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Sunday, October 1st, 2023
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 6

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New TestamentRobertson's Word Pictures

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Verse 1

Take heed (προσεχετε). The Greek idiom includes "mind" (νουν) which is often expressed in ancient Greek and once in the Septuagint (Job 7:17). In the New Testament the substantive νους is understood. It means to "hold the mind on a matter," take pains, take heed. "Righteousness" (δικαιοσυνην) is the correct text in this verse. Three specimens of the Pharisaic "righteousness" are given (alms, prayer, fasting).

To be seen (θεαθηνα). First aorist passive infinitive of purpose. Our word theatrical is this very word, spectacular performance.

With your Father (παρα τω πατρ υμων). Literally "beside your Father," standing by his side, as he looks at it.

Verse 2

Sound not a trumpet (μη σαλπισηις). Is this literal or metaphorical? No actual instance of such conduct has been found in the Jewish writings. McNeile suggests that it may refer to the blowing of trumpets in the streets on the occasion of public fasts. Vincent suggests the thirteen trumpet-shaped chests of the temple treasury to receive contributions (Luke 21:2). But at Winona Lake one summer a missionary from India named Levering stated to me that he had seen Hindu priests do precisely this very thing to get a crowd to see their beneficences. So it looks as if the rabbis could do it also. Certainly it was in keeping with their love of praise. And Jesus expressly says that "the hypocrites" (ο υποκριτα) do this very thing. This is an old word for actor, interpreter, one who personates another, from υποκρινομα to answer in reply like the Attic αποκρινομα. Then to pretend, to feign, to dissemble, to act the hypocrite, to wear a mask. This is the hardest word that Jesus has for any class of people and he employs it for these pious pretenders who pose as perfect.

They have received their reward (απεχουσιν τον μισθον αυτων). This verb is common in the papyri for receiving a receipt, "they have their receipt in full," all the reward that they will get, this public notoriety. "They can sign the receipt of their reward" (Deissmann, Bible Studies, p. 229). So Light from the Ancient East, pp. 110f. Αποχη means "receipt." So also in Matthew 6:5.

Verse 4

In secret (τω κρυπτω). The Textus Receptus added the words εν τω φανερω (openly) here and in Matthew 6:6, but they are not genuine. Jesus does not promise a public reward for private piety.

Verse 5

In the synagogues and in the corners of the streets (εν ταις συναγωγαις κα εν ταις γωνιαις των πλατειων). These were the usual places of prayer (synagogues) and the street corners where crowds stopped for business or talk. If the hour of prayer overtook a Pharisee here, he would strike his attitude of prayer like a modern Moslem that men might see that he was pious.

Verse 6

Into thy closet (εις το ταμειον). The word is a late syncopated form of ταμιειον from ταμιας (steward) and the root ταμ- from τεμνω, to cut. So it is a store-house, a separate apartment, one's private chamber, closet, or "den" where he can withdraw from the world and shut the world out and commune with God.

Verse 7

Use not vain repetitions (μη βατταλογησητε). Used of stammerers who repeat the words, then mere babbling or chattering, empty repetition. The etymology is uncertain, but it is probably onomatopoetic like "babble." The worshippers of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 8:26) and of Diana in the amphitheatre at Ephesus who yelled for two hours (Acts 19:34) are examples. The Mohammedans may also be cited who seem to think that they "will be heard for their much speaking" (εν τη πολυλογια). Vincent adds "and the Romanists with their paternosters and avast." The Syriac Sinaitic has it: "Do not be saying idle things." Certainly Jesus does not mean to condemn all repetition in prayer since he himself prayed three times in Gethsemane "saying the same words again" (Matthew 26:44). "As the Gentiles do," says Jesus. "The Pagans thought that by endless repetitions and many words they would inform their gods as to their needs and weary them ('fatigare deos') into granting their requests" (Bruce).

