Matthew 18:6
But whoever shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
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(6) Whoso shall offend.—The words seem to indicate the thoughts which rise unbidden in the minds of men in proportion as they are Christ-like in character. We gaze on the innocent beauty of childhood with love and admiration. What if that beauty should be marred by the taint of evil? What if those who do the Tempter’s work should cause the “little one” to stumble and to fall?

That a millstone were hanged about his neck.—The word for “millstone” indicates the larger stone-mill, in working which an ass was commonly employed, as distinguished from the smaller handmill of Luke 17:35. The punishment was not recognised in the Jewish law, but it was in occasional use among the Greeks (Diod. Sic. xvi. 35), and had been inflicted by Augustus (Sueton. Aug. lxvii.) in cases of special infamy. Jerome states (in a note on this passage) that it was practised in Galilee, and it is not improbable that the Romans had inflicted it upon some of the ringleaders of the insurrection headed by Judas of Galilee. Our Lord’s words, on this assumption, would come home with a special vividness to the minds of those who heard them. The infamy of offending one of the “little ones” was as great as that of those whoso crimes brought upon them this exceptional punishment. It was obviously a form of death less cruel in itself than many others, and its chief horror, both for Jews and heathen, was, probably, that it deprived the dead of all rites of burial. St. Mark and St. Luke, it may be noted, insert here the complaint of St. John, that he had seen one casting out devils in the name of Jesus, and this must be taken into account as an element in the sequence of thought. He was unconsciously placing himself among those who were hindering the work of Christ, and so “offending” those who believed in him. (See Note on Mark 9:38.)

18:1-6 Christ spoke many words of his sufferings, but only one of his glory; yet the disciples fasten upon that, and overlook the others. Many love to hear and speak of privileges and glory, who are willing to pass by the thoughts of work and trouble. Our Lord set a little child before them, solemnly assuring them, that unless they were converted and made like little children, they could not enter his kingdom. Children, when very young, do not desire authority, do not regard outward distinctions, are free from malice, are teachable, and willingly dependent on their parents. It is true that they soon begin to show other dispositions, and other ideas are taught them at an early age; but these are marks of childhood, and render them proper emblems of the lowly minds of true Christians. Surely we need to be daily renewed in the spirit of our minds, that we may become simple and humble, as little children, and willing to be the least of all. Let us daily study this subject, and examine our own spirits.Whoso shall offend - That is, cause to fall, or to sin; or who should place anything in their way to hinder their piety or happiness. See notes at Matthew 5:29.

These little ones - That is, Christians manifesting the spirit of little children, 1 John 2:1, 1 John 2:12, 1 John 2:18, 1 John 2:28.

It were better for him that a millstone ... - Mills, anciently, were either turned by hand (see the notes at Matthew 24:41), or by beasts, chiefly by mules. These last were of the larger kind, and the original words denote that it was this kind that was intended. This was one mode of capital punishment practiced by the Greeks, Syrians, Romans, and by some other nations. The meaning is, it would be better for him to have died before he had committed the sin. To injure, or to cause to sin, the feeblest Christian, will be regarded by Christ as a most serious offence, and will be punished accordingly.


Mt 18:1-9. Strife among the Twelve Who Should Be Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, with Relative Teaching. ( = Mr 9:33-50; Lu 9:46-50).

For the exposition, see on [1323]Mr 9:33-50.

Ver. 5,6. Mark hath it thus, Mark 9:37, Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever receiveth me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me. Then he addeth, Mark 9:42, And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea. Our Lord having declared that the little ones before mentioned shall be greatest in the kingdom of God, here cometh to show the care which he in his providence will take for them; that their friends shall be his friends, and their enemies his enemies: Whoso receiveth such a little child, that is, a humble Christian. In the next verse it is opened by, one that believeth in me. By receiving I conceive is here to be understood the showing of any favour or kindness to them: Christ declares that he would take it as done to himself. It is much the same with Matthew 10:40-42. Mark addeth, He that receiveth me, receiveth him that sent me. The reason is, because he and his Father are one, and the Father takes any kindness done to Christ as if it were done to himself, and the Son takes any kindness or unkindness done to any humble, believing soul, as if it were done to himself: see Matthew 25:34-46.

