Exercitations upon the Gospel of St. Matthew
Chapters 14, 15, 16
If, therefore, Herod embraced the doctrine of the Sadducees, his words, "This is
John the Baptist, he is risen from the dead," seem to be extorted from his
conscience, pricked with the sting of horror and guilt, as though the image and ghost of
the Baptist, but newly butchered by him, were before his eyes: so that his mind is under
horror; and forgetting his Sadduceism, groaning and trembling, he acknowledgeth the
resurrection of the dead, whether he will or no.
Or let it be supposed, that with the Pharisees he owned the resurrection of the dead;
yet certainly it was unusual for them that confessed it to dream of the resurrection of
one that was but newly dead: they expected there should be a resurrection of the dead
hereafter: but this, which Herod speaks, believes, and suspects, is a great way distant
from that doctrine, and seems, indeed, to have proceeded from a conscience touched from
The time of his beheading we find out by those words of the evangelist John, "but
now the Passover was nigh," by reasoning after this manner: It may be concluded,
without all controversy, that the disciples, as soon as they heard of the death of their
master, and buried him, betook themselves to Christ, relating his slaughter, and giving
him caution by that example to take care of his own safety. He hearing of it passeth over
into the desert of Bethsaida, and there he miraculously feeds five thousand men, when the
Passover was now at hand, as John relates, mentioning that story with the rest of the
evangelists. Therefore we suppose the beheading of the Baptist was a little before the
Passover, when he had now been in durance half a year, as he had freely preached by the
space of half a year before his imprisonment.
2. Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not
their hands when they eat bread.
[Why do they transgress the tradition of the elders?] How great a value they set
upon their traditions, even above the word of God, appears sufficiently from this very
place, verse 6. Out of infinite examples which we meet with in their writings, we will
produce one place only; "The words of the scribes are lovely above the words of
the law: for the words of the law are weighty and light; but the words of the scribes
are all weighty."
"He that shall say, 'There are no phylacteries, transgressing the words of the
law,' is not guilty; but he that shall say, 'There are five Totaphoth, adding to
the words of the scribes,' he is guilty."
"The words of the elders are weightier than the words of the prophets."
"A prophet and an elder, to what are they likened? To a king sending two of
his servants into a province. Of one he writes thus, 'Unless he shew you my seal, believe
him not': of the other thus, 'Although he shews you not my seal, yet believe him.' Thus it
is written of the prophet, 'He shall shew thee a sign or a miracle'; but of the elders
thus, 'According to the law which they shall teach thee,'" &c. But enough of
[For they wash not their hands, &c.] The undervaluing of the washing of
hands is said to be among those things for which the Sanhedrim excommunicates: and
therefore that R. Eleazar Ben Hazar was excommunicated by it, because he undervalued
the washing of hands; and that when he was dead, by the command of the Sanhedrim, a
great stone was laid upon his bier. "Whence you may learn (say they) that the
Sanhedrim stones the very coffin of every excommunicate person that dies in his
It would require a just volume, and not a short commentary, or a running pen, to lay
open this mystery of Pharisaism concerning washing of hands, and to discover it in all its
niceties: let us gather these few passages out of infinite numbers:
I. The washing of hands and the plunging of them is appointed by the words of the
scribes: but by whom, and when, it is doubted. Some ascribe the institution of this
rite to Hillel and Shammai, others carry it back to ages before them: "Hillel and
Shammai decreed concerning the washing of hands. R. Josi Ben Rabbi Bon, in the name of R.
Levi, saith, 'That tradition was given before, but they had forgotten it': these second
stand forth, and appoint according to the mind of the former."
II. "Although it was permitted to eat unclean meats, and to drink unclean drinks,
yet the ancient religious eat their common food in cleanness, and took care to avoid
uncleanness all their days; and they were called Pharisees. And this is a matter of the
highest sanctity, and the way of the highest religion; namely, that a man separate
himself, and go aside from the vulgar, and that he neither touch them, nor eat nor drink
with them: for such separation conduceth to the purity of the body from evil works,"
&c. Hence that definition of a Pharisee which we have produced before, The
Pharisees eat their common food in cleanness: and the Pharisaical ladder of heaven,
"Whosoever hath his seat in the land of Israel, and eateth his common food in
cleanness, and speaks the holy language, and recites his phylacteries morning and evening,
let him be confident that he shall obtain the life of the world to come."
III. Here that distinction is to be observed between forbidden meats, and unclean
meats. Of both Maimonides wrote a proper tract. Forbidden meats, such as fat,
blood, creatures unlawful to be eaten (Lev 2), were by no means to be eaten: but meats,
unclean in themselves, were lawful indeed to be eaten, but contracted some uncleanness
elsewhere: it was lawful to eat them, and it was not lawful; or, to speak as the thing
indeed is, they might eat them by the law of God, but by the canons of Pharisaism they
IV. The distinction also between unclean, and profane or polluted,
is to be observed. Rambam, in his preface to Toharoth, declares it.
Profane or polluted denotes this, that it does not pollute another beside itself.
For every thing which uncleanness invades so that it becomes unclean, but renders not
another thing unclean, is called profane. And hence it is said of every one that
eats unclean meats, or drinks unclean drinks, that his body is polluted: but he
pollutes not another. Note that, "The body of the eater is polluted by unclean
meats." To which you may add that which follows in the same Maimonides, in the place
before alleged: "Separation from the common people, &c., conduces to the purity
of the body from evil works; the purity of the body conduceth to the sanctity of the soul
from evil affections; the sanctity of the soul conduces unto likeness to God, as it is
said, 'And ye shall be sanctified, and ye shall be holy, because I, the Lord that sanctify
you, am holy.'" Hence you may more clearly perceive the force of Christ's
confutation, which we have verses 17-20.
V. They thought that clean food was polluted by unclean hands, and that the hands were
polluted by unclean meats. You would wonder at this tradition: "Unclean meats and
unclean drinks do not defile a man if he touch them not, but if he touch them with his
hands, then his hands become unclean; if he handle them with both hands, both hands are
defiled; if he touch them with one hand only, one hand only is defiled."
VI. This care, therefore, laid upon the Pharisee sect, that meats should be set on
free, as much as might be, from all uncleanness: but especially since they could not
always be secure of this, that they might be secure that the meats were not rendered
unclean by their hands. Hence were the washings of them not only when they knew them to be
unclean, but also when they knew it not.
Rambam in the preface to the tract of hands, hath these words; "If the
hands are unclean by any uncleanness, which renders them unclean; or if it be hid from a
man, and he knows not that he is polluted; yet he is bound to wash his hands in order to
eating his common food," &c.
VII. To these most rigid canons they added also bugbears and ghosts to affright them.
It was the business of Shibta. Where the Gloss is, "Shibta was one
of the demons who hurt them that wash not their hands before meat." The Aruch writes
thus, "Shibta is an evil spirit which sits upon men's hands in the night: and
if any touch his food with unwashen hands, that spirit sits upon that food, and there is
danger from it."
Let these things suffice as we pass along: it would be infinite to pursue all that is
said of this rite and superstition. Of the quantity of water sufficient for this washing;
of the washing of the hands, and of the plunging of them; of the first and second water;
of the manner of washing; of the time; of the order, when the number of those that sat
down to meat exceeded five, or did not exceed; and other such like niceties: read, if you
have leisure, and if the toil and nauseousness of it do not offend you, the Talmudic tract
of hands, Maimonides upon the tract lavers, and Babylonian Beracoth:
and this article, indeed, is inserted through the whole volume entitled cleanness.
Let this discourse be ended with this canon; "For a cake, and for the washing of
hands, let a man walk as far as four miles."
5. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It
is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me;
[It is a gift by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me, &c.] I. Beside
the law alleged by Christ, "Honour thy father and thy mother," &c., they
acknowledge this also for law, A son is bound to provide his father meat and drink, to
clothe him, to cover him, to lead him in and out, to wash his face, hands and feet.
Yea, that goes higher, "A son is bound to nourish his father, yea, to beg for
him." Therefore it is no wonder if these things which are spoken by our Saviour are
not found verbatim in the Jewish pandect; for they are not so much alleged by him to shew
that it was their direct design to banish away all reverence and love towards parents, as
to show how wicked their traditions were, and into what ungodly consequences they
oftentimes fell. They denied not directly the nourishment of their parents, nay, they
command it, they exhorted to it; but consequently by this tradition they made all void.
They taught openly, indeed, that a father was to be made no account of in comparison of a
Rabbin that taught them the law; but they by no means openly asserted that parents were to
be neglected: yet openly enough they did by consequence drawn from this foolish and
II. One might readily comment upon this clause, "It is a gift" (or, as
Mark, "it is Corban") by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me,
if we have read the Talmudic tracts Nedarim and Nazir, where the discourse
is of vows and oaths; and the phrase which is before us speaks a vow or a form of
1. Vows were distinguished into two ranks, vows of consecration, and vows of
obligation, or of prohibition. A vow of consecration was when any thing
was devoted to holy uses, namely, to the use of the altar or the Temple: as when a man, by
a vow, would dedicate this or that for sacrifice, or to buy wood, salt, wine, &c. for
the altar: or for the reparation of the Temple, &c. A vow of obligation
or prohibition was, when a man bound himself by a vow from this or that thing,
which was lawful in itself; as, that he would not eat, that he would not put on, that he
would not do this or that, &c.
2. This went for a noted axiom among them, All epithets of vows are as the vows
themselves. They added certain short forms, by which they signified a vow, and which
carried with it the force of a vow, as if the thing were spoken out in a larger
periphrasis: as for example, "If one should say to his neighbour, Konem, Konah,
Kones, behold, these are epithets of a thing devoted unto sacred uses."
The word Konem, Rambam thus explains; Let it be upon me as a thing devoted.
So also R. Nissim, Konem, Koneh, are words of devoting.
We produced before, at chapter 5:33, some forms of oaths, which were only Assertive:
these under our hands are Votive also. In the place from Beracoth just now
alleged, one saith, Let the wine be 'Konem,' which I shall taste, for wine is hard to
the bowels: that is, Let the wine which I taste be as devoted wine: as though he had
said, I vow that I will not taste wine. "To which others answered, Is not old wine
good for the bowels? Then he held his peace."
III. But above all such like forms of vowing, the word Corban, was plainest of
all; which openly speaks a thing devoted and dedicated to sacred use. And the reader of
those tracts which we have mentioned shall observe these forms frequently to occur. Let
it be 'Corban,' whereby I am profitable to thee; and, Let it be 'Konem,' whereby I
am profitable to thee. Which words sound the very same thing, unless I am very much
mistaken, with the words before us, "Let it be Corban, or a gift, by
which whatsoever thou mayest be profited by me."
Which words that they may be more clearly understood, and that the plain and full sense
of the place may be discovered, let these things be considered:
First, That the word a gift is rather to be rendered, Let it be a gift,
than It is a gift. For Konem and Corban, as we have noted, signified
not 'It is' as something devoted, but 'Let it be' as something devoted. and
He, of whom we had mention before...meant not, The wine which I shall taste is as
something devoted, but Let whatsoever wine I shall taste be as something devoted:
that is, To me let all wine be devoted, and not to be tasted.
Secondly, This form of speech A gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me,
does neither argue, that he who thus spake devoted his goods to sacred uses, nor obliged
him (according to the doctrine of the scribes) to devote them; but only restrained him by
an obligation from that thing, for the denying of which he used such a form; that is, from
helping him by his goods, to whom he thus spake. He might help others with his wealth, but
him he might not.
Thirdly, The words are brought in as though they were pronounced with indignation; as
if, when the needy father required food from his son, he should answer in anger and with
contempt, Let it be as a thing devoted, whatsoever of mine may profit thee. But
now, things that were devoted were not to be laid out upon common uses.
Fourthly, Christ not only cites the law, 'Honour thy father and mother,' but adds this
also, He that curseth father or mother. But now there was no cursing here at
all; if the son spoke truly and modestly, and as the thing was, namely, that all his
estate was devoted before.
Fifthly, Therefore, although these words should have been spoken by the son
irreverently, wrathfully, and inhumanly, towards his father, yet such was the folly,
together with the impiety, of the traditional doctrine in this case, which pronounced the
son so obliged by these his words, that it was lawful by no means to succour his needy
father. He was not at all bound by these words to dedicate his estate to sacred uses; but
not to help his father he was inviolably bound. O excellent doctrine and charity!
Sixthly, The words of the verse, therefore, may thus be rendered, without any addition
put between, which many interpreters do: Whosoever shall say to his father or mother,
Let it be a [devoted] gift, in whatsoever thou mayest be helped by me: then let him
not honour his father and mother at all.
11. Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of
the mouth, this defileth a man.
[Defileth the man.] Or, maketh him common;...because they esteemed defiled
men for common and vulgar men: on the contrary, a religious man among them
is a singular man...
20. These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands
defileth not a man.
[With unwashen hands.] He saith not with unclean hands, but unwashen;
because, as we said before, they were bound to wash, although they were not conscious that
their hands were unclean. In Mark it is with common or defiled hands, Mark
7:2; which seem to be called by the Talmudists impure hands, merely because not
washed. Judge from that which is said in the tract Challah: "A cake is owing out of
that dough which they knead with the juice of fruits: and it is eaten with unclean
22. And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him,
saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously
vexed with a devil.
[A woman of Canaan.] In Mark it is, A Greek woman, a Syrophoenician by nation,
I. Of Canaan. It is worthy observing, that the Holy Bible, reckoning up the
seven nations, which were to be destroyed by the Israelites, names the Perizzites, who
were not at all recited among the sons of Canaan, Genesis 10; and the Canaanites as a
particular nation, when all the seven, indeed, were Canaanites. See Deuteronomy 7:1,
Joshua 9:1, 11:3, Judges 3:5, &c.
The reason of the latter (with which our business is) is to be fetched thence, that
Canaan himself inhabited a peculiar part of that (northern) country, with his first-born
sons, Sidon and Heth: and thence the name of Canaanites was put upon that particular
progeny, distinguished from all his other sons; and that country was peculiarly called by
the name of 'Canaan,' distinctly from all the rest of the land of Canaan. Hence Jabin, the
king of Hazor, is called the 'king of Canaan,' Judges 4:2, and the kings of Tyre and
Sidon, if I mistake not, are called 'the kings of the Hittites,' 1 Kings 10:29.
II. A Greek woman, a Syrophoenician Although Judea, and almost the whole world,
had now a long while stooped under the yoke of the Romans, yet the memory of the
Syro-Grecian kingdom, and the name of the nation, was not yet vanished. And that is worthy
to be noted, In the captivity, they compute the years only from the kingdom of the
Greeks. They said before, "That the Romans, for a hundred and fourscore years,
ruled over the Jews before the destruction of the Temple"; and yet they do not
compute the times to that destruction by the years of the Romans, but by the years of the
Greeks. Let the Jews themselves well consider this, and the Christians with them, who
reckon the Roman for the fourth monarchy in Daniel.
Therefore that woman that is here spoken of (to reduce all into a short conclusion) was
a Syro-Grecian by nation, a Phoenician in respect of her habitation, and from thence
called a woman of Canaan.
26. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and cast it
[To the dogs.] By this title the Jews, out of spite and contempt, disgraced the
Gentiles, whose first care it was to hate, to mock, and to curse, all beside themselves. The
nations of the world [that is, the heathen] are likened to dogs. From
the common speech of the nation, rather than from his own sense, our Saviour uses this
expression, to whom 'the Gentiles' were not so hateful, and whose custom was to speak with
This ignominious name, like a stone cast at the heathen, at length fell upon their own
heads; and that by the hand and justice of God directing it: for although they out of
pride and contempt fixed that disgraceful name upon the Gentiles, according to their very
just desert, the Holy Spirit recoiled it upon themselves. See Psalm 59:6; Philippians 3:2;
Revelation 22:15, &c.
36. And he took the seven loaves and the fishes, and gave thanks, and brake them,
and gave to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.
[He gave thanks and brake.] See here the tract Beracoth, where it is
discoursed of the manner of giving thanks when many ate together: Three who eat
together ought to give thanks together: that is, one gave thanks for the rest (as the
Gloss writes) "in the plural number, saying, Let us give thanks." So when
there were ten, or a hundred, or a thousand or more, one gave thanks for all, and they
answered after him Amen, or some words which he had recited.
3. And in the morning, It will be foul weather today: for the sky is red and
lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern
the signs of the times?
[Can ye not discern the signs of the times?] The Jews were very curious in
observing the seasons of the heavens, and the temper of the air.
"In the going out of the last day of the feast of Tabernacles, all observed the
rising of the smoke. If the smoke bended northward, the poor rejoiced, but the rich were
troubled; because there would be much rain the following year, and the fruits would be
corrupted: if it bended southward, the poor grieved, and the rich rejoiced; for then there
would be fewer rains that year, and the fruit would be sound: if eastward, all rejoiced:
if westward, all were troubled." The Gloss is, "They observed this the last day
of the feast of Tabernacles, because the day before, the decree of their judgment
concerning the rains of that year was signed, as the tradition is, In the feast of
Tabernacles they judged concerning the rains."
"R. Acha said, If any wise man had been at Zippor when the first rain fell, he
might foretell the moistness of the year by the very smell of the dust," &c.
But they were dim-sighted at the signs of times; that is, at those eminent signs, which
plainly pointed, as with the finger and by a visible mark, that now those times that were
so much foretold and expected, even the days of the Messias, were at hand. As if he had
said, "Can ye not distinguish that the times of the Messias are come, by those signs
which plainly declare it? Do ye not observe Daniel's weeks now expiring? Are ye not under
a yoke, the shaking off of which ye have neither any hope at all nor expectation to do? Do
ye not see how the nation is sunk into all manner of wickedness? Are not miracles done by
me, such as were neither seen nor heard before? Do ye not consider an infinite multitude
flowing in, even to a miracle, to the profession of the gospel? and that the minds of all
men are raised into a present expectation of the Messias? Strange blindness, voluntary,
and yet sent upon you from heaven: your sin and your punishment too! They see all things
which may demonstrate and declare a Messias, but they will not see."
6. Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees
and of the Sadducees.
[Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, &c.] There were two things,
especially, which seem to have driven the disciples into a mistaken interpretation of
these words, so that they understood them of leaven properly so called.
I. That they had more seldom heard leaven used for doctrine. The
metaphorical use of it, indeed, was frequent among them in an ill sense, namely, for evil
affections, and the naughtiness of the heart; but the use of it was more rare, if any at
all, for evil doctrine.
Thus one prays: "Lord of ages, it is revealed and known before thy face that we
would do thy will; but do thou subdue that which hinders: namely, the leaven which is
in the lump, and the tyranny of [heathen] kingdoms." Where the Gloss is thus;
"The 'leaven which is in the lump,' are evil affections, which leavens us in
Cyrus was leavened, that is, grew worse. Sometimes it is used in a better sense;
"The Rabbins say, Blessed is that judge who leaveneth his judgment." But this is
not to be understood concerning doctrine, but concerning deliberation in judgment.
II. Because very exact care was taken by the Pharisaical canons, what leaven was to be
used and what not; disputations occur here and there, whether heathen leaven is to be
used, and whether Cuthite leaven, &c. With which caution the disciples thought that
Christ armed them, when he spake concerning the leaven of the Pharisees: but withal they
suspected some silent reproof for not bringing bread along with them.
13. When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples,
saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?
[Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?] I. That phrase or title, the Son
of man, which Christ very often gives himself, denotes not only his humanity, nor his
humility (for see that passage, John 5:27, "He hath given him authority of executing
judgment, because he is the Son of man"); but it bespeaks the 'seed promised
to Adam, the second Adam': and it carried with it a silent confutation of a double
ignorance and error among the Jews: 1. They knew not what to resolve upon concerning the
original of the Messias; and how he should rise, whether he should be of the living, as we
noted before, the manner of his rise being unknown to them; or whether of the dead. This
phrase unties this knot and teaches openly, that he, being a seed promised to the first
man, should arise and be born from the seed of the women. 2. They dreamed of the earthly
victories of the Messias, and of nations to be subdued by him; but this title, The Son
of man, recalls their minds to the first promise, where the victory of the promised
seed is the bruising of the serpent's head, not the subduing of kingdoms by some warlike
and earthly triumph.
II. When, therefore, the opinion of the Jews concerning the person of the Messias, what
he should be, was uncertain and wavering, Christ asketh, not so much whether they
acknowledged him the Messias, as acknowledging the Messias, what kind of person they
conceived him to be. The apostles and the other disciples whom he had gathered, and were
very many, acknowledged him the Messias: yea, those blind men, chapter 9:27, had confessed
this also: therefore that question had been needless as to them, "Do they think me to
be the Messias?" but that was needful, "What do they conceive of me, the
Messias?" and to this the answer of Peter has regard, "Thou art Christ, the Son
of the living God": as if he should say, "We knew well enough a good while ago
that thou art the Messias: but as to the question, 'What kind of person thou art,' I say,
'Thou art the Son of the living God.'" See what we note at chapter 17:54.
Therefore the word whom asks not so much concerning the person, as concerning
the quality of the person. In which sense also is the word who, in those words, 1
Samuel 17:55, not "The son of whom," but the son "of what kind of
man," is this youth?
14. And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and
others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.
[But others, Jeremias.] The reason why they name Jeremiah only of all the
prophets, we give at chapter 27:9. You observe that recourse is here made to the memory of
the dead, from whom the Messias should spring, rather than from the living: among other
things, perhaps, this reason might persuade them so to do, that that piety could not in
those days be expected in any one living, as had shined out in those deceased persons.
(One of the Babylonian Gemarists suspects that Daniel, raised from the dead, should be the
Messias.) And this perhaps persuaded them further, because they thought that the kingdom
of the Messias should arise after the resurrection: and they that were of this opinion
might be led to think that the Messias himself was some eminent person among the saints
departed, and that he rising again should bring others with him.
17. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for
flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
[Flesh and blood.] The Jewish writers use this form of speech infinite times,
and by it oppose men to God.
"If they were about to lead me before a king of flesh and blood, &c.;
but they are leading me before the King of kings."
"A king of flesh and blood forms his picture in a table, &c.; the Holy
Blessed One, his, &c." This phrase occurs five times in that one column:
"the Holy Blessed God doth not, as flesh and blood doth, &c. Flesh and
blood wound with one thing and heal with another: but the Holy Blessed One wounds and
heals with one and the same thing. Joseph was sold for his dreams, and he was promoted by
18. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build
my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
[Thou art Peter, &c.] I. There is nothing, either in the dialect of the
nation, or in reason, forbids us to think that our Saviour used this very same Greek word,
since such Graecizings were not unusual in that nation. But be it granted (which is
asserted more without controversy) that he used the Syriac word; yet I deny that he used
that very word Cepha, which he did presently after: but he pronounced it Cephas,
after the Greek manner; or he spoke it Cephai, in the adjective sense, according to
the Syriac formation. For how, I pray, could he be understood by the disciples, or by
Peter himself, if in both places he had retained the same word Thou art a rock, and
upon this rock I will build my church? It is readily answered by the Papists, that
"Peter was the rock." But let them tell me why Matthew used not the same word in
Greek, if our Saviour used the same word in Syriac. If he had intimated that the church
should be built upon Peter, it had been plainer and more agreeable to be the vulgar idiom
to have said, "Thou art Peter, and upon thee I will build my church."
II. The words concerning the rock upon which the church was to be built are
evidently taken out of Isaiah, chapter 28:16; which, the New Testament being interpreter,
in very many places do most plainly speak Christ. When therefore Peter, the first of all
the disciples (from the very first beginning of the preaching of the gospel), had
pronounced most clearly of the person of Christ, and had declared the mystery of the
incarnation, and confessed the deity of Christ, the minds of the disciples are, with good
reason, called back to those words of Isaiah, that they might learn to acknowledge who
that stone was that was set in Sion for a foundation never to be shaken, and whence
it came to pass that that foundation remained so unshaken; namely, thence, that he was not
a creature, but God himself, the Son of God.
III. Thence, therefore, Peter took his surname; not that he should be argued to be that
rock, but because he was so much to be employed in building a church upon a rock:
whether it were that church that was to be gathered out of the Jews, of which he was the
chief minister, or that of the Gentiles (concerning which the discourse here is
principally of), unto which he made the first entrance by the gospel.
19. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou
shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth
shall be loosed in heaven.
[And I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.] That is, Thou shalt
first open the door of faith to the Gentiles. He had said that he would build his
church to endure for ever, against which "the gates of hell should not
prevail"... "and to thee, O Peter (saith he), I will give the keys of the
kingdom of heaven, that thou mayest open a door for the bringing in the gospel to that
church." Which was performed by Peter in that remarkable story concerning Cornelius,
Acts 10. And I make no doubt that those words of Peter respect these words of Christ, Acts
15:7; A good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles should hear the word
of the gospel by my mouth, and believe.
[And whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth &c. And whatsoever thou shalt
loose on earth, &c.] I. We believe the keys were committed to Peter alone, but the
power of binding and loosing to the other apostles also, chapter 18:18.
II. It is necessary to suppose that Christ here spake according to the common people,
or he could not be understood without a particular commentary, which is nowhere to be
III. But now to bind and loose, a very usual phrase in the Jewish schools, was
spoken of things, not of persons; which is here also to be observed in the
articles what and whatsoever, chapter 18.
One might produce thousands of examples out of their writings: we will only offer a
double decad; the first, whence the frequent use of this word may appear; the second,
whence the sense may:
1. "R. Jochanan said [to those of Tiberias], 'Why have ye brought this elder to
me? Whatsoever I loose, he binds; whatsoever I bind, he looseth.'"
2. Thou shalt neither bind nor loose.
3. "Nachum, the brother of R. Illa, asked R. Jochanan concerning a certain matter.
To whom he answered, Thou shalt neither bind nor loose."
4. This man binds, but the other looseth.
5. "R. Chaija said, Whatsoever I have bound to you elsewhere, I will loose to
6. He asked one wise man, and he bound: Do not ask another wise man, lest perhaps he
7. The mouth that bindeth is the mouth that looseth.
8. "Although of the disciples of Shammai, and those of Hillel, the one
bound, and the other loosed; yet they forbade not but that these might make
purifications according to the others."
9. A wise man that judgeth judgment, defileth and cleanseth [that is, he
declares defiled or clean]; he looseth and bindeth. The same also is in
10. Whether it is lawful to go into the necessary-house with the phylacteries only to
piss? Rabbena looseth, and Rabh Ada bindeth. The mystical doctor, who neither bindeth
The other decad shall show the phrase applied to things:
1. "In Judea they did [servile] works on the Passover-eve" (that is,
on the day going before the Passover), "until noon, but in Galilee not. But that
which the school of Shammai binds until the night, the school of Hillel looseth
until the rising of the sun."
2. "A festival-day may teach us this, in which they loosed by the notion of a
[servile] work," killing and boiling, &c., as the Gloss notes. But in
which they bound by the notion of a sabbatism: that is, as the same Gloss speaks, 'The
bringing in some food from without the limits of the sabbath.'
3. "They do not send letters by the hand of a heathen on the eve of a sabbath, no,
nor on the fifth day of the week. Yea, the school of Shammai binds it, even on the
fourth day of the week; but the school of Hillel looseth it."
4. "They do not begin a voyage in the great sea on the eve of the sabbath, no, nor
on the fifth day of the week. Yea, the school of Shammai binds it, even on the fourth
day of the week; but the school of Hillel looses it."
5. "To them that bathe in the hot-baths in the sabbath-day, they bind washing,
and they loose sweating."
6. "Women may not look into a looking-glass on the sabbath-day, if it be fixed to
a wall, Rabbi loosed it, but the wise men bound it."
7. "Concerning the moving of empty vessels [on the sabbath-day], of the filling of
which there is no intention; the school of Shammai binds it, the school of Hillel
8. "Concerning gathering wood on a feast-day scattered about a field, the school
of Shammai binds it, the school of Hillel looseth it."
9. They never loosed to us a crow, nor bound to us a pigeon.
10. "Doth a seah of unclean Truma fall into a hundred seahs
of clean Truma? The school of Shammai binds it, the school of Hillel looseth
it." There are infinite examples of this nature.
Let a third decad also be added (that nothing may be left unsaid in this matter),
giving examples of the parts of the phrase distinctly and by themselves:
1. "The things which they bound not, that they might have a hedge to the
2. "The scribes bound the leaven."
3. They neither punished nor bound, unless concerning the leaven itself.
4. "The wise men bound the eating of leaven from the beginning of the sixth
hour," of the day of the Passover.
5. "R. Abhu saith, R. Gamaliel Ben Rabbi asked me. What if I should go into the
market? and I bound it him."
1. The Sanhedrim, which looseth two things, let it not hasten to loose three.
2. "R. Jochanan saith, They necessarily loose saluting on the sabbath."
3. The wise men loose all oils, or all fat things.
4. "The school of Shammai saith, They do not steep ink, colours, and vetches"
on the eve of the sabbath, "unless they be steeped before the day be ended: but
the school of Hillel looseth it." Many more such like instances occur there.
5. "R. Meir loosed the mixing of wine and oil, to anoint a sick man on the
To these may be added, if need were, the frequent (shall I say?) or infinite
use of the phrases, bound and loosed, which we meet with thousands of times over.
But from these allegations, the reader sees abundantly enough both the frequency and the
common use of this phrase, and the sense of it also; namely, first, that it is used in
doctrine, and in judgments, concerning things allowed or not allowed in the law. Secondly,
That to bind is the same with to forbid, or to declare forbidden. To
think that Christ, when he used the common phrase, was not understood by his hearers in
the common and vulgar sense, shall I call it a matter of laughter or of madness?
To this, therefore, do these words amount: When the time was come, wherein the Mosaic
law, as to some part of it, was to be abolished and left off; and as to another part of
it, was to be continued, and to last for ever: he granted Peter here, and to the rest of
the apostles, chapter 18:18, a power to abolish or confirm what they thought good, and as
they thought good, being taught this and led by the Holy Spirit: as if he should say,
"Whatsoever ye shall bind in the law of Moses, that is, forbid, it
shall be forbidden, the Divine authority confirming it; and whatsoever ye shall loose,
that is, permit, or shall teach, that it is permitted and lawful,
shall be lawful and permitted."
Hence they bound, that is, forbade, circumcision to the believers; eating
of things offered to idols, of things strangled, and of blood for a time to the Gentiles;
and that which they bound on earth was confirmed in heaven. They loosed,
that is, allowed purification to Paul, and to four other brethren, for the shunning
of scandal, Acts 21:24: and in a word, by these words of Christ it was committed to them,
the Holy Spirit directing that they should make decrees concerning religion, as to the use
or rejection of Mosaic rite and judgments, and that either for a time or for ever.
Let the words be applied, by way of paraphrase, to the matter that was transacted at
present with Peter: "I am about to build a Gentile church (saith Christ); and to
thee, O Peter, do I give the keys of the kingdom of heaven, that thou mayest first open
the door of faith to them; but if thou askest, by what rule that church is to be governed,
when the Mosaic rule may seem so improper for it, thou shalt be so guided by the Holy
Spirit, that whatsoever of the law of Moses thou shalt forbid them shall be forbidden;
whatsoever thou grantest them shall be granted, and that under a sanction
made in heaven."
Hence in that instant, when he should use his keys, that is, when he was now ready to
open the gate of the gospel to the Gentiles, Acts 10:28, he was taught from heaven, that
the consorting of the Jew with the Gentile, which before had been bound, was now loosed;
and the eating of any creature convenient for food was now loosed, which before had
been bound; and he, in like manner, looses both these.
Those words of our Saviour, John 20:23, "Whose sins ye remit, they are remitted to
them," for the most part are forced to the same sense with these before us; when they
carry quite another sense. Here the business is of doctrine only, not of persons;
there of persons, not of doctrine: here of things lawful or unlawful in
religion to be determined by the apostles; there of persons obstinate or not obstinate, to
be punished by them, or not to be punished.
As to doctrine, the apostles were doubly instructed: 1. So long sitting at the feet of
their Master, they had imbibed the evangelical doctrine. 2. The Holy Spirit directing
them, they were to determine concerning the legal doctrine and practice; being completely
instructed and enabled in both by the Holy Spirit descending upon them. As to their
persons, they were endowed with a peculiar gift, so that the same Spirit directing them,
if they would retain and punish the sins of any, a power was delivered into their hands of
delivering to Satan, of punishing with diseases, plagues, yea, death itself; which Peter
did to Ananias and Sapphira; Paul to Elymas, Hymeneus, and Philetus, &c.