Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/The Gospel of Matthew/Chapter 18

The Gospel of Matthew -Chapter 18 - "The Fourth Discourse"Edit

by: Faith Stewart

Overall ContextEdit

Matthew is commonly divided into five parts or discourses. The fourth discourse is focused on the order of the church and the community as well as discipline (Hagner 514). Ulrich Luz refers to the fourth discourse as the “community discourse” (Luz 422). The vertex of the eighteenth chapter is the commitment to community that Matthew makes. The subject seems to point to interpersonal dealings within the community; stemming from sinning to forgiveness of sins, and from hierarchical rank to humility. Like so many of Jesus’ teaching, the paradox is conveyed by the mode of communication. Matthew captures the context of community by embracing the interconnectedness of the teachings. It is to suggest a pattern or natural sequence to sinning against a brother. The context is engulfed by community.

General PurposeEdit

The purpose of Matthew’s fourth discourse is almost to set down a guideline for communal living. Hagner agrees that the forth discourse is about Christian community; but it is far from a handbook (Hagner 514). More than rules Matthew is also wishing to express, not just home to live in harmony, but how to love in harmony. The eighteenth chapter begins to explore what it truly means to embody community as Matthew interprets the words of Jesus. This elusive ‘guide’ is a model for both the first Century Christians and foreshadows the continual need for community throughout the ages. There are practical applications to the writing of Matthew pertaining to the system by which conflict is addressed. Within the literal application there lies a metaphoric application through power of the parable depicting what life together has the potential to become. The picture of grace and humility is painted with broad brush strokes that embody the depth of the teaching and the freedom of the words that are being spoken. Dealing with one another in grace is a lesson that, although we often assume we understand, takes a like time to learn. Matthew is pointing out the essence of grace and the need for the grace given through Jesus to be continued in the Bride of Christ.

Outline and Context LocationEdit

    • Focus on Coming Death and Resurrection (16:21–18:35)
      • Implications for Discipleship: Correcting Misunderstandings (16:21–17:27)
        • First Exchange Concerning Christ’s Death (16:21–28)
          • Jesus’ Prediction (16:21)
          • Peter’s and Jesus’ Rebukes (16:22–23)
          • Jesus’ Further Instruction on Self-Denial (16:24–28)
        • Foreshadowing Future Glory (17:1–21)
          • Jesus’ Transfiguration (17:1–9)
          • Discussion about Elijah (17:10–13)
          • The Faithlessness of the Rest of the Disciples (17:14–21)
        • Second Exchange Concerning Christ’s Death (17:22–27)
          • Jesus’ Prediction (17:22–23)
          • Discussion about the Temple Tax (17:24–27)

    • Implications for the Church: Humility and Forgiveness (18:1–35)
        • On Humility (18:1–14)
          • The Disciples’ Humility (18:1–9)
            • Positive Illustration: Childlike Dependence on God (18:1–5)
            • Negative Illustration: Causing Sin Risks Damnation (18:6–9)
          • God’s Humility (18:10–14)
        • On Forgiveness (18:15–35)
          • Forgiveness Withheld without Repentance (18:15–20)
            • The Process of Confrontation (18:15–17)
            • The Process of Ratification (18:18–20)
          • Unlimited Forgiveness with Repentance (18:21–35)
            • Positive Illustration (18:21–22)
            • Negative Illustration (18:23–35)

    • The Road to Jerusalem: Impending Judgment on Israel (19:1–25:46)
      • True Discipleship versus Harsher Condemnation for the Jewish Leaders (19:1–22:46)
        • Journeying to Judea (19:1–20:34)
          • Further Instructions for Disciples Based on Concerns Raised by Outsiders (19:1–20:16)
            • Pharisees and Divorce (19:1–12)
            • Disciples and Children (19:13–15)
            • The Rich Man and Eternal Life (19:16–20:16)
              • The Controversy (19:16–22)
              • The Dialogue with the Disciples (19:23–30)
              • The Parable of the Vineyard Workers (20:1–16)
          • Further Focus on Jesus’ Passion, with Contrasting Responses from His Audience (20:17–34)
            • Third Passion Prediction (20:17–19)
            • An Inappropriate Response: James and John Seek Status (20:20–28)
            • An Appropriate Response: Two Blind Men Seek Mercy (20:29–34)
        • Judgment on the Temple in Jerusalem (21:1–22:46)
          • Actions of Judgment (21:1–22)
            • Entrance into Jerusalem (21:1–11)
            • Judgment on the Temple by Purification (21:12–17)
            • Judgment on the Temple by Threatened Destruction (21:18–22)
          • Controversies with the Jewish Leaders (21:23–22:46)
            • The Temple Authorities Ask about Jesus’ Authority (21:23–22:14)
              • The Controversy (21:23–27)
              • The Parable of the Two Sons (21:28–32)
              • The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (21:33–46)
              • The Parable of the Wedding Banquet (22:1–14)
            • The Pharisees and Herodians Ask about Taxes (22:15–22)
            • The Sadducees Ask about the Resurrection (22:23–33)
            • The Lawyer Asks about the Greatest Commandment (22:34–40)
            • Jesus Asks about the Messiah (22:41–46)

C. Blomberg 257 & 286

Gospel ParallelsEdit

Matthew borrows heavily from Mark; however, Matthew has a different fluidity of motion and, “events in Matthew seem strictly chronological and more closely linked” (Blomberg, 272). There are direct connections between the synoptic gospels, and while Matthew’s interpretation may not be original, it is also in conjunction with both Mark and Luke. The picture is painted in a better lighting when all three are viewed in their perspective and braided together to find holistic meaning.

            A Harmony of the Synoptic Gospels (Burton, Goodspeed)

Entering the Kingdom18:1-5Edit


1- At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2- And He called a child to Himself and set him before them,3 -and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4- “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5- “And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me.


