Matthew 2:4
And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
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(4) The chief priests and scribes.—The chief priests were probably the heads of the twenty-four courses into which the sons of Aaron were divided (2Chronicles 23:8; Luke 1:5), but the term may have included those who had, though only for a time, held the office of high priest. The “scribes” were the interpreters of the Law, casuists and collectors of the traditions of the Elders, for the most part Pharisees. The meeting thus convened was not necessarily a formal meeting of the Sanhedrim or Great Council, and may have been only as a Committee of Notables called together for a special purpose. With a characteristic subtlety, as if trying to gauge the strength of their Messianic hopes, Herod acts as if he himself shared them, and asks where the Christ, the expected Messiah, the “anointed” of the Lord (Psalm 2:2; Psalm 45:7; Psalm 89:20) was to be born.

Matthew 2:4. And when he had gathered all the chief priests — This expression must be intended to comprehend not only the high priest for the time being, and his deputy, with those who had formerly borne that office, but also the heads of the twenty-four courses, as well as any other persons of peculiar eminence in the priesthood, in which sense Josephus uses the word, Antiq. lib. 20. cap. 8. (al. 6,) § 8, p. 973. The scribes of the people — It would seem, from Ezra 7:11-12; 1 Chronicles 24:6; 2 Chronicles 34:13, that they were of the tribe of Levi only, and so were either priests or Levites. As their office was to transcribe and prepare fair copies of the law of Moses, and other parts of the Old Testament, (a very necessary work before printing was invented,) they became, of course, well acquainted with the Scriptures, and were ordinarily employed in explaining them to the people: whence the chief of them were called doctors of the law. They, or at least some of them, together with the chief priests and elders, constituted the sanhedrim, or great council of the nation. But in this place, when no public business was to be done, but only the predictions of the ancient prophets were to be searched into by those who were thought to excel others in the knowledge of them, it does not appear that any fixed and legal council was summoned; but only that an extraordinary meeting of learned men was called by the king, that they might judge of the question of the wise men. He demanded of them where Christ, i.e, the promised Messiah, was to be born. The wise men had said nothing about Christ, or the Messiah, but only about a king, or, the king of the Jews. But Herod presently conceived that this king of the Jews that was born must be the Messiah promised Psalms 2.; Daniel 9.; and therefore desired to know of them the place of his birth, according to their received traditions, and sense of the prophecies of Scripture. But it is to be well observed, that we must understand Herod as inquiring, not concerning an event considered by him as already come to pass, but concerning a matter yet future and uncertain. For although he understood from the wise men that the birth of the Messiah had even now taken place, yet he concealed his knowledge of this, and his whole design, from the Jews. It is easy to observe how strongly all this story implies that a general expectation of the Messiah now prevailed: and it is plain Herod, in a sense, both believed the Jewish Scriptures, and that the birth of the Messiah was foretold in them. And yet, which discovered the height of madness, as well as of impiety and cruelty, he was contriving to destroy him! to destroy him whose birth, and reign, and glory, God in his word, he believed, had infallibly foretold!2:1-8 Those who live at the greatest distance from the means of grace often use most diligence, and learn to know the most of Christ and his salvation. But no curious arts, or mere human learning, can direct men unto him. We must learn of Christ by attending to the word of God, as a light that shineth in a dark place, and by seeking the teaching of the Holy Spirit. And those in whose hearts the day-star is risen, to give them any thing of the knowledge of Christ, make it their business to worship him. Though Herod was very old, and never had shown affection for his family, and was not himself likely to live till a new-born infant had grown up to manhood, he began to be troubled with the dread of a rival. He understood not the spiritual nature of the Messiah's kingdom. Let us beware of a dead faith. A man may be persuaded of many truths, and yet may hate them, because they interfere with his ambition, or sinful indulgences. Such a belief will make him uneasy, and the more resolved to oppose the truth and the cause of God; and he may be foolish enough to hope for success therein.The chief priests - By the chief priests here are meant not only the high priest and his deputy, but. also the heads or chiefs of the 24 classes into which David had divided the sacerdotal families, 1 Chronicles 23:6; 24; 2 Chronicles 8:14; Ezra 8:24.

