Lightfoot NT Commentary
Exercitations upon the Gospel of St. Matthew


His Dear Friends,


Students of Catharine-Hall,


Those very arguments which, first and chiefly, moved me to turn over the Talmudical writings, moved me also to this present work: so that, from the same reasons whence that reading first proceeded, from them proceed also this fruit and benefit of it.

For, first, when all the books of the New Testament were written by Jews, and among Jews, and unto them; and when all the discourses made there, were made in like manner by Jews, and to Jews, and among them; I was always fully persuaded, as of a thing past all doubting, that that Testament could not but everywhere taste of and retain the Jews' style, idiom, form, and rule of speaking.

And hence, in the second place, I concluded as assuredly that, in the obscurer places of that Testament (which are very many), the best and most natural method of searching out the sense is, to inquire how, and in what sense, those phrases and manners of speech were understood, according to the vulgar and common dialect and opinion of that nation; and how they took them, by whom they were spoken, and by whom they were heard. For it is no matter what we can beat out concerning those manners of speech on the anvil of our own conceit, but what they signified among them, in their ordinary sense and speech. And since this could be found out no other way than by consulting Talmudic authors, who both speak in the vulgar dialect of the Jews, and also handle and reveal all Jewish matters; being induced by these reasons, I applied myself chiefly to the reading these books. I knew, indeed, well enough, that I must certainly wrestle with infinite difficulties, and such as were hardly to be overcome; yet I undervalued them all, and armed myself with a firm purpose, that, if it were possible, I might arrive to a fuller and more deep knowledge and understanding of the style and dialect of the New Testament.

The ill report of those authors, whom all do so very much speak against, may, at first, discourage him that sets upon the reading of their books. The Jews themselves stink in Marcellinus, and their writings stink as much amongst all; and they labour under this I know not what singular misfortune, that, being not read, they displease; and that they are sufficiently reproached by those that have read them, but undergo much more infamy by those that have not.

The almost unconquerable difficulty of the style, the frightful roughness of the language, and the amazing emptiness and sophistry of the matters handled, do torture, vex, and tire him that reads them. They do everywhere abound with trifles in that manner, as though they had no mind to be read; with obscurities and difficulties, as though they had no mind to be understood: so that the reader hath need of patience all along, to enable him to bear both trifling in sense and roughness in expression.

I, indeed, propounded three things to myself while I turned them over, that I might, as much as I could, either under-value those vexations of reading, or soften them, or recreate myself with them, and that I might reap and enjoy fruit from them, if I could, and as much as I could.

I. I resolved with myself to observe those things which seemed to yield some light to the holy Scriptures, but especially either to the phrases, or sentences, or history of the New Testament.

II. To set down such things in my note-books, which carried some mention of certain places in the land of Israel, or afforded some light into the chorography of that land.

III. To note those things which referred to the history of the Jews, whether ecclesiastical, or scholastic, or civil; or which referred to the Christian history, or the history of the rest of the world.

And now, after having viewed and observed the nature, art, matter, and marrow of these authors with as much intention as we could, I cannot paint out, in little, a true and lively character of them better than in these paradoxes and riddles: There are no authors do more affright and vex the reader; and yet there are none who do more entice and delight him. In no writers is greater or equal trifling; and yet in none is greater or so great benefit. The doctrine of the gospel hath no more bitter enemies than they; and yet the text of the gospel hath no more plain interpreters. To say all in a word, to the Jews, their countrymen, they recommend nothing but toys, and destruction, and poison; but Christians, by their skill and industry, may render them most usefully serviceable to their studies, and most eminently tending to the interpretation of the New Testament.

We here offer some specimen of this our reading and our choice, for the reader's sake, if so it may find acceptance with the reader. We know how exposed to suspicion it is to produce new things; how exposed to hatred the Talmudic writings are; how exposed to both, and to sharp censure also, to produce them in holy things. Therefore, this our more unusual manner of explaining Scripture cannot, upon that very account, but look for a more unusual censure, and become subject to a severer examination. But when the lot is cast, it is too late at this time to desire to avoid the sequel of it; and too much in vain in this place to attempt a defence. If the work and book itself does not carry something with it which may plead its cause, and obtain the reader's pardon and favour; our oration, or begging Epistle, will little avail to do it. The present work, therefore, is to be exposed and delivered over to its fate and fortune, whatsoever it be. Some there are, we hope, who will give it a milder and more gentle reception; for this very thing, dealing favourably and kindly with us, that we have been intent upon our studies; that we have been intent upon the gospel; and that we have endeavoured after truth: they will show us favour that we followed after it, and, if we have not attained it, they will pity us. But as for the wrinkled forehead, and the stern brow, we are prepared to bear them with all patience, being armed and satisfied with this inward patronage, that "we have endeavoured to profit."

But this work, whatever it be, and whatever fortune it is like to meet with, we would dedicate to you, my very dear Catharine-Hall men, both as a debt, and as a desire. For by this most close bond and tie wherewith we are united, to you is due all that we study, all that we can do; if so be that all is any thing at all. And when we desire to profit all (if we could) which becomes both a student and a Christian to do; by that bond and your own merits, you are the very centre and rest of those desires and wishes. We are sufficiently conscious to ourselves how little or nothing we can do either for the public benefit, or for yours; yet we would make a public profession, before all the world, of our desire and study; and, before you, of our inward and cordial affection.