1-Coming to their Rabbi with questions the disciples asked, “Who is it that takes the lead in the kingdom of heaven?” 2- And with that Jesus motioned for a child to join them. 3- Jesus spoke, “Listen to this simple truth, remember your ways as a child, without this simplicity you will not grasp the kingdom.” 4- The one who calls upon these truths in humility is the one that shall lead. 5- Those who invite a child such as this in my honor are also extending that invitation to me. 6- In contrast, if one should cause a child such as this who believes in my name to be in discord, they may be better off swimming in ankle weights so that they might sink to the abyss.


  • Turn and be like children, means for entering kingdom (v.3)
  • Humble like a child, the humble will be great (v.4)
  • To receive a child in Jesus name is to receive Jesus (v.5)
    • (Davies, 754)
  • Questions about greatness (V.1)
  • Rabbinical Answer with object lesson (v.2)
    • The need to by childlike (V. 2-3)
    • The definition of greatness as humility (V. 4)
      • (Hagner, 517)


Matthew opens the eighteenth chapter with words and concepts taken from Mark 9:34-35 as well as Luke 9:46-47 with the omission of Mark 9:33(Hagner, 516). The deviation changes the setting by which the picture of the disciples question is painted. Where Mark writes in the shadow of the conversation on the road to Capernaum, Matthew begins with a question from the disciples. This dramatically changes the context for the reader, “The result is that Matthew made the disciples appear less guilty than they do in Mark” (Hagner, 516). Matthew’s work continues to be not his own in the borrowing of further material. Matthew borrows two Markan chreia in attempts to clean up Mark’s dictation (Luz, 425). The result is an apophthegm (Luz, 424). Other elements of the setting are left out as well; the disciples argument and the embracing of the child by Jesus(Hagner, 516). Matthew includes the question of the disciples where Mark assumes the question has already been asked. Luke also includes the question of entering the kingdom of heaven in chapter 9 verse 48 (Luz, 425). Luke sides closer to the discussion and argument in Mark.

Above the textual changes from Mark, Matthew, “Makes use of different sources, piecing them together if a fresh and stimulating manner, mainly to an eye to the catechetical value of the whole” (Hagner, 516). Hagner also claims that the mixture of sources is what results in the appearance of seemingly disconnected examples and guidelines for the Church (515). Mark 10:43-44 also proves to be a further source for the explanation of the overall theme of the passage and sheds a greater light on the difficulties that are to ensue in this life with entering the Kingdom (Luz, 425 see footnote 6). Davies is insistent on Matthews use of the alleged ‘Q’ as a source, claiming that the case for Matthews use of Mark is not strong enough (Davies, 753). Interestingly enough Davies notes the ‘juxtaposition of Matthew and Luke’ as a result of the overlap of Mark and Q (Davies, 753). The observation of juxtaposition is dependent upon the understanding of both the references and sources that Matthew uses as well as the original Greek as translation.


v.1 -Mark places this particular question of the Kingdom after Jesus has expressed the coming crucifixion for the second time (Hagner, 517). If that is understood to be the background context, with little help from Matthew, the phrase Ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ὥρᾳ further changes the context based on the translation; the American Standard Version uses ‘in that hour,’ while the New American Standard Bible uses ‘at that time.’ This refers simply to either a particular point in time or to a greater foreshadow to ‘the hour’ of the crucifixion of Christ (Hagner, 517). Within the context of ‘the hour,’ Hagner continues to point out the ‘irony of the disciples prepossession with greatness, so recently after Jesus spoke of his own suffering and death” (517). Maybe it is less irony on Matthew’s written part but the answer of Jesus is expressive of the frustration felt by the lack of understanding of the paradoxical kingdom even after the continued illustrations. Their lack of understanding is further emphasized by the question of rank within the Kingdom. Jesus has spent much of his ministry in witness to the ‘low’ and liberating those who would never be considered the greatest. We would all like to believe that we are better than the disciples, that we understand the context and would be wiser and avoid such questions when talking with the Messiah, especially since we can see the end of the story. Our perspective is different because we know the ending. The disciples however have only the reference of their culture and society. We would all like to believe that we are better than the disciples in the sense that we know that "But many who are first will be last; and the last, first” (NASB, Matthew 19:30). But do we really understand what that means? How often do we turn to matters of self, missing the point? There are several reasons for the question. There is the approach that the disciples are genuinely concerned for their own status in the Kingdom and the structure of the Church (Hagner, 517). There concern, like the question, stems from several sources. Part of the question is cultural, “The question the disciples ask fits in well with frequent Jewish discussions about hierarchy in various walks of life” (Blomberg, 272). This appears to be a bit presumptuous of the disciples considering the walks of life, trades, and family status that most of the disciples have come from. It is possible that they are asking the question out of genuine curiosity of how their societal position and their positions within the church have changed due to the “taking up of their cross” (NASB, Matthew 16:24). This however, further betrays the disciples understanding of the ‘low’ and the ministry of Jesus, as well as their understanding of themselves. Prior to this conversation Jesus alludes to Peter as being the greatest, “17Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ” (NASB, Matthew 16:17-20). The question of rank refers to both their individual status but also the status of Peter as being set apart, as well as the participation of Peter, James, and John in the transfiguration (Blomberg, 272, 273). While there is a very individualistic aspect to the question Ulrich Luz point out that Matthew is not trying to expose the disciples for their desires, but that the question can also be seen as a general question (Luz, 426). With the eighteenth chapter being a discourse on community, it is likely that this question is communally based; also, Matthew tends to “avoid as much as possible specialized instruction relevant for only a minority” (Davies, 754). The question of the greatest embodies the present Kingdom rather than a distant future kingdom and is identifying the role of the Church and the Kingdom in congruency with each other.

