Matthew 6:7
But when you pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(7) Use not vain repetitions.—The Greek word has a force but feebly rendered in the English. Formed from a word which reproduces the repeated attempts of the stammerer to clothe his thoughts in words, it might be almost rendered, “Do not stutter out your prayers, do not babble them over.” The words describe only too faithfully the act of prayer when it becomes mechanical. The devotion of the rosary, in which every bead is connected with a Pater Noster or an Ave Maria, does but reproduce the eighteen prayers of the Rabbis, which they held it to be an act of religion to repeat. On the other hand, it is clear that the law of Christ does not exclude the iteration of intense emotion. That is not a “vain repetition;” and in the great crisis of His human life our Lord Himself prayed thrice “using the same words” (Matthew 26:44). How far our use of the Lord’s Prayer, or of the Kyrie Eleison of our Litanies, is open to the charge of “vain repetition” is another question. It is obvious that it may easily become so to any mechanical worshipper of the Pharisaic type; but there is, on the other side, an ever-accumulating weight of evidence from really devout souls, that they have found it helpful in sustaining the emotion without which prayer is dead.

As the heathen do.—We know too little of the details of the ritual of classical heathenism to be able to say how far the charge of vain repetition applied at this time to them. The cries of the worshippers of Baal “from morning even until noon” (1Kings 18:26), the shouts of those of Artemis at Ephesus “for the space of two hours” (Acts 19:34), may be taken as representative instances.

Their much speaking.—This thought was the root-evil of the worship of the heathen or the Pharisee. It gave to prayer a quantitative mechanical force, increased in proportion to the number of prayers offered. If fifty failed, a hundred might succeed. But this assumed that the object of prayer was to change the will of God, or to inform Him of what He did not know before, and our Lord teaches us—as, indeed, all masters of the higher life have taught—that that assumption vitiates prayer at once.

Matthew 6:7-8. When ye pray, use not vain repetitions — A multiplicity of words without meaning, or uttered without seriousness, reverence for God, sincerity, or faith. The original word, βαττολογησητε, is derived from βαττος, a stutterer, or foolish talker, and λογος, speech. The former word was the name of a certain prince of the Cyrenæans, who was a stammerer, and also of a babbling foolish poet, who frequently repeated the same things, and whose rhapsodies were full of tautologies. Our interpretation of the words, Use not vain repetitions, Dr. Campbell thinks is too confined, and does not include all that is meant to be signified by our Lord’s expression, which, he says, comprehends “every thing, in words, that may justly be called vain, idle, or foolish.” The word πολυλογια, much speaking, applied to the same fault in the latter part of the verse, is a further elucidation of its meaning. As the heathen do — When invoking their false gods: for they think they shall be heard — In the prayers which they address to them; for their much speaking — Thus we find the priests of Baal crying from morning till noon, O Baal, hear us. Hence it appears, partly at least, what the repetitions were which Christ forbade his disciples to use in their prayers, namely, such as proceeded from an opinion that they should be heard for their much speaking, after the manner of the heathen. This opinion, implying a denial of the power, or the knowledge, or the goodness of God, is highly injurious to him; and therefore repetitions in prayer, flowing from it, are highly culpable, as also is the repeating of any words without meaning them, or the expressing in words any petitions or thanksgivings which do not proceed from the heart. Therefore, we should be extremely careful, in all our prayers, to mean what we say, and to desire what we ask, from the very bottom of our hearts. The vain and heathenish repetitions which we are here warned against, are very common, and a principal cause why so many who profess religion are a disgrace to it. Indeed, all the words in the world, however well chosen and uttered in prayer, are not equivalent to one holy desire; and the very best prayers are but vain repetitions, if they are not the language of the heart. But let it be observed, on the other hand, that repetitions proceeding from a deep sense of our wants, and a vehement desire of divine grace, and the spiritual blessings flowing therefrom, or connected therewith, are by no means prohibited here by the Lord Jesus, otherwise indeed he would condemn his own practice, Matthew 26:39-44. For your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before you ask him — We do not pray to inform God of our wants. Omniscient as he is, he cannot be informed of any thing which he knew not before: and he is always willing to relieve them. The chief thing wanting is, a fit disposition on our part to receive his grace and blessing. Consequently, one great office of prayer is to produce such a disposition in us; to exercise our dependance on God; to increase our desire of the things we ask for; to make us so sensible of our wants, that we may never cease wrestling till we have prevailed for the blessing.6:5-8 It is taken for granted that all who are disciples of Christ pray. You may as soon find a living man that does not breathe, as a living Christian that does not pray. If prayerless, then graceless. The Scribes and Pharisees were guilty of two great faults in prayer, vain-glory and vain repetitions. Verily they have their reward; if in so great a matter as is between us and God, when we are at prayer, we can look to so poor a thing as the praise of men, it is just that it should be all our reward. Yet there is not a secret, sudden breathing after God, but he observes it. It is called a reward, but it is of grace, not of debt; what merit can there be in begging? If he does not give his people what they ask, it is because he knows they do not need it, and that it is not for their good. So far is God from being wrought upon by the length or words of our prayers, that the most powerful intercessions are those which are made with groanings that cannot be uttered. Let us well study what is shown of the frame of mind in which our prayers should be offered, and learn daily from Christ how to pray.Use not vain repetitions - The original word here is supposed to be derived from the name of a Greek poet, who made long and weary verses, declaring by many forms and endless repetitions the same sentiment. Hence, it means to repeat a thing often; to say the same thing in different words, or to repeat the same words, as though God did not hear at first. An example of this we have in 1 Kings 18:26; "They called on Baal from morning until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us!" It may serve to illustrate this passage, and to show how true is the description here of prevailing modes of prayer, to refer to the forms and modes of devotion still practiced in Palestine by the Muslims. Dr. Thomson ("The Land and the Book") gives the following description of what actually occurs: "See those men on that elevated terrace. One has spread his cloak, other their Persian rugs toward the south. They are Muslims, preparing to say prayers - rather perform them, in this most public place, and in the midst of all this noise and confusion.

