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The text of Matt 12:6 is:

But I tell you that something greater than the temple is here.

Most commentaries suggest that Jesus is referring to Himself. Could Jesus be drawing on the Old Testament passage about the temple in Hag 2:9?

The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former, says the LORD of Hosts. And in this place I will provide peace, declares the LORD of Hosts.”

If not, is Jesus alluding to something else?

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    The literal reads 'than the temple, greater is here'. The word 'something' is not in the text. I would suggest that, linguistically and conceptually, the tendency would be to - first - supply 'a greater one' rather than 'a greater thing'. (This is my personal suggestion which is why this is a comment, not an answer.) And, besides, what can possibly be 'greater' than the temple, but God himself ? I suggest the commentaries are correct. – Nigel J May 13 at 15:52
  • @NigelJ—The neuter μεῖζόν (NA28) is functioning substantively, hence “something greater.” It’s a perfectly reasonable translation. – Der Übermensch May 13 at 16:02
  • Interesting - the TR has μειζων. Which is, of course, either masculine or feminine. – Nigel J May 13 at 16:11
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    @Dottard, If the adjective "greater" is "clearly" modifying "the temple," meaning "the temple is greater," then why is "the temple" in the Genitive case? This would be what not to do to "clearly" modify the noun. It would be in the Nominative case, would it not? See for example 1 Jn 3:20. – Ryan Stephen May 13 at 23:14
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    @RyanStephen - you are quite correct. I apologise for being so loose with my language. What I should have said is the "greater than" is being compared to the temple. This makes it "greater of the temple". – Dottard May 14 at 0:13
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Note the following verses:

  • Matt. 12:6: τοῦ ἱεροῦ μεῖζόν ἐστιν ὧδε (“greater than the temple is here”)
  • Matt. 12:41: πλεῖον Ἰωνᾶ ὧδε (“greater than Jonah is here”)
  • Matt. 12:42 cf. Luke 11:31: πλεῖον Σολομῶντος ὧδε (“greater than Solomon is here”)

The argument is as follows: David was king of Israel and just a man. He, and those who served him, profaned the Sabbath out of necessity and were held blameless. The priests served the earthly Temple (only an “example and shadow of the heavenly”),1 out of duty on the Sabbath, and they, too, were held blameless. How much more blameless are the eternal king of Israel, who is both the true Temple of God2 and God Himself, and those who serve him out of both duty and necessity?

Heinrich Meyer commented,3

v. 6. Jesus had previously (v. 3) argued a majori (from the allowance of the eating of the shewbread for the hungry David) ad minus (to the allowance of the Sabbatical plucking of corn for the hungry disciples), so he proceeded (v. 5) his argument a minori (namely, from the Temple, [how] the Sabbath subordinates to [the Temple’s] priestly performance of sacrifices) ad majus, namely, to his own authority transcending the holiness of the Temple, under which [authority] his disciples may be even less bound to the Sabbath. The key to this argument ad majus is in v. 6, which contains the minor premise of the conclusion: what is allowed for the servants of the Temple, namely, to be active on the Sabbath, must also appertain to the servants of him who is greater than the Temple, i.e. “I am greater than the Temple, thus, etc.” In all the sublimity and truth of his self-awareness, Christ indicates by τοῦ ἱεροῦ μεῖζόν ἐστιν ὧδε his own personality and appearance surpassing the Temple in holiness and dignity, not the Messianic work (Fritsche, de Wette, Baumgarten-Crusius), with which the plucking of corn had nothing to do; nor, also, the well-being of the disciples (Paulus, Kuinoel); nor, finally, the ἔλεος (“mercy”) in v. 7. The neuter μεῖζον is weightier than the masculine.4

V. 6. Hatte Jesus vorher V. 3 f. a majori (von der Erlaubtheit des Schaubrodessens für den hungrigen David) ad minus (auf die Erlaubtheit des sabbathlichen Aehrenraufens für die hungrigen Jünger) gefolgert, so ging V. 5. seine Folgerung a minori (nämlich vom Tempel, dessen priesterlichen Opferverrichtungen der Sabbath weiche) ad majus, nämlich auf seine eigene, die Heiligkeit des Tempels überragende Auctorität, unter welcher seine Jünger um so weniger an den Sabbath gebunden sein könnten. Den Schlüssel zu dieser Folgerung ad majus giebt V. 6., welcher den Untersatz des Schlusses enthält: Was den Dienern des Tempels erlaubt ist, nämlich am Sabbath thätig zu sein, muss auch den Dienern dessen zustehen, der mehr ist als der Tempel; mehr als der Tempel bin ich; also u. s. w. —Mit τοῦ ἱεροῦ μεῖζόν ἐστιν ὧδε bezeichnet Christus aus der ganzen Hoheit und Wahrheit seines Selbstbewusstseins seine eigene an Heiligkeit und Würde den Tempel übertreffende Persönlichkeit und Erscheinung, nicht das Messianische Geschäft (Fritzsche, de Wette, vrgl. B. Crus.), mit welchem das Aehrenraufen nichts zu thun hatte, auch nicht das Wohlsein der Jünger (! Paulus, Kuinoel), noch endlich den ἔλεος V. 7.). Das Neutr. μεῖζον ist gewichtiger als das Mascul.

On the difference in genders between the adjective μεῖζόν (neuter) and its proposed referent Ἰησοῦς Χριστός (masculine), note the following comment from the grammar of August Heinrich Matthiae,5

Matthiae, August Heinrich. A Copious Greek Grammar. Vol 2, p. 720, §437.4

Does the Lord Jesus Christ being “greater than the Temple” in Matthew 12:6 allude to Haggai 2:9?

Haggai 2:9 could not refer to the Second Temple (which was built in the time of King Darius, and which Herod later refurbished). The Talmud states that there were five things missing from the Second Temple that were originally in the First Temple.6

These five things were different between the First Temple and the Second Temple, and these are: (1) the Ark, the cover, and the khruvim; (2) the fire; (3) the Shekhina; (4) the Holy Spirit; and, (5) the Urim and Tummim.

אלו חמשה דברים שהיו בין מקדש ראשון למקדש שני ואלו הן ארון וכפורת וכרובים אש ושכינה ורוח הקודש ואורים ותומים

According to the Jews, the Shekhina was the dwelling presence of Yahveh that filled the Temple with its glory. For example, in 2 Chronicles 7:2, it is written,

And the priests could not enter the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD had filled the LORD’s house. NKJV, ©1982

In his Aramaic targum, Yonatan ben Uzziʾel translated it as,

And the priests could not enter the house of the sanctuary of Yahveh, because the glory of the Shekhina of Yahveh filled the house of the sanctuary of Yahveh.

ולא יכילו כהניא למיעל לבית מקדשא דייי ארום אתמלי איקר שכנתא דייי ית בית מקדשא דייי

Without the Shekhina, how could the Second Temple be more glorious than the First? Of course, the problem is resolved when it is realized that the Messiah, possessing God’s own glory, was the true Temple.

Carl Friedrich Keil discussed how Haggai 2:9 applied to the Lord Jesus Christ in his commentary on Haggai.8

Although we must not ignore the reverence which was paid to Zerubbabel’s Temple on the part of the heathen and heathen princes by the offering of sacrifices and votive offerings as precursors of the promised fulfillment of this house with the riches of the Gentiles, likewise we must not look for the actual fulfillment of our prophecy in this outward glorification of the Jerusalem Temple, even if the same had surpassed the grandeur of Solomon’s Temple. This first occurred with Christ, and then, not in the fact that Jesus visited the Temple and taught in it, and as the incarnate Logos, in whom the כְּבוֹד יהוח [“glory of Yahveh”] which filled Solomon’s Temple dwelt (ἐσκήνωσεν) essentially as the δόξα ὡς μονογενοῦς παρὰ πατρός [“glory as the only-begotten from the Father”], he glorified the stone Temple by his presence; but rather, in this way, by the fact that Christ raised up the true temple of God not built with human hand (John 2:19), i.e., by the fact that he exalted the kingdom of God (shadowed in the temple at Jerusalem) to the truth of its essence.

Aber so wenig wir auch die Verehrung, welche dem Zerubabelschen Tempel vonseiten der Heiden und heidnischen Fürsten durch Darbringung von Opfern und Weihgesehenken gezollt wurde, als Vorstufen der verheißenen Erfüllung dieses Hauses mit den Gütern der Heiden übersehen dürfen, so dürfen wir doch eben so wenig in dieser äußerlichen Verherrlichung des Jerusalemischen Tempels, selbst wenn dieselbe die Herrlichkeit des Salomonischen Tempels übertroffen hätte, die eigentliche Erfüllung unserer Weißagung suchen. Diese trat erst mit Christo ein, und auch dann nicht damit, daß Jesus den Tempel besuchte und lehrend in ihm auftrat, und als der fleischgewordeue Logos, in welchem die den Salomon. Tempel erfüllende כְּבוֹד יְהֹוָח wesenhaft als δόξα ὡς μονογενοῦς παρὰ πατρός wohnte (ἐσκήνωσεν), den steinernen Tempel durch seine Gegenwart verherrlichte, sondern dadurch, daß Christus den wahren, nicht mit Menschenhand gebauten Tempel Gottes aufrichtete (Joh. 2,19), d.h. daß er das in dem Tempel zu Jerusalem abgeschattete Reich Gottes zur Wahrheit seines Wesens erhob.


Footnotes

1 Heb. 8:1
2 John 2:19–21 cf. Rev. 21:22
3 Meyer, p. 283–284
4 cf. John 10:29, NA28: “my Father is greater than all” («ὁ πατήρ μου...πάντων μεῖζόν ἐστιν»), where μεῖζόν, although clearly referring to the masculine antecedent ὁ πατήρ, is neuter.
5 Matthiae, p. 720, §437.4
6 Babylonian Talmud, Seder Moʿed, Tractate Yoma, Gemara, Chapter 1, Folio 21b
7 ואיקר שכינתא דייי איתמלי ית משכנא
8 Keil, p. 512–513

References

Keil, Carl Friedrich. Biblischer Commentar über das alte Testament. Dritter Teil: die prophetischen Bücher. Vierter Band: die zwölf kleinen Propheten. 2nd ed. Leipzig: Dörffling and Franke, 1873.

Matthiae, August Heinrich. A Copious Greek Grammar. 5th ed. Vol. 2. London: Murray, 1832.

Meyer, Heinrich August Wilhelm. Kritisch exegetischer Kommentar über das Neue Testament, Erste Abtheilung, Erste Hälfte, Kritisch exegetisches Handbuch über das Evangelium des Matthäus. 5th ed. Vol. 1, Part 1. Göttingen: Vandenboeck and Ruprecht, 1864.

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  • Many thanks for this excellent answer and analysis. I THINK you are suggesting (and if so I agree) that Jesus is the greater than the temple, … Jonah, … Solomon, etc. But this does not answer the question about whether it also alludes to Hag 2:6. – Dottard May 18 at 4:15
  • Many thanks again. Great analysis! – Dottard May 24 at 23:10
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Jesus is alluding to "mercy" in Hosea 6:6.

Matthew 12:6–7 (NRSV):

I tell you, something greater (μεῖζόν, meizon) than the temple is here. 7 But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy (ἔλεος, eleos) and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.

The word meizon ("something greater") is in the neuter gender. This is why it is translated as "something greater" and not as "someone greater". To what is the "something" that Jesus refers? We do not need to speculate about what passage Jesus is alluding to here because Jesus then quotes it in v. 7:

But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy (ἔλεος, eleos) and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.

Jesus is quoting Hos. 6:6:

ἔλεος θέλω καὶ οὐ θυσίαν

חֶסֶד חָפַצְתִּי וְלֹא־זָבַח

Mercy I desire and not sacrifice

Immediately after Jesus says that there is "something greater" than the temple, he quotes Hos 6:6 to say that "mercy" not sacrifice is what God desires. The parallelism alone suggests that Jesus is referring to "mercy". To be sure, the word translated into English as "mercy" is eleos, and like meizon it is in the neuter gender. In fact eleos is the only neuter word in the pericope to which Jesus could be referring, the others being ἱερόν, ieron ("temple") and σάββατον, sabbaton ("Sabbath").

Mercy being what is greater than the temple also fits Jesus' message in the wider context in the pericope.

Notice what Jesus says in vv. 3–5 in response to the Pharisees who accuse his disciples of doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath by plucking heads of grain:

He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. 5 Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless?

Jesus is pointing out that the needs of David and his men are greater than the needs of the Temple, and that the needs of the Temple are greater than the needs of the Sabbath. (This is presumably why they are guiltless.) If mercy to the needs of David and his men is greater than the needs of the temple, and if the needs of the temple are greater than the needs of the Sabbath, then——by logical inference——mercy to the needs of David and his men is greater than even the needs of the Sabbath. This is why Jesus says in v. 8 "For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath." The needs of "the Son of Man"——i.e., Jesus and perhaps also humankind in general, cf. Mark 2:27–28——take precedence to the needs of the Sabbath.

Afterword:

How can "mercy" be described as "something greater" that "is here"? I have two suggestions: (1) Jesus could be referring to the mercy that he himself has just shown to his disciples by letting them pluck heads of grain on the Sabbath. (2) Jesus could be referring to the mercy that "is here" in 1 Sam 21:1–6 to which Jesus just alluded in vv. 3-4. That is, the "something greater" than the temple that is here is the mercy that is here in this story that is shown to David and to his men. Here, mercy to their needs is shown to be greater than the needs of the temple.

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    'Mercy' does not exist by itself. If mercy is found, it is within a person. So what is greater than the temple ? What is greater is the One in whom mercy is found. – Nigel J May 13 at 15:55
  • @RyanStephen—You’re reading too much into the neuter. cf. John 10:29, where Jesus says that his Father (i.e., God) «πάντων μεῖζόν ἐστιν» (NA28)—“is greater than all.” – Der Übermensch May 13 at 16:09
  • @DerÜbermensch, the reading in John 10:29 is mixed among the manuscripts. Some important manuscripts have μεῖζον and other important manuscripts have μείζων, which is in the masculine gender. If the neuter is preferred then the statement should be read like "What my Father has given me is greater than all else" as in the NRSV. Contextually it would refer I suppose to the neuter ἔργα (erga), "works", as a whole though it is plural (cf. singular in v. 33) or perhaps to an implied primary ἔργον, work, such as the eternal life mentioned in v. 28. – Ryan Stephen May 13 at 16:59
  • @NigelJ, To conserve space in the comments I moved my responses to an "Afterword" in my answer above. – Ryan Stephen May 14 at 0:02
  • What linguistic connection is there between Matt 12:6 and Hos 6:6? I struggle to see the connection. – Dottard May 14 at 0:23
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In Acts 7:48 it i written that the most high dwels not in temples made with hands. In Luke 17:21 Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is within you. In 1 Cor 3: You are the temple of God. For the Temple of God is holy which you are. The temple is about us, who has not been made by stone and by the sound of hammer. The mystery is in us.

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  • This does not address the original question – Dottard May 16 at 23:23
  • Yes it does. Go back to the top of the page, re the allusion to something greater. The temple in our heads is something greater. – Micha-El May 19 at 19:04

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