Lexham Discourse Greek N.T. Matt. 21:33-39 w/translation & Commentary


Matthew 21:33–39 (LDGNT)
33Ἄλλην παραβολὴν ἀκούσατε Ἄνθρωπος ἦν οἰκοδεσπότης ὅστις ἐφύτευσεν ἀμπελῶνα καὶ φραγμὸν αὐτῷ περιέθηκεν καὶ ὤρυξεν ἐν αὐτῷ ληνὸν καὶ ᾠκοδόμησεν πύργον καὶ ἐξέδετο αὐτὸν γεωργοῖς καὶ ἀπεδήμησεν
34ὅτε δὲ ἤγγισεν ὁ καιρὸς τῶν καρπῶν ἀπέστειλεν τοὺς δούλους αὐτοῦ πρὸς τοὺς γεωργοὺς λαβεῖν τοὺς καρποὺς αὐτοῦ
35καὶ λαβόντες οἱ γεωργοὶ τοὺς δούλους αὐτοῦ ὃν μὲν ἔδειραν ὃν δὲ ἀπέκτειναν ὃν δὲ ἐλιθοβόλησαν
36πάλιν ἀπέστειλεν ἄλλους δούλους πλείονας τῶν πρώτων καὶ ἐποίησαν αὐτοῖς ὡσαύτως
37ὕστερον δὲ ἀπέστειλεν πρὸς αὐτοὺς τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ λέγων Ἐντραπήσονται τὸν υἱόν μου
38οἱ δὲ γεωργοὶ ἰδόντες τὸν υἱὸν εἶπον ἐν ἑαυτοῖς Οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ κληρονόμος δεῦτε ἀποκτείνωμεν αὐτὸν καὶ σχῶμεν τὴν κληρονομίαν αὐτοῦ
39καὶ λαβόντες αὐτὸν ἐξέβαλον ἔξω τοῦ ἀμπελῶνος καὶ ἀπέκτειναν

Translation

Matthew 21:33–39 (LEB)
33“Listen to another parable: There was a man—a master of a house—who planted a vineyard, and put a fence around it, and dug a winepress in it, and built a watchtower, and leased it to tenant farmers, and went on a journey.
34And when the season of fruit drew near, he sent his slaves to the tenant farmers to collect his fruit.
35And the tenant farmers seized his slaves, one of whom they beat, and one of whom they killed, and one of whom they stoned.
36Again, he sent other slaves, more than the first ones, and they did the same thing to them.
37So finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’
38But when the tenant farmers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance!’
39And they seized him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

Commentary

Lexham Context Commentary

Parable of the Tenant Farmers (21:33–39)

Jesus teaches another parable about a rich vineyard owner who builds up his vineyard land with a fence and equips it with a winepress and watchtower. He leases it to tenant farmers and departs on a journey. As harvest approaches, he sends slaves to collect fruit. The tenant farmers beat, kill, and stone the slaves who were sent. The master sends more slaves, and the same thing happens. Finally the master sends his son, believing his son will be respected. The tenant farmers, though, seize his son and kill him.

21:33 Jesus continues to address the religious leaders who first confronted him in the temple (21:23), telling them to listen to another parable. Jesus introduces the setting and main characters for the parable. A master of a house planted a vineyard, protected it with a fence, and built a winepress and watchtower. The vineyard is then leased to tenant farmers, and the master goes on a journey. The vineyard imagery, used in Matt 20:1–16 and the previous parable (21:28–32), is drawn from Isa 5:1–7. In Isaiah, the vineyard is the problem, but in this parable, the tenants are the problem.

21:34 The parable continues, with the master now sending his slaves back to his vineyard to collect the fruit from his vineyard.

21:35 The parable continues, now with the shocking actions of the tenant farmers. The slaves then come from the master to collect fruit are abused: one is beaten, one is killed, and one is stoned.

21:36 Time passes in the parable. The master of the vineyard, likely unaware of what has transpired, sends more of his slaves. The tenant farmers treat these slaves the same as the others.

21:37 The master now sends his own son, believing the tenants will respect his son.

21:38 The tenant farmers reason among themselves that if they kill the master’s heir, they can have his inheritance.

21:39 They seize the son, throw him out of the vineyard, which represents his inheritance, and kill him. This violent scene ends the parable.

Mangum, D., ed. (2020). Lexham Context Commentary: New Testament (Mt 21:33–39). Lexham Press.

