Matthew 19:11
But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given.
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(11) All men cannot receive this saying.—As the words stand, “this saying” might refer either to the rule which our Lord had laid down on the subject of divorce, or to the comment of the disciples on that rule. What follows, however, determines the reference to the latter. Looking at marriage from a simply selfish point of view, and therefore with an entirely inadequate estimate of its duties on the one hand, and on the other of the temptations incident to the unmarried life when chosen on such grounds, they had come rashly to the conclusion that, if our Lord’s rule held good, it was not good, not expedient, to “marry.” He declares that judgment to be false. There were but few who were capable of acting safely on that conclusion. For those who were not so capable, and the next verse tells us who they were, marriage, with all its risks, was the truer, healthier, safer state. Alike in its brighter or sadder sides, in seeming success or seeming failure, it brought to men the discipline they needed.

19:3-12 The Pharisees were desirous of drawing something from Jesus which they might represent as contrary to the law of Moses. Cases about marriage have been numerous, and sometimes perplexed; made so, not by the law of God, but by the lusts and follies of men; and often people fix what they will do, before they ask for advice. Jesus replied by asking whether they had not read the account of the creation, and the first example of marriage; thus pointing out that every departure therefrom was wrong. That condition is best for us, and to be chosen and kept to accordingly, which is best for our souls, and tends most to prepare us for, and preserve us to, the kingdom of heaven. When the gospel is really embraced, it makes men kind relatives and faithful friends; it teaches them to bear the burdens, and to bear with the infirmities of those with whom they are connected, to consider their peace and happiness more than their own. As to ungodly persons, it is proper that they should be restrained by laws, from breaking the peace of society. And we learn that the married state should be entered upon with great seriousness and earnest prayer.All men cannot receive this saying - The minds of people are not prepared for this. This saying evidently means what the disciples had just said that it was good for a man not to marry. It might be good in certain circumstances - in times of persecution and trial, or for the sake of laboring in the cause of religion without the care and burden of a family. It might be good for many to live, as some of the apostles did, without marriage, but it was not given to all people, 1 Corinthians 7:1, 1 Corinthians 7:7,1 Corinthians 7:9. To be married, or unmarried, might be lawful, according to circumstances, 1 Corinthians 7:26. 11. But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given—that is, "That the unmarried state is better, is a saying not for everyone, and indeed only for such as it is divinely intended for." But who are these? they would naturally ask; and this our Lord proceeds to tell them in three particulars. See Poole on "Matthew 19:12".

But he said unto them,.... With respect to the inference or conclusion, the disciples formed from what he had asserted:

all men cannot receive this saying; of their's, that it is not good to marry, but it is more proper and expedient to live a single life! every man, as the Syriac version renders it, is not , "sufficient", or "fit", for this thing; everyone has not the gift of continency, and indeed very few; and therefore it is expedient for such to marry; for what the disciples said, though it might be true in part, yet not in the whole; and though the saying might be proper and pertinent enough to some persons, yet not to all, and indeed to none,

save they to whom it is given; to receive such a saying, to live unmarried with content, having the gift of chastity; for this is not of nature, but of grace: it is the gift of God.

{3} But he said unto them, All men cannot {k} receive this saying, save they to whom it is given.

(3) The gift of celibacy is peculiar, and therefore no man can set a law to himself of perpetual celibacy.

(k) Receive and admit, as by translation we say, that a straight and narrow place is not able to receive many things.