v.2 – The disciples’ question is initially responded to with an object lesson (Blomberg, 273). This implies that Jesus and the disciples were not alone in their conversation (Davies, 756). Jesus also fails to respond, yet again, to the disciples question in the way that is expected. This further expresses the Kingdom as both paradoxical, but also a cultural and spiritual flipping of previous understanding. Imagine the confusion of the disciples as they anxiously await the answer of their Rabbi and Jesus calls over the one of ‘the least of these’ (NASB, Matthew 25:40). The confusion of the disciples is furthered, not only in the unconventional answering, but in the, “social insignificance, if not the innocent unself-consciousness of the little child, was the very antithesis of the disciples’ interest in power and greatness” (Hagner, 517). Jesus is almost inadvertently pointing out the depth of the question that the disciples have just asked by physically exposing the paradox of the Kingdom to the disciples.

v.3-4 – The reference to children within the teaching is complex and reflects the difficulty of what it means to live with the life of the Kingdom. It is more than just a set of rules or ways to be, but is requesting a deep understanding of what it means ‘to be made low’ (NASB, Matthew 23:12). The disciples are probably caught off guard by the way that Jesus replies with the illustration. You would think by now the disciples would be prepared to hear anything but ordinary from the disciples. The inquiry of the greatest is momentarily set aside as Jesus turns the disciples’ question into a personal matter (Luz, 427). What does it mean to be childlike? What implications does childhood, in regards to our spiritual understanding, have? Being told one is ‘childlike’ has never quite been considered a compliment. The response of Jesus is slightly elusive. It is further complicated by the elusive definition of what a child is, “it is not surprising that every age to a great degree has read into the text its own understanding of what a child is” (Luz, 427). What does it truly mean to be child like, not just to live into our preconceived idea of what a childlikeness is, “for the most part the interpreters ask not what children are like; they ask instead what children should be” (Luz, 427). All too often the call to be humble like a child turns into a call to be a sweet, obedient, and innocent child of God. While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this; however, it is not, and cannot be, the entire picture. There is a much deeper connection to the Kingdom with these words than childlike perfection in humility. Beyond humility, children have an essence of reckless abandon and a beautiful disregard for status. They worry not about what the future will hold, but dream big dreams and hope for things that are beyond conventional and hold to the belief that their unconventional reality is indeed reality. They love and live with their imagination turned on. There are deep theological implications to this. As Jesus is asking the disciples to see the reality in which the Kingdom is, rather than ask whether it is a possibility. A child may not know the engineering details of what it would take to make a robot that shoots out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches but they trust that there is a very real possibility. Jesus is defiantly not telling the disciples to believe in a robot that shoots peanut butter and jelly, but is asking the disciples to love and live with their imagination turned on in regards to the Kingdom. Blomberg states it perfectly, “This text should make us uncomfortable” (273). This is the point of the paradox, discomfort and rethinking the ways of the world. It is as if Jesus is saying, ‘the Kingdom is here, why are you concerned with status? Don’t you know the Kingdom is bigger than your own understanding? (and continuing with the metaphor) Don’t you know I have a robot that can shoot pb&j?[1] I am the Son of God, and nothing is out of my reach, and you are my Church what greater status do you need?” Jesus is preparing them for the extent at which Kingdom is not of this world.

v.5 – Verse five marks a change in the tone of the dialogue. Where the child has been a symbol of humility but is used in the action of humility as an illustration in the acceptance of a child (Davies, 759). There is debate over whether the ‘child’ that is spoke of in verse five is an actual child or whether it referring to the disciples as children of the Kingdom. Either way the result is a call to enact humility towards the ‘children’ of the Kingdom, literal or figurative, “The disciples must not merely humble themselves; they must welcome all others who humble themselves as believers” (Blomberg, 273). Welcoming the low in society is a call to the Kingdom in all of the paradoxes. “It is a call to solidarity and love,” Writes Ulrich Luz (429). Matthew’s discourse on communal living is furthered as Matthew continues to express the inner workings of what it means to be a community and to live in acceptance of others no matter their state or status. To accept a person be it disciple, believer, the humble, or a child is to accept Jesus himself (Davies, 760 ). In Hindi, the word Namaste is a common greeting and farewell; it means I see the holy that is in you. This is not to suggest that Matthew is suggesting we honor each person has God themselves, but that we acknowledge the essence of the Holy One that is within them, being that they were created in God’s image.

  1. A curious analogy.

"Causing Others to Stumble” 18:6-9Edit


6 ;but 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.7 “Woe 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! 8 “If 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. 9 “If 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.


6-In contrast, if one should cause a child such as this who believes in my name to be in discord, they may be better off swimming with weights with intention of sinking to the abyss. 7- There is so much brokenness in this world, and though brokenness makes a point in touching everything, woe to the man through whom it touches. 8-If any part of you causes brokenness within the kingdom, take that part and get rid of it. Let it go and move into the light. It is better to be rid of it then to allow it to be rid of you. 9- Root out all that brings disconnect and diversion from the kingdom of love, even if that means taking out your own eye.


  • Warning against offence (v.6)
  • Stumbling blocks (v.7)
  • Guarding against one who cause offence (V. 8-9)

Davies (760)

  • Do not cause disciples to stumble
    • Judgment of those who cause the disciples to stumble (v.6)
      • The inevitable stumbling and those who cause stumbling (v.7)
  • Do not cause yourself to stumble
    • The hand and foot (v.8)
    • The eye (v.9)

