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Matthew 21:25-27

21:25 Where did John’s baptism come from? From heaven or from people?” 1  They discussed this among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ 21:26 But if we say, ‘From people,’ we fear the crowd, for they all consider John to be a prophet.” 21:27 So 2  they answered Jesus, 3  “We don’t know.” 4  Then he said to them, “Neither will I tell you 5  by what authority 6  I am doing these things.

Matthew 21:31-32

21:31 Which of the two did his father’s will?” They said, “The first.” 7  Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, 8  tax collectors 9  and prostitutes will go ahead of you into the kingdom of God! 21:32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him. But the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe. Although 10  you saw this, you did not later change your minds 11  and believe him.

1 tn The plural Greek term ἀνθρώπων (anqrwpwn) is used here (and in v. 26) in a generic sense, referring to both men and women (cf. NAB, NRSV, “of human origin”; TEV, “from human beings”; NLT, “merely human”).

sn The question is whether John’s ministry was of divine or human origin.

2 tn Here δέ (de) has been translated as “So” to indicate that the clause is a result of the deliberations of the leaders.

3 tn Grk “answering Jesus, they said.” This construction is somewhat awkward in English and has been simplified in the translation.

4 sn Very few questions could have so completely revealed the wicked intentions of the religious leaders. Jesus’ question revealed the motivation of the religious leaders and exposed them for what they really were – hypocrites. They indicted themselves when they cited only two options and chose neither of them (“We do not know”). The point of Matt 21:23-27 is that no matter what Jesus said in response to their question, they were not going to believe it and would in the end use it against him.

5 sn Neither will I tell you. Though Jesus gave no answer, the analogy he used to their own question makes his view clear. His authority came from heaven.

6 tn On this phrase, see BDAG 844 s.v. ποῖος 2.a.γ. This is exactly the same phrase as in v. 23.

7 tc Verses 29-31 involve a rather complex and difficult textual problem. The variants cluster into three different groups: (1) The first son says “no” and later has a change of heart, and the second son says “yes” but does not go. The second son is called the one who does his father’s will. This reading is found in the Western mss (D it). But the reading is so hard as to be nearly impossible. One can only suspect some tampering with the text, extreme carelessness on the part of the scribe, or possibly a recognition of the importance of not shaming one’s parent in public. (Any of these reasons is not improbable with this texttype, and with codex D in particular.) The other two major variants are more difficult to assess. Essentially, the responses make sense (the son who does his father’s will is the one who changes his mind after saying “no”): (2) The first son says “no” and later has a change of heart, and the second son says “yes” but does not go. But here, the first son is called the one who does his father’s will (unlike the Western reading). This is the reading found in (א) C L W (Z) 0102 0281 Ë1 33 Ï and several versional witnesses. (3) The first son says “yes” but does not go, and the second son says “no” but later has a change of heart. This is the reading found in B Θ Ë13 700 and several versional witnesses. Both of these latter two readings make good sense and have significantly better textual support than the first reading. The real question, then, is this: Is the first son or the second the obedient one? If one were to argue simply from the parabolic logic, the second son would be seen as the obedient one (hence, the third reading). The first son would represent the Pharisees (or Jews) who claim to obey God, but do not (cf. Matt 23:3). This accords well with the parable of the prodigal son (in which the oldest son represents the unbelieving Jews). Further, the chronological sequence of the second son being obedient fits well with the real scene: Gentiles and tax collectors and prostitutes were not, collectively, God’s chosen people, but they did repent and come to God, while the Jewish leaders claimed to be obedient to God but did nothing. At the same time, the external evidence is weaker for this reading (though stronger than the first reading), not as widespread, and certainly suspect because of how neatly it fits. One suspects scribal manipulation at this point. Thus the second reading looks to be superior to the other two on both external and transcriptional grounds. But what about intrinsic evidence? One can surmise that Jesus didn’t always give predictable responses. In this instance, he may well have painted a picture in which the Pharisees saw themselves as the first son, only to stun them with his application (v. 32).

8 tn Grk “Truly (ἀμήν, amhn), I say to you.”

9 sn See the note on tax collectors in 5:46.

10 tn Here δέ (de) has not been translated.

11 sn The word translated change your minds is the same verb used in v. 29 (there translated had a change of heart). Jesus is making an obvious comparison here, in which the religious leaders are viewed as the disobedient son.

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