Commentaries of Origen (Cont.)
1. Introduction to the Feeding of the Five Thousand.
“And when even was come His disciples came to Him,” (Mat_14:15) that is, at the consummation of the age in regard to which we may fitly say what is found in the Epistle of John, “It is the last hour.” (1Jo_2:18) They, not yet understanding what the Word was about to do, say to Him, “The place is desert,” (Mat_14:15) seeing the desert condition of the masses in respect of God and the Law and the Word; but they say to Him, “The time is past,” (Mat_14:15) as if the fitting season of the law and prophets had passed. Perhaps they spoke this saying, in reference to the word of Jesus, that because of the beheading of John both the law and the prophets who were until John had ceased. (Luk_16:16) “The time is past,” therefore they say, and no food is at hand, because the season of it is no longer present, that those who have followed Thee in the desert may serve the law and the prophets. And, further, the disciples say, “Send them away,” (Mat_14:15) that each one may buy food, if he cannot from the cities, at least from the villages, – places more ignoble. Such things the disciples said, because, after the letter of the law had been abrogated and prophecies had ceased, they despaired of unexpected and new food being found for the multitudes. But see what Jesus answers to the disciples though He does not cry out and plainly say it: “You suppose that, if the great multitude go away from Me in need of food, they will find it in villages rather than with Me, and among bodies of men, not of citizens but of villagers, rather than by abiding with Me. But I declare unto you, that in regard to that of which you suppose they are in need they are not in need, for they have no need to go away; but in regard to that of which you think they have no need – that is, of Me – as if I could not feed them, of this contrary to your expectation they have need. Since, then, I have trained you, and made you fit to give rational food to them who are in need of it, give ye to the crowds who have followed Me to eat; for ye have the power, which ye have received from Me, of giving the multitudes to eat; and if ye had attended to this, ye would have understood that I am far more able to feed them, and ye would not have said, ‘Send the multitudes away that they may go and buy food for themselves.’” (Mat_14:15)
2. Exposition of the Details of the Miracle.
Jesus, then, because of the power which He gave to the disciples, even the power of nourishing others, said, Give ye them to eat. Mat_14:16 But not denying that they can give loaves, but thinking that there were much too few and not sufficient to feed those who followed Jesus, and not considering that when Jesus takes each loaf – the Word – He extends it as far as He wills, and makes it suffice for all whomsoever He desires to nourish, the disciples say, We have here but five loaves and two fishes. (Mat_14:17) Perhaps by the five loaves they meant to make a veiled reference to the sensible words of the Scriptures, corresponding in number on this account to the five senses, but by the two fishes either to the word expressed25 and the word conceived,26 which are a relish, so to speak, to the sensible things contained in the Scriptures; or, perhaps, to the word which had come to them about the Father and the Son. Wherefore also after His resurrection He ate of a broiled fish, (Luk_24:42, Luk_24:43) having taken a part from the disciples, and having received that theology about the Father which they were in part able to declare to Him. Such is the contribution we have been able to give to the exposition of the word about the five loaves and the two fishes; and probably those, who are better able than we to gather together the five loaves and the two fishes among themselves, would be able to give a fuller and better interpretation of their meaning. It must be observed, however, that while in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, (Mat_14:17; Mar_6:38; Luk_9:13) the disciples say that they have the five loaves and the two fishes, without indicating whether they were wheaten or of barley, John alone says, that the loaves were barley loaves. (Joh_6:9) Wherefore, perhaps, in the Gospel of John the disciples do not acknowledge that the loaves are with them, but say in John, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fishes.” (Joh_6:9) And so long as these five loaves and two fishes were not carried by the disciples of Jesus, they did not increase or multiply, nor were they able to nourish more; but, when the Saviour took them, and in the first placed looked up to heaven, with the rays of His eyes, as it were, drawing down from it power which was to be mingled with the loaves and the fishes which were about to feed the five thousand; and after this blessed the five loaves and the two fishes, increasing and multiplying them by the word and the blessing; and in the third place dividing and breaking He gave to the disciples that they might set them before the multitudes, then the loaves and the fishes were sufficient, so that all ate and were satisfied, and some portions of the loaves which had been blessed they were unable to eat. For so much remained over to the multitudes, which was not according to the capacity of the multitudes but of the disciples who were able to take up that which remained over of the broken pieces, and to place it in baskets filled with that which remained over, which were in number so many as the tribes of Israel. Concerning Joseph, then, it is written in the Psalms, “His hands served in the basket,” (Psa_81:7) but about the disciples of Jesus that they took up that which remained over of the broken pieces twelve baskets, twelve baskets, I take it, not half-full but filled. And there are, I think, up to the present time, and will be until the consummation of the age with the disciples of Jesus, who are superior to the multitudes, the twelve baskets, filled with the broken pieces of living bread which the multitudes cannot eat. Now those who ate of the five loaves which existed before the twelve baskets that remained over, were kindred in nature to the number five; for those who ate had reached the stage of sensible things, since also they were nourished by Him who looked up to heaven and blessed and brake them, and were not boys nor women, but men. For there are, I think, even in sensible foods differences, so that some of them belong to those who “have put away childish things,” (1Co_13:11) and some to those who are still babes and carnal in Christ.
