Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 12 October 2010; Revised 6 April 2017
Scripture Text: Unless otherwise indicated Scripture quotations are taken from the NASB Updated Edition (1995). Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ). I use the title "The Book of Matthew" because that is how Matthew introduces his story (Matt 1:1). Please see the article Witnesses of the Good News for background information on Matthew and his book.
Methodology: For an explanation of abbreviations, acronyms, terminology, spelling conventions, and other information on organization of the commentary see my Commentary Writing Philosophy.
Primary Sources: Bibliographic data for works cited may be found at the end of the chapter commentary. Unless otherwise indicated the following primary sources are used:
• The Septuagint (LXX) is the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, which was in use by Jews by the mid–2nd century BC. The LXX with English translation may be found here.
• Citations for Josephus, the first century Jewish historian (Yosef ben Matityahu), are from The Works of Flavius Josephus (c. 75–99 A.D.) trans. William Whiston (1737). Online.
• The meaning of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek–English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009). See the Greek Guide for the meaning of grammar abbreviations. Definitions of Hebrew words are from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), given as "BDB." The numbering system of the Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible is identified with "SH" (Strong's Hebrew number) and "SG" (Strong's Greek number). Strong's Online.
• Dates are from Risto Santala, The Messiah in the New Testament in the Light of Rabbinical Writings (1992). Online.
Kingdom Blessings, 5:1-12
Instruction on Discipleship, 5:13-16
Instruction on the Torah, 5:17-20
Instruction on Conflict Resolution, 5:21-26
Instruction on Marriage, 5:27-32
Instruction on Vows, 5:33-37
Instruction on Revenge, 5:38-42
Instruction on Love, 5:43-48
Summer, A.D. 28
Kingdom Blessings, 5:1-12
1― And when He saw the multitudes, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him.
And: Grk. kai, conj. that marks a connection or addition. Kai has three basic uses: (1) continuative – and, also, even; (2) adversative – and yet, but, however; or (3) intensive – certainly, indeed, in fact, really, verily, yea (DM 250f). The first use applies here. Kai is used in the LXX to translate the vav (ו) character added to words for conjunctive effect. There are over 50 conjunctions in biblical Greek, but kai is by far the most common in the Besekh, occurring over 9,000 times (BibleHub). The excessive use of conjunctions, including beginning verses as here, is evidence of either an original Hebrew text or Jewish Greek.
when He: Many versions insert the name of Yeshua at the beginning of the verse without textual support. His name does not appear in the Sermon on the Mount, except at 7:28. The last mention of Yeshua was in 4:17, which introduces the beginning of Yeshua's itinerant ministry. saw: Grk. horaō, aor. pass. part., to see. The participial verb actually begins the verse in the Greek text following the pattern set by Matthew's narrative at 4:18 "and walking," 4:21 "and going on," 4:23 "and going about" … "teaching" … "and proclaiming" … "and healing," then 5:1 begins with "and seeing."
Since some versions do insert the name "Yeshua" then the reader should understand the background of the name. Grk. Iēsous, perhaps "yay-soos," is an attempt to replicate the pronunciation of Yeshua, the name of our Lord in Hebrew, the language he spoke. Iēsous does not translate the meaning of Yeshua. The Greek word ends with a sigma ("s") because an ending with alpha ("a") would make the name feminine. The Vulgate (4th cent. CE) translated the Greek name with the Latin Iesus and this spelling was used in the 1611 KJV. However, in the 15th century the letter "J" was added to the Latin alphabet and eventually this letter replaced the "I" used for names of people and places in the KJV revision of 1769. Thus, "Yeshua" came into common usage by Christians. Unfortunately, for many Christians the name "Yeshua" does not evoke the reality of his Jewish identity.
Yeshua is a contraction of the Hebrew name Y’hoshua, which means "YHVH is salvation" (BDB 221). Yeshua has the same Hebrew root as yoshia ("He will save") and is also the masculine form of the Hebrew word yeshu‘ah, ("salvation") (Stern 4). Both Yeshua ("Jeshua") and Y’hoshua ("Joshua") are common names and rendered in the LXX as Iēsous. The name of Yeshua was given to six men in the Tanakh (1Chr 24:11; 2Chr 31:15; Ezra 2:6, 40; 3:2; Neh 3:19; 7:11; 8:17). In his thirty-some years on earth people called him Yeshua. Gentile believers must never forget that Yeshua was born to a Jewish mother, raised in a Jewish home in a Jewish community situated among the Jewish people in the land God gave to Abraham and his Jewish posterity. By virtue of His incarnation and Jewish mother, Yeshua must still be a Jew.
the multitudes: pl. of Grk. ochlos translates the Heb. word ochlosim and means "the people of a locality or an area" (Biven, Forward). In this case "multitude" is not so much defining the size of the crowd as identifying the people as those present before Yeshua.
He went up on the mountain: Grk. oros means "mountain," "hill," or "hill-country." In Greek literature oros identified places that varied widely in topographical features and elevation. The corresponding Heb. word, har, is given in Scripture to a comparatively large ridge, a collection of small hills and to many hogbacks as Mount Olivet. Modern science distinguishes hills from mountains by classifying a hill as being less than 1,000 feet above its surroundings, but the distinction may depend upon local interpretation (Structured Geological Glossary, Amateur Geologist: 2003).
Modern English translations of the Bible no doubt reflect the arbitrary standard of modern science, rather than recognizing that a single Hebrew and Greek word was used to refer to any natural topographical feature that rose above a valley, plain or other surroundings regardless of height. The same Greek word is translated "Mount" in the Mount of Olives (Matt 21:1), which is 2,676 feet above sea level, but only about 175 feet higher than Jerusalem (NIBD 554, 731), and Mount Sinai (Acts 7:30), which is well over 6,700 feet above sea level (NIBD 995). Mount Tabor (traditionally the mountain of the transfiguration, Matt 17:1) is only 1800 feet above sea level. The actual site of the Sermon on the Mountain cannot be determined.
and after He sat down: It was customary for a Jewish teacher to instruct while sitting. His disciples: pl. of Grk. mathētēs, one who learns through instruction from a teacher. In the apostolic writings mathētēs corresponds to the Heb. talmid, a student of a rabbi. Like other rabbis of his time, Yeshua gathered talmidim, but his recruitment was not merely to attend a school. In first century Jewish culture becoming a disciple would radically change a man's life. First, to be a disciple required sacrifice. A disciple had to leave close family, relatives and friends to be with his rabbi. Traveling the country often mean leaving behind security and living under austere conditions (Luke 9:57-58). This was not a life of luxury. Peter alluded to this sacrifice when he spoke of leaving everything to follow Yeshua (Matt 19:27). The rich young ruler was not willing to pay this price to be a disciple (Matt 19:21-22).
A particular hardship of a married disciple was being away from his wife. Disciples commonly were single, but since marriage took place at a relatively early age (usually by eighteen according to Avot 5:21 in the Mishnah) many disciples had a wife and children. For example, the mother-in-law of one of Yeshua’s disciples is mentioned in Luke 4:38. If married, a man needed the permission of his wife to leave home for longer than thirty days to study with a sage (Ketubot 5:6).
Second, becoming a disciple required commitment. In Jewish culture studying Torah was as important as it is to honor one’s parents, leaving home to study Torah with a rabbi was even more important. The rabbi became like a father to the disciple. In fact, the rabbi was to be honored above the disciple’s own father. The Mishnah indicates that when one is searching for the lost property both of his father and of his teacher, his teacher’s loss takes precedence over that of his father since his father brought him only into the life of this world, whereas his teacher, who taught him wisdom [i.e., Torah], has brought him into the life of the world to come (Baba Metzia 2:13).
A prospective disciple had to consider his priorities. Following the rabbi must come before all other obligations (Luke 9:57-62). Loyalty to the rabbi must be more important than possessions or family affection (Luke 14:26-33). Yeshua spoke of "hating" one’s family, but this word does not carry the meaning it normally has in English usage. In Hebrew "hate" not only means to have hostility toward, but was an idiomatic expression meaning to love less or "put in second place."
Third, being a disciple required obedience (Matt 28:19). The rabbi’s will became the disciple’s will. The rabbi directed, the disciple obeyed. The only authority greater in the disciple’s life would be God. The disciples of Yeshua demonstrated this response. Even though they frustrated him at times, they always obeyed him when given specific directions.
came to Him: "came" is Grk. proserchomai, aor., to approach from a point to a person or place. The verb may indicate that the disciples had been lagging behind in their walk and after Yeshua sat down, the disciples gathered in front of him. Yeshua was their rabbi and whenever he taught the disciples were always close by.
2― And opening His mouth He began to teach them, saying,
And opening his mouth: A Hebrew idiom for opening his heart and fully sharing his mind, and in the case of a rabbi to speak with authority. In the case of Yeshua it no doubt hearkens back to what Yeshua told Satan in the desert, "It is written, 'Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.'" (Matt 4:4)
He began to teach them: The Sermon on the Mount mirrors the giving of the covenant at Mount Sinai. There, God gave ten words to his people as the foundation for Torah (Deut 4:13). Here, Yeshua gives ten words to lay the foundation for the New Covenant ethic. The beatitudes contain precious promises, but it's very likely they contain eschatological overtones and their complete fulfillment await the age to come, the Messianic age in which Yeshua reigns on the earth. In the Qumran document "The Blessing of the Wise" (4Q525) there are striking similarities between the beatitude form of Sirach 14:2—15:1 and the beatitudes of Yeshua in verses 3-10 below. In this document the author follows the form of and contrasts the nature and behavior of the righteous with those of the wicked; the recommended course of behavior becomes obvious (TDSS 533).
3― Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed: Grk. makarios, enjoying special advantage, blessed, privileged, fortunate or happy. The Grk. word translates Heb. esher, which means happiness, joyfulness, blessedness and fortunate all at the same time (BDB 81). Esher comes from the root word ashar, which means to go (straight), or to walk. Some translations use the word "happy" but this is inadequate because the root of the English word "happy" is "hap" which means chance. For most people without God happiness comes as a result of good luck. However, the Hebrew viewpoint is that a "blessing" is a purposeful endowment (cf. Gen 1:28), ordinarily transmitted from the greater to the lesser. Blessedness can never be self-imposed nor come by accident. The only source of blessing is from God. Just as David begins the Psalter with a blessing for the man who delights in Torah, so Yeshua begins his teaching on Torah with blessings.
are: There is no verb in the Greek text at the beginning of the first eight blessings, but in Hebrew it is assumed. The expressed "blessed are" appears sixty-eight times in the LXX, usually for the Hebrew people (Gale 10). Similar blessings appear in other Jewish literature (Sirach 14:1-2; 4Q525 2.2.1-6). "Blessed are" might give the impression that Yeshua is describing an end state, the benefit often occurring after death. However, it is just as likely that Yeshua as God in flesh is conveying a blessing in the customary Hebrew fashion that is enjoyed in the present though not yet fully realized. When God speaks it is done.
the poor in spirit: The word "poor" refers to abject poverty, without any resources, but in combination with "spirit" becomes an idiomatic expression describing a person's character. The idiom might suggest one who has no righteousness to claim or is spiritually bankrupt, or the idiom might mean one who is humble. The poor in spirit does not try to impress God with claims of goodness or good deeds. This person has a sense of unworthiness as John the Immerser, "not worthy to untie his sandals" (Matt 3:11).
for theirs: should be translated "of these" or "such as these." "Theirs" sounds as if the kingdom is being possessed. Yeshua is talking about those that make up the Kingdom. is: Grk. eimi, pres. to be. Unlike the future tense verbs that dominate the next four beatitudes, this promise points to a present reality. However, in Greek the present tense can indicate an anticipated future event or an action purposed. Thus, the present tense reflects not only the reality of the present age, but the promise of the age to come.
kingdom: Grk. basileia, means kingship, royal power, or territory ruled over by a king. The doctrine of the kingdom in the teaching of Yeshua and the apostles relates to the expectation and fulfillment of promises made to Israel. of heaven: Grk. ouranos. In the LXX ouranos translates the pl. Heb. word hashamayim ("the heavens"), which is only translated into the plural 51 out of the 667 times it occurs in the LXX (DNTT 2:191). The consistent use of the plural form for "heaven" is thought to signify completeness, yet different activities and places are associated with hashamayim. In Hebraic speaking and writing "heaven" is often a circumlocution for God as occurs in Matthew's book.
Yeshua, speaking in Hebrew, more than likely said Malkut Shamayim, in which "heaven" serves as a euphemism for the sacred name. Yeshua taught that the Kingdom of God (or Kingdom of Heaven) had arrived in his person (Luke 10:8-9; 17:21), fulfilling the Father’s promise to the ancients. Thus, by being "in him" the disciples become or are made into his kingdom. The kingdom can be present, even though the King’s primary residence is currently in heaven, because the indwelling Holy Spirit enables the Lord Yeshua to reign from within his disciples, both individually and corporately (Matt 12:28; Luke 17:21).
Israel first sang the praise of God's reign after crossing the Red Sea (Ex 15:18) and then at Mount Sinai they accepted the yoke of God's Kingdom (Ex 19:6, 8). According to the Book of Jubilees (12:19), Abraham set the example for his descendants by declaring God to be his king. The hope that God would be King over all the earth, with all idolatry banished, is expressed frequently in Scripture (e.g., Ex 15:18; Ps 22:28; 29:10; 93-99; 103:19; 145:11-13; Isa 34:23; 52:7; Dan 4:3; Micah 4:7; Obad 21; and Zech 14:9). The theme of God's reign as king is also found in intertestamental Jewish literature: Tobit 13:1; Sibylline Oracles 3:47-48, 767; Psalms of Solomon 17:3; Wisdom of Solomon 10:10; Assumption of Moses 10:1; Prayer of Azariah and the Three Men 33; and Enoch 84:2. Ancient Jewish prayer liturgy, such as Aleinu and Kaddish, include the phrase that "God may establish His Kingdom speedily" It was even laid down by the Sages that no benediction would be effective without reference to the Kingdom (Ber. 12a).
In the covenant with Israel God expressed his will for a kingdom, "you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Ex 19:6). Then, God promised David,
"When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever." (2Sam 7:12-13)
So, here are two kinds of kingdom: a priestly kingdom and a Davidic kingdom, both of which were incorporated in Yeshua's terminology.
4― Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are: See the previous verse. those who mourn: Grk. pentheo, pres. part., to engage in grieving, lit. "the ones mourning." Brokenhearted; reaching the end of their strength. Can be taken literally, similar to the promise that God will wipe away our tears (Rev 7:17; 21:4). Death is a part of life and the presence of the kingdom does not remove such suffering. Could be taken metaphorically to refer to genuine repentance. In the Hebrew mind repentance was not just an intellectual admission of wrongdoing, but a regret or remorse over having disappointed God.
for they shall be comforted: Grk. parakaleō, fut. pass. ind., to hearten in time of trouble, to comfort or to console. Significant is the future tense, but without a definite point of fulfillment. Nevertheless, Yeshua offers assurance of its occurrence.
5― Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are: See verse 3 above. gentle: Grk. praus, characterized by a temperate attitude, gentle or patient. for they shall inherit: Grk. klēronomeō, fut., to be an heir in a legal sense, but more so to be a recipient of a share in, with focus on the experience of divine conferral of promised benefits. The concept of inheritance occurs frequently in the Tanakh as a promised benefit to Israel. the earth: Grk. gē can mean soil (as in receiving seed), the ground, land as contrasted with the sea, and the earth in contrast to heaven. The LXX uses gē more than 2,000 times and translates the Heb. word erets (DNTT 1:517). In the Tanakh erets designates either (a) the earth in a cosmological sense, or (b) "the land" in the sense of a specific territorial area, primarily the Land of Israel (TWOT 167).
Here the noun gē should be rendered "land" since this is a promise taken from Psalm 37:11, "But the humble will inherit the land and will delight themselves in abundant prosperity." In other words, the faithful Israelites who wait on God. Ever since the church fathers Christianity has believed that God reneged on his promise that the holy land belonged to Israel. The word "inherit" refers to the Jewish people’s inheritance from God, promised since Abraham (e.g., Ex 32:13). The apostles clearly understood this to be Yeshua’ meaning when they asked when Israel’s sovereignty would be restored (Acts 1:6).
The emphasis on the Land locates the Kingdom on the earth, not in heaven. The New Covenant did not cancel God’s promise to give the Jewish people the Land of Israel (Rom 9:4-5).
6― Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are: See verse 3 above. those who hunger: Grk. peinaō, pres. part., lit. "the hungering ones." The verb can refer to either physical hunger or function as a metaphor for a strong desire for something, which is the intent here. and thirst: Grk. dipsao, pres. part., lit. "the thirsting ones." The verb can refer to either physical thirst or function as a metaphor for a strong desire for something, which is the intent here. Taken together the dual metaphors are pictures of intense craving, as in Isaiah 55:1-2,
"Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy?"
for righteousness: Grk. dikaiosunē, a state that is in accord with standards for acceptable or anticipated behavior, uprightness, righteousness, justice. The Hebrew concept of tzedakah, "righteousness" refers to right or ethical character and behavior. It is based on the character of God and his revealed standards. Tzedakah also carries the sense of salvation (deliverance) and judgment (justice) (cf. Isa 51:5). To crave righteousness then can take many forms. This is not merely personal righteousness-salvation-justice, but is directed toward others. To crave righteousness is to desire that the lost would be saved. To crave righteousness is to pray for God’s justice to be done on the earth and promote justice wherever possible.
for they shall be satisfied: Grk. chortazō, fut. pass. ind., originally had to do with feeding plant growth to animals to the point of satisfaction. Thus, in the human context the verb came to mean to have one's fill. This blessing promises that God will satisfy the deepest craving of our heart and enable disciples to achieve the desired state of righteousness.
7― Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are: See verse 3 above. the merciful: Grk. refers to kindness and charity.
"The merciful man does himself good, But the cruel man does himself harm." Prov 11:17
The Hebrew word chesed is behind the word rendered as mercy. Chesed may mean kindness, lovingkindness, mercy, goodness, favor or pity. The word occurs many times in the Tanakh to speak of God’s care for His people, His covenant loyalty, His grace in forgiveness.
It means to act as God does. It is far more than just having pity, but demonstrating an emotional compassion for the other and acting with mercy. It means withholding our judgment and letting God be the judge.
8― Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are: See verse 3 above. the pure in heart: This word picture appears to allude to Psalm 24:3-5:
"Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD ? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood and has not sworn deceitfully. He shall receive a blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation."
In the Qumran writings there is a parallel saying, "Blessed is the one who ... with a pure heart and does not slander with his tongue" (4Q525 2:1; TDSS 534). Often in Christian teaching heart purity is thought of in chemical or medical terms. Like Ivory soap - 99 and 44/100 % pure. No alloys or offending properties. However, as Psalm 24 shows purity of heart is an idiomatic expression that means to have good character toward others, no falsehood and no deceit. Purity of heart is also a euphemism for singleness of mind, the opposite of being double-minded (Jas 1:8). The pure in heart have complete trust in God’s sovereign care and purpose to remain faithful to obey Torah commandments regardless of what may come.
for they shall see: Grk. horaō, fut. mid. ind., to perceive with the eye, to see. The verb also conveys the idea of extraordinary mental or inward perception, i.e., to perceive. The future tense points to a time when the disciples will witness the power of God in purifying His people (cf. Acts 11:9; 15:9). God: Grk. theos, is the God of Israel. In secular Greek writings a number of deities, always represented in anthropomorphic form, were called theos. In ancient polytheistic culture theos was not one omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, Creator and ruler of the universe and certainly not spirit as described in Scripture (John 4:24). All of the gods and goddesses of polytheistic pantheons were strictly non-personal, which stands in sharp contrast to the Hebraic view that God loves and desires a relationship with men. In the LXX theos renders the generic designations of God, El (which occurs over 200 times) and Elohim (which occurs over 2300 times), as well as the tetragrammaton YHVH, over 300 times. As with many other Greek words the LXX infused new meaning into theos (DNTT 2:67-70).
This is not talking about after death. To witness God at work in their lives, to experience God’s answers to prayer.
Why would the promise of seeing God be reserved to the pure in heart? In Psalm 24 the pure in heart ascend the hill of the Lord in order to seek his favor and present supplications. The Psalmist declares that God will accept and hear the pure in heart, implying that he will answer their prayers. John affirms this truth succinctly by staying that God answers prayer for those who keep his commandments (1Jn 3:22).
