Adam Clarke's Bible Commentary in 8 Volumes
Volume 5
The Gospel According to St. Matthew

THE general title of this latter collection of sacred books, which, as well as the former, all Christians acknowledge to have been given by immediate inspiration from God, is in the Greek h kainh diaqhkh, which we translate THE NEW TESTAMENT: but which should rather be translated THE NEW COVENANT; or, if it were lawful to use a periphrasis, the New Covenant, including a Testamentary Declaration and Bequest: for this is precisely the meaning of this system of justice, holiness, goodness, and truth. St. Paul, 2 Corinthians 3:14, calls the sacred books before the time of Christ, h palaia diaqhkh, THE OLD COVENANT; which is a very proper and descriptive title of the grand subject of those books. This apostle evidently considers the Old Testaments and the New, as two covenants, Galatians 4:24; and, if comparing these two together, he calls one palaian diaqhkhn, the old covenant, the other kainhn, the new; one prwthn, the first, the other nean, that which is recent; in opposition to the old covenant, which was to terminate in the new, he calls this kreittana, better, more excellent, Hebrews 7:22; 8:6; and aiwnion, everlasting, Hebrews 13:20, because it is never to be changed, nor terminate in any other; and to endure endlessly itself. The word covenant, from con together, and venio, I come, signifies a contract or agreement made between two parties; to fulfill the conditions of which, they are mutually bound. The old covenant, in its essential parts, was very simple. I WILL BE YOUR GOD. YE SHALL BE MY PEOPLE-the spirit of which was never changed. The people were to take Jehovah as the sole object of their religious worship; put their whole trust and confidence in him; serve him in his own way, according to the prescribed forms which he should lay before them. This was their part. On his side, God was to accept them as his people, give them his Spirit to guide them, his mercy to pardon them, his providence to support them, and his grace to preserve them unto eternal life. But all this was connected with the strict observance of a great variety of rites and ceremonies, at once expressive of the holiness of God, the purity of the Divine justice, and the exceeding sinfulness and utter helpless state of man. A great part of the four latter books of Moses is employed in prescribing and illustrating these rites and ceremonies; and what is called the new covenant is the complement and perfection of the whole.

The word diaqhkh, from dia and tiqhmi, I lay down, signifies not only a covenant agreement, but also that disposal which a man makes of his secular matters during his life, which is to take place after his death. It answers to the Hebrew tyrb berith, from rb bar, to purify, because, in making covenants, a sacrifice was usually offered to God, for the purification of the contracting parties; and hence the word tyrb berith is frequently used to express not only the covenant itself, but also the sacrifice offered on the occasion. See below under GOSPEL; and see the notes on Genesis 6:18; 15:18; Exodus 29:45; Leviticus 26:15; and Deuteronomy 29:12, where every thing relative to this subject is minutely considered.

The term new covenant, as used here, seems to mean that grand plan of agreement or reconciliation which God made between himself and mankind, by the death of Jesus Christ; in consequence of which, all those who truly repent, and unfeignedly believe in the great atoning sacrifice, are purified from their sins, and united to God. Christ is called thv diaqhkhv kainhv mesithv, the Mediator of the new covenant, Hebrews 9:15. And referring to the ratification of this new covenant or agreement, by means of his own death, in the celebration of his last supper, Christ calls the cup, to poterion h kainh diaqhkh en tw aimati mon, this cup is the new covenant in my blood: i.e. an emblem or representation of the new covenant ratified by his blood. See Luke 22:20. And from these expressions, and their obvious meaning, the whole Christian Scriptures have obtained this title, THE NEW TESTAMENT, OR COVENANT, OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST.

Those writings, and the grand subject of them, which, previously to the New Testament times, were termed simply THE covenant; were, after the incarnation, called the OLD covenant, as we have already seen, to distinguish them from the Christian Scriptures, and their grand subject, which were called the NEW covenant; not so much because it was a new agreement, but rather a renewal of the old, in which the spirit, object, and design of that primitive covenant were more clearly and fully manifested.