3. The Exposition of Details Continued. The Sitting Down on the Grass. The Division into Companies.
We have spoken these things because of the words, “They that did eat were five thousand men, beside children and women,” (Mat_14:21) which is an ambiguous expression; for either those who ate were five thousand men, and among those who ate there was no child or woman; or the men only were five thousand, the children and the women not being reckoned. Some, then, as we have said by anticipation, have so understood the passage that neither children nor women were present, when the increase and multiplication of the five loaves and the two fishes took place. Bat some one might say that, while many ate and according to their desert and capacity participated in the loaves of blessing, some worthy to be numbered, corresponding to the men of twenty years old who are numbered in the Book of Numbers, (Num_1:3) were Israelitish men, but others who were not worthy of such account and numbering were children and women. Moreover, interpret with me allegorically the children in accordance with the passage, “I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, as unto babes in Christ;” (1Co_3:1) and the women in accordance with the saying, “I wish to present you all as a pure virgin to Christ;” (2Co_11:2) and the men according to the saying, “When I am become a man I have put away childish things.” (1Co_13:11) Let us not pass by without exposition the words, “He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass, and He look the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, He blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples to the multitudes. And they did all eat.” (Mat_14:19-20) For what is meant by the words, “And He commanded all the multitudes to sit down on the grass?” And what are we to understand in the passage worthy of the command of Jesus? Now, I think that He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass because of what is said in Isaiah, “All flesh is grass;” (Isa_40:6) that is to say, He commanded them to put the flesh under, and to keep in subjection “the mind of the flesh,” (Rom_8:6) that so any one might be able to partake of the loaves which Jesus blesses. Then since there are different orders of those who need the food which Jesus supplies and all are not nourished by equal words, on this account I think that Mark has written, “And He commanded them that they should all sit down by companies upon the green grass; and they sat down in ranks by hundreds and by fifties;” (Mar_6:39-40) but Luke, “And He said unto His disciples, Make them sit down in companies about fifty each.” (Luk_9:14) For it was necessary that those who were to find rest in the food of Jesus should either be in the order of the hundred – the sacred number – which is consecrated to God, because of the unit, in it or in the order of the fifty – the number which embraces the remission of sins, in accordance with the mystery of the Jubilee which took place every fifty years, and of the feast at Pentecost. And I think that the twelve baskets were in the possession of the disciples to whom it was said “Ye shall sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Mat_19:28) And as the throne of him who judges the tribe of Reuben might be said to be a mystery, and the throne of him who judges the tribe of Simeon, and another of him who judges the tribe of Judah, and so on with the others; so there might be a basket of the food of Reuben, and another of Simeon, and another of Levi. But it is not in accordance with our present discourse now to digress so far from the subject in hand as to collect what is said about the twelve tribes, and separately what is said about each of them, and to say what each tribe of Israel may signify.
