Saint Matthew – Chapter 12

The Bible – New Testament

Saint Matthew

Chapter 12


1 At that time Jesus was going through a field of grain on the sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick the heads 2 of grain and eat them.


When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, «See, your disciples are doing what is unlawful to do on the sabbath.»


He said to them, 3 «Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry,


how he went into the house of God and ate the bread of offering, which neither he nor his companions but only the priests could lawfully eat?


4 Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests serving in the temple violate the sabbath and are innocent?


I say to you, something greater than the temple is here.


5 If you knew what this meant, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned these innocent men.


6 For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.»


Moving on from there, he went into their synagogue.


And behold, there was a man there who had a withered hand. They questioned him, «Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?» 7 so that they might accuse him.


8 He said to them, «Which one of you who has a sheep that falls into a pit on the sabbath will not take hold of it and lift it out?


How much more valuable a person is than a sheep. So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.»


Then he said to the man, «Stretch out your hand.» He stretched it out, and it was restored as sound as the other.


But the Pharisees 9 went out and took counsel against him to put him to death.


10 11 When Jesus realized this, he withdrew from that place. Many (people) followed him, and he cured them all,


but he warned them not to make him known.


This was to fulfill what had been spoken through Isaiah the prophet:


«Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved in whom I delight; I shall place my spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.


He will not contend 12 or cry out, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.


A bruised reed he will not break, a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory.


And in his name the Gentiles will hope.» 13


14 Then they brought to him a demoniac who was blind and mute. He cured the mute person so that he could speak and see.


15 All the crowd was astounded, and said, «Could this perhaps be the Son of David?»


16 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, «This man drives out demons only by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons.»


But he knew what they were thinking and said to them, 17 «Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste, and no town or house divided against itself will stand.


And if Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself; how, then, will his kingdom stand?


And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own people 18 drive them out? Therefore they will be your judges.


19 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.


20 How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and steal his property, unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.


21 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.


Therefore, I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit 22 will not be forgiven.


And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.


«Either declare 23 the tree good and its fruit is good, or declare the tree rotten and its fruit is rotten, for a tree is known by its fruit.


24 You brood of vipers, how can you say good things when you are evil? For from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.


A good person brings forth good out of a store of goodness, but an evil person brings forth evil out of a store of evil.


25 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak.


By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.»


26 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, «Teacher, 27 we wish to see a sign from you.»


He said to them in reply, «An evil and unfaithful 28 generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet.


Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, 29 so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.


30 At the judgment, the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and there is something greater than Jonah here.


At the judgment the queen of the south will arise with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and there is something greater than Solomon here.


31 «When an unclean spirit goes out of a person it roams through arid regions searching for rest but finds none.


Then it says, ‘I will return to my home from which I came.’ But upon returning, it finds it empty, swept clean, and put in order.


Then it goes and brings back with itself seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they move in and dwell there; and the last condition of that person is worse than the first. Thus it will be with this evil generation.»


32 While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers appeared outside, wishing to speak with him.


(Someone told him, «Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, asking to speak with you.») 33


But he said in reply to the one who told him, «Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?»


And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, «Here are my mother and my brothers.


For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.»