Hagner (521


The second section of this passage is marked by a shift in dialogue. The discussion is no longer centered on what it means to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The tone of the passage changes from promise to warning (Davies, 760). Simply put, if verses 1-5 is an expression of what ‘to do,’ then verses 6-9, more specifically verses 6-7, is an expression of what ‘not to do’. Verses 8 and 9 depict the actions that should be taken when one stumbles. The flow of the passage is offset by the seemingly different sections, vv. 6-7 and vv. 8-9 (Luz, 432). Hagner continues in the understanding that the ‘little ones’, marked by a change from παιδίον 3813 ‘small child’ to μικρός ‘least’ 3398 (520). This shift is important because it take the speculative definition of ‘child’ and turns it to a direct connection with lowliness. The theological implications are as such; it is easy to be upset to the point of death with someone who has caused a literal child to stumble, but it is not as easy to be upset to the point of death to cause the least of these to stumble, the marginalized of society. Matthew takes the dialogue out of the metaphorical state and brings it to a very real reality. The harsh degree by which the claim is made depicts the depth by which the community should take hold of these words. Verses 8 and 9 turn to statements of a rhetorical and introspective nature. Once again we see Matthew smoothing out Marks interpretation (9:38-50) and adding information from possible other sources (Hagner, 521). Matthew puts a touch of elegance on the passage with the structural parallelism in verses 8 and 9 (Hagner, 521). This is in an interesting contradiction to the harsh words that are being spoken and continues with the paradox of the Kingdom in the pursuit of self denial as beauty.

Commentary Edit

v.6- The primary focus of this section is expressed in the word σκανδαλίσῃ 4624 meaning to put a snare in the way or to cause to fall (Luz, 432). The use of the term ‘snare’ is commonly found in the Old Testament, “Matthew is fond of the root meaning because it makes his language sound biblical” (Luz, 432). In the New Testament the term is found to be in conjunction with πέτρα,4073 meaning rock; “It Speaks of something that is destructive of a human life of the people of God” (Luz, 432). The warning is against anything that brings desecration to humanity. The ‘little ones’ in verse 6 are said to be a focus on, “the disciples, though perhaps focusing particularly on those who are most disenfranchised or deemed insignificant” (Blomberg, 274).

The millstone is a symbol of the weight that would be placed in the scales of judgment, opposite of your favor, of you should cause one such little one to stumble. The millstone is used in the grinding of wheat and is most commonly pulled by a donkey round and round in circles crushing the grain beneath (Blomberg, 274). The millstone, while most commonly pulled by a donkey, also has a history of being pulled by slaves (Luz, 433). This continues in the theme of the lowly, as the instrument by which one is oppressed is drowned in the depths of the sea. While the millstone is not the one that would cause a ‘little one’ to stumble, it is a symbol of their societal standing. “It is more likely that the verse is a comfort for the readers who understand themselves as little ones,” writes Ulrich Luz (434). The drowning that would ensue from the millstone is inevitable, and is a tie to the judgment that is inevitable. Drowning is more pleasant “for one who causes another to fall to suffer an abrupt end of life than to become the means for the destruction of others,” than the judgment, no matter how small the ‘other’ might be (Hagner, 522).

It is easy, even understandable to some, to agree with the death of one who causes a literal child to stumble. But are we so quick to dismiss the one who causes the lowly to stumble. The response is often, ‘well, that person is lowly, and that is why they stumble.’ In the context of today, we do this all the time, we assume that the alcoholic is not worth sticking up for. We assume, whether we will admit it or not, that the pull that they have as a human being, in our eyes, is somehow less than that of a ‘normal’ person. This, of course, is not limited to alcoholics, but as Matthew makes clear, anyone who is considered ‘low.’ The next mistake we make, in the context of today, is assuming that low are accepted by the Church Community. Matthew, in his communal discourse, is reminding us that, while the tax collector oppresses the common person, the tax collector is also oppressed and thus needs to find acceptance in the community. This is not so black and white; the finger is not so easily pointed at that which causes the low to stumble. At any given time, any person could be the cause of another’s stumble but Matthew’s interpretation of Jesus’ words, “He does not imply that on evil act leads to damnation, but a lifestyle of characterized by causing others to sin is incompatible with true discipleship” (Blomberg, 274). While this is punishable with a millstone, the teaching is incomplete without graces as Jesus is quick to add in the parable of the lost sheep as a story for redemption.

v.7- The intensity of the use of οὐαί,3759 woe, expresses the severity of the warning, and is used not only once but twice (Hagner, 522). The most commonly presumed persons that Matthew is warning against are false prophets, as is explained in Matthew chapter 7:15-23 (Luz, 434). Matthew continues by expressing the inevitability of stumbling blocks. The Greek used here is οὐαί, 318 ‘necessity and constraint or distress.’ Seen only in Matthew, Jesus implies that not only are stumbling blocks going to happen they are a necessity (Hagner, 522). Some, such as Hagner, claim that stumbling blocks are inevitable because of the fall of man and that they are a test of the disciple (522). Could it be said that the stumbling blocks are attributed to the brokenness of the world in which the disciples live, in which the Church lives and that woe is he who does not participate in the light of life in Christ? Along the lines of the stumbling blocks being a testing for the disciples, it is possible that Jesus is eluding to the process of spiritual growth that is necessary for refinement. The hope of the Church is in Christ, “God in Christ offers a way out of this otherwise hopeless situation” (Blomberg, 275). Matthews pointing to the inevitability of stumbling, later points to the inevitable need for grace.

v.8-9 – Action is once again called for as the hand, and the foot, and the eye, are all is severe trouble. The literary structure here, even after English translation and despite the morbid nature, is beautiful. Just as ‘woe’ communicated severity in verse 7, the quickly diminishing body parts communicates the severity in verses 8 and 9. The implications for purification of self are steep, “The imperatives in vv.8-9 demand that one rid the self of whatever in it leads to sin: response to temptation form one’s members must be swift, sure, sever” (Davies, 765). In a community the interconnectedness is such that what may cause one to stumble has a very real opportunity to cause others to stumble, or to work through the one in such a way that they become the stumbling block for another (Davies, 765; Hagner, 523). It is a call to ‘radically reject anything that will lead them into evil” (Blomberg, 275). Matthew discusses these action in regard to sexual impurity in 5:29-30, but this reference is all encompassing (Hagner, 523). Davies states the long term implications beautifully, “The war with sin in the here and now determines one’s final destiny. Every obstacle in the way of ‘life’ is to be eliminated, not matter what the personal cost. Nothing matters but the treasure of the Kingdom… No sacrifice can be too great” (767). Separation from darkness is a grave matter and may require all of life to do. Matthew is not laying ‘life’ out of reach, but is expressing that life within the community begins with life from the individual. Wholeness of a community is brought by wholeness of the individual. While western society may leave this at the individual level, Matthew may also be implying that the individual is nothing without the community, thus the severity of individuals causing the community to stumble. Furthermore, if ones hand needs to be cut off, the community is going to be there to do it for you at your request. This passage finds rest in the effects of the individual and their interconnectedness to whole.

