4. Salvation by grace through faith, 8:1-9:34

iii] The call of Matthew - eating with sinners


The toll-house at Capernaum was situated on the main road from Damascus to the Mediterranean sea. This road ran between the territories of Antipas and Philip. At this check point customs were collected on all exports, mainly fish from the lake. Operating the custom house was a man called Matthew, a man hated by patriotic Jews for his association with the occupying power, Rome. Jesus came to this man, a "sinner", and invited him to join his band of disciples. Jesus' call to Matthew and his eating with "sinners" afterward at Matthew's home produces conflict with the Pharisees who react to Jesus' identification with sinners.


Jesus' invitation to life rests on grace, a gift not earned, not based on meritorious works, but "received without payment", 10:8.


i] Context: See Matthew 8:1-17. As already noted, the narrative section 8:1-9:34 falls naturally into three teaching units. The call of Levi introduces the third unit, 9:9-34. Matthew's call, v9, is followed by the question over eating with sinners, v10-13, with its key pronouncement in v12-13 that it is the sick who need a doctor / sinners who need a savior, and this in the context of "mercy not sacrifice" / grace apart from law. The question of fasting follows, v14-17 - "you don't put good wine into cracked bottles." Three healings and an exorcism follow, v18-34: the ruler's daughter, the woman with a hemorrhage, two blind men and the dumb demoniac.


ii] Background: Under Roman rule, there were road taxes, bridge taxes, taxes on trade-goods, and personal-household taxes. Tax collectors were, as a consequence, hated. Not only were they servants of the Roman occupation forces, they were usually thieves, charging more than they were allowed. The Pharisees saw the tax collectors as ritually and morally unclean and so could not understand why Jesus would knowingly associate with them.


iii] Structure: The call of Levi and eating with sinners:

Jesus calls Levi, v9.

Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners, v10-13:

the question of the Pharisees, v10-11;

Jesus three-part answer, v12-13.

"those who are sick do not need a physician";

"I desire mercy not sacrifice", Hos.6:6;

"I did not come to call the righteous but sinners."


iv] Interpretation:

"Like a doctor Jesus seeks out the sick", Nolland.

Cope, in Matthew, A Scribe trained for the Kingdom of Heaven, 1976, presents a very interesting analysis of 9:9-34. He suggests that the text from Hosea 6:6 quoted at 9:13, "mercy not sacrifice", controls the interpretation of the assembled pericopes in the terms of Jesus' mercy as opposed to Law-piety. It seems likely that the episodes in this narrative section continue to address Jesus' teaching in the Great Sermon, namely, that law condemns, whereas mercy / grace through faith saves. Matthew continues to look back to the problem posed by the Great Sermon, namely, that law-obedience does not facilitate the promised blessings of the covenant. The law only accentuates sin, progressing its inevitable consequence, judgment. In the passage before us Matthew again demonstrates the central role of grace through faith in appropriating a righteousness that is apart from works of the law, a righteousness that facilitates the promised blessings of the covenant.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 9:9

Jesus' association with sinners, v9-13: i] The call of Matthew, v9. Matthew is at the customs and excise booth on the border between the territories of Philip and Herod Antipas, situated on the outskirts of Capernaum. In 9:1-8 we see Jesus as the one with authority to forgive sins. Jesus now uses his authority to appoint a sinner to his apostolic band. Matthew, also called Levi, is recorded as an apostle in both Mark and Luke. It is not uncommon to have two interchangeable names. Tradition tells us that Matthew is the author of this gospel, although it is more likely only attributed to him. If the passage does record the call of the author, it is very self effacing, since Luke tells us that Matthew "left everything" and followed Jesus.

παραγων [παραγω] pres. part. "went on" - [and Jesus] going away, leading past, going on from [there]. The participle is adverbial, best treated as temporal; "when Jesus had gone on a little way from that place", Cassirer.

εκειθεν adv. "from there" - from there. Local adverb, not necessarily translated; "as Jesus was leaving", CEV.

λεγομενον [λεγω] pres. pas. part. "named [Matthew]" - [saw a man] being called [matthew]. The participial may be classified as adjectival, attributive, limiting "man", "a man who was called Matthew", but could also be classified as the accusative complement of the direct object "man" standing in a double accusative construction, "a man ....., the one called Matthew." The other synoptic gospels have "Levi", another example of a disciple with two names, eg., Peter / Simon. Matthew is identified as the author of this gospel, although there is little evidence in the gospel itself to support this belief.

καθημενον [καθημαι] pres. part. "sitting" - sitting. The participle introduces a dependent statement of perception expressing what Jesus saw.

επι + acc. "at" - Spacial; "in / at".

το τελωνιον [ον] "the tax collector's booth" - "The revenue office", Zerwick.

