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11 When[a] Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their towns.[b]

Jesus and John the Baptist

Now when John[c] heard in prison about the deeds Christ[d] had done, he sent his disciples to ask a question:[e] “Are you the one who is to come,[f] or should we look for another?” Jesus answered them,[g] “Go tell John what you hear and see:[h] The blind see, the[i] lame walk, lepers[j] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them[k] —and blessed is anyone[l] who takes no offense at me!”

While they were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness[m] to see? A reed shaken by the wind?[n] What[o] did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing?[p] Look, those who wear soft clothing are in the palaces of kings![q] What did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more[r] than a prophet! 10 This is the one about whom it is written:

Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,[s]
who will prepare your way before you.’[t]

11 “I tell you the truth,[u] among those born of women, no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least[v] in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is! 12 From[w] the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence,[x] and forceful people[y] lay hold of it. 13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John appeared.[z] 14 And if you are willing to accept it,[aa] he is Elijah, who is to come. 15 The one who has ears had better listen![ab]

16 “To[ac] what should I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces[ad] who call out to one another,[ae]

17 ‘We played the flute for you, yet you did not dance;[af]
we wailed in mourning,[ag] yet you did not weep.’

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’[ah] 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him,[ai] a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors[aj] and sinners!’[ak] But wisdom is vindicated[al] by her deeds.”[am]