Verse 9

After this manner therefore pray ye (ουτως ουν προσευχεσθε υμεις). "You" expressed in contrast with "the Gentiles." It should be called "The Model Prayer" rather than "The Lord's Prayer." "Thus" pray as he gives them a model. He himself did not use it as a liturgy (cf. Matthew 6:17). There is no evidence that Jesus meant it for liturgical use by others. In Luke 11:2-4 practically the same prayer though briefer is given at a later time by Jesus to the apostles in response to a request that he teach them how to pray. McNeile argues that the form in Luke is the original to which Matthew has made additions: "The tendency of liturgical formulas is towards enrichment rather than abbreviation." But there is no evidence whatever that Jesus designed it as a set formula. There is no real harm in a liturgical formula if one likes it, but no one sticks to just one formula in prayer. There is good and not harm in children learning and saying this noble prayer. Some people are disturbed over the words "Our Father" and say that no one has a right to call God Father who has not been "born again." But that is to say that an unconverted sinner cannot pray until he is converted, an absurd contradiction. God is the Father of all men in one sense; the recognition of Him as the Father in the full sense is the first step in coming back to him in regeneration and conversion.

Hallowed be thy name (αγιασθητω το ονομα σου). In the Greek the verb comes first as in the petitions in verse Matthew 6:10. They are all aorist imperatives, punctiliar action expressing urgency.

Verse 11

Our daily bread (τον αρτον ημων τον επιουσιον). This adjective "daily" (επιουσιον) coming after "Give us this day" (δος ημιν σημερον) has given expositors a great deal of trouble. The effort has been made to derive it from επ and ων (ουσα). It clearly comes from επ and ιων (επ and ειμ) like τη επιουση ("on the coming day," "the next day," Acts 16:12). But the adjective επιουσιος is rare and Origen said it was made by the Evangelists Matthew and Luke to reproduce the idea of an Aramaic original. Moulton and Milligan, Vocabulary say: "The papyri have as yet shed no clear light upon this difficult word (Matthew 6:11; Luke 11:3), which was in all probability a new coinage by the author of the Greek Q to render his Aramaic Original" (this in 1919). Deissmann claims that only about fifty purely New Testament or "Christian" words can be admitted out of the more than 5,000 used. "But when a word is not recognizable at sight as a Jewish or Christian new formation, we must consider it as an ordinary Greek word until the contrary is proved. Επιουσιος has all the appearance of a word that originated in trade and traffic of the everyday life of the people (cf. my hints in Neutestamentliche Studien Georg Heinrici dargebracht, Leipzig, 1914, pp. 118f.). The opinion here expressed has been confirmed by A. Debrunner's discovery (Theol. Lit. Ztg. 1925, Col. 119) of επιουσιος in an ancient housekeeping book" (Light from the Ancient East, New ed. 1927, p. 78 and note 1). So then it is not a word coined by the Evangelist or by Q to express an Aramaic original. The word occurs also in three late MSS. after 2Macc. 1:8, τους επιουσιους after τους αρτους. The meaning, in view of the kindred participle (επιουση) in Acts 16:12, seems to be "for the coming day," a daily prayer for the needs of the next day as every housekeeper understands like the housekeeping book discovered by Debrunner.

Verse 12

Our debts (τα οφειληματα ημων). Luke (Luke 11:4) has "sins" (αμαρτιας). In the ancient Greek οφειλημα is common for actual legal debts as in Romans 4:4, but here it is used of moral and spiritual debts to God. "Trespasses" is a mistranslation made common by the Church of England Prayer Book. It is correct in verse Matthew 6:14 in Christ's argument about prayer, but it is not in the Model Prayer itself. See Matthew 18:28; Matthew 18:30 for sin pictured again by Christ "as debt and the sinner as a debtor" (Vincent). We are thus described as having wronged God. The word οφειλη for moral obligation was once supposed to be peculiar to the New Testament. But it is common in that sense in the papyri (Deismann, Bible Studies, p. 221; Light from the Ancient East, New ed., p. 331). We ask forgiveness "in proportion as" (ως) we also have forgiven those in debt to us, a most solemn reflection. Αφηκαμεν is one of the three k aorists (εθηκα, εδωκα, ηκα). It means to send away, to dismiss, to wipe off.

Verse 13

And bring us not into temptation (κα μη εισενεγκηις εις πειρασμον). "Bring" or "lead" bothers many people. It seems to present God as an active agent in subjecting us to temptation, a thing specifically denied in James 1:13. The word here translated "temptation" (πειρασμον) means originally "trial" or "test" as in James 1:2 and Vincent so takes it here. Braid Scots has it: "And lat us no be siftit." But God does test or sift us, though he does not tempt us to evil. No one understood temptation so well as Jesus for the devil tempted him by every avenue of approach to all kinds of sin, but without success. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus will say to Peter, James, and John: "Pray that ye enter not into temptation" (Luke 22:40). That is the idea here. Here we have a "Permissive imperative" as grammarians term it. The idea is then: "Do not allow us to be led into temptation." There is a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13), but it is a terrible risk.

