The first chapter in the Sermon on the Mount; the Beatitudes; we are salt and light. Christ came to fulfill the law. Avoid anger; avoid lust; divorce should be rare and only for one exception. Don’t swear oaths. Don’t follow ‘eye for an eye,’ but live a surrendered life. Love your enemies. Through most of those passages, Jesus presents his six antitheses: “You have heard it said … but I say to you.”
I approach the Sermon on the Mount with fear and trembling. I’ll go through these verses as straightforwardly as I can and keep the plain things the main things—my main hermeneutical or interpretive key. I’ll also consult the commentaries, listed below, to ensure I stay within the community of Bible teachers.
When I use the phrase “kingdom citizen” or “kingdom subject” (and so on), I’m not talking about some future millennium, but about us right now. The Sermon on the Mount is our teaching now, for us now; it is also about the final, fully manifested, future kingdom.
As I write in the introduction to every chapter:
This translation and commentary is offered for free, gratis, across the worldwide web to Christians in oppressive (persecuting) or developing countries, who cannot afford printed commentaries or Study Bibles, though everyone can use the commentary and entire website, of course.
The commentary has a practical application (GrowApp) at the end of each section, for discipleship.
The Greek terms with brief definitions can be looked up at biblehub.com. However, I hope to bring different nuances to the few words I focus on. A pronunciation guide is also offered. But I keep things nontechnical.
The translation is mine. I do not offer it in competition with the excellent published ones or because I think mine is better or necessary. I wrote it to learn what the Greek text really says. The translation tends to be literal, but complete literalism and readability are impossible, so adjustments had to be made. If you would like to see other translations, please go to biblegateway.com.
Links are provided for further study.
His Disciples Are Blessed (Matt. 5:1-12)
1 Seeing the crowds, he went up to the mountain and sat down. His disciples came to him. 2 And opening his mouth, he began to teach them, saying:
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
4 Blessed are the those who grieve, because they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek, because they will inherit the land.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, because they will be satisfied.
7 Blessed are the merciful, because they will receive mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, because they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, because they will be called the children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
11 Blessed are you when they insult and persecute you and falsely speak every bad thing against you, because of me. 12 Rejoice and celebrate because your reward is great in heaven, for in this way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Grace is assumed in the Sermon on the Mount. Keener writes correctly:
Most Jewish people understood the commandments in the context of grace …; given Jesus’s demand for grace in practice (including in material that appears specifically Matthean: 9:13; 12:7; 18:21-35), he undoubtedly intended the kingdom demands in light of grace (cf. Mt. 6:12 // Lk 11:4; Mk 11:25 // Mt 6:14-15; Mk 10:15). In the Gospel narratives Jesus embraces those who humble themselves, acknowledging God’s right to rule, even if in practice they fall short of the goal of perfection (5:48). But the kingdom grace Jesus proclaimed was not the workless grace of much of Western Christianity: in the Gospels the kingdom message transforms those who meekly embrace it, just as it crushes the arrogant, the religiously and socially satisfied. (pp. 161-62)
Osborne’s great translation (p. 163):
God blesses the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are meek, for they will inherit the earth.
God blesses those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.
God blesses those who are merciful, for they will receive mercy.
God blesses the pure in heart, for they will see God.
God blesses those who make peace, for they shall be called the children of God.
God blesses those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for the kingdom belongs to them.
God blesses you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven in great, for in this way they persecuted the prophets before you.
Awesome. I wish I had thought of it!
Let’s figure out the word blessed, first. It is an adjective or descriptor of who we are in Christ. This section is called the Beatitudes, from Latin beatitudo, “happiness, blessedness.” But Matthew wrote in Greek, not Latin. He begins those verses with the word “blessed” for emphasis. The more common adjective, which appears here, is makarios (pronounced mah-kah-ree-oss) and is used 50 times. It has an extensive meaning: “happy” or “fortunate” or “privileged” (Mounce, pp. 67-71).
Let’s look more deeply at it.
The Old Testament was written in Hebrew (and Aramaic), and the main word for blessing is the verb barak, used 327 times throughout the Hebrew Bible: Genesis 76 times, Deuteronomy 40 times, and Psalms 76 times. Each time it is people-related. The noun is beraka, used 71 times, and “denotes the pronouncement of good things on the recipient or the collection of good things” (Mounce, p. 70).
Any synonyms of makarios? The New Testament was written in Greek, and the verb is eulogeō (pronounced yew-loh-geh-oh, and the “g” is hard as in “get”), which is used 41 times and means to “bless, thank, or praise.” The adjective eulogētos (pronounced yew-loh-gay-toss, and the “g” is hard), which is used 8 times, means “blessed, praised.” The noun is eulogia (pronounced yew-lo-gee-ah, the “g” is hard, and we get our word eulogy from it), and is used 16 times. It means to “speak well.” It is mostly translated as “praise.” The log– stem is rich in Greek, and it can include speaking a word. So speak blessing to yourself and to others. Jesus is now speaking it over you.
Important point: The key theme of the Sermon on the Mount is the kingdom of heaven.
“mountain”: it should be a higher place than just hills. This alludes to Moses going up on Mt. Sinai in Exod. 19:3. But Jesus will not have smoke and thunder and lightning around him. Too scary and needless for the New Covenant he is about to launch (Matt. 26:26-29). He now has the anointing of the Spirit whom he experienced at his baptism.
Evidently, Jesus went up to a high place because of the crowds, and his disciples came to him. Are the crowds the same as his disciples? Some passages seem to say yes (John 6:66). Here I see a distinction between the crowds and the disciples. Only those who truly want to be his disciples can take this teaching in which Jesus says the righteousness of the disciples must exceed the righteousness of the devout Jewish religionists. His disciples hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Speaking of disciples, let’s offer a more formal definition. It’s important because we are disciples.
“disciples”: The noun is mathētēs (singular and pronounced mah-they-tayss), and it is used 261 times in the NT, though many of them are duplicates in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. BDAG says of the noun (1) “one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice”; (2) “one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views, disciple, adherent.”
However, in Matt. 4:25 great crowds followed him. So who were these disciples? They were a subset of the great crowds but much bigger than the twelve.
He sat down: this is the Rabbinic posture. He probably sat on a rock or a mound, not on the flat ground. People needed to hear him, so his head had to be elevated.
Opening his mouth, he began to teach. This wording indicates solemnity (Matt. 13:35; Acts 8:35; 10:34; 18:14). It has OT roots (Job 3:1; 33:2; Dan. 10:16). Something very special and sacred is about to be spoken.
The kingdom citizens in these three verses are those who feel oppressed. Are they poor in spirit, feeling discouraged, grieving or mourning, weak? Then they are ready for a great reversal; their lives can be filled with new purpose. This sermon is not about social justice warriors who can militantly impose the principles on society. It is about the humble who recognize their spiritual bankruptcy. They need the kingdom of heaven first, before they can walk in this teaching. And the kingdom brings inner power because God initiates and brings the spiritual benefits outlined here in these opening twelve verses. Being poor in spirit and mournful indicates total dependence on God, rather than one’s own righteousness.
Mourning can be both applied to persecution and poverty (vv. 11-12) and for sin and guilt, so mourning means repentance (Osborne, comment on 5:4). This mourning causes us to turn to God for help.
“kingdom of heaven”: Matthew substitutes “heaven” (literally heavens or plural) nearly every time (except for 12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43, where he uses kingdom of God). Why? Four possible reasons: (1) Maybe some extra-pious Jews preferred the circumlocution or the roundabout way of speaking, but this answer is not always the right one, for Matthew does use the phrase “kingdom of God” four times; (2) the phrase “kingdom of heaven” points to Christ’s post-resurrection authority; God’s sovereignty in heaven and earth (beginning with Jesus’s ministry) is now mediated through Jesus (28:18); (3) “kingdom of God” makes God the king (26:29) and leaves less room to ascribe the kingdom to Jesus (16:28; 25:31, 34, 40; 27:42), but the phrase “kingdom of heaven” leaves more room to say Jesus is the king Messiah. (4) It may be a stylistic variation that has no deeper reasoning behind it (France). In my view the third option shows the close connection to the doctrine of the Trinity; the Father and Son share authority, after the Father gives it to him. The kingdom of heaven is both the kingdom of the Father and the kingdom of the Messiah (Carson). And, since I like streamlined interpretations, the fourth one also appeals to me.
Now let’s go for a general consideration of the kingdom of heaven / God. As noted in other verses that mention the kingdom in this commentary, the kingdom is God’s power, authority, rule, reign and sovereignty. He exerts all those things over all the universe but more specifically over the lives of people. It is his invisible realm, and throughout the Gospels Jesus is explaining and demonstrating what it looks like before their very eyes and ears. It is gradually being manifested from the realm of faith to the visible realm, but it is not political in the human sense. It is a secret kingdom because it does not enter humanity with trumpets blaring and full power and glory. This grand display will happen when Jesus comes back. In his first coming, it woos people to surrender to it. We can enter God’s kingdom by being born again (John 3:3, 5), by repenting (Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:5), by having the faith of children (Matt. 18:4; Mark 10:14-15), by being transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son whom God loves (Col. 1:13), and by seeing their own poverty and need for the kingdom (Matt. 5:3; Luke 6:20; Jas. 2:5). The kingdom has already come in part at his First Coming, but not yet with full manifestation and glory and power until his Second Coming.
1 Introducing the Kingdom of God (begin a ten-part series)
“meek”: it is the adjective praüs (pronounced prah-ooss; it’s a two-syllable word), and it does not mean weak. It means “mild, soft, gentle, meek” (Liddell and Scott); a horse can be praos, and it is not physically weak. The noun can mean a person is made to be gentle and meek, but here in v. 5, it seems the disciple is already soft and gentle. This is not a character flaw, Just the opposite. Too many politicians, in a government that concentrates power in the hands of the Few, become unscrupulous and grasping and uninhibited. They will lie to your face. In contrast, the already meek who enter the kingdom will inherit the land or earth. This means that as the kingdom goes around the globe and establishes a foothold or toehold, then that place belongs to the citizen. No, not by grasping for unrestrained political power, but by the gospel entering the heart of each person and transforming him. “God’s inaugurated reign will eventually result in humble disciples, not arrogant tyrants, inheriting the earth. … The language here clearly alludes to Ps. 37:9, 11, which speaks of the oppression of the godly by the wicked” (Turner on 5:5). It’s not humbleness in the abstract, but those who have been bent double by oppression. Cheer up and look up, those who are oppressed! You are the ones who will inherit the weak (Turner).
