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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 17

The Expositor's Greek TestamentExpositor's Greek Testament

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Three impressive tableaux connected by proximity in time, a common preternatural aspect, and deep moral pathos.

Verse 1

Matthew 17:1 . μεθʼ ἡμέρας ἒξ . This precise note of time looks like exact recollection of a strictly historical incident. Yet Holtzmann (H. C.) finds even in this a mythical element, based on Exodus 24:16 : the six days of Mt. and Mk. and the eight days of Lk., various expressions of the thought that between the confession of the one disciple and the experience of the three a sacred week intervened. Of these days we have no particulars, but on the principle that in preternatural experiences the subjective and the objective correspond, we may learn the psychological antecedents of the Transfiguration from the Transfiguration itself. The thoughts and talk of the company of Jesus were the prelude of the vision. A thing in itself intrinsically likely, for after such solemn communications as those at Caesarea Philippi it was not to be expected that matters would go on in the Jesus-circle as if nothing had happened. In those days Jesus sought to explain from the O.T. the δεῖ of Matthew 16:21 , showing from Moses, Prophets, and Psalms (Luke 24:44 ) the large place occupied by suffering in the experience of the righteous. This would be quite as helpful to disciples summoned to bear the cross as any of the thoughts in Matthew 16:25-28 . Πέτ ., Ιάκ ., Ιωάν .: Jesus takes with Him the three disciples found most capable to understand and sympathise. So in Gethsemane. Such differences exist in all disciple-circles, and they cannot be ignored by the teacher. ἀναφέρει , leadeth up; in this sense not usual; of sacrifice in James 2:21 and in Hebrews 7:27 ; Hebrews 13:15 . ὄρος ὑψηλὸν : Tabor the traditional mountain, a tradition originating in fourth century with Cyril of Jerusalem and Jerome. Recent opinion favours Hermon. All depends on whether the six days were spent near Caesarea Philippi or in continuous journeying. Six days would take them far. “The Mount of Transfiguration does not concern geography” Holtz. (H. C).

Verses 1-13

Matthew 17:1-13 . The Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-13 , Luke 9:28-36 ).

Verse 2

Matthew 17:2 . μετεμορφώθη , transfiguratus est , Vulgate; became altered in appearance. Such transformation in exalted states of mind is predicated of others, e.g. , of Iamblichus (Eunapius in I. Vitâ. 22, cited by Elsner), and of Adam when naming the beasts (Fabricius, Cod. Pseud. V. T. , p. 10). ἔμπροσθεν αὐτῶν , so as to be visible to them, vide Matthew 6:1 . Luke’s narrative seems to imply that the three disciples were asleep at the beginning of the scene, but wakened up before its close. καὶ ἔλαμψε … φῶς : these words describe the aspect of the transformed person; face sun-bright, raiment pure white.

Verse 3

Matthew 17:3 . καὶ ἰδού introduces a leading and remarkable feature in the scene: ὤφθη αὐτοῖς , there appeared to the three disciples, not necessarily an absolutely real, objective presence of Moses and Elias. All purposes would be served by an appearance in vision . Sufficient objectivity is guaranteed by the vision being enjoyed by all the three, which would have been improbable if purely subjective. Recognition of Moses and Elias was of course involved in the vision. For a realistic view of the occurrence the question arises, how was recognition possible? Euthy. Zig. says the disciples had read descriptions of famous men, including Moses and Elias, in old Hebrew books Another suggestion is that Moses appeared with the law in his hand, and Elias in his fiery chariot. συλλαλοῦντες μ . ἀ ., conversing with Jesus, and, it goes without saying (Lk. does say it), on the theme uppermost in all minds, the main topic of recent conversations, the cross ; the vision, in its dramatis personæ and their talk, reflecting the state of mind of the seers.

