Bible Commentaries
Matthew 17

Alford's Greek Testament Critical Exegetical CommentaryAlford's Greek Testament Commentary

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Verse 1

1. ] μεθ ʼ ἡμέρας ἕξ = μετὰ τοὺς λόγους τούτους ὡσεὶ ἡμ . ὀκτώ Luke 9:28 . The one computation is inclusive, the other not; or perhaps, from the ὡσεί being inserted, the one is accurate, the other roughly stated. The time of the transfiguration was probably night , for the following reasons. (1) Luke informs us that the Lord had gone up to the mount to pray; which He usually did at night (Luke 6:12 ; Luke 21:37 ; Luke 22:39 ; Matthew 14:23-24 a [144] .). (2) All the circumstances connected with the glorification and accompanying appearances would thus be more prominently seen. (3) The Apostles were asleep , and are described, Luke 9:32 , as ‘ having kept awake through it ’ ( διαγρηγορήσαντες ). (4) They did not descend till the next day ( Luk 9:37 ), which would be almost inexplicable had the event happened by day, but a matter of course if by night.

[144] alii = some cursive mss.

ὄρος ὑψ . ] The situation of this mountain is uncertain. It was not, probably, Tabor, according to the legend; for on the top of Tabor then most likely stood a fortified town (De Wette, from Robinson). Nor is there any likelihood that it was Panium, near Cæsarea Philippi, for the six days would probably be spent in journeying; and they appear immediately after to have come to Capernaum. It was most likely one of the mountains bordering the lake. Luke speaks of it merely as τὸ ὄρος . Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, p. 399, contends for Hermon: as does, though doubtingly, Dr. Thomson, The Land and the Book, p. 231. Stanley thinks that our Lord would still be in the neighbourhood of Cæsarea Philippi: and that “it is impossible to look up from the plain to the towering peaks of Hermon, almost the only mountain which deserves the name in Palestine, and one of whose ancient titles (‘the lofty peak’) was derived from this very circumstance, and not be struck with its appropriateness to the scene.… High up on its southern slopes there must be many a point where the disciples could be taken ‘apart by themselves.’ Even the transient comparison of the celestial splendour with the snow, where alone it could be seen in Palestine, should not perhaps be wholly overlooked.”

Verses 1-13

1 13. ] THE TRANSFIGURATION. Mark 9:2-13 .Luke 9:28-36; Luke 9:28-36 . This weighty event forms the solemn installation of our Lord to His sufferings and their result. Those three Apostles were chosen to witness it, who had before witnessed His power over death ( Mar 5:37 ), and who afterwards were chosen to accompany Him in His agony (ch. Mat 26:37 ), and were (John 20:2 ; Mar 16:7 ) in an especial sense witnesses of His resurrection. The Two who appeared to them were the representatives of the law and the prophets: both had been removed from this world in a mysterious manner: the one without death, the other by death indeed, but so that his body followed not the lot of the bodies of all; both, like the Greater One with whom they spoke, had endured that supernatural fast of forty days and nights: both had been on the holy mount in the visions of God. And now they came, endowed with glorified bodies before the rest of the dead, to hold converse with the Lord on that sublime event, which had been the great central subject of all their teaching, and solemnly to consign into His hands, once and for all, in a symbolical and glorious representation, their delegated and expiring power. And then follows the Divine Voice, as at the Baptism, commanding however here in addition the sole hearing and obedience of Him whose power and glory were thus testified.

There can be no doubt of the absolute historical reality of this narration. It is united by definite marks of date with what goes before; and by intimate connexion with what follows. It cannot by any unfairness be severed from its context. Nor again is there any thing mentioned which casts a doubt on the reality of the appearances (see below, on ὅραμα , Mat 17:9 ). The persons mentioned were seen by all spoke and were recognized . The concurrence between the three Evangelists is exact in all the circumstances, and the fourth alludes, not obscurely, to the event, which it was not part of his purpose to relate; John 1:14 . Another of the three spectators distinctly makes mention of the facts here related, 2 Peter 1:16-18 . (I cannot but add, having recently returned from the sight of the wonderful original at Rome, that the great last picture of Raffaelle is one of the best and noblest comments on this portion of the Gospel history. The events passing, at the same time, on, and under, the Mount of Transfiguration, are by the painter combined, to carry to the mind of the spectator the great central truth, There is none but Christ to console and to glorify our nature. It is a touching reflection, that this picture was left unfinished by the painter, and carried in his funeral procession. July, 1861.)

