Johannes Heinrich August Ebrard Hermann Olshausen.

Biblical commentary on the New Testament, Volume 1 online

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ward to admonish and correct him, and that which Christ had repre-
sented as necessary (for his work) he seeks to put far from him.
(The VA£6q aoi, sciL eli] Qe6g = tjV nV^^h 1 Chron. xi. 19.) But even
this does not exhaust his meaning. The expression aicdvdaXov fwv cZ,
thou art a snare to me, which follows, shews that Peter's remark
was not merely a sin in him, but a temptation to the Lord.
Peter, we find here, perhaps from vanity at the praise just uttered,
sunk back to the level of the natural man — and along with him the
other disciples whom Jesus here rebukes through Peter, just as, at
ver. 18, 19, he had conjoined them with him in praise. (Mark viii.
83, indicates this by his expression 16g)v rovg fiadrp-ag avrov,) It is
the part of the natural man, however, rd tCjv av^pwTrwv <^ovuv^ to
savor the things of men, and of the new man Td,Tov Qeov tppavuv, to
savor the things of God, It is not the wicked man (dvOpcjTrog novii-
p6g)j who is here spoken of, but only the natural man {^x^f^^^y 1
Cor. iL 14), who, incapable of rising to the apprehension of the
Divine, draws it down to his own human level. Where we thus
recognise as intelligible the co-existence of the old and the new man
(in those who are regenerate but not yet perfected), and the alternate
predominance now of the one and now of the other, we also under-
stand how Jesus can rebuke that same Peter whom he had just praised.
This di^^ersity of language is dependent on the varied prevalence of
the new or the old man in the same individual It still remains for
us to say something more particularly of the vnaye dTrlau) fiov, aaravd^
get behind me, Satan, These words are to be explained by the
following oKavdaXov fiov el, thou art a snare to me, by the addi-
tion of which, Matthew greatly facilitates our understanding the
whole of this remarkable scene, and again furnishes proof how exact
he is in the substance, while neglecting the outward features of his
narrative. Unquestionably the Saviour must be conceived as hav-
ing maintained one continuous conflict with temptation. Its great
capital periods, at the commencement and close of his ministry, ex-
hibit merely in a concentrated form, what ran through his whole
life. Here, then, for the first time, it assumes the foim of suggest-
ing the possibility of escaping sufiering and death. It was all the
more concealed and dangerous that it came to him through the
lips of a dear disciple, who had just solemnly acknowledged his
Divine dignity. What we remarked in the case of the history of the
temptation (see on Matth. iv. 1, seq.) must in this instance also be
faithfully kept in view. From the clear and pure fountain of

Digitized by


Matthew XVI. 23-26. 658

Christ^s life no unholy thought could flow ; but precisely because
he was to be a conqueror of sin, it had to draw near, that in every
form he might overthrow it ; and in his human nature, which only
by degrees received within itself the whole fulness of the Divine life,
sin, when it drew near, made upon him an impression. Such a
sacred moment have we here. With the glance of his soul, the
Saviour at once penetrated the source whence sprang this far be it
from thecy and* killed the springing evil in its very root. This
explains at once the import of the aaravd, which was addressed to
Peter (arpoipelg elne rcj nerpcj). The opinion that Peter is here
termed a wicked counsellor, or even an adversary* (from ite'o),* stands
completely self-refuted ; the rock of the church cannot possibly be
at the same time an adversary, and assuredly Peter did not, by hav-
ing spoken these words, cease to be the rock of the church. The
aaravaq^ SataUy is none other than the &qx^^ '^^ Kdofiov tovtov, rvler
of this world, who has his work in the children of unbelief (Ephes.
ii. 2), and also in the children of faith, in so far as the Spirit of
Christ has as yet not sanctified them, i. e., in so far as the old man,
still exposed to sinful influences, yet lives in them. This influence
had Peter (as the organ of the others, who are to be conceived of
as under the same guilt) admitted into his heart without knowing
what he did. Our Lord, however, brings. him to the consciousness
of what ho was doing, by naming the element from which sprang
the thought that he had been weak enough to utter. Thus, as in
the foregoing confession (ver. 16), the Divine element was seen
predominant in Peter, so evil now asserts its power over him ; and
here, therefore, we have in his case an exhibition of that ebbing
and flowing of spiritual life, which every one experiences who
has felt ill his heart the redeeming power of Christ. Where
sin is powerful, there does grace excel in power (Rom. v. 20) ; con-
versely, however, where grace is mighty, there sin also puts itself
mightily forth.'

