Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 31: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MATTHEW 8:1-4; MARK 1:40-45; LUKE 5:12-16
1. And when he had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him. 2. And, lo, a leper, approaching, worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou art willing, thou art able to cleanse me. 3. And Jesus, having stretched out his hand, touched him, saying, I am willing; be thou clean: and immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4. And Jesus saith to him, See that thou do not tell it to any man: but go, show thyself to the priest, and present the offering which Moses commanded, for a testimony to them.
40. And a leper came to him, beseeaching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying to him, If thou art willing, thou art able to cleanse me. 41. And Jesus, having compassion, stretched out his hand, and touched him, and said to him, I am willing; be thou clean. 42. And when he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed. 43. And threatening him, 487 he immediately sent him away; 44. And he said to him, See that thou say nothing to any man: but go, show thyself to the priest, and present for thy cleansing those things which Moses commanded, for a testimony to them. 45. But he, having gone out, began to publish many things, and to blaze abroad the matter, so that Jesus could no longer enter openly into cities, but was without in desert places: and they came to him from every quarter.
12. And it happened, while he was in a certain city, lo, a man full of leprosy: and when he had seen Jesus, he fell down on his face, and besought Jesus, saying, Lord, if thou art willing, thou art able to cleanse me. 13. And having stretched out his hand, he touched him, saying, I am willing; be thou clean: and immediately the leprosy departed from him. 14. And he commanded him that he should not tell it to any man, but saith, Go, show thyself to the priest, and present for thy cleansing as Moses commanded, for a testimony to them. 15. But still more did the report spread about him, and great multitudes assembled, to hear him, and to be healed by him of their infirmities. 16. And he sought retirement in the deserts, and prayed.
Matthew 8:1. And when he had come down from the mountain Matthew now returns to the course of the history. He had formerly said, that Christ went up into a mountain, (verse 1) then he threw, as it were, into one heap, many leading points of the doctrine of Christ; and now he adds that, about the time when he preached on the mountain, he healed a certain leper The same event is related by Mark and Luke, though they do not mention the time. It was a striking display of the divine power of Christ, that, by his word alone and a touch of his hand, he suddenly cleansed the man’s leprosy. Now, though leprosy was a different kind of disease from elephantiasis, 488 (ἐλεφαντίασις,) it is plain enough that it was difficult to cure. When it had continued long and become deeply seated, it rarely happened that any person recovered. Granting that physicians might, by their professional skill, have given some relief, it is manifest that there was nothing human about this miracle.
2. Approaching, worshipped What is the meaning of the verb προσκυνεῖν, which is rendered in the Latin version, adorare, to adore or worship, may be easily learned from this passage. For the exposition of it we may rely on the other two Evangelists, of whom Mark says, that he fell on his knees, and Luke, that he fell down on his face The outward gesture of kneeling was exhibited by the leper as a token of reverence. Now we know, that such marks of respect were in general use among the Jews, as the people of the East are more addicted to that kind of ceremonies. Many people accordingly think, that the leper did not intend to render to Christ divine worship, 489 but gave him a respectful salutation as a distinguished prophet of God.