Scribes - By the scribes, in the New Testament, are meant learned men; men skilled in the law, or the lawyers of the nation. They kept the records of the Courts of justice, the registers of the synagogues, wrote articles of contract and sale, bills of divorce, etc. They were also called lawyers, Matthew 22:35, and doctor's of the law, Luke 5:17. They were called scribes. from the fact of their writing the public records. They were not, however, a religious sect, but might be either Pharisees or Sadducees. By the chief priests and scribes here mentioned is denoted the Sanhedrin or great council of the nation. This was composed of 72 men, who had the charge of the civil and religious affairs of the Jews. On this occasion Herod, in alarm, called them together, professedly to make inquiry respecting the birth of the Messiah.

Demanded of them - Inquired, or asked of them. As they were the learned men of the nation, and as it was their business to study and explain the Old Testament, they were presumed to know what the prophecies had declared on that point. His object was to ascertain from prophecy where he was born, that he might put him to death, and thus calm the anxieties of his own mind. He seems not to have had any doubt about the time when he would be born. He was satisfied that the time had come.

4. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together—The class of the "chief priests" included the high priest for the time being, together with all who had previously filled this office; for though the then head of the Aaronic family was the only rightful high priest, the Romans removed them at pleasure, to make way for creatures of their own. In this class probably were included also the heads of the four and twenty courses of the priests. The "scribes" were at first merely transcribers of the law and synagogue readers; afterwards interpreters of the law, both civil and religious, and so both lawyers and divines. The first of these classes, a proportion of the second, and "the elders"—that is, as Lightfoot thinks, "those elders of the laity that were not of the Levitical tribe"—constituted the supreme council of the nation, called the Sanhedrim, the members of which, at their full complement, numbered seventy-two. That this was the council which Herod now convened is most probable, from the solemnity of the occasion; for though the elders are not mentioned, we find a similar omission where all three were certainly meant (compare Mt 26:59; 27:1). As Meyer says, it was all the theologians of the nation whom Herod convened, because it was a theological response that he wanted.

he demanded of them—as the authorized interpreters of Scripture.

where Christ—the Messiah.

should be born—according to prophecy.

In this perplexity the king Herod calleth a synod or convocation, which was made up of the chief priests and scribes; the single question which he propounds to them was to resolve him

where Christ should be born. It is most likely this was an extraordinary convention of such of these persons as the king thought fit, who were best skilled in the law, and other revelations of holy writ, not any orderly meeting of the sanhedrim; for the question propounded to them was of mere ecclesiastical concern, and to be resolved from the prophecies and writings of the Old Testament. The stating of the question to them, not where the King of the Jews, but where Christ should be born, makes it manifest, that although (that we read of) the wise men said nothing of Christ, yet Herod presently conceived that this King of the Jews, that was born, must be the Messiah prophesied of Psalm 2:1-12 and in Daniel 9:1-27; he therefore desired to know of them the place in which, according to their received tradition, and sense of the prophecies of holy writ, the Messiah whom they expected (that is, Christ) should be born. And when he had gathered all the chief priests,.... Here we have an account of Herod's conduct at this juncture; he calls a council, assembles the sanhedrim, gathers together the more learned persons in the city to consult with them upon this matter,

the chief priests, all of which he gathered together, and which seem to be many; and were not only the then present high priest and his substitutes, but all the principal persons of the priesthood, who were chosen from the rest, into the great sanhedrim, or council: and by