Verse 2

2. ] μετεμορ . = ἐγένετο τὸ εἶδος τοῦ προσώπου αὐτοῦ ἕτερον Luke. In what way, is not stated; but we may conclude from what follows, by being lighted with radiance both from without and from within.

λευκὰ ὡς τὸ φῶς = λευκὸς ἐξαστράπτων Luke; = λευκὰ λίαν , οἷα γναφεὺς ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς οὐ δύναται οὕτως λευκᾶναι Mark.

Verse 3

3. ] There need be no question concerning the manner of the recognition of Moses and Elias by the disciples: it may have been intuitive and immediate. We can certainly not answer with Olshausen, that it may have arisen from subsequent information derived from our Lord, for Peter’s words in the next verse preclude this. Luke adds, οἳ ὀφθέντες ἐν δόξῃ ἔλεγον τὴν ἔξοδον αὐτοῦ ἣν ἔμελλεν πληροῦν ἐν Ἱερουσαλήμ .

Verse 4

4. ] Luke inserts, that the Apostles had been asleep , but wakened through this whole occurrence; thereby distinguishing it from a mere vision of sleep; and that this speech was made ἐν τῷ διαχωρίζεσθαι αὐτοὺς ἀπ ʼ αὐτοῦ . Both Mark and Luke add, that Peter knew not what he said: and Mark ἔκφοβοι γὰρ ἐγένοντο . The speech was probably uttered with reference to the sad announcement recently made by our Lord, and to which his attention had been recalled by the converse of Moses and Elias.

A strange explanation of this verse is adopted by Meyer from Paulus, ‘It is fortunate that we disciples are here: let us make,’ &c. Surely the words καλόν ἐστιν ἡμᾶς ὧδε εἶναι will not bear this.

It is one of those remarkable coincidences of words which lead men on, in writing, to remembrances connected with those words, that in 2 Peter 1:14-15 , σκήνωμα and ἔξοδος have just been mentioned before the allusion to this event: see note there.

κύριε = ῥαββεί Mark, = ἐπιστάτα Luke.

Verse 5

5. ] αὐτούς , viz. our Lord, Moses, and Elias. Luke adds, ἐφοβήθησαν δὲ ἐν τῷ εἰσελθεῖν αὐτοὺς εἰς τὴν νεφέλην . That the Apostles did not enter the cloud, is shewn by the voice being heard ἐκ τῆς νεφέλης . The ἀκούετε αὐτοῦ , and disappearance of the two heavenly attendants, are symbolically connected, as signifying that God, who had spoken in times past to the Fathers by the Prophets, henceforth would speak by His Son.

Mat 17:6-7 are peculiar to Matthew.

Verse 9

9. ] No unreality is implied in the word ὅραμα , for it = ἃ εἶδον in Mark, and.… ὧν ἑωράκασιν in Luke: see Numbers 24:3-4 . St. Luke, without mentioning the condition of time imposed on them, remarkably confirms it by saying, οὐδενὶ ἀπήγγειλαν ἐν ἐκείναις ταῖς ἡμέραις οὐδὲν …

Verse 10

10. ] The occasion of this enquiry was, that they had just seen Elias withdrawn from their eyes, and were enjoined not to tell the vision. How ( οὖν ) should this be? If this was not the coming of Elias, was he yet to come? If it was, how was it so secret and so short?

On Matthew 17:12 , see note on ch. Matthew 11:14 .

Our Lord speaks here plainly in the future , and uses the very word of the prophecy Malachi 4:6 . The double allusion is only the assertion that the Elias (in spirit and power) who foreran our Lord’s first coming, was a partial fulfilment of the great prophecy which announces the real Elias (the words of Malachi will hardly bear any other than a personal meaning), who is to forerun His greater and second coming.

Verses 14-21

14 21. ] HEALING OF A POSSESSED LUNATIC. Mark 9:14-29 . Luke 9:37-42 . By much the fullest account of this miracle is contained in Mark, where see notes. It was the next day: see Luke 9:37 , and note on our ver.1. Our Lord found the Scribes and the disciples disputing (Mark).

Verse 15

15. ] He was an only son, Luke 9:38 . The dæmon had deprived him of speech, Mark 9:17 .

Verse 17

17. ] Bengel remarks, “severo elencho discipuli accensentur turbæ.” Compare the διὰ τὴν ὀλιγοπιστίαν ὑμῶν , Matthew 17:20 , which however does not make this so certain, linked as it is to ὦ γενεὰ πιστος , as in the rec [145] . text: see digest. μεθ ʼ ὑμῶν = πρὸς ὑμᾶς Luke.