Ver. 24-26. — Immediately after these words, Jesus, transferring
his discourse from the immediate circle of his disciples to a more
extensive audience (according to Mark and Luke), subjoins an
admonition upon self-denial. The thoughts themselves we have
already unfolded at Matth. x. 37, seq. ; the only inquiry here is,
what association of ideas connects these verses with the foregoing.
The fact that Christ must die, does not seem to imply as a neces-
sary consequence, the death of his disciples, for indeed Christ died
expressly that we might live. Of bodily death this is undoubtedly
true, but the life and death of Jesus is a pattern for his church (1

♦ As regards the mere usage of the words, this explanation may be justified hy refer-
ring to such passages as 1 Kings xL 14 ; 2 Sam. xix. 22. In the New Testament, how-
ever, 'jaravuc never occurs in the sense of adversary.

Digitized by


654 Matthew XVI, 24-28,

Peter ii. 21). What the Saviour experienced, all his redeemed
ones must experience spiritually; they taste the power of his resur-
rection, but previously also that of his sufferings (Phil. iii. 10). To
be made alive in the new man (in the i>vxq 7rv£VfiaTiKy\ necessarily
implies the dying of the old. (Compare the remarks on Matth. x.
87, seq.) The expression of Peter (ver. 22) had flowed from the
natural dread of conflict, sufferings, and death, and hence our Lord
exhorts all that would follow him to undertake these willingly, and
for the sake of heavenly things to sacrifice all the earthly. The
gain of the world with its sensuous enjoyments (ver. 26) could
never totisfy man's inmiortal part. Is the world then, the object
of his efforts ? He loses, in that case, his real happiness. The
sacrifice of heavenly treasure alone brings real pain, that of our
earthly, pure joy. The latter may be compensated, the former
never.** In the words ri dcjaei dvOpcDnog avraXkayfia^ what will a man
give, etc., there is an implied declaration that only God could find
an avraXXajna for the souls of men. (Comp. on Matth. xx. 28.)
^kvTaXkayna, exchange, is nearly allied to kvrpov^ ransom, although
not entirely synonymous. It denotes the purchase^money, the object
for which a man exchanges any thing, as Sir. vi. 15, (f>iXov m<nov ov«
ScTi avraXXayna, Thus, while the dvrdXXayiia proceeds on the idea
of possession, Xvrpov refers to a state of slavery, out of which the
Xvrpov gives deliverance. In this respect, the expression dfraXXayfia^
would correspond to Xvrpov, but it does not occur in the New
Testament. The verb dnaXXdaaeiv, however, in the sense of to
set free, occurs at Heb. ii. 15. To this admonition to self-denial
Mark and Luke subjoin the corresponding threatening. (As to the
contents of the verse, compare the parallel passage Matth. x. 32,
33.) The shunning to enter into conflict and suffering, is in fact
to be ashamed of the Lord, and to sacrifice the eternal to the
temporal. And this will, at the day of judgment, display its
fatal results. (As to the formula ^(^x^adai iv 66^ fterd rwv dyyiXcjv
rCJv dyiojv, see on Matth. xxiv.)

Ver. 27. — From what has gone before, it is plain, that the
formula d7:od<j)au iKaaro) Kara rrjv TTpd^iv avTov, he Will render to each
man according to his conduct, must be understood in such a way,
that the Tr^d^iq denotes not individual tpya, acts, of this or of that
kind, but the whole inward course of life (the rov Kdafiov or i>vxTjv
Kep6aiveiv)j which flows from faith or from unbelief, and shews itself
in the fruits of the one or of the other.

Ver. 28 — To render his mention of the ^fiipa Kptaetjj^, day of

judgment, more impressive, the Saviour sets forth its threatening

nearness. As at Matth. x. 23, 1 here refer once more to the leading

passage Matth. xxiv., inasmuch as this same idea, that the day of

♦ The same thought was expressed formerlj at Ps. xlix. 1^.

Digitized by


Matthew XVI. 28; XVII. 1. 555

the Lord's second coming was near, must be understood in the same
way throughout the New Testament. Here, the death (Odvarov
yevaaodcu = n;» biiPta), of some who were present — as the longest
livers, is assigned as the period of the Parousia.** (The words wtJe
k<jT(0TEg, those standing here, are to be understood of the whole mul-
titude who surrounded him, the apostles as well as»the others.) One
involuntarily calls to mind here the enigmatical words at John xxL
22, on which compare the commentary. The parallel passages in
Mark and Luke refer not so much to the coming of Christ, as to
the coming of his kindom (Mark adds iv dwojiet), and these expres-
sions may be understood as describing the powerful manifestations
of living Christian principle, without reference to the personal return
of Jesus. But the immediate connexion of these words with the
foregoing context, in which the ep;^e(7^a4 h t^ dofy, coming in his
glory, refers so unmistakeably to the Parousia, does not admit of
this explanation. The coming of the kingdom coincides with his
coming personally.