the scribes of the people are meant a sort of letter learned men, whose business it was to keep and write out copies of the law, and other things, for "the people"; they were the fathers of the traditions, and interpreters of the law to them; and therefore are called "the scribes of the people": as well also, because they were chosen from among the people, from any other tribe, and not from the tribe of Levi, from whom the priests were; so that one seems to design the "clergy", and the other the laity, in this assembly. The Septuagint render "the officers of the people", by this same word the scribes, and scribes of the people, in Numbers 11:16 Joshua 1:10. The learned Dr. Lightfoot (x) conjectures, that the persons of note, who were present at this time, were Hillell the president of the council, Shammai the vice president, the sons of Betira, Judah and Joshua, Bava ben Buta, Jonathan ben Uzziel, the Chaldee paraphrast, and Simeon the son of Hillell.

He demanded of them, or asked them with authority, as the chief captain did, Acts 21:33 "where Christ", , the Christ, the Messiah

should be born? that is, where was the place of his birth as fixed in their prophecies, where, accordingly, they believed and expected he would be born. Herod's pretence, no doubt, in putting this question was, that he might be able to satisfy the wise men of the East about this matter; though the true reason within himself was, that he might know where this new born king was, in order to destroy him.

(x) Vol. II. p. 111.

And when he had gathered all the {d} chief priests and {e} scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

(d) The chief priests, that is, such as were of Aaron's family, who were divided into twenty-four orders. 1Ch 24:5 2Ch 36:14.

(e) They that expound the law to the people, for the Hebrews take this word for another, which means as much as to expound and to declare.

Matthew 2:4. Πάνταςλαοῦ] is regarded, after Grotius, by Fritzsche, Arnoldi, Lange, not as an assembly of the Sanhedrin (so commonly), but an extraordinary convocation of all the high priests and learned men. This explanation, in which, moreover, πάντας is not to be taken literally, is the correct one. Indeed, οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ γραμματεῖς, even without adding the third element of the Sanhedrin, the πρεσβύτεροι, may denote the Sanhedrin (Matthew 20:18, Matthew 21:15; while, on the other hand, elsewhere, as in Matthew 26:47, Matthew 27:1, the γραμματεῖς are not mentioned along with them). But here πάντας is decisive, which would designedly draw attention to a full sitting of the high council, and therefore would have made it necessary not to omit an entire class of the members, but to mention in full all the three classes, as in Matthew 16:21, Matthew 27:41; τοῦ λαοῦ also stands opposed to the common interpretation, as the latter, in designating the Sanhedrin in Matthew, serves only to denote the πρεσβύτεροι more precisely (Matthew 21:23, Matthew 26:3; Matthew 26:47, Matthew 27:1). Herod summoned together all the theologians of the nation, because he wanted a theological answer; τοῦ λαοῦ belongs to both words; observe the non-repetition of the article after καί.

ἀρχιερεῖς] certainly comprises partly the actual ruling high priest (ὁ ἀρχιερεύς, כֹּהֵן הַנָּרוֹל, Leviticus 15:10), partly those who had formerly held this high official post, which very often changed hands under the Herods. See Schürer, Stud. u. Krit. 1872, p. 593 ff. That the presidents of the twenty-four classes of priests are also to be understood (Bleek, Ewald), is nowhere certainly attested, and has against it the designation of the office itself, ἀρχιερεῖς. Both reasons, moreover, are in opposition to our including, with Wieseler, the priestly nobles, or, with Schürer, the members of the at that time privileged high-priestly families (Joseph. Bell. iv. 3. 6), which is not justified by Acts 4:6, and cannot be proved by a few individual names mentioned in Josephus, whose relation to the high-priesthood is otherwise unknown (Schürer, p. 638 f.). The last high priests who ruled before the death of Herod were Matthias (5 B.C.), and Jozarus, who soon after followed him (Joseph. Antt. xvii. 4. 2, xvii. 6. 4).