Verse 4

Matthew 17:4 . ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Π . Peter to the front again, but not greatly to his credit. καλόν ἐστιν , etc., either it is good for us to be here = the place is pleasant so usually; or it is well that we are here we the disciples to serve you and your visitants Weiss and Holtzmann (H. C). Pricaeus, in illustration of the former, cites Anacreon:

Παρὰ τὴν σκιὴν Βάθυλλε

Κάθισον · καλὸν τὸ δένδρον .

Τίς ἆν οὖν ὁρῶν παρέλθοι

Καταγώγιον τοιοῦτον .

Ode 22.

This sense amoenus est, in quo commoremur, locus , Fritzsche is certainly the more poetical, but not necessarily on that account the truer to the thought of the speaker, in view of the remark of Lk. omitted in Mt., that Peter did not know what he was saying. ποιήσω , deliberative substantive with θέλεις preceding and without ἴνα ; the singular shall I make? suits the forwardness of the man; it is his idea, and he will carry it out himself . τρεῖς σκηνάς : material at hand, branches of trees, shrubs, etc. Why three? One better for persons in converse. The whole scheme a stupidity. Peter imagined that Moses and Elias had come to stay. Chrys. suggests that Peter here indirectly renews the policy of resistance to going up to Jerusalem ( Hom. lvi.).

Verses 5-8

Matthew 17:5-8 . νεφέλη φωτεινὴ , a luminous cloud, still a cloud capable of casting a shadow, though a faint one (“non admodum atram,” Fritzsche). Some, thinking a shadow incompatible with the light, render ἐπεσκίασεν tegebat, circumdabat . Loesner cites passages from Philo in support of this meaning. αὐτούς . Whom? the disciples? Jesus, Moses, and Elias? all the six? or the two celestial visitants alone? All these views have been held. The second the more probable, but impossible to be certain. καὶ ἰδού , again introducing a main feature: first the visitants, now the voice from heaven. Relation of the ear to the voice the same as that of the eye to the visitants. οὖτος : the voice spoken this time about Jesus; at the baptism to Him (Mark 1:11 ), meant for the ear of the three disciples. The voice to be taken in connection with the announcement of the coming passion. Jesus God’s well-beloved as self-sacrificing. ἀκούετε αὐτοῦ : to be taken in the same connection = hear Him when He speaks to you of the cross. Hunc audite, nempe solum, plena fide, perfectissimo obsequio, universi apostoli et pastores praesertim , Elsner.

Verse 6

Matthew 17:6 . καὶ ἀκούσαντες , etc.: divine voices terrify poor mortals, especially when they echo and reinforce deep moving thoughts within.

Verse 7

Matthew 17:7 . ἁψάμενος … εἶπεν : a touch and a word, human and kindly, from Jesus, restore strength and composure.

Verse 8

Matthew 17:8 . nd so ends the vision. ἐπάραντες τ . ὀ ., etc., raising their eyes they see no one but Jesus. Moses and Elias gone, and Jesus in His familiar aspect; the dazzling brightness about face and garments vanished.

Verse 9

Matthew 17:9 . μηδενὶ εἴπητε : injunction of secrecy. The reason of the injunction lies in the nature of the experience. Visions are for those who are prepared for them. It boots not to relate them to those who are not fit to receive them. Even the three were only partially fit; witness their terror (Matthew 17:6 ). τὸ ὅραμα , the vision , justifying the view above given of the experience, held, among others, by Elsner, Herder, Bleek and Weiss. Herder has some fine remarks on the analogy between the experiences of Jesus at His baptism and on the Mount, six days after the announcement at Caesarea Philippi, and those of other men at the time of moral decisions in youth and in the near presence of death ( vide his Vom Erlöser der Menschen , §§ 18, 19). ἕμς οὗ , followed by subjunctive without ἄν ; in this case ( cf. Matthew 16:28 ) one of future contingency at a past time. The optative is used in classics ( vide Burton, § 324). Not till the resurrection. It is not implied that Jesus was very desirous that they should then begin to speak, but only that they could then speak of the vision intelligently and intelligibly. Christ’s tone seems to have been that of one making light or the recent experience (as in Luke 10:20 ).