1 [1-14] Matthew here returns to the Marcan order that he left in ⇒ Matthew 9:18. The two stories depend on ⇒ Mark 2:23-28; ⇒ 3:1-6 respectively, and are the only places in either gospel that deal explicitly with Jesus’ attitude toward sabbath observance.
2 [1-2] The picking of the heads of grain is here equated with reaping, which was forbidden on the sabbath (⇒ Exodus 34:21).
3 [3-4] See ⇒ 1 Sam 21:2-7. In the Marcan parallel (⇒ Mark 2:25-26) the high priest is called Abiathar, although in 1 Sam this action is attributed to Ahimelech. The Old Testament story is not about a violation of the sabbath rest; its pertinence to this dispute is that a violation of the law was permissible because of David’s men being without food.
4 [5-6] This and the following argument (⇒ Matthew 12:7) are peculiar to Matthew. The temple service seems to be the changing of the showbread on the sabbath (⇒ Lev 24:8) and the doubling on the sabbath of the usual daily holocausts (⇒ Numbers 28:9-10). The argument is that the law itself requires work that breaks the sabbath rest, because of the higher duty of temple service. If temple duties outweigh the sabbath law, how much more does the presence of Jesus, with his proclamation of the kingdom (something greater than the temple), justify the conduct of his disciples.
5 [7] See the note on ⇒ Matthew 9:13.
6 [8] The ultimate justification for the disciples’ violation of the sabbath rest is that Jesus, the Son of Man, has supreme authority over the law.
Rabbinic tradition later than the gospels allowed relief to be given to a sufferer on the sabbath if life was in danger. This may also have been the view of Jesus’ Pharisaic contemporaries. But the case here is not about one in danger of death.
8 [11] Matthew omits the question posed by Jesus in ⇒ Mark 3:4 and substitutes one about rescuing a sheep on the sabbath, similar to that in ⇒ Luke 14:5.
9 [14] See ⇒ Mark 3:6. Here the plan to bring about Jesus’ death is attributed to the Pharisees only. This is probably due to the situation of Matthew’s church, when the sole opponents were the Pharisees.
10 [15-21] Matthew follows ⇒ Mark 3:7-12 but summarizes his source in two verses (⇒ Matthew 12:15, ⇒ 16) that pick up the withdrawal, the healings, and the command for silence. To this he adds a fulfillment citation from the first Servant Song (⇒ Isaiah 42:1-4) that does not correspond exactly to either the Hebrew or the LXX of that passage. It is the longest Old Testament citation in this gospel, emphasizing the meekness of Jesus, the Servant of the Lord, and foretelling the extension of his mission to the Gentiles.
11 [15] Jesus’ knowledge of the Pharisees’ plot and his healing all are peculiar to Matthew.
12 [19] The servant’s not contending is seen as fulfilled in Jesus’ withdrawal from the disputes narrated in ⇒ Matthew 12:1-14.
13 [21] Except for a minor detail, Matthew here follows the LXX, although the meaning of the Hebrew («the coastlands will wait for his teaching») is similar.
14 [22-32] For the exorcism, see the note on ⇒ Matthew 9:32-34. The long discussion combines Marcan and Q material (⇒ Mark 3:22-30; ⇒ Luke 11:19-20, ⇒ 23; ⇒ 12:10). ⇒ Mark 3:20-21 is omitted, with a consequent lessening of the sharpness of ⇒ Matthew 12:48.
15 [23] See the note on ⇒ Matthew 9:27.
16 [24] See the note on ⇒ Matthew 10:25.
17 [25-26] Jesus’ first response to the Pharisees’ charge is that if it were true, Satan would be destroying his own kingdom.
18 [27] Besides pointing out the absurdity of the charge, Jesus asks how the work of Jewish exorcists (your own people) is to be interpreted. Are they, too, to be charged with collusion with Beelzebul? For an example of Jewish exorcism see Josephus, Antiquities 8,2,5, 42-49.
19 [28] The Q parallel (⇒ Luke 11:20) speaks of the «finger» rather than of the «spirit» of God. While the difference is probably due to Matthew’s editing, he retains the kingdom of God rather than changing it to his usual «kingdom of heaven.» Has come upon you: see ⇒ Matthew 4:17.
20 [29] A short parable illustrates what Jesus is doing. The strong man is Satan, whom Jesus has tied up and whose house he is plundering. Jewish expectation was that Satan would be chained up in the last days (⇒ Rev 20:2); Jesus’ exorcisms indicate that those days have begun.
21 [30] This saying, already attached to the preceding verses in Q (see ⇒ Luke 11:23), warns that there can be no neutrality where Jesus is concerned. Its pertinence in a context where Jesus is addressing not the neutral but the bitterly opposed is not clear. The accusation of scattering, however, does fit the situation. Jesus is the shepherd of God’s people (⇒ Matthew 2:6), his mission is to the lost sheep of Israel (⇒ Matthew 15:24); the Pharisees, who oppose him, are guilty of scattering the sheep.
22 [31] Blasphemy against the Spirit: the sin of attributing to Satan (⇒ Matthew 12:24) what is the work of the Spirit of God (⇒ Matthew 12:28).
23 [33] Declare: literally, «make.» The meaning of this verse is obscure. Possibly it is a challenge to the Pharisees either to declare Jesus and his exorcisms good or both of them bad. A tree is known by its fruit; if the fruit is good, so must the tree be. If the driving out of demons is good, so must its source be.
24 [34] The admission of Jesus’ goodness cannot be made by the Pharisees, for they are evil, and the words that proceed from their evil hearts cannot be good.
25 [36-37] If on the day of judgment people will be held accountable for even their careless words, the vicious accusations of the Pharisees will surely lead to their condemnation.
26 [38-42] This section is mainly from Q (see ⇒ Luke 11:29-32). ⇒ Mark 8:11-12, which Matthew has followed in ⇒ Matthew 16:1-4, has a similar demand for a sign. The scribes and Pharisees refuse to accept the exorcisms of Jesus as authentication of his claims and demand a sign that will end all possibility of doubt. Jesus’ response is that no such sign will be given. Because his opponents are evil and see him as an agent of Satan, nothing will convince them.
27 [38] Teacher: see the note on ⇒ Matthew 8:19. In ⇒ Matthew 16:1 the request is for a sign «from heaven» (⇒ Mark 8:11).
28 [39] Unfaithful: literally, «adulterous.» The covenant between God and Israel was portrayed as a marriage bond, and unfaithfulness to the covenant as adultery; cf ⇒ Hosea 2:4-14; ⇒ Jeremiah 3:6-10.
29 [40] See ⇒ Jonah 2:1. While in Q the sign was simply Jonah’s preaching to the Ninevites (⇒ Luke 11:30, ⇒ 32), Matthew here adds Jonah’s sojourn in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights, a prefigurement of Jesus’ sojourn in the abode of the dead and, implicitly, of his resurrection.
30 [41-42] The Ninevites who repented (see ⇒ Jonah 3:1-10) and the queen of the south (i.e., of Sheba; see ⇒ 1 Kings 10:1-13) were pagans who responded to lesser opportunities than have been offered to Israel in the ministry of Jesus, something greater than Jonah or Solomon. At the final judgment they will condemn the faithless generation that has rejected him.
31 [43-45] Another Q passage; cf ⇒ Matthew 11:24-26. Jesus’ ministry has broken Satan’s hold over Israel, but the refusal of this evil generation to accept him will lead to a worse situation than what preceded his coming.
32 [46-50] See ⇒ Mark 3:31-35. Matthew has omitted ⇒ Mark 3:20-21 which is taken up in ⇒ Mark 3:31 (see the note on ⇒ Matthew 12:22-32), yet the point of the story is the same in both gospels: natural kinship with Jesus counts for nothing; only one who does the will of his heavenly Father belongs to his true family.
33 [47] This verse is omitted in some important textual witnesses, including Codex Sinaiticus (original reading) and Codex Vaticanus.