γραμματεῖς] corresponds to the Hebr. מוֹפְרִים—that is, first, writers, then learned men (Ezra 7:6; Ezra 7:11; Nehemiah 8:1; Gesenius, Thes. II. p. 966). This was the name specially of the expositors of the divine law, who, as Jewish canonists and learned councillors, belonged chiefly to the sect of the Pharisees, and in part to the Sanhedrin, and were held in great respect. See Lightfoot on the passage, and on Matthew 23:13; Leyrer in Herzog’s Encykl. XIII. p. 731 ff.

γεννᾶται] not in the sense of the future, but purely present: where is the Messiah born? The theologians were to tell what they knew concerning the birthplace of the Messiah. By this question Herod leaves it quite undetermined whether the birth had already taken place, or was still to come.Matthew 2:4. Herod’s measures.—καὶ συναγαγὼντοῦ λαοῦ. Was this a meeting of the Sanhedrim? Not likely, as the elders are not mentioned, who are elsewhere named as the representatives of the people, vide Matthew 26:3, “the chief priests, scribes and elders of the people”. Here we read only of the chief priests and scribes of the people. The article is not repeated before γραμματεῖς, the two classes being joined together as the theological experts of the people. Herod called together the leading men among the priests and scribes to consult them as to the birth-place of Messiah. Holtzmann (H. C.), assuring that a meeting of the Sanhedrim is meant, uses the fact as an argument against the historicity of the narrative. The Herod of history slew the Sanhedrists wholesale, and did his best to lull to sleep Messianic hopes. It is only the Herod of Christian legend that convenes the Sanhedrim, and makes anxious inquiries about Messiah’s birth-place. But the past policy of the king and his present action, as reported by the evangelist, hang together. He discouraged Messianic hopes, and, now that they have revived in spite of him, he must deal with them, and his first step is to consult the experts in as quiet a way as possible, to ascertain the whereabouts of the new-born child—ἐπυνθάνετο, etc.: it is not a historical question he submits to the experts as to where the Christ has been born, or shall be, but a theological one: where, according to the accepted tradition, is His birth-place? Hence γεννᾶται, present tense.4. gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together] i. e. summoned a meeting of the Sanhedrin, a body often indicated in this way. Others contend that this was an irregular meeting of all the chief priests and learned men.

The chief priests were those who had served the office of high priest, and also the heads of the courses into which the priests were divided. Scribes were those who transcribed or copied the law and who expounded it. They are called lawyers in St Luke’s gospel.

where Christ should be born] Lit. where the Christ or Messiah is born. Where do your sacred writings represent him to be born? For a similar use of the indicative cp. John 7:52.Matthew 2:4. Πάντας, all) i.e., all who were in Jerusalem at that time.—ἀρχιερεῖς, chief priests) The writers of the New Testament seldom speak of ἰερεῖς, priests, but generally of ἀρχιερεῖς, chief priests. This word had distinct significations in the singular and plural number: the singular ὁ Ἀρχιερεὺς signifies the High Priest; the plural ἀρχιερεῖς, either with or without the definite article, signified those priests who were more nearly related to the High Priest, and had from that circumstance greater influence than the rest.—See Acts 4:6.—γραμματεῖς τοῦ λαοῦ, scribes of the people) With the LXX. γραμματεὺς (scribe) corresponds to the Hebrew שטר;[80] in which sense ΤΟῪς ΓΡΑΜΜΑΤΕῖς ΤΟῦ ΛΑΟῦ (the scribes of the people), occurs in 1Ma 5:42, cf. also Deuteronomy 20:5. They render also ספר[81] by γραμματεὺς. And that signification suits also the present passage, where a Theological Reply is spoken of. The scribes of the people are spoken of in contradistinction to the chiefs of the priests: and were private men or doctors, well versed in the Scriptures; cf. note on ch. Matthew 22:35.—ἐπυνθάνετο, inquired. He ought to have done so before.—ΠΟῦ Ὁ ΧΡΙΣΤῸς ΓΕΝΝᾶΤΑΙ, where Christ is born) He makes the question of the Magi his own. The present tense of the verb γεννᾶται (is born), accords with the general expectation of the coming of the Messiah, which prevailed at that time.