§ 32. The TRANSFiGURATiONfc OF Jesus.

(Matth. xvii.' 1-13 ; Mark ix- 2-13 ; Luke ix. 28-36.)

The following important occurrence demands some preliminary
remarks, that we may contemplate it from the right point of view,
and all the more as it has been subject to the utmost diversity
of opinions. At the outset, we summarily reject those views which
reduce the fact itself to a dream or an optical delusion ; views in
which thunder, lightning, and passing mists, take the place of the
voice of God, and the cloud of light. Other explanations, however,
which find here either a myth, or a vision without any outwardly
visible fact, must be more closely examined. Primarily, then, as re-
spects the mythical hypothesis, it has historical analogy to support
it. But he who is unable to place the JudeBO-biblical history on a
level with the course of historical development among other nations,
must be precluded, as was formerly observed, by this general charac-
ter of the Bible narrative, from admitting in any case the slightest
mythic element. In it, we have a history of God amidst the human
race, in which everything appears actually realized, which springing
from the real longings of the soul, human fancy has invested, in the

• I think it can scarcely be doubtod that " the coming of the Son of Man in his king-
dom** refers here to the following scene of the transfiguration. The words, ** shall not sec
death until they see the Son of Man," refers not to length of life, but to privilege: some
shall have the privilege of beholding him in his glory eren before they die. So some an-
cient oommentators. The transfiguration is \hu8 regarded as a type of the Saviour^s
future glory in his kingdom. — [K.

Digitized by


556 Matthew XVII. 1.

histories of other nations, with the attractive garb of fable. Be-
sides, in this narrative of the transfiguration, particulars are given
which directly contradict every mythical conception. The mythic
stvle of narrative, is, in its very nature, obscure and indefinite,
but here, as everywhere, the evangelists maintain their historic
sobriety. Contrary to their usual practice, they relate unanimously
that the transfiguration took place six days after the events pre-
viously recorded. If we consider that they wrote thirty years at least
a/ter the event, it is obvious how deeply the solemn occurrence must
have imprinted itself on their memories, from their retaining the
date with such exactness. According to Luke ix. 37, the healing
of the sick boy, which all the evangelists agree in placing directly
after the trans%uration, took place on the following day.* A thing
of this kind ill agrees with the mythical forms of composition. The
history obviously reads like the simplest narrative of a fact. As to
the view, however, that we have here the record of a vision, the
occurrence is certainly styled an Spofuij thing seerij vision (=vth,
nK-jto), at Matth. xvii. 9 ; this term, however, is by no means re-
stricted to an object of internal contemplation ; it is often used in
cases of objects outwardly and visibly present. It merely denotes,
in general, objects which becomd known to us by the sense of sight, in
contradistinction to those made known to us verbally (comp. Acts
xii. 9). And further, the explanation of the occurrence before us
as a vision is untenable, from the fact that we have no example
of a mere vision occurring at once, and in the same way to several
persons, and these so widely diverse in character and relation, as
were Christ and the three disciples. We take our stand, then, on
the simple literal sense of the narrative, which in the first place
is assuredly that intended by the narrators ; and in the next place,
vindicates itself perfectly to every Christian intelligence. For if we
assume the reality of the resurrection of the body, and its glorifica-
tion, truths which assuredly belong to the system of Christian doc-
trine, the whole occurrence presents no essential difficulties. The
appearance of Moses and Elias, which is usually held to be the most
unintelligible point in it, is easily conceived of as possible, if we
admit their bodily glorification. In support of this idea, however,
Scripture itself gives sufficient intimations (Deut. xxxiv, 6 com-
pared with Jude 9; 2 Kings ii. 11, compared with Sir. xlviiL 9, 13),
which men have accustomed themselves to set down as belonging to
biblical mythology — but how justly is another question.

Taken then as literally true, the incident has a twofold signifi-
cance. First, it is a kind of solemn installation of Jesus into his

* Gratz (Part it, p. 166) appeals also to 2 Pet i. 17. As however the genuineQeas of
the epistle cannot be certainly established we must not bring forward this interesting
) in the character of a proof. Yet ought it assuredly to be read.