The poor in spirit, the mourners and the meek can be lifted up and stand in the kingdom of heaven, which is gradually being brought down to earth through people—God working through people.
In these verses, the people seem eager and ready to go.
They already hunger and thirst for righteousness:
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God? (Ps. 42:2, NIV)
God may stand in for righteousness, if we combine the two verses. If anyone thirsts for God, he will find righteousness.
They already are merciful to those who need it;
They already are the pure in heart; This goes deeper than external righteousness that the religious leaders of Jesus’s day exhibited; it’s a theme of the Sermon. It means single-minded devotion and a heart that has been purified by God. The pure in heart means, in this context they are morally upright (not just ritually clean) and are single-minded in their pursuit of God. When they pursue God, they shall “see” him spiritually right now (Job. 42:5; Heb. 11:27) and in fulness after Christ returns (Osborne, comment on 5:8). So in this verse we have the inaugurated kingdom, in part right now, and then the future kingdom.
And they make peace. “The peacemakers of 5:9 refers to those, who experiencing the shalom of God, become his agents establishing his peace in the world (Osborne on 5:9).
They are quick to make peace in the family and the Christian community (Osborne on 5:9). The opposite are the troublemakers and strife creators.
Now here are the kingdom joys and benefits for these people.
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness shall be rewarded with being satisfied with more righteousness. The voice of the verb (passive) teaches that God is the one who satisfies. The whole context and thrust of the Sermon on the Mount is righteous living, which is very important to God. Yes, grace comes first by the gifting that kingdom of heaven brings, but then kingdom grace empowers you to live godly lives. The Spirit enters people, and so does the law of God, written in your hearts (Heb. 8:10). The New Covenant, which he is about to launch (Matt. 26:26-29), comes with the law in the hearts. Don’t let the hyper-grace teachers tell you otherwise. This is not righteousness in a forensic sense (legal declaration), but righteous behavior (Turner on 5:6).
“‘Righteousness’ is a particularly important term for Matthew, especially in the Sermon on the Mount (5:6, 10, 20; 6:1, 33), and in each of these conducts it refers to right conduct in the eyes of God. So it means hungering and thirsting for doing what is right before God. Note that one never truly attains it but at all times strives with all one’s strength to obey God” (Osborne, comment on 5:6). Again, don’t let the hyper-grace teachers tell you that God does not require righteous living.
Those who demonstrate and offer mercy will receive mercy. Maybe they are already like the meek, so these four verses do not have walls around them, excluding the other verses in this “blessed” introduction.
The voice of the verb is passive, so God is the one extends mercy. In any case, if you show mercy, you will be “mercied” (passive) or receive mercy. The mercy you get in return for being merciful is also a verb. It will be demonstrated and extended to you. God does that.
In v. 8, Jesus highlights (or “lowlights”) the external, rules-oriented purity of the Pharisees, which Jesus rejects because it hides inner corruption behind a mask (Turner on 5:8).
The pure in heart will see God. This does not mean they will see God in his pure essence, but they will perceive with their spirit the ways of God. They will perceive with their spirits who God is. They will have His Spirit and catch a glimpse of him vicariously or representatively.
The peacemakers will be called the children of God (literally the “sons” of God, but let’s be gender inclusive, since the Greek allows it). The verb is in the passive voice, which means Father God calls them his children. They pursue peace—not foolish peace whereby a nation rolls over and plays dead. The state should do all it can to stop evil with law enforcement and the military, if necessary. But kingdom citizens (disciples), if they branch out to counsel the state, must not recklessly and unwisely impose kingdom standards on nonkingdom citizens and an entire government.
The Sermon on the Mount is for kingdom citizens, not for people outside of the kingdom, who see these things as unrealistic, legalistic, and unachievable standards. See my series on pacifism:
Instead, this is kingdom peace among disciples. Don’t over-interpret the word.
In v. 12, Jesus switches from third person (“those” or “they”) to second person (“you”). Now the blessings come with some character building and tests, because people outside the kingdom can turn downright evil. They spoke against the prophets, so they will speak against you. Jesus will tear into the teachers of the law and Pharisees for their ancestors persecuting and killing the prophets of old (23:29-30).
These verses talk about the backlash that will come with following Jesus. In Jewish and Muslim households, the new converts may be ostracized and persecuted. In Islamic and communist countries, the converts to Christ may face prison or even torture and execution. In Nigeria, Christians are routinely martyred for their faith. When these bad things happen and people speak every kind of lying words against kingdom citizens, then the disciples are to rejoice and celebrate.
Here are the apostles in the book of Acts:
40 Summoning the apostles, they [the High Council] flogged them, ordered them not to speak about the name of Jesus, and dismissed them. 41 And so they left the presence of the High Council, rejoicing that they were considered worthy to be dishonored because of the name. (Acts 5:40-41, my tentative translation)
We exercise wisdom when listen to the apostolic community; today some are prone to dismiss it. They have this condescending attitude. “The apostles lived in their times and did the best they could with the light they had, but we now know better!” Misguided.
In any case, the apostles rejoiced, because they were considered worthy to suffer for righteousness’s sake. And they were filled with the Spirit (Acts 4:31).
Of course kingdom persecution came during Jesus ministry—and because of it—but it will really come in full force for the kingdom community after Pentecost, just fifty days after the Passover dinner, where Jesus launched the New Covenant, and as the church takes the gospel around the globe. “But Matthew is summoning his community to an honor far higher than merely filling the role of Old Testament prophets; he summons them to bear the name—the honor—of Jesus, who is greater than those prophets (16:14-17; cf. 13:57). To suffer for righteousness’ sake is to suffer for Jesus’ name (5:10-11), because the characteristics Jesus lists as belonging to the people of the kingdom are also those Jesus himself exemplifies as the leading servant of the kingdom son par excellence of the Father (11:27; 20:28)” (Keener, p. 172).
I like Turner’s conclusion about the Beatitudes:
From the Beatitudes, Christians learn that the character traits reflecting God’s reign are chiefly humility towards God and mercy toward people. By God’s grace these traits are present in principle in the lives of God’s people. Yet these traits must be cultivated so that they become more dynamically present in fact. Believers develop maturity in discipleship as they grow in their understanding of, and obedience to, Scripture, as they face the tests of life. The resource of the Spirit and encouragement from the Christian community are necessary. In a world that values pride over humility and aggression over mercy, Jesus’s disciples are the “Christian Counter-culture.” … As they maintain this countercultural witness to the world, they may look to their master, who perfectly exemplifies the character traits of the Beatitudes. (Comment on 5:12)
Keener points out that many commentaries rightly say that the promises are in the passive voice (e.g. “will be comforted”). This is the divine passive, which means an understated way of saying that God will provide the rewards directly: comfort his kingdom citizens, bestow the earth on them, satisfy his people, show mercy, reveal himself and call the righteous his children (p. 167).
GrowApp for Matt. 5:1-12
A.. God says you are blessed. How has he transformed your life so that you can receive his pronouncement of blessing on you? Does your life match up with any of those qualities in vv. 1-12?
B.. Read 1 Peter 4:16. Peter heard the Sermon on the Mount. Have you ever been persecuted for being a Christian? How did God help you rejoice? Are you filled with the Spirit (Acts 4:31)?
You Are Salt and Light (Matt. 5:13-16)
13 You are the salt of the earth. If salt becomes unsalty, by what will it be salty? It is good for nothing now, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by people.
14 You are the light of the world. A town sitting above, on a mountain, cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do they light a lamp and place it under a container, but on a lampstand, and it shines on everyone in the house. 16 In this way, let your light shine before people, so that they see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
Grains of salt are small but have great effect.
It has been correctly taught in churches that salt provides seasoning and acts as a preservative in the days before refrigeration (and it has many other uses). True. Even today experienced cooks have a smokehouse where meat is first salted before they turn the smoke machine on. In the pioneer days, they hung meat in small wooden cabins and salted it. Then they went out to the cabin and cut off a slab for dinner. So the application is obvious: we are to provide virtue and the power of the Spirit (after Pentecost) to preserve the gospel and basic decency in society. The gospel changes hearts, so that improves society morally. Then we are to be seasoning for society. We are filled with the kingdom of heaven, and people like our “taste” because of our words (uplifting gospel message) and behavior (good deeds, in v. 16). Salt also makes a person thirsty, so it takes time for people to thirst after what we have. Finally, salt slows down the leaven rising in a lump of dough, and often (not always) leaven symbolizes sin.
Strictly speaking salt does not lose it flavor, and that was not Jesus’s point, but salt at this time and in this area came from draining swamps, so it had impurities in it. Plus, this is simply a rhetorical question, exhorting us not to lose out salt. The issue has nothing to do with losing or not losing our salvation, but with the kingdom witness and goodness in society.
Apparently, in the world at this time, people threw salt on their flat roofs, because salt strengthened the layer of soil on it. People stomped all over it.
Commentator R. T. France:
In any case, Jesus is not teaching chemistry, and the ludicrous imagery of trying to “salt” that which should itself be the source of saltiness is a powerful indictment of disciples who have lost their distinctiveness and so no longer have anything to contribute to society. The verb which I translated “become tasteless” more literally means “become foolish.” The apparently appropriate verb points to the metaphorical role of the salt here, to symbolize the wholesome flavour of wisdom which disciples are to contribute. (p. 175)
“people”: it is the Greek noun anthrōpos (pronounced ahn-throw-poss), and even in the plural some interpreters say that it means only “men.” However, throughout Greek literature written before and during the NT, in the plural it means people in general, including womankind (except rare cases). In the singular it can mean person, depending on the context (Matt. 4:4; 10:36; 12:11, 12; 12:43, 45; 15:11, 18). So a “person” or “people” or “men and women” (and so on) is almost always the most accurate translation, despite what more conservative translations say. So I chose “people.”
