IIIM Magazine Online, Volume 1, Number 33, October 11 to October 17, 1999

Matthew 17:14-27

by Dr. Knox Chamblin


  1. THE HEALING ITSELF. 17:14-18.

    1. The Boy's Malady.

      He is an epileptic (see the full and vivid description in the parallel of Mk 9:18; and Lane, Mark, 331, n. 49, for literature on epilepsy in antiquity). The torment in this case is caused by a demon (v. 18) bent upon destroying the boy (v. 15b).

    2. Jesus' Response.

      "The return from the glory of the transfiguration to the reality of demonic possession serves to reinforce the theme that Jesus enters into his glory only through confrontation with the demonic and the suffering this entails" (Lane, Mark, 329). Matthew's account of the miracle itself is very concise and pointed: "Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment" (17:18). As in earlier miracle-stories (notably those of Mt 8-9), this manner of reporting highlights the central theological reality in such a story, namely Jesus' authority to achieve the immediate expulsion of the demon and (consequently) the boy's instantaneous healing.


    1. The Disciples' Inability.

      In appealing to Jesus on behalf of his son, the man had reported the disciples' inability to accomplish the healing (v. 16). Thus the members of this "unbelieving and perverse generation" over whom Jesus expresses exasperation in v. 17 are principally (if not exclusively) his disciples. This reading of v. 17 is confirmed in v. 20, to which we now turn.

    2. The Disciples' Need.

      Significantly, Jesus attributes their inability to their having "so little faith" (v. 20a). It is not understanding that they lack (it is their ever-deepening understanding that distinguishes them from the crowd and the authorities, 13:10-17; 15:1-20), but faith to act upon that understanding. Jesus earlier gave them authority to cast out demons (10:1); yet from lack of faith they have (in this case at least) failed to exercise that authority. It is preferable (with the NIV) to omit 17:21. Yet no such doubt attaches to the Markan parallel: "This kind can come out only by prayer" (9:29); indeed the Markan reading (or its variant) accounts for the inclusion of Mt 17:21 in the textual tradition (Metzger, TC, 43). In view of Mt 21:21-22 (parallel to 17:21), with its reference to prayer, let us consider Mk 9:29. The reference to prayer is unqualified; it can refer as easily to the disciples' prayer as to Jesus's. Indeed, given the question of 9:28, it is principally the disciples' prayer, or lack of it, which is in view. Reading this passage in light of Mk 6:7 (parallel to Mt 10:1), the implication seems to be: the bestowal of authority in 6:7 does not make disciples autonomous or automatic dispensers of healing power. Continued power to exorcise demons demands ongoing dependence on the sovereign God. "The disciples had been tempted to believe that the gift they had received [6:7] was in their control and could be exercised at their disposal. This was a subtle form of unbelief, for it encouraged them to trust in themselves rather than in God. They had to learn that their previous success in expelling demons [6:13] provided no guarantee of continued power. Rather the power of God must be asked for on each occasion in radical reliance upon his ability alone" (Lane, Mark, 335-36). In saying, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed..." (Mt 17:20b), Jesus teaches that the presence of faith is more important than its size. This saying indicates that the disciples' "so little faith" (v. 20a) is really "no faith" (cf. v. 17a). See the comments on 21:21-22.

    3. Jesus' Approaching Passion. 17:22-23.

      1. The renewed prophecy. As both 16:21 and 17:12 are presupposed, the present saying is more succinct. No reference is made here to Jerusalem. This saying speaks simply of "men," whereas the earlier one had spoken of "the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law" (but see below). In 16:21 Jesus had spoken of having to "suffer many things" (cf. 17:12); here he speaks exclusively of the central saving events of his death and resurrection. Moreover, in the present verse he speaks (as he had not in 16:21) of being "handed over [paradidosthai] into the hands of men." This is sometimes regarded as a prophecy of Judas' betrayal. To be sure, later in Mt the same verb, paradidomi, is used specifically of Judas' action (26:15-16, 21, 23-25, 46, 48). But the present unqualified instance of paradidomi most likely embraces both the human action of Jesus' enemies and the divine action of his heavenly Father, who hereby brings his Son to the place of atoning sacrifice (cf. the dei, "must," of 16:21; Rom 8:32; Acts 2:23; Gundry, 354). Far less likely, in my judgment, is the view that 17:22 refers to Jews' "handing Jesus over" to Romans. Support for this interpretation is found in Mt 20:18-19, "We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over [paradothasetai] to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over [paradosousin] to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified." But note (1) that the usage of paradidomi in v. 19, is balanced by that of v. 18, (2) that Jesus is handed over to Gentiles only because he has already been handed over to Jews, and (3) that it is the Jews who are said to "condemn him to death." Cf. 26:45, and again 17:12 (like John the Baptist, the Son of Man suffers at the hand of Jews). I conclude that Jesus' purpose in 17:22-23, as in 16:21, is to accentuate the most important factors in his forthcoming passion and exaltation - namely the Jews' responsibility and his Father's sovereign purpose.