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones, &c. As offending signifieth the laying of a stumbling block before any, so it signifieth any motion or temptation to them to sin against God, whether it be by flattering or frowning arguments, though the latter seemeth rather to be understood here; so, by offending, it signifies the doing them any harm upon Christ’s account, because they own him, and make a profession of his gospel, which, besides that it is a stumblingblock upon which they fall and suffer as to their bodies and outward concerns, is also a stumbling block to their souls, such dangers being strong temptations to Christians, to turn them aside from the right paths of truth and holiness.

It were better for him that a millstone, &c.; mulov onikov, a stone in such a mill as asses were wont to draw, because of the heaviness of it. Some think our Saviour in this phrase alludes to some punishment of notorious malefactors, in use not amongst the Jews, but some other nations, by tying a stone about their necks, and throwing them into the sea: but whether it be such an allusion or no, is of no great moment; the phrase signifieth a certain destruction, both in regard of the weight of the stone and the depth of the sea. He saith, It is better that a millstone, &c., because of the punishment which shall be inflicted on such persons beyond this life. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones,.... Not in age, but are little and mean in their own eyes, and contemptible in the esteem of the world; though otherwise men of great grace, gifts, and usefulness; who may be said to be offended, when they are not received; their persons despised, their ministry rejected, and they reproached and persecuted; and everything done to them to discourage, and cause them to stumble and fall, to drop their profession of Christ, to quit his service, and desert his cause: and that such persons are designed, appears by the following descriptive character of them,

which believe in me; which cannot be said of infants, or little ones in age, and who also are not capable of offence; but must be understood of adult persons, of such who by faith look unto, lay hold on, and receive the Lord Jesus Christ, as their Saviour and Redeemer, and who make a profession of their faith in him; and chiefly of such who preach the doctrine of faith, who having believed, therefore speak; and who are generally the butt of the contempt, reproach, and persecution of men.

It were better for him, that a mill stone be hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. The word translated "depth", is sometimes used for the Sea itself, Isaiah 51:10 and signifies the middle, or deeper path, and answers to the Hebrew phrase, "the heart of the sea"; , used by the Targum, in Psalm 46:3 and by Jonathan ben Uzziel, in Exodus 15:8. Jerom thinks, that this was a sort of punishment in use among the Jews, that is here referred to; but this does not appear. The four capital punishments inflicted by them were stoning, burning, slaying with the sword, and strangling (z): they had indeed other sorts of punishment, which they borrowed from other nations; and so they might this, either from the Romans, or Greeks, or their neighbours the Syrians. The mill stone, in the original, is called , which may be rendered "the ass mill stone", being either the nether mill stone, as some think, which was called "the ass", because, like an ass, it bears the chief of the weight and burden; or else respects such mill stones as were turned about by an ass, in distinction from those that were turned by the hand; for that it was usual with the Jews to make use of asses in grinding, as well as other nations, is certain: hence we read (a) of "the ass of mills", that were employed in grinding in the mills, and of one that turned his mill with wild asses (b): but it is further to be observed, that mention is made (c) of , "the ass of an handmill": which the commentators say (d), was a beam on which an handmill was fixed, and was called "the ass." Now, I should rather think that this is meant than the other. It does not seem likely that a nether mill stone, or one that required an ass to turn it, should be tied to a man's neck, in order to drown him, when cast into the sea; for our Lord must be thought to refer to a practice somewhere in use: but rather, that such a beam, or log, of an handmill, so called, were wont to be put about the necks of malefactors, in drowning them. Our Lord's sense is, that it was much better for a man to endure the severest temporal punishment, rather than by offending, and evil treating any of his disciples, expose himself to everlasting destruction. The phrase of having a mill stone about the neck, I find, is sometimes used to denote anything very troublesome and burdensome (e).

"The tradition is, a man that marries a wife, and after that learns the law, R. Jochanan says, , "though a mill stone is about his neck", yet he must study in the law: that is, though his worldly circumstances are narrow, and his wife and family are as burdensome as if he had a mill stone about his neck, he must continue his studies.''