Finally, we don’t need to overanalyze the saltless salt. Salt losing its flavor is just an inconceivable image which indicates that no true disciple could be merely nominal and remain a true disciple of Jesus (Keener, p. 173).
The symbol of light is found everywhere in the OT. It is the opposite of darkness. So the world of nature illustrates God’s ways. There’s a fit and match with his ways and nature, though nature can act unruly. In any case, here is the basic equivalents in the OT between light and darkness. Light speaks of truth over error; knowledge over ignorance; wisdom over foolishness.
Just go to biblegateway.com and search the word light. Amazing hits.
Jesus said he was the light of the world (John 8:12). Here he says kingdom citizens are the light of the world. Combining these two verses (despite what NT scholars are reluctant to do, combining John and the Synoptics), Jesus is the light first, and when we are in union with him, when we have entered his kingdom, his light shines through us.
A city sitting on a high place can easily be seen, and when people light their oil lamps, the city can be seen in the dark. Kingdom people are to be like that city set on a hill. His light shining through them is intended to be seen. The city is about community, not an individual. It’s about a collective impact. All of our lights shining together are stronger than your light shining alone.
Now the King states the obvious: people don’t place the lit oil lamp under a container or bowl, but put it on a lampstand, maybe a carveout in a wall or a special place just for the oil lamp. Then it lights up everything and everyone in the house. Straightforward, uncomplicated teaching and insight.
Next, here’s how the kingdom citizen’s light is supposed to shine.
Finally, Jesus brings focus on what the light does or equates to.
Light → good works
The arrow means “leads to.”
Light = good works.
You choose which equation works best (or both do), but light that does nothing is not light.
Further, good works includes more than just feeding programs; it includes the kingdom in power and healing and demon expulsion. Light upsets the religious guy’s comfortable, sleepy world. It jolts them out of their dogmatic slumber. The purpose of a kingdom citizen’s good works is for observing people to say, “Wow! I like what this guy does! I wonder whether God is in his life! Is he a Jesus follower?”
One does good works for the Father’s honor, not our own honor, to be seen of men (6:1).
“people”: see v. 13 for more comments.
These verses may be the background to the image of light:
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
7 to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness. (Is. 42:6-7, NIV)
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Is. 49:6, NIV)
While we are the light of the world, we are not the source of the light, but God through Christ is.
Grow App for Matt. 5:13-16
A.. Salt preserves, seasons and creates thirst. Do you do any of those things for people in your walk with the Lord? Where do you start?
B.. Light is supposed to produce good works. What good works have you done lately? Where do you start?
Teaching about Fulfilling the Law (Matt. 5:17-20)
17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish, but to fulfill. 18 For I tell you the truth: until heaven and earth pass away, one iota or one tiny mark in a letter won’t pass away from the law until everything is accomplished. 19 Whoever therefore breaks one of these least commandments and teaches people to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever does and teaches them—he will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness goes well beyond that of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, you will in no way enter the kingdom of heaven.
I have written a more detailed commentary on this passage here:
So let me just do a quick summary of the main ideas. And the one central idea is that Jesus has as much authority as the Torah and the rest of the Old Testament.
I like what France says: “If in the process it may appear that certain elements of the law are for all practical purposes ‘abolished,’ this will be attributable not to their loss of status as the Word of God, but to their changed role in the era of fulfillment, in which it is Jesus, the fulfiller, rather than the law which pointed to him, who is the ultimate authority” (p. 183). Perfectly said. The law points to Jesus, not only as a type, but in waiting for him to fulfill it.
Ten Commandments: God’s Great Compromise with Humanity’s Big Failure (for the biblically mature)
As those links show, however, please don’t think that you can get away with ignoring the Old Testament. No, for Jesus and his apostolic community (and us today), it was the inspired Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16).
Here are three interpretations of 5:17-20:
(1).. Jesus established or validated the law by realizing (fulfilling) it completely in his teaching and deeds; (2).. He completed or filled up the law’s meaning in his own teaching and interpretation of Torah (first five books of the Bible), “thereby enabling the kingdom people to live the law more completely; (3).. Jesus fulfills the law by completing its “covenant-promise” in bringing about a new redemptive-historical relationship with God” (Osborne, p. 182).
All three are valid approaches to vv. 17-20. In other words, Jesus, in inaugurating the kingdom of God in a new and dynamic way, fulfills the law in his life and deeds and words. This is especially clear when he initiates the Last Supper and the New Covenant (Matt. 26:26-29). All the penalties are requirements that are paid in full, but the moral law endures forever and is imported into the New Covenant. In fact, Jesus deepens and intensifies many aspects—but not even close to all aspects—of the Torah.
Abolish does mean destroy, so Jesus did not come to do that. The “law and the prophets” is another way to say the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament. A famous TV pastor has pretty much thrown out the OT, or the “law and the prophets” in Jesus’s terms. In no way does Jesus throw them out.
“Fulfill” is a theme in Matthew, who uses the verb at key junctures in his narrative:
Matt. 1:22: Mary conceived as a virgin (Is. 7:14).
Matt. 2:15: God called his Son out of Egypt (Hos. 11:1).
Matt. 2:23: He will be called a Nazarene, which sounds like Branch (Is. 11:1-12)
Matt. 3:15: Jesus insisted on being baptized, to fulfill all righteousness.
Matt. 4:14: A light is shining in the north (Is. 9:1-2)
Matt. 5:17: Jesus fulfills the law and prophets
Matt. 8:27: Jesus healing the sick fulfills the suffering servant taking on himself our infirmities (Is. 53:4).
Matt. 12:17: Jesus is the servant (Is. 42:1-4).
Matt. 13:35: Jesus will teach in parables (Ps. 78:2)
Matt. 21:4: Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey (Zech. 9:9)
Matt. 26:54: Jesus surrenders to the arrest to fulfill various verses that talk of suffering.
Matt. 26:56: the mob coming out to arrest Jesus fulfills the writings of the prophets.
Matt. 27:9: the Sanhedrin buying a field with Judas’s returned money (Zech 11:12-13; Jer. 19:1-13; 32:6-9)
These passages are where the verb fulfill is found. Other verses show Jesus fulfilling Scripture without the signaling verb “fulfill,” particularly where Matthew quotes verses from the OT.
From the above data, Jesus fulfills the sweep of the entire OT, from the Levitical sacrifices by his crucifixion—noted in Paul’s writings (e.g. Rom. 3:25) and John’s letter (1 John 2:2; 4:10) and throughout the epistle to the Hebrews. He has come to accomplish the moral law—he obeyed the Father’s commands perfectly (Heb. 4:15). He has come to fulfill the Messianic prophecies, which encompass a two-stage program: first coming and second coming.
And so fulfillment is much broader than a NT author quoting a verse from the OT. Jesus fulfills the OT’s patterns and themes and theology
Messianic Prophecies (a long table of quoted verses in both OT and NT)
“I tell you the truth”: Matthew uses this expression thirty times in his Gospel. “Truth” comes from the word amēn (pronounced ah-main and comes into English as amen). It expresses the authority of the one who utters it. The Hebrew root ’mn means faithfulness, reliability and certainty. It could be translated as “truly I tell you” or “I tell you with certainty.” Jesus’s faith in his own words is remarkable and points to his unique calling. In the OT and later Jewish writings is indicates a solemn pronouncement, but Jesus’ “introductory uses of amēn to confirm his own words is unique” (France in his comment on 5:18). The authoritative formula emphasizes pronouncements which are noteworthy and will be surprising or uncomfortable to the listener.
“one tiny mark”: Some Hebrew letters have the tiniest stroke going upwards, like a horn. So this is, rhetorically speaking, an extra-strong statement about the law. Though I don’t know Hebrew very well at all, here are a few letters. Look for the tiniest upward stroke.
And here is the smallest letter, yodh:
Keener says these words about the smallest elements to the Hebrew alphabet is hyperbole (pronounced hy-PER-boh-lee), which is a deliberate exaggeration to prove a point in a surprising way. (Example: “The ice cream man is generous! He piled the ice cream a mile high on my cone!”)
Fulfillment happens gradually. The Messianic prophesies about his first coming and the theological truths about the old religion of Judaism and its sacrificial system have already been fulfilled. However, the prophecies about his second coming have not yet been fulfilled. They are moving toward fulfillment.
“until”: there is a time limit on the whole process of fulfillment. This is a very important point. The Father will decide when everything is “accomplished.” The verb is the standard one for “become” or “is” or “happens.” But it is versatile verb, and “accomplish” works too.
In the meantime, here and now, as the fulfillment process unfold gradually, how do we view the law—as a whole (the “law and the prophets”)? While Jesus is speaking the Sermon, there is much to be fulfilled. And anyone who teaches a disciple to break a least command will be humiliated in the kingdom. Even Jesus paid the temple tax (Matt. 17:24-27). Even he told the leper, after healing him, to show his skin to the priest and offer a sacrifice prescribed by Moses (Matt. 8:1-4). But soon the church will leave behind the old sacrificial system and temple taxes, like the tithe. This begins in earnest when he launches the New Covenant (Matt. 26:26-29) and really takes off at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).
Moral law existed long before the law of Moses was thundered down from on high on Mt. Sinai (Exod. 19). In fact, think about it. The law of Moses is a late development in the history of humanity. Moral law existed long before his law. Moral law was brought into sharper and clearer focus with his law, but it is God’s gift to humanity, without or without the revealed law of Moses. Therefore, moral law will never lose it power and relevance.
Now, however, let’s focus on moral law within the law of Moses. Anyone who teaches people to violate it is totally deceived. Anyone who teaches and practices it, in contrast, is great in the kingdom of heaven. At the time the Sermon was being spoken, the commandments included more than just moral law, but soon those old ceremonial laws will be obsolete. So teachers can say we can ignore them.
Imagine that the law of Moses = an old Victorian house.