From the evil one (απο του πονηρου). The ablative case in the Greek obscures the gender. We have no way of knowing whether it is ο πονηρος (the evil one) or το πονηρον (the evil thing). And if it is masculine and so ο πονηρος, it can either refer to the devil as the Evil One par excellence or the evil man whoever he may be who seeks to do us ill. The word πονηρος has a curious history coming from πονος (toil) and πονεω (to work). It reflects the idea either that work is bad or that this particular work is bad and so the bad idea drives out the good in work or toil, an example of human depravity surely.

The Doxology is placed in the margin of the Revised Version. It is wanting in the oldest and best Greek manuscripts. The earliest forms vary very much, some shorter, some longer than the one in the Authorized Version. The use of a doxology arose when this prayer began to be used as a liturgy to be recited or to be chanted in public worship. It was not an original part of the Model Prayer as given by Jesus.

Verse 14

Trespasses (παραπτωματα). This is no part of the Model Prayer. The word "trespass" is literally "falling to one side," a lapse or deviation from truth or uprightness. The ancients sometimes used it of intentional falling or attack upon one's enemy, but "slip" or "fault" (Galatians 6:1) is the common New Testament idea. Παραβασις (Romans 5:14) is a positive violation, a transgression, conscious stepping aside or across.

Verse 16

Of a sad countenance (σκυθρωπο). Only here and Luke 24:17 in the N.T. It is a compound of σκυθρος (sullen) and οπς (countenance). These actors or hypocrites "put on a gloomy look" (Goodspeed) and, if necessary, even "disfigure their faces" (αφανιζουσιν τα προσωπα αυτων), that they may look like they are fasting. It is this pretence of piety that Jesus so sharply ridicules. There is a play on the Greek words αφανιζουσ (disfigure) and φανωσιν (figure). They conceal their real looks that they may seem to be fasting, conscious and pretentious hypocrisy.

Verse 18

In secret (εν τω κρυφαιω). Here as in Matthew 6:4; Matthew 6:6 the Textus Receptus adds εν τω φανερω (openly), but it is not genuine. The word κρυφαιος is here alone in the New Testament, but occurs four times in the Septuagint.

Verse 19

Lay not up for yourselves treasures (μη θησαυριζετε υμιν θησαυρους). Do not have this habit (μη and the present imperative). See on Matthew 2:11 for the word "treasure." Here there is a play on the word, "treasure not for yourselves treasures." Same play in verse Matthew 6:20 with the cognate accusative. In both verses υμιν is dative of personal interest and is not reflexive, but the ordinary personal pronoun. Wycliff has it: "Do not treasure to you treasures."

Break through (διορυσσουσιν). Literally "dig through." Easy to do through the mud walls or sun-dried bricks. Today they can pierce steel safes that are no longer safe even if a foot thick. The Greeks called a burglar a "mud-digger" (τοιχορυχος).

Verse 20

Rust (βρωσις). Something that "eats" (βιβρωσκω) or "gnaws" or "corrodes."

Verse 22

Single (απλους). Used of a marriage contract when the husband is to repay the dowry "pure and simple" (την φερνην απλην), if she is set free; but in case he does not do so promptly, he is to add interest also (Moulton and Milligan's Vocabulary, etc.). There are various other instances of such usage. Here and in Luke 11:34 the eye is called "single" in a moral sense. The word means "without folds" like a piece of cloth unfolded, simplex in Latin. Bruce considers this parable of the eye difficult. "The figure and the ethical meaning seem to be mixed up, moral attributes ascribed to the physical eye which with them still gives light to the body. This confusion may be due to the fact that the eye, besides being the organ of vision, is the seat of expression, revealing inward dispositions." The "evil" eye (πονηρος) may be diseased and is used of stinginess in the LXX and so απλους may refer to liberality as Hatch argues (Essays in Biblical Greek, p. 80). The passage may be elliptical with something to be supplied. If our eyes are healthy we see clearly and with a single focus (without astigmatism). If the eyes are diseased (bad, evil), they may even be cross-eyed or cock-eyed. We see double and confuse our vision. We keep one eye on the hoarded treasures of earth and roll the other proudly up to heaven. Seeing double is double-mindedness as is shown in verse Matthew 6:24.