[145] The Textus Receptus or received text of the Greek Testament. Used in this Edition when elz and Steph agree

Verse 19

19. ] It was in the house , Mark 9:28 .

Verses 22-23

22, 23. ] OUR LORD’S SECOND ANNOUNCEMENT OF HIS DEATH AND RESURRECTION. Mark 9:30-32 .Luke 9:43-45; Luke 9:43-45 . This followed immediately after the miracle ( Mar 9:30 ); our Lord went privately through Galilee; ἐδίδασκεν γὰρ κ . τ . λ .: the imparting of this knowledge more accurately to His disciples, which He had begun to do in the last chapter, was the reason for His privacy. For more particulars, see Luke 9:45 ; Mark 9:32 .

Verse 24

24. οἱ τὰ δίδρ . λαμβ . ] This tribute , hardly properly so called, was a sum paid annually by the Jews of twenty years old and upwards, towards the temple in Jerusalem. Exodus 30:13 ; 2Ki 12:4 ; 2 Chronicles 24:6 ; 2 Chronicles 24:9 . The LXX reckon according to the Alexandrian double drachma , and have therefore, as in the first of the above places, ἥμισυ τοῦ διδράχμου : but Josephus and Philo reckon as here, and Aquila, Exodus 38:26 , and an anonymous interpreter (see Hexapla), and apparently Jerome, Genesis 24:22 , translate בֶּקַע by δίδραχμ .

Josephus (B. J. vii. 6. 6) says of Vespasian, φόρον δὲ τοῖς ὅπου δήποτ ʼ οὖσιν Ἰουδαίοις ἐπέβαλε , δύο δραχμὰς ἕκαστον κελεύσας ἀνὰ πᾶν ἔτος εἰς τὸ καπετώλιον φέρειν , ὥσπερ πρότερον εἰς τὸν ἐν Ἱεροσολύμοις νεὼν συνετέλουν . See, for more particulars, Winer, RWB., art. Sekel .

It does not quite appear whether this payment was compulsory or not; the question here asked would look as if it were voluntary , and therefore by some declined .

Many Commentators both ancient and modern, and among them no less names than Clement Alex., Origen, Jerome, and Augustine, have entirely missed the meaning of this miracle, by interpreting the payment as a civil one, which it certainly was not.

οἱ τ . δ . λαμβ . are not the publicans , but they who received the didrachma , i.e. one for each person. Peter answered in the affirmative, probably because he had known it paid before.

Verses 24-27

24 27. ] DEMAND OF THE SACRED TRIBUTE, AND OUR LORD’S REPLY. Peculiar to Matthew . The narrative connects well with the whole chapter, the aim of the events narrated in which is, to set forth Jesus as the undoubted Son of God.

Verses 25-26

25, 26. ] The whole force of this argument depends on the fact of the payment being a divine one. It rests on this: ‘if the sons are free , then on Me , being the Son of God , has this tax no claim.’

κῆνσος , money taken according to the reckoning of the census, a capitation tax: a Latin word.

ἀλλοτρίων , all who are not their children; those out of their family.

Verse 27

27. ] In this, which has been pronounced (even by Olshausen) the most difficult miracle in the Gospels, the deeper student of our Lord’s life and actions will find no difficulty. Our Lord’s words amount to this: “that, notwithstanding this immunity, we (graciously including the Apostle in the earthly payment, and omitting the distinction between them, which was not now to be told to any), that we may not offend them, will pay what is required and shall find it furnished by God’s special providence for us.” In the foreknowledge and power which this miracle implies, the Lord recalls Peter to that great confession (ch. Mat 16:16 ), which his hasty answer to the collectors shews him to have again in part forgotten.

Of course the miracle is to be understood in its literal historic sense. The natural interpretation (of Paulus and Storr), that the fish was to be sold for the money (and a wonderful price it would be for a fish caught with a hook), is refuted by the terms of the narrative, and the mythical one, besides the utter inapplicability of all mythical interpretation to any part of the evangelic history, by the absence of all possible occasion, and all possible significancy, of such a myth.

The stater = four drachmæ , the exact payment required.

ἀντί , because the payment was a redemption paid for the person , Exo 30:12 to this also refers the ἐλεύθεροι above.

ἐμοῦ κ . σοῦ not ἡμῶν , as in John 20:17 : because the footing on which it was given was different .

Bibliographical Information
Alford, Henry. "Commentary on Matthew 17". Alford's Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. 1863-1878.