4. The Multitudes and the Disciples Contrasted.
“And straightway He constrained the disciples to enter into the boat, and to go before Him unto the other side, till He should send the multitudes away.” (Mat_14:22) It should be observed how often in the same passages is mentioned the word, “the multitudes,” and another word, “the disciples,” so that by observing and bringing together the passages about this matter it may be seen that the aim of the Evangelists was to represent by means of the Gospel history the differences of those who come to Jesus; of whom some are the multitudes and are not called disciples, and others are the disciples who are better than the multitudes. It is sufficient, however, for the present, for us to set forth a few sayings, so that any one who is moved by them may do the like with the whole of the Gospels. It is written then – as if the multitudes were below, but the disciples were able to come to Jesus when He went up into the mountain, where the multitudes were not able to be – as follows: “And seeing the multitudes He went up into the mountain, and when He had sat down His disciples came unto Him; and He opened His mouth and taught them saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit,” etc. (Mat_5:1-3) And again in another place, as the multitudes stood in need of healing, it is said, “Many multitudes followed Him and He healed them.” (Mat_12:15) We do not find any healing recorded of the disciples; since if any one is already a disciple of Jesus he is whole, and being well he needs Jesus not as a physician but in respect of His other powers. Again in another place, when He was speaking to the multitudes, His mother and His brethren stood without, seeking to speak to Him; this was made known to Him by some one to whom He answered, stretching forth His hand not towards the multitudes but towards the disciples, and said, “Behold My mother and My brethren.” (Mat_12:46-49) and bearing testimony to the disciples as doing the will of the Father which is in heaven, He added, “He is My brother and sister and mother.” (Mat_12:50) And again in another place it is written, “All the multitude stood on the beach and He spake to them many things in parables.” (Mat_13:2, Mat_13:3) Then after the parable of the Sowing, it was no longer the multitudes but the disciples who came and said to Him, not “Why speakest thou to us in parables,” but, “Why speakest thou to them in parables.” (Mat_13:10) Then also He answered and said, not to the multitudes but to the disciples, “To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to the rest in parables.” (Mat_13:11) Accordingly; of those who come to the name I of Jesus some, who know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, would be called disciples; but those to whom such a privilege is not given would be called multitudes, who would be spoken of as inferior to the disciples. For observe carefully that He said to the disciples, “To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven,” but about the multitudes, “To them it is not given.” (Mat_13:11) And in another place He dismisses the multitudes indeed, and goes into the house, (Mat_13:36) but He does not dismiss the disciples; and there came to Him into His house, not the multitudes but His disciples, saying, “Declare to us the parable of the tares of the field.” (Mat_13:36) Moreover, also, in another place when Jesus heard the things concerning John and withdrew in a boat to a desert place apart, the multitudes followed Him; when He came forth and saw a great multitude He had compassion on them and healed their sick – the sick of the multitudes, not of the disciples. (Mat_14:13, Mat_14:14) “And when even was come there came to Him,” not the multitudes, but the disciples, as being different from the multitudes, saying, “Send the multitudes away that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food.” (Mat_14:15) And, further, when Jesus took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven He blessed and brake the loaves, He gave not to the multitudes but to the disciples, (Mat_14:19) that the disciples might give to the multitudes who were not able to take from Him, but received with difficulty at the hands of the disciples the loaves of the blessing of Jesus, and did not eat even all these; for the multitudes were filled and left that which remained over in twelve baskets which were full.
5. The Disciples in Conflict. Jesus Walks upon the Waters.
The reason why we have taken up this subject is the passage under discussion which tells that Jesus separated the disciples from the multitudes, and constrained them to enter into the boat and to go before Him unto the other side until He Himself should send the multitudes away; (Mat_14:22) for the multitudes were not able to go away to the other side, as they were not in the mystic sense Hebrews, which are by interpretation, “dwelling on the other side.” But this was the work of the disciples of Jesus – I mean to go away to the other side, and to pass beyond things seen and material, as temporal, and to go on to things unseen and eternal. To be dismissed by Jesus was a sufficient act of kindness bestowed on the multitudes by Jesus; for just because they were multitudes they were not able to go away to the other side; and this kind of dismissal no one has the power to effect save Jesus only, and it is not possible for any one to be dismissed unless he has first eaten of the loaves which Jesus blesses. Nor is it possible for any one to eat of the loaves of blessing of Jesus unless he has done as Jesus commanded and sat down upon the grass as we have told. Nor again