Matthew 19:16
And, behold, one came and said to him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
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(16) Behold, one came and said . . .—The vagueness with which a man who must have been conspicuous is thus introduced, without a name, is every way significant. He was, like Nicodemus, “a ruler of the Jews” (Luke 18:18), i.e., probably, a member of the Sanhedrin or great Council, like Joseph of Arimathæa. He was, beside this, conspicuously rich, and of high and ardent character. There is one other case in the first two Gospels which presents similar phenomena. In the narrative of the supper at Bethany, St. Matthew and St. Mark record the passionate affection which expressed itself in pouring the precious ointment of spikenard upon our Lord’s head as the act of “a woman” (Matthew 26:7; Mark 14:3), leaving her unnamed. In St. John 12:3 we find that the woman was Mary, the sister of Lazarus. The train of thought thus suggested points to the supposition that here also there may have been reasons for suppressing in the records a name which was familiar to the narrator. What if the young ruler were Lazarus himself? The points of agreement are sufficiently numerous to warrant the conjecture. The household of Lazarus, as the spikenard ointment shows, were of the wealthier class. The friends who came to comfort the bereaved sisters, were themselves, in St. John’s language, “of the Jews”—i.e., of the chief rulers (John 11:19). The young ruler was obviously a Pharisee, and the language of Martha (John 11:24) shows that she too believed in eternal life and the resurrection of the dead. The answer to the young ruler, as “One thing thou lackest” (as given by St. Mark and St. Luke), is almost identical with that to Martha, “One thing is needful” (Luke 10:42). In such a case, of course, nothing can be attained beyond conjectural inference, but the present writer must avow his belief that the coincidences in this case are such as to carry the evidence to a very high point of probability. It is obvious that the hypothesis, if true, adds immensely to the interest both of the narrative now before us, and to that of the death and resurrection of Lazarus in John 11

Good Master.—The better MSS. omit the adjective, and it has probably been added here by later copyists to bring the passage into a verbal agreement with the narrative of St. Mark and St. Luke. From the prominence given to it in the form of our Lord’s answer, as reported by them, we may reasonably believe that it was actually uttered by the questioner. The words show reverence and, at least, half-belief. They are such as might well come from the brother of one who had sat at Jesus’ feet, drinking in His words (Luke 10:39)—from one who, like Nicodemus, looked on Him as a Rabbi, “a Teacher” sent from God.

That I may have eternal life.—In St. Mark (Mark 10:17) and St. Luke (Luke 18:18), and in some of the oldest MSS. of St. Matthew, “that I may inherit eternal life.” The question exhibits the highest and noblest phase of Pharisaism. The seeker has a firm belief in something that he knows as “eternal life.” He thirsts for it eagerly. He believes that it is to be won, as a perpetual inheritance, by some one good deed of exceptional and heroic goodness. The Teacher has left on him the impression of a goodness such as he had seldom, if ever, seen before, and as being therefore able to guide him to the Supreme Good.

Matthew 19:16. And behold, one came, &c. — Many of the poor had followed him from the beginning. One rich man came at last, and came running, with great earnestness, and kneeled to him with great humility and reverence, Mark 10:17, and said, Good Master — Manifesting by the appellation both a submissive and teachable disposition; his persuasion that Christ was a divinely-commissioned teacher, and his affection and peculiar respect to him as such. What good thing shall I do? — Or, as Mark and Luke express it, What shall I do to inherit eternal life? — By this question he manifested, 1st, That he believed in a future state; that there was an eternal life that might be inherited; he was therefore no Sadducee: 2d, that he was concerned to ensure that life to himself, and was more desirous of it than of any of the enjoyments of this life: thus he differed from many of his age and quality; for the rich are apt to think it below them to make such an inquiry as this, and young people in general are inclined to defer making it to some future period of their lives: 3d, that something must be done; some evils omitted, some duties performed, or divine injunctions complied with, in order to it: 4th, that he was, or at least thought he was, willing to do what was to be done, or to take the steps necessary to be taken for the obtaining of this eternal life. And surely those that know what it will be to enjoy eternal life, and what to come short of it, will be glad to accept it on any terms.19:16-22 Christ knew that covetousness was the sin which most easily beset this young man; though he had got honestly what he possessed, yet he could not cheerfully part with it, and by this his want of sincerity was shown. Christ's promises make his precepts easy, and his yoke pleasant and very comfortable; yet this promise was as much a trial of the young man's faith, as the precept was of his charity and contempt of the world. It is required of us in following Christ, that we duly attend his ordinances, strictly follow his pattern, and cheerfully submit to his disposals; and this from love to him, and in dependence on him. To sell all, and give to the poor, will not serve, but we are to follow Christ. The gospel is the only remedy for lost sinners. Many abstain from gross vices who do not attend to their obligations to God. Thousands of instances of disobedience in thought, word, and deed, are marked against them in the book of God. Thus numbers forsake Christ, loving this present world: they feel convictions and desires, but they depart sorrowful, perhaps trembling. It behoves us to try ourselves in these matters, for the Lord will try us.This account is found also in Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-39.