Go into it as a tourist and see the cool paintings and window treatments and old furniture. Try out one of its chairs (if the caretaker or curator will let you). Admire the beautiful furniture. Look at the wonderful knickknacks. But do not break them. Do not take an ax to the antique furniture. Whoever does that will be called least. Whoever teaches the general principles from the Victorian house—its beautiful architecture and furniture—will be called great.
But now we don’t live in the Victorian house because the toilet is substandard; instead, there’s an outhouse in the back down a muddy path, which is inconvenient to get to in the rain. And there is no hot and cold running water. You have to get your bath ready by carrying bucket after bucket of water and then heating it for your bath. No vacuum cleaner (hoover), no disinfectant. No central heating, none in the bedrooms. It’s cold when you climb into bed! No modern conveniences of any kind. Soon the old house loses its charm.
Now imagine that the New Covenant = a big, beautiful modern house.
It is all decked out with the furniture you love. It has all the conveniences that the Victorian house does not have. You can visit and admire the old house, as a great museum, but I don’t recommend that you live there. Live in the New Covenant house.
“people”: see v. 13 for more comments.
Jesus boils down the law here:
37 And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind.’ [Deut. 6:5] 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 The second is like it. ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ [Lev. 19:18] 40 On these two commandments the whole law and prophets depend.” (Matt. 22:37-40)
Paul expresses the same idea when he writes that love is the fulfillment of the law (Rom. 13:8-10). He also says that the whole law is fulfilled in this one saying: “You are to love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal. 5:14). James singles out the love of neighbor as the “royal law” (Jas. 2:8). John writes that if we say that we love God but hate our brother, then we are liars; the love of God is not in us. Whoever loves God must love his brother (1 John 4:20-21).
Don’t over-complicate things. Just love God and allow him to love your neighbor through you. And if you get confused as to what love is, just let the rest of the NT–the moral aspects–guide you.
“I tell you”: it also indicates an authoritative pronouncement which may surprise the listeners and make them uncomfortable.
Here is the tricky verse. The teachers of the law and Pharisees were seemingly righteous. Do you remember what Paul said in Phil. 3:4-6? He was zealous for the law; he said he was blameless in law keeping. Preachers today say that it’s impossible to keep the law. Perhaps. But Paul said he was blameless. So how does the righteousness go beyond the righteousness of those two devout groups? Paul also said he had persecuted the church. That’s not very righteous.
Righteousness has to be internal. The teachers of the law and Pharisees were going in the wrong direction. They put on outward shows. They were oppressive. Jesus will finally denounce them, saying they were confused about sacred things and loved the gold of the temple (23:16-17); they kept the letter of the law, but neglected justice, mercy, and faithfulness (23:23). They were full of greed and self-indulgence, like cups washed on the outside, but not in the inside (23:25-26). They were like whitewashed tombs, looking good on the outside, but full of death on the inside; application: they look good to people, but they are full of hypocrisy and wickedness (23:27-28). Behind the façade, they did awful things. Their ancestors killed God’s prophets, and the Pharisees and teachers claim they never would, but they are wrong. “Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!” (v. 32). They were about to push for the death of the Messiah. He is going to send them prophets and sages and teachers, but they will kill them too (23:33-36).
Therefore kingdom righteousness has to be planted in the soul by first someone acknowledging his bankruptcy, entering the kingdom, receiving mercy, and operating through kingdom strength to work out what God is working inside him. A new covenant is coming. The kingdom of heaven is launching it through the King. Righteousness has to flow from it, from the inside out.
See the links to the theology and practice of righteousness in vv. 6-9.
Quick review of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees:
“teachers of the law”: They are also called scribes or legal experts.
They can be looked up at this link (in alphabetical order)
Both groups were the Watchdogs of Theology and Behavior (David E. Garland, Luke: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament [Zondervan, 2011], p. 243). The problem which Jesus had with them can be summed up in Eccl. 7:16: “Be not overly righteous.” He did not quote that verse, but to him they were much too enamored with the finer points of the law, while neglecting its spirit (Luke 11:37-52; Matt. 23:1-36). Instead, he quoted this verse from Hos. 6:6 (ESV): “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice” … (see Matt. 9:13; 12:7). Overdoing righteousness, believe it or not, can damage one’s relationship with God and others.
I don’t agree with some of Turner’s points oi this section of the Sermon on the Mount (he believes in strong continuity between the Torah and the NT), but I like this conclusion:
Jesus is the end or goal of the law and therefore he is its ultimate, definitive interpreter. He alone is the authoritative eschatological teacher of the law and the prophets. The life and teaching of Jesus fulfill biblical prediction and patterns. On the one hand, Jesus does not contradict the law, but on the other hand, he does not preserve it unchanged … He reveals the ultimate meaning of the law of God for those who righteousness must exceed that of the legal experts and Pharisees (5:20; cf. 22:34-40; 23:23-24). (p. 167)
Paul expresses the same idea when he writes that love is the fulfillment of the law (Rom. 13:8-10). He also says that the whole law is fulfilled in this one saying: “You are to love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal. 5:14). James singles out the love of neighbor as the “royal law” (Jas. 2:8). John writes that if we say that we love God but hate our brother, then we are liars; the love of God is not in us. Whoever loves God must love his brother (1 John 4:20-21).
Imagine the NT having only this one verse in it—only this one verse:
“I, the Father, love thee so much that verily my Son died on the cross for thee to atone for thy sins. Verily I raised him from the dead. He sitteth at my right hand. Receive him now by grace through faith. Receive the Holy Spirit. And now I verily want only a free-flowing relationship with thee. Verily, verily, thou canst forget and ignore all rules and moral law. That is all.”
With that one verse, multiplied millions of kingdom citizens would be confused in their relationship with God through Christ, in about one-half hour. They need guidelines or parameters between which they must remain. Moral law acts as guardrails between which we must drive our “spiritual cars.” When we scrape against the guardrails, we get out and look at the damage and say, “Well, that was dumb!” Then we get our cars fixed. We pay the price for it, too. The Golden Rule is just one rule among many other moral laws in the NT.
Further, it is naïve to think that we don’t need rules. We need them. But the church today is filled with confusing, contradictory, naïve teaching. The hyper-grace teachers are guilty of spreading this bad teaching. So, who can blame the churchgoer if he is confused? These teachers need to repent.
GrowApp for Matt. 5:17-20
A.. How should your righteousness surpass the righteousness of the teachers of the law (a.k.a. scribes) and Pharisees? How do you begin?
Teaching about Anger and Reconciliation (Matt. 5:21-26)
21 You have heard that it was said to the people of old: “You shall not murder.” [Exod. 20:13; Deut. 5:17] Whoever murders shall be liable to judgment. 22 But I tell you that everyone who get angry with his brother or sister will be liable to judgment. Whoever says to his brother or sister “Raca!” will be liable to the council. Whoever says, “Fool!” will be liable to fiery Gehenna.
23 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and while there you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go first to be reconciled with your brother or sister and then go and offer your gift. 25 Make friends with your opponent quickly, while you are on the road, so that your accuser not hand you over to the judge and he to his assistant and you be thrown in prison. 26 I tell you the truth: you will not get of out there until you repay the last penny.
Jesus has six antitheses. They are the intensification of some elements of the Torah (Osborne, p. 189).
First Antithesis: “You have heard it said … but I tell you.” See v. 20 for more comments.
This is the Sixth Commandment (Exod. 20:13; Deut. 5:18). Liable to judgment means the crime has to be investigated. It is not necessarily the case that he will be found guilty.
I tell you”: see v. 20 for more comments.
“gets angry” is a present-tense participle. It could be translated: “is (continually) angry with his brother or sister.”
Brother or sister is a friend in the kingdom community or a literal sibling. The Greek says “brother,” but the context here is generic. The term can include women.
“liable to judgment”: it does not mean he cannot repent, as vv. 24-25 teach us. In fact, Jesus is raising the standard so that we do repent. The King will not allow his kingdom citizens to keep anger at other members of the kingdom community.
“Fool”: the adjective is mōros (pronounced moh-ross, and our word moron is related to it). It appears in here in Matt. 5:22, where Jesus said not to call someone a fool, but he was speaking in the context of a thoughtless, mean-spirited remark. It appears in Matt. 7:26 about the foolish man who built his house on a sandy foundation. In Matt. 23:17, he called the Pharisees and teachers of the law “fools!” He was being thoughtful and had analyzed and sized them up accurately. And finally it appears in Matt. 25:2, 3, 8 (see also 1 Cor. 1:25, 27; 3:8; 4:10; 2 Tim. 2:23; Ti. 3:9). Matthew is the only Gospel writer who uses it. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, and it defines the term simply: “foolish, stupid.” It also adds that the foolish person is a godless, obstinate person (see Deut. 32:6; Is. 32:6). So be careful about calling a kingdom citizen a “fool!” because you may be overreaching by judging him excessively and inaccurately. Please take this verse in context, and don’t believe that you cannot see that people behave foolishly, because Proverbs, and many other passages, says everywhere that it is possible to spot a fool.
Further, the King will not allow his kingdom subjects to insult one another. One simply cannot shout in anger, “You idiot!” It is one thing to point out foolish behavior or even a fool; but it is another to do so in the context of hurling insults in anger.
Notice that Jesus did not say angrily insulting people shall be and must be and actually be thrown into Gehenna; rather, he said they are liable to the fires of Gehenna.
“Gehenna”: it is related to the Valley of Hinnom, which over the centuries was a garbage heap where things rotted and burned, even bodies. Evil acts were done there, like sacrificing children. It was outside Jerusalem. The name got tweaked into Gehenna, and in Jesus’s day it was an image or metaphor for punishment and a hellish place. At this dump, wicked kings of Israel / Judea worshipped Baal-Molech, including offering children in fiery sacrifices—they put children to the flames (2 Kings 16:3; 23:10; 2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6; Is. 66:24; Jer. 7:31-32; 19:4-6; 32:34-35). So it is apt to say that Gehenna is the place where people go who have done wicked deeds and are not saved, after final judgment.
See my post about the Bible basics on hell:
Now for even more systematic theology: punishment in the afterlife at judgment. There are three main theories.
First, eternal conscious torment, which says unredeemed people burn forever in the fires of hell, even Hitler and your kind and generous but unredeemed grandmother, bobbing up and down, next to each other. This is the traditional or standard view.