was it possible for the multitudes to do this unless they had followed Jesus from their own cities, when He withdrew into a desert place apart. And at first, when He was asked by the disciples to send away the multitudes, He did not send them away until He had fed them with the loaves of blessing; but now He sends them away, having first constrained the disciples to enter into the boat; and He sends them away, while they were somewhere below, – for the desert was below, – but He Himself went up into the mountain to pray. (Mat_14:23) And you must observe this, that immediately after the five thousand had been fed, Jesus constrained the disciples to embark into the boat, and to go before Him unto the other side. Only, the disciples were not able to go before Jesus to the other side; but, when they had got as far as the middle of the sea, and the boat was distressed “because the wind was contrary to them,” (Mat_14:24) they were afraid when about the fourth watch of the night Jesus came to them. And if Jesus had not gone up into the boat neither would the wind which was contrary to the disciples who were sailing have ceased, nor would those who were sailing have gone across and come to the other side. And, perhaps, wishing to teach them by experience that it was not possible apart from Him to go to the other side He constrained them to enter into the boat and go before Him to the other side; but, when they were not able to advance farther than the middle of the sea, He appeared to them, and did what is written, (Mat_14:25) and showed that he who arrives at the other side reaches it because Jesus sails along with him. But what is the boat into which Jesus constrained the disciples to enter? Is it perhaps the conflict of temptations and difficulties into which any one is constrained by the Word, and goes unwillingly, as it were, when the Saviour wishes to train by exercise the disciples in this boat which is distressed by the waves and the contrary wind? But since Mark has made a slight change in the reading, and for “Straightway He constrained the disciples to enter lute the boat and to go before Him to the other side,” has written, “And straightway He constrained His disciples to enter into the boat and to go before Him unto the other side unto Bethsaida,” (Mar_6:45) we must attend to the word, “He constrained,” when first we have seen to the slight variation in Mark who indicates something more definite by the addition of the pronoun; for the same thing is not expressed by the words, straightway “He constrained the disciples.” Something more than “the” disciples simply is written in Mark, namely, “His” disciples. Perhaps, therefore, to attend to the expression, the disciples who found it hard to tear themselves away from Jesus, and could not be separated from Him by any ordinary cause, wished to be present with Him; but He having judged that they should make trial of the waves and of the contrary wind, which would not have been contrary if they had been with Jesus, put on them the necessity of being separated from Him and entering into the boat. The Saviour then compels the disciples to enter into the boat of temptations and to go before Him to the other side, and through victory over them to go beyond critical difficulties; but when they had come into the midst of the sea, and of the waves in the temptations, and of the contrary winds which prevented them from going away to the other side, they were not able, struggling as they were without Jesus, to overcome the waves and the contrary wind and reach the other side. Wherefore the Word, taking compassion upon them who had done all that was in their power to reach the other side, came to them walking upon the sea, which for Him had no waves or wind that was able to oppose if He so willed; for it is not written, “He came to them walking upon the waves,” but, “upon the waters;” (Mat_14:25) Just as Peter, who at first when Jesus said to him, “Come,” went down from the boat and walked not upon “the waves,” but upon “the waters” (Mat_14:29) to come to Jesus; but when he doubted he saw that the wind was strong, which was not strong to him who laid aside his little faith and his doubting. But, when Jesus went up with Peter into the boat, the wind ceased, as it had no power to energise against the boat when Jesus had gone up into it.
6. Interpretation of the Details in the Narrative. Application Thereof to All Disciples.
And then the disciples “having crossed over came to the land Gennesaret,” (Mat_14:34) of which word, if we knew the interpretation, we might gain some assistance in the exposition of the present passage. And observe, since God is faithful, and will not suffer the multitudes to be tempted above that they are able, cf. (1Co_10:13) in what way the Son of God constrained the disciples to enter into the boat, as being stronger and able to get as far as the middle of the sea, and to endure the trials by the waves, until they became worthy of divine assistance, and saw Jesus and heard Him when He had gone up, and to cross over and come to the land Gennesaret; but as for the multitudes who, because they were weaker, did not make trial of the boat and the waves and the contrary wind, them He sent away, and went up into the mountain apart to pray. (Mat_14:22-23) To pray for whom? Was it perhaps to pray for the multitudes that, when they were dismissed after the loaves of blessing, they might do nothing opposed to their dismissal by Jesus? And for the disciples that, when they were constrained by Him to enter into the boat and to go before Him unto the other side, they might suffer nothing in the sea nor from