"Let us stop and watch the ceremony as it goes on. That man next us raises his open hands until the thumbs touch the ears, exclaiming aloud, "Allah-hu-akbar" - 'God is great.' After uttering mentally a few short petitions, the hands are brought down and folded Together near the girdle, while he recites the first chapter of the Koran, and two or three other brief passages from the same book. And now he bends forward, rests his hands upon his knees, and repeats three times a formula of praise to 'God most great.' Then, standing erect, he cries "Allah-hu-akbar," as at the beginning. Then see him drop upon his knees, and bend forward until his nose and forehead touch the ground directly between his expanded hands. This he repeats three times, muttering all the while the same short formulas of prayer and praise. The next move will bring him to his knees, and then, settling back upon his heels, he will mumble over various small petitions, with sundry grunts and exclamations, according to taste and habit. He has now gone through one regular Rek'ah; and, standing up as at the first, and on exactly the same spot, he will perform a second, and even a third, if specially devout, with precisely the same genuflections.

"They are obliged to repeat some expressions thirty times, others many hundred times. Would that these remarks did not apply to nominal Christians in this land as well as to Muslims!"

The heathen do - The original word is that which is commonly translated "Gentile." The world was divided into two parts, the Jews and the Gentiles; that is, in the original, the "nations," the nations destitute of the true religion. Christ does not fix the length of our prayers. He says that we should not repeat the same thing, as though God did not hear; and it is not improbable that he intended to condemn the practice of long prayers. His own supplications were remarkably short.

7. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions—"Babble not" would be a better rendering, both for the form of the word—which in both languages is intended to imitate the sound—and for the sense, which expresses not so much the repetition of the same words as a senseless multiplication of them; as appears from what follows.

as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking—This method of heathen devotion is still observed by Hindu and Mohammedan devotees. With the Jews, says Lightfoot, it was a maxim, that "Every one who multiplies prayer is heard." In the Church of Rome, not only is it carried to a shameless extent, but, as Tholuck justly observes, the very prayer which our Lord gave as an antidote to vain repetitions is the most abused to this superstitious end; the number of times it is repeated counting for so much more merit. Is not this just that characteristic feature of heathen devotion which our Lord here condemns? But praying much, and using at times the same words, is not here condemned, and has the example of our Lord Himself in its favor.