"Surely God is good to Israel, To those who are pure in heart!" Psalm 73:1
9― Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are: See verse 3 above. the peacemakers: pl. of Grk. eirēnopoios, adj., one engaged in bringing about a harmonious relationship by peace-making or reconciling. The noun is formed from eirēnē (peace) and poieō (to do or make). The noun occurs only here in the Besekh. The word does not occur in the LXX at all, but it is used by Philo in reference to God (Special Laws 2, XXXI, 192). The verb eirēnopoeō, "make peace," does occur in the LXX of Proverbs 10:10, "He who reproves boldly is a maker of peace (The Greek Old Testament, Elpenor), and in Colossians 1:20 of Yeshua who made peace for us with God through his blood (BAG).
In the LXX eirēnē renders Heb. shalom. Shalom is never peace in the negative sense, the absence of conflict, but the possession of everything that makes for man’s highest good. Jews commonly greet one another with shalom, a wish to experience all the blessings of God. But, wishing someone shalom doesn’t necessarily make shalom. The blessing is not for the shalom-lovers, but the shalom-makers. According to the Mishnah (Peah 1:1; Shabbath 127a), making peace between a man and his neighbor is numbered among those things which bring forth good fruit in this life, and benefit in the life to come.
How is it possible to make shalom? Peacemaking takes two forms. All disciples have an obligation to obey Yeshua's two commands to go to others to seek reconciliation. Verses 23-24 below say, "if you are offering your gift at the Temple altar and you remember that your brother has something against you … go and be reconciled with your brother." And in Matthew 18:15 Yeshua says, "if your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. The more challenging form of peacemaking is to be a neutral mediator to help other people in a conflict to reconcile their relationship and resolve their dispute. There are several people in the Bible who acted in this capacity.
● Abraham settled a conflict between his shepherds and his nephew Lot's shepherds by giving Lot his choice of land (Gen 13).
● Phinehas investigated claims of sin by the eastern tribes, which really amounted to misunderstandings about the intentions of the eastern tribes in erecting a memorial (Josh 22:10-34).
● Yeshua had to mediate on more than one occasion between his disciples (e.g., Mark 9:50).
● Jacob (aka "James") at the Jerusalem Council proposed a solution to address concerns of the two sides of the conflict over Brit Milah of Gentile disciples (Acts 15).
● Paul counseled two women in the congregation at Philippi, Euodia and Syntyche (Php 4:2)
● Paul had a falling out with Barnabas over inclusion of Mark in their ministry, but later became reconciled to Mark (e.g. Barnabas and Paul, Acts 15:36-40; Col 4:10; 2Tim 4:11).
for they shall be called: Grk. kaleō, fut. pass., to identify by name or give a term to; call. The verb implies a high honor. The future tense of the verb is not eschatological, but a simple consequence of having been successful at peacemaking. sons: pl. of Grk. huios, a male offspring or descendant, whether by direct birth or by more remote ancestry. In the LXX huios renders Heb. ben ("son," "son of"), which is used in three distinctive ways: (1) to identify direct paternity, as the son of his father (Gen 5). (2) to mean not the actual father but a more distant ancestor (e.g., Gen 32:32), as Yeshua is referred to as the son of David and Abraham (Matt 1:1); (3) to mean in a broader sense of having the characteristics of (e.g., Ps 89:22; Dan 3:25; cf. 2Th 2:3), and this too applies here.
of God: Grk. theos, the God of Israel. See the previous verse. The complete phrase "sons of God" occurs ten times in the Bible, four of which refer to angels (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Luke 20:36). In Paul's writings the sons of God are those who are led by the Spirit (Rom 8:14), those who will share in the resurrection (Rom 8:19) and those who are faithful to Yeshua (Gal 3:26). However, here Yeshua appears to have a different intention. Since the Beatitude is set in the context of a discourse on Kingdom ethics, then "sons of God" probably alludes to Yeshua, THE "Son of God."
In Jewish usage in the first century "Son of God" did not signify deity, but was a title of the descendant of David who sits on David's throne and reigns as King over Israel. Thus in this context, "sons of God" is an office that emulates the true Son of God who is the preeminent peacemaker. To be called a "son of God" is a high honor. And, because it is an office women, too, can be "sons of God." The verb "called" or "named" implies it is an action of God as a consequence of a disciple's peacemaking. It's as if when God sees a disciple acting as a peacemaker, He turns to the angels and says with pride, "that's my son, the peacemaker."
10― Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Lit. "the ones having been")
Blessed are: See verse 3 above. Does this blessing assume there is some religious merit in being persecuted? This belief developed in the second and third centuries when tens of thousands were martyred during the ten severe persecutions of the Roman emperors. Are we to seek persecution? No. Yeshua later instructed his disciples to flee from persecution (Matt 10:23). Peter promised a similar blessing in 1 Peter 3:14, "But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed."
What does it mean to be persecuted "for the sake of" righteousness? It could refer to the prophets mentioned in verse 12 who pushed for justice and proclaimed God’s judgment on the guilty and suffered because they stepped on the toes of the powerful. He could have alluded to the persecution of Jews under the various empires beginning with the Assyrians. "For the sake of righteousness" would mean living by Torah. Jews adhered strictly to customs of eating kosher and cleanliness that Gentiles sneered at.
Perhaps the most famous persecution is the planned genocide by Haman against the Jews in Persian that led to the establishment of Purim as an annual feast on 15 Adar. "Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, "There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from those of all other people and they do not observe the king's laws, so it is not in the king's interest to let them remain." (Esther 3:8)
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven: See verse 3 above. Those who are persecuted because of bearing the name of Yeshua will have a special place of honor in Yeshua's kingdom.
11― Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely on account of Me.
Blessed are: See verse 3 above. In verse 10 Yeshua looked back, but in this verse Yeshua looks forward and changes from third person to second person and changes the cause of persecution. Why does Yeshua make this personal?
Yeshua warns of the real threat of slander against his disciples. Jews in Alexandria faced the slander of blood libel several years after Yeshua was crucified. The classical Greek author Apion claimed that Jews sacrificed Greek victims in their temple. This resulted in an attack on Jews in Alexandria in 38 CE in which thousands of Jews died.
12― Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
This verse ties verse ten and eleven together and is the perfect conclusion to the ten blessings. The command is echoed by Jacob, Yeshua's half-brother, "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance." (Jas 1:2-3)
The tenth blessing actually directs the disciples to offer a b’rakhah or a blessing to God, since he has already offered nine blessings to his disciples. It is a reminder that in Jewish culture blessings are offered to God in bad times, as well as good. Job set the pattern when he said, "The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD." (Job 1:21)
In times of grief Jews typically recite the Kaddish, a lengthy offering of praise and thanksgiving that magnifies and sanctifies the name of God. The central line of the Kaddish in Jewish tradition is the congregation's response "May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity", a public declaration of God's greatness and eternality, a paraphrase of part of Daniel 2:20.
Instruction on Discipleship, 5:13-16
13― "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing anymore, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.
Salt: Disciples are to be salt, a seasoning and preservative, for the Land of Israel.
1. Salt represents covenant.
God established a covenant of salt, first with Aaron (Num 18:19) and then with King David and his sons (2Chr 13:5).
The covenant of salt was equivalent to an indissoluble covenant and inviolable contract. This covenant alludes to the fact that all the offerings the priests presented were to be seasoned with salt or accompanied with salt: "Every grain offering of yours, moreover, you shall season with salt, so that the salt of the covenant of your God shall not be lacking from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt" (Lev 2:13).
When an Israelite presented a meal offering (called minchah), it would consist of the finest flour taken solely from the inner kernels (called solet). The offering would include salt, which preserves, but not honey or leaven because they ferment (Lev 2:11) Then after a portion of the offering was made God permitted the priest to keep the rest (called kodesh kodashim, "especially holy part") to be eaten and enjoyed by the priests.
2. Salt represents purity.
"With it you shall make incense, a perfume, the work of a perfumer, salted, pure, and holy." (Ex 30:25)
"Then the men of the city said to Elisha, "Behold now, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees; but the water is bad and the land is unfruitful." He said, "Bring me a new jar, and put salt in it." So they brought it to him. He went out to the spring of water and threw salt in it and said, "Thus says the LORD, `I have purified these waters; there shall not be from there death or unfruitfulness any longer.'" So the waters have been purified to this day, according to the word of Elisha which he spoke." (2Kgs 2:19-23)
"Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person." (Col 4:6)
3. Salt represents obedience.
Being salt means a personal willingness to do what Yeshua demands (Luke 14:26-33). If his willingness turns to unwillingness, if the disciple abandons his Master after experiencing truth and joy and returns to the world, what is left to restore him?
Tasteless. Lit. to play the fool, to become foolish; tasteless, insipid.
14― "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.
You are the light. Grk phōs, which refers to light from a burning source. It means to shine, to make manifest, especially by rays. It is not merely reflected light, such as the Moon. Both the Essenes and Pharisees used the term "children of light" to refer to God’s elect. Light is first passive. It is a lifestyle. "for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light" (Eph 5:8). Paul illustrated the passive principle, "you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world" (Php 2:15; cf. 1Th 5:5). Light is also active. Light displaces darkness wherever it travels.
of the world: Grk. kosmos can refer to the cosmic order of the universe, just the planet earth or the inhabitants of the earth. Yeshua intended for his Jewish disciples to take the Light to the Gentiles, as taught in Isaiah 49:6, "It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth." Light exposes sin (Eph 5:11-13).
A city: Grk. polis, a term applied to a population center, whose size or number of inhabitants could range broadly. set on a hill: Grk. oros. See verse 1 above. This statement reflected the common practice of building ancient cities on hills or mountains in order to make them stronger against attack. Jerusalem was built on seven hills (cf. Ps 125:1f), the most significant of which was Mt. Zion. cannot be hidden: Yeshua mixes his metaphors, first likening his disciples to light and then to a city. Although one might be a secret believer, there is no way to be a secret disciple, since by definition a disciple has declared loyalty to follow the Messiah even to death.
15― Nor do men light a lamp and put it under the peck-measure, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.