The particular title to each of the four following books, in most Greek MSS. and printed editions, is euaggelion kata matqaion-markon-loukan-ioannhn, which we translate, the Gospel according to Matthew-Mark-Luke-John; i.e. the gospel or history of our blessed Lord, as written and transmitted to posterity by each of these writers. Our word GOSPEL, which should be always written godspel, or godespel, comes from the Anglo-Saxon, and is compounded of [AS], good, and [AS] history, narrative, doctrine, mystery, or secret; and was applied by our ancestors to signify the revelation of that glorious system of truth, which had been, in a great measure, hidden or kept secret from the foundation of the world.

Among Saxon scholars, the word GOSPEL has been variously explained. Mr. Somner, who writes it [AS], explains it thus, Sermo Dei mysticus; Dei historia. “The mystic word of God; the history of God, or God’s history.” But he supposes that it may be compounded of [AS] good, and [AS], a message; and very properly observes, that [AS] signifies, not only to preach, or proclaim the Gospel; but also to foretell, or predict; to prophesy, to divine: and in this latter sense the word [AS] spell was anciently used among us, and still signifies an incantation, or a charm; which implies a peculiar collocation and repetition of certain words, which were supposed to produce supernatural effects by means of spiritual influence or agency; which agency was always attracted and excited by such words, through some supposed correspondency between the words, and the spiritual agency to be employed. The word, in this sense, occurs in King Alfred’s Saxon translation of Boethius, Deuteronomy Consolatione Philosophiae, chap. 38. [AS], Then deceitful men began to practice incantations. It is possible that our ancestors gave this title to the preaching of Christ crucified, from observing the astonishing effects produced by it, in changing the hearts and lives of sinners. And very innocently might they denominate the pure powerful preaching of the death and resurrection of Christ, God’s charm: that wonderful word, which, accompanied with the demonstration and power of the Holy Ghost, produced such miraculous effects among men.

As the word [AS] spellian signifies to teach or instruct, hence our word to spell, i.e. to teach a person, by uniting vowels and consonants, to enunciate words; and thus learn to read. And hence the book out of which the first rudiments of language are learned is termed a spelling book, exactly answering to the [AS] spell-book of our ancestors, which signified a book of homilies, or plain discourses, for the instruction of the common people. We may See (note on “Genesis 1:1”) that [AS] among our ancestors, not only signified GOD, the supreme Being; but also good or goodness, which is his nature: [AS] godspell, therefore, is not only God’s history, doctrine, or plan of teaching; but also the good history, the good doctrine; and hence [AS] to preach or proclaim this doctrine; [AS] the sermons that contained the rudiments of it, for the instruction of men; and [AS] spel-boda, the orator, messenger, or ambassador, that announced it.

The Greek word euaggelion, from eu good, and aggelia a message, signifies good news, or glad tidings in general; and is evidently intended to point out, in this place, the good message or the glad tidings of great joy which God has sent to all mankind, preaching peace and reconciliation by Christ Jesus, who is Lord of all: proclaiming that he, as the promised Messiah, has, by the grace of God, tasted death for every man-for he has died for their offenses, and risen again for their justification; and that, through his grace, every sinner under the whole heaven, may turn to God, and find mercy. This is good news, glad tidings, a joyful message; and it is such to all mankind, as in it every human spirit is interested.

It is used in this sense by Achilles Tatius, lib. v. c. 12, tauta akausav o saturov, prostrecei prov thn melitthn euaggelia ferwn: Having heard these things, Satyrus ran to Melitta, bringing the good news.

But, besides this general meaning, the word euaggelion, has other acceptations in the New Testament, and in the Greek writers, which may be consulted here with great propriety and effect.

1. It signifies the reward given to those who brought good news. Thus Homer represents the disguised Ulysses claiming a reward euaggelion, a vest and mantle, should he verify to Eumeus the glad tidings of his master’s safety. euaggelion de moi estw. Let me have a reward for my good news. Odyss. xiv. v. 152.

To which Eumeus, who despaired of his master’s return, replied:

w geron, out/ ar/ egwn euaggeliov tode tisw, out/ odusseuv eti oikon eleusetai. Ib. v. 266

Old friend! nor cloake nor vest thy gladsome news Will ever earn:

Ulysses comes no more! COWPER

And on the word, as thus used, Eustathius gives the following comment: euaggelion; dwron uper agaqhv euaggeliav. “Euangelion signifies the reward given for bringing good news.”

