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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 6

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and CollegesCambridge Greek Testament Commentary

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Verses 1-99

Ch. 6:1 4. Almsgiving

(2) The Kingdom of Heaven exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees in regard to ( a ) Almsgiving, 1 4

1 . alms ] The best MSS. have “righteousness;” the two words were nearly synonymous with the Jews, partly because the poor had a right to share in the produce of the land; partly because almsgiving is the most natural and obvious external work of righteousness. In the same way agapé (love), the leading Christian virtue, has lost its original breadth of meaning and has sunk to the modern and restricted sense of “charity.”

2 . do not sound a trumpet before thee ] The chests for alms in the Court of the Women, where the temple-treasury was placed, were called “trumpets” from their shape. Possibly the words of the text contain an allusion to these alms-chests. See Edersheim’s Temple in the time of our Lord , ch. ii. p. 26. But perhaps the expression means simply, “avoid ostentation in almsgiving.”

hypocrites ] Lit. actors ; those who play a part in life, whose actions are not the true reflection of their thoughts, whose religion is external and unreal. Such men begin by deceiving others, but end in self-deception. It is against these that our Lord’s severest reproofs are delivered.

in the synagogues ] To this day alms are given in the Jewish synagogues.

They have ] Strictly, have in full . Their reward is now and on earth .

3 . when thou doest alms ] Observe that the singular number is used throughout these instructions on the subject of almsgiving and prayer, and in these only. These duties are essentially personal and individual. The teaching of the Talmud commends secrecy in almsgiving in such sayings as “he that doeth alms in secret is greater than Moses.” But the spirit of hypocrisy prevailed; the Pharisees taught and did not.

4 . himself ] God, not man, will reward.

( b ) Prayer, 5 15.

5 . pray standing ] The posture of standing was as closely associated with prayer as that of sitting was with teaching.

6 . closet ] A private oratory or place of prayer. These were usually in the upper part of the house. The Greek word in the original is translated (1) “Secret Chambers,” ch. 24:26; (2) “Storehouse,” Luke 12:24 .

pray to thy Father which is in secret ] Christ was the first to enjoin clearly secret and silent prayer. Certainly to pray aloud and in public appears to have been the Jewish practice; it is still the practice with the heathen and Mahomedans. The Roman looked with suspicion on private prayer: “quod scire hominem nolunt deo narrant” (Seneca). Cp. Hor. Ep . i. 16. 59 62, where see Macleane’s note. Cp. also Soph. Electra , 638, where Clytemnestra apologises for offering up a secret prayer.

7 . use not vain repetitions ] It is not the length of time spent in prayer or the fervent or reasonable repetition of forms of prayer that is forbidden, but the mechanical repetition of set words, and the belief that the efficacy of prayer consists in such repetition. The word itself lit. means to stammer , then to “repeat uselessly.”

as the heathen ] The Jews also had a saying, “Every one that multiplies prayer is heard.”

8 . for your Father knoweth … before ye ask him ] Our Father knows our wants, still we are bound to express them. Why? because this is a proof of our faith and dependence upon God, which are the conditions of success in prayer.

9 13 . The Lord’s Prayer

St Luke 11:2-4 , where the prayer is found in a different connection, and is given by our Lord in answer to a request from the disciples to teach them to pray, “even as John taught his disciples.” The text of St Luke as it stands in E. V. has probably been supplemented by additions from St Matthew.

9 . Our Father ] It is of the essence of Christian prayer that God should be addressed as a Father to whose love we appeal, not as a God whose anger we appease. The analogy removes nearly all the real difficulties on the subject of prayer. A wise earthly father does not grant all requests, but all which are for the good of his children and which are in his power to grant. Again, the child asks without fear, yet no refusal shakes his trust in his father’s love or power.

Hallowed ] “held sacred,” “revered.” Each of these petitions implies an obligation to carry out on our own part what we pray God to accomplish.

10 . Thy kingdom come ] See note ch. 3:2. Lightfoot quotes an axiom from the Jewish Schools, “that prayer wherein there is not mention of the Kingdom of God is not a prayer.”

11 . this day ] In Luke, “day by day.”

our daily bread ] The Greek word translated “daily” occurs only in the Lord’s Prayer here and Luke 11:3 , it is not found in any classical author. The rendering of the E. V. “daily” as nearly as possible represents the probable force of the word, which is strictly (bread) “for the coming day,” i. e. for the day now beginning. Others render “bread for the future,” taking bread in a spiritual sense; others, following a different etymology, translate “bread of subsistence.” Bread , primarily the bread on which we subsist (see Prof. Lightfoot in appendix to his work On a Fresh Revision of the N. T. ); subsistence as distinct from luxury; but the spiritual meaning cannot be excluded, Christ the Bread of Life is the Christian’s daily food.

12 . debts ] Sins are debts, shortcomings in the service due to God.

forgive ] The aorist should be read in the Greek text. The force would then be that an act of forgiveness on man’s part is past before he prays to receive forgiveness. Cp. ch. 5:23, 24, also the parable of the unforgiving servant, ch. 18:23 seqq.

13 . lead us not into temptation ] The statement of James, 1:2, “Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations,” is not really contradictory. The Christian character is strengthened and purified by temptation, but no one can think of temptation without dread.

deliver ] Lit. draw to thyself , “rescue,” as from an enemy. Cp. 1 Thessalonians 1:10 , “Jesus which delivered us from the wrath to come.”

from evil ] Or, from the Evil One , Satan. The Greek bears either rendering, but the neuter is preferable and gives a deeper sense. We pray to be delivered not only from external evil, but from the evil within us.

