Matthew 20:2
And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
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(2) A penny a day.—Measured by its weight, the “penny—i.e., the Roman denarius, then the common standard of value in Palestine—was, as nearly as possible, sevenpence-halfpenny of our coinage. Its real equivalent, however, is to be found in its purchasing power, and, as the average price of the unskilled labour of the tiller of the soil, it may fairly be reckoned as equal to about half-a-crown of our present currency. It was, that is, in itself, an adequate and just payment.

Matthew 20:2-4. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day — “A denarius, or Roman penny, in value about seven and one half pence sterling, which it seems was the usual price of a day’s service among the Jews, as Tacitus tells us it was among the Romans, (Annal., Matthew 1:17.) It is therefore justly mentioned, Revelation 6:6, as a proof of the great scarcity of provisions, when a measure, or chœnix of wheat, which was the usual allowance to one man for a day, and was about an English quart, was sold at that price.” — Doddridge. He sent them, into his vineyard — Many obeyed the call given them by John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus at the first introduction of the gospel dispensation, and many have been called in childhood in every age of the church. He went out about the third hour, about nine, and saw others standing idle — Many were standing idle, and doing nothing either for the glory of God or the salvation of their own souls, in all parts of Judea, when the apostles were first sent forth, during the time of our Lord’s personal ministry, to call them to repentance, and to do works meet for repentance. And many young persons in every age and nation have been, and still are, standing idle in the same sense; and that in the market-place, as it were, offering themselves to be hired to any master that might be disposed to engage them: and too many have continually been, and still are, hired by Satan; and, like the prodigal in the parable, (who was sent into the fields to feed swine,) are daily employed in the drudgery of sin; or are engaged by the world, and occupied in the pursuits of its vanities; or by the flesh, in the filthy lusts of which they wallow, as swine in the mire. And said, Go ye also — As well as those who have been called before you, or are called at an earlier age: and whatsoever is rightΔικαιον, just, reasonable, I will give you. And they went their way — To their work, without any further, or more particular agreement, placing an entire confidence in the promise of the householder. Thus many were obedient to the call given by the apostles in their first mission, and to that given by the seventy disciples: for they returned to Jesus, saying, Lord, the very devils are subject to us through thy name. And many young persons in former ages have obeyed, and many in the present age now obey, the gospel, wherever it is preached with clearness and power.

20:1-16 The direct object of this parable seems to be, to show that though the Jews were first called into the vineyard, at length the gospel should be preached to the Gentiles, and they should be admitted to equal privileges and advantages with the Jews. The parable may also be applied more generally, and shows, 1. That God is debtor to no man. 2. That many who begin last, and promise little in religion, sometimes, by the blessing of God, arrive at a great deal of knowledge, grace, and usefulness. 3. That the recompense of reward will be given to the saints, but not according to the time of their conversion. It describes the state of the visible church, and explains the declaration that the last shall be first, and the first last, in its various references. Till we are hired into the service of God, we are standing all the day idle: a sinful state, though a state of drudgery to Satan, may be called a state of idleness. The market-place is the world, and from that we are called by the gospel. Come, come from this market-place. Work for God will not admit of trifling. A man may go idle to hell, but he that will go to heaven, must be diligent. The Roman penny was sevenpence halfpenny in our money, wages then enough for the day's support. This does not prove that the reward of our obedience to God is of works, or of debt; when we have done all, we are unprofitable servants; but it signifies that there is a reward set before us, yet let none, upon this presumption, put off repentance till they are old. Some were sent into the vineyard at the eleventh hour; but nobody had hired them before. The Gentiles came in at the eleventh hour; the gospel had not been before preached to them. Those that have had gospel offers made them at the third or sixth hour, and have refused them, will not have to say at the eleventh hour, as these had, No man has hired us. Therefore, not to discourage any, but to awaken all, be it remembered, that now is the accepted time. The riches of Divine grace are loudly murmured at, among proud Pharisees and nominal Christians. There is great proneness in us to think that we have too little, and others too much of the tokens of God's favour; and that we do too much, and others too little in the work of God. But if God gives grace to others, it is kindness to them, and no injustice to us. Carnal worldlings agree with God for their penny in this world; and choose their portion in this life. Obedient believers agree with God for their penny in the other world, and must remember they have so agreed. Didst not thou agree to take up with heaven as thy portion, thy all; wilt thou seek for happiness in the creature? God punishes none more than they deserve, and recompenses every service done for him; he therefore does no wrong to any, by showing extraordinary grace to some. See here the nature of envy. It is an evil eye, which is displeased at the good of others, and desires their hurt. It is a grief to ourselves, displeasing to God, and hurtful to our neighbours: it is a sin that has neither pleasure, profit, nor honour. Let us forego every proud claim, and seek for salvation as a free gift. Let us never envy or grudge, but rejoice and praise God for his mercy to others as well as to ourselves.A penny a day - The coin here referred to was a Roman coin, equal in value, at different periods, to 15 cents or 17 cents (7 1/2 d. to 8 1/2 d.) (circa 1880's). The original denotes the Roman denarius δηνάριον dēnarion, a silver coin, which was originally equivalent to ten ases (a brass Roman coin), from which it gets its name. The consular denarius bore on one side a head of Rome, and an X or a star, to denote the value in ases, and a chariot with either two or four horses. At a later period the casts of different deities were on the obverse, and these were finally superseded by the heads of the Caesars. Many specimens of this coin have been preserved.