NICNT Commentary

33 “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a fence round it, dug a wine-press in it and built a watchtower. Then he let it out to tenant farmers and traveled away. 34 When the time came for the vintage, he sent his slaves to the tenant farmers to collect his fruit. 35 The tenants took his slaves and beat one up, killed another and stoned another. 36 Again he sent a new lot of slaves, more than the first, and they treated them the same way. 37 In the end he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son they said, ‘This is the heir. Come on, let’s kill him and get hold of his inheritance.’ 39 And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

The second parable, together with the explanatory quotation from Ps 118:22 at the end, is shared with Mark and Luke. The story itself is told in much the same way by the three evangelists, though a few distinctive Matthean features will be noted below, but it is at the end that his version becomes most distinctive. He agrees with Mark against Luke in quoting v. 23 of the psalm as well as v. 22; he agrees with Luke against Mark in adding further OT allusions to a stone in v. 44; and between the Psalm quotation and the other stone allusions he inserts in v. 43 an explanatory comment on the significance of the parable. This last is the most significant of his adaptations: the mention of another “nation” to replace “you” in the tenancy of the vineyard takes us to the heart of the issue of the true Israel which underlies this whole section of the gospel, and in conjunction with the other two parables in the group it enables the reader to reach a more far-reaching understanding of what the vineyard parable implies than is possible from Mark and Luke when they record it alone.


The story of an absentee landowner reflects a familiar economic situation at the time; some of the chief priests and elders to whom Jesus is speaking would probably have owned land away from Jerusalem. The landowner must be a wealthy man, because a newly planted vineyard could not be expected to produce fruit for at least four years, during which he would have no return on his capital outlay. Once the vines began to fruit there would be an agreed proportion of the crop due to the owner, leaving the tenants to derive their living from the rest. The fault of the tenants in withholding the due produce (and in the violence perpetrated on the slaves) is massively compounded by their decision to murder the owner’s son and so to attempt to take over the property. At this point the story has moved away from everyday reality, and, as often happens in parables (notably in 22:7), the intended symbolism has apparently invaded the story-line: the murder of the son represents the forthcoming execution of Jesus.


That last comment assumes the traditional interpretation that the story is a symbolic account of the history of Israel, whose leadership has rejected God’s earlier prophetic messengers (cf. Jer 7:25–27) and is now on the point of rejecting and killing Jesus, his Son, an interpretation which is strengthened by the curious order of the clauses in v. 39 (see p. 807, n. 2) which reflects Jesus being taken outside the city to be executed. The continuity between the earlier leaders of Israel who killed the prophets and those who will now kill Jesus will be explicitly asserted in 23:29–36. Various alternative suggestions have been made for the original intention of the parable, e.g. as a defense of Jesus’ offer of the gospel to the poor, an attack on the strong-arm tactics of the Zealots, a commendation of resolute opportunism similar to that of Luke’s unjust steward, or an assertion of Palestinian land-rights against aristocratic expropriation. Such proposals depend on reconstructing a supposed “original” form prior to what we actually find in the text; as such they may be of historical interest but do not provide an exegesis of the gospel text as we have it.


The traditional interpretation is grounded in the fact that the parable’s opening clearly echoes the vineyard allegory in Isa 5:1–7 (see below on v. 33), in which the vineyard is explicitly identified as “the house of Israel” and “the people of Judah.” Now that the old dogma that parables cannot be allegories has been abandoned, there is no problem in recognizing in the successive phases of and characters in the story a history of God’s dealings with Israel, even though there is no need to find allegorical equivalents for every circumstantial detail such as the fence, wine-press and tower. This interpretation is strengthened by noting the insistent repetition of the word “fruit” (vv. 34 [bis], 41, 43) to describe what the owner requires of his tenants. This term has recurred throughout the gospel to describe the life which God requires of his people (3:8, 10; 7:16–20; 12:33; 13:8, 23, 26) and the lack of fruit has most recently in 21:18–20 symbolized the current failure of the temple régime.


The identification of the tenants as the current Jerusalem leadership is demanded both by the context in which this parable is set (as still part of Jesus’ response to the chief priests and elders, which began in v. 27) and by the explicit comment in v. 45.16 The whole parable might then be interpreted as a prediction of imminent régime change in Jerusalem, if it were not for the unexpected term ethnos, “nation,” in v. 43. See above, pp. 800–801, for the question of how far-reaching a change these three parables represent. When a “nation” replaces the chief priests and elders there is something more radical implied, just as the withering of the fig tree symbolized the destruction of the temple, not merely its reorganization, and that same destruction (“deserted,” 23:38; “not one stone on another,” 24:2) is the conclusion to which the present confrontation is heading.