Nor do men light: Grk. kaiō, pres., to cause to be on fire. The present tense emphasizes a continuous activity. a lamp: Grk. luchnos, which refers to small oil and wick lamps used in first century dwellings that sat on lampstands. The translation of "candle" and "candlestick" in the KJV is misleading to modern readers, since the molded candle in use today was not invented until the Middle Ages.
and put it under the peck-measure: Grk. modios, a dry measure of about 8.75 liters; a peck measure or measuring basket. but on the lampstand: Grk. luchnia refers to the stand upon which a luchnos, or lamp, was placed or hung. In the LXX luchnia translates menorah, which referred both to the seven-branched golden lampstand used in the tabernacle (Ex 25:10) and a single-branched lampstand used in homes (2Kgs 4:10). Yeshua states the obvious because putting a oil lamp under a basket might either cause the lamp to go out or set the basket on fire.
and it gives light to all who are in the house: The full proverbial statement emphasizes that by nature light cannot be restricted. The mention of "house" could be a metaphor for Israel (whether the geographical Israel or the scattered people of Israel) and the impact of the instruction to the Jewish disciples is this: since you're the light of the world, don’t try to keep the light in Israel.
16― "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
Let your light shine: Grk. lampō, aor. imp., to emit rays of light, to shine. before men in such a way that they may see your good: Grk. kalos, meeting a high standard, often with focus on moral aspect or personal merit. works: pl. of Grk. ergon, may refer to a deed or action in contrast to rest or deeds exhibiting a consistent moral character. The expression "good works" occurs several times in the Besekh and represents an expectation of disciples (John 10:32; Eph 2:10; 1Tim 2:10; 5:10; 6:18). Yeshua makes an important distinction. In the Besekh the mention of "works" often refers to complying with man-made rules or traditions, i.e., works of legalism. In contrast "good works" are works of God (cf. Matt 11:2; John 5:36; 6:28), that is, works that God does or would do himself. Good works include living by Torah, serving God and one’s neighbor.
and glorify: Grk. doxazō, aor. subj., enhance esteem or reputation through word of praise or action. To glorify is to bless and praise God. Good works are done in such a way that God gets the credit instead of us. Good works can aid in encouraging people to turn to God. The saints have long relied on good works (e.g., schools, hospitals, compassionate ministries) to lay a foundation for evangelism. Good works give credibility to a skeptical and hurting world.
Your Father. Grk. patēr and in the LXX renders the Heb. av, which may refer to one’s immediate biological parent, a biological and spiritual ancestor, such as Abraham and Jacob as the fathers of the Jewish people (Isa 51:12; John 4:12) or a spiritual guide and mentor as Elisha called Elijah "father" (2Kgs 2:12). Apart from comparisons with an earthly father (Deut 1:31; 8:5; Ps 103:12; Prov 3:12), the word father is used of God only 15 times in the Tanakh and only in connection with his relationship to Israel (Deut 32:6; Isa 63:16; 64:8; Jer 3:19; Mal 1:6; 2:10) or to the king of Israel (2Sam 7:14; 1Chr 17:13; Ps 89:26). God is not Father to the world.
Yeshua continually referred to almighty God as "my Father," but in the Sermon on the Mount he repeatedly personalizes the relationship between his disciples and God using the pronoun "your" eleven times.
in Heaven. Grk. ouranos. See verse 3 above. The Greek and Hebrew word for "heaven" is used in Scripture to refer to at least three different places (Ps 148:1-4). Only the context can determine which location is intended. Proceeding outward from the earth the first heaven refers to the atmosphere around the earth, the area in which birds fly and from which the rains come, i.e., the sky (Gen 1:20; Matt 6:26; Deut 11:11). The second heaven is the area in which God placed the sun, moon and stars to give light to the earth, i.e., outer space (Gen. 1:14f). Finally, the third heaven is the abode of God the Father, the home of angels and the place where Yeshua sits at the right hand of God (Matt 6:9; 2Cor 12:2; Eph 1:20). The plural ouranois/samayim is appropriate in that the Father reigns from the third heaven over all three heavens and is omnipresent in all three.
This is not just an idle statement. The father Yeshua speaks of is not Abraham, Moses or another blood ancestor, or even himself. The Father is not here. He is in heaven, seated on a throne (Isa 6:1; Rev 4:2). It is from there that he rules the universe and directs the affairs of men. As far away as he is, the Father still knows our activities.
Instruction on the Torah, 5:17-20
17― Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.
Do not think that I came to abolish the Law:
i.e., Torah. In normal Jewish usage in the time of Yeshua the word Torah
The English word "law," which translates the Hebrew word Torah, has a much more limited meaning, usually negative. In Western culture law exists to regulate behavior and authorize punishment for violations. Torah is the feminine noun from the root yarah, which means to throw, to shoot (as in arrows), or to cast (as in lots). It also means to point out, to show, to direct, to teach or to instruct. Thus, Torah is instruction in the way man is meant to live in an ethical and moral way in order to enjoy life to the full and to please God. By distinguishing Torah from the Prophets, and mentioning "jot and tittle" in the next verse, Yeshua is using Torah to mean the written works of Moses or the Pentateuch.
Purpose of the Torah
1. Torah reveals the good, holy, just and perfect nature of God (Rom 2:17-18; 7:12; 2Pet 1:4).
2. Torah teaches believers how to serve, worship and please God (Ps 19:7-9; 119; Acts 18:13-14).
3. Torah serves as a school master leading people to Yeshua, the true Messiah who makes his people righteous (Rom 3:19; Gal 3:21-24).
4. Torah reveals the depth of sin and measures a man’s deeds, revealing what is contrary to holiness and sound doctrine (Rom 2:12; 3:20; 4:15; 7:7-8; 1Tim 1:8-10; Rev 20:12-13).
5. Torah teaches people how to treat their fellow man (Lev 19:18; Gal 5:14; 6:2).
6. Torah teaches people how to be happy and prosperous (Josh 1:8; Ps 1:1-3; Luke 12:32).
or the prophets: Refers to the second part of the Hebrew Bible. The "Law and the Prophets" are mentioned together in the same verse 14 times in the Besekh (Matt 7:12; 11:13; 22:40; Luke 16:16, 29, 31; 24:44; John 1:45; Acts 13:15; 24:14; 26:22; 28:23; Rom 3:21). Do not think. "Think." To believe, hold, consider, think; i.e., don’t even consider for a moment. I came: Not a reference to the incarnation or his birth, but his intention. More of an indication of the purpose of his ministry.
to abolish: Grk. kataluō, aor. inf., not only means to destroy, demolish or dismantle (as in destroying a building), but also to annul, cancel or invalidate. That is the meaning here. In rabbinic discussions of Yeshua’s day when a rabbi felt that another rabbi had misinterpreted a passage of Scripture he would say, "You are canceling the Torah," i.e., you are so misinterpreting Scripture as to negate or cancel part of it. Of course, the other rabbi would disagree. What was canceling Torah for one rabbi was fulfilling it for another. Yeshua’ saying indicates a rabbinic debate (Biven 94). In a famous example Rabbi Eliezer in disagreeing with a particular ruling of Rabbi Akiva's about Passover accused Akiva of uprooting the Torah (Pesachim 6:2).
Someone had accused Yeshua of misinterpreting Scripture and Yeshua politely disagreed. Consider Yeshua’ visit to the synagogue in Nazareth before this sermon - Luke 4:16-30. Yeshua was saying, "I did not come to set aside God’s instruction on how to have an abundant life" (cf. John 10:10). Yeshua said twice that he didn’t come to abolish. Yet, many in Christianity down through the centuries have taken Yeshua’s words to mean that he revoked the commandments he gave to Moses. If Yeshua did the very thing he said he did not come to do, then he could not be the Truth.
Yeshua is God in flesh and it was God who gave the commandments to Moses. Isaiah 33:22, "The Lord is our lawgiver" (cf. Matt 7:21; Col 1:9-10). Only the authority that imposes a law has the right to change it or cancel it. You may not like the speed limit or city ordinances on where you keep your trash cans, but you can’t cancel them. To suggest that Yeshua canceled the Law is tantamount to saying that he decided his disciples didn't need any rules to live by. With no Law you eliminate the sin problem, because "where there is no law, there is no violation" (Rom 4:15; also 5:13).
There are two very good reasons why Yeshua would not have abolished the Torah.
1. New Covenant. Jeremiah prophesied, ""But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the Lord, "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people" (Jer 31:33). The specific help comes in the person of the Holy Spirit, as prophesied by Ezekiel, "I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances" (Ezek 36:27). THERE IS NO NEW COVENANT WITHOUT TORAH.
2. Bar Mitzvah. At the age of 13 Yeshua would have become Bar Mitzvah, son of the commandment. At this time the young person becomes accountable to the Torah and takes on the rights, obligations and privileges of adulthood. Most non-Jews think of Bar Mitzvah as a ceremony, but a Jewish boy automatically becomes bar mitzvah at 13 and a girl bat mitzvah at 12. No ceremony is needed to assume this status. So, considering what Yeshua said to his disciples, was he now renouncing what he had understood at age 13? Was he rejecting Torah as the guide for his life? As Hebrews 10:28 says, if Yeshua was guilty of setting aside the Torah, then he deserved to die.
truth is that Yeshua constantly demonstrated his support of Torah and
everyone knew it.
i. He insisted that loving him was demonstrated by keeping his (God’s) commandments (John 14:15, 21; 15:10).
but to fulfill: Grk. plēroō, aor. inf., means (1) to make full (to fill full), (2) to complete a period of time or reach its end, (3) to bring something to completion or finish something already begun, (4) to fulfill by deeds a prophecy, obligation, duty or destiny, (5) complete, finish, bring to an end or (6) complete a number. With such a wide range of meaning, guess which one most Christians choose to interpret this verse. However "fulfill" may be defined it cannot mean to rebut the claim Yeshua just made that he did not come to abolish the Torah. It would be nonsensical for Yeshua to say, "I came not to cancel the Torah, but to cancel the Torah."
In the context of what Yeshua goes on to say, the most likely meaning of "fulfill" is to "make full." The probable Hebrew equivalent of plēroō is lekayem. In Yeshua's time lekayem was usually the antonym of levatel (cancel, nullify) and used in the sense of preserve or sustain. As a rabbinical term it means to sustain by properly interpreting (Bivin 94). In reality one of the expectations of the Messiah was that he would explain the Torah.