See Poole on "Matthew 6:8". But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions,.... Saying the same things over and over again,

as the Heathens do, as the worshippers of Baal, from morning till noon, 1 Kings 18:26. This our Lord observes, to dissuade from such practices, because the Gentiles, who were odious to the Jews, used them, and the Jews were guilty of the same; had they not, there would not have been any need of such advice:

for they think they shall be heard for their much speaking; as did the Jews, who, under pretence of "long prayers", devoured widows' houses; and with whom it is an axiom, that "everyone , that multiplies prayer is heard" (h); and whoever prolongs his prayer, his prayer does not return empty; and he that is long in prayer, his days are prolonged (i): and, according to their canons, every day a man ought to pray eighteen prayers. Moreover, their prayer books abound in tautologies, and in expressing the same things in different words, and by a multiplicity of them.

(h) T. Hieros. Taaniot, fol. 67. 3.((i) Zohar in Exod. fol. 104. 4.

But when ye pray, use not {c} vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

(c) Long prayers are not condemned, but vain, needless, and superstitious ones.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Matthew 6:7. Δέ] indicating a transition to the consideration of another abuse of prayer.

βαττολογεῖν] (Simplic. ad Epict. p. 340) is not to be derived, with Suidas, Eustathius, Erasmus, from some one of the name of Battus (passages in Wetstein), who, according to Herod. v. 155, was in the habit of stammering, but, as already Hesychius correctly perceived (κατὰ μίμησιν τῆς φωνῆς), is to be regarded as a case of onomatopoeia (comp. Βάτταλος as a nickname of Demosthenes, βατταρίζω, βατταρισμός, βατταριστής), and means, properly speaking, to stammer, then to prate, to babble, the same thing that is subsequently called πολυλογία. B א have the form βατταλογ.; see Tisch. 8.

οἱ ἐθνικοί] Whose prayers, so wordy and full of repetitions (hence, fatigare Deos), were well known. Terent. Heautont. v. i. 6 ff. In Rabbinical writers are found recommendations sometimes of long, sometimes of short, prayers (Wetstein). For an example of a Battological Jewish prayer, see Schoettgen, p. 58 f., comp. Matthew 23:15; and for disapproval of long prayers, see Ecclesiastes 5:1, Sir 7:14.

ἐν τῇ πολυλογίᾳ αὐτῶν] in consequence of their much speaking; they imagine that this is the cause of their being heard. As to the thing, consider the words of Augustine: “Absit ab oratione multa locutio, sed non desit multa precatio, si fervens perseveret intentio;” the former, he adds, is “rem necessariam superfluis agere verbis,” but the multum precari is: “ad eum, quem precamur, diuturna et pia cordis excitatione pulsare” (Ep. 130. 20, ad probam).Matthew 6:7-15. Further instruction in prayer. Weiss (Mt.-Evan.) regards this passage as an interpolation, having no proper place in an anti-Pharisaic discourse. Both the opinion and its ground are doubtful. As regards the latter, it is true that it is Gentile practice in prayer that is formally criticised, but it does not follow that the Pharisees were not open to the same censure. They might make long prayers, not in ignorance, but in ostentation (Lutteroth), as a display of devotional talent or zeal. But apart from the question of reference to the Pharisees, it is likely that prayer under various aspects formed one of the subjects of instruction in the course of teaching on the hill whereof these chapters are a digest.7. use not vain repetitions] It is not the length of time spent in prayer or the fervent or reasonable repetition of forms of prayer that is forbidden, but the mechanical repetition of set words, and the belief that the efficacy of prayer consists in such repetition. The word itself lit. means to stammer, then to “repeat uselessly.”