Second, terminalism or conditionalism, which says the eternality of the soul depends only on God or is conditional only on God. The soul is not automatically eternal by virtue of being a soul. People are punished in hell for a time suitable to their good or bad deeds, but then they pass out of existence or their soul is destroyed. The ending may not be a happy one, but this theory eliminates the eternal torment.
Third, universal reconciliation or restoration, which says that each unredeemed person is punished in hell for a duration suitable to their good or bad deeds; then they are brought into God’s presence and restored and reconciled to him.
Please see my three posts on the topic and the Scriptural support for each theory:
Whichever theory you choose, please don’t call the other two heretical or make this doctrine a test for orthodoxy. All three have Scriptural support. Personally, I believe that the topic of punishment in the afterlife is secondary or nonessential, so I like this saying:
“In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity (love).”
Give people space to choose one of these nonessential, Bible-supported theories.
Once again, the kingdom subject has the chance to repent, so his being thrown into Gehenna is not a done deal. King Jesus is simply teaching his kingdom subjects that they better make things right, or else their punishment will be severe. The severer the punishment, the more important the teaching.
One last word about punishment in the afterlife.
Charismatic theologian and Presbyterian pastor J. Rodman Williams (d. 2008) says fire and darkness are just metaphors, which cannot be taken literally, for separation from God and punishment:
These two terms, “darkness” and “fire,” that point to the final state of the lost might seem to be opposites, because darkness, even black darkness, suggests nothing like fire or the light of a blazing fire. Thus again we must guard against identifying the particular terms with literal reality, such as a place of black darkness or of blazing fire. Rather, darkness and fire are metaphors that express the profound truth, on the one hand, of terrible estrangement and isolation from God, and on the other, the pain and misery of unrelieved punishment. It is significant that Jesus in His portrayals of darkness and fire often adds the statement “There men will weep and gnash their teeth.” This weeping and gnashing … vividly suggests both suffering and despair. So whether the metaphor is darkness or fire, the picture is indeed a grim one, even beyond the ability of any figure of speech to express.
One further word: both darkness and fire refer to the basic situation of the lost after Last Judgment. However, we have already observed that there will be degrees of punishment; hence in some sense the darkness and fire will not be wholly the same. Some punishment will be more tolerable than other punishment: some people will receive a greater condemnation, while some (to change the figure) will be “beaten with few blows” [Luke 12:48]. Thus we should not understand the overall picture of the state of the lost to exclude differences in degree of punishment. Even as for the righteous in the world to come, there will be varying rewards, so for the unrighteous, the punishment will not be the same. (Renewal Theology, vol. 3, 470-71).
For the record, Williams did not believe in annihilationism (or terminalism or conditionalism) or universal reconciliation (or restorationism).
But if you want to take the imagery of fire and darkness literally, you certainly can. It’s up to you. Don’t turn it into a test for orthodoxy.
“Raca … fool”: these are thoughtless and destructive insults, like shouting at your child and calling him a dummy. Or you thoughtlessly and angrily say to an adult, “You’re an idiot!” In God’s kingdom you are not allowed to just throw around careless insults and certainly not in anger. (In my limited experience, losing one’s temper and shouting happens often in certain sectors of the globe, like the Mediterranean world and the Middle East.)
However, the rest of the Bible allows you and me to evaluate behavior and conclude that after a person behaves foolishly over and over again, then he can thoughtfully be called a fool. How many times does a person behave foolishly to earn the epithet fool? No, it is not once, but I cannot place a number on the behavior. You know a fool when you see repeated foolish behavior, however. You know it when you see it. In Jerusalem, during Passover, when things were coming to a head, and Jesus had predicted his death three times before then, he, using the same Greek word, called the Pharisees and teachers of the law “blind fools” (Matt. 23:17), but that was after a considered judgment of them because he had dealt with their opposition many times. His words were carefully, not carelessly, chosen. His words were accurate.
These are the most important verses in this pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea) or section or unit of Scripture (vv. 21-26), for it offers hope of reconciliation.
So now you are at the altar in the temple or a designated holy place, and then you suddenly remember that your kingdom co-citizen has something against you. Ouch. Leave your gift right in front of the alter, depart, and look for him. You may find him on the road. Be reconciled with him. Here’s a possible conversation, using popular first-century names. Simon remembers that he owes Jacob money. Jacob may not be in the kingdom, but let’s say that he is.
“Jacob! I owe you an apology and some money.”
“Yeah, you do. I was looking for you,” retorts Jacob
Simon says, “Come with me to my house. I got the money.”
They reach Simon’s house. Simon hands him the money and repeats the apology. Now everything is right again.
If Simon does not make things right, Jacob might hand Simon over to the judge, who will hand him over to the assistant who will throw Simon in prison. He would not get out until he repaid everything. Yet how can he repay everything while he is in prison? This prison imagery illustrates that unforgiveness and hatred among co-citizens is bad—awful. Simon will be in the prison of his soul. It is a blessing that Jesus can free Simon from his internal prison. In any case, this is sound kingdom advice.
The temple is eighty miles (128.7km) from Galilee, so Jesus is using another startling image—he does this often in Matthew’s Gospel, particularly in the Sermon on the Mount (France, p. 203).
Paul, receiving revelation from the Lord through inspiration, later said that brothers should not sue each other, but rather be willing to be defrauded or to settle the lawsuit among brothers—out of court; that is, they should lay the case before those who have standing in the church (1 Cor. 6:4-8). In other words, kingdom citizens take care of their own and settle matters within the kingdom.
Reconciliation is the key to this entire pericope or section.
“I tell you the truth”: see comments on v. 18.
The Greek for “penny” is a Latin loanword (“quadrans”), and it one of the smallest coins in the Roman world (Osborne, comment on 5:26).
GrowApp for Matt. 5:21-26
A.. Do you have a grudge or bitterness or anything against someone else? How can you use wisdom and the right timing and the right words to make things right?
B.. Do know someone who has something against you? How can you make things right, using wisdom?
Teaching about Adultery (Matt. 5:27-30)
27 You have heard that it has been said, “You shall not commit adultery.” 28 But I tell you that everyone looking at a woman with the purpose of lusting for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
29 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it from you, for it is better for you that one of your members be destroyed than your whole body be thrown into Gehenna. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it from you, for it is better for you that one of your members be destroyed than for your whole body to depart for Gehenna.
I have covered vv. 27-28 more thoroughly at this link:
Second Antithesis: “You have heard it said … but I tell you.” See v. 20 for more comments. As noted, the antitheses are the intensification of some elements of the Torah (Osborne, p. 189). Judaism prohibited self-mutilation (Deut. 14:1; 1 Kings 18:28; Zech. 13:6), so Jesus is teaching us a different lesson. It is to deal ruthlessly with sin (ibid.).
Followers of Jesus must learn to read the Bible on its own terms, without their wearing monochrome glasses, in which every word appears the same literal color in different contexts. Yes, most of it can be taken literally, like the histories or the commands of the Torah and Epistles. But in significant sections of Scripture, the Bible is not a “flat,” one-dimensional book, on one simplistic level. It is multi-layered. And vv. 29-30 is a case in point. These verses are not to be interpreted literally and simplistically.
Jesus is clearly referring to the Sixth Commandment (you shall not commit adultery) and the Tenth Commandment (you shall not covet or strongly desire your neighbor’s wife). The Septuagint (pronounced sep-TOO-ah-gent and abbreviated LXX) is the third to second century BC translation of the Bible from Hebrew to Greek. Let’s compare those two commandments with Matt. 5:27-28.
LXX Deut. 5:17:
οὐ μοιχεύσεις (“you shall not commit adultery”)
Οὐ μοιχεύσεις (“you shall not commit adultery”)
LXX Deut. 5:21:
οὐκ ἐπιθυμήσεις τὴν γυναῖκα τοῦ πλησίον σου (“you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife”)
πᾶς ὁ βλέπων γυναῖκα πρὸς τὸ ἐπιθυμῆσαι αὐτὴν (“everyone looking at a woman [or wife] to lust for her”)
No one has to be able read Greek to see the duplicate wording in the LXX and Matthew.
The verb “looking” is the very common word for “seeing” or “looking” in Greek, used 132 times. It is in the present tense. It is not a glance or admiration, because God built us with hormones to be attracted to the opposite sex. God commanded us to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28), and that happens in marriage. But in these two verses we have something else going on in the heart and mind of mankind (and womankind).
The wording “with the purpose of” correctly expresses the Greek phrase. There is a deep-seeded purpose involved, and it is to covet the woman.
Notice that Jesus did not say that the man has already committed adultery with her with his body. Yes, acting on sin and ruining families with adultery is much more impactful on humans than keeping adultery in the heart or mind. Yes, lust in the heart is a sin in God’s eyes, and Jesus says to stop it before it goes on continually. But private lust without acting on it harms no one else other than the guy who is continually lusting.
Therefore, in context a valid alternative translation of v. 28 can be the following:
“Everyone who continually looks at a woman with the purpose of coveting her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
That translation encompasses the sixth and tenth commandments.
The next translation is not quite as secure, but in context it is within the realm of possibilities:
“Everyone who continually looks at a wife with the purpose of coveting her has already committed adultery in his heart.”
The problem with the second translation is that it is likely that Jesus expanded the prohibition to include any woman, and not just a wife. Plus, it would be a bad idea for a man to believe he can look at and covet a single woman. But you can evaluate the last translation in your own right, and on the basis of all the information introduced above.
Once again, for a fuller explanation, go here:
For your edification:
“I tell you”: see v. 20 for more comments.
It is a sad fact that even modern pastors have misinterpreted these verses. I heard one say something like: “I wish Jesus hadn’t said this! I know someone who cut off his hand!” Both the preacher and the guy who mutilated himself were wrong. The guy should not have done it, and the pastor should have explained it better. Seriously wishing that Jesus didn’t say key words is a defective idea. It’s a signal that someone is misinterpreting the Scriptures.