Verses 9-13

Matthew 17:9-13 . Conversation while descending the hill .

Verse 10

Matthew 17:10 . τί οὗν , etc.: does the οὖν refer to the prohibition in Matthew 17:9 (Meyer), or to the appearance of Moses and Elias, still in the minds of the three disciples, and the lateness of their coming (Euthy., Weiss), or to the shortness of their stay? (Grotius, Fritzsche, Olsh., Bleek, etc.). Difficult to decide, owing to fragmentariness of report; but it is most natural to take οὖν in connection with preceding verse, only not as referring to the prohibition of speech pro tem ., but to the apparently slighting tone in which Jesus spoke. If the recent occurrence is not of vital importance, why then do the scribes say etc.? To lay the emphasis (with Weiss) on πρῶτον , as if the disciples were surprised that Moses and Elias had not come sooner, before the Christ, is a mistake. The advent would appear to them soon enough to satisfy the requirements of the scribes just at the right time, after they had recognised in Jesus the Christ = Thou art the Christ we know, and lo! Elias is here to prepare the way for Thy public recognition and actual entry into Messianic power and glory. The sudden disappearance of the celestials would tend to deepen the disappointment created by the Master’s chilling tone, so that there is some ground for finding in οὖν a reference to that also.

Matthew 17:11 . ἔρχεται : present, as in Matthew 2:4 , praesens pro futuro , Raphel ( Annotationes in S.S.), who cites instances of this enallage temporis from Xenophon. Wolf ( Curae Phil. ), referring to Raphel, prefers to find in the present here no note of time, but only of the order of coming as between Elias and Christ. It is a didactic, timeless present. So Weiss. ἀποκαταστήσει πάντα . This word occurs in Sept [103] , Malachi 4:5 , for which stands in Luke 1:17 : ἐπιστρέψαι ; the reference is to restitution of right moral relations between fathers and children, etc. Raphel cites instances of similar use from Polyb. The function of Elias, as conceived by the scribes, was to lead Israel to the Great Repentance. vide on this, Weber, Die Lehren des T. , pp. 337 8.

[103] Septuagint.

Verse 12

Matthew 17:12 . λέγω δὲ : Jesus finds the prophecy as to the advent of Elias fulfilled in John the Baptist, so still further reducing the significance of the late vision. The contrast between the mechanical literalism of the scribes and the free spiritual interpretation of Jesus comes out here. Our Lord expected no literal coming of Elijah, such as the Patristic interpreters (Hilary, Chrys., Theophy., Euthy., etc.) supposed Him to refer to in Matthew 17:11 . The Baptist was all the Elijah He looked for. οὐκ ἐπέγνωσαν : they did not recognise him as Elijah, especially those who professionally taught that Elijah must come, the scribes. ἀλλʼ ἐποίησαν ἐν αὐτῷ , etc. Far from recognising in him Elijah, and complying with his summons to repentance, they murdered him in resentment of the earnestness of his efforts towards a moral ἀποκατάστασις (Herod, as representing the Zeitgeist. ). ἐν αὐτῷ : literally, in him, not classical, but similar construction found in Genesis 40:14 , and elsewhere (Sept [104] ). οὕτως : Jesus reads His own fate in the Baptist’s. How thoroughly He understood His time, and how free He was from illusions!

[104] Septuagint.

Verse 13

Matthew 17:13 . τότε συνῆκαν : the parallel drawn let the three disciples see who the Elijah was, alluded to by their Master. What a disenchantment: not the glorified visitant of the night vision, but the beheaded preacher of the wilderness, the true Elijah!

Verse 14

Matthew 17:14 . ἐλθόντων : the αὐτῶν of T. R. might easily be omitted as understood from the connection. γονυπετῶν , literally, falling upon the knees, in which sense it would naturally take the dative (T. R., αὐτῷ ); here used actively with accusative = to beknee him (Schanz, Weiss).