“The Sheep that is Lost” 18:10-14Edit


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.]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? 13 “If 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. 14 “So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.


10- Do not look to the least of these, the low, the little ones with disdain. The fact of the matter is they see with the eyes of the Father and their angels look upon the Fathers face. 11- (For that which was lost shall be found in the coming of the Son of Man.)12- Now, what else is it that you have to say? If one sheep, even if it is one out of a hundred, goes astray, will not its master leave the other ninety-nine in the hills and head to the valley to find the one? 13- And if the master finds the one, will not the rejoicing be greater for the one that is found than for the ninety- nine that have never left? 14- just as the master, the Father is never ready to let any of these little ones stray away.


  • The little ones
    • Do not look down on them (v.10a)
    • Evidence of their importance in the Kingdom (v.10b)
  • The lost sheep
    • The wandering away (v.12)
    • The restoration and finding (v.13)
  • The of the little ones to the Father (v.14)

Hagner (526)


In keeping with the theme of ‘the least of these’ or ‘the little ones,’ their role in the Kingdom is broadened by the turning to how they are viewed by the heavenly Father. They are given importance by the Father and thus the way they are treated is important to the Father (Hagner, 525). Previously the passage has been focused on the one that is led astray, then the one that leads astray, and is now looking at the one who goes astray. The key word in this section is πλανάω 4150, and appears three times in the section (Luz, 437). πλανάω 4150 means to cause to wander, or to deceive in such a way that would lead one astray, or to wander from meaning or truth. This parable also occurs in Luke 15:3-7 with a modified introduction and conclusion (Davies, 768). Where Luke continues on to the parable of the lost coin, Matthew leaves the reader with only the parable of the lost sheep. This is thought to have one of two reasons; Matthew didn’t think the lost coin applied to the Church, or that Matthew and Luke both find the parable in oral form and dictate independently (Luz, 439). Although, Ulrich Luz explains that the first case is irrational (Luz, 438). There are some other major differences within the two accounts of the text. Matthew places a greater responsibility on the sheep for wandering away then on the shepherd for being inattentive (Hagner, 525). The context in which the story is told is also different. In Luke, Jesus is defending his actions, of spending time with the lowly, to the Pharisees (Davies, 768). In Matthew, the parable is being told to the disciples as a lesson in the Kingdom.

The parable itself has deep historical context. The sheep commonly is a depiction of the people of Israel as God’s people, and the shepherd are the leaders, both political and religious (Luz, 439). The parable has ties to Ezekiel 34:1-16, where God is the shepherd and is search for the lost of Israel (Luz, 429). Jesus is stepping into that role (Luz, 440). Where there are lost, he will search. This also brings grace further into the picture. Prior the passage has discussed the destruction of those who cause others to stumble, or stumble themselves, but with this embodiment we see grace as the condemned are sought after. This also brings in the discussion on the lowly and the sinner, in terms of the Church in relation to the Kingdom. How should they be treated? What is their role? Jesus appears to be saying, through the interpretation of Matthew, that they should not be treated differently. If they are lost then Jesus will leave the ninety-nine to find the one and the disciples should follow suit.


v.10 – Matthew’s language in verse 10 is slightly ambiguous. The reference in 10b to angels further complicates things. To ‘look down on’ or to despise, as is the translation in the NASB, ‘connotes both an attitude of disdainful and injurious acts growing out of that attitude’ (Davies, 770). The little ones are still considered to be the least of these, or the lowly, the believer, the disciple, and anyone who humbles themselves for the sake of the Kingdom. ‘See that you do not despise one of these little ones,’ implies that, “All disciples, all members of the community, are of inestimable worth and significance” (Hagner, 526). Even if one is despised the count is too many. This has significant implications for the community. The opening line of this passage shows the disciples as they call into question the hierarchy of the kingdom (v.1). The breakdown of the teaching is as follows: (1)who is the greatest? The least. (2) Do not cause others to stumble. The consequence is a lack of ‘life’. (3) Value the low for they are the greatest. This is so opposite of the community in which they generally understand, but finds rest in the community the disciples have with Jesus, and, as Matthew hopes, in the community of believers. The evidence as to why the lowly are to be treated as equals is, “their angels always behold the face of the Father in heaven. It is assumed that the value of the little ones on the earth is revealed by their having incorporeal representatives in heaven” (Davies, 770). The context by which the Jewish crowd understood the concept of Angels is very different than what today’s reader would gather. Their origins are of different traditions, “A more general idea is in view, namely, that angels represent the ‘little ones’ before the throne of God,” perhaps because they have no voice in the world, they are given voice in the Kingdom or, “rather simply to emphasize the importance of the latter to God’ (Hagner, 527).

v.11 – This verse is most commonly omitted because of its omission in earlier manuscripts (Blomberg, 276).