Matthew 19:11-12. The disciples have just said: οὐ συμφέρει γαμῆσαι. But to this saying must τὸν λόγον τοῦτον be referred, not to the statement concerning the indissoluble nature of marriage, as though Jesus meant to say that this was to be insisted on only in the case of those who had been endowed with the donum continentiae (Hofmann, Schriftbew. II. 2, p. 410 f.); which would be to contradict His argument in favour of non-dissolution taken from the objective nature of marriage, no less than His absolute declaration in Matthew 5:32, as well as to render nugatory, for all practical purposes, the primitive moral law of non-dissolution, by making it dependent on a subjective condition. Besides, the illustration of the eunuchs is only applicable to continence generally, not to a mere abstaining from the sin of adultery. No. Jesus wishes to furnish His disciples with the necessary explanation regarding their οὐ συμφέρει γαμῆσαι, and for this end He by no means questions their λόγος, but simply observes that: it is a proposition which all do not accept, i.e. which all cannot see their way to adopt as a maxim, but only such as God has endowed with special moral capabilities. Then, in Matthew 19:12, He explains who are meant by the οἷς δέδοται, namely, such as have become eunuchs; by these, however, He does not understand literal eunuchs, whether born such or made such by men, but those who, for the sake of the Messiah’s kingdom, have made themselves such so far as their moral dispositions are concerned, i.e. who have suppressed all sexual desire as effectually as though they were actual eunuchs, in order that they might devote themselves entirely to the (approaching) Messianic kingdom as their highest interest and aim (to labour in promoting it, comp. 1 Corinthians 7:32; 1 Corinthians 7:34). Finally, He further recommends this ethical self-castration, this “voluntary chastity” (Luther), when He exclaims: Whosoever is able to accept (to adopt) it (that which I have just stated), let him accept it! Chrysostom well observes: He says this, προθυμοτέρους τε ποιῶν τῷ δεῖξαι ὑπέρογκον ὂν τὸ κατόρθωμα, καὶ οὐκ ἀφιεῖς εἰς ἀνάγκην νόμου τὸ πρᾶγμα κλεισθῆναι. Comp. 1 Corinthians 7:1 f. The χερεῖν, Matthew 19:11 f., means simply to receive, and to be understood as referring to a spiritual reception, a receiving in the heart (2 Corinthians 7:2); and those endowed with the power so to receive it have, in consequence of such endowment, not only the inclination to be continent, but at the same time the moral force of will necessary to give effect to it, while those who are not so endowed “aut nolunt, aut non implent quod volunt,” Augustine. The more common interpretation, praestare posse (“negat autem Jesus, te, nisi divinitus concessis viribus tam insigni abstinentiae, qua a matrimonio abhorreas, parem esse,” Fritzsche), might be traced to the rendering capere, but it is precluded by the fact that the object of the verb is a λόγος (a saying). Others take it in the sense of: to understand, with reference, therefore, to the power of apprehension on the part of the intellect (Maldonatus, Calovius, Strauss, Bretschneider, Baumgarten-Crusius, Ewald; similarly Bengel, de Wette, Bleek, who, however, arbitrarily take τὸν λόγ. τοῦτ. as pointing forward to Matthew 19:12). So Plut. Cat. min. 64; Ael. V. H. iii. 9; Phocyl. 86: οὐ χωρεῖ μεγάλην διδαχὴν ἀδίδακτος; Philo, de mundo Matthew 1151: ἀνθρώπινος λογισμὸς οὐ χωρεῖ. But the difficulty with respect to what the disciples have said, and what Jesus says in Matthew 19:12, is not connected with the apprehension of its meaning, but with its ethical appropriation, which, moreover, Jesus does not absolutely demand, but leaves it, as is also done by Paul, 1 Corinthians 7., to each man’s ability, and that according as he happens to be endowed with the gift of continence as a donum singulare. Consequently, the celibate of the clerical order, as such, acts in direct opposition to this utterance of the Master, especially as the εὐνουχίζειν ἑαυτόν cannot be acted on by any one with the certainty of its lasting. Comp. Apol. Conf. A., p. 240 f.: “non placet Christo immunda continentia.” As showing how voluntary celibacy was by no means universal, and was exceptional even among the apostles themselves, see 1 Corinthians 9:5.

The metaphorical use of εὐνούχισαν ἑαυτούς to denote entire absence from sexual indulgence, likewise occurs in Sohar Ex. f. 37, c. 135; Levit. f. 34, c. 136 b; Schoettgen, p. 159.