It was probably at that time the price of a day's labor. See Tobit 5:14. This was the common wages of a Roman soldier. In England, before the discovery of the mines of gold and silver in South America, and consequently before money was plenty, the price of labor was about in proportion. In 1351 the price of labor was regulated by law, and was a penny a day; but provisions were of course proportionally cheap, and the avails of a man's labor in articles of food were nearly as much as they are now.

2. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny—a usual day's hire.

he sent them into his vineyard.

See Poole on "Matthew 20:16".

And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day,.... These labourers were of that sort that were called , "hired for a day"; concerning whom is the following rule (q):

"he that is hired for a day, may demand it all the night; and he that is hired for a night may demand it all the day: he that is hired for hours, may demand it all the night, and all the day; he that is hired for a week, he that is hired for a month, he that is hired for a year, he that is hired for seven, if he goes out in the day, may demand all the day; and if he goes out in the night, he may demand it all the night, and all the day.''

And the wages of a day were usually "a penny"; which, if understood of a Roman penny, was seven pence halfpenny of our money. One of their canons runs thus (r):

"he that hires a labourer in the winter, to work with him in the summer, , "for a penny every day", and he gives him his hire; and, lo! his hire is alike to that in the winter, a "sela" every day, this is forbidden; because it looks as if he chose that time to lessen his wages; but if he says to him, work with me from this day, to such a time, "for a penny every day", though his hire is the same, a "sela" every day, this is lawful.''

By the penny a day agreed for with the labourers, may be meant external privileges; or the free promise made, whether to ministers, or private believers, of a sufficient supply of grace daily, that as their day is, their strength shall be; together with that of eternal life and happiness at last.

He sent them into his vineyard; to labour there: for none have any business there, but such who are called and sent by the owner of it; and where sons are sent, and work, as well as servants; see Matthew 21:28.

(q) Misna Bava Metzia, c. 9. sect. 11. Maimen Hilch. Shericut, c. 11. sect. 2.((r) Maimon. Hilch. Milvah Ulavah, c. 7. sect. 12. Vid. T. Bab. Bava Bathra, fol. 86. 2. & 87. 1. & Gloss. in ib.

And when he had {a} agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.

(a) Literally, fell in time: it is a kind of speech taken from poetry.

Matthew 20:2. Ἐκ δηναρίου τὴν ἡμέραν] After he had agreed with the labourers, on the condition that he was to pay them a denarius per day. ἐκ does not denote the payment itself (which would have been expressed by the genitive, Matthew 20:13), although ἐκ δηναρ. is that payment (Matthew 27:7; Acts 1:18); but it is intended to indicate that this payment was the thing, on the strength of which, as terms, the agreement was come to; comp. Kühner, II. 1, p. 399 f. τὴν ἡμέραν is the accusative, as further defining the terms of the agreement: in consideration of the day, so that a denarius was to be the wages for the (current) day during which they might work. As an accusative of time (which it is usually supposed to be), it would not correspond with συμφων. to which it belongs.

A denarius was the usual wages for a day’s work (Tob 5:14). See Wetstein.