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  1. Matthew 11:1 tn Grk “And it happened when.” The introductory phrase καὶ ἐγένετο (kai egeneto, “it happened that”) is redundant in contemporary English and has not been translated.
  2. Matthew 11:1 sn The antecedent of “their” in their towns is not entirely clear. In Matt 4:23 “their synagogues” apparently refers to the people of Galilee, and in 9:35 to the synagogues of the towns Jesus is visiting. Here, however, the most likely antecedent is Jesus’ disciples mentioned at the beginning of this verse.
  3. Matthew 11:2 sn John refers to John the Baptist.
  4. Matthew 11:2 tc The Western codex D and a few other mss (0233 1424 syc) read “Jesus” here instead of “Christ.” This is not likely to be original because it is not found in the earliest and most important mss, nor in the rest of the ms Or “Messiah”; both “Christ” (Greek) and “Messiah” (Hebrew and Aramaic) mean “one who has been anointed.” sn See the note on Christ in 1:16.
  5. Matthew 11:2 tc Most witnesses, including several significant ones (C3 L Γ ƒ1 565 579 700 1424 M lat bo), read “two of his disciples” instead of “by his disciples” (see the tn below for the reading of the Greek). The difference in Greek, however, is only two letters: διὰ τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ vs. δύο τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ (dia tōn mathētōn autou vs. duo tōn mathētōn autou). Although an accidental alteration could account for either of these readings, it is more likely that δύο is an assimilation to the parallel in Luke 7:18, perhaps motivated by the somewhat awkward Greek in Matthew’s wording (with “by his disciples” the direct object of “sending” [πέμψας] needs to be supplied). Further, διά is read by a good number of early and excellent witnesses (א B C* D P W Z Δ Θ 0233 ƒ13 33 sa), and thus should be considered Grk “sending by his disciples he said to him.” The words “a question” are not in the Greek text, but are implied.
  6. Matthew 11:3 sn In light of the confidence expressed by John in Matt 3:14 some have difficulty reconciling the doubts he expresses here about Jesus’ identity as the Messiah. From John’s perspective in prison, however, the enemies of God (including Herod Antipas) had not yet been judged with the coming apocalyptic judgment John had preached and had expected Jesus to fulfill. Lack of immediate apocalyptic fulfillment was a frequent cause of misunderstanding about Jesus’ messianic identity (cf. Luke 24:19-21).
  7. Matthew 11:4 tn Grk “And answering, Jesus said to them.” This construction is redundant in English and has been simplified in the translation.
  8. Matthew 11:4 sn What you hear and see. The following activities all paraphrase various OT descriptions of the time of promised salvation: Isa 35:5-6; 26:19; 29:18-19; 61:1. Jesus is answering John’s question not by acknowledging a title (the Christ), but by pointing to the nature of his works, which verify his identity and indicate the fulfillment of the OT promises.
  9. Matthew 11:5 tn Grk “and the,” but καί (kai) has not been translated since English normally uses a coordinating conjunction only between the last two elements in a series of three or more. Two other conjunctions are omitted in this series.
  10. Matthew 11:5 sn See the note on leper in Matt 8:2.
  11. Matthew 11:5 sn The good news proclaimed is the message about the arrival of the kingdom (cf. Matt 10:7) which the messengers are to go about proclaiming.
  12. Matthew 11:6 tn Grk “whoever.”
  13. Matthew 11:7 tn Or “desert.”
  14. Matthew 11:7 tn It is debated whether this expression should be read figuratively (“to see someone who is easily blown over?”) or literally (“to see the wilderness vegetation blowing in the wind?…No, to see a prophet”). Either view is possible, but the following examples suggest the question should be read literally, meaning that an extraordinary event like the arrival of a prophet (rather than the common occurrence of plants blowing in the wind) drew them to the desert.
  15. Matthew 11:8 tn Grk “But what.” Here ἀλλά (alla, a strong contrastive in Greek) produces a somewhat awkward sense in English, and has not been translated. The same situation occurs at the beginning of v. 9.
  16. Matthew 11:8 sn The reference to soft clothing suggests that John was not rich or powerful, nor did he come from the wealthy or ruling classes. The crowds came out into the wilderness not to see the rich and famous, but to see a prophet.
  17. Matthew 11:8 tn Grk “houses.” Cf. BDAG 698 s.v. οἶκος 1.a.β, “of any large building οἶκος τοῦ βασιλέως the king’s palace.”
  18. Matthew 11:9 tn John the Baptist is “more” because he introduces the one (Jesus) who brings the new era. The term is neuter, but may be understood as masculine in this context (BDAG 806 s.v. περισσότερος b).sn How John the Baptist is more than a prophet is explained in the following verse: John is the forerunner of the Messiah, who goes before him and prepares his way.
  19. Matthew 11:10 tn Grk “before your face” (an idiom).
  20. Matthew 11:10 sn The quotation is primarily from Mal 3:1 with pronouns from Exod 23:20, and provides a more precise description of John the Baptist’s role. He is the forerunner who points the way to the arrival of God’s salvation. His job is to prepare and guide the people (just as the cloud did for Israel in the wilderness at the time of the Exodus).
  21. Matthew 11:11 tn Grk “Truly (ἀμήν, amēn), I say to you.”