v. 12-13 – What is happening in this parable is greater than just a single disciple wandering off slowly, there are some deeper themes of grace being depicted. The opening question of ‘what do you think’, is rhetorical question that is an extended and personal invitation to the listener to participate in the story by reliving it (Luz, 443). The offer to join in the story through life is a call to getting ones hands dirty within the community. There are allusions to Ezekiel 34:1-16, and Matthew’s further pursuit of the analogy does justice to the shepherd and the sheep (Blomberg, 277). They who are lost are not always lost, unless they choose to stay away, “The wandering sheep is the believer – ‘one of these little ones” – who wanders away from intimate and consistent” (Blomberg, 277). Matthew discusses the low, gives voice to the low, and warns against, in a sense, viewing the low as low. Here Matthew expresses that the low may not just be the marginalized, or the disciples, or actual children, but that they may be any who stumble, or any who deserve to have a millstone hung around their neck. The low may into be just the low of the world, but the low of the church, those who are undeserving of grace. Even they are not beyond the reach of the Father. As the shepherd searches for the lost sheep, so the disciples are called to seek out the ones who are lost to the community. Also, those who believe have full potential to wander away from the Shepherd, and “The ninety-nine refer to faithful followers of Jesus who no longer need to repent because they are not straying from him” (Blomberg, 277). The one may never had intentions of stumbling away, but that doesn’t mean, especially with the previously stated inevitability of stumbling in v.7, that they will never need to call on grace multiple times. The rejoicing of the recovery in verse 14 is not to downplay the role of the 99 but is to be symbolic of, “the importance sheep in the shepherd’s eye” (Hagner, 527)

v. 14 – God is not so willing to let any of his sheep go without searching for them first. Whether this is through prevenient grace or through the calling out to the lost from the community, the ending is a resolution of grace and acceptance as much as it is rules for living and loving. “This ultimate ruin or destruction is itself a further sobering reason for care in one’s conduct with others. This then is the reason that disciples, members of the community, are to be received and welcomed by their brothers and sisters in faith and why one is to be careful not to cause them to stumble; each of 'these little ones' is precious in the sight of God, whose very angels seek their welfare and whose will it is that not one perish” (Hagner, 528).

“Brotherly Accountability” 18:15-20Edit


15“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 “But 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. 17 “If 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. 18 “Truly 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. 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. 20 “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”


15- If you have been wronged by your brother, go to him and explain the hurt in independence; if he hears your words, and truly hears them, then you have gained your brother again. 16- but if he does not truly hear you, take one or two from the community with you, so that there are two or three that stand as witnesses to the words spoken and the charges in question. 17- If the words still fall on deaf ears, go to the church body; if he is still wearing earplugs, act towards him as one would towards a tax collector, or even, a Gentile. 18- In truth, that which you hold to on earth shall be in heaven; and that which you let go of on earth shall be let go in heaven. 19- Again, that which two or three find congruency on earth about anything that effects what they may ask, it shall be carried out by the Father. 20- Where there is community, even of two or three, there I shall be also.


  • Protocol for offence (v.15a)
    • One on one (v.15 b-d)
    • Small group (v.16)
    • Church Body (v.17)
  • Authority (v.18)
  • Answer to Prayers (v.19)
  • The presence of Jesus (v.20)

Hagner (530)


Up until this point stumbling blocks and communal living has been fairly general with over arching themes, now Matthew moves into very specific instructions (Hagner, 530). There is a parallel in Luke Chapter 17:3, although the context is different, the essence is the same. The context of Matthew, “probably originated in a Jewish Christian community that still regarded itself as part of Israel and that had not yet embraced the gentile mission. “For its members the terms “Gentiles and tax collectors” still refer to people with whom one did not associate” (Luz, 449). Matthew is writing to the church, but Jesus is speaking to the disciples. But the teaching of Jesus reflects the love that he shows towards the tax collector and the Gentile; leaving the final step in accountability masked in either contradiction or sarcastic irony. Matthew was writing to the church of the day but is it possible that Jesus was speaking beyond the church of Matthew’s day and into the church that would be established after the resurrection (Hagner, 531)?


v. 15 – When the community is so closely associated, we see again, that which causes one to stumble can cause the whole community to stumble, “every sin affects the entire church” (Luz, 451). When one has sinned against you, you are to go to him and ἔλεγξον 1651; to expose convict or reprove, that brother. It is a measure of both accountability and healing as the one who is being reproved is being freely given grace. As previously discussed in the chapter, the one who is a stumbling block (v.v.6-7) is dealt with harshly. While one may seek healing of a hurt or sin against, there is also an element of the one who has been hurt caring deeply for the one who placed the stumbling block. They care so much so that they do not desire for the one who stumbles to be dealt with so harshly. “If the person…responds appropriately, probably assuming repentance and a request for forgiveness, then restoration takes place;” this is the ultimate goal and purpose of going to your brother with a grievance (Hagner, 531). It is so that one may have justice and the other shall feel sorry, but it is to bring about true healing to the pair and thus the church. Each member of the body is vital, “the offender is thus like the stray sheep of the preceding passage, who must be brought back to the fold. Only in such a way can the community remain intact” (Hagner, 531).

v. 16 - When restoration in not accepted on a one-on-one basis, the brother is then approached by a small group of people. We often refer to this as an intervention (although what Matthew is describing is far from any reality television series). This is the second step in the process and is also found in Deut 19:15 (Blomberg, 279). The second step has implications and hinting at the final step, “only someone who has been warned by several witnesses can later be legally condemned” (Luz, 452). The hope is still for healing and wholeness.

v.17 – When the words still fall on deaf ears the solution is to find a louder voice within the community. Many scholars believe that this is a call for expulsion from the church. That the call to see them as tax collectors and gentiles means they are no longer a part of the body. This is in contradiction to the parable that Jesus just told about the great lengths that the shepherd will go to rescue the one sheep. While there are some very serious communal implication to hardening your heart to the community, this portion of the passage keeps in line with the others in the sense that the one who has stumbled is not lost forever. The grace that is extended through the stages of accountability does not merely cease to exist. Verse 22 speaks to the extent by which grace is to be given. If however, this act of expulsion is out of hope that the one that is lost will rejoin the ninety-nine, then the matter is different if that is the only way by which to break through. All this considered, is expulsion in line with the rest of the teaching of Jesus? The opportunities for grace are ever near, “but at this point it is felt that enough opportunities for repentance has been given, and that if the person has failed to respond appropriately, the only course of action that remains is ostracism form the community”(Hagner, 532). To some extent, probably to a great extent, this concept of community in difficult to grasp due to the lack of tangibility in our own society (Blomberg, 280).