Matthew 20:2. ἐκ δηναρίου: on the basis of a penny; the agreement sprang out of the offer, and acceptance, of a denarius as a day’s wage (so Meyer, Weiss, etc.).—τὴν ἡμέραν = per diem, only a single day is contemplated in the parable.

2. a penny] a denarius. See ch. Matthew 18:28.

Matthew 20:2. Συμφωνήσας, when he had agreed) He deals with the first labourers more by legal compact; with the latter, more by mere liberality, even in the hiring them, though He blames them for standing idle; see Matthew 20:4; Matthew 20:6-7. They make up for their previous idleness by their obedience, without stipulating for a fixed amount of wages. The day, divided into twelve hours, signifies not the whole duration of the world, nor that of the New Testament dispensation, which the life of a single labourer can never equal; neither, as it seems, does it represent the space of life given to each human being, in which one labours a longer and another a shorter time from his call to his death: although one who came before us might labour only one hour (i.e. the last), and another who comes after us may begin at the first; so that in this passage that saying should hold good, “In any hour is any hour;”[878]—But it represents the space of time from the first calling of the apostles to the ascension of Christ and the descent of the Paraclete. The denarius is that one amount of wages in the present and future life, equally offered to all, mentioned in ch. Matthew 19:29; Matthew 19:21; the difference of which, though corresponding with the difference of labours, is not only not apparent in this life, but frequently appears inverted: therefore the middle term, equality, is here assumed.[879] The evening is that time when each one is, or appears to be, much nearer the close than the commencement of his labours; and therefore, in the case of the disciples, the time then close at hand, immediately before the departure of our Lord. They cast their own evening and that of others into the same balance, who compare themselves with others. The labourers are all who are called, not only the apostles. The feeling of the discontented labourers concerning the whole day, resembles that of Peter, when he alluded, without sufficient discretion, to the difference between himself and that rich man. And every one is tempted by such a feeling towards those whom he most knows, and who are his equals. He who has a wider range of thought is liable to the same temptation with regard to those who are more remote.—μετὰ τῶν ἐργατῶν, with the labourers) The Householder makes an agreement with the labourers, and they (see Matthew 20:13) with him. The one ensures the payment of the wages; the other shows what the labourer should be contented with.—ἐκ δηναρίου, for a denarius) This was a day’s wages, as it is commonly at present. The ἐκ (for) is not repeated in Matthew 20:13.

[878] “Quâlibet horâ est quælibet hora.” In every hour whatever, there is the hour of some one or other [some hour or other, whatsoever that hour be]. Any hour of labour whatsoever is counted to the labourer as such, whensoever it be, whether at an earlier or later date. This seems to me Bengel’s meaning, though the words are rather ambiguous.—ED.

[879] Here again there is some obscurity. “Ideo medium, paritas. sumitur.” It seems to me to refer to His fixing on the denarius as a mean, merging the various diversities of reward answering to the diversities of labour, not now apparent, in the one common sum alike and equal to all.—ED.

Verse 2. - When he had agreed with the labourers. With those first hired he makes a special agreement for the pay of the day's work; with the others he acts differently. For a penny a day (ἐκ ηηναρίου τὴν ἡμέραν). The denarius (always translated "a penny" in our version) was a silver coin about equal in value to the French franc, but of course in its buying capacities worth in those days a great deal more. We learn from Tacitus ('Annal.,' 1:17) that it was the usual pay of a Roman soldier. It was equivalent to the Greek drachma, which Tobit (5:14) offered to Azarias as daily wages. Our rendering of "a penny" conveys a very erroneous impression to unlearned hearers, both in this passage and in other places where it occurs. Matthew 20:2For a penny (ἐκ δηναρίον)

A denarius, the chief silver coin of the Romans at this time, and of the value of about seventeen cents. We must remember to reckon according to the rate of wages in that day. A denarius was regarded as good pay for a day's work. It was the pay of a Roman soldier in Christ's time. In almost every case where the word occurs in the New Testament it is connected with the idea of a liberal or large amount. Compare Matthew 18:28; Mark 6:37; Luke 7:41; John 12:5.

For a penny is, literally, out of or on the strength of a penny; the payment being that on the strength of which the agreement was made. The agreement arose out of the demand on the one hand and the promise on the other.

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