Verses 14-21

Matthew 17:14-21 . The epileptic boy (Mark 9:14-29 ; Luke 9:37-43 ).

Very brief report compared with Mk.

Verse 15

Matthew 17:15 . σεληνιάζεται , he is moonstruck; the symptoms as described are those of epilepsy, which were supposed to become aggravated with the phases of the moon ( cf. Matthew 4:24 ). κακῶς πάσχει ( ἔχει W. H [105] text), good Greek. Raphel ( Annot. ) gives examples from Polyb. = suffers badly.

[105] Westcott and Hort.

Verse 16

Matthew 17:16 . τοῖς μαθηταῖς : the nine left behind when Jesus and the three ascended the Mount. The fame of Jesus and His disciples as healers had reached the neighbourhood, wherever it was. οὐκ ἠδυνήθησαν : the case baffled the men of the Galilean mission.

Verse 17

Matthew 17:17 . ὦ γενεὰ : exclamation of impatience and disappointment, as if of one weary in well-doing, or averse to such work just then. Who are referred to we can only conjecture, and the guesses are various. Probably more or less all present: parent, disciples, scribes (Mark 9:14 ). Jesus was far away in spirit from all, lonely, worn out, and longing for the end, as the question following ( ἕως πότε , etc.) shows. It is the utterance of a fine-strung nature, weary of the dulness, stupidity, spiritual insusceptibility ( ἄπιστος ), not to speak of the moral perversity ( διεστραμμένη ) all around Him. But we must be careful not to read into it peevishness or ungraciousness. Jesus had not really grown tired of doing good, or lost patience with the bruised reed and smoking taper. The tone of His voice, gently reproachful, would show that. Perhaps the complaint was spoken in an undertone, just audible to those near, and then, aloud: φέρετέ μοι : bring him to me, said to the crowd generally, therefore plural.

Verse 18

Matthew 17:18 . τὸ δαιμόνιον : the first intimation in the narrative that it is a case of possession, and a hint as to the genesis of the theory of possession. Epilepsy presents to the eye the aspect of the body being in the possession of a foreign will, and all diseases with which the notion of demoniacal possession was associated have this feature in common. “Judaeis usitatissimum erat morbos quosdam graviores, eos praesertim, quibus vel distortum est corpus vel mens turbata et agitata phrenesi, malis spiritibus attribuere.” Lightfoot, Hor. Heb., ad loc. The αὐτῷ after ἐπετίμησεν naturally refers to the demon. This reference to an as yet unmentioned subject Weiss explains by the influence of Mk.

Verse 19

Matthew 17:19 . κατʼ ἰδίαν : the disciples have some private talk with the Master as to what has just happened. διατί οὐκ ἠδυνήθημεν : the question implies that the experience was exceptional; in other words that on their Galilean mission, and, perhaps, at other times, they had possessed and exercised healing power.

Verse 20

Matthew 17:20 . διὰ τὴν ὀλιγοπιστίαν , here only, and just on that account to be preferred to ἀπιστίαν (T. R.); a word coined to express the fact exactly: too little faith for the occasion ( cf. Matthew 14:31 ) That was a part of the truth at least, and the part it became them to lay to heart. ἀμὴν , introducing, as usual, a weighty saying. ἐὰν ἔχητε , if ye have, a present general supposition. κόκκον σινάπεως proverbial for a small quantity (Matthew 13:31 ), a minimum of faith. The purpose is to exalt the power of faith, not to insinuate that the disciples have not even the minimum. Schanz says they had no miracle faith (“fides miraculorum”). τῷ ὄρει τούτῳ , the Mount of Transfiguration visible and pointed to. μετάβα (- βηθι T. R.), a poetical form of imperative like ἀνάβα in Revelation 4:1 . Vide Schmiedel’s Winer , p. 115. ἔνθεν ἐκεῖ for ἐντεῦθεν ἐκεῖσε . μεταβήσεται : said, done. Jesus here in effect calls faith an “uprooter of mountains,” a phrase current in the Jewish schools for a Rabbi distinguished by legal lore or personal excellence (Lightfoot, Hor. Heb. , ad Matthew 21:21 , Wünsche). ἀδυνατήσει used in the third person singular only in N. T. with dative = to be impossible; a reminiscence of Mark 9:23 (Weiss).