the contrary wind? And I would say with confidence, that, because of the prayer of Jesus to the Father for the disciples, they suffered nothing when sea and wave and contrary wind were striving against them. The simpler disciple, then, may be satisfied with the bare narrative; but let us remember, if ever we fall into distressful temptations, that Jesus has constrained us to enter into their boat, wishing us to go before Him unto the other side; for it is not possible for us to reach the other side, unless we have endured the temptations of waves and contrary wind. Then when we see many difficulties besetting us, and with moderate struggle we have swum through them to some extent, let us consider that our boat is in the midst of the sea, distressed at that time by the waves which wish us to make shipwreck concerning faith or some one of the virtues; but when we see the spirit of the evil one striving against us, let us conceive that then the wind is contrary to us. When then in such suffering we have spent three watches of the night – that is, of the darkness which is in the temptations – striving nobly with all our might and watching ourselves so as not to make shipwreck concerning the faith or some one of the virtues, – the first watch against the father of darkness and wickedness, the second watch against his son “who opposeth and exalteth himself against all that is called God or thing that is worshipped,” (1Th_2:4) and the third watch against the spirit27 that is opposed to the Holy Spirit, then we believe that when the fourth watch impendeth, when “the night is far spent, and the day is at hand,” (Rom_13:12) the Son of God will come to us, that He may prepare the sea for us, walking upon it. And when we see the Word appearing unto us we shall indeed be troubled before we clearly understand that it is the Saviour who has come to us, supposing that we are still beholding an apparition, and for fear shall cry out; but He Himself straightway will speak to us saying, “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.” (Mat_14:27) And if, warmly moved by His “Be of good cheer,” any Peter be found among us, who is on his way to perfection but has not yet become perfect, having gone down from the boat, as if coming out of that temptation in which he was distressed, he will indeed walk at first, wishing to come to Jesus upon the waters; but being as yet of little faith, and as yet doubting, will see that the wind is strong and will be afraid and begin to sink; but he will not sink because he will call upon Jesus with loud voice, and will say to Him, “Lord, save me;” (Mat_14:30) then immediately while such a Peter is yet speaking and saying, “Lord save me,” the Word will stretch forth His hand, holding out assistance to such an one, and will take hold of him when he is beginning to sink, and will reproach him for his little faith and doubting. (Mat_14:31) Only, observe that He did not say, “O thou without faith,” but, “O thou of little faith,” and that it was said, “Wherefore didst thou doubt.” as he had still a measure of faith, but also had a tendency towards that which was opposed to faith.
7. The Healing of the Sick on the Other Side. The Method of Healing.
But after this both Jesus and Peter will go up into the boat, and the wind will cease; and those in the boat, perceiving the great dangers from which they have been saved, will worship Him, saying, not simply, “Thou art the Son of God,” as also the two demoniacs said, but, “Of a truth, Thou art the Son of God.” (Mat_14:33) This the disciples in the boat say, for I do not think that others than the disciples said so. And when we have undergone all these experiences, having crossed over, we shall come to the land where Jesus commanded us to go before Him. And perhaps, also, some secret and occult mystery with reference to some who were saved by Jesus is indicated by the words, “And when the men of that place knew Him,” – plainly of the place on the other side, – “they sent into all that region round about,” – round about the other side, not on the other side itself, but round about it, – “and they brought unto Him all that were sick.” (Mat_14:35) And here observe that they brought unto Him not only many that were sick, but all in that region round about; and the sick who were brought to Him besought Him that they might touch if it were only the border of His garment, (Mat_14:36) beseeching this grace from Him, since they were not like “the woman who had an issue of blood twelve years, and who came behind Him and touched the border of His garment, saying within herself, If I do but touch His garment, I shall be made whole.” (Mat_9:20-21) For observe in what is said about the border of His garment, on account of what the flowing of her blood ceased at once. But those from the country round the land of Gennesaret, to which Jesus and His disciples crossed over and came, did not come of themselves to Jesus, but were brought by those who had sent the tidings, inasmuch as they were not able because of their extreme weakness to come of themselves. Nor did they merely touch the garment, like the woman who had an issue of blood, but they touched after that they had besought Him. Only, of these, “as many as touched were made whole.” (Mat_14:36) And whether there be any difference between the “They were made whole,”28 which is said in their case, and the “being saved,”29 – for it was said to the woman with the issue of blood, “Thy faith hath saved thee,” (Mat_9:22) you may yourself consider.
8. Concerning the Pharisees and Scribes Who Came and Inquired, Why Do Thy Disciples Transgress The Tradition of the Elders?