St. Chrysostom, in his sixth Homily on the Acts, gives this as a common meaning of the word. “The Gospel is this: Thou shalt receive good things: as men are accustomed in their common conversation to say to each other, ti moi twn euaggeliwn; What reward wilt thou give me for my good news? etc.” It is used in the same sense by the Septuagint. 2 Samuel 4:10. When one told me, saying, Behold, Saul is dead, thinking to have brought good tidings, I took him and slew him in Ziglag, who thought w edei me dounai euaggelia, that I would have given him A REWARD for his tidings. CICERO uses it in the same sense; see his epistles to Atticus, lib. 2. ep. 3. O suaves epistolas tuas uno tempore mihi datas duas: quibus euaggelia quae reddam nescio, deberi quidem, plane fateor. “O, how delightful are your epistles! two of which I have received at one time, for which I know not what recompense to make: but, that I am your debtor, I candidly confess.”

2. It is used also to signify the prayers, thanksgivings, and sacrifices offered on the arrival of good news. So Aristophanes, moi dokei-euaggelia quein, ekaton bouv, th qew, I think I should SACRIFICE A HECATOMB to the goddess for this intelligence, ARISTOPH. in Equit. v. 653.

ISOCRATES (Areopag. initio) is supposed to use the word in the sense of supplication, epi tosautaiv praxesin euaggelia men div hdh tequkamen- “relative to these transactions, we have purposed to make supplication twice.” Xenophon uses it to denote a eucharistic offering made on account of receiving good news. eque ta euaggelia. See Hist. Gr. i. 6, 27. It seems to be used in a similar sense by the Septuagint in 2 Samuel 18:20, 27.

Other examples might be produced in which the word is used in all the above senses; but these may be deemed sufficient. I would not have been so copious, had not a certain great man denied that the word had the above meanings.

  1. However illustrative the above acceptations of euaggelion, among the Greek writers, may be of the word in relation to the great doctrine of the new covenant; yet, among the sacred writers, it is restricted to express the glad tidings of the coming of the Messiah, for the reasons mentioned above. See Luke 2:10.
  2. The whole doctrine of Jesus Christ, comprised in the history of his incarnation, preaching, miracles, sufferings, death, resurrection, ascension, and the mission of the Holy Spirit, by which salvation was procured for a lost world, is expressed by the word euaggelion, as well as by the general title; kainh diaqhkh. Romans 1:1, 3, 9; Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; Mark 1:14. But the sacred writers use it with a variety of epithets which it may be necessary to mention.

1st, It is sometimes termed, The Gospel of God concerning his Son. Romans 1:1, 3.

2dly, The Gospel of the Son of God. Romans 1:9.

3dly, The Gospel of the kingdom of God. Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; Mark 1:14.

4thly, Sometimes it is simply called THE GOSPEL. Mark 13:10; Mark 16:15.

5thly, The word or doctrine (logov) of the Gospel. Acts 15:7.

6thly, The Gospel of peace. Ephesians 6:15.

7thly, The Gospel of glory, to euaggelion thv doxhv. 1 Timothy 1:11.

8thly, The Gospel of salvation, to euaggelion thv swthriav Ephesians 1:13.

  1. In 1 Corinthians 9:23, it means the blessings and privileges promised in the New Testament.
  2. It means the public profession of the doctrine taught by Christ, Mark8:35; 10:29; 2 Timothy 1:8; Phm 13.
  3. But in Galatians 1:6, 8, 9, the word euaggelion seems to mean anynew doctrine, whether true or false.

    Many MSS. have to kata matqaion agion euaggelion, which is generally rendered, The Gospel according to SAINT Matthew. But the word agion, saint, or holy, should be here applied to the Gospel, with which it properly agrees; and then the title would run, The holy Gospel according to Matthew; that is, the account of this holy dispensation according to the narrative composed by Matthew, an eye witness of all the transactions he relates. But anciently the word holy was neither applied to the narrative nor to the narrator, the title being simply, The Gospel according to Matthew, and so of the others.