  22. Matthew 11:11 sn After John comes a shift of eras. John stands at the end of the old era (those born of women), and is to some extent a pivotal or transitional figure. The new era which John heralds is so great that the lowest member of it (the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven) is greater than the greatest one of the previous era. (The parallel passage Luke 7:28 reads kingdom of God.)
  23. Matthew 11:12 tn Here δέ (de) has not been translated.
  24. Matthew 11:12 tn Or perhaps “the kingdom of heaven is entered by force.” The verb βιάζεται can be understood as either passive voice or middle voice by form. An additional problem is whether the term is to be understood in a negative sense or a positive sense. It is frequently understood here as a passive in a negative sense, “is violently treated,” “is oppressed”, or “has suffered violence” (so here and NRSV); cf. BDAG 175 s.v. βιάζω 1. As an (intransitive) middle voice the negative meaning “has been coming violently” has been suggested (NRSV mg), although the way in which the violence occurs is not clear. Another possible intransitive middle meaning in this passage (this one positive) is “to use force” which here might mean “makes its way with (triumphant) force” (cf. BDAG 175 s.v. βιάζω 2). Still another possible positive meaning is “to seek fervently” (BDAG 175 s.v. βιάζω 3). Resolution of the problem is not easy, but the presence of the noun βιαστής in the following clause (meaning “violent person” or “impetuous person” (BDAG 176 s.v.) suggests a negative sense is more likely here, while contextual differences point to a somewhat different meaning for the term βιάζεται in Luke 16:16.
  25. Matthew 11:12 tn Or “violent people”; see the previous note on “has suffered violence” in this verse.
  26. Matthew 11:13 tn The word “appeared” is not in the Greek text, but is implied. In the interest of clarity other translations have supplied phrases like “up to the time of John” (NAB); “until the time of John” (TEV); “until John came” (NRSV); “until the time John came” (NCV).sn The statement seems to imply that the law and the prophets continued until John appeared, but John’s arrival on the scene marks a transition to the time of fulfillment about which the prophets prophesied. John is a transitional figure with connections to both the previous age and the coming age inaugurated by Jesus.
  27. Matthew 11:14 sn Why might one of Jesus’ hearers not be willing to accept this? Because John’s role as Elijah, forerunner of the Messiah, has been interrupted by his imprisonment, and will be even more disrupted by his execution. Although Jesus does not state it here, similar difficulties will arise in his own case since his role as Messiah will appear to be derailed by his arrest and execution on a Roman cross (Luke 24:19-21).
  28. Matthew 11:15 tn The translation “had better listen!” captures the force of the third person imperative more effectively than the traditional “let him hear,” which sounds more like a permissive than an imperative to the modern English reader. This was Jesus’ common expression to listen and heed carefully (cf. Matt 13:9, 43; Mark 4:9, 23; Luke 8:8; 14:35).
  29. Matthew 11:16 tn Here δέ (de) has not been translated.
  30. Matthew 11:16 sn The marketplaces (Greek agora) were not only places of trade and commerce in the first century Greco-Roman world. They were places of discussion and dialogue (the “public square”), places of judgment (courts held session there), places for idle people and those seeking work, and places for children to play.
  31. Matthew 11:16 tn Grk “who call out to one another, saying.” The participle λέγουσιν (legousin) is redundant in contemporary English and has not been translated.
  32. Matthew 11:17 snWe played the flute for you, yet you did not dance…’ The children of this generation were making the complaint (see vv. 18-19) that others were not playing the game according to the way they played the music. John and Jesus did not follow “their tune.” Jesus’ complaint was that this generation wanted things their way, not God’s.
  33. Matthew 11:17 tn Or “we sang a lament” (cf. BDAG 458 s.v. θρηνέω 2). In context, however, it appears the verb ἐθρηνήσαμεν (ethrēnēsamen) refers to the loud wailing and lamenting used to mourn the dead in public in 1st century Jewish culture (BDAG 458 s.v. 3, “to mourn for someone in ritual fashion”).
  34. Matthew 11:18 sn Some interpreters have understood neither eating nor drinking as referring to the avoidance of excess. More likely it represents a criticism of John the Baptist being too separatist and ascetic, and so he was accused of not being directed by God, but by a demon.
  35. Matthew 11:19 tn Grk “Behold a man.”
  36. Matthew 11:19 sn See the note on tax collectors in 5:46.
  37. Matthew 11:19 sn Neither were the detractors happy with Jesus (the Son of Man), even though he represented the opposite of John’s asceticism and associated freely with people like tax collectors and sinners in celebratory settings where the banquet imagery suggested the coming kingdom of God. Either way, God’s messengers were subject to complaint.
  38. Matthew 11:19 tn Or “shown to be right.”
  39. Matthew 11:19 tc Most witnesses (B2 C D L N Γ Δ Θ ƒ1 33 565 579 700 1424 M lat) have “children” (τέκνων, teknōn) here instead of “deeds” (ἔργων, ergōn), but since “children” is the reading of the parallel in Luke 7:35, scribes would be motivated to convert the less colorful “deeds” into more animate offspring of wisdom. Further, ἔργων enjoys support from א B* W (ƒ13) as well as early versional and patristic support.