“Then there came to Him from Jerusalem Pharisees and scribes, saying, Why do Thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they wash not their hands when they eat bread.” (Mat_15:1, Mat_15:2) He who observes at what time the Pharisees and scribes came from Jerusalem to Jesus, saying, “Why do Thy disciples transgress the tradition of the eiders,” etc., will perceive that Matthew of necessity wrote not simply that Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem came to the Saviour to inquire of Him the matters before us, but put it thus, “Then come to Him from Jerusalem.” What time, therefore, are we to understand by “then”? At the time when Jesus and His disciples crossed over and came in the boat to the land of Gennesaret, when the wind ceased from the time that Jesus entered into the boat, and when “the men of that place knowing Him sent into all that region round about, and brought unto Him all that were sick, and besought Him that they might touch if it were only the border of His garment, and as many as touched were made whole.” (Mat_14:35, Mat_14:36) At that time came to Him from Jerusalem Pharisees and scribes, not struck with admiration at the power which was in Jesus, which healed those who only touched even the border of His garment, but in a censorious spirit, accusing the disciples before their Teacher, not concerning the transgression of a commandment of God, but of a single tradition of the Jewish elders. And it is probable that this very charge of these censorious persons is a proof of the piety of the disciples of Jesus, who gave to the Pharisees and scribes no opportunity of censure with reference to the transgression of the commandments of God, as they would not have brought the charge of transgression against the disciples, as transgressing the commandment of the elders, if they had had it in their power to censure those whom they accused, and to show that they were transgressing a commandment of God. But do not suppose that these things go to establish the necessity of keeping the law of Moses according to the letter, because the disciples of Jesus up to that time kept it; for not before He suffered did He “redeem us from the curse of the law,” (Gal_3:13) who in suffering for men “became a curse for us.” But just as fittingly Paul became a Jew to the Jews that he might gain Jews, (1Co_9:20) what strange thing is it that the Apostles, whose way of life was passed among the Jews, even though they understood the spiritual things in the law, should have used a spirit of accommodation, as Paul also did when he circumcised Timothy, (Gal_2:3) and offered sacrifice in accordance with a certain legal vow, as is written in the Acts of the Apostles? (Act_21:26; Act_18:18) Only, again, they appear fond of bringing accusations, as they have no charge to bring against the disciples of Jesus with reference to a commandment of God, but only with reference to one tradition of the elders. And especially does this love of accusation become manifest in this, that they bring the charge in presence of those very persons who had been healed from their sickness; in appearance against the disciples, but in reality purposing to slander their Teacher, as it was a tradition of the elders that the washing of hands was a thing essential to piety. For they thought that the hands of those who did not wash before eating bread were defiled and unclean, but that the hands of those who had washed them with water became pure and holy, not in a figurative sense, in due relation to the law of Moses according to the letter. But let us, not according to the tradition of the elders among the Jews, but according to sound reason, endeavour to purify our own actions and so to wash the hands of our souls, when we are about to eat the three loaves which we ask from Jesus, who wishes to be our friend; (cf. Luk_11:5) for with hands that are defiled and unwashed and impure, we ought not to partake of the loaves.
9. Explanation of “Corban.”
Jesus, however, does not accuse them with reference to a tradition of the Jewish elders, but with regard to two most imperative commandments of God, the one of which was the fifth in the decalogue, being as follows: “Honour thy father and thy mother, that it may be well with thee, and that thy days may be long on the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee;” (Exo_20:12) and the other was written thus in Leviticus, “If a man speak evil of his father or his mother, let him die the death; he has spoken evil of his father or mother, he shall be guilty.” (Lev_20:9) But when we wish to examine the very letter of the words as given by Matthew, “He that speaketh evil of father or mother, let him die the death,” (Mat_15:4) consider whether it was taken from the place where it was written, “Whoso striketh his father or mother, let him die the death; and he that speaketh evil of father or mother let him die the death.” (Exo_21:13; Lev_11:13) For such are the exact words taken from the Law with regard to the two commandments; but Matthew has quoted them in part and in an abridged form, and not in the very words. But what the nature of the charge is which the Saviour brings against the Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem, when He says that they transgress the commandment of God because of their tradition we must consider. And God said, “Honour thy father and thy mother,” (Exo_20:12) teaching that the child should pay the honour which is due to his parents. Of this honour to parents one part was to share with them the necessaries of life, such as food and clothing, and if there was any other thing in which it was possible for them to show favour towards their own parents. But the Pharisees and scribes promulgated in opposition to the law a tradition which is found rather obscurely in the Gospel, and which we ourselves would not have thought of, unless one of the Hebrews had given to us the following facts relating to the passage. Sometimes, he says, when money-lenders fell in with stubborn debtors who were able but not willing to pay their debts, they consecrated what was due to the account of the poor, for whom money was cast into the treasury by each of those who wished to give a portion of