Digitized by


Matthew XVII. 1. 557

boly office before the three disciples, chosen to be present at it. It
was intended that 'they should be confirmed in the truth of the
foregoing confession (Matth. xvi. 16), and more fully enlightened as
to the dignity of Jesus. In this point of view, the Old Testament
furnishes, in the history of Moses, a parallel to the transfiguration.
Along with Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, he ascended Mount Sinai,
received there the law, and shone to such a degree that he had to
cover his countenance. (Compare Exodus xxiv. with xxxiv. 30, seq.;
2 Cor. iii. 7, seq.) So also Christ is here installed as the spiritual
lawgiver, inasmuch as the voice said avrov (kovere, hear Mm,
(Matth. xvii. 5.) His word is law to his people. But secondly, the
fact has reference to Jesus himself. For, the transfiguration takes
its place along with the baptism, the temptation, and other occur-
rences in which Jesus is himself the object, and his spiritual life
exhibited in its course of development. Throughout his earthly
ministry the Saviour appears in a twofold point of view ; on the
one hand as already and actively redeeming ; on the other as in-
herently advancing his own perfection. (Heb. ii. 10, tnpene tw Bew
rbv dpxvy^ '^^r ooyrTjpiag 6ia nadrifidTGyv TsXeiCjacu, it became God to
perfect, etc) Only by degrees, did the humanity of Jesus receive
into itself the fulness of the Godhead. The transfiguration formed
a stage in this process of development. It represented in figure the
kingdom of God (in that the risen saints shall dwell around Jesus),
and the heavenly messengers opened to him more fully and deeply
the counsel of God in the work of redemption (Luke ix. 31). * If
we regard the glorification of the body as not effected instantane
ously, but as gradually prepared for, the transfiguration will in
thirf respect also have had an important significancy. (Compare
the Commentary, Part II.) [Luke ix. 31, is of importance for the
understanding of this event. Jesus had a few days before announced
his death, and vanquished the temptation to escape from it suggested
by the language of Peter. Now also Moses and Elias speak of his
coming decease at Jerusalem. Law and promise demanded his
death, and the Saviour is ready; Upon this the voice of the Father
is again heard pronouncing him the genuine Saviour, the obedient
Son, and expressing God's approval of his acts, and this alike before
the lawgiver and the chief of the prophets, as before " the two wit-
nesses of Christ," as they are called, Eev. xi. 3.]

Ver. 1. — With perfect unanimity, which runs with trifling ex-
ceptions through the whole narrative, the evangelists relate that the
transfiguration took place after six days, reckoning from the
occurrence which precedes it. (The eight days in Luke indi-
cate merely another way of enumerating the days.) The moun-
tain they describe in the most general terms (Sgog vrlrq^^ov), and
we are left to conjecture in determining where the event oc-

Digitized by


658 Matthew XVII. 1-3.

curred.* The preceding incident took place at Caesarea Philippi
(Mark viii. 27), and there has therefore been a disposition to seek
the mountain on the eastern side of the sea of Gennesareth. But it
is impossible to shew that, during the six intervening days, Christ had
not changed his locality. The early fathers of the church conceived
it to have been Mount Tabor (Hos. v, 1, in the LXX. 'IraPvpiov)^
doubtless only because it is the highest mountain in Galilee. It
seems strange, that in this case Jesus takes only three disciples
with him, for it would appear that the same confirmation of their
faith was equally necessary for the others. We have already remarked,
however, at Matth. x. 1, that the disciples stood in various relations to
the Saviour. The three here named appear in the Gospel nanative as
his most immediate and confidential companions. As they here beheld
him glorified, so at a later period (Matth. xxvi, 27), they witnessed
his deepest sufferings. The ground of this distinction which the
Saviour made among the twelve, was obviously not caprice, but a
difference in their dispositions and vocations. This made necessary
a different training. An esoteric, secret course of instruction com-
municated by the Lord to these three is not to be thought of.
Everywhere, stress is laid by Christ, not on the imparting of a
doctrinal system, but on the renewal of the whole man.