Verse 21

Matthew 17:21 . ide on Mark 9:29 .

Verse 22

Matthew 17:22 . συστρεφομένων α ., while they were moving about, a reunited band. ἐν τ . Γ .: they had got back to Galilee when the second announcement was made. Mk. states that though returned to familiar scenes Jesus did not wish to be recognised, that He might carry on undisturbed the instruction of the Twelve. μέλλει , etc.: the great engrossing subject of instruction was the doctrine of the cross . παραδίδοσθαι : a new feature not in the first announcement. Grotius, in view of the words εἰς χεῖρας ἀνθρώπων , thinks the reference is to God the Father delivering up the Son. It is rather to recent revelations of disaffection within the disciple-circle. For if there were three disciples who showed some receptivity to the doctrine of the cross, there was one to whom it would be very unwelcome, and who doubtless had felt very uncomfortable since the Caesarea announcement. παραδ . contains a covert allusion to the part He is to play.

Verses 22-23

Matthew 17:22-23 . Second announcement of the Passion (Mark 9:30-31 ; Luke 9:44-45 ).

Verse 23

Matthew 17:23 . ἐλυπήθησαν σφόδρα , they were all greatly distressed; but no one this time ventured to remonstrate or even to ask a question (Mark 9:32 ). The prediction of resurrection seems to have counted for nothing.

Verse 24

Matthew 17:24 . προσῆλθον οἱ , etc.: home-coming often means return to care. Here are the receivers of custom, as soon as they hear of the arrival, demanding tribute. From the Mount of Transfiguration to money demands which one is too poor to meet, what a descent! The experience has been often repeated in the lives of saints, sons of God, men of genius. τὰ δίδραχμα : a δίδραχμον was a coin equal to two Attic drachmae, and to the Jewish half shekel = about fifteen pence; payable annually by every Jew above twenty as a tribute to the temple. It was a tribute of the post-exilic time based on Exodus 30:13-16 . After the destruction of the Temple the tax continued to be paid to the Capitol (Joseph. Bel. I. vii. 6, 7). The time of collection was in the month Adar (March). τῷ Π . Peter evidently the principal man of the Jesus-circle for outsiders as well as internally. οὐ τελεῖ . The receivers are feeling their way. Respect for the Master ( διδάσκαλος ) makes them go to the disciples for information, and possibly the question was simply a roundabout hint that the tax was overdue.

Verses 24-27

Matthew 17:24-27 . The temple tax . In Mt. only, but unmistakably a genuine historic reminiscence in the main. Even Holtzmann (H. C.) regards it as history, only half developed into legend.

Verse 25

Matthew 17:25 . ναί : this prompt, confident answer may be either an inference from Christ’s general bearing, as Peter understood it, or a statement of fact implying past payment. ἐλθόντα ἐ . τ . ὁ . The meeting of the tax collectors with Peter had taken place outside; it had been noticed by Jesus, and the drift of the interview instinctively understood by Him. προέφθασεν , anticipated him, here only in N. T. Peter meant to report, but Jesus spoke first, having something special to say, and a good reason for saying it. In other circumstances He would probably have taken no notice, but left Peter to manage the matter as he pleased. But the Master is aware of something that took place among His disciples on the way home, not yet mentioned by the evangelist but about to be (Matthew 18:1 ), and to be regarded as the key to the meaning of this incident. The story of what Jesus said to Peter about the temple dues is really the prelude to the discourse following on humility, and that discourse in turn reflects light on the prelude. τί σοι δοκεῖ ; phrase often found in Mt. (Matthew 18:12 , Matthew 21:28 , etc.) with lively colloquial effect: what think you? τέλη ἢ κῆνσον , customs or tribute; the former taxes on wares, the latter a tax on persons = indirect and direct taxation. The question refers specially to the latter. ἀλλοτρίων , foreigners, in reference not to the nation, but to the royal family, who have the privilege of exemption.