For thine is the kingdom , &c.] This doxology is not supported by high MS. authority, it was doubtless an insertion from the liturgy. The Roman use omits the doxology. In the retention of it the English Church follows the Greek and Gallican uses.

( c ) Fasting, 16 18.

16 . Fasting, in itself a natural result of grief, as anyone who has witnessed deep sorrow knows, easily degenerates into a form without reality.

disfigure ] Either (1) make unseen, “veil,” or (2) cause to disappear, so “destroy,” “mar,” by leaving the face unwashen. The same word is translated “corrupt,” v. 19.

The apparent play upon the Greek words for “disfigure” and “appear” has been adduced in support of their view by those who consider Greek to have been the original language of the gospel.

( d ) Earthly possessions and daily cares, 19 34.

19 . treasures upon earth ] Love of amassing wealth has been characteristic of the Jews in all ages.

moth and rust ] Oriental wealth consisted to a great extent in stores of linen, embroidered garments, &c., which were handed down and left as heir-looms.

moth ] The English word = “the devourer.”

rust ] Money was frequently buried in the ground in those unsettled times, and so would be more liable to rust. Banks in the modern sense were unknown. Rust , lit., an eating away , it is not confined to corrosion of metals.

break through and steal ] An expression applicable to the mud walls of Oriental huts.

21 . where your treasure is ] The words gain point if we think of the hoards buried in the earth .

22 . The light ] Rather, lamp , or candle as it is translated ch. 5:15. The eye is not itself the light, but contains the light; it is the “lamp” or candle of the body, the light-conveying principle. If the eye or lamp is single, it admits the influx of the pure light only; if an eye be evil, i. e. affected with disease, the body can receive no light at all. The whole passage is on the subject of the singleness of service to God. There can be but one treasure, one source of light, one master. The eye is the spiritual faculty, through which the light of God’s truth is recognised and admitted into the soul.

The connection in which the words occur in Luke 11:34 is instructive. The inference there is that the spiritual perception of the Pharisees is dimmed, so that they cannot recognise Christ.

23 . the light that is in thee ] Here the Greek word is correctly rendered “light.” If the light admitted to the body be distorted and obscured by the diseased medium, how great will be the darkness!

24 . Another illustration of the singleness of the Christian character, “the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3 ), drawn from the relation of master and slave.

serve two masters ] Strictly, be a slave to two masters . The absolute subjection of the slave must be considered. The interests of the “two masters” are presupposed to be diverse.

mammon ] A Syriac word meaning “wealth.” There is no proof that it was the name of a god. It stands here for all that mostly estranges men from God: cp. “covetousness, which is idolatry,” Colossians 3:5 .

25 34 . The parallel passage (Luke 12:22-31 ) follows immediately the parable of the “Rich Fool.”

25 . Therefore ] i. e. because this double service is impossible there must be no distraction of thought.

Take no thought ] “Do not be anxious,” which was the meaning of “take no thought,” when the E. V. was made. The same word occurs Philippians 4:6 , “Be careful for nothing.” Cp. 1 Peter 5:7 , “Casting all your care [or anxiety] upon him.” See Prof. Lightfoot, On a Fresh Revision of the New Testament, &c. , p. 171.

The argument in the verse is: such anxiety is unnecessary; God gave the life and the body; will He not give the smaller gifts of food and clothing?

26 . fowls ] Old English for birds; cp.

“Smale fowles maken melodie

That slepen all the night with open yhe.” Chaucer.

There is no argument here against forethought or labour. In one sense “trusting to providence” is idleness and a sin. God has appointed labour as the means whereby man provides for his wants. Even birds shew forethought, and search for the food which God has provided for them.

27 . can add one cubit unto his stature ] As the word translated “stature” also=duration of life, the meaning may be “add a cubit to his life.” Comp. Psalms 39:6 (P. B.), “Thou hast made my days as it were a span long.” This rendering falls in better with the connection. With all his anxiety man cannot add to his length of days, or clothe himself like the flowers.

28 . for raiment ] The birds are an example of God’s care in providing food, the flowers of His care in providing apparel.

the lilies of the field ] identified by Dr Thomson ( Land and Book , p. 256), with a species of lily found in the neighbourhood of Hûlêh. He speaks of having met with “this incomparable flower, in all its loveliness … around the northern base of Tabor, and on the hills of Nazareth, where our Lord spent His youth.” Canon Tristram ( Nat. Hist. of the Bible ) claims this honour for the beautiful and varied anemone coronaria . “If in the wondrous richness of bloom which characterises the Land of Israel in spring any one plant can claim preeminence, it is the anemone, the most natural flower for our Lord to pluck and seize upon as an illustration, whether walking in the fields or sitting on the hill-side.”

29 . was not arrayed ] Rather, arrayed not himself . The middle voice has a special force. Though he arrayed himself, the lilies, who trusted to God for their array, are more beautiful than he.

30 . which to day is ] Rather, though it is to-day .

cast into the oven ] The Jewish oven was a vessel narrower at the top than at the bottom, made of baked clay. Sometimes the fuel was placed within, and the cakes laid against the sides. Sometimes the oven was heated by a fire kindled beneath or around it. Eastern travellers state that wood being rare in most parts of the East, grass, twigs, and straw are commonly used for fuel.

31 . take no thought ] See v. 25.

32 . the Gentiles seek ] Seek with eagerness. A compound verb. The simple verb is used below in the next verse. For the aims of the heathen world read Juvenal Sat. x., or Johnson’s imitation of it “The Vanity of Human Wishes.”

34 . the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself ] The morrow shall have its own anxieties; sufficient for the day is its own distracting evil or distress. This seems to be the force of the Greek word for “evil.” See Schleusner sub voc.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 6". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cgt/matthew-6.html. 1896.
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