They said to one another, "Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?" (Luke 24:32)
The woman said to him, "I know that Messiah is coming (the one called Christos); when he comes, he will disclose everything to us." (John 4:25 mine)
"If anyone desires to do His will, he will know concerning my instruction, whether it is of God, or I speak from myself." (John 7:17 mine)
Christians make two wrong conclusions from this verse
However, Paul insisted that obedience that comes from trusting in Yeshua does not abolish Torah, but confirms it:
"through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith[fulness] among all the Gentiles for His name's sake." (Rom 1:5)
"Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law." (Rom 3:31)
All the commandments given by Yeshua and the apostles are drawn from the Torah. If we are to follow Yeshua's example and walk in his steps (1Pet 2:21), then we must show the same concern for living by Torah as he did. The issue is not how perfectly we do it, but how committed we are to the principle (1Jn 2:3-4; 3:22-24; 5:2-3).
Misbelief #2. "Yeshua only meant that he fulfilled prophecy contained in the Torah and Prophets that predicted his incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension."
Yeshua does indeed speak of this fact before he ascended.
"Now He said to them, These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." (Luke 24:44)
However, prophecy is not just limited to events, such as the birth and death of the Messiah. For example every story, every teaching, every feast, every priestly rule in the Pentateuch, as well as the teachings of the Major and Minor Prophets and the diversity of the Psalms prophesies something about Messiah, his character, his mission and his reign. Prophecy is as much forth-telling as foretelling.
Replacement theology contended that since Yeshua fulfilled all prophecy, no prophecies from the Tanakh remain for the Jews. However, fulfillment in Yeshua is an added assurance that everything God promised to Israel will yet come to pass (Rom 9:4-5; 1Cor 1:20).
For more on the meaning of "fulfilling the Law" see my commentary on Romans 10:4.
18― "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law until all is accomplished."
For Truly: The Greek sentence begins with Grk. amēn, which means "so let it be" or "truly." There is no preposition to justify inserting "for." Amēn transliterates the Heb. ’amen (ah-mayn), which means "it is true, so be it, or may it become true." The Heb. root ’-m-n means "truth, faithfulness." Thus it is used in English as well as Hebrew by those listening to a prayer. A speaker’s "amen" to his own prayer or statement is itself superfluous, yet it is useful as a cue for others to respond with "amen." In Hebrew ’amen points to something previously said, yet most versions translate it as if it pointed forward (Stern 26). To be specific his amen emphasizes what he just said. In other words, he is saying something like, "You may not think that I really meant what I just said, but I do!"
until heaven and earth pass away: cf. Revelation 21:1. This one statement should have settled the matter. not the smallest letter: "Jot" (KJV) came from the Latin jota, which is a variant spelling of iota, the smallest letter in the Greek alphabet. In English "jot" is an expression for the least part of something, a little bit. Yeshua WAS NOT talking about the smallest letter in the Greek alphabet. Yeshua was referring to the yod ("yood"), the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet.
or stroke: "Tittle" (KJV) refers to a dot or other small mark in writing or printing, used as a diacritic, punctuation, etc. As an expression it refers to a very small part. Yeshua was referring to the kots (literally "horn"), the tiny decorative spur sometimes added to the yod. This was actually a well-known Hebrew expression in Yeshua's day, "lo yod v'lo kotso shel yod." It means "not a yod or a thorn of a yod," or "not the most insignificant or unimportant thing."
This statement demonstrates clearly that he did not abolish or destroy the Torah in the sense of ending it. He couldn’t have stated the lasting durability of the Torah any better by asserting that heaven and earth will pass away before the Torah does. A number of rabbinic sayings echoed this same sentiment. Yeshua asserted in the strongest possible terms that he did not come to weaken any portion of Scripture by misinterpreting it. In fact, his purpose was to establish the knowledge and observance of God’s Word, not undermine it.
until all is accomplished: ("fulfill" KJV) This is not the same word translated as "fulfill" in verse 17. The Greek verb ginomai literally means to become, i.e., to be born, to come into existence, to begin to be, or to become in the sense of coming to pass. Ginomai translates the Hebrew word einai (to be) in the LXX, often in the construction "and it came to pass" or "and it happened" (e.g. Gen 4:8). In other words, the Torah will not pass away until all he intended through the Torah happens. When he finally has a whole holy people in the eternal kingdom that will not need Torah (Rev 21:2-3; 22:11), it will continue to be in force.
19― "Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Whoever then annuls: Grk. luō, aor. subj., has a range of meaning from (1) loose or untie bonds; (2) set free, loose, untie a person or animal; (3) break up into its component parts, destroy, tear down; to (4) destroy, bring to an end, abolish, do away with. When used of commandments, laws or statements luō has the meaning of repeal, annul or abolish (BAG 485). The subjunctive mood presents a hypothetical scenario. In the LXX luō is used to translate 7 different Heb. verbs, none of which have the fourth meaning (DNTT 3:177). Thus, Delitzsch chose to translate luō with Heb. yaper (Hiphil of parar, SH-6565), which Karni defines as to annul or frustrate (46). BDB defines parar as (1) break or violate the terms of a covenant (Deut 31:16; Jer 11:10; Zech 11:14) or commandment (Num 15:31; Ezra 9:14; Ps 119:126); or (2) frustrate, make ineffectual or annul, whether of counsel (Ps 33:10), a vow (Num 30:12, 15) or godly fear (Job 15:4) (830). In modern Hebrew parar means to break or breach a promise or agreement (Morfix).
A number of versions translate luō here with "breaks" (ASV, DRA, HCSB, HNV, KJV, NET, NIRV, NKJV, NRSV). Messianic Jewish versions differ in translation: the CJB has "disobeys," MW has "relaxes," OJB has "annuls" and TLV has "breaks." Yeshua is not merely speaking of disobeying a commandment as he is of setting aside a commandment (so the NIV), which attacks the very authority of the Torah. "Breaks" is an acceptable translation if it is understood as rejecting the authority behind the commandment. This principle is illustrated in John 5:19 in which the verb luō occurs in an accusation against Yeshua for healing the invalid by the pool of Bethesda. Yeshua was not accused of disobeying the Sabbath, but of doing away with the Sabbath.
one of the least: Grk. elachistos, used as the superlative of mikros, smallest, least. of these commandments: pl. of Grk. entolē, a directive for action, command, order or instruction. In the LXX entolē occurs 244 times (46 times without a Hebrew equivalent). The noun is concentrated in the Torah, especially in Deuteronomy (DNTT 1:331). In the majority of passages entolē renders Heb. mitsvah, (e.g., Ex 20:6; Ps 119:6), 159 times. A mitsvah is instruction intended for obedience and often associated with a good deed or charitable works with the promise of blessing for obedience. Violation produces guilt and need for atonement. The plural form of the noun refers to the 613 commandments given to Moses for the nation of Israel to obey.
The phrase "least of these commandments" refers to a rabbinic term, mitzvah kallot, a light commandment (Bivin 96). A light commandment was one considered to be of lesser importance in comparison to other commandments. The opposite, of course, was mitzvah chamurot, a heavy or weighty commandment. So, a light commandment is only light in comparison with other commandments. Commandments may be "weighed" based on the punishment prescribed for violation, or the time, effort and resources required to obey, or its importance to a holy life or its importance to the shalom of relationships. The editor of the Babylonian Talmud defines a light commandment as one for which compliance does not entail any, or much, exertion or cost, or the reward (where known), or punishment for which is slight" (Avot Chap 2, fn 4, p. 9). Yeshua makes a similar comparison in this sermon by pointing out that people are more important to God than birds.
However, a commandment is not so "light" that it’s not to be taken seriously. All the commandments contained in the Torah were given by God to Moses for Israel, so all the ethical instructions are of importance to God and benefit the covenant community. For example, consider the commandment in Deuteronomy 22:6-7 that prohibited taking a mother bird along with the young from a nest, quote "in order that it may be well with you and that you may prolong your days." The Sages called this commandment the lightest of the light (Tos. Shabbath 16:14, cited in Bivin 97) and yet it promises the same reward as promised for keeping the fifth commandment, "Honor your father and mother" (Ex 20:12; Deut 5:16).
Therefore, the rabbis said, "Be as careful of keeping a light commandment as a heavy commandment because you do not know the reward given for the keeping of commandments" (Avot 2:1). The Sages commented that if the reward was great for keeping the light commandment, how much more would the reward be for keeping the heavy commandment (Hullin 12:5; Yeb. 47b). Yet, this viewpoint caused one Sage to say, "Woe unto us that Scripture weighs against us light like grave offences" (Hagigah 5a). Reasoning further other rabbis said that he who violates a light commandment will eventually violate a heavy one.
Rabbi described the progress of consequences this way: if you do not love your neighbor (Lev 19:18), you might violate the prohibition against hating your brother (Lev 19:17) and the prohibition against personal revenge or bearing a grudge (Lev 19:18), and even the obligation of taking in a poor countryman (Lev 25:35), and eventually end up shedding blood (Sifre Deuteronomy, Shoftim 187:11, cited in Bivin 98). Considering the lightest commandment we might express the danger another way. A child that is cruel to animals might easily become cruel to people. This reasoning may be seen in some of the rulings Yeshua goes on to make in this sermon. Yeshua stated the principle by saying in another discourse, "Someone who is trustworthy in a small matter is also trustworthy in large ones, and someone who is dishonest in a small matter is also dishonest in large ones" (Luke 16:10).
and so teaches: Grk. didaskō, aor. subj., to teach or instruct, often used in the Besekh of instructing disciples. others, shall be called: Grk. kaleō, fut. pass. ind., to identify by a name or give a term to, called. least: while the adjective is used in a positive sense in other passages (Matt 2:6; 25:40), it clearly has a negative connotation here. in the kingdom: Grk. basileia, means kingship, royal power, or territory ruled over by a king. The doctrine of the kingdom in the teaching of Yeshua and the apostles relates to the expectation and fulfillment of promises made to Israel. of heaven: pl. of Grk. ouranos. In the LXX ouranos translates the pl. Heb. word hashamayim ("the heavens"), which is only translated into the plural 51 out of the 667 times it occurs in the LXX (DNTT 2:191). The consistent use of the plural form for "heaven" is thought to signify completeness, yet different activities and places are associated with hashamayim. In Hebraic speaking and writing "heaven" is often a circumlocution for God as occurs in Matthew's book.