Ver. 2, 3. — While Jesus then, was engaged in prayer (Luke ix.
29), there took place a change in his person — his face and his dress
shone brightly. It is not said by the narrators, whether this glory
was internal or came from without. But as Moses and Elias are
mentioned in immediate connexion with it, and as they also shone
(according to Luke ix. 31), it is probably the design of the narrators
to represent the whole scene as illumined by a bright light (dS^a,
n'as), for it is ever in this form that the supernatural presents itself
to men. We may therefore conceive of the two things as united in
the person of Jesus*; he was irradiated by light shed on him from
without, and he himself shone from within. Mark paints, after his
manner, the outward brightness of the clothing (ix 3); the indefinite
term, however, ^oftofxpovaOaiy transfiguredj employed by Matthew,
is paraphrased by Luke with the words to ddo^ rov Trpoaurrov avrov

• It is remarkable that the most important incidents in the life of our Lord, (the
transfiguration, sufferings, death, ascension), took place on mountains, as also that it was
his custom to ascend mountains for prayer. In the same way, in the Old Testament,
Bacrifices were offered on mountains, and the temple also was built on a mountain. This
is connected with the Scriptural system of symbols, according to which mountains were
compared to the vault of heaven. Uonce so often in the Old Testament docs the expres-
sion occur •* mountains of ascent, everlasting hills" (Gen. xlix. 26 ; Deut. xxxii". 15 ; Ps.
xL 1 ; Ixxii. 3; cxxi. 1; Hab. iii. 20; Rev, xiv. 1). It is interesting to observe the
parallelism of this with the idol-mountains of the ancient natural religions (compare
Baur's Theology, Part L, p. 169). The learned man we have named compares even the
German name Hlmmel {Jieaven)^ with the Indian Himalayas, the primeval idol mountaina
of the Hindoos.

Digitized by


Matthew XVII. 2, 3. 559

irepov iyevero. The narrator may by these words merely mean to
say that his countenance wore an unwonted, an elevated expression.
The characteristic shining or radiance Matthew brings forward with
special prominence (comp. Dan. xii. 3 ; Rev. x. 1). It is a natural
symbol, to conceive of Divine and heavenly objects as luminous ;
in no nation or individual are they presented under the emblem of
darkness. The fulness of the radiance betokens very naturally the
degree of purity in the revelation from on high. In these figurative
forms of speech does universal humanity express itself; for they
correspond to those essential traits which reveal themselves to every
mind. (Paul uses the word fieTafWfxpovadai in describing the internal
processes of regeneration, Rom. xii. 2; 2 Cor. iii. 18.) It is strange
that any question should be raised as to how the disciples could
have known' Moses and Elias, partly because of the obvious answer,
that in the conversations as to the occurrence, which immediately
follow, Jesus may have informed them, and partly because to any
one imbued with the Spirit of Scripture, such characters as Moses
and Elias must be conceived as bearing an impress that could not
be mistaken.

Luke ix. 31, 32, gives some additional particulars, which are of
the highest importance for our understanding the whole occurrence.
He remarks, first, that Moses and Elias had spoken of the decease
of Jesus (t^odog in the sense of the end of life, death, as at Wisdom
vii. 6 ; 2 Peter i. 15), which awaited him in Jerusalem. We have
here a peculiar feature, beyond the conception of a myth, set-
ting in immediate contrast with this state of glorification, the
deepest humiliation. It would seem, however, as if the Saviour's
glory was exhibited to him in its reality, in order to strengthen him
for victory. Yet even after this, his soul faltered, although he here
tasted the glory ! (The expression tkeyov t^odov, spake of his decease,
it may be added, is unquestionably to be understood as referring not
so much to the fact of the death itself, as to its more immediate
circumstances and relations. Moses and Elias appear merely as
dyyekot, as messengers from the higher world.) Luke however
relates further, that Peter and his two companions were heavy with
sleep, and, upon rousing themselves {diaypTjyoprjaavreg), beheld the
glory of Jesus and of the two men. Even in the same way did
sleep overcome these three disciples amidst the sufferings of Jesus
at Gethsemane (Matth. xxvi. 40), where Luke relates (xxii. 45), that
they slept from grief (aTzb TTjg XtmTjg). Great mental agitations,
whether of joy or sorrow, are fatiguing. Their solemn situation
amidst the loneliness of night upon a mountain — with the Saviour
apart — all this must have taken hold of their souk, and produced
physical exhaustion. Nothing however can be more incori-ect, con-
tradicting both history and Scripture, than to conclude that owing

Digitized by


660 Matthew XVII. 2-5.

to this drowsiness they were unable correctly to observe what passed.
Th§ accuracy of their narrative rests obviously not so much on their
own observations as on their subsequent conversation with Jesus.
Had the disciples fallen into any mistake, the truthfulness of Jesus
would at once have undeceived them. Far rather does the simple
narrative of the circumstances as they happened, even of such as
seemed unfavourable to themselves, vouch for their honesty and

Ver. 4. — Peter, the speaker, breaks silence {atroKpiveaOai = mar,

Online LibraryJohannes Heinrich August Ebrard Hermann OlshausenBiblical commentary on the New Testament, Volume 1 → online text (page 67 of 75)