      2. The renewed admonition. For what purposes does Jesus repeat this prophecy at this juncture?

        1. He underscores the fact that his suffering must precede his glorification - a reminder which, after the overwhelming experience on the mount of transfiguration, the three disciples needed repeatedly (cf. the earlier reminder in 17:12). The disciples' present grief (v. 23b) suggests that Peter's protest in 16:22 arose not merely from a faulty concept of Messiahship but also from his love for Jesus.

        2. He stresses that disciples' faith (vv. 20-21) must prepare for Messiah's suffering (and by implication - as Jesus will later make plain - for their own experience of suffering and being "handed over" to hostile forces: cf. 24:9-10, where paradidomi is again used).

        3. He implies that even his approaching death does not invalidate the teachings about faith in vv. 20-21. Indeed, as we learn from other passages, divine power is unleashed precisely where disciples identify with Christ's sufferings. Persecution means not the loss of power but the release of power. Cf. Phil 3:10; 1 Cor 1:18-31; 2 Cor 12:9-10; Rom 8:17; 2 Tim 2:11-12.

THE TEMPLE TAX. 17:24-27.


    Didrachma, twice used in v. 24, occurs only here in the NT. It means "two drachmas," the drachm‘ being a basic unit of coinage (for the two NT instances of drachm‘, see Lk 15:8-9). Twice the value of the didrachma was the tetradrachmon ("four drachmas"), or stat‘r, the term used in v. 27. In Jesus' day the two-drachma tax was an annual levy upon every male Jew between the ages of 20 and 50, for the support of the temple (see Ex 30:11-16); hence NIV's "temple-tax." While serving "the chief priests" (Jesus' enemies, 16:21), the collectors of the tax do not appear to be malicious. Their question is not hostile; the Greek construction (with ou) expects the postive answer that Peter gives, v. 25.

  2. THE WORDS OF JESUS. 17:25-27.

    1. His Question. 17:25.

      On the most natural reading of the passage, Jesus is not present when the collectors' question is put to Peter: i.e., Peter answers the question and then enters the house, where he meets Jesus). In this case, Jesus' question to Peter rests upon divine insight (which is also at work in 17:27).

      The issue raised by Jesus' question is different from that of 22:15-22. In the present passage, the question is not whether one should pay tribute to Caesar; rather, Jesus' question is parabolic (as Carson recognizes; see his whole discussion, 394, on the intent of the question in v. 25). Jesus simply wants to focus Peter's mind on an obvious fact, namely that kings "collect duty and taxes," not from the royal sons of the household but from the citizenry (a fact that Peter readily recognizes, v. 26a).

    2. His Conclusions. 17:26-27.

      In answering Peter with the words, "Then the sons are exempt," Jesus is making the point that both he and Peter are royal sons of the heavenly King who chose the temple as his earthly habitation (cf. 23:21). Jesus is God's Son by virtue of his very being, Peter and other disciples by adoption: cf. 5:9; 6:9.

      More than that, Yahweh the Lord of the temple has actually arrived on the scene (12:6), as heralded by the coming of the latter-day Elijah (17:12); and he is coming to his temple, as shall shortly be demonstrated in a most vivid way (21:12-13). Thus Jesus and Peter are not obliged to pay the tax; yet Jesus provides it "so that we may not offend them" (v. 27a). The stat‘r would suffice for both Jesus and Peter (v. 27b; cf. I.). Peter's finding the coin is not recorded, but the miracle is not in question (cf. Tasker, Matthew, 171). Its point seems to be "that he who submits to the payment of tax is nonetheless the master of all things" (David Hill, Matthew, 272) - including nature (cf. the earlier multiplications of fish).

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