Verse 26

Matthew 17:26 . ἄραγε on the force of this particle vide at Matthew 7:20 . The γε lends emphasis to the exemption of the υἱοί . It virtually replies to Peter’s ναί = then you must admit, what your answer to the collectors seemed to deny, that the children are free. The reply is a jeu d’esprit . Christ’s purpose is not seriously to argue for exemption, but to prepare the way for a moral lesson.

Verse 27

Matthew 17:27 . ἵνα μὴ σκανδαλ ., that we may not create misunderstanding as to our attitude by asking exemption or refusing to pay. Nösgen, with a singular lack of exegetical insight, thinks the scandal dreaded is an appearance of disagreement between Master and disciple! It is rather creating the impression that Jesus and His followers despise the temple, and disallow its claims. And the aim of Jesus was to fix Peter’s attention on the fact that He was anxious to avoid giving offence thereby, and in that view abstained from insisting on personal claims. Over against the spirit of ambition, which has begun to show itself among His disciples, He sets His own spirit of self-effacement and desire as far as possible to live peaceably with all men, even with those with whom He has no religious affinity. πορευθεὶς ε . θ . Generally the instruction given is: go and fish for the money needful to pay the tax. ἄγκιστρον , a hook, not a net, because very little would suffice; one or two fish at most. πρῶτον ἰχθὺν : the very first fish that comes up will be enough, for a reason given in the following clause. ἀνοίξας … στατῆρα : the words point to something marvellous, a fish with a stater, the sum wanted, in its mouth. Paulus sought to eliminate the marvellous by rendering εὑρήσεις not “find” but “obtain,” i.e. , by sale. Beyschlag ( Das Leben Jesu , p. 304) suggests that the use of an ambiguous word created the impression that Jesus directed Peter to catch a fish with a coin in its mouth. Ewald ( Geschichte Christus , p. 467) thinks Jesus spoke very much as reported, but from the fact that it is not stated that a fish with a coin in its mouth was actually found, he infers that the words were not meant seriously as a practical direction, but were a spirited proverbial utterance, based on rare examples of money found in fishes. Weiss is of opinion that a simple direction to go and fish for the means of payment was in the course of oral tradition changed into a form of language implying a miraculous element. This view assumes that the report in Mt. was derived from oral tradition ( vide Weiss, Das Leben Jesu , ii. 47, and my Miraculous Element in the Gospels , pp. 231 5). In any case the miracle, not being reported as having happened, cannot have been the important point for the evangelist. What he is chiefly concerned about is to report the behaviour of Jesus on the occasion, and the words He spoke revealing its motive. ἀντὶ ἐμοῦ καὶ σοῦ : various questions occur to one here. Did the collectors expect Jesus only to pay (for Himself and His whole company), or did their question mean, does He also, even He, pay? And why pay only for Peter along with Himself? Were all the disciples not liable: Andrew, James and John there, in Capernaum, not less than Peter? Was the tax strictly collected, or for lack of power to enforce it had it become practically a voluntary contribution, paid by many, neglected by not a few? In that case it would be a surprise to many that Jesus, while so uncompromising on other matters, was so accommodating in regard to money questions. He would not conform to custom in fasting, Sabbath keeping, washing, etc., but He would pay the temple tax, though refusal would have had no more serious result than slightly to increase already existing ill-will. This view sets the generosity and nobility of Christ’s spirit in a clearer light.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Matthew 17". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/egt/matthew-17.html. 1897-1910.
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