Saint Matthew – Chapter 17

The Bible – New Testament

Saint Matthew

Chapter 17


1 2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.


3 And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.


4 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him.


Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, «Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents 5 here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.»


While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, 6 then from the cloud came a voice that said, «This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.»


7 When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid.


But Jesus came and touched them, saying, «Rise, and do not be afraid.»


And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.


8 As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, «Do not tell the vision 9 to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.»


10 Then the disciples asked him, «Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?»


He said in reply, 11 «Elijah will indeed come and restore all things;


but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased. So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands.»


12 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.


13 When they came to the crowd a man approached, knelt down before him,


and said, «Lord, have pity on my son, for he is a lunatic 14 and suffers severely; often he falls into fire, and often into water.


I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.»


Jesus said in reply, «O faithless and perverse 15 generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you? Bring him here to me.»


Jesus rebuked him and the demon came out of him, 16 and from that hour the boy was cured.


Then the disciples approached Jesus in private and said, «Why could we not drive it out?»


17 He said to them, «Because of your little faith. Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.»




19 As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, «The Son of Man is to be handed over to men,


and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.» And they were overwhelmed with grief.


20 When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax 21 approached Peter and said, «Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?»


«Yes,» he said. 22 When he came into the house, before he had time to speak, Jesus asked him, «What is your opinion, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take tolls or census tax? From their subjects or from foreigners?»


23 When he said, «From foreigners,» Jesus said to him, «Then the subjects are exempt.


But that we may not offend them, 24 go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax. Give that to them for me and for you.»