A further clue to what sort of new régime may be expected is provided by the quotation from Ps 118:22 which is an integral part of this parable as we find it in the synoptic tradition. After the tenants’ rejection of the son in the parable the builders’ rejection of the stone is not hard to interpret. In that case the psalm quotation adds an element which is missing from the story: if the same stone which is rejected will become the cornerstone, then the son who is rejected may also be expected to be vindicated and to replace the present leadership. The addition of this quotation thus points us beyond the death of Jesus to his resurrection, which is the amazing thing which the Lord will do. In that case the new “nation” of v. 43 may be understood as the people who follow the risen Jesus, just as the “something greater than the temple” in 12:6 appears to point beyond Jesus himself to a whole new régime focused in him.


There is thus inherent in this parable with its appended psalm quotation a bold christology of rejection and vindication, of death and resurrection, and it is focused in the parable character of the owner’s son. This is not yet an explicit public claim by Jesus to be the Son of God, but those who grasped the intention of the parable could hardly fail to notice this implication, and this parable is surely part of the high priest’s source material when he charges Jesus with having claimed to be the Son of God (26:63).

33 Whereas Mark and Luke introduce this parable with an editorial link, in Matthew it is integrated into Jesus’ extended reply to his questioners, and so he introduces it as “another parable,” the second of a group of three. It is the third vineyard parable in Matthew, and its opening words recall 20:1, using the same phrase for “landowner.” Thereafter this verse agrees with Mark 12:1 (against Luke) in echoing some of the agricultural details of LXX Isa 5:2. While the agricultural procedures are commonplace, the wording is clearly allusive, and predisposes the reader to a story in which the disappointing vineyard represents God’s frustration over his people’s failure. The allegories are not the same, in that in Isaiah it is the fruit itself that fails, here it is the tenants; in Isaiah the vineyard is itself destroyed, here it is given to new tenants, so that in this parable there remains hope for the future, whereas in Isaiah all is disaster. But the echo remains unmistakable. Israel’s failure to produce the fruit God required in Isaiah’s day is now being repeated, but on a more disastrous level, as the parable will go on to explain.
It is not important to the story how far away the owner’s new home was (the verb suggests relocation, not just a temporary journey, and the long period of absence confirms this), but the apparently rapid succession of messengers suggests that he was not very far away.

34–36 In first-century society slaves were not necessarily of low social importance. Trusted slaves held important responsibilities in wealthy households (see on 18:23). The word for “fruit” twice in this verse and also in vv. 41 and 43 is plural, as it is in 7:16, 17, 18, 20, whereas it is singular in 3:8, 10; 7:19; 12:33; 13:8, 26; 21:19. Comparison of both wording and context in these passages does not indicate a clear idiomatic difference, especially in the light of the alternation between plural and singular in 7:16–20 (see p. 291, n. 23). For the metaphorical sense of “fruit” in this gospel see introductory comments above.
The three synoptic versions differ considerably in how the fate of the slaves is expressed. Luke has three slaves sent individually, all of whom are ill-treated but none killed.

Mark also has three individuals, the third of whom is killed, after which the owner sends “many others”, some of whom are beaten, some killed. Matthew’s version typically abbreviates Mark’s, with the result that we hear of two groups of slaves, the second larger than the first, with the same mixture of treatment (including stoning and death) given to each group. There is no obvious division of the OT prophets into two periods with the second group more numerous, so Matthew’s two groups of slaves do not seem to be allegorically motivated. They are more simply explained as a tidy reorganization of Mark’s version by combining the first three into a group, followed by “many others.” The persecution and in extreme cases murder of true prophets is a theme Matthew has already mentioned in 5:11–12 and will develop more fully in 23:29–36. Matthew’s specific mention of stoning (cf. 23:37, explicitly with reference to prophets) may be a reflection of 2 Chr 24:21; Jeremiah was also stoned according to Liv. Pro. 2:1.

37–39 The climax of the story comes with the unexpected involvement of the landowner’s son. Cf. Hebrews 1:1–2 for “a son” as God’s last word in succession to the prophets. Within the framework of the story the sending of the son is clearly a last resort, short of the owner returning himself (as he will eventually do in v. 40). When the son goes as his father’s messenger he goes with all his father’s authority, and so deserves “respect” and obedience. To reject the son’s demand is therefore the climax of rebellion. But to kill him is to add injury to insult. As a bid for independence and an attempt to gain possession for themselves it was hardly likely to succeed in a society under the rule of law, and it reads more as a spontaneous and ill-conceived impulse than as a calculated policy. But a parable does not have to fit into real life, and the points at which it becomes improbable are usually meant to draw attention. The Christian reader cannot fail to see here the status of Jesus as the Son of God, the heir of the vineyard of Israel, and his death as Israel’s culminating act of rebellion, and may well reflect on how futile it was to try to escape from under God’s rule. To kill the son is an act of defiance to the father, and he cannot be expected to let them get away with it.

France, R. T. (2007). The Gospel of Matthew (pp. 811–814). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co.

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