as the heathen] The Jews also had a saying, “Every one that multiplies prayer is heard.”Matthew 6:7. Μὴ βαττολογήσητε, use not vain repetitions) Gattaker has collected from antiquity many persons called Battus, celebrated for their stammering, and thence for their frequent repetition of the same word (tautologia), and deriving their name from that circumstance. Hesychius[251] renders βαττολογία by ἀργολογία (idle talking), ἀκαιρολογία (unseasonable talking): he says, βατταρίζειν appears to me to be derived from an imitation of the voice,” etc., and he explains βατταρισμὸι by φλυαρίαι.[252] It is clear, therefore, that βαττολογεῖν means the same here which πολυλογία (much speaking) does immediately afterwards, sc. when the same things are repeated over and over again, as is the case with stammerers, who endeavour to correct their first utterance by a second.—ὥσπερ οἱ ἐθνικοὶ, as the heathen do) In all things the practice of hypocrites is to be avoided, in prayer that also of the heathen.—ἐν τῇ πολυλογίᾳ αὐτῶν, in their much speaking) i.e. whilst they say many words. They think that many words are required to inform their deities what they want of them, so that they may hear and grant their requests, if not at the present, at some future time. Cf. on the other hand, “your Father KNOWETH,” etc., Matthew 6:8. The same word, πολυλογία (much speaking) occurs in the S. V. of Proverbs 10:19. Ammonius[253] says, μακρολόγος is one who utters many words concerning few things, πολυλόγος, one who utters many words concerning many things. Christ commands us to utter few words, even when praying for many things; see Matthew 6:9-13.—εἰσακουσθήσονται, shall be regarded. The Hebrew ענה, to answer, is rendered by the LXX. ΕἸΣΑΚΟΎΕΙΝ. God answers substantially;[254] see ch. Matthew 7:7.

[251] Hesychius. There were several distinguished men of this name. The individual here intended was a celebrated grammarian and lexicographer of Alexandria, who lived somewhere about the fourth century.—(I. B.)

[252] βατταρισμὸς signified either originally stuttering, or derivatively idle prating: φλυαρία, silly talk, nonsense, foolery. It is used also in the plural. The kindred adjective φλύαροι is rendered tattlers in 1 Timothy 5:13, and the cognate participle φλυαρῶν, prating in 3 John 1:10 by the Eng. Ver.—(I. B.)

[253] Ammonius the grammarian must not be confounded with the author of the Ammonian Sections. He was a native of Alexandria, and flourished in the fourth century. The work here alluded to is his treatise De differentia dictionum.—(I. B.)

[254] In the original “Deus respondit solide.”—(I. B.)Verse 7. - But when ye pray (προσευχόμενοι δέ). The Revised Version, and in praying, shows that our Lord is only continuing the subject, and not turning to a new one, as in vers. 2, 5, 16. But while he has thus far thought of prayer as an external act, he now speaks of the substance of the prayers offered, the δέ indicating a transition to another aspect of the same subject. Use not vain repetitions; "Babble not much" (Tyndale). The word used (μὴβατταλογήσητε) is probably onomatopoeic of stuttering. The Peshito employs here the same root () as for μογιλάλος, Mark 7:32 (). But from the primary sense of stuttering, βατταλογεῖν, naturally passed to that of babbling in senseless repetitions. As the heathen do (οἱ ἐθνεικοί, Gentiles, Revised Version; Matthew 5:47, note). Thinking that the virtue lies in the mere utterance of the words. Even the Jews came perilously near this in their abundant use of synonyms and synonymous expressions in their prayers (cf. Lightfoot, 'Hor. Hebr.'). Perhaps it was this fact that assisted the introduction of the reading "hypocrites" in B and the Old Syriac. For they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. In the continuance (ἐν) of their external action lies their hope of being fully heard (εισακουσθήσονται). Use vain repetitions (βατταλογήσητε)

A word formed in imitation of the sound, battalogein: properly, to stammer; then to babble or prate, to repeat the same formula many times, as the worshippers of Baal and of Diana of Ephesus (1 Kings 18:26; Acts 19:34) and the Romanists with their paternosters and aves.

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