1 [1-8] The account of the transfiguration confirms that Jesus is the Son of God (⇒ Matthew 17:5) and points to fulfillment of the prediction that he will come in his Father’s glory at the end of the age (⇒ Matthew 16:27). It has been explained by some as a resurrection appearance retrojected into the time of Jesus’ ministry, but that is not probable since the account lacks many of the usual elements of the resurrection-appearance narratives. It draws upon motifs from the Old Testament and noncanonical Jewish apocalyptic literature that express the presence of the heavenly and the divine, e.g., brilliant light, white garments, and the overshadowing cloud.
2 [1] These three disciples are also taken apart from the others by Jesus in Gethsemane (⇒ Matthew 26:37). A high mountain: this has been identified with Tabor or Hermon, but probably no specific mountain was intended by the evangelist or by his Marcan source (⇒ Matthew 9:2). Its meaning is theological rather than geographical, possibly recalling the revelation to Moses on Mount Sinai (⇒ Exodus 24:12-18) and to Elijah at the same place (⇒ 1 Kings 19:8-18; Horeb = Sinai).
3 [2] His face shone like the sun: this is a Matthean addition; cf ⇒ Daniel 10:6. His clothes became white as light: cf ⇒ Daniel 7:9 where the clothing of God appears «snow bright.» For the white garments of other heavenly beings, see ⇒ Rev 4:4; ⇒ 7:9; ⇒ 19:14.
4 [3] See the note on ⇒ Mark 9:5.
5 [4] Three tents: the booths in which the Israelites lived during the feast of Tabernacles (cf ⇒ John 7:2) were meant to recall their ancestors’ dwelling in booths during the journey from Egypt to the promised land (⇒ Lev 23:39-42). The same Greek word, skene, here translated tents, is used in the LXX for the booths of that feast, and some scholars have suggested that there is an allusion here to that liturgical custom.
6 [5] Cloud cast a shadow over them: see the note on ⇒ Mark 9:7. This is my beloved Son . . . listen to him: cf ⇒ Matthew 3:17. The voice repeats the baptismal proclamation about Jesus, with the addition of the command listen to him. The latter is a reference to ⇒ Deut 18:15 in which the Israelites are commanded to listen to the prophet like Moses whom God will raise up for them. The command to listen to Jesus is general, but in this context it probably applies particularly to the preceding predictions of his passion and resurrection (⇒ Matthew 16:21) and of his coming (⇒ Matthew 16:27, ⇒ 28).
7 [6-7] A Matthean addition; cf ⇒ Daniel 10:9-10, ⇒ 18-19.
8 [9] In response to the disciples’ question about the expected return of Elijah, Jesus interprets the mission of the Baptist as the fulfillment of that expectation. But that was not suspected by those who opposed and finally killed him, and Jesus predicts a similar fate for himself.
9 [9] The vision: Matthew alone uses this word to describe the transfiguration. Until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead: only in the light of Jesus’ resurrection can the meaning of his life and mission be truly understood; until then no testimony to the vision will lead people to faith. ⇒ Matthew 17:9-13
10 [10] See the notes on ⇒ Matthew 3:4; ⇒ 16:14.
11 [11-12] The preceding question and this answer may reflect later controversy with Jews who objected to the Christian claims for Jesus that Elijah had not yet come.
12 [13] See ⇒ Matthew 11:14.
13 [14-20] Matthew has greatly shortened the Marcan story (⇒ Matthew 9:14-29). Leaving aside several details of the boy’s illness, he concentrates on the need for faith, not so much on the part of the boy’s father (as does Mark, for Matthew omits ⇒ Mark 9:22b-24) but on that of his own disciples whose inability to drive out the demon is ascribed to their little faith (⇒ Matthew 17:20).
14 [15] A lunatic: this description of the boy is peculiar to Matthew. The word occurs in the New Testament only here and in ⇒ Matthew 4:24 and means one affected or struck by the moon. The symptoms of the boy’s illness point to epilepsy, and attacks of this were thought to be caused by phases of the moon.
15 [17] Faithless and perverse: so Matthew and Luke (Matthew 9:41) against Mark’s faithless (⇒ Matthew 9:19). The Greek word here translated perverse is the same as that in ⇒ Deut 32:5 LXX, where Moses speaks to his people. There is a problem in knowing to whom the reproach is addressed. Since the Matthean Jesus normally chides his disciples for their little faith (as in ⇒ Matthew 17:20), it would appear that the charge of lack of faith could not be made against them and that the reproach is addressed to unbelievers among the Jews. However in ⇒ Matthew 17:20b (if you have faith the size of a mustard seed), which is certainly addressed to the disciples, they appear to have not even the smallest faith; if they had, they would have been able to cure the boy. In the light of ⇒ Matthew 17:20b the reproach of ⇒ Matthew 17:17 could have applied to the disciples. There seems to be an inconsistency between the charge of little faith in ⇒ Matthew 17:20a and that of not even a little in ⇒ Matthew 17:20b.
16 [18] The demon came out of him: not until this verse does Matthew indicate that the boy’s illness is a case of demoniacal possession.
17 [20] The entire verse is an addition of Matthew who (according to the better attested text) omits the reason given for the disciples’ inability in ⇒ Mark 9:29. Little faith: see the note on Matthew 6, 30. Faith the size of a mustard seed . . . and it will move: a combination of a Q saying (cf ⇒ Luke 17:6) with a Marcan saying (cf ⇒ Mark 11:23).
18 [21] Some manuscripts add, «But this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting»; this is a variant of the better reading of ⇒ Mark 9:29.
19 [22-23] The second passion prediction (cf ⇒ Matthew 16:21-23) is the least detailed of the three and may be the earliest. In the Marcan parallel the disciples do not understand (⇒ Matthew 9:32); here they understand and are overwhelmed with grief at the prospect of Jesus’ death (⇒ Matthew 17:23).
20 [24-27] Like ⇒ Matthew 14:28-31 and ⇒ Matthew 16:16b-19, this episode comes from Matthew’s special material on Peter. Although the question of the collectors concerns Jesus’ payment of the temple tax, it is put to Peter. It is he who receives instruction from Jesus about freedom from the obligation of payment and yet why it should be made. The means of doing so is provided miraculously. The pericope deals with a problem of Matthew’s church, whether its members should pay the temple tax, and the answer is given through a word of Jesus conveyed to Peter. Some scholars see here an example of the teaching authority of Peter exercised in the name of Jesus (see ⇒ Matthew 16:19). The specific problem was a Jewish Christian one and may have arisen when the Matthean church was composed largely of that group.
21 [24] The temple tax: before the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in A.D. 70 every male Jew above nineteen years of age was obliged to make an annual contribution to its upkeep (cf ⇒ Exodus 30:11-16; ⇒ Nehemiah 10:33). After the destruction the Romans imposed upon Jews the obligation of paying that tax for the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. There is disagreement about which period the story deals with.
22 [25] From their subjects or from foreigners?: the Greek word here translated subjects literally means «sons.»
23 [26] Then the subjects are exempt: just as subjects are not bound by laws applying to foreigners, neither are Jesus and his disciples, who belong to the kingdom of heaven, bound by the duty of paying the temple tax imposed on those who are not of the kingdom. If the Greek is translated «sons,» the freedom of Jesus, the Son of God, and of his disciples, children («sons») of the kingdom (cf ⇒ Matthew 13:38), is even more clear.
24 [27] That we may not offend them: though they are exempt (⇒ Matthew 17:26), Jesus and his disciples are to avoid giving offense; therefore the tax is to be paid. A coin worth twice the temple tax: literally, «a stater,» a Greek coin worth two double drachmas. Two double drachmas were equal to the Jewish shekel and the tax was a half-shekel. For me and for you: not only Jesus but Peter pays the tax, and this example serves as a standard for the conduct of all the disciples.