Let this pledge, therefore, of our love and endearment be laid up by you; and, while we endeavour to give others an account of our hours, let this give you an assurance of our affections. And may it last in Catharine-Hall, even to future ages, as a testimony of service, a monument of love, and a memorial both of me and you!

From my Study,

The Calends of June, 1658.

The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

[The book of the generation of Jesus Christ.] Ten stocks came out of Babylon; 1. Priests. 2. Levites. 3. Israelites. 4. Common persons; as to the priesthood: such whose fathers, indeed, were sprung from priests, but their mothers unfit to be admitted to the priests' marriage-bed. 5. Proselytes. 6. Liberti; or servants set free. 7. Nothi; such as were born in wedlock; but that which was unlawful. 8. Nethinims. 9. Bastards; such as came of a certain mother, but of an uncertain father. 10. Such as were gathered up out of the streets, whose fathers and mothers were uncertain.

A defiled generation indeed! And, therefore, brought up out of Babylon in this common sink, according to the opinion of the Hebrews, that the whole Jewish seed still remaining there might not be polluted by it. For Ezra went not up out of Babylon, until he had rendered it pure as flour. They are the words of the Babylonian Gemara, which the Gloss explains thus; "He left not any there that were illegitimate in any respect, but the priests and Levites only, and Israelites of a pure and undefiled stock. Therefore, he brought up with him these ten kinds of pedigrees, that these might not be mingled with those, when there remained now no more a Sanhedrim there, which might take care of that matter. Therefore he brought them to Jerusalem, where care might be taken by the Sanhedrim fixed there, that the legitimate might not marry with the illegitimate."

Let us think of these things a little while we are upon our entrance into the Gospel-history:

I. How great a cloud of obscurity could not but arise to the people concerning the original of Christ, even from the very return out of Babylon, when they either certainly saw, or certainly believed that they saw, a purer spring of Jewish blood there than in the land of Israel itself!

II. How great a care ought there to be in the families of pure blood, to preserve themselves untouched and clean from this impure sink; and to lay up among themselves genealogical scrolls from generation to generation as faithful witnesses and lasting monuments of their legitimate stock and free blood!

Hear a complaint and a story in this case: "R. Jochanan said, By the Temple, it is in our hand to discover who are not of pure blood in the land of Israel: but what shall I do, when the chief men of this generation lie hid?" (that is, when they are not of pure blood, and yet we must not declare so much openly concerning them). "He was of the same opinion with R. Isaac, who said, A family (of the polluted blood) that lies hid, let it lie hid. Abai also saith, We have learned this also by tradition, That there was a certain family called the family of Beth-zeripha, beyond Jordan, and a son of Zion removed it away." (The Gloss is, Some eminent man, by a public proclamation, declared it impure.) "But he caused another which was such" [that is, impure] "to come near. And there was another which the wise men would not manifest."

III. When it especially lay upon the Sanhedrim, settled at Jerusalem to preserve pure families, as much as in them lay, pure still; and when they prescribed canons of preserving the legitimation of the people (which you may see in those things that follow at the place alleged), there was some necessity to lay up public records of pedigrees with them: whence it might be known what family was pure, and what defiled. Hence that of Simon Ben Azzai deserves our notice: "I saw (saith he) a genealogical scroll in Jerusalem, in which it was thus written; 'N., a bastard of a strange wife.' " Observe, that even a bastard was written in their public books of genealogy, that he might be known to be a bastard, and that the purer families might take heed of the defilement of his seed. Let that also be noted: "They found a book of genealogy at Jerusalem, in which it was thus written; 'Hillel was sprung from David. Ben Jatsaph from Asaph. Ben Tsitsith Hacceseth from Abner. Ben Cobisin from Achab,' " etc. And the records of the genealogies smell of those things which are mentioned in the text of the Misna concerning 'wood-carrying': "The priests' and people's times of wood-carrying were nine: on the first day of the month Nisan, for the sons of Erach, the sons of Judah: the twentieth day of Tammuz, for the sons of David, the son of Judah: the fifth day of Ab, for the sons of Parosh, the son of Judah: the seventh of the same month for the sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab: the tenth of the same for the sons of Senaah, the son of Benjamin," etc.

It is, therefore, easy to guess whence Matthew took the last fourteen generations of this genealogy, and Luke the first forty names of his; namely, from the genealogical scrolls at that time well enough known, and laid up in the public repositories, and in the private also. And it was necessary, indeed, in so noble and sublime a subject, and a thing that would be so much inquired into by the Jewish people as the lineage of the Messiah would be, that the evangelists should deliver a truth, not only that could not be gainsaid, but also that might be proved and established from certain and undoubted rolls of ancestors.

[Of Jesus Christ.] That the name of Jesus is so often added to the name of Christ in the New Testament, is not only that thereby Christ might be pointed out for the Saviour; which the name Jesus signifies; but also, that Jesus might be pointed out for true Christ; against the unbelief of the Jews, who though they acknowledged a certain Messiah; or Christ; yet they stiffly denied that Jesus of Nazareth was he. This observation takes place in numberless places of the New Testament; Acts 2:36; Acts 8:35; 1 Corinthians 16:22; 1Jo 2:22; 1Jo 4:15, etc.

[The Son of David.] That is, "the true Messias

John Lightfoot, A Commentary of the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

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