Yeshua taught that the Kingdom of Heaven (Heb. Malkut Shamayim) had arrived in his person (Luke 10:8-9; 17:21), fulfilling the Father’s promise to the ancients. The kingdom can be present, even though the King’s primary residence is currently in heaven, because the indwelling Holy Spirit enables the Lord Yeshua to reign from within his disciples, both individually and corporately (Matt 12:28; Luke 17:21). Yeshua was speaking temporally, not eschatalogically. To be "least" in the kingdom probably does not mean to be excluded from the kingdom, but to be esteemed little in the eyes of the King, Yeshua, something no smart disciple would want to do. On the other hand Yeshua promises that those who obey God's commandments, and teach others to obey God's commandments will be highly esteemed in his kingdom.
In this verse Yeshua rebukes the practice of setting aside instructions God had given His people in the Torah and Prophets. This relates to a fundamental legal principle. Only the authority that enacts a law has the right to change it or rescind it. Yeshua said in verse 17 that he did not come to abolish Torah so he would never give anyone else the right to cancel commandments. In fact, he gave his apostles the right to pronounce halakhah on a variety of issues, which had the effect of adding even more commandments for us to obey.
20― For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.
For I say to you: Yeshua prefaces his comment with an expression he uses frequently to assert his authority. There is a clear implication that he is elevating his authority over that of the Jewish Sages. that unless: lit. "that if not." Yeshua presents a conditional proposition that introduces a possible circumstances the determines the realization of some other circumstance, such as if x happens, then y will follow. your righteousness: Grk. dikaiosunē, a state that is in accord with standards for acceptable or anticipated behavior, uprightness, righteousness, justice. See verse 6 above. In Scripture righteousness may be distinguished from holiness in that righteousness focuses on ethical behavior as it impacts relationships and the community, whereas holiness focuses primarily on conduct that effects one's relationship with God.
surpasses: Grk. perisseuō, aor. subj., to be above or beyond in number, amount, or quality; abound, be in abundance (Danker). The emphasis here is on attitude. Yeshua does not set up a standard of keeping a minimum number of commandments. that: Grk. polus, extensive in scope, high degree in amount or quality; much, greater. Yeshua contrasts the righteousness God desires with how it was treated by religious leaders of his day. of the scribes: pl. of Grk. grammateus refers to a specialist in Mosaic legal matters. In Israelite culture a scribe was a legal scholar and a teacher of the Torah. In Greek culture grammateus was the title of officials at Athens and elsewhere, from secretary and registrar to clerk. The term was also used of scholars.
In the LXX grammateus renders two Hebrew words, shoter and more frequently sopher (DNTT 3:477f). The word shoter ("show-tare;" official; officer, BDB 1000c) is used of an officer or overseer in Egypt (Ex 5:6), men chosen to be part of the seventy elders (Num 11:16), administrative officers in the army (Deut 20:5) and judicial officials (1Chr 23:4; Ezra 4:8). The word sopher ("so-pheir;" secretary, scribe, BDB 708) was used for the secretary to a king or government official (2Sam 8:16-18; 2Kgs 22:3-13; 25:19; Ezra 4:8), the military scribe who kept the muster rolls (Jer 37:15), an amanuensis to a prophet (Jer 36:4, 18, 32) and in the later books, one skilled in the law of Moses (Ezra 7:6, 12, 21; Neh 8:1).
The word grammateus occurs 65 times in the Besekh, 60 of which are in the Synoptic Narratives. The term always has its Jewish meaning of one learned in Torah, a rabbi or ordained theologian. Scribes were secretaries, teachers, lawyers, judges, priests and some were members of the Sanhedrin (Matt 16:21). Some scribes belonged to the party of the Pharisees (Matt 22:34-35) and some were "of the people" (Matt 2:4), suggesting no party affiliation. The terms "scribes" and "Pharisees" are paired together nineteen times, suggesting the majority of the scribes were Sadducees or belonged to no party. Josephus mentions Sadducees who were magistrates (Ant. XVIII, 1:4) and scribes were always preferred for appointment as judges due to their knowledge of the Law (Jeremias 237).
Scribal education began during adolescent years, and progressed for several years in a regular course of study (Jeremias Chap. 10). When the student was able to prove his skill on various religious and penal questions, the student would be considered a "non-ordained scholar" (talmid hakam). As a non-ordained scholar the scribe could be employed in a professional capacity. When the talmid hakam attained the age of 40 (Sotah 22b) he could be accepted into the prestigious company of ordained scholars (hakam). Being ordained gave the scribe the right to make his own decisions on any matter he might consider (Sanhedrin 3a, 5a). There is no question that scribes held considerable power and influence in Jewish culture (Jeremias 243).
In almost all passages the scribes are seen as opponents of Yeshua or recipients of his criticism, but three times a scribe is seen in a positive light (Matt 8:19; 13:52; Mark 12:28-32). Yeshua said that the scribes (along with the Pharisees) "have seated themselves in the chair of Moses" (Matt 23:2), which could be an allusion to the Sanhedrin, the final authority for judging violations of Torah. It may seem ironic that Yeshua instructed his disciples "therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them" (Matt 23:3).
and Pharisees: pl. of Grk. Pharisaios which transliterates the Heb. p'rushim, meaning "separatists." The title was born of the fact that they separated themselves from the common people of the land who did not tithe, were ritually impure and knew nothing of the Torah (Law). The Pharisees traced their roots to the Hasidim ("pious ones") organized in the time of Ezra, but are known as an organized group from the 2nd c. BC (Jeremias 247).
The first mention of the group is in the books of Maccabees where they are described as "a company of Hasideans, mighty warriors of Israel, every one who offered himself willingly for the law" (1 Macc 2:42; cf. 1 Macc 7:13; 2 Macc 14:6). Josephus estimated that there were at least six thousand Pharisees in the Land (Ant. XVII, 2:4). There were several Pharisaic communities in Jerusalem (Jeremias 252). In addition, Pharisee rabbis had many disciples throughout Israel and the Diaspora. There were many aspects of Phariseeism with which Yeshua would have agreed. They believed in resurrection and immortality, and the importance of living a holy life. They regarded Greek ideas as abominations. The Pharisees accepted the traditions of the Sages as having equal authority as the written Torah, sometimes even greater than the written Torah.
Now, we need to recognize that Yeshua is not talking about every Pharisee he met. There were good Pharisees, like Nicodemus, but the Sages spoke of seven types of bad Pharisees, considered hypocrites (Avot 5:9; Sotah 22b). Yeshua frequently speaks disparagingly of the "hypocrites," a term he preferred to distinguish from the good Pharisees (18 times in the Synoptic Narratives). Yeshua's criticism of the hypocrites focused on two issues. First, the hypocrites gave man-made traditions greater authority than the written Torah. A tradition or custom is far lighter than the lightest Torah commandment but sometimes the tradition was used to ignore a heavy commandment.
Second, the righteousness of the hypocrites was defined by performing specific acts of piety, namely: almsgiving, long prayers, twice-weekly fasting and tithing (Matt 23:14, 23; Luke 18:12), all of which were typically done in a manner to gain public attention. Only by twisted logic could the hypocrites tithe dill, mint and cummin (Matt 23:23) and deny their parents of support, oppose healing on the Sabbath; refuse to cancel debts in the year of remission and extort donations from poor widows. Thus, Yeshua contrasts the righteousness found in Torah heavy commandments that required justice, mercy and faithfulness with the limited scope of Pharisaic righteousness.
you shall not: Grk. mē, a particle of qualified negation, not. It differs from the other standard negative particle, oú, in that oú is objective, dealing only with facts, while mē is subjective, involving will and thought. With mē the negation concerns a supposition. enter: Grk. eiserchomai, aor. subj., to go or enter into a geographical area, manufactured structure or other place defined in the context. the kingdom of heaven: See verse 3 above for this expression. Yeshua defines the point of entry as a kingdom. The mention of the kingdom here is not futuristic or eschatological, but the name of Yeshua's present movement, his reign in people’s hearts. To enter the kingdom means to become a disciple or believer. The "kingdom of heaven" is not equivalent to the Church nor does not mean to go to heaven. One does not enter via bar/bat mitzvah or Christian confirmation.
Understanding the nature of Yeshua's criticism one might be tempted to say, "I can easily surpass the righteousness of those hypocritical Pharisees." Really? We need the humility of Paul the Pharisee who said, "My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me" (1Cor 4:4). Unfortunately, many believers today pick and choose which commandments they will obey, just as ancient Israelites did in the time of the Judges when "everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judg 17:6; 21:25). Yeshua calls his disciples to serious introspection. How do we treat light commandments? More importantly, how do we treat the heavy commandments? We owe God the courtesy of treating all the instructions of Scripture with respect and obedience.
Instruction on Conflict Resolution, 5:21-26
21― "You have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER' and `Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.'
Having laid the foundation Yeshua begins to illustrate his methods of interpreting Torah: (1) demonstrating God’s expectations or intentions from antiquity and (2) using a common rabbinic argument called kal-ve-chomer, "light and heavy," that is, contrasting light and heavy commandments. The result could be considered New Covenant Torah. The promise of the New Covenant is that the people of God would keep God’s commandments.
"I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people." Jeremiah 31:33
Two principles will become clear as to how his disciples could live by Torah. (1) Divine enablement. By the power of the Holy Spirit, as Ezekiel says, "I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances" (Ezek 36:27). (2) By discipline. If you keep the light commandments you’re not likely to break the heavy commandments. So, Yeshua begins his series of ethical exhortations with the sixth commandment of the Torah.
You have heard: Grk. akouō, aor., the sensory act of hearing with the ears, metaphorically of paying attention, but also probably with the sense of comprehension or understanding. In the LXX akouō consistently stands for Heb. shama, which not only means to apprehend, but also to accept and to act upon what has been apprehended (DNTT 2:173).
that the ancients: pl. of Grk. archaios, adj., lit. "old ones," i.e., people of ancient times. Yeshua does not begin by mentioning Moses or "the fathers" (a euphemism for the patriarchs), but the "ancients," probably referring to the antediluvian generation, particularly Noah. were told: Grk. errethē, aor. pass. of ereō, to call, say, speak of, tell (Strong's Concordance). BAG identifies errethē as derived from eipon, to say or speak. In any event, the verb emphasizes oral communication.