The Bible deploys all sorts of literary techniques to get its points across, and one of them is hyperbole (pronounced hy-PER-bo-lee), which is “extravagant exaggeration” (Webster’s). The technique is designed to startle the listener with exaggerated imagery to compel him to act. In this case, the eye and hand do not literally cause someone to sin, and everyone in the first century knew this (note how Jesus said “in his heart” or his inner life and mind). Instead, Jesus intends his listeners to act brutally and swiftly against sin in the heart. Gouge out the right eye (and the right eye indicates the main source of the person), now! Cut off the right hand (most people are right handed, so it represents the man’s strength), now! Cut out and cut off the sin growing in your heart, now! Do it long before you turn your covetousness into action!
14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it is conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death (Jas. 1:14-15, ESV)
“causes to sin”: some translations say, “stumble.” The Greek language adds the suffix –izō to a noun and changes it into a verb. We do that too: modern – modernize. So the noun becomes skandalizō (pronounced scan-dah-lee-zoh). And it means, depending on the context, (1) “cause to be caught … to fall, i.e. cause to sin” a. … Passive: “be led into sin … fall away”; b. “be led into sin or repelled by someone, take offense at someone”; (2) give offense to, anger, shock.”
Jesus does not specify what a skandalon or skandalizō is in this context, but it must be turning children away from believing in him. What would do that? Hypocrisy (talking one way but living another)? Dysfunction and fighting in the household? Meanness?
“Gehenna”: see v. 22 for more comments.
Jesus repeats the hyperbole of cutting and gouging in Matt. 18:8-9:
The Bible is not a one-dimensional book. It must be read with care and precision and in context,
GrowApp for Matt. 5:27-30
A.. Read Gal. 5:16. Our normal desires are not supposed to turn into coveting and lusting. What is the best way to bring self-control to this problem? How have you asked the Spirit to flow through your life in order to purge out the coveting and come into balance?
Teaching about Divorce (Matt. 5:31-32)
31 It has been said, “Anyone who divorces his wife should give her a certificate of divorce.” [Deut. 24:1] 32 But I tell you that everyone divorcing his wife except for the cause of sexual sin makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Third Antithesis: “You have heard it said … but I tell you.” See v. 20 for more comments. As noted, the antitheses are the intensification of some elements of the Torah (Osborne, p. 189).
Jesus introduces the exception clause in divorce: except for the cause of sexual sin (porneia, pronounced pohr-nay-ah). Mark 10:11-12 and Luke 16:18 do not have this exception. Here, one reason for divorce is allowed.
In the church today, each couple or the single divorcee must get counsel from wise leaders in the church who can look at the unique set of circumstances.
Here is the marriage covenant, as Jesus teaches it in Matt. 19:3-6:
This illustration shows that God oversees the marriage covenant between a man and a woman. God ordains the covenant, as Jesus said, referring to the original couple in vv. 3-6. So marriage is not limited to two persons (man and woman) but between three persons (God, man, and woman). However, if a man divorces his wife for an unbiblical reason, this does not mean that he necessarily breaks his standing in the New Covenant, but he does break his covenant with his wife, a covenant that God set up. So divorce, even for a biblical reason, must be done with utmost caution and with the kingdom community’s guidance or pastoral guidance.
Bottom line: Marriage is a covenant not only between the man and the woman, but between God, the man and the woman. Involve God in your marriage. If you do not, then sin may enter and destroy the covenant, and civilly legal divorce may ensue.
Go to church, get counseling, and pray! Divorce—breaking the three-person covenant—is the last resort!
My fuller comments have moved to this post:
GrowApp for Matt. 5:31-32
A.. If you got a divorce or someone has divorced you, how has God forgiven you (if sin is involved)? How has he redeemed your life and given you a fresh start? What is your story?
Teaching about Oaths (Matt. 5:33-37)
33 Again, you have heard that it has been said to the people of old, “You shall not swear falsely. You shall give back to the Lord the oaths you have sworn” [Lev. 19:12; Deut. 23:22-23]. 34 But I tell you not to swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is the throne of God; 35 neither by the earth because it is the footstool for his feet; neither by Jerusalem because it is the city of the great King; 36 neither should you swear by your head because you are not able to make one hair white or black. 37 But let your word be “yes, yes, no, no.” Anything beyond them is from the evil one.
Fourth Antithesis: “You have heard it said … but I tell you.” See v. 20 for more comments. As noted, the antitheses are the intensification of some elements of the Torah (Osborne, p. 189).
Here are the background verses in the OT:
You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord. (Lev. 19:12, ESV)
22 But if you refrain from vowing, you will not be guilty of sin. 23 You shall be careful to do what has passed your lips, for you have voluntarily vowed to the Lord your God what you have promised with your mouth. (Deut. 23:22-23, ESV)
At the end of this pericope (section or unit), Jesus endorses Deut. 23:22: “But if you refrain from making a vow, you will not be guilty” Don’t make an oath or swear at all.
The Rabbis developed a hierarchy of solemnity and binding for oaths. For example, swearing by Jerusalem was not binding, but swearing toward Jerusalem was (Carson). The hierarchy got very complicated, needlessly so.
The list of objects in the oath go downward in importance: Heaven, earth, Jerusalem and even by one’s head. In the latter item I perceive a little irony. If you cannot make your hair black or white, then how can you swear by the items way outside your jurisdiction (heaven, earth, and Jerusalem)? First-century Jews swore oaths to make people believe their word. Jesus, on the other hand, sweeps all of this aside and tells people that there must be a match between the kingdom citizen’s word and his integrity.
On the other hand, God swears oaths (Gen. 9:9-11; Luke 1:68, 73; Ps. 16:10 and Acts 2:27-31). He does this to make people believe and increase their faith in his promise, not because he is dishonest (of course not!). He relates to humans on their own level.
“great King”: it probably refers to God; however, see Matt. 25:34, which says that King Jesus will preside over judgment. So early on, Jesus probably intended his audience to think of God, but as his ministry progressed, he will clarify, for those who have ears to hear, that he is the great King, for the Father is handing everything over to him.
Grammarian Olmstead indicates that the repetition of “yes, yes, no, no” simply means “clearly,” so he translates the clause: “Let your word be a clear ‘yes’ or a clear ‘no’” …. I can’t argue with him; I’m sure he’s right. But I like to keep things literal and allow the reader to decide.
The Torah allowed oaths, but as we saw in Deut. 23:22, it was better not to swear one at all. Jesus agrees.
Quakers to this day don’t swear oaths in a court of law, but instead they “affirm” that they will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. However, let your conscience be your guide in a law court because in 5:33-37 Jesus is simply talking about swearing to make yourself believable: “I swear by the temple that I will repay you in one month, sir!” Or “I swear by heaven that if God brings me safely home, I will sacrifice these animals and bring this food stuff to the temple!” In the kingdom of God that Jesus is ushering in, no one needs to make a deal with God. Just trust him to bring you home safely and pray during your trip. And thank him when he does.
Also, kingdom citizens don’t have to swear to make their words believable to another kingdom citizen; instead, they keep their word out of the integrity that the kingdom had already worked within them.
“from the evil one”: it could be translated “from evil.” Either one is perfectly valid.
This proverb is applicable:
When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. (Prov. 10:19, ESV)
Also Matt. 12:36-37 is sobering:
36 And I tell you that every careless word which people will speak, they will return an account for it on the day of judgment. 37 For by your words you will be vindicated, or by your words you will be condemned. (Matt. 12:36-37)
Too many words mean that sin is not absent, and Jesus will hold everyone accountable for unjust words, like lying or whacky comments on social media.
GrowApp for Matt. 5:33-37
A.. Do you keep your word? Do you fulfill your promises? If not, where do you start in changing your unstable character? How do you let God work honesty and integrity in you?
Teaching about Retaliation and the Surrendered Life (Matt. 5:38-42)
38 You have heard that it has been said, “Eye for eye” and “tooth for tooth.” [Exod. 21:24; Lev. 24:19-20; Deut. 19:21] 39 But I tell you not to resist evil; instead, whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And to the one wanting to draw you into court and take your shirt, give up your cloak to him also. 41 And whoever compels you into service one mile, go with him two. 42 To the one asking, give; and don’t turn away from the one wanting to borrow from you.
Fifth Antithesis: “You have heard it said … but I tell you.” See v. 20 for more comments. As noted, the antitheses are the intensification of some elements of the Torah (Osborne, p. 189).
Here are two background verses from the OT:
19 If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him. (Lev. 24:19-20, ESV; cf. Exod. 21:24; Deut. 19:21)
The goal in these verses is to implement justice in the law courts, not to settle the score in private vendettas. The principle is like-for-like recompense or equality of outcome. After all, how can anyone implement “fracture for fracture” literally and physically and accurately? It cannot be done. The verses are not to be taken literally; they are merely hypothetical and illustrate a principle. Therefore, the entire context of this pericope or section (vv. 38-42) are hypothetical scenarios designed to prove one principle: the surrendered life. Do you own your life, or does God own it? Do your possession possess you, or does God own your possessions?
Jesus practiced what he preached, when he was (falsely) convicted of blasphemy, and those around him slapped him—in the context of a trial (Matt. 26:68). This courtroom context is probably what Jesus has in mind in this verse, as well.
“A backhanded blow to the right cheek did not imply shatter teeth (“tooth for tooth” was a separate statement); it was an insult, the severest public affront to a person’s dignity (Job 16:10; Lam. 3:30 …). … Yet though this was more an affront to honor, a challenge, than a physical injury, ancient Near East societies typically provided legal recourse for this offense within the lex talionis regulations” (Keener, pp. 197-98)
This kind of evil comes from someone who drags you into court and unevenly attempts to take from you what belongs to you; the setting is a lawsuit. What do you do? Allow the case to go on and on, or give him what he wants? How tightly do you hold on to your possessions and rights?
Further, what do you do when he ritually slaps you on the right cheek. If the unjust man is right-handed, then he used his backhand, indicating the ritual humiliation. Why not turn to him the other? This society was based on honor and shame. God honors the kingdom citizen; the citizen does not get his honor from humans. Does the kingdom citizen trust God enough that when people shame him, he believes God will reward him? What does the kingdom citizen care about any of it? He should just move on with his life, after the evil episode is over.