(z) Misn. Sanhedrim. c. 7. sect. 1.((a) T. Bab. Moed Katon, fol. 1. 10. 2. Maimon. Hileh. Yom Tob, c. 8. sect. 15. (b) T Bab. Avoda Zara, fol. 16. 2.((c) Mish. Zabim. c. 4. sect. 2.((d) R. Maimon. R. Sampson. & R. Obadiah Bartenora, in. ib. (e) T. Bab. Kiddusbin, fol. 29. 2.

{2} But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

(2) We ought to have great respect for our brethren no matter how base they may be: and he that does otherwise shall be sharply punished.

Matthew 18:6. Comp. Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2.

σκανδαλίσῃ] Opposite of δέξηται, meaning: will have been to him the occasion of his fall, especially of his apostasy from the faith (Matthew 5:29, Matthew 11:6).

τῶν μικρῶν τούτων] not to be understood, any more than παιδίον τοιοῦτο, Matthew 18:5, of literal children (Holtzmann), and consequently not to be used as proof of the faith of little children (Baur, Delitzsch), but as meaning: one of those little ones,—a way of designating modest, simple-minded, unassuming believers, that had just been suggested by seeing in the child then present a model of such simplicity. This is not quite the same as τῶν μικρῶν τούτων, Matthew 10:42 (Matthew 25:40), where the expression is not borrowed from the illustration of a child.

συμφέρει αὐτῷ, ἵνα, κ.τ.λ.] For the construction; comp. note on Matthew 5:29. “But whoever will have offended one of those little ones,”—it is of service to him, with a view to, i.e. in hunc finem ut. That, which such a person may have come to deserve, is thus expressed in the form of a divine purpose, which his evil deed must help him to bring about; comp. John 11:50. A comparative reference of συμφέρει (Jerome: “quam aeternis servari cruciatibus;” others: than again to commit such a sin) is a pure importation.

μύλος ὀνικός] The larger mills (in contradistinction to the χειρομύλαι, Matthew 24:41) were driven by an ass; Buxtorf, Lex. Talm. p. 2252. Comp. also Anth. Pal. ix. 301; Ovid, A. A. iii. 290.

The καταποντισμός (Wesseling, ad Diod. Sic. xvi. 35; Hermann, Privatalterth. § 72, 26; Casaubon, ad Suet. Oct. 67) was not a Jewish method of putting to death, neither was it a practice in Galilee (Joseph. Antt. xiv. 15. 10), but belonged to the Greeks, Romans, Syrians, and Phoenicians. Consequently it here expresses in a manner all the more vivid and awe-inspiring that punishment of death to which the man in question has become liable, and which is intended to represent the loss of eternal life; comp. Matthew 18:7-9.Matthew 18:6. σκανδαλίσῃ: the opposite of receiving; treating harshly and contemptuously, so as to tempt to unbelief and apostasy. The pride and selfish ambition of those who pass for eminent Christians make many infidels.—ἕνα τ. μ. τ.: one of the large class of little ones; not merely child believers surely, but all of whom a child is the emblem, as regards social or ecclesiastical importance. Those who are caused to stumble are always little ones: “majores enim scandala non recipiunt,” Jerome. One of them: “frequens unius in hoc capite mentio,” Bengel. This is the one text in which Jesus speaks of Himself as the object of faith (vide The Kingdom of God, p. 263).—συμφέρειἵνα: vide on Matthew 5:29. Fritzsche finds here an instance of attraction similar to that in Matthew 10:25καὶ ὁ δοῦλος, ὡς ὁ κ. α. Instead of saying συμφέρει α. κρεμασθῆναιἵνα καταποντισθῇ, the writer puts both verbs in the subjunctive after ἵνα.—μύλος ὀνικὸς. The Greeks called the upper millstone ὄνος the ass (ὁ ἀνῶτερος λίθος, Hesychius), but they did not use the adjective ὀνικὸς. The meaning therefore is a millstone driven by an ass, i.e., a large one, as distinct from smaller-sized ones driven by the hand, commonly used in Hebrew houses in ancient times. “Let such a large stone be hung about the neck of the offender to make sure that he sink to the bottom to rise no more”—such is the thought of Jesus; strong in conception and expression, revealing intense abhorrence.—ἐν τῷ πελάγει τ. θ.: in the deep part of the sea. So Kypke, who gives examples; another significantly strong phrase. Both these expressions have been toned down by Luke.—καταποντισθῇ: drowning was not a form of capital punishment in use among the Jews. The idea may have been suggested by the word denoting the offence, σκανδαλίσῃ. Bengel remarks: “apposita locutio in sermone de scandalo, nam ad lapidem offensio est” = “let the man who puts a stone in the path of a brother have a stone hung about his neck,” etc. Lightfoot suggests as the place of drowning the Dead Sea, in whose waters nothing would sink without a weight attached to it, and in which to be drowned was a mark of execration.Matthew 18:6. Σκανδαλίση, shall offend) sc. by putting a stumbling block in the way of either his faith or practice, by provoking to pride or strife, by calling him away from the virtues of that early age. The greatest reverence is due to a child, if you are employed in anything which is wrong.[807] Children are more easily impressible; therefore they are more easily injured.—ΤῶΝ ΠΙΣΤΕΥΌΝΤΩΝ, who believe) Jesus paid great attention to little children, and endued them with faith; see ch. Matthew 14:21, Matthew 19:13-14, and Matthew 21:15-16.—συμφέρει αὐτῷ, it is expedient for him) i.e., it is his interest—it were better for him; for drowning is far less horrible than the fire spoken of in Matthew 18:8, or the lake of fire mentioned in Revelation 19:20.—μύλος ὀνικὸς, a millstone)[808] An appropriate phrase in a discourse concerning offence, for stumbling is produced by stones.—καταποντισθῇ, be drowned) A frequent and horrible punishment.[809]—ΠΕΛΆΓΕΙ, the sea) sc. the deep; see Gnomon on Acts 27:5.—τῆς θαλάσσης, of the sea) which was near at hand; see ch. Matthew 17:27.