Verse 24

No man can serve two masters (ουδεις δυνατα δυσ κυριοις δουλευειν). Many try it, but failure awaits them all. Men even try "to be slaves to God and mammon" (Θεω δουλευειν κα μαμωνα). Mammon is a Chaldee, Syriac, and Punic word like Plutus for the money-god (or devil). The slave of mammon will obey mammon while pretending to obey God. The United States has had a terrible revelation of the power of the money-god in public life in the Sinclair-Fall-Teapot-Air-Dome-Oil case. When the guide is blind and leads the blind, both fall into the ditch. The man who cannot tell road from ditch sees falsely as Ruskin shows in Modern Painters. He will hold to one (ενος ανθεξετα). The word means to line up face to face (αντ) with one man and so against the other.

Verse 25

Be not anxious for your life (μη μεριμνατε τη ψυχη υμων). This is as good a translation as the Authorized Version was poor; "Take no thought for your life." The old English word "thought" meant anxiety or worry as Shakespeare says:

"The native hue of resolution Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought."

Vincent quotes Bacon (Henry VII): "Harris, an alderman of London, was put in trouble and died with thought and anguish." But words change with time and now this passage is actually quoted (Lightfoot) "as an objection to the moral teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, on the ground that it encouraged, nay, commanded, a reckless neglect of the future." We have narrowed the word to mere planning without any notion of anxiety which is in the Greek word. The verb μεριμναω is from μερισ, μεριζω, because care or anxiety distracts and divides. It occurs in Christ's rebuke to Martha for her excessive solicitude about something to eat (Luke 10:41). The notion of proper care and forethought appears in 1 Corinthians 7:32; 1 Corinthians 12:25; Philippians 2:20. It is here the present imperative with the negative, a command not to have the habit of petulant worry about food and clothing, a source of anxiety to many housewives, a word for women especially as the command not to worship mammon may be called a word for men. The command can mean that they must stop such worry if already indulging in it. In verse Matthew 6:31 Jesus repeats the prohibition with the ingressive aorist subjunctive: "Do not become anxious," "Do not grow anxious." Here the direct question with the deliberative subjunctive occurs with each verb (φαγωμεν, πιωμεν, περιβαλωμεθα). This deliberative subjunctive of the direct question is retained in the indirect question employed in verse Matthew 6:25. A different verb for clothing occurs, both in the indirect middle (περιβαλωμεθα, fling round ourselves in Matthew 6:31, ενδυσησθε, put on yourselves in Matthew 6:25).

For your life (τη ψυχη). "Here ψυχη stands for the life principle common to man and beast, which is embodied in the σωμα: the former needs food, the latter clothing" (McNeile). Ψυχη in the Synoptic Gospels occurs in three senses (McNeile): either the life principle in the body as here and which man may kill (Mark 3:4) or the seat of the thoughts and emotions on a par with καρδια and διανοια (Matthew 22:37) and πνευμα (Luke 1:46; cf. John 12:27; John 13:21) or something higher that makes up the real self (Matthew 10:28; Matthew 16:26). In Matthew 16:25 (Luke 9:25) ψυχη appears in two senses paradoxical use, saving life and losing it.

Verse 27

Unto his stature (επ την ηλικιαν αυτου). The word ηλικιαν is used either of height (stature) or length of life (age). Either makes good sense here, though probably "stature" suits the context best. Certainly anxiety will not help either kind of growth, but rather hinder by auto-intoxication if nothing more. This is no plea for idleness, for even the birds are diligent and the flowers grow.

Verse 28

The lilies of the field (τα κρινα του αγρου). The word may include other wild flowers besides lilies, blossoms like anemones, poppies, gladioli, irises (McNeile).

Verse 29

Was not arrayed (ουδε περιεβαλετο). Middle voice and so "did not clothe himself," "did not put around himself."

Verse 30

The grass of the field (τον χορτον του αγρου). The common grass of the field. This heightens the comparison.

Verse 33

First his kingdom (πρωτον την βασιλειαν). This in answer to those who see in the Sermon on the Mount only ethical comments. Jesus in the Beatitudes drew the picture of the man with the new heart. Here he places the Kingdom of God and his righteousness before temporal blessings (food and clothing).

Verse 34

For the morrow (εις τεν αυριον). The last resort of the anxious soul when all other fears are allayed. The ghost of tomorrow stalks out with all its hobgoblins of doubt and distrust.

Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Matthew 6". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwp/matthew-6.html. Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.
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