their goods to the poor according to their ability. They, therefore, said sometimes to their debtors in their own tongue, “That which you owe to me is Corban,” – that is, a gift – “for I have consecrated it to the poor, to the account of piety towards God.” Then the debtor, as no longer in debt to men but to God and to piety towards God, was shut up, as it were, even though unwilling, to payment of the debt, no longer to the money-lender, but now to God for the account of the poor, in name of the money-lender. What then the money-lender did to the debtor, that sometimes some sons did to their parents and said to them, “That wherewith thou mightest have been profited by me, father or mother, know that you will receive this from Corban,” (Mat_15:4) from the account of the poor who are consecrated to God. Then the parents, hearing that that which should have been given to them was Corban, – consecrated to God, – no longer wished to take it from their sons, even though they were in extreme need of the necessaries of life. The elders, then, declared to the people a tradition of this kind, “Whosoever said to his father or mother, that which should be given to any of them is Corban and a gift, that man was no longer a debtor to his father or mother in respect of giving to them the necessaries of life.” The Saviour censures this tradition, as not being sound but opposed to the commandment of God. For if God says, “Honour thy father and thy mother,” but the tradition said, he is not bound to honour his father or mother by a gift, who has consecrated to God, as Corban, that which would have been given to his parents, manifestly the commandment of God concerning the honour due to parents was made void by the tradition of the Pharisees and scribes which said, that he was no longer bound to honour his father or mother, who had, once for all, consecrated to God that which the parents would have received. And the Pharisees, as lovers of money, in order that under pretext of the poor they might receive even that which would have been given to the parents of any one, gave such teaching. And the Gospel testifies to their love of money, saying, “But the Pharisees who were lovers of money heard these things and they scoffed at Him.” (Luk_16:14) If, then, any one of those who are called elders among us, or of those who are in any way rulers of the people, profess to give to the poor under the name of the commonweal, rather than to be of those who give to their kindred if they should chance to be in need of the necessaries of life, and those who give cannot do both, this man might with justice be called a brother of those Pharisees who made void the word of God through their own tradition, and were accused by the Saviour as hypocrites. And as a very powerful deterrent to any one from being anxious to take from the account of the poor, and from thinking that “the piety of others is a way of gain,” (1Ti_6:5) we have not only these things, but also that which is recorded about the traitor Judas, who in appearance championed the cause of the poor, and said with indignation, “This ointment might have been sold for three hundred pence and given to the poor,” (Mar_14:5; Joh_12:5) but in reality “was a thief, and having the bag took away what was put therein.” (Joh_12:6) If, then, any one in our time who has the bag of the Church speaks likes Judas on behalf of the poor, but takes away what is put therein, let there be assigned to him the portion along with Judas who did these things; on account of which things eating like a gangrene into his soul, the devil cast it into his heart to betray the Saviour; and, when he had received the “fiery dart,” (Eph_6:16) with reference to this end, the devil afterwards himself entered into his soul and took full possession of him. And perhaps, when the Apostle says, “The love of money is a root of all evils,” (1Ti_6:10) he says it because of Judas’ love of money, which was a root of all the evils that were committed against Jesus.
10.The Traditions of the Elders in Collision with Divine Law.
But let us return to the subject before us, in which the Saviour abridged and expounded two commandments from the law, the one from the decalogue from Exodus, and the other from Leviticus, or the other from some one of the books of the Pentateuch. Then since we have explained in what way they made void the word of God which said, “Honour thy father and thy mother,” by saying, “Thou shalt not honour thy father or thy mother,” whosoever shall say to his father or mother, “It is a gift that wherewith thou mightest have been profited by me,” some one may inquire whether the words, “He that speaketh evil of father or mother, let him die the death,” (Mat_15:4) are not extraneous. For, granted that he does not honour his father and mother, who consecrates to what is called Corban that which would have been given in honour of father and mother, in what way, therefore, does the tradition of the Pharisees make void the word which said, “He that speaketh evil of father or mother, let him die the death.? But, perhaps, when any one said to his father or his mother, “It is a gift, that wherewith thou mightest have been profited by me,” (Mat_15:5) he, as it were, casts abuse on his father or mother as if he were calling his parents sacrilegious, in taking that which was consecrated to Corban from him who had consecrated it to Corban. The Jews then punish their sons30 according to the law, as speaking evil of father or mother, when they say to their father or mother, “It is a gift, that wherewith thou mightest have been profited by me,” but you by one of your traditions make void two commandments of God. And then you are not ashamed to accuse My disciples who transgress no commandment; for they walk “in all His commandments and ordinances blamelessly,” (cf. Luk_1:6) but transgress a tradition of the elders, so as not to transgress a commandment of God. And if you had held this aim before you, you would have kept the commandment about the honour due to father and mother, and that which said, “He that speaketh evil of father and mother, let him die the death;” but the tradition of the elders which is opposed to these commandments you would not have kept.