[80] i.e. ש̈טֵר a scribe (LXX. γραμματεὺς, γραμματοεισαγωγεύς); hence from the art of writing having been especially used forensically, a magistrate, prefect of the people: specially ש̈טְרִים is used of the prefects of the people of Israel in Egypt, Exodus 5:6-19, and in the desert, Numbers 11:16 (used of the seventy elders), Deuteronomy 20:9 etc., etc.; magistrates in the towns of Palestine, Deuteronomy 16:18, etc., etc.; used of the superior magistrates, Proverbs 6:7.—Gesenius.—(I. B.)

[81] i.e. ס̇פר a scribe, Psalm 45:2, Ezra 9:2-3; specially (a) the king’s scribe; 2 Samuel 8:17; 2 Samuel 20:25; 2 Kings 12:17; 2 Kings 19:2; 2 Kings 22:3-4; (b) a military scribe who has the charge of keeping the muster-rolls, Jeremiah 37:15; Jeremiah 52:25; 2 Kings 25:19; (c) in the later books a person skilled in the sacred writings, γραμματεύς, 1 Chronicles 27:32; Ezra 7:6, etc., etc.; orסָפִרִ 1) a scribe, a royal scribe accompanying a satrap or governor of a province, Ezra 4:8-9; Ezra 4:17; Ezra 4:23; (2) γραμματεύς—one skilled in the sacred books, Ezra 7:12; Ezra 7:21.—Ibid.—(I. B.)Verse 4. - And when he had gathered... together (καὶ συναγαγών). The Revised Version, and gathering together, suggests that there was no delay. All the chief priests and scribes of the people (πάντας τοὺς ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ γραμματεῖς τοῦ λαοῦ). In the absence of the article before γραμματεῖς we must take the words, "of the people," as belonging to both terms. The addition helped to bring out the evangelist's thought that the representatives of the chosen people (1 Peter 2:10) were fully informed of the coming of Christ. The chief priests (cf. also Matthew 16:21, note) represented the ecclesiastical and Sadducean part, the scribes the more literary and probably the Pharisaic part, of the nation. The width of the term "all," and the double classification, seem to point to this not being a meeting of the Sanhedrin as such. Herod called an informal and perhaps the more comprehensive meeting of those who could assist him. He demanded of them; Revised Version, inquired, for "demand" is, in modern English, too strong for ἐπυνθάνετο The tyrant could be courteous when it served his purpose. Does the imperfect mark his putting the question to one after another (cf. Acts 1:6; and contrast John 4:52)? Where Christ ( the Christ, Revised Version) should be born (γεννᾶται). In ver. 2 (ὁ τεχθείς) the stress lay on his birth as an accomplished fact. Here on his birth as connected with his origin The present is chosen, not the future, because Herod is stating a theological question without reference to time. Observe, in Herod's inquiry and subsequent action, the combination of superstition and irreligion. He was willing to accept the witness of stars and of prophecies, but not willing to allow himself to be morally influenced by it. His attempt to kill this Child was the expression of a desire to destroy the Jewish nationality so far as this was severed from himself, and perhaps with it to uproot at the same time a fundamental part of the Jewish religion. All the chief priests

We should expect only one chief priest to be mentioned; but the office had become a lucrative one, and frequently changed hands. A rabbi is quoted as saying that the first temple, which stood about four hundred and ten years, had only eighteen high-priests from first to last; while the second temple, which stood four hundred and twenty years, had more than three hundred high-priests. The reference here is not to a meeting of the Sanhedrin, since the elders, who are not mentioned, belonged to this; but to an extraordinary convocation of all the high-priests and learned men. Besides the high-priest in actual office, there might be others who had been his predecessors, and who continued to bear the name, and in part the dignity. It may possibly have included the heads of the twenty-four courses of priests.

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