving was, and still largely is, as follows:

(a) A Hebrew name is given to the child at circumcision. This is the holy name, and is used at all strictly religious ceremonies; e.g. when called to read the Law in the synagogue.

(b) Each person has a name whereby he is known among the Gentiles. This is, at the present time, the name used for business and social purposes, and may be either Hebrew or of some ether language. It is usually connected, either in sound or meaning, with the holy name. So Paul and Saul, Didymus and Thomas (for numerous examples, cf. Hamburger, 'Real-Encycl.,' vol. 2. pp. 831-836. Lowe, 'Memorbook of Nurnberg,' pp. 18-28: 1881).

(c) He may have, either as well as or instead of the last, a name which designates him more exactly

(α) by mentioning his father or some other relation; e.g. Bartimaeus, Barsabbas (probably); (β) by mentioning some physical, mental, moral, or other peculiarity; e.g. James the Little, Simon the Zealot, Barnabas (the son of exhortation), and, from non-biblical authors, James the Just, Rabbi Judah the Holy, Samuel the Astronomer, John the Shoemaker. The title "the Baptist" belongs, of course, to this last class, and must have been given him partly because of the number of persons whom he baptized, and still more because baptism was the visible and external aim and result of his preaching.

(2) What was there new in John's baptism? In considering this it must be remembered that

(a) dipping in water had been commanded in the Law as a religious rite to priests (Exodus 30:20; Exodus 40:12; cf. Leviticus 8:6) on their first consecration to their office, and on each occasion that they fulfilled the holiest parts of their duties (cf. the sprinklings of the Levites on their consecration, Numbers 8:5-22); and to all Israelites in cases of ceremonial uncleanness (Leviticus 14:8; Numbers 19:13).

(b) It was very frequent among the Essenes (cf. especially the quotations from Josephus in Bishop Lightfoot, 'Colossians,' p. 171, edit. 1875).

(c) It was, we can hardly doubt, already customary at the admission of proselytes. There are, indeed, no certain allusions in Josephus, Philo, and the older Targumists (cf. Leyrer, in Cremer, s.v. βαπτίζω) to the baptism of proselytes properly so called; but (α) it is distinctly mentioned in the Mishna, and in such a way as to imply that it was an ancient custom, for the schools of both Shammai and Hillel assume it as a matter of course ('Pes,' 8:8); (β) as with books, so with customs, acceptance in two bodies originally one, as the Jewish and Christian Churches were, throws back the book or custom before the date of the separation. In other words, it is most improbable that Jews would only have begun to practise baptism at the admission of proselytes after it had been practised by a body which had separated from them. Jews would not be likely to adopt the distinguishing rite of Christians.

(d) Thus already, before John's time, baptism was largely practised as a symbol of purification from sin and of entrance on a new and holier life. Wherein, then, lay the distinguishing feature of John's baptism? Apparently in its being extended to all Israelites, without their having any personal ceremonial hindrance, and more particularly in the special aim and purpose to which it now referred. It signified the entrance upon a new life of expectation of Messiah. As of old, the nation had accepted the offer of God's kingdom, and, having washed their garments (Exodus 19:10, 14), had been sprinkled with blood (Exodus 24:8), so now, when this kingdom, was about to be more fully manifested, not the nation, indeed, considered as a whole, but (in harmony with the individualization of the gospel) those persons who responded to the invitation, came forward and publicly renounced their sins and professed their expectation of the kingdom (Edersheim, 'Life,' etc., 1:274). It is thus easy to account for the deep and widespread impression made by John the Baptist (cf. Acts 18:25; Acts 19:3), and for the important position that he holds in summaries of the origins of Christianity. John's baptism was treated by our Lord himself as the first stage in his earthly ministry, which culminated in the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5), and naturally by the apostles as the historical introduction to the teaching and work of Messiah. Josephus's account of John the Baptist is well known, but too interesting to be omitted. "Now, some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army [by Aretas] came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John that was called the Baptist. For Herod had had him put to death, though he was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue both as to righteousness towards one another and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for baptism would be acceptable to God, if they made use of it, not in order to expiate some sins, but for the purification of the body, provided that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now, as many flocked to him, for they were greatly moved by hearing his words, Herod, fearing that the great influence John had over the people might lead to some rebellion (for the people seemed ready to do anything he should advise), thought it far best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties by sparing a man who might make him repent of his leniency when it should he too late. Accordingly, he was sent a prisoner, in consequence of Herod's suspicious temper, to Machaerus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. So the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and was a mark of God's displeasure against him" ('Ant,' 18:5. 2, Shilleto's Whiston). Observe that

(1) Josephus confirms the Gospel account of the extent of John's influence over his countrymen; but

(2) attributes his imprisonment and death to a political, not a moral, cause. It is quite possible, on the one hand, that political reasons were not altogether wanting; and, on the other, that Josephus was ignorant of the more personal and stronger motive of Herod's action. Preaching (κηρύσσων). Unlike εὐαγγελίζομαι this word refers, not to the matter, but to the manner, the openness, of the proclamation. In contrast to the esoteric methods alike of heathen philosophers and of Jewish teachers, whether Pharisees, Sadducees, or Essenes. The herald proclaims as a herald; cf. Isaiah 40:9 (the original context of our ver. 3); Genesis 41:43 (LXX.). In the wilderness. By this term is not necessarily meant absolute desert, but "des lieux pen habites ou non cultives" (Neubauer, 'Geogr. du Talm.,' p. 52: 1868). The very place in which John preached was part of the symbolism of his whole life. The expectation of Messiah must lead to separation, but separation deeper than that of those who called themselves the "separated" (Pharisees). Of Judea. The exact expression comes elsewhere only in the title of Psalm 63, and in Judges 1:16, where it is defined as "in the south of Arad." It seems that, while different parts of the rugged district from Jericho southwards (Joshua 16:1), immediately on the west and north of the Dead Sea, had their distinctive titles - the wilderness of Siph (1 Samuel 23:14, 15), of Maon (1 Samuel 23:24), of Engedi (1 Samuel 24:1), of Jeruel (2 Chronicles 20:16), of Tekoa (2 Chronicles 20:20) - the whole district was, as belonging to the tribe and even more certainly to the kingdom and province of Judah, known by the name of "the wilderness of Judaea." According to tradition, John was now preaching near Jericho. We find him soon after this at Bethany beyond Jordan (John 1:28), and later still at tenon, near Salim, in, or on the borders of, Samaria (John 3:23)."
And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Verse 2. - And (omitted by the Revised Version) saying. The parallel passages give the substance of John's preaching - the baptism of repentance. St. Matthew takes, as it seems, a sentence that actually fell from his lips, and presents it as the kernel of his message ("preaching... saying"). This is the more interesting as nowhere else are we told any words uttered by him in this the first stage of his ministry before crowds flocked to hear him. Repent ye... at hand; said word for word by our Lord (Matthew 4:17, note). Repent ye (μετανοεῖτε) . The word expresses the central thought of true repentance, in speaking, as it does, of a change of mind. Contrast μεταμέλεσθαι (Matthew 27:3; 2 Corinthians 7:8-10). As such it goes deeper than the Old Testament summons "Turn ye" (שובו), or the rabbinic תשובה, for it points out in what part of man the alteration must be. (On your meaning more than the mere thinking power, and including also the willing faculty, cf. especially Delitzsch, 'Psych.,' p. 211, etc., Eng. trans., 1875.) It is noticeable that the LXX. never, as it seems, translate שוב by μετανοῖν, but often נחם (of man only in Jeremiah 8:6; Jeremiah 31:19; and possibly Joel 2:14; cf. 1 Samuel 15:29), which refers to repentance as a matter of feeling. As Messiah was coming, it was only natural that John should urge repentance. Similarly, we find late Jewish writers expounding Genesis 1:2, "'And the Spirit of God was moving [on the face of the waters].' This is the Spirit of King Messiah, like that which is said in Isaiah 11:2, 'And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him.' By what kind of merit does it draw near and come? It says, 'upon the face of the waters.' By the merit of repentance, which is compared to water, as it is written (Lain. 2:19), 'Pour out thy heart like water'" ('Bresh. R.,' § 2). But, unfortunately, they assign far too legal a meaning to the word, and their phrase, "do repentance" (עשה תשובה), becomes almost identical with the "do penance" (poeni-tentiam agite, Vulgate) of the Roman Catholics (cf. Talm. Dab., 'Sanh.,' 97 b). For the kingdom of heaven (see Introduction, p. 22.).
For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Verse 3. - For. The reason for John's appearance and proclamation lies in prophecy. This is he that was spoken of (οῦτος γὰρ ἐστιν ὁ ῤηθείς). In John 1:23 the following quotation is uttered by the Baptist himself, and some commentators have supposed this to be the case also here. But

(1) this is against the parallel passages in Mark and Luke.

(2) The form of the expression in John arises directly from the context.

(3) In the Baptist's mouth the neuter (τοῦτο... τὸ ῤηθέν) rather than the masculine would have been more natural. The expression is doubtless that of the evangelist, suggested to him by John's own utterance, the "is" (ἐστιν) expressing John's permanent character. Contrast εϊχεν η΅ν, (ver. 4) of his clothing and food. [He that was] spoken of. The expression means, not a mere reference found in Isaiah, but the absolute content of the prophet's words. The utterance of God by means of the prophet is - John the:Baptist. The Prophet Esaias; Isaiah the prophet (Revised Version); the commoner Greek order (but cf. Luke 4:17). The voice, etc. (except "his" for "our God," from the LXX. of Isaiah 40:8). The Hebrew probably joins "in the wilderness" with "prepare ye," but St. Matthew with "crying" (cf ver. 1, "preaching in the wilderness," as probably the LXX.) In Isaiah the original meaning of the passage was probably, "prepare for the return to Jerusalem." The figure is that of the common and necessary process in semi-civilized countries of repairing roads before a great personage comes along them. Zechariah had; years before, applied the similar expression in Malachi 3:1 to his son (Luke 1:76; cf. Mark 1:2). (For a metaphor like in kind, but with contrasted meaning, cf. Galatians 5:7, ἐκόπτειν, breaking up a road to render it impassable.) Paths (τρίβους). According to Philo, the word is equivalent to "a carriage-road" (ἱππήλατος καὶ ἁμαξήλατος ὁδός, vide in Wetstein). It is thus equivalent to the Hebrew (m sillah, "a highway," "a made road"). Possibly the plural was employed by the LXX. rather than the singular of the original, from their interpreting the passage, not of the return of the Lord to Palestine, but his coming into many hearts.
And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.
Verse 4. - With this verse we begin to meet with matter peculiar to Matthew and Mark. And the same John (αὐτὸς δὲ ὁ Ἰωάνης). (For the phrase, cf. Mark 6:17 Luke 3:23.)

(1) If the Revised Version "Now John himself," holds good, the phrase seems to mean that not only did Isaiah speak of him in terms that implied that he was the forerunner of Messiah, the true Elijah (Mark 1:2), but also he himself had his very food and dress consistent with his office.

(2) But it is safer, with Thayer's 'Grimm' (1:2, a), to take αὐτός as merely recalling the person before mentioned. "Now he, whom I spoke of, John" (cf. 2 Chronicles 32:30). Had; during all that time (εϊχεν). His habitual dress, etc., was as follows. Of (ἀπό) camel's hair. Not, as Dgr Old Lat. a in the parallel passage in Mark, δέῥῤην, pellem, "a camel's hide," but coarse cloth made from the hair. So probably," hairy man" (2 Kings 1:8; el. Zechariah 13:4). And a leathern girdle. Probably of sheep or goatskin, worn over the garment. Mentioned because

(1) it formed another point of similarity to Elijah (2 Kings 1:8);

(2) girdles were frequently very costly (cf. Smith's 'Dict. of Bible,' 1:701). Every part of John the Baptist's dress was for use, not ornament. And his meat; food (Revised Version); τροφή, not βρῶμα. He cared not what he ate, but what nourished and supported him. Was. The right order of the words (ἡ δὲ τροφὴ η΅ν αὐτοῦ) lays slightly more stress on the continuance of this mode of life. Locusts. Used for food in the East from the remotest times until now. Four kinds are permitted in Leviticus 11:22. "The wings and legs are torn off, and the remainder is sprinkled with salt, and either boiled or eaten roasted" (Meyer). They are mentioned in Talm. Bab., 'Ab. Zar.,' 4:0 b, as being sold after preservation in wine. The word ἀκρίδες forbids the identification of these locusts with the pods of the carob, or locust tree, such as the prodigal son would fain have eaten. It seems that Jewish Christians of Essene and therefore vegetarian tendencies read ἐγκρίδες (cakes) here. Such at least is the most natural meaning, accepted by Epiphanius, of a quotation which he gives from the Ebionite Gospel according to the Hebrews (vide Tischendorf, in loc.) (On the theory that John the Baptist was an Essene, cf. Bishop Lightfoot, 'Colossians,' p, 161, edit. 1875.) And wild honey. This apparently simple phrase is, notwithstanding, of doubtful interpretation.

(1) Probably the honey of wild bees. This is still to be found in trees and rocks, and must have been much more common before the greater part of the timber was cut down (cf. Judges 14:8; 1 Samuel 14:25; Psalm 81:16). Bee-keeping was a favourite pursuit of the Essenes (Philo, 2. p. 633), and the Talmud has frequent notices of hives and the methods of taking bees, etc. (vide Hamburger, 'Real-Encyc,' 1. s.v. "Biene"). Hence the need for the addition of some such epithet as "wild," although there seems to be no independent parallel instance of the exact word used (ἄργιον); cf. Pliny's "mel silvestre."

(2) Possibly "tree-honey" (so Weiss, 'Marc.,' p. 44; 'Life,' 1:308), a sweet vegetable juice obtained from dates (vide Josephus, infra) and grapes (as probably in Gem 43:11; Ezekiel 27:17), and perhaps directly from wild trees, such as the manna ash and the tamarisk. So distinctly Suidas (A.D. 1100). "The forerunner ate locusts and wild honey, which is gathered together from the trees, and is commonly called manna." Diodorus Siculus ( B.C. 8) seems to use the epithet "wild" (ἄγριον) to distinguish this vegetable honey from that commonly in use (cf. Nicholson, 'Gosp. Hebrews,' p. 35). Josephus ('Bell. Jud.,' 4:08. 3) states that in the plain watered by the fountain of Jericho, "there are many sorts of palm trees watered by it, different from each other in taste and name; the better sort of them, when they are pressed, yield an excellent kind of honey (μέλι δαψιλὸς ἀνιᾶσιν), not much inferior to other honey. This country withal produces honey from bees (καὶ μελιττοτρόφος δὲ ἡ χώρα)." But the former interpretation seems the more probable.
Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,
Verse 5. - Then. Not merely temporal, as probably in ver. 13, but almost consequential, "thereupon"; so also ver. 15; Matthew 2:7, 16. John's preaching and manner of life were not without effect. Went out; ἐξεπορεύετο (similar in the parallels). Our Lord, when referring to this (Matthew 11:7, 8, 9), uses the commoner ἐξήλθατε, merely indicating the crowds leaving for a while their present surroundings. The synoptists here point rather to the trouble involved and the distance traversed (cf. Mark 6:11 with 12). The singular is used (as often in the Hebrew) because the writer's first thought was of Jerusalem; the other parts were added as an afterthought. All (cf. Matthew 8:34); i.e. from all parts and in large numbers. Judaea. Strictly speaking, this would, of course, include part of the next expression, but the reference here is especially to the hill-country. And all the region round about Jordan; i.e. the inhabitants of the Ghor, the Jordan valley. They presumably came from either side of the river. "Strabo, concerning the plain bordering on Jordan, hath these words: It is a place of an hundred furlongs, all well watered, and full of dwellings" (John Lightfoot, 'Her. Heb.').
And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
Verse 6. - And (they, Revised Version) were baptized. The Revised Version probably desires to call attention to the change in the verb from singular to plural. In Jordan; in the river Jordan (Revised Version, with manuscripts). So also parallel passage in Mark (cf. Introduction, p. 5.). By him; i.e. their baptism was not self-imposed, but an act of submission to his teaching, and of acceptance of his message. The forerunner saw results, not merely in crowds of listeners, but in external actions. By him (contrast John 4:2). Confessing their sins; i.e. in at least some detail; cf. Josephus, 'Ant.,' 8:04. 6, "confessing their sins and their transgressions of the laws of their country ( ἐξομολογουμένων τὰς ἁμαρτίας αὐτῶν καὶ τὰς τῶν πατρίων νομίμων παραβάσεις);" also Acts 19:18, "confessing and declaring their deeds" (cf. James 5:16).
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Verses 7-12. - The faithful warning. (Parallel passage: Luke 3:7-9, 16, 17.) Observe that this is before the baptism of our Lord, while the witness in John 1:19-27 is after. Verse 7. - But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The typical Jews, considered as one class (τῶν Φαρισαίων καὶ Σαδδουκαίων), in contrast to the multitudes. Pharisees. Their characteristic is shown in their name, "Separatists;" i.e. from anything that would hinder exact obedience to the Mosaic Law. Hence they are the strict adherents of tradition. They ultimately gained the ascendancy, and, in consequence, the standard Jewish books represent the result of their teaching, They belonged almost entirely to the middle classes. Sadducees. They were chiefly of the noblest, especially the high-priestly, families. Hence their first thought was political quiet, and with this they not unnaturally combined the love of Greek culture. They set the plain meaning of the Law far above all tradition, even that of the Prophets and the Hagiographa. Come (Obtains, Revised Version) to his baptism; ἐρχομένους ἐπὶ τὸ βάπτισμα (omit αὐτοῦ). They were apparently not merely coming to see what took place, but with the purpose of receiving his baptism (cf. Thayer, ἐπί c. 1:2, g. γ aa.); cf. Matthew 26:50 (ἐφ δ); Luke 23:48. The marginal reading, however, proposed by the American Revisers "for baptism," does not do justice to the article. The Gospel according to the Hebrews (Resch, 'Agrapha.' p. 343) says that they were in fact baptized, but we can hardly suppose this to have been the case after John's words to them. Observe that the Pharisees, with their self-conscious sanctity, were hardly likely to come to confess their sins, or the Sadducees to even listen to so ascetic a teacher. He said unto them; i.e. to the Pharisees and Sadducees; Luke, less exactly, "to the multitudes that went out to be baptized of him." There is, indeed, nothing, save the opening sentence, which refers solely to the Pharisees and Sadducees; but this fact does not show (Bleek) that the words were really spoken to all, and that Matthew's expression is wrong. John doubtless addressed the Pharisees and Sadducees primarily; but as, after all, they only formed the apex of ordinary Jewish thought, what he said to them fitted also the majority of his listeners. O generation (ye offspring, Revised Version) of vipers! The simile not only expresses the thought that, behind their smooth exterior, the outward legal strictness of the Pharisees, and the worldly decorum of the Sadducees, lay hidden malice and venom, but also that this is due to their very nature. It may have directly implied that they belonged in a true sense to the seed of the serpent (Genesis 3:15); cf. our Lord's words (Matthew 12:34; Matthew 23:33). Who hath (omitted by the Revised Version) warned you? The verb (ὑπέδειξεν) has elsewhere in the New Testament (St. Luke's writings only) no thought of warning, nor of secrecy, but of teaching, of placing the matter under the eyes of others (cf. especially Acts 9:16; Acts 20:35; Luke 6:47). John is making no inquiry for information, but only utters surprise at seeing them (cf. Matthew 23:33, πῶς φύγητε). Whoever can have told you of your danger? He might have saved himself the trouble, you being what you are! Yet the very violence of his expression was such as to call their attention to the depth of their sinfulness, and after all to lead them perhaps to repentance. For this reason he adds, "Bring forth therefore." To flee; aorist, not exactly indicating "the activity as momentary, setting forth the point of time when the wrath breaks forth, in which the flight also is realized" (Meyer), but the flight as one single action, without any reference to the time of the breaking forth of the wrath. From. The wrath is pictured as coming on them from without. In 1 Thessalonians 1:10 St. Paul says that Jesus delivers out of (ἐκ) it, implying that he himself and all men are naturally in and under it (but see Matthew 6:13, note). The wrath to come. Perhaps connected in John's mind with the wrath of the Messianic age (Isaiah 63:3-6). If so, it would find its primary fulfilment in the destruction of Jerusalem, but its complete fulfilment only in the manifestation of the wrath at the last judgment - (Acts 24:25; cf. Romans 2:5; Romans 5:9; Revelation 6:16, 17; Revelation 11:18). Wrath. Not merely punishment. The thought is of the feeling of anger against sin in him who punishes it (cf. Matthew 18:34; Matthew 22:7; Mark 3:5).
Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:
Verse 8. - Bring forth therefore (vide supra) fruits; fruit (Revised Version). The plural is due to a false reading taken from the parallel passage of Luke - it regards the various graces of a good life as so many different fruits (Matthew 21:43); the singular, as one product from one source (Galatians 5:22). The term used here (ποιεῖν καρπόν), and frequently, lays more stress on the effort involved than διδόναι καρπόν, simple "yielding" (Matthew 8:8), or φέρειν, "bearing" in the course of nature (Matthew 7:18; Mark 4:8; John 15:4, 5, 8, 16). The preacher requires a repentance which produces results. Meet for (cf. Acts 26:20). Though strictly meaning "suitable to" ("answering to," Authorized Version margin; cf. Tyndale, 'be-longyng to"), the phrase might to-day be understood as "suitable to produce." John really means that true repentance has fruit which belongs to its proper nature, and which is alone "worthy of" it (Revised Version). Repentance (τῆς μετανοίας). The article is either generic (Authorized Version and Revised Version; cf. Acts 11:18 and probably Acts 26:20); or equivalent to "your" (Revised Version margin). If the latter, the following sentence shows that it is still said in good faith. (For repentance, cf. ver. 1, note.)
And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
Verse 9. - And. An additional warning against any false feeling of security based on natural privileges. As this feeling was common to all Jews, the reference to the larger audience (ver. 7, note) was probably begun here. Think not to say. Not do not think, consider, with a view to saying; but do not think it right to say, do not be of opinion you may say (Luke 3:8, "Begin not to say ). St. Luke deprecates the commencement of such an utterance in their heart; S t. Matthew denies its justice. Within yourselves; cf. Esther 4:13 (Hebrew). We have Abraham to our father. As it was recognized on all hands that the promise of blessing was made to Abraham and his seed, it is no wonder that many Jews presumed upon their descent from him, "sup, posing,", as Justin Martyr says ('Trypho,' § 140.), that the everlasting kingdom will assuredly be given to those who are of the seed of Abraham according to the flesh, although they be sinners and unbelieving and disobedient towards God." In later times, when the doctrine of merit was more fully established, God could be represented as saying to Abraham, "If thy children were like dead bodies without sinews or bones, thy merit would avail for them" ('Ber. Rabb.,' on Genesis 10:5:11. § 44, middle). In John's words, on the contrary, we have the germ of the doctrine afterwards Brought out by St. Paul (e.g. Galatians 3:9, 29), that not natural descent, but spiritual relationship by faith, leads to inheriting the promises. The argument in John 8:39, etc., is closely akin to that presented here. In both passages the Jews lay stress on their origin from Abraham; in both the answer is that morally they are sprung from a very different source (supra, ver. 7, note). But in John 8. the Jews are thinking chiefly of their present state, of not being as sinful as Jesus makes them out to be, while here they are thinking more of the future, that they have no need to take trouble, because promises for the future belong to them. Hence, perhaps, the exact expression (contrast John 8:33), "We have Abraham as father," which brings out the protecting influence of Abraham as still available. For I say unto you (λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν). The solemnity of the phrase (Matthew 6:25, 29; Matthew 8:11; Matthew 11:9) lies in the self-consciousness which it implies. The absence of the ἐγώ shows that the speaker has no desire to bring out his own personality (contrast Matthew 5:22, etc.), but the message only. That God. Not "the LORD," because

(1) the thought is of power rather than of covenant relationship;

(2) he is about to speak of others than members of the covenant nation. Is able of these stones. These; apodeictic (Matthew 4:3). Some have thought that by these stones John directly means certain Gentiles who were standing near; but it is much mere likely that he points to the literal stones at his feet, and with strong hyperbole says that he who once raised up offspring as the stars for multitude from persons as good as dead (Romans 4:19), and who had originally made man of the dust of the earth, can (δύναται), with both physical power and moral right, raise out of the very rawest material a new Israel (cf. Romans 4:17; 1 Corinthians 1:28, "the things that are not"). Raise up. The verb employed (ἐγείρω) is, as it seems, not used in the LXX. with reference to natural generation, but ἀνίστημι (cf. Genesis 38:8, ἐξανίστημι; Genesis 4:25; Genesis 19:32; cf. also Matthew 22:24). It is, however, very suitable here, for while ἀνίστημι regards future worth, ἐγείρω specially contrasts a later with an earlier state (e.g. sleep) - in this case the nature of children with the insensibility of stones. Children. The new Israel would possess, not merely Abraham's privileges, but his nature and character (τέκνα), in which you to whom I now speak are so deficient.
And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
Verse 10. - And now also; Revised Version, and even now. "And" (δὲ), slightly adversative. In contrast to the delay supposed in ver. 9 a, preparations have already been made for your destruction. The axe is laid; Revised Version, is the axe laid; bringing out more emphatically its present position. The American Revisers propose, "the axe lieth at," avoiding the suggestion of an agent; but κεῖμαι often implies one, being used of vessels set ready for use; e.g. John 2:6; John 19:29 (cf. Revelation 4:2). Unto (πρὸς); brought near to (Thayer, s.v., 1:2, a). Therefore. The axe is lying there, therefore every useless tree is sure to be cut down (cf. Winer, 40:2, a). Every tree, etc.; even the noblest (Weiss). However good the tree ought to be, from the character of its original stock (you claim to be Abraham's children, ver. 9), yet, if it does not bear good fruit, it is cut down (Matthew 7:19, note). Into the fire (εἰς πῦρ). Not into a fire prepared with a definite purpose, nor into any one fire pictured as burning (Matthew 17:15; cf. τὸ πῦρ, John 15:6), but into fire generally, which may be in many different places. Worthless trees are only for burning. (For thought, cf. Hebrews 6:8.)
I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:
Verse 11. - (Cf, especially John 1:27; Acts 13:25; also Acts 19:4.) After our ver. 10 St. Luke inserts details of the various kinds of fruit that repentance ought to produce, suggested by the questions of different portions of the Baptist's audience; and then, with an explanatory note that John's words were due to a misconception having arisen that he was himself the Messiah, he adds what we have in vers. 11, 12. But even if vers. 0-12 were, in fact, not said consecutively, yet their juxtaposition here may be defended by the real connexion between the statements. In ver. 10 John has spoken of the present danger of his audience; he therefore now urges repentance, and that in view of the coming of One who will sift them to the uttermost. With water; in, Revised Version margin (ἐν), and so in the second part of the verse. The thought is not of the instrument by which the baptism is effected, but of the element in which it takes place. "In" suggests more complete submergence of the personality. But he that cometh after me. The expression would recall the thought of" the Coming One" - a common designation of Messiah (Matthew 11:3; Matthew 21:9). Is mightier than I. Not in authority (the next clause), nor in honour (John 1:30), but in inherent strength and power. Whose shoes. Though shoes or boots were usual in the winter, at all events later, and probably also now (cf. Edersheim, 'Life,' 1:621), yet sandals are doubtless meant. "In the LXX. and Josephus σανδάλιον (Mark 6:9; Acts 12:8) and ὑπόδημα [here] are used indiscriminately" (Thayer). Worthy. In moral sufficiency (ἱκανός) , and so in the parallels, but (ἄξιος) in moral desert in John 1:27. To bear; complementary to "loosen" in the parallel passages. The duty of slaves of the lowest rank. The distance of superiority here attributed by John to "him that cometh after me," must be reckoned even greater than it usually is; for most of the slaves then held by Jewish masters would not be Jews, but Gentiles. The thought is, "I am further removed from my successor than the meanest Gentile slave is from his Jewish master." Some have seen in this expression a reference to the practice of disciples carrying the shoes of their teachers (Edersheim, 'Life,' 1:272), but this can hardly have been general so early. He. The emphasis is made the more evident by the absence of any connecting particle. Shall baptize you. "The transference of the image of baptism to the impartment of the Holy Spirit was prepared by such passages as Joel 2:28 (Acts 2:17)" (Bishop Westcott, on John 1:33); comp. also Ezekiel 36:25-27, where the symbol of cleansing by water and the gift of the Holy Spirit are closely connected. With the Holy Ghost, and with fire (ἐν Πνεύματιυ Ἁγίῳ καὶ πυρί). To the visible John contrasts the invisible, to the symbol of water the reality of the Spirit; adding (here and in the parallel passage in Luke) to this, which forms the main point of the contrast (cf. Mark 1:8; John 1:33), the thought of Malachi 3:2, purification as by fire; and, by not placing it under the government of another preposition (which would have necessitated the conception of it as a distinct element) implying that it is only another aspect of one and the same baptism. It has been questioned, indeed, whether "fire" here refers to the purification of the godly who truly accept the baptism of the Spirit, or to the destruction of the wicked, as in vers. 10, 12. But the thought is one. The Divine presence will in fact, as is recognized by Isaiah (Isaiah 33:14; Isaiah 31:9), be twofold in its working, according as it is yielded to or the reverse. It burns away sin out of the godly, and it consumes the ungodly if they cleave to their sin.
Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
Verse 12. - Whose fan. The pronged winnowing-fork (see Pal. Expl. Fund Statem; Ap. 1891) which throws up the grain against the wind. The Coming One is to put an end to the present mixture of chaff and corn. He will thoroughly purge the threshing-floor of this world, gathering the good into one safe place, and destroying the evil. The figure of winnowing comes not unseldom in the Old Testament (e.g. Jeremiah 15:7; Jeremiah 51:2), but generally with the sole idea of destruction of the ungodly, not with that of separating so as to also preserve the godly (yet cf. Psalm 139:3, margin; Amos 9:9). Is in his hand. The figure is stronger than that in ver. 10, where the instrument was only lying ready to be taken up. But that was an instrument of destruction alone. And he will throughly purge; cleanse (Revised Version); permundo (Vulgate); διακαθαριεῖ, the preposition is intensive, not local. His. Observe the threefold αὐτοῦ, referring to hand, flour, corn - personal agency, sphere, ownership. In the Vatican and some other manuscripts it is found also after "garner;" but this is, perhaps, introduced from the parallel in Luke. Floor; threshing-floor (Revised Version). Not the barn that English-men think of, but an open and level space (for the figure, cf. especially Micah 4:12). Here the threshing-floor is equivalent to the scene of the Lord's operations, i.e. the world, or rather the universe (cf. Epbraem (? Tartan) in Resch, 'Agrapha,' p. 295). The present mixture of good and evil shall be brought to an end. And gather together, from different parts of the threshing-floor, or from intimate association with the chaff, into one heap. All true believers shall finally be brought to perfect unity (cf. Matthew 13:30). His wheat. The term is adopted by Ignatius ('Ram.,' §4): "I am the wheat of God, and I am ground by the teeth of wild beasts, that I may be found pure bread [of Christ]." Into the garner. The final home of the saints, hidden away and safe from all marauders. Garners in the East are generally subterranean vaults or eaves (but cf. Luke 12:18). But will burn up. Utterly consuming it (contrast Exodus 3:2), as the tares (Matthew 13:30, 40) and the books of magic (Acts 19:19). The chaff. For, as Jeremiah says (Jeremiah 23:28) when comparing a mere dream with a message from the Lord," What is the chaff to the wheat?" The Targum even interprets Jeremiah's words of the wicked and the righteous. The chaff in Jeremiah includes the straw, for in the East everything except the actual grain is generally burnt, and is sometimes used for heating fireplaces (Mishna, 'Sabb.,' 3:1; 'Parah,' 4:3). With unquenchable fire. "Unquenchable" shows that John is here thinking not of the figure of chaff but of the persons figured by it. But what does the word mean? In itself it might mean that the fire cannot be overcome by the greatness or the nature of the mass that it has to consume; i.e., to drop the figure, by either the number or the character at' the wicked. But from its usage it seems rather to be equivalent to not being overcome by the lapse of time. It is used, e.g., of the perpetual fire of Vesta, of the fire of the Magi, of the fire upon the Jewish altar (vide references in Thayer). The whole expression in itself says nothing about the everlasting duration of the punishment; i.e. it does not decide for "everlasting punishment" or for "annihilation," but seems rather to exclude the possibility of amelioration under it (cf. Isaiah 1:31).
Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.
Verses 13-17. - THE BAPTISM OF JESUS. (Parallel passages: Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21, 22.) Verse 13. - Then; temporal (ver. 5, note). When John was preaching and baptizing. Cometh (ver. 1, note). From Galilee. Mark adds, "from Nazareth of Galilee" (for this is his first historical mention of our Lord), thereby implying that our Lord had lived in Nazareth since our Matthew 2:22, etc. In contrast to the representative teachers from Jerusalem, and the crowds both from there and from the Jordan valley (ver. 5), this Stranger came from Galilee. To Jordan. It is hard to see why the Revised Version inserts "the" here and leaves the Authorized Version unaltered in ver. 5. To be baptized (τοῦ βαπτισθῆναι); Matthew 2:13, note. By him; and no other. Not mere baptism, but baptism at the hands of John, was our Lord's motive for coming. He would link his own work on to that of John (vide infra) .
But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?
Verse 14. - Vers. 14 and 15 are peculiar to St. Matthew. But John. In John 1:31, 33 the Baptist says that he knew him not till the descent of the Holy Spirit; i.e. knew him not in his full Messianic character. Here, either by an involuntary and miraculous impression, psychologically due to the previous revelation he had received (cf. Meyer); or, as is on the whole more probable, from his previous knowledge, direct or indirect, of Jesus, he recognizes his superior sanctity. John's inmost thoughts must therefore have been somewhat as follows. "I have come to announce the advent of Messiah; here is One who is much holier than I; it may be that he is Messiah, but I have no certainty till the sign promised has been vouchsafed." Forbade; would have hindered (Revised Version), for διεκώλυεν, does not in itself imply speech. (For a similar imperfect of that which was not fully carried out, cf. Luke 1:59.) It is noticeable, though doubtless merely as a coincidence, that the strong compound word διακωλύω and βαπτίζομαι also occur together in Judith 12:7. I have need to be baptized of thee. Many see here a reference to the baptism of the Spirit and fire, mentioned in ver. 11. But the following clause, "and dost thou come to me?" implies that the baptisms are identical, viz. baptism by water. The sentence is equivalent to "I John, who myself administer the baptism of repentance, need to profess repentance myself, and ought rather, therefore, to receive such a baptism at thy hands, who art so far holier than I" (cf. further Weiss, 'Life,' 1:320).
And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.
Verse 15. - Suffer it to be so now; suffer it now (Revised Version); "suffer me now" (Revised Version margin); ἄφες ἄρτι, only here (apparently) in the New Testament quite absolutely, but Matthew 7:4 slightly favours the Revised Version margin. Now; at this special season (ἄρτι); in contrast to the more permanent relation which shall be recognized later. Our Lord thus slightly removes the trial to John's faith, which a mere refusal might have aggravated. Observe the implied consciousness of his Messiah-ship, even before the baptism. Several of the Fathers (vide Meyer) infer from these words that John was afterwards baptized by Jesus; but this is to completely miss the point of the expression. For thus. Not exactly "by this baptism," but" by the spirit of submission in us both, which in this case will issue in my baptism." It becometh (τρέπον ἐστὶν). Not a matter of absolute necessity (δεῖ, Matthew 16:21; Matthew 26:54), nor of absolute duty (ὀφείλω, John 13:14), but of moral fitness (Hebrews 2:10). It befits us, in our respective characters, to perform this symbolical act. Compare Melchizedek and Abraham; the representative of the older blesses the representative of the coming age (Luke 16:16). Us; thee and me. To fulfil; here only with "righteousness" (cf. Matthew 5:17). All righteousness (πᾶσαν δικαιοσύνην). Not the whole circle of righteousness (πᾶσαν τὴν δικαιοσύνην), but every part of righteous ness, as each is presented to us (similarly, Acts 13:10; cf. also δικαιοσύναι in Ecclus. 44:10; Tobit 2:14, where, although Neubauer and Fuller explain it as "alms." this is improbable after the preceding ἐλεημοσύναι), and that not merely every part of the righteousness included under the Mosaic, Law (cf. Alford, "requirements of the Law' and especially Lowe. 'Pesach Fragm.,' p. 100: 1879), but of that wider righteousness of which that was itself only a part and a type. "Let me be baptized by thee now," our Lord says to John, "for it is fitting for us, in this spirit of submission, to fill up every part of righteousness." Our Lord thus pleads for the absolute submission of John and himself to every portion of righteousness as it may be proposed to them by God to perform; his words thus somewhat resembling those to St. Peter, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me" (John 13:8). Thy duty is to baptize, mine to be baptized. It has generally been thought that in this verse our Lord implies that his baptism was to constitute his own formal recognition and acceptance of his distinctly Messianic duties - an act which involved the complete leaving of his past life and the giving himself up to a new and public life (cf. Weiss, 'Life,' 1:322). But have we any evidence that our Lord came to the baptism with this self-consciousness? May he not very well have known that he was to be the Messiah, and yet not have known that his official life was to begin now? May he not have come to the baptism merely as an individual, feeling the deepest interest in this consecration to the cause of the kingdom, notwithstanding the unique position in which he knew himself to stand with regard to that kingdom? But his voluntary consecration of himself for whatever he might be guided to, was the opportunity taken by the Father for the outpouring of the Holy Ghost, which had as its immediate consequence the retirement into the wilderness and the decision there come to. May not, in other words, our Lord's descent into Jordan have been, not the first act of his public life, but the last act of his private life - the former then being the withdrawal into the wilderness, in order there to have uninterrupted communion with his Father, and to meet in his official character his great adversary (cf. especially Edersheim, 'Life,' 1:279, etc.)?
And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:
Verse 16. - And Jesus, when he was baptized. Combining the statements of the synoptists, we may conclude that Jesus went up from the water at once, praying as he went, and that, while he was going up and praying, the heavens opened. Out of; from '(Revised Version); ἀπό; for, as it seems, he had not gone fully out of the water. The heavens were opened unto him. So also the Revised Version, but the Revised Version margin, with Westcott and Herr, rightly omits "unto him." The words were inserted because it was thought that Jesus alone saw the manifestation, as indeed we should have supposed if we had had only the account of St. Mark, who reads, "he saw" before "the heavens being rent asunder" (but cf. John 1:32-34). To our Lord and to the Baptist the appearance was as though the sky really opened (cf. Ezekiel 1:1; Acts 7:56). The Spirit of God; recalling Genesis 1:2. "Messiah now enters on his public office, and for that receives, as true Man, the appropriate gifts. The Spirit by whom men are sub jectively united to God descends upon the Word made Flesh, by whom objectively God is revealed to men" (Bishop Westcott, on John 1:32). Like; as (Revised Version). The comparison is hardly to the gentleness of the descent of a dove, but to a visible appearance in bodily form, as a dove (see parallel passage in Luke). Not, of course, that the Holy Spirit was thus at all incarnate, but that either the appearance of a dove was seen by John's eyes only (cf. especially Theodore of Mopsuestia, in Meyer), or, as is not unlikely (even though the suggestion belongs ultimately to Paulus), a dove really flew down and lighted on the Lord (Luke), and that this, to outsiders merely a curious incident (cf. John 12:29), was to our Lord and the Baptist a sign of spiritual blessing. A dove (περιστερά); any member of the pigeon tribe; chosen because a symbol of deliverance (Genesis 8:8), of purity (Leviticus 5:7), of harmlessness (Matthew 10:16), and of endearment (Song of Solomon 6:9). There is no evidence (cf. Edersheim, 'Life,' 1:287) that the dove was at this period interpreted by Jews as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. The Targum on Song of Solomon 2:12 paraphrasing "the voice of the turtle-dove ' by "the voice of the Holy Spirit," dates in its present form from the eighth to the tenth century. The dove mentioned (though probably by interpolation) in the account of Polycarp's death, appears to be a symbol of the soul (cf. Bishop Lightfoot). Wichelhaus (as quoted by Kubel) says suggestively, "lamb and dove - no kingdom in the world has these emblems on its escutcheon." And; omit, with manuscripts. Lighting; coming (Revised Version), because it is needless to translate a common Greek (ἐρχόμενον) by a rare English word. Observe that it refers to the Holy Spirit, not to the dove as such. Upon him (so Luke and John 1:32, 33; Mark more vaguely, "unto him").
And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
Verse 17. - Lo; peculiar to St. Matthew - a reminiscence of Aramaic diction. A voice. Similarly in Matthew 17:5 (Transfiguration, cf. 2 Peter 1:17, 18); John 12:28 (like thunder); [possibly Acts 2:6, Pentecost]; Acts 9:4 (Paul's conversion); 10:13, 15 (Peter). Talmudic and rabbinic writings often mention the Bath-Qol as speaking from heaven. The character of the occasions on which the voice is heard in the New Testament on the one hand, and in the Jewish writings on the other, shows the complete difference in the moral aspect of the two voices. The latter is at best little more than a parody of the former. (For the meaning of the expression Bath-Qol vide especially Weber, p. 188; Edersheim, 'Life,' 1:285.) From heaven; out of the heavens (Revised Version), pointing to the phrase in ver. 16. Saying. Western authorities add, "unto him," mostly reading the following words in the second person (cf. Mark and Luke). This is my beloved Son. Very similar if not identical words were spoken at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5), Matthew giving precisely the same, Mark and Luke only omitting "in whom I am well pleased," and Luke also reading "chosen" instead of "beloved." It would seem more natural to suppose that the words spoken on the two occasions were really slightly different, and that therefore Matthew is the less accurate. My .... Son (cf. Psalm 2:7). My beloved Son. The expression is probably based on Isaiah 42:1 (cf. infra, Matthew 12:18, note); but this does not necessitate the punctuation of the Revised Version margin, and Westcott and Herr margin: "My Son; my beloved in whom," etc. (For the expression, comp. also Mark 12:6 (not in the parallel passage, Matthew 21:37); Ephesians 1:6.) In whom I am well pleased; rather, in whom I have delight (cf. Isaiah 62:4, Authorized Version). The tense (εὐδόκησα) is equivalent to "my delight" fell on him, he became the object of my love" (Winer, 40:5, b, 2). The Spirit came, the Father bore witness. "Thus the Baptist receives through a revelation the certainty of the Messiahship of Jesus, and thus the reader learns that the Son of David, who through his birth (ch. 1.) and the fortunes of his childhood (ch. 2.) was certified as the Messiah, now also is announced to the last of the prophets as the Son of God, to whom Jehovah, in Psalm 2:7, etc., had promised the Messianic dominion of the world" (Weiss, 'Matthaus-Evang.'). Yet not only so; the words probably revealed to the Lord Jesus himself more of his exact relationship to the Father than he had before as Man realized. Such an assurance of his true nature, and of the Father's delight in him, would be of essential service in strengthening him for his work (cf. Matthew 17:5). There are two other matters connected with our Lord's baptism recorded by tradition (cf. especially Resch, 'Agrapha,'pp. 346-367)-additional words spoken, and an additional sign given. The words spoken are found in "Western" authorities of Luke 3:22, "Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee," evidently with a desire to emphasize the application of the second psalm. The additional sign is the light or fire. The simplest form of this is (Tatian's 'Diatessaron,' edit. Zahn), "A light rose upon the waters;" and in the Ebionite Gospel apud Epiph., "Immediately a great light shone round about the place;" more fully in Justin Martyr ('Trypho,' § 88), "When Jesus had gone down into the water, fire was kindled in the Jordan;" also in a now lost 'Pred. Paul,' "When he was being baptized, fire was seen upon the water;" and in the Cod. Vercellensis of the Old Latin, "When he was being baptized, an immense light shone round from the water, so that all who had come thither were afraid." Although there is no intrinsic objection to this symbol having taken place, it is very improbable that in this case the evangelists would not have recorded it. The legend may have arisen from ver. 11, or, and more probably, from an endeavour to make the baptism parallel to the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:2); cf. Ephraem, in Resch ('Agrapha,' p. 358), "John drew near and worshipped the Son, whose form an unwonted lustre surrounded."

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