11. Exposition of the Prophecy of Isaiah Quoted by Jesus.
And, after this, wishing to refute completely from the words of the prophets all these traditions of the elders among the Jews, He brought before them a saying, from Isaiah, which in the exact words is as follows: “And the Lord said, This people draws nigh to Me with their mouth,” etc.; (Isa_29:13) and, as we said before, Matthew has not written out the prophetical saying in the very words. And, if it be necessary because of its use in the Gospel to interpret it according to our ability, we will take in addition the preceding passage which is, in my judgment, noted with advantage by us for the exposition of that passage in the Gospel which was taken from the prophet. The passage in Isaiah from the beginning is thus. “Be ye faint, and be maddened: be ye drunken, but not with strong drink nor with wine: for the Lord hath given you to drink of the spirit of stupor, and He will close their eyes, both of their prophets, and of their rulers who see things secret. And all these sayings shall be to you as the words of the book, which has been sealed, which if they give to a man who knows letters, saying, Read this, he shall answer, I cannot read, for it is sealed. And this book will be given into the hands of a man who does not know letters, and one will say to him, Read this, and he will say, I know not letters. And the Lord said, This people is nigh to Me,” etc., down to the words, “Woe unto them that form counsel in secret, and their works shall be in darkness.” (Isa_29:9-15) Taking up then the passage before us in the Gospel, I have put some of the verses which come before it, and some which follow it, in order to show in what way the Word threatens to close the eyes of those of the people who are astonished and drunken, and have been made to drink of the spirit of deep sleep. And it threatens also to close the eyes of their prophets and their rulers who profess to see things secret, – which things, I think, took place after the advent of the Saviour among that people; for all the words of the whole of the Scriptures, and of Isaiah also, have become to them as the words of a sealed book. Now the expression “sealed” is used of a book closed in virtue of its obscurity and not open in virtue of its lucidity, which is equally obscure to those who are not able to read it at all because they do not know letters, and to those who profess to know letters but do not understand the meaning in the things which have been written. Well, then, does he add to this, that when the people, fainting because of their sins and being in a state of madness rage against Him through those sins wherewith they shall be drunken against Him with the spirit of stupor, which shall be given to them to drink by the Lord when He closes their eyes, as unworthy to see, and the eyes of their prophets and of their rulers who profess to see the hidden things of the mysteries in the Divine Scriptures; and, when their eyes are closed, then shall the prophetic words be sealed to them and hidden, as has been the case with those who do not believe in Jesus as the Christ. And when the prophetic sayings have become as the words of a sealed book, not only to those who do not know letters but to those who profess to know, then the Lord said, that the people of the Jews draw nigh to God with their mouth only, and He says that they honour Him with their lips, because their heart by reason of their unbelief in Jesus is far from the Lord. And now, especially, from the time at which they denied our Saviour, it might be said about them by God, “But in vain do they worship Me;” (Mat_15:9) for they no longer teach the precepts of God but of men, and doctrines which are human and no longer of the Spirit of wisdom. Wherefore, when these things happen to them, God has removed the people of the Jews, and has caused to perish the wisdom of the wise men among them; for there is no longer wisdom among them, just as there is no prophecy; but God has utterly destroyed the prudence of the prudent and concealed it, (Isa_29:14) and no longer is it splendid and conspicuous. Wherefore, although they may seem to form some counsel in a deep fashion, because they do it not through the Lord they are called miserable; and even though they profess to tell some secrets of the Divine counsel they lie, since their works are not works of light, but of darkness and night. (Isa_29:15) I have thought it right briefly to set forth the prophecy, and to a certain extent elucidate its meaning, seeing that Matthew made mention of it.
And Mark also made mention of it, from whom we may usefully set down the following words in the place, with reference to the transgression of the elders who held that it was necessary to wash hands when the Jews ate bread, “For the Pharisees and all the Jews, except they wash their hands diligently, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders; and when they come from the market-place except they wash themselves they eat not. And there are some other things which they have received to hold, washings of cups and pots and brazen vessels and couches.” (Mar_7:3-4)
25 λὸγος προφορικός.
26 λὸγος ἐνδιάθετος.
27 The conception of Origen seems to be that opposed to the Divine Trinity there is an evil trinity. Cf. book xii. 20.
30 Or, you, if we read ὐμᾶς.