Matthew 19:16

One came - This was a young man, Matthew 19:20. He was a ruler (Luke); probably a ruler in a synagogue, or of the great council of the nation; a place to which he was chosen on account of his unblemished character and promising talents. He came running (Mark); evincing great earnestness and anxiety, He fell upon his knees (Mark); not to worship him, but to pay the customary respectful salutation; exhibiting the highest regard for Jesus as an extraordinary religious teacher.

Good Master - The word "good" here means, doubtless, most excellent; referring not so much to the moral character of Jesus as to his character as a religious teacher. It was probably a title which the Jews were in the habit of applying to their religious teachers. The word "Master" here means teacher.

What good thing shall I do? - He had attempted to keep all the commandments. He had been taught by his Jewish teachers that people were to be saved by doing something - that is, by their works; and he supposed that this was to be the way under every system of religion. He had lived externally a blameless life, but yet he was not at peace: he was anxious, and he came to ascertain what, in the view of Jesus, was to be done, that his righteousness might be complete. To "have eternal life" means to be saved. The happiness of heaven is called "life," in opposition to the pains of hell, called "death," or an eternal dying, Revelation 2:2; Revelation 20:14. The one is real life, answering the purposes of living - living to the honor of God and in eternal happiness; the other is a failure of the great ends of existence - prolonged, eternal suffering, of which temporal death is but the feeble image.

Mt 19:16-30. The Rich Young Ruler. ( = Mr 10:17-31; Lu 18:18-30).

For the exposition, see on [1330]Lu 18:18-30.

This history is reported by Mark, Mark 10:17-23 and by Luke, Luke 18:18-25. Mark saith, When he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do, that I may inherit eternal life? Luke saith, A certain ruler asked him. Our Lord was now in his way from Galilee to Judea and to Jerusalem. There cometh a person, a ruler, whether of some of the synagogues, or in some place of civil magistracy, the Scripture saith not. He runs, he kneels to him, (paying him at least a civil homage, as to his superior), he salutes him with the ordinary title they gave to their teachers, Master, Good Master; he propounds a grave question to him, what he should do that he might get to heaven; but yet he doth not propound the question in those terms, but,

What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? It appeareth by his respect showed to Christ at his coming, and by the question proposed, and by his going away sorrowful when our Saviour’s answer did not satisfy him, that he did not come upon any captious design to entrap our Saviour, but out of a desire to learn; but yet it appeareth plainly that he was a Pharisee, or a disciple of the Pharisees; and thought his life was in his own hands, that he had a power in himself to do some good thing by which he might merit eternal life, or upon the doing of which he might at least obtain everlasting life, though not as a strict reward for his work, without any consideration of a Messias. He grants an eternal state, he declares his desire of an eternal happiness, he declares his readiness to do some good thing that he might obtain it. And behold, one came,.... The Persic version reads, "a rich man"; and so he was, as appears from what follows: Luke calls him, "a certain ruler"; not of a synagogue, an ecclesiastical ruler, but a civil magistrate: perhaps he might be one of the sanhedrim, which consisted of "twenty one" persons; or of that which consisted only of "three", as in some small towns and villages Mark represents him as "running"; for Christ was departed out of the house, and was gone into the way, the high road, and was on his journey to some other place, when this man ran after him with great eagerness; and, as the same evangelist adds, "kneeled to him"; thereby paying him civil respect, and honour; believing him to be a worthy good man, and deserving of esteem and veneration:

and said unto him, good master: some say, that this was a title which the Jewish doctors were fond of, and gave to each other, but I have not observed it; he seems by this to intimate, that he thought him not only to be a good man, but a good teacher; that he was one that came from God, and taught good doctrine, which induced him to run after him, and put the following question to him:

what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? Or, as in the other evangelists, "inherit eternal life"; a phrase much in use with the Jewish Rabbins (a):

"Judah confessed, and was not ashamed, and what is his end? , "he inherits the life of the world to come" (i.e. eternal life); Reuben confessed, and was not ashamed, and what is his end? "he inherits the life of the world to come".''

This man was no Sadducee, he believed a future state; was a serious man, thoughtful about another world, and concerned how he should enjoy everlasting life; but was entirely upon a legal bottom, and under a covenant of works; and speaks in the language and strain of the nation of Israel, who were seeking for righteousness and life by the works of the law: he expected eternal life by doing some good thing, or things; and hoped, as the sequel shows, that he had done every good thing necessary to the obtaining it.

(a) T. Bab. Sota, fol. 7. 2.

{5} And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?

(5) Those who seek to be saved by the law do not even know the law themselves.

Matthew 19:16 ff. Comp. Mark 10:17 ff.; Luke 18:18 ff.