What happens when Paul has to confront believers suing each other? He writes:
4 So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? 5 I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, 6 but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? 7 To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? 8 But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers! (1 Cor. 6:5-8, ESV)
This passage is very similar to what Jesus says here. Why not just defer to one another? Why keep such a tight grip on your possessions that you drag a Christian brother—a kingdom citizen—into a pagan Corinthian court? In v. 5, Paul recommends that the two brothers at legal odds with each other find a wise man in the church to settle the case. (This is the source of Christian arbitration in America.) I really believe that Paul caught on to what Jesus is saying here in Matt. 5:38-42. I really believe the risen Jesus was directing Paul to counsel the church to go in this direction.
Should the government turn the other cheek? The short answer: no. For more information, see my post:
In his comments on 5:38-39a, Turner writes: “Jesus’s teaching transcends a biblical regulation that arose as a concession to the hardness of the human heart. Yet Jesus’s transcendent teaching is not totally unanticipated in the Hebrew Scriptures [Old Testament] (cf. Lev. 19:18; Deut. 32:35; Prov. 20:22; 24:29; 25:21-22; Isa. 50:6; Lam. 3:30)”
Blomberg adds this caution in interpreting “turn the other cheek”:
Striking a person on the right cheek suggests a backhanded slap from a typically right-handed aggressor and was a characteristic Jewish form of insult. Jesus tells us not to trade such insults even if it means receiving more. In no sense does v. 39 require Christians to subject themselves or others to physical danger or abuse, nor does it bear directly on the pacifism-just war debate. Verse 40 is clearly limited to a legal context. (comment on 5:48-42)
Kingdom citizens are to keep such a loose grip on their lives that they are willing to hand over or “release” (as the Greek says) their paltry possessions to stop the madness. Again, Jesus is deploying the rhetorical strategy of hyperbole, which is “extravagant exaggeration” (Webster’s). If the inner garment and the outer garment were taken, then the man would be naked, and nudity was bad in Jewish society. This hypothetical scenario simply illustrates the surrendered life and the kingdom citizen’s trust in God to honor him and provide.
I know of a woman, an apartment manager, born in Mexico and had married young, whose ex-husband used to telephone her incessantly, because he wanted her to sign a release form, so that she would let him off the hook from paying child support. She had such a loose grip on her demand that he pay it, she signed the form. No more harassment from him. Relief. Why did she do this? God had prospered her, so she could support their children on her own. Why should she demand something he did not want to give to her, though he owed it justly? Why let the process go on and on? God supplied her with not only with an inner garment, but with an outer one too (so to speak)!
This is the spirit of the context of this verse and the next two. Be willing to give up your old life and your old possessions, and watch where God leads you and supplies a new and better life for you in his kingdom. As noted, also, Jesus is deploying the strategy of hyperbole, to shock the kingdom citizen into action. The kingdom subject must be ready to do what God tells him.
“This passage is a graphic image, but if pressed literally, it implies that disciples should never take anyone to court. This may be hyperbole, but again it challenges disciples to value the kingdom above anything the world can take from them” (Keener, p. 199).
Roman law says that a soldier could compel someone to carry his supplies or to do labor, as a porter. Doing this for a friend is remarkable, but doing so for an enemy is unheard of. We have to be willing to renounce our rights when called upon. This verse is about a Roman soldier compelling you to carry his belongings. A Roman mile is 4854 feet or 1.47 kilometers. Your life is so surrendered to God that you are willing to go with him two Roman miles. The context is the kingdom. As a free citizen of a country, I can have basic rights, but if necessary and for the advancement of the kingdom, I may have to give up a right if the Spirit leads.
This verse repeats the same principle of living a surrendered life by additional specific examples that may or may not happen actually and literally. If someone asks from you, go for it and give. Does someone want to borrow from you? Don’t turn away from him. Live the surrendered life. This principle is not designed to support sin and to endorse manipulation. Remember the rhetorical strategy of hyperbole. Therefore, if a homeless guy who is obviously addicted to drugs or alcohol demands ten dollars from you, you may or may not decide to give it. The Spirit also has to be involved. Let him lead you.
The apostles are about to live the surrendered life.
Freely you have received, freely give. 9 Don’t acquire gold nor silver nor copper for your money belts, 10 nor a backpack for the journey, nor two cloaks nor sandals nor a staff. For the worker is worthy of his nourishment. 11 Into whichever town or village you enter, inquire who is worthy there. Remain there until you leave. 12 As you enter one house, greet it. 13 And if the house is worthy, may your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, may your peace return to you. (Matt. 10:8-13)
They were allowed to stay in people’s homes and receive food and shelter, though they traveled around and lived on faith. So they had to get food and shelter from somewhere.
Once again, Jesus illustrates ways in which kingdom citizens must keep a loose grip on their possessions. Be sure that your possessions don’t possess you.
In other words, just as the “eye for eye” and “tooth for tooth” are hypothetical court case illustrations to indicate equality of compensation, so too these individual examples of the surrendered life that Jesus teaches are also possible and hypothetical cases to illustrate the surrendered life. If you want to take them literally, you can, but if you want to view them as mere illustrations of the surrendered life, you can interpret them in that way too.
Finally, let’s apply, one more time, vv. 38-42 to the early churches, as Christianity spread around the provinces. Paul writes of contentment with the little things in life and the denial of the love of money, which is the root of all evil:
8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Tim 6:8-10, ESV)
Food and clothing are all we need for life. Of course, Paul is boiling things down for the purpose of illustration. We also need shelter and loving fellowship and (church) family. Even traveling around as missionaries, Paul and his team needed shelter at least once in a while. However, desiring to be rich to the point of loving money is bad.
Nonetheless, note what Paul writes about the rich who had converted to Christ:
17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (1 Tim. 6:17-19, ESV)
Paul does not order them to sell everything, but he has the same spirit towards possessions that Jesus has in this pericope. All the rich or middle class are to keep a loose grip on their possessions and not be arrogant about money.
The Torah and Jesus offer hypothetical cases. The Torah’s principle is equity or punishment that fits the crime. Jesus principle is a surrendered life. Be willing just to let go of the hassles that come up; avoid needless complications. Trust God to make up any injustice that you suffer. Let him work out the principle of equity. He’s the great equalizer.
Turner on 5:39b-42: “But these five examples should not be taken in a pedantic fashion that would limit their intended application. One may never need to literally turn the other cheek, give up one’s coat, or go the extra mile, but one must be willing to selflessly suffer personal loss with faith that the loving heavenly Father will meet one’s needs and deal with the injustice and deal with the injustice in his own’s time. … Paul was evidently familiar with this tradition (Rom. 12:14-21, quoting Deut. 32:35; Prov. 25:21-22; 1 Cor. 6:7-8; 1 Thess. 5:15).”
GrowApp for Matt. 5:38-42
A.. In this passage, Jesus is teaching the general principle of the surrendered life with hypothetical scenarios that may or may not actually come true. His point: Do possessions have you, or does God have your possessions? Do you own your life, or does God own it? How do you express the surrendered life in your walk with God today?
Love for Enemies (Matt. 5:43-48)
43 You have heard that it has been said, “You shall love your neighbor” [Lev. 19:18] and hate your enemy. 44 But I say to you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. 45 In this way you will be children of your Father who is in heaven because he causes his sun to rise on the bad and the good and sends rain to fall on the righteous and unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same thing? 47 And if you greet your brothers and sisters only, what have you done to surpass this? Don’t even the pagans do the same thing? 48 Therefore, you shall be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Sixth and Final Antithesis: “You have heard … but I say to you.” And it is very important one, for it is about love. As noted, the antitheses are the intensification of some elements of the Torah (Osborne, p. 189). Osborne also points out that the Qumran community, out in the desert, taught hatred for the “sons of darkness” (comment on 5:43 and 1QS 1:4; 2:4-9; 9:16, 21-23; 1 QM 15:6), which means anyone who did not agree with them or lived as holy as they did was to be hated. Jesus says no.
The first half come from Lev. 19:17-18:
17 “‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt. 18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. (Lev. 19:17-18, NIV)
Those two wonderful verses teach us to reason things out with a kingdom citizen (or anyone else) and then to let things go; don’t hold a permanent grudge against your neighbor. Jesus seizes on the last main clause. Love your neighbor as yourself.
Here are verses that teach Israelites to do right by one’s personal enemies:
4 “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it. 5 If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it. (Exod. 23:4-5, NIV)
So do good to your neighbor in such simple things as helping his livestock or his business.
However, other texts teach that devotion to God may involve hatred of those who opposed commitment to God.
19 Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
O men of blood, depart from me!
20 They speak against you with malicious intent;
your enemies take your name in vain.[b]
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with complete hatred;
I count them my enemies. (Ps. 139:19-22, ESV)
Further, piety in the contemporary Qumran community required community members to take an oath to “hate the children of darkness” (Keener, p. 202).
The second half of Jesus’s summary of morality also came from popular culture or even more intellectual culture. Commentators point out that Galilean villages had hatred for each other; apparently the rivalry was intense. More intellectual moral philosophers in the Roman empire said hatred for enemies was appropriate, though many said it was not (Keener p. 203, note 125). Surely the more intellectual Romans living in Galilee heard of teaching from Plato’s Republic that hating one’s enemies and taking revenge on them without getting caught is justice (so says a deficient moralist in the dialogue). For intellectual Romans, knowing Plato’s writings was a must. Yes, Jesus’s ethics comes from the Torah and Jewish life generally, though he improved on and rehabilitated them, but what if he, as a young man working as a craftsman, overheard Romans discussing moral philosophy, since many Romans lived in Galilee? It is a sure thing that he did.
Here comes the final antithesis. “But I say to you” that kingdom citizens should love even their enemies. Jesus is changing the rules of our relationship with other people and, hence, our relationship with God. This is not a “fortune-cookie” statement. There is nothing more adult than his game-changing statement. Only the kingdom entering the heart of its subjects can enable its citizens to love one’s enemies. God has to empower his subjects to succeed in doing this.