ακολουθει [ακολουθεω] pres. imp. + dat. "follow" - [and he says to him] follow, follow and attach to, follow after. So, rather than just "follow me", something like "be my disciple" would be more appropriate. "Come with me", CEV.

μοι dat. pro. "me" - Dative of direct object after the verb "to follow after."

αυτῳ dat. pro. "[he told] him" - [said] to him. Dative of indirect object."

αυτῳ dat. pro. "[and rising he followed] him" - Dative of direct object, as above. The participle "rising" is attendant on the verb "to follow"; "and he rose and followed him", ESV.


ii] Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners, v10-13: a) The question of the Pharisees, v12-11. Although both Mark and Luke specify the house as Matthew's, the text here does not specifically identify whose house it is (even though the NIV does). As far as the Pharisees are concerned, Jesus and his disciples are in danger of ritual defilement by eating with "sinners". "Sinners" are evil-livers such as tax collectors, harlots and the like, but also the common-folk whose lives do not allow them to maintain the Pharisaic Halakoth (rules of conduct - washing, food.....). The Pharisees obviously bail up some of the disciples outside the house. Their question to the disciples is not really a question, but rather a charge of wrong-doing.

και εγενετο [γινομαι] aor. "-" - and it happened. Serving as a connecting phrase; "and it came to pass", AV.

ανακειμενου [ανακειμαι] pres. part. "while [Jesus] was having dinner" - [he] was reclining at table. The participle, along with the genitive pronoun αυτου, "he", forms a genitive absolute construction introducing a temporal clause, as NIV. Reclining at a low table was the usual way to eat a meal.

εν + dat. "at [Matthew's house]" - in [the house]. Local; expressing space / sphere.

ἀμαρτωλοι "sinners" - [and behold many tax collectors and] sinners. It may be referring to those who do not observe the ritual law, but given the context it is more likely referring to "evil livers." Most tax collectors were thieves and their friends were probably no better. So, here was a corrupt crowd, but they freely came to hear Jesus. His message to them was that "salvation is for people just like you." "non-observant [Jews]", Anchor; "people with whom no respectable Jew would have had anything to do", Barclay.

ελθοντες [ερξομαι] aor. part. "came" - having come. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "reclined at table with"; "came and sat down with / joined in the meal with Jesus and his disciples."

τώ Ιησου [ος] dat. "[ate with] him" - [reclined at table with] Jesus [and with the disciples of him]. Dative of direct object after the συν prefix verb "to recline at table together with."


ιδοντες [ὀραομαι] aor. part. "when [the Pharisees] saw [this]" - [and] having seen [the Pharisees]. The participle is adverbial, best treated as temporal, although possibly causal.

ελεγον [λεγω] imperf. "they asked" - were saying [to the disciples of him]. An imperfective / durative verb used for the act of speaking.

δια τι "why" - because why. A causal interrogative construction; "why does your master eat with tax collectors and sinners?" NJB = "your teacher eats with tax collectors and sinners ("such people", TEV). Is that proper?", TH.

μετα + gen. "[eat] with" - with [tax collectors and sinners eats the teacher of you]? Expressing association / accompaniment, as NIV.


b) Jesus three-part answer, v12-13. Saying #1. "those who are sick do not need a physician." Jesus overhears the charge and gives the Pharisees something to think about. Just as the sick need a doctor, so the sinful need mercy and forgiveness. As Jesus has healed the sick, so he happily forgives the sinner. In fact, it is for this very reason that Jesus has come, 1:21. The Pharisees don't quite understand this approach. They expect the messiah to overthrow the Roman authorities and reestablish the purity of Judaism. Sadly it is the Pharisees who are sick / sinners, but unlike the outcasts, they don't know it. Jesus bypasses these "righteous" hypocrites and goes straight to the "sinners". The difference between the "healthy" (self-righteous) and the "sick" (sinners) is certainly not sin. Both the self-righteous and sick are sinners. Jesus goes to sinners, not just because they are sinners, but because they know they are sick sinners and want to be forgiven. Why else would evil-livers come to hear a wandering teacher? The gospel is for the "lost" who desire to be found.

δε "-" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step in the narrative / argument and so left untranslated.

ακουσας [ακουω] aor. part. "on hearing this [Jesus said]" - having heard [he said]. The participle is adverbial, best translated as a temporal; "when Jesus heard it, he said", ESV.

οἱ ισχυοντες [ισχυω] pres. act. part. "the healthy" - [no need have] the ones being healthy / strong. The participle serves as a substantive; "people who are well", TEV.

ιατρου [ος] gen. "[need] a doctor" - of a physician. The genitive is usually classified as verbal, objective.

αλλ [αλλα] "but" - Strong adversative standing in a counterpoint construction; "not ....... but ......"

οἱ εχοντες "the sick" - the ones having [badly = sickness / illness]. The participle serves as a substantive. "Those who have it bad" = "those who are in bad health", Cassirer.