[807] See Juvenal xiv. 47, 48.—(I. B.)

[808] Literally, an ass millstone—i.e. the millstone of a mill worked by an ass, and therefore larger than a common hand-mill.—(I. B.)

[809] In opposition to the kingdom of heaven.—V. g.

“Maxima debetur puero reverentia, si quid

Turpe paras.”—ED.Verse 6. - There is an opposite side to this picture. Shall offend; cause to stumble - give occasion for a fall, i.e. either in faith or morals. This is done by evil example, by teaching to sin, by sneers at piety, by giving soft names to gross offences. One of these little ones. Whether child or adult, a pure, simple soul, which has a certain faith it be not strong enough to resist all attack. Even the heathen recognized the respect due to the young: "Maxima debetur puero reverentia" (Juvenal, 'Sat.,' 14:47); and guilelessness and purity, wherever found, win some regard, even from worthless and careless observers. To wilfully lead one such astray is a deadly sin, which the Lord denounces in solemn terms. Christ affectionately calls his disciples "little ones" (Matthew 10:42). Believe in (εἰς) me. We must always distinguish between "believe in" (πιστεύειν εἰς, or ἐν: credo in) and "believe" with the simple dative; the former is applied to faith in God alone. Says St. Augustine, "Credimus Paulo, sed non credimus in Paulum." In the present passage the phrase implies the Divinity of Christ. It were better; literally, it is profitable. The crime specified is so heinous that a man had better incur the most certain death, if by this means he may avoid the sin and save the soul of his possible victim. A millstone; a great millstone - such a one as required an ass to inure. The upper, or movable, stone is meant, which was usually turned by the hand. Drowned. We do not know that the Jews punished criminals by drowning (καταποντισμὸς), though it is probable that it was practised in some cases; but by other nations this penalty was commonly exacted. Among the Romans, Greeks, and Syrians, it was certainly the practice. Commentators quote Suetonius, 'Aug.,' 67; Diod. Sic., 16:35; Livy, 1:51; Aristophanes, 'Schol. ad Equit.,' 1360. The punishment seems to have been reserved for the greatest criminals; and the size of the stone would prevent any chance of the body rising again to the surface and being buried by friends - a consideration which, in the minds of heathens, greatly increased the horror of this kind of death. A millstone (μύλος ὀνικός)

Two kinds of millstones were in use; the one turned by hand, the other, and larger, by an ass (ὄνος). Here Jesus says an ass-millstone; or, as Rev., a great millstone; Wyc., millstone of asses.

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