You shall not commit murder: Grk. phoneuō, fut., to unlawfully kill a person, murder, a reference to the sixth commandment. Some of the older English versions mistranslate the reference to Exodus 20:13 as "You shall not kill" (ASV, DRA, KJV, RSV). However, the Hebrew word there is "murder" (ratzach), and not kill (harag). In Hebrew there is a clear distinction between these words. Ratzach means premeditated murder, while harag encompasses accidental killing, manslaughter, killing in war and court-ordered execution. The sixth commandment explicitly prohibits murder, but not taking the life of another in defense of oneself or others. It’s a mystery how translators made the mistake when the Greek also has separate words for murder (phoneuō) and kill (apokteinō, e.g., Matt 10:28). In any case, Yeshua does not allude to the Ten Commandments given at Sinai, but what was told to the ancients.
Predating the injunctions and statutes given to Moses God revealed a variety of commandments and principles that revealed God’s nature and his expectations of Man (Gen 1:26-30; 2:18-25; 3:16-19; 4:6-7; 6:3, 18; 9:5-8; 26:5). Such heinous crimes as murder, violence, adultery, fornication and idolatry were known to be wrong long before Moses was born (Gen 2:17; 4:11f; 6:5-7; 18:20; 20:3; 26:10). For example, God warned Cain:
"Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it." (Gen 4:6-7)
Was it wrong for Cain to kill Abel? Did he know it was wrong? Did he sin in killing Abel? God acted as though Cain knew it was wrong to murder. He pronounced a curse and judgment on Cain.
"Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. 12 "When you cultivate the ground, it will no longer yield its strength to you; you will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth." (Gen 4:11-12)
Was it wrong for the people of Noah’s generation to fill the earth with violence? Was it sin? God brought judgment on them.
"Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. The LORD said, "I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land." (Gen 6:5-7)
After the flood God declared that mankind should punish murderers.
"Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man's brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man's blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man." (Gen 9:3-6)
and whoever commits murder: Grk. phoneuō, aor. subj. shall be: Grk. eimi, fut. mid. ind., to be. liable: Grk. enochos, adj., may mean (1) held in or constrained, subject to; or (2) required to give an account, with focus on legal procedure; held liable, held accountable for. to the court: Grk. krisis, judgment. The term has four possible applications: (1) of scrutiny of conduct; (2) of a local court responsible for administration of justice; (3) of saving help; (4) of responsible or right decision. Yeshua alludes to the requirement of "life for life" as determined by competent judicial authority (cf. Gen 9:6).
22― "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, 'Raca,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.
But: Grk. de is a conjunction that generally indicates either a slight contrast or a transition in presentation of subject matter. It is an extremely flexible word. Stern notes that de could have any of three very different meanings (397):
(1) "And, moreover, furthermore," implying that what follows continues the thought already begun.
(2) "But, rather, in contrast, on the contrary," implying that what follows is different from and contrasts with the preceding thought.
(3) "But, but only if," implying that what follows is not in contrast with the preceding thought but does limit, condition or modify it in some way.
But I say: Some Christian commentators interpret the conjunction to mean "on the contrary" as if Yeshua were rebutting the premise of the previous verse in particular and renouncing and replacing Torah in general. In reality Yeshua in typical rabbinic fashion establishes his interpretation on the foundation of the truth of the sixth commandment.
Yeshua does set his teaching in contradistinction to the scribes of the day. Later in the Sermon on the Mount occurs the saying, "He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes" (Matt 7:29). In other words, Yeshua spoke as if he had authority from God. In Yeshua’s day only the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem had the authority as final arbiter on interpretation and application of Torah. The scribes did not have the level of power and authority that rabbis later accrued in the second century. In the Talmud rabbis typically relied on the authority of another rabbi to make pronouncements, such as "Rabbi Samuel in the name of Rabbi Jonathan."
everyone who is angry: Grk. orgizomai. There are two words for anger in the Greek language, thumos and orgē. Thumos was described as being like the flame which comes from dried straw. It quickly blazes up and just as quickly dies down. Orgē is long-lived anger, an anger that has been nursed, an anger of brooding over an offense and not allowed to die. The word used here comes from orgē.
However, in the LXX there is virtually no distinction between thumos and orgē. Both terms are used synonymously and appear for the same numerous Hebrew equivalents, especially 'ap, which first designates the nose (Isa 2:22), then its trembling and snorting and thence the reason for this, anger (Job 4:9); then hemah (about 115 times), heat, poison, venom, rage and anger (Gen 27:44; Prov 21:4). Other Hebrew words for anger include haron, burning in combination with 'ap (only for the anger of God); ebrah, excess, arrogance, anger, fury; kesep, wrath; za'am, thunder, agitation, wrath.
In the Besekh all anger is condemned and disciples are admonished to get rid of anger (Gal 5:20; Eph 4:26, 31; 6:4; Col 3:8; Jas 1:19-20). Yeshua is speaking of excessive anger, beyond irritation or frustration. The problem with irritations, though, that if allowed to continue will turn into anger and bring condemnation. Yeshua made it clear that anger against a brother is a sin. The Talmud has an apt saying, "He who gives vent to his anger destroys his house" (Sanhedrin 102b).
[NOTE: the phrase "without a cause" that occurs in the KJV is a late addition in Greek manuscripts, no doubt an effort to soften the hardness of the saying. "The other man’s anger is sheer bad temper, but mine is righteous indignation." (Cf. Jonah 4:9, "I have good reason to be angry." Did God agree?). Yeshua’ words in the original form of the text make no distinction between righteous and unrighteous anger. Anyone who is angry with his brother exposes himself to judgment.]
with his brother: Grk. adelphos has four possible meanings in the Besekh: (1) The blood siblings of Yeshua (Mark 3:22; Acts 1:14; 1Cor 9:5); (2) His native countrymen (Acts 3:22); (3) Yeshua’ Jewish disciples (Matt 28:10; John 20:17; Rom 7:4), and (4) Jews and Gentiles who believe in Yeshua and are obedient to the will of God (Matt 12:50; Rom 16:14). In the immediate context Yeshua is referring to his disciples and as a general principle applies to all who would ever claim to be his disciple.
shall be guilty: Grk. enochos, required to give an account with focus on a legal procedure, "held liable or held accountable for." before the court: Grk. krisis means judging or judgment. See the previous verse. Yeshua could be referring to the judgment of the Messiah on the last day or the more immediate evaluation of God's judgment. In the temporal realm the word "held liable" suggests a situation in which anger results in an action necessitating appearance before a court of appropriate jurisdiction. The legal system for handling civil and capital (criminal) cases consisted of three basic courts. Courts were made up of an odd number of members to prevent a tie vote (Sanhedrin 1:1).
Court of Three. This court found in villages or small towns decided civil matters. In certain cases it could be increased to five or seven members. For settlement of purely civil non-tort disputes, adversaries could select a three member arbitration panel. Each person would select an arbitrator and then the two would select the third. Majority vote decided the matter.
Court of Twenty-Three. Found in towns of at least 230 population based on the principal of one ruler for ten people. Known as the Lesser Sanhedrin this court tried civil and capital cases. Relevant to this context is that cases of libel could not be heard by a court of three, but were heard by the Lesser Sanhedrin on the assumption that a capital crime might be involved.
Court of Seventy-One. Known as the Great Sanhedrin this body heard appeals from the lower courts or cases where the lower court couldn’t decide. The President served as the 71st member. Usually handled matters of national importance. A tribe, false prophet and the high priest could only be tried by this court.
See my web article Jewish Jurisprudence for detailed discussion of the first century system of justice in Israel. Considering the progressive nature of the consequences, Yeshua is probably alluding to the lowest court to deal with anger against a brother. This is similar to the principle of two or three hearing a matter in Matthew 18:16. Paul even goes so far as to suggest that one wise man could arbitrate a dispute (1Cor 6:5).
Raca: Grk. rhaka transliterates the Hebrew word for "empty," most likely meaning empty in the head. A term of angry scorn and contempt. The one relevant provision in the Torah is Exodus 22:28, "You shall not curse God, nor curse a ruler of your people." Solomon adds the advice not to curse the king in private, because he may still hear of it (Eccl 10:20). The Torah does not prohibit name-calling per se and there was no legal penalty for name-calling, though certainly it would violate the principle of love. In Hebrew culture the values of honor and shame governed much of their life. Honor meant a claim to worth that is acknowledged before the family and community. To "have honor" is to have publicly acknowledged worth. It is a group-given value, not just self-respect. One's self-respect could be high, but honor low.
On the other hand shame is a claim to worth that is publicly denied or denied before others. To "be shamed" means to be denied or diminished in honor, the inevitable result of name-calling.
"Verbal wrong is more heinous than monetary wrong…the one affects his [the victim's] person, the other [only] his money. … He who publicly shames his neighbor is as though he shed blood." (Baba Metzia 58b)
"On one occasion Rabbi Eleazer son of Rabbi Simeon was coming from Migdal Gedor, from the house of his teacher. He was riding leisurely on his donkey by the riverside and was feeling happy and elated because he had studied much Torah. There he chanced to meet an exceedingly ugly man who greeted him. "Peace be upon you, rabbi." He, however, did not return his greeting but instead said to him, "Raca, how ugly you are! Is everyone in your town as ugly as you are?" The man replied, "I do not know, but go and tell the craftsman who made me, 'How ugly is the vessel which you have made.'" When R. Eleazer realized that he had sinned he dismounted from the donkey and prostrated himself before the man and said to him, "I submit myself to you, forgive me!" (Taanit 20a-b)
supreme court: Grk. sunedrion, meaning council or assembly. The root word meant "sitting together." The Greek word was taken into the Hebrew language. Probably refers here to the Lesser Sanhedrin. Another likely scenario is that Yeshua had defamation in mind rather than merely calling someone a name to his face. Defamation was tried by the Lesser Sanhedrin. However, the charge of cursing the ruler, including the high priest, would go before the Great Sanhedrin. Paul was accused of this very crime.
"Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, "Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day." The high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, "God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?" But the bystanders said, "Do you revile God's high priest?" And Paul said, "I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, `YOU SHALL NOT SPEAK EVIL OF A RULER OF YOUR PEOPLE.'" (Acts 22:1-5)
You fool. The Greek word is more, generally considered by Greek scholars to be a derivative of moros ("foolish" or "stupid"), from which we get moron. In the LXX moros renders three different words with a range of meaning from awkward, ignorant, useless, thick-brained or stupid, foolish, lacking sense and even abusive like Nabal, whose name meant fool. However, it’s hard to understand how calling someone foolish or stupid could be worse than "empty-headed," and result in a far more serious punishment. And, name-calling was not a capital offense. Even Yeshua could be accused of name-calling. In Matthew 23 he repeatedly calls the Pharisees hypocrites. (That’s a far more serious charge than calling someone stupid, but he cited his evidence.)
It is much more likely that since Raca is a transliteration, then more should be treated as a an effort to render the Hebrew word marah which to the Jewish ear meant "rebel against God" or "apostate." In the Torah rebellion against God merited the death penalty (Ex 23:21; Deut 13:5; 21:18-21). Marah was the word Moses used in Numbers 20:10 to describe those who rebelled against God and his leadership: "Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, "Listen now, you rebels [hamorehim, from marah, lit. the ones rebelling]; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?" For these rash words and striking the rock Moses was excluded from the promised land. He had taken the place of God to judge without authority.
Yeshua may have also been referring to a false accusation, which merited the same punishment under Torah as the accuser was trying to accomplish (Ex 23:7; Deut 19:16-21). If you set yourself up as judge and jury to convict someone of being a rebel against God because they don’t believe or act in accordance with your belief system or traditions instead of according to Torah, then you’re testing God. This interpretation would certainly fit the Pharisees who regarded anyone that didn’t conform to all the traditions as a rebel and not worthy of God’s favor.
Consider the warning of Jacob ("James"):
"Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?" (Jas 4:11-12)
guilty: Grk. enochos literally means "caught in;" used mostly as a legal term denoting liable, guilty or answerable to an appropriate tribunal. In this case the tribunal would the court of heaven. The last clause of the verse would be literally translated, "liable shall be into the gehenna of fire."
the fiery hell: Grk. geenna, transliterated in English as Gehenna, refers to a place of fiery judgment after death, commonly translated as "hell." Gehenna does not occur in the LXX or other early Jewish literature in Greek (DNTT 2:208), but is a transliteration of Heb. Gey ben Hinnom, the valley of the son of Hinnom, to the south of Jerusalem, where children were once sacrificed to Moloch (Josh 15:8; 2Kgs 23:10; Jer 2:23; 7:31-32; 19:6) and in the first century served as a refuse dump. Rubbish fires were always burning there; hence its use as a metaphor for hell. Hell is a real place, a physical reality. It is not just a metaphor for a state of separation from God.
Yeshua spoke of Hell more than anyone else in Scripture and declared that it was originally prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt 25:41; 2Pet 2:4). Hell is fueled with an unquenchable fire, fire that cannot be put out (cf. 2Kgs 22:17; Isa 1:31; 34:10; 66:24; Jer 4:4; 7:20; 21:12; Matt 18:8; 25:41). The fire of hell will not degrade in intensity over the course of eternity and it cannot be extinguished by any force other than God’s power. Since the angels had to have been created on the first day (cf. Job 2:1; 38:7; John 8:44; 1Jn 3:8), Yeshua's pronouncement on the original purpose of Gehenna implies agreement with rabbinic teaching that Gehenna was one of seven things created before the world (Nedarim 39b; cf. Isa 30:33, where the Heb. Topheth is regarded as a synonym for Gehenna).
Hell is also a place of "wailing and gnashing" (or grinding) of teeth (Matt 13:40-42; 22:13). The reference to wailing means that the human spirit is not destroyed but instead mourns with the deepest regret. The metaphor of "gnashing teeth" speaks of suffering unimaginable torment. (Cf. Luke 16:23f for the torment of the rich man in Hades.) Hell is referred to as "outer darkness" (cf. Matt 8:12; 22:13; 25:30; Jude 13) may be located in outer space across the galaxy and thus should not be confused with Hades.
The KJV uses "hell" over 30 times in the Tanakh, but the word being translated is sheol, the underworld that receives all the dead (BDB 982). In the Tanakh little is known of sheol, except that it is the destination of all men after death (Gen 27:35) and a place of darkness devoid of joy (Job 17:13; Ps 6:5). The LXX renders sheol with hadēs, transliterated in English as Hades. However, during the intertestamental period Pharisaic Judaism embraced the doctrine of the immortality of the soul and resurrection, which altered the concept of Hades. Reward and punishment would begin after death and the souls of the righteous would enter heavenly blessedness, while the souls of the ungodly are punished in Hades. This was the position of the Pharisees and the Essenes (Josephus, Wars, II, 8:11, 14). Thus Hades became a place where the unredeemed dead are kept in anticipation of the final judgment.
Hell and Hades should not be confused. As illustrated in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus Hades is a destination immediately upon death (Luke 16:22-26). Sheol/hadēs is always described as being down, thus it is in a subterranean region of the earth (cf. Deut 32:22; Ezek 26:20; Matt 11:23; 12:40; Luke 10:15; Eph 4:9). Since the Bible does not admit to any belief in Purgatory, Hades is not a temporary abode where one’s guilt is purged in order to qualify for the blessing of heaven. Hell should be associated with the lake of fire in Revelation 19:20, which is the place of final punishment after the white throne judgment (Rev 20:14-15). The lake of fire may be located in outer space across the galaxy since Hell is referred to as the "outer darkness" (cf. Matt 8:12; 22:13; 25:30; Jude 13).
Given the Jewish belief in consequences after death Yeshua gives a serious warning, in which he reflects rabbinic sentiment recorded in the Talmud.
"R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in the name of R. Jonathan: He who loses his temper is exposed to all the torments of Gehenna, for it is written, Therefore remove anger from thy heart,' thus wilt thou put away evil from thy flesh [Eccl 11:10]. Now 'evil' can only mean Gehenna, as it is written, The Lord hath made all things for himself yea, even the wicked for the day of evil [Prov 16:4]." (Nedarim 22a).
"For R. Hanina said: All descend into Gehenna, excepting three. All who descend into Gehenna [subsequently] reascend, excepting three, who descend but do not reascend, viz., He who commits adultery with a married woman, publicly shames his neighbor, or fastens an evil epithet [nickname] upon his neighbor. … He who publicly puts his neighbor to shame has no portion in the world to come." (Baba Metzia 58b)
Yeshua's own warning is more to the point.
"But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment" (Matt 12:36; cf. John 12:48; 2Th 1:5-7).
Yeshua illustrates a progression of punishment based on an ascending scale of seriousness of the crime. Evidently to insult one’s brother is more serious than to be angry with him. Anger can be stopped, but cruel words cannot be withdrawn and the other person may retaliate with a fatal blow. Where would you be then? Even breaking a light commandment may result in eternal punishment.
"while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously." (1Pet 2:23)
The Besekh speaks of the right of the church to judge its members: (Matthew 18:15-19; Acts 6; 1Cor 5:3-13; 6:1-8; 2Cor 5:10-11; Jas 4:11) The danger of hell is very real if the Matthew 18 process is followed. There if the offender refuses to repent the church is to regard him as an unbeliever. Yeshua’ main concern is that his disciples not react to adversaries as those in the world. Suffering would inevitably come to this disciples and they would be taken before courts (Matt 10:17), but suffering for bad conduct would hurt the spread of the good news (1Pet 4:14-16).
1. Lesson: Do not engage in name-calling and don’t lose your temper.
2. Inappropriate name-calling constitutes defamation of character. Does the label fit the behavior?
3. Name-calling will not help to resolve disputes, but only inflames them.
23― "If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,
If therefore you are presenting: Grk. prospherō, aor. subj., to cause movement of something or someone to a person or place, bring, bring to, present, here of a religious offering or presentation. With the noun following in the accusative case the translation of "bring" is preferred (BAG 726). your offering: Grk. dōron, a gift in general or a sacrificial donation or offering. This noun is used of the gifts the Magi presented to the baby Yeshua (Matt 2:11), miscellaneous gifts donated to the Temple treasury (Matt 15:5; Mark 7:11; Luke 21:4) and the prescribed sacrifices offered at the Temple (Heb 5:1; 8:3). Some versions translate dōron here as "gift" but the mention of the altar makes that translation misleading and inaccurate.
In the LXX dōron renders several Hebrew words with a range of meaning (1) Heb. minchah, gift, tribute, offering, Gen 4:4; 32:13; Judg 3:15; (2) Heb. migdanah, a present such as men give to one another, Gen 24:53; (3) Heb. zebed, a gift from God, Gen 30:20; (4) Heb. shochad, a bribe, Ex 23:8; (5) Heb. qorban, offering, oblation, often with the Grk. verb prospherō;, Lev 1:2; 2:1; and (6) Heb. shay, a gift brought to God in homage, Ps 68:29; Isa 18:7 (DNTT 2:41). Dōron rarely appears in late Jewish literature.
Delitzsch translates dōron here with Heb. qorban. In the Tanakh qorban is the general term for all kinds of offerings described in Leviticus, Numbers and Ezekiel: (1) a clean animal without defect; (2) vegetable, grain or bread; (3) miscellaneous articles of gold, silver, precious stones, cloth, currency, etc. (cf. Mark 7:11); as well as a wood-offering for the second temple, Neh 10:35; 13:31 (BDB 898). The presence of the word "altar" that follows indicates the offering is an animal, of which there were four types.
Burnt Offering. Heb. olah; Grk. olokautōma, a sacrifice consumed by fire. This offering was a voluntary act of worship for atonement of unintentional sin in general; or an expression of devotion, commitment and complete surrender to God. The offering had to be a bull, male sheep or goat or male bird. (Lev 1)
Peace Offering. Heb. zebach; Grk. sōterion, a sacrifice of deliverance. This offering was a voluntary act of worship to express thanksgiving and fellowship. The offering could be any animal from herd or flock. Unlike most sacrificial offerings, a peace or fellowship offering was eaten in part by the worshipper and his family, as if God had invited them to dinner at his table and his family. The peace offering is a celebration of shalom between all the participants. (Lev 3)
Sin Offering. Heb. chatta'ah; Grk. hamartia. This offering was mandatory and provided atonement for specