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÷÷MATTHEW 18

MATTHEW 18

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

UBS4 NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
The Greatest in the Kingdom Who is Greatest? Sayings on Humility and Forgiveness Who is the Greatest? Who is the Greatest?
18:1-5 18:1-5 18:1-5 18:1 18:1-4
      18:2-5  
Temptations to Sin Jesus Warns of Offenses Warnings of Hell Temptations to Sin On Leading Others Astray
        18:5-7
18:6-9 18:6-9 18:6-7 18:6-7  
    18:8-9 18:8-9 18:8-9
The Parable of the Lost Sheep The Parable of the Lost Sheep The Lost Sheep The Parable of the Lost Sheep  
18:10-14 18:10-14 18:10-14 18:10-11 18:10
18:11 (not included)
        The Lost Sheep
      18:12-14 18:12-14
A Brother Who Sins Dealing With a Sinning Brother Discipline Among Followers A Brother Who Sins Brotherly Correction
18:15-17 18:15-20 18:15-20 18:15-17 18:15-17
      Prohibiting and Permitting  
18:18-20     18:18 18:18
        Prayer in Common
      18:19-20 18:19-20
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant Forgiveness The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant Forgiveness of Injuries
18:21-35 18:21-35 18:21-22 18:21 18:21-22
      18:22-27  
        Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor
    18:23-35   18:23-35
      18:28-34  
      18:35  

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Third paragraph, etc.

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. This context is not addressed to children, but to new believing adults using children as an object lesson.

 

B. This context does not relate to winning the lost, but to the characteristics of believers.

 

C. The Church discipline of Matt. 18:15-19 is related to the issue of our love for one another in Christ, cf. Rom. 14:1-15:13; 1 Corinthians 8; 10:23-33.

 

D. The parable of Matt. 18:21-35 is related to believers' treatment of weak or new Christians based on God's treatment of believers in Christ. Forgiveness issues in forgiving! It is not the basis but the result of God's action in our lives!

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

÷MATTHEW 18:1-6

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: MATTHEW 18:1-6
 1At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, "Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" 2And he called a child to Himself and set him before them, 3and said, "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; 6but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

18:1 "the disciples came to Jesus" This shows that Jesus was speaking to believers, not unbelievers!

▣ "Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven" This question set the stage for all that followed. See Mark 9:33-34; Luke 9:46-48. The question showed that the disciples still radically misunderstood the nature of the kingdom. It also shows that the disciples did not consider Peter as greatest!

18:2 "a child" Mark 9:33 suggests that this was Peter's child.

18:3 "Truly" See Special Topic: Amen.

▣ "unless you are converted" "Convert" denotes a conversion experience whereby an inner repentance is expressed in a change of lifestyle (NRSV, NJB). In John 12:40 this word is used to translate Isa. 6:10, where it refers to "repentance" (Hebrew shub, BDB 996). Notice that in Matt. 18:4 "humility" is parallel with "convert." Children innocently trust and depend on others. They are readily teachable and obedient to authority (here divine authority).

This is an aorist passive subjunctive. The aorist tense implied a decisive act, while the subjunctive mood showed there was an element of contingency and choice involved. The passive voice implied God's initiative (cf. John. 6:44,65).

▣ "you will not enter the kingdom of heaven" This is a strong double negative meaning, "never, no never under any circumstances." Also note that entrance into the Kingdom is immediate! Trusting Jesus and His message is tantamount to entering to new age! The Kingdom was available to all who heard and responded to Jesus.

18:3,4,6 "and become like children. . .child. . .one of these little ones" These statements all relate to new, innocent, immature believing adults, and not to children. However, the trusting dependence of children is the proper attitude for adults.

18:3 "you will not enter into the kingdom. . .of heaven" In context this referred to

  1. how someone comes to Christ
  2. how one continues in Christ

Special Topic: The Kingdom of God

18:5 This is similar to the emphasis of Matt. 10:40. Also notice Matt. 25:35-45; Luke 10:16; Acts 9:4; and 1 Cor. 8:12. Jesus is fully identified with His followers!

18:6 "it would be better" Death, though traumatic, is a one-time event, but judgment has eternal consequences (cf. Matt. 25:31-46).

Another "it would have been better" statement is found in 2 Pet. 2:20-22.

▣ "a heavy millstone" This referred to the large top stone pulled by animals for grinding grain.

▣ "to be drowned in the depth of the sea" The Jews were fearful of water, as are many desert people. Therefore, this phrase related to a terrible physical death which was better than leading new believers to sin (cf. Matt. 18:8-10; Rom. 14).

Special Topic: Degrees of Rewards and Punishment

÷MATTHEW 18:7

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: MATTHEW 18:7
 7Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!

18:7 "woe to the world. . .woe to that man" This was put in the literary form of the OT prophets, a funeral dirge which symbolized the judgment of God (cf. Matt. 11:21; 18:7; 23:13,15,16,23,25,27,29; 24:19; 26:24; Luke 17:1-2). Causing new believers to stumble has eternal consequences!

▣ "stumbling blocks" This same noun (skandalon, cf. Luke 17:1) was used in Matt. 16:23 for Peter's statements. It refers literally to a baited animal trap trigger (cf. LXX of Amos 3:5). New believers are vulnerable to deception and trickery by false teachers (Jewish and later false Christian teachers, cf. Matt. 7:15-27; 1 Tim. 4:1-5; 2 Tim. 2:14-26; 3:1-9; 2 Peter 2).

The verb is recurrent in Matthew's Gospel (cf. Matt. 5:29,30; 11:6; 13:21,57; 15:12; 17:27; 18:6,8,9; 24:10; 26:31,33). Problems and temptations are always present!

÷MATTHEW 18:8-9

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: MATTHEW 18:8-9
 8If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. 9If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.

18:8-9 "If. . .if" These are both first class conditional sentences which are assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes. These shocking hypothetical statements stress the seriousness of personal sin, as well as sinners that causes others to stumble (cf. Matt. 18:6,7).

18:8,9 "cut it off. . .pluck it out" These were not meant to be taken literally, but to show the seriousness of sin and its consequences (cf. Matt. 5:29-30).

▣ "eternal fire" See Special Topic: Eternal

Special Topic: Eternal Punishment

18:9 "the fiery hell" Gehenna is from two Hebrew words ge meaning "valley" and henna meaning "sons of Hinnom" (cf. 2 Kgs. 23:10; 2 Cor. 28:3; 33:6; Jer. 7:31). This was the valley outside of Jerusalem where the Phoenician fire god was worshiped by child sacrifice (the practice was called molech). The Jews turned it into a garbage dump. See Special Topic: Where Are the Dead?  Jesus Himself used this place metaphorically to describe Hell. Only Jesus uses this term (except one verse in James 3:6).

This is a frightening verse. However, one must remember the use of overstatement (hyperbole) in Jesus' teaching. The context relates to followers, believers. Yet Jesus wants to warn even His own followers of the need for a continuing and loving faith (cf. Matt. 5:22).

÷MATTHEW 18:10-11

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: MATTHEW 18:10-11
 10"See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven." 11[" For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost." ]

18:10 "see that you do not despise one of these little ones" This whole section (i.e., Matt. 18:9,10-11) expresses this same truth.

▣ "their angels" This could be understood to teach that all believers have an individual guardian angel (cf. Ps. 91:11; Acts 12:15; Heb. 1:14). This is an interesting concept, but there is so little biblical evidence on which to build a doctrine. Psalm 24:7 is the same truth, but in a corporate sense.

18:11 This verse is not in the ancient Greek manuscripts א, B, L, or the Greek texts used by Origen, Eusebius, and Jerome. Nor is it found in the Syriac and Coptic versions. It was possibly not an original part of Matthew. It is an addition from Luke 19:10 by early copyists. The UBS4 rates its exclusion as "B" (almost certain).

÷MATTHEW 18:12-14

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: MATTHEW 18:12-14
 12"What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? 13If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. 14So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish."

18:12-14 "a hundred sheep" This parable relates in context to believers who have become backslidden and then returned to God. Believers are to help and restore one another (cf. Gal. 6:1-3). In Luke 15:4-7 this same parable refers to the spiritually lost, self-righteous Pharisees. This shows that Jesus used the same parables in different ways to different audiences.

18:13 "If" Both Matt. 18:12 and 13 are third class conditional sentences, which meant possible future action.

▣ "Truly" See Special Topic: Amen.

18:14 "the will of your Father who is in heaven" See Special Topic: Apostasy (aphistēmi).

▣ "that one of these little ones perish" There are several Special Topics that relate to this phrase.

Special Topic: Destruction (apollumi)

Special Topic: Apostasy (aphistēmi)

Special Topic: Perseverance

÷MATTHEW 18:15-18

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: MATTHEW 18:15-18
 15"If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven."

18:15-17 "go and show him his fault in private" This third class conditional sentence is followed by two imperatives.

  1. Go, present active imperative
  2. Reprove, aorist active imperative (only here in Matthew, but note its use in John 3:20; 8:46; 16:8; and by Paul in Eph. 5:11; 1 Tim. 5:20)

This is practical wisdom on how to deal with sin in a congregation. It relates to a later period in church history. Notice the steps.

  1. go to the offender privately (Matt. 18:15)
  2. take one or two witnesses and go again
  3. bring the matter before the whole congregation
  4. cut off fellowship

These guidelines were not addressed to leadership only, but to all believers. We are our brother's keeper (cf. Luke 17:3; Gal. 6:1-2). The goal of church discipline must always be redemptive not punitive. However, the reputation of the body and the peace of the body as well as the health (spiritual and physical) of the sinning saints must be dealt with.

18:15 "If your brother sins" This paragraph deals with church discipline in light of Matt. 18:1-14. This is a series of third class conditional sentences, 18:15 (twice), 16, 17 (twice). This refers to possible future action.

▣ "sins" There is a Greek manuscript variation here. The earliest complete Greek uncial New Testaments, א and B, do not have "against you" after "sins." It does appear in the uncial manuscripts D, L, and W, as well as the Vulgate and Armenian translations. The UBS4 text includes it in brackets and gives its inclusion a "C" rating.

Special Topic: Textual Criticism

▣ "you have won your brothers" This phrase parallels James 5:15,19-20.

18:16 "so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses" This is a quote from Deut. 19:15. The OT required at least two witnesses to confirm a matter in court (cf. Num. 35:30; Deut. 17:6; John 8:17).

18:17 "the church" For a discussion of the origin of ekklesia see note at Matt. 16:18. This seems like a reference to a later period when groups of believers must discipline their members. Several of Jesus' statements do not fit this early period of His ministry, but are prophetic of the church's future needs. Matthew, living in this later period, would be reminded (by the Spirit) of Jesus' earlier statements, which only after Pentecost did he fully understand.

The term "church" appears only in the Gospels, two times in Matthew. The term is common in Acts, which shows that Luke was conscious of a change after Pentecost.

▣ "let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector" Matthew was written to Jews. Gentiles were regarded as unclean and tax-collection was a profession despised by the Jews (cf. Matt. 5:46; 9:10-11; 11:19). This phrase with its two descriptive examples, would have been misunderstood by Gentiles, so it is not in the other Gospels.

18:18 "Truly" See Special Topic: Amen.

▣ "I say to you" "You" is plural. Jesus was addressing the Twelve not just Peter as in Matt. 16:19.

▣ "bind. . .loose" These words might alternatively be rendered "forbid" and "permit." They were both rabbinical terms for legal decisions about how the Law should be applied to a current situation. See discussion at Matt. 16:19. In John 20:23 these terms also refer to the forgiveness of sins, as it does here!

▣ "shall have been bound in heaven. . .shall have been loosed in heaven" These periphrastic perfect passive participles were a roundabout way of saying that something already is. This passage does not assert human's initiative in spiritual matters, but God's will being fulfilled on earth by the Spirit's guidance of His people (cf. Matt. 16:19-20; John. 20:23). Church discipline should always be redemptive (cf. Gal. 6:1-10), following God's dealing with believers.

÷MATTHEW 18:19-20

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: MATTHEW 18:19-20
 19"Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst."

18:19 "if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask" This is a third class conditional sentence, which meant potential future action. The context relates this promise to church discipline and our treatment of other believers.

18:19 This verse must be taken in the context of God's will being revealed by the Spirit from Matt. 18:18. Believers are only promised answers under certain spiritual circumstances. The worst thing that could happen to most modern believers is that God answer their selfish, materialistic prayers.

The Bible presents a paradoxical view on prayer. Some passages speak of its unlimited scope and promise of answers (cf. Matt. 18:19; John 14:13-14; 15:7,16; 16:23). Other passages speak of prayer being limited by

  1. our persistence (cf. Matt. 7:7-8; Luke 11:5-13; 18:1-8)
  2. our attitude (cf. Matt. 21:22; Mark 11:23-24; Luke 18:9-14; James 1:6-7; 4:1-10)
  3. the will of God (cf. 1 John. 3:22; 5:14-15)

Theologically believers agree that

  1. God is affected by His children's prayers
  2. the greatest gift is not the answer but the fellowship with the Father
  3. all prayer is answered
  4. prayer does change our lives and the lives of those we pray for

However, when all is said and done, there is still "mystery" in prayer. It is best summed up by the truth that God has chosen in His sovereignty to limit Himself to the prayers of His children. We have not because we asked not or asked amiss.

Special Topic: Prayer, Unlimited Yet Limited

18:20 The number mentioned is the same as Matt. 18:16. This could be a husband and wife (family setting) or two or more believers (worship or disciple setting). However, it may be implied (i.e., an application) that when believers meet to pray Jesus is there (i.e., Matt. 28:20)!

▣ "in My name" Special Topic: The Name of the Lord (NT).

÷MATTHEW 18:21-22

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: MATTHEW 18:21-22
 21Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" 22Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven."

18:22
NASB, NKJV, TEV, REB   "seventy times seven"
NRSV, NJB   "seventy-seven times"
Peshitta   "up to seventy times seventy-seven"

Peter was trying to be generous by using seven times (cf. Luke 17:4)! The Babylonian Talmud had three times as the maximum (cf. Amos 1:3, 6; 2:6). Jesus took forgiveness to the new metaphorical height of 7 x 70 (or possibly 77; see Special Topic: Symbolic Numbers in Scripture). This does not mean on the 491st time believers do not forgive, but that covenant brothers must always be ready to forgive other covenant brothers (cf. Luke 17:4) as God forgives them (cf. Matt. 18:35). The new covenant has a radically new orientation to life (cf. Matt. 18:15).

÷MATTHEW 18:23-35

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: MATTHEW 18:23-35
 23"For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. 26So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.'27And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. 28But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, 'Pay back what you owe.'29So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you.'30But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. 31So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. 32Then summoning him, his lord said to him, 'You wicked slave, I forgave you all the debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?'34And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."

18:23 "a king" This parable is unique to Matthew. In Aramaic (Jesus spoke Aramaic, not Hebrew) this term could have meant "a king's official."

18:24 "ten thousand talents" This was a huge amount. Six hundred talents was the yearly Roman tax for southern Palestine. This parable is purposeful Oriental exaggeration (hyperbole). Often Jesus used this literary technique to drive home the point of His parables.

Special Topic: Coins Used In Palestine in Jesus' Day

18:25 People (and their families) could be sold into slavery for debts (cf. Lev. 25:39; 2 Kgs. 4:1; Neh. 5:5; Isa. 50:1). The king's threat was a real threat!

18:26,29 "Have patience with me and I will repay you everything" These are the exact words of both Matt. 18:26 and 29. This is the heart of the parable. In Matt. 18:30 he has no mercy on another human who pleads for it!

18:34 "the torturers" In Aramaic this was possibly " jailers."

18:35 "My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart" This is a third class conditional sentence which meant potential future action. Forgiveness should/must result in forgiving (cf. Matt. 5:7; 6:14-15; 7:1-2; 10:8; Luke 6:36; Col. 3:13; James 2:13; 5:9). Forgiveness is not the basis of our salvation but a sure evidence of being forgiven. However, Jesus leaves open the question about those who claim to know Him, but refuse to forgive other believers! Parables cannot, do not, answer all the theological questions!

▣ "heart" See Special Topic: Heart.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Does this passage define children's relationship with God?

2. What two examples are given us in the passage to show the radical nature of our personal sin?

3. Does this parable in Matt. 18:12-14 convey the same truth as in Luke 15:4-7?

4. What is the parable of Matt. 18:23-25 saying to us about forgiveness?

 

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