I enter into no dispute as to the feelings which moved the leper to pay reverence to Christ. But I look at what he attributed to him, that he was able to cleanse him, if he were willing By these words he declared, that he acknowledged a divine power in Christ: and when Christ replies, I am willing, he shows that he claimed more for himself than belongs to man. He who, by the mere expression of his will, restores health to men, must possess supreme authority. Whether the leper believed that Christ was the Son of God, or that he had received this power in the same manner as Moses and the other prophets, he entertains no doubt that he held in his hand, and in his power, the gift of healing. True, he speaks conditionally, if thou art willing, thou art able But this is not inconsistent with that certainty of faith, which God demands in our prayers: for men ought not to expect more than God promises. The leper had not learned by any inspired communication, or any promise of God, what Christ would do. It would have been improper in him, therefore, to go beyond these limits for though we sometimes read that certain persons prayed without any condition, we ought to believe that they were guided by special movements of the Spirit, 490 which must not be taken for a general rule. I am not even certain if we are at liberty to say, strictly speaking, that the leper offered a prayer. He only declares, that he is so fully convinced of the power of Christ, as to entertain no doubt that it is in his power to cure leprosy; and then presents himself to be healed, but uncertain as to the result, because he did not yet know the will of Christ. 491
3. Having stretched out his hand, he touched Under the Law, the touch of a leper was infectious; but as Christ possesses such purity as to repel all filth and defilement, he does not, by touching, either pollute himself with leprosy, or become a transgressor of the law. When he took upon him our flesh, he did not only deign to touch as with his hand, but was united to one and the same body with ourselves, that we might be flesh of his flesh, (Ge 2:23.) Nor did he only stretch out his arm to us, but descended from heaven even to hell, and yet contracted no stain from it, but, retaining his innocence, took away all our impurities, and sprinkled us with his holiness. By his word alone he might have healed the leper; but he applied, at the same time, the touch of his hand, to express the feeling of compassion. Nor ought this to excite our wonder, since he chose to take upon him our flesh, that he might cleanse us from our sins. The stretching out of his hand was therefore an expression and token of infinite grace and goodness. What we indolently read, and coldly pass by, cannot be duly weighed without great astonishment. The Son of God was so far from disdaining to talk to a leper, that he even stretched out his hand to touch that uncleanness.
4. And Jesus saith to him, See that thou tell it not to any one Some persons, by way of excusing the leper, think that Christ did not seriously forbid him to publish the miracle, but rather gave him an additional excitement to do so. Others more justly consider the reason of the prohibition to have been, that the full “time was not yet come,” (Joh 7:6.) I do acknowledge, that to have suppressed this miracle would have been improper: but our Lord had a particular reason for wishing that the report of it should not be immediately spread, or, at least, not by the leper The leper was so far from deserving praise for the disorderly exhibition of his regard, that he ought, in my opinion, to be condemned for not obeying Christ’s injunction. If he wished to express his gratitude to him to whom he was indebted for his cure, no better method could have been found than obedience, which God prefers to all sacrifices, (1Sa 15:22,) and which is the origin and foundation of lawful worship. This example shows us, that those who allow themselves to be guided by inconsiderate zeal act improperly, because the more eager they are to please God, the greater progress do they make in rebellion to his commands.
Show thyself to the priest As the ceremonies of the law had not yet been repealed, Christ did not wish that they should be despised or neglected. Now, God had commanded in the law that, if any man had been cleansed from leprosy, he should present himself to the priest with a sacrifice of thanksgiving, (Le 14:2.) The design 492 was, that the priest, by his decision, might attest the benefit received from God; and that the person who had been healed might give an expression of his gratitude. Christ, therefore, by sending the leper to the priest, proves that he had no other object in view than to display the glory of God. The showing to the priest was for the purpose of examination, and the offering was the expression of thanksgiving. He wishes that the priests should examine the man, to make the divine favor manifest and undoubted; and that the leper, on the other hand, should acknowledge that God had healed him. Meanwhile, as I have just mentioned, he commands them to observe the ceremonies prescribed by the law, till the time when it should be repealed.