Text: "I desire mercy not sacrifice", Hos.6:6; Jesus now quotes Hosea 6:6 and tells the Pharisees to "go and learn" what it means. Hosea denounced a formal ritualistic temple worship which had lost its substance; lost its "mercy" (hesed), its covenant love. Jesus' point is that the Pharisees have preserved the shell, but lost the substance. They are like the apostate religious community of Hosea's day and their attitude toward "sinners" demonstrates this loss. It is not their lack of sympathy for outcasts that condemns them, but their failure to apply mercy and forgiveness and so include outcasts within the community of grace.

Saying #2: "I did not come to call the righteous but sinners." Given the refusal of the righteous to invite the lost / sinners, Jesus sets out to invite (better than "to call") them into the kingdom. Jesus' task is to reconcile the lost to God - those separated from God, but who want to know God. The self-righteous, who need no doctor, think that they are in the kingdom because of their righteousness, yet this assumption leaves them beyond help because they fail to recognize their state of loss.

de "but" - but/and. Here again possibly adversative, "but", as NIV, but more likely transitional, indicating a step in the narrative / argument and so not translated, as ESV.

πορευθεντες [πορευομαι] aor. pas. part. "go" - go. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the imperatival verb "learn", so functioning as a command. The "go" is not "go on a journey", but "go off and study this text of scripture", ie., "make a genuine effort to understand", Morris.

μαθετε [μανθανω] "[and] learn" - learn. The phrase "go and learn" was once used by teachers of the time to their students. We might say something like "go and think about this / what this means." "Go and find out what is meant", TEV.

τι εστιν "what this means" - what is the meaning of this. Interrogative pronoun, with the verb to-be understood in the sense of "signifies / means."

ελεος "[I desire] mercy" - [i want, will = desire] mercy, forgiveness, kindness [and not sacrifice]. Accusative direct object of the verb "to will." The text comes from Hosea 6:6. The word is often understood in the terms of loving kindness, or even more particularly as covenant love. So, the Lord desires loving kindness (Heb. hesed) far more than cultic sacrifice. Yet, "sacrifice" here obviously means "strict obedience to the commandments of God", Hagner, and so "loving kindness" must not be reduced to acts of loving kindness. Mercy, forgiveness, is the apex of God's love and it is this quality which God desires most in his creatures. Note the many times Jesus teaches on the subject of forgiveness. "I want you to be merciful to others", CEV.

γαρ "for" - More reason than cause, explanatory, and so best not translated "for / because"; "and as for myself, I have made my appearance among men to hold out an invitation, not to people of virtue, but to sinners", Cassirer. Note that France thinks it is inferential here; "that is why I came ...."

κελεσαι [καλεω] aor. inf. "call" - [i have not come] to call. The infinitive expresses purpose, "in order to call." This word can just mean "invite", as in inviting someone to a feast. The New Testament often speaks of God's invitation to the heavenly feast, the eschatological assembly. So, "invite" conveys a clearer meaning, although the invitation/call is probably directed more to repentance than the heavenly feast. "I did not come to invite the righteous", Phillips.

δικαιους [ος] "the righteous" - Possible meanings:

The righteous are usually understood as the "self righteous", ie., Jesus has the Pharisees in mind and so he is being "ironic", Carson, so Hagner, Morris, France. They are the ones who claim covenant compliance / right-standing in the sight of God because of their own right behavior, but the law cannot establish, nor maintain, covenant compliance.

Jesus may be simply stating fact. The "righteous", the covenant compliant, are in no need of divine mercy since they already stand secure before God, although other than Jesus, there is no such person.

The term is possibly being used to identify that class of people who have already discovered, like Abraham, a righteousness that is based on faith, "people like Joseph who are already well attuned to the will and purpose of God and need no special call", so Nolland.

There is the possibility that, under Aramaic influence, this sentence construction implies nothing of the status of the righteous, but everything of the status of the sinner. With a counterpoint construction, not A, but B, the emphasis is typically on the affirmation B, so Kruse, ref. Davies & Allison. Cf., The Lord's Prayer, "Lead us NOT into temptation (God would obviously not do that), BUT deliver us from the evil one." The emphasis falls on the counterpoint. "I have NOT come to call the righteous (and anyway, there are none), BUT sinners."

At any rate, given that entry to the heavenly feast is because of Christ's righteousness, only the sinner (the "evil liver") is capable of knowing their state of loss and therefore, their need for a given righteousness. As is made clear by the Great Sermon, there is no hope relying on an earned righteousness. In conveying the intended sense the following are worth considering: "respectable people", TEV; "good people", CEV [not really!]; "virtuous", REB; "the self righteous", NAB [best].

αλλα "but [sinners]" - Strong adversative standing in a counterpoint construction; "not ...... but ......."


Matthew Introduction



[Pumpkin Cottage]