Εἷς] One, a single individual out of the multitude. According to Luke, the person in question was an ἄρχων, not a νεανίσκος (Matthew 19:20), which is explicable (Holtzmann) on the ground of a different tradition, not from a misunderstanding on the part of Matthew founded on ἐκ νεότητ. μου (Mark 10:20).

τί ἀγαθὸν ποιήσω] is not to be explained, with Fritzsche, as equivalent to τί ἀγαθὸν ὂν ποιήσω, quid, quod bonum sit, faciam? for the young man had already made an effort to do what is right, but, not being satisfied with what he had done, and not feeling sure of eternal life in the Messiah’s kingdom, he accordingly asks: which good thing am I to do, etc.? He wishes to know what particular thing in the category of the eternal good must be done by him in order to his obtaining life.Matthew 19:16-22.—A man in quest of the “summum bonum” (Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18-23). A phenomenon as welcome to Jesus as the visit of the mothers with their children: a man not belonging to the class of self-satisfied religionists of whom He had had ample experience; with moral ingenuousness, an open mind, and a good, honest heart; a malcontent probably with the teaching and practice of the Rabbis and scribes coming to the anti-Rabbinical Teacher in hope of hearing from Him something more satisfying. The main interest of the story for us lies in the revelation it makes of Christ’s method of dealing with inquirers, and in the subsequent conversation with the disciples.16. one came] “Came one running, and kneeled to him” (Mark). “A certain ruler,” i. e. one of the rulers of the synagogue, like Jairus. The “decemvirate” (see ch. Matthew 4:23) of the synagogue were chosen from “men of leisure” (Hebr. Batlanin, cp. our “scholars”), who were free from the necessity of labour, and could devote themselves to the duties of the synagogue, and to study; of these the first three were called “Rulers of the Synagogue.”

Good Master] According to good MS. authority simply “Master.”

what good thing shall I do] In this question ‘what shall I do’ the ruler touches the central error of the Pharisaic system—that goodness consisted in exact conformity to certain external rules of conduct Jesus shews that it is not by doing anything whatever that a man can inherit eternal life, but by being something; not by observing Pharisaic rules, but by being childlike.

16–22. The Young Rich Ruler

Mark 10:17-22. Luke 18:18-23.

From Luke alone we learn that he was a “ruler;” from Matthew alone that he was young. Each of the three Synoptists states that “he was very rich” (Luke); “had great possessions” (Matthew and Mark).Matthew 19:16. Ἰδοὺ, behold) sc. whilst Jesus is opening the kingdom of heaven, even to infants.—εἷς, one) From the rank to which he belonged, at length comes one.—Διδάσκαλε ἀγαθὲ, good Teacher) He that is good teaches well concerning that which is good; see John 7:12.—ποιήσω, shall I do?) the young man asks about doing; but belief goes before.—ζωὴν αἰώνιον, eternal life) Eternal life was known under the old dispensation, as we are assured in Hebrews 11:16; and it is explicitly called so in Daniel 12:2.Verses 16-22. - Answer to the inquiry of the rich young ruler concerning eternal life. (Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18-23.) Verse 16. - And, behold. The exclamation, as usual, denotes the suddenness and unexpected nature of the occurrence. It took place probably on the next day after the blessing of the children. One came (εϊς προσελθών). This is more emphatic than the enclitic τις, and we learn from St. Luke that he was "a ruler," i.e. of the synagogue, and he must have been of noted piety and worth to have arrived at this dignity while still a youth (ver. 22). St. Mark gives more details - he "came running, and kneeled to him." He was eager for an answer to his question, and recognized in Jesus a Rabbi worthy of all honour and veneration, though he saw in him nothing more. lie comes with no sinister intention, as the Pharisees did, but in all good faith, hoping to have a religious difficulty solved. Good Master. Thus the received text in the three synoptists. The epithet "good" is omitted by many excellent manuscripts, and has been expunged by most modern editors. It is required if the received text of the next verse is retained. It occurs in Mark and Luke without variation. The young man may have used the expression with the view of winning Christ's favour, or, at any rate, with the idea of showing the light in which he regarded him. What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? His notion was that eternal happiness was obtained by the performance of certain acts, and he is not sure that he has done enough for the reward, and wishes to know particularly what further good work will secure it. The other synoptists have merely, "What shall I do? but of course, good work is implied, if not expressed. This was a question much mooted in the rabbinical schools, and one to which the answers were as various as they were puerile. Some taught that the commandments were not equally important, and that what they deemed the lesser might be violated with impunity, if the others were observed. Some made the gift of perfection to depend on the daily recitation of certain prayers or psalms, others on giving due honour to the aged. Amid such perplexing rules, the youth desires an authoritative decision, which he may put in practice, and thus be sure of a happy place in Messiah's kingdom - be, as the Jews termed it, "a son of the age to come."
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