As for treating them as if they are a tax collector or Gentile, these being the details of the intend expulsion, seems hardly degrading in the same sense that excommunication would be. Jesus, throughout the Gospels, is on the side of the marginalized, by whatever means. In fact he is repeatedly questioned for his association with the low and the outcasts of the church. It hardly seems like this can be taken without a touch of ironic sarcasm. If the stand that Jesus takes on the role of the low and the tax collector isn’t enough, the irony goes further, as Matthew himself was a former tax collector. The action of expulsion from the community is drastic, but the love that which Jesus calls us to love the low, the tax collector, the gentile, is radical. It is so radical in fact, the world does not know what to do with the Kingdom that turns to paradox as practice. So while they are to treat them as tax collectors and gentiles, both of these groups have found beautiful homes in the Kingdom.

v. 18 – This verse is also found in Matthew 16:19b; where Peter is given the authority to bind and loose (Blomberg,279). In this particular verse Jesus is issuing the authority to other disciples and leaders within the community (Hagner, 532). The power that is given to the church in this verse is of extreme authority and cannot be overcome (Luz, 454). Only God is given the authority to override the church. Taken too far and out of context this verse can be very dangerous, as has been experience for many generations.

v. 19-20 – The importance of prayer is emphasized in v.19 as the that which has been lost is being brought to God. There is also a connection to the church as the shepherd in v.13. They are seeking the council of the Father as they hope and pray for restoration. This verse, as well as v.18, when taken out of context becomes a harmful mix. “God regularly does not fulfill a promise like that of v.19 if it is interpreted as his response to any request,” although we seek to make it as such for our own attempts at control and comfort. Self centered requests are not the focus of this verse (Luz, 458). The request is, like everything else in this passage of scripture, a communal event. When the community is gathered in the name of Jesus, there Jesus will be also. When they are actively seeking the goodness of the life and light of the Son of Man; they will find it. Perhaps the hope is that by doing so as the ‘ninety-nine’ the one will return.

“The Depth of Forgiveness” 18:21-22Edit


21 Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.


21- Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, what is the appropriate allowance for the forgiveness of my brother? Around seven times?” 22- Jesus replied, “Seven times seems rather insufficient, best make it seventy times seven.


v.21-22 – Peter comes forward and asks the question about forgiveness. This is a very real question, and Peter is good to recognize the very real potential for a stumbling block to cause multiple stumbles even after there has been repentance. Sin does not merely affect us once and then leave without a trace; it sticks to us and sometimes is hard to shake. While stumbling is not preferred it is inevitable (v.7) which makes the question of how much is too much, tangible. For the second time there is a question (Hagner, 537). Peter’s assumption that forgiving seven times would be too much, the rabbis considered three decent, is blown out of the water by the response of seventy times seven (490 or 77 depending on text) and is taken radically (Hagner, 537). The point being that the community should not be so quick as to dismiss those who repeatedly stumble. Also pointing out that the forgiveness of God and the community is is without limit (Hagner, 537).

“The Unmerciful Servant" 18:23-35Edit


23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 “When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 “But 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. 26 “So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’27 “And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. 28 “But 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.’29 “So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ 30 “But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. 31 “So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. 32 “Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 ‘Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ 34 “And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35 “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”


23- Because of this, the Kingdom of heaven is like the king who desired to settle the accounts he had with his slaves. 24- As the settling commenced, there was a particular slave who owed him 10,000 talents that has brought before him. 25- As was the practice, since the man could not repay the master, the command was that his family be sold to help cover the cost. 26- The man fell to the ground begging, “Please don’t do this! Have patience with me and I shall repay my debt!” 27- The master heard his slave and looked on him with compassion, letting him go, and canceling the debt. 28- But the same slave went out and found a fellow slave that was in dept to him for only 100 denarii; taking him by the throat he said, ‘pay me what you owe me.’ 29- The fellow slave fell to the ground begging, “Have patience with me and I shall repay you.” 30- But he refused to be patient, and the man had him taken to prison on account of the failed repayment. 31- When the rest of the slaves heard about this, in distress and greatly upset, they went to master, describing what had happened. 32- The master called the man, “You ungrateful and wicked man! I canceled your debt because you begged me to when I could have had you thrown in prison for life! 33- Your fellow slave asked for mercy in the same way that I granted it to you, don’t you think that would have been a good idea to repay the mercy you have been shown?” 34- In his anger the master had the man tortured in the prison until he cold payback the 10,000 talents. 35- You will be dealt with in this way unless you forgive sins of your brother that are against you, and do not mean it with all your heart.


  • The King and the People (v.v. 23-27)
    • Settling Accounts (v.23)
    • Insurmountable Debt (v. 24)
    • Failed to Repay (v. 25)
    • Cry for Mercy (v. 26)
    • Cancelled Debt (v. 27)
  • The Man and the People (v.v. 28-31)
  • Forcing Repayment (v. 28)
  • Cry for Mercy (v. 29)
  • Mercy Denied (v. 30)
  • The Findings of the Others (v. 31)
  • The King’s Reply (v.v. 32-34)
    • Confrontation and Rebuke (v. 32-33)
    • Reinstatement of Debt (v. 34)
  • Application and Implications (v. 35)

Hagner (536-537)