It is well known that from a misunderstanding of the meaning of this passage Origen was led to castrate himself. On the correctness of this tradition (in answer to Schnitzer and Bauer), see Engelhardt in the Stud. u. Krit. 1838, p. 157; Redepenning, Origenes, I. p. 444 ff.

That Jesus was not here contemplating any Essenian abstinence (Strauss, Gfrörer, Philo, II. p. 310 f., Hilgenfeld), is already manifest from the high estimate in which marriage is always held by Him, and from His regard for children. The celibacy which a certain class of Essenes observed was founded on the fact that they regarded marriage as impure.

Matthew 19:11. ὁ δὲ εἶπεν. Jesus catches up the remark of the disciples, and attaches to it a deeper sense than they thought of. Their idea was that marriage was not worth having if a man must put up with all the faults and caprices of a woman, without possibility of escape, except by gross misconduct. He thinks of the celibate state as in certain cases desirable or preferable, irrespective of the drawbacks of married life, and taking it even at the best.—τὸν λόγον thus will mean: what you have said, the suggestion that the unmarried condition is preferable.—χωροῦσι = capere, receive, intellectually and morally, for in such a case the two are inseparable. No man can understand as a matter of theory the preferableness of celibacy under certain circumstances, unless he be capable morally of appreciating the force of the circumstances.—ἀλλʼ οἶς δέδοται: this phrase points chiefly to the moral capacity. It is not a question of intelligence, nor of a merely natural power of continence, but of attaining to such a spiritual state that the reasons for remaining free from married ties shall prevail over all forces urging on to marriage. Jesus lifts the whole subject up out of the low region of mere personal taste, pleasure, or convenience, into the high region of the Kingdom of God and its claims.

11. this saying] viz. that it is not good to marry.

Matthew 19:11. Ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, κ.τ.λ., But He said unto them, etc.) To that universal, but less well-founded reason for not contracting matrimony, grounded on the inconvenience which the disciples inferred must arise from its indissolubility, our Lord opposes the legitimate, particular, and only good reason, viz. the being an eunuch,—i.e. the being exempted by any exceptional cause from the universal law of contracting matrimony.—οὐ πάντες, not all) Our Lord opposes these words to the universal proposition of His disciples (sc. οὐ συμφέρει γαμῆσαι, i.e. it is not expedient to marry), and they are equivalent to “none.”—Cf. Romans 3:9, οὐ πάντες, not at all [English version, “No, in no wise.”] The important exception is added.—ἀλλʼ οἷς δέδοται, save those to whom it is given.—τοῦτον, this) This pronoun refers also to what follows. Cf. the Epiphonema,[861] in Matthew 19:12, sc. Ὁ ΔΥΝΆΜΕΝΟς, Κ.Τ.Λ., He that is able, etc.; and γὰρ, for, is added at the commencement of the same verse.[862]

[861] EPIPHONEMA is an exclamation subjoined to the narration, or demonstration of an important subject. See Gnomon on Romans 1:15 in VOC αὕτω. It is a rhetorical term employed by Quinctilian. See in Append., explanation of Technical terms.—(I. B.)

[862] As in Matthew 1:18, where Tischend. and Rec. Text have μνηστευθείσης γὰρ τῆς μητρὸς, etc. (Lachm. omits γὰρ with BZ Vulg., Iren., etc.): the γὰρ, as here, beginning the Discussion (Tractatio) which answers to the Statement of Subject (Propositio or Thesis) immediately preceding.—ED.

Verse 11. - Our Lord makes a gentle reply to this observation of the disciples concerning the inexpediency of marriage under some circumstances. You say true, he seems to mean, but all men cannot receive this saying; i.e. their words, "It is not good to marry." But he endorses these words in a different signification from theirs. Their objection to marry arose from the impossibility of putting away a wife for any cause. Christ passes over these ignoble scruples, and enunciates the only principle which should lead a man to abstain from marriage. They to whom it is given. They to whom are given the call and the grace to abstain from marriage. These persons' practice forms an exception to the general view of the propriety and blessedness of the marriage state. Matthew 19:11
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