The attempt of the Papists to produce this passage, as an authority for their own confession, 493 is highly foolish. Leprosy, they allege, is put allegorically for sin; and the priests, who are consecrated by the Pope, are the judges of spiritual leprosy. 494 Even granting that this authority was conferred on the priests under the law, for the purpose of informing the people, that all their cleanness, and the decision respecting it, depended on the priesthood, still this is impiously claimed for themselves by the Popish priests. All the honor that belonged to the ancient priests is now claimed by Christ alone as his own. He alone is appointed to be the judge of spiritual leprosy, and entitled to receive, from those who have been cured, the offering for their cleansing. Under the law, a sacrifice was employed as the seal of cleanness, because satisfaction made by the shedding of blood is the only way in which men are cleansed. To transfer to another that right, which God has declared to be the prerogative of his own Son, is a detestable sacrilege. When the ministers of the Gospel, by the command of Christ, declare to sinners that they are cleansed from their sins, this must not be tortured into the pretended jurisdiction, which the priests imagine, of pronouncing a decision about leprosy. 495
Matthew 8:4; Mark 1:44. For a testimony to them Some consider testimony to mean here a law or statute, as it is said in the Book of Psalms, God laid down this “for a testimony to Israel,” (Ps 122:4.) But this appears to me to be a poor exposition: for I have no doubt that the pronoun to them refers to the priests. 496 Christ said this, in my opinion, with a view to the present occurrence: for this miracle was afterwards to be a sufficiently clear proof for convicting them of ingratitude. There is nothing inconsistent with this in the command which Christ gave to the leper to maintain silence: for he did not intend that the remembrance of the miracle which he had wrought should remain always buried. When the leper, at the command of Christ, came into the presence of the priest, this was a testimony to them, which would render them inexcusable, if they refused to receive Christ as the minister of God; and would, at the same time, take away occasion for slander, since Christ did not neglect a single point of the law. In a word, if they were not past cure, they might be led to Christ; while, on the other hand, so solemn a testimony of God was sufficiently powerful to condemn them, if they were unbelievers.
Mark 1:45. So that Jesus could no longer enter openly into cities Hence we learn the reason why Christ did not wish the miracle to be so soon made known. It was that he might have more abundant opportunity and freedom for teaching. Not that his enemies rose against him, and attempted to shut his mouth, but because the common people were so eager to demand miracles, that no room was left for doctrine. He wished that they would all be more attentive to the word than to signs. Luke accordingly says, that he sought retirement in the deserts He avoided a crowd of men, because he saw, that he would not satisfy the wishes of the people, without overwhelming his doctrine by a superfluity of miracles. 497
“Et l'ayant menace;” — “and having threatened him.”
“The burning ulceration, with which the great adversary of man afflicted the venerable patriarch Job, (Job 2:7,) is generally understood to be the elephantiasis, or leprosy of the Arabians; and derives its name from its rendering the skin of the patient, like that of an elephant, scabrous and dark-colored, and furrowed all over with tubercles, loathsome alike to the individual and to spectators.”—(Horne’s Introduction, vol. iii. p. 328.) This quotation is made, because it seemed proper that a word of comparatively rare occurrence, which Calvin uses, should be defined, and its origin explained; and because that useful work, from which we have quoted, was at hand. Many of the most important topics embraced by the “Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures” have since been handled by writers of greater learning and research. Yet it would be ungrateful not to acknowledge that, at the time of its appearance, it supplied an important desideratum, that it probably led the way to other treatises, and that, as a popular and miscellaneous book of reference on Biblical literature, it is not yet superseded. — Ed.
“De faire a Christ un honneur appartenant a Ia majeste divine;” — “to do to Christ an honor belonging to the divine majesty.”
“Qu'il y a eu en tels personnages des mouvemens singuliers, et inspirations particulieres du S. Esprit;” — “that there were in such persons singular movements, and peculiar inspirations of the Holy Spirit.”
“Le vouloir de Christ sur sa requeste;” — “the will of Christ as to his request.”
“Le but de ce commandement;” — “the end of that commandment.”
Those who wish to make themselves acquainted with Calvin's views on the whole subject of what the Papists call auricular confession, will find them stated in the Institutions of the Christian Religion (B. III. c. iv. sec. 19.) — Ed
“Doivent avoir le jugement et la cognoissance de la ladrerie spirituelle;” — “ought to have the judgment and discernment of spiritual leprosy.”
“De discerner entre ladrerie et ladrerie;” — “of distinguishing between leprosy and leprosy.”
According to the view which Calvin rejects, the words, which Moses commanded for a testimony to them, mean, “which Moses delivered to them, that is, to the people of Israel, as a divine ordinance.” The view which he adopts may be more clearly brought out by a different arrangement of the words. Present, for a testimony to them, that is, “to the priests,” the offering which Moses commanded. — Ed
“Que quant et quant il ne fist tant de miracles, que cela les empescheroit de bien penser a la doctrine;” — “without doing so many miracles as to prevent them from thinking properly about his doctrine.”