This parable follows Peter’s question about forgiveness. The summation of the whole chapter seems to boil down to these important steps that a community must take, whether that is to rebuke and then forgive or vice versa. There is a slightly different focus in v.v. 23-35, claiming that failure to forgive is a failure to act like the Father (Davies, 41). This particular parable is found only in Matthew, although there are similar parallels in Matthew 25:14-30 and in Luke 19:11-27 (Hagner, 28). This parable is, “is almost universally reckoned an authentic parable of Jesus” (Davies, 41). The parable is a bit of a tall tale, although the message has some serious implications (v. 35) where Paul and his blue ox may not, “Everything in the parable is set on an astronomical scale. It is the nearest thing to a tale of Arabian nights in the teachings of Jesus” (Davies, 42). The grandeur and extremes of the numbers are what sets the parable apart. One could never hope to repay 10,000 talents as a slave, 100 denarii however is a different matter.


v. 23 – This seems to be in odd contrast to the opening of the chapter where the kingdom of heaven requires childlikeness for entrance (v. 3). The parable of the unmerciful servant take on the most common rabbinic form with the involvement of a king who is interacting with servants and or sons (Blomberg, 282-283). The role of the king, in general, is God, and the sons or servants, God’s people (Blomberg, 282-283). This would have been well know by those who were originally hearing the message, or reading Matthew’s words. While the understanding of the king as God would be prevalent, “this does not entail a one-to-one correspondence between the actions of the king and the actions of God, it does ‘transpose the intent of the parable form the realm of human relationships to those of the human and divine’” (Davies, 795). Ultimately God may act as God wills, the king in this parable is a depiction rather than an ironclad example.

v. 24-25 – The servant is being asked to repay a sum of money that could never be repaid. The magnitude of 10,000 talents suggests that Matthew increased the numbers in the parable for added effect, being that 10,000 is the greatest number to be used in reckoning and the talent is the highest monetary unit in the all of the Near East (Davies, 798). The inflation of the number can have theological implications such as, we can never repay the debt that we owe to the shepherd for finding us. When the servant, although it is argued that the man may be a wealthy governor, cannot repay the debt owed to the king, the wrath of the king concludes that his family must be sold (Blomberg, 283). This would barely put a dent in the billions of dollars that the servant owed (Hagner, 538).

v. 26 – The slave falls prostrate, προσκυνέω 4352, before the master and implies worship to the king (Hagner, 538). The man is laying everything on the line, at this point he is surrendering to the king, and if it is seen as he is begging, his view of himself in relation to dignity may be altered. Awaiting the king’s response would not have been pleasant.

v. 27 - The tides are turned though, and Jesus’ audience would have been shocked to see that not only is the debt forgiven, but it is wiped away and the man is free to live without the weight and the burden of the sum of money (Blomberg, 283). The cancellation of the debt may not have been in total but could be an allowance for the period of a, a loan if you will (Hagner, 539). However, if it is a loan the master knows full well that the amount will not be gained even in a year’s time. This then implies that the master has either canceled the debt, or is still willing to forgive the debt, perhaps up to 77 or 490 times.

v. 28 – The servant does not seem to understand the grace that he has been given. How can one understand if one does not embody and repay, “showing that the servant made a conscious choice to harden his heart” (Blomberg, 284). The amount owed by the fellow servant is significantly less than the amount that the man was pardoned. A denarii is about the average daily wage for a worker and the man is thus demanding a 100 days wages from the fellow servant (Davies, 46). Not only does the man miss the point of grace but also misses gentility as he chokes the man in an attempt to make the servant pay (Hagner, 539).

v. 29 – The servant pleas the very same thing in v. 29 as the fellow servant does in v. 26, showing the likeness of the two and exposing the cruelty of the man who was forgiven. The servant asks for mercy and patience, just as the man did; however, the debt the servant owes realistically could be repaid (Davies, 801).

v. 30 – The consequences of the failed repayment for the fellow servant is prison. This is shocking, “not because it is unlawful, but because it trumpets hypocrisy” (Davies, 801). He has just been granted grace for a much larger debt, and the hope of those listening, or reading, is that they may champion the man for continuing to give back the grace that has been received. The opposite happens, and the grace that the master gave, as shocking as it is, there is a second plot shift as the man, “has broken the ‘golden rule’ of 7:12 and treated another as he would not wish to be treated” (Davies, 801). By having the fellow servant thrown in prison, the man is requiring that the debt be paid by the loved ones of the fellow servant (Hagner, 539).

v. 31 – The other servants are so upset because they understand the hypocrisy of the man (Davies, 801). They are grieving for their fellow servant as they witness the injustice of the situation. How often are we enraged by the injustice within our society? Within the church? Do we want to admit to the injustice within the church, or are we content to let the one sheep be lost?

v. 32-34 – The master is furious with the man who has exploited his fellow servant. The one who gives mercy is the one who will receive it as outlined in Matthew 5:7 (Hagner, 540). The man has not given mercy so he shall not receive it. In the rage of the master, the man is turned over to the jailers to be tortured until the debt can be repaid. This is the original sentence, with the exclusion of torture that the unmerciful servant deserved. Mercy and love is to be repeated if it truly to be embodied (Davies, 801). The sentence is heightened by the inclusion of torture until the money could be paid, and with such a price as 10,000 talents the sentence is a life sentence (Blomberg, 284).

v. 35 – This final statement is what brings it the passage home. The disciples have heard the words on community living, forgiveness and grace, and they are to emulate that. This last parable, and the final verse particularly, conveys the severity of the Father if they should fail to live in such a way, or if they too should have hardened hearts like the unmerciful servant. This call is just as important for the disciples to live into as it is for the disciples to teach others to live into, “The gospel is a demand as well as a gift” (Davies, 802). The gift that must continue to give, or the injustice shall be met with the judgment of the Father. This verse too, despite the illusion to judgment, needs to be taken in context of the parable of the lost sheep. Although the final statement is harsh, Jesus is clear in the statement throughout the passage, that the lost shall be sought out by both the Father and the Church.


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Hagner, D. A. (2002). Vol. 33B: Word Biblical Commentary : Matthew 14-28. Word Biblical Commentary (514). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

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