Praying for those who persecute kingdom citizens also requires God’s empowerment. Note that we don’t have to pray for them to get three cars and a second house. But we can pray for their souls, so that they can get saved or see the injustice of persecuting those with whom they disagree.
Let’s look at love more closely.
It is the verb agapaō (pronounced ah-gah-pah-oh). BDAG says that the verb means, depending on the context: (1) “to have a warm regard for and interest in another, cherish, have affection for, love”; (2) “to have high esteem for or satisfaction with something, take pleasure in; (3) “to practice / express love, prove one’s love.” In most instances this kind love in Scripture is not gooey feelings, though it can be a heart-felt virtue and emotion, as we see in the first definition. Rather, mostly love is expressed by action. If you have no gooey feelings for your enemy, do something practical for him.
Both the noun agapē (pronounced ah-gah-pay) and the verb mean a total commitment. For example, God is totally committed to his church and to the salvation of humankind. Surprisingly, however, total commitment can be seen in an unusual verse. Men loved darkness rather than light (John 3:19), which just means they are totally committed to the dark path of life. Are we willing to be totally committed to God and to live in his light? Can we match an unbeliever’s commitment to bad things with our commitment to good things?
Agapē and agapaō are demonstrative. This love is not static or still. It moves and acts. We receive it, and then we show it with kind acts and good deeds. It is not an abstraction or a concept. It is real.
It is transferrable from God to us. God can pour and lavish it on us. And now we can transfer it to our fellow believers and people caught in the world.
Please see my word study on the different loves in the NT:
Jewish sages believed rain was a sign of God’s generosity (Keener, p. 204). God shows mercy on everyone by causing the sun to rise and the rain to fall on everyone, whether good or bad.
Theologically, some interpreters read those verses ultra-literally and claim that God literally makes the sun come up (or makes the earth turn on its axis) and makes the rain fall, while other see this as just a Hebraism for God allowing it. One thing is for certain, however. God commanded the universe to come into existence by one decree and one command (Ps. 148:5-6). At that moment he allowed the universe or more specifically, our solar system, to work by natural laws that he sustains by the word of his power (Heb. 1:3). But directly causing natural phenomena is another matter, which people like me do not interpret ultra-literally.
If God is generous enough to allow his sun (I noticed for the first time it is his sun!) and rain to fall on everyone, even the bad and unrighteous, then we should follow his moral example and be generous towards the bad and the unrighteous. His generosity of character adds up to generous actions (the sun shining and the rain falling), which are acts of love. We should also do acts of love towards the unlovable, as we saw in Exod. 23:4-5.
“children”: it literally reads “sons,” but the Greek here is generic. The bigger picture: We have to bring forth actions worthy of repentance and thus proving that we are children of God (Matt. 3:8; Acts 26:20). Then our actions demonstrate that we really are sons and daughters of our heavenly Father, and not just counterfeits or fakes.
“God does not curse the wicked with all bad things and bless the good with all good things. Even those who reject God are made in his image and loved by him, so his people must reflect his goodness toward their persecutors” (Osborne, on 5:45).
Jesus just finished holding God up as the moral example, and now he is turning towards the other end of the moral spectrum. Tax collectors were considered awful and evil, for they took advantage of people and charged too much, so they could skim money off the top.
You can learn more about tax collectors here:
Pagans are the Gentiles, and they worshipped idols. Even they greet those closest to them. Aren’t kingdom citizens supposed to go beyond their natural actions? Yes, they are.
Wow. Now Jesus raises the stakes. He is pointing to God behind the law. Law keeping is not the best approach to kingdom living. Following the law is legalism. Instead, kingdom living flows out of the character of God, and he is blameless and perfect. The verb is in the future tense, but it has a command built into it. However, let’s focus on the futureness of it. It is something that shall happen; it’s a goal to strive for. We have not achieved it yet, and we won’t until we receive our new bodies at the Second Coming.
Recall that the Septuagint (pronounced sep-too-ah-gent), also abbreviated LXX for the seventy scholars who worked on it, is the 3rd to 1st century translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. Deut. 18:13 says: “You must be blameless before the Lord your God” (NIV). The word blameless is translated by the LXX as the same word here in v. 48 for perfect (teleios, pronounced teh-lay-oss), and its basic meaning is “whole” or “complete.” So in other words, as God’s character is whole and complete and blameless, so should we be whole and complete and blameless. Again, only God’s empowerment through the kingdom and our entry into it can aid us to achieve this. As noted, we have not arrived, but we are heading in that direction.
Let’s offer more clarity on the word teleios. Keener (p. 205) mentions that the Aramaic word (Jesus spoke Aramaic) for perfect and merciful is the same, covering both meanings. (Unfortunately, Keener does not give the Aramaic word.) So Luke has merciful in the Sermon on the Plain (6:36). The meaning of perfect or blameless includes merciful.
In any case, Keener writes: “For Matthew, one can appeal to no law to prove that one is now righteousness enough—that would be legalism. Instead, one must desire God’s will so much that one seeks to please him in every area of one’s life—that is, holiness. Matthew wants disciples to follow God’s law, but teachers that God’s law was never about mere rules; instead God desires complete righteousness of the heart, total devotion to God’s purposes in this world” (p. 205).
Osborne: The key is “as your heavenly Father,” meaning that kingdom children are to emulate their Father in all they say and do. His perfection is the goal of our thoughts and action, for our relationships inside and outside the community. There is also a strong action sense, for the parallel in Luke 6:36 has ‘Mercy’ … and shows that relationships with others is an essential aspect. We are to become like the Father, follow all that Jesus has said, and relate to all around us (believer and unbeliever) with mercy and love” (comment on 5:48).
GrowApp for Matt. 5:43-48
A.. This section of Scripture is about love in action. How have you demonstrated love towards even your enemies? Have you buried the hatchet? Have you prayed for them?
Summary and Conclusion
Jesus goes from one teaching to the next, but they are beautiful and challenging. He presents his six antitheses: “You have heard it said … but I say to you.” What I learned through them is that Jesus is actually Torah centered. But he does look behind the law and go to God’s character. Further, Jesus is teaching us that he now has more authority than the OT does. He will eventually say in the last words of the Gospel of Matthew:
18 Jesus came up to them and spoke to them, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore, as you go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything that I commanded you. And remember this: I am with you every day, until the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20)
Jesus repeatedly matched the God who gave the Torah with his own divine laws. So these six antitheses is another hint that Jesus was divine on the same level that his Father is divine.
First, in the Beatitudes we see that the kingdom of heaven reverses issues and statuses. If people are poor in spirit or are mourning or are meek, then they will have great rewards. They can be rich in spirit because the kingdom has penetrated their lives; they can be comforted for the same reason—the kingdom has come. And although they are meek right now, they will inherit the earth, partly right now but fully at the complete manifestation of the kingdom when he returns.
Second, kingdom citizens are supposed to go out into the world and be salt (which preserves, seasons, slows the growth of leaven, and produces thirst), and light (which is our good works). Our good works is not supposed to be done to show off (see Matt. 6:1-4), but we are simply to do them and let the light shine.
Third, Jesus comes to fulfill or abolish the law, not impose on us the old Sinai Covenant. In the succeeding verses, he’ll teach us to go behind the law and look at God’s heart and character. Fulfillment is still an ongoing process, and everything will be fulfilled at this Second Coming.
Fourth, murder is of course wrong, but anger and insults mean that we are not following God’s character. We have to allow the kingdom of heaven to purge our hearts.
Fifth, lust or covetousness runs aground on the sixth (don’t commit adultery) and tenth commandments (don’t covet your neighbor’s wife). Attraction between two singles—a man and a woman—is natural and God-given. But coveting and lusting for someone you cannot have or even someone you can have goes overboard.
Sixth, divorce is allowed for one reason only: sexual misconduct, and even in that case divorce is a last resort. We are not supposed to look for an easy out or escape from our marriage. Reconciliation is the goal. However, if it is not attainable, then divorce is possible for the limited right reason.
Seventh, oaths are not to be done frivolously. “I swear on my mother’s grave I’ll pay you back!” Kingdom citizens are supposed to let their yes be a clear yes and their no be a clear no. They are supposed to have a match between their honest character and their word.
Eighth, retaliation is not allowed for kingdom citizens. Jesus comes up with possible and hypothetical scenarios that may or may not literally and actually come true. He uses hyperbole to startle his followers. For example, they should turn the other cheek when someone ritually slaps them in a legal setting. The main point behind these hypotheticals is that kingdom citizens live a surrendered life. Everything they own belongs to God.
Ninth and finally, kingdom citizens are called to love their enemies, by doing good for them. Exod. 23:24-25 says that when your enemy’s livestock falls or is lost, you should give it to him, if you find it.
Kingdom citizens are supposed to pray for their persecutors. At least the kingdom subjects can pray for their salvation, which is the greatest blessing of all.
I agree with Blomberg on the application of the Sermon:
We can expect the Spirit to empower us to make substantial strides in obedience, even as we recognize that our sinfulness will prevent us from ever coming close to attaining God’s standards. The metaphors of salt and light in 5:13–16, moreover, suggest that Jesus is first of all addressing the community of his followers, rather than the individual or the state, so that the church should comprise the primary arena of their application. The sermon thus forms the manifesto by which the new community Jesus is forming should live. But the church must try to permeate society with these ideals, albeit in a persuasive rather than coercive fashion. (comment in Introduction to Sermon)
I refer to a community of Bible scholars. Their commentaries are excellent. They humble me. But they can be technical. I trust that I have clarified matters. I also write from a Renewal perspective.
Blomberg, Craig L. Matthew. The New American Commentary. Vol. 22 (Broadman, 1992).
Carson, D. A. Matthew: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. Ed. by Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland. Vol. 9. (Zondervan, 2010).
France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew: New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Eerdmans 2007).
Garland, David E. Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Smyth and Helways, 2001).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 2014).
Keener, Craig. A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. (Eerdmans 1999).
Olmstead, Wesley G. Matthew 1-14: A Handbook on the Greek Text. (Baylor UP, 2019).
Osborne, Grant R. Matthew: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. (Zondervan, 2010).
Turner, David L. Matthew: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker Academic, 2008).