The Greatest in the Kingdom. 1a At that time the disciples* approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2He called a child over, placed it in their midst, 3b and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children,* you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4c Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5* And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.
Temptations to Sin. 6d “Whoever causes one of these little ones* who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7* Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 8e If your hand or foot causes you to sin,* cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life maimed or crippled than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into eternal fire. 9And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into fiery Gehenna.
The Parable of the Lost Sheep.* 10f “See that you do not despise one of these little ones,* for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father. g * 12 What is your opinion? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray? 13And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that did not stray. 14In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.
A Brother Who Sins.* 15h “If your brother* sins [against you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. 16* i If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17j If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.* If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. 18* k Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19* l Again, [amen,] I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. 20* m For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.* 21n Then Peter approaching asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22* Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. 23o That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. 24* When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. 25Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. 26* At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’ 27Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. 28When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount.* He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ 29Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ 30But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt. 31Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. 32His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. 33p Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ 34Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt.* 35* q So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”
* [18:1–35] This discourse of the fourth book of the gospel is often called the “church order” discourse, but it lacks most of the considerations usually connected with church order, such as various offices in the church and the duties of each, and deals principally with the relations that must obtain among the members of the church. Beginning with the warning that greatness in the kingdom of heaven is measured not by rank or power but by childlikeness (Mt 18:1–5), it deals with the care that the disciples must take not to cause the little ones to sin or to neglect them if they stray from the community (Mt 18:6–14), the correction of members who sin (Mt 18:15–18), the efficacy of the prayer of the disciples because of the presence of Jesus (Mt 18:19–20), and the forgiveness that must be repeatedly extended to sinful members who repent (Mt 18:21–35).
* [18:1] The initiative is taken not by Jesus as in the Marcan parallel (Mk 9:33–34) but by the disciples. Kingdom of heaven: this may mean the kingdom in its fullness, i.e., after the parousia and the final judgment. But what follows about causes of sin, church discipline, and forgiveness, all dealing with the present age, suggests that the question has to do with rank also in the church, where the kingdom is manifested here and now, although only partially and by anticipation; see notes on Mt 3:2; 4:17.
* [18:3] Become like children: the child is held up as a model for the disciples not because of any supposed innocence of children but because of their complete dependence on, and trust in, their parents. So must the disciples be, in respect to God.
* [18:6] One of these little ones: the thought passes from the child of Mt 18:2–4 to the disciples, little ones because of their becoming like children. It is difficult to know whether this is a designation of all who are disciples or of those who are insignificant in contrast to others, e.g., the leaders of the community. Since apart from this chapter the designation little ones occurs in Matthew only in Mt 10:42 where it means disciples as such, that is its more likely meaning here. Who believe in me: since discipleship is impossible without at least some degree of faith, this further specification seems superfluous. However, it serves to indicate that the warning against causing a little one to sin is principally directed against whatever would lead such a one to a weakening or loss of faith. The Greek verb skandalizein, here translated causes…to sin, means literally “causes to stumble”; what the stumbling is depends on the context. It is used of falling away from faith in Mt 13:21. According to the better reading of Mk 9:42, in me is a Matthean addition to the Marcan source. It would be better…depths of the sea: cf. Mk 9:42.
* [18:8-9] These verses are a doublet of Mt 5:29–30. In that context they have to do with causes of sexual sin. As in the Marcan source from which they have been drawn (Mk 9:42–48), they differ from the first warning about scandal, which deals with causing another person to sin, for they concern what causes oneself to sin and they do not seem to be related to another’s loss of faith, as the first warning is. It is difficult to know how Matthew understood the logical connection between these verses and Mt 18:6–7.
* [18:10–14] The first and last verses are peculiar to Matthew. The parable itself comes from Q; see Lk 15:3–7. In Luke it serves as justification for Jesus’ table-companionship with sinners; here, it is an exhortation for the disciples to seek out fellow disciples who have gone astray. Not only must no one cause a fellow disciple to sin, but those who have strayed must be sought out and, if possible, brought back to the community. The joy of the shepherd on finding the sheep, though not absent in Mt 18:13 is more emphasized in Luke. By his addition of Mt 18:10, 14 Matthew has drawn out explicitly the application of the parable to the care of the little ones.
* [18:10] Their angels in heaven…my heavenly Father: for the Jewish belief in angels as guardians of nations and individuals, see Dn 10:13, 20–21; Tb 5:4–7; 1QH 5:20–22; as intercessors who present the prayers of human beings to God, see Tb 13:12, 15. The high worth of the little ones is indicated by their being represented before God by these heavenly beings.
* [18:15–20] Passing from the duty of Christian disciples toward those who have strayed from their number, the discourse now turns to how they are to deal with one who sins and yet remains within the community. First there is to be private correction (Mt 18:15); if this is unsuccessful, further correction before two or three witnesses (Mt 18:16); if this fails, the matter is to be brought before the assembled community (the church), and if the sinner refuses to attend to the correction of the church, he is to be expelled (Mt 18:17). The church’s judgment will be ratified in heaven, i.e., by God (Mt 18:18). This three-step process of correction corresponds, though not exactly, to the procedure of the Qumran community; see 1QS 5:25–6:1; 6:24–7:25; CD 9:2–8. The section ends with a saying about the favorable response of God to prayer, even to that of a very small number, for Jesus is in the midst of any gathering of his disciples, however small (Mt 18:19–20). Whether this prayer has anything to do with the preceding judgment is uncertain.
* [18:15] Your brother: a fellow disciple; see Mt 23:8. The bracketed words, against you, are widely attested but they are not in the important codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus or in some other textual witnesses. Their omission broadens the type of sin in question. Won over: literally, “gained.”
* [18:17] The church: the second of the only two instances of this word in the gospels; see note on Mt 16:18. Here it refers not to the entire church of Jesus, as in Mt 16:18, but to the local congregation. Treat him…a Gentile or a tax collector: just as the observant Jew avoided the company of Gentiles and tax collectors, so must the congregation of Christian disciples separate itself from the arrogantly sinful member who refuses to repent even when convicted of his sin by the whole church. Such a one is to be set outside the fellowship of the community. The harsh language about Gentile and tax collector probably reflects a stage of the Matthean church when it was principally composed of Jewish Christians. That time had long since passed, but the principle of exclusion for such a sinner remained. Paul makes a similar demand for excommunication in 1 Cor 5:1–13.
* [18:18] Except for the plural of the verbs bind and loose, this verse is practically identical with Mt 16:19b and many scholars understand it as granting to all the disciples what was previously given to Peter alone. For a different view, based on the different contexts of the two verses, see note on Mt 16:19.
* [18:19–20] Some take these verses as applying to prayer on the occasion of the church’s gathering to deal with the sinner of Mt 18:17. Unless an a fortiori argument is supposed, this seems unlikely. God’s answer to the prayer of two or three envisages a different situation from one that involves the entire congregation. In addition, the object of this prayer is expressed in most general terms as anything for which they are to pray.
* [18:20] For where two or three…midst of them: the presence of Jesus guarantees the efficacy of the prayer. This saying is similar to one attributed to a rabbi executed in A.D. 135 at the time of the second Jewish revolt: “…When two sit and there are between them the words of the Torah, the divine presence (Shekinah) rests upon them” (Pirqê ’Abôt 3, 3).
* [18:21–35] The final section of the discourse deals with the forgiveness that the disciples are to give to their fellow disciples who sin against them. To the question of Peter how often forgiveness is to be granted (Mt 18:21), Jesus answers that it is to be given without limit (Mt 18:22) and illustrates this with the parable of the unmerciful servant (Mt 18:23–34), warning that his heavenly Father will give those who do not forgive the same treatment as that given to the unmerciful servant (Mt 18:35). Mt 18:21–22 correspond to Lk 17:4; the parable and the final warning are peculiar to Matthew. That the parable did not originally belong to this context is suggested by the fact that it really does not deal with repeated forgiveness, which is the point of Peter’s question and Jesus’ reply.
* [18:22] Seventy-seven times: the Greek corresponds exactly to the LXX of Gn 4:24. There is probably an allusion, by contrast, to the limitless vengeance of Lamech in the Genesis text. In any case, what is demanded of the disciples is limitless forgiveness.
* [18:24] A huge amount: literally, “ten thousand talents.” The talent was a unit of coinage of high but varying value depending on its metal (gold, silver, copper) and its place of origin. It is mentioned in the New Testament only here and in Mt 25:14–30.
* [18:26] Pay you back in full: an empty promise, given the size of the debt.
* [18:28] A much smaller amount: literally, “a hundred denarii.” A denarius was the normal daily wage of a laborer. The difference between the two debts is enormous and brings out the absurdity of the conduct of the Christian who has received the great forgiveness of God and yet refuses to forgive the relatively minor offenses done to him.
* [18:34] Since the debt is so great as to be unpayable, the punishment will be endless.
* [18:35] The Father’s forgiveness, already given, will be withdrawn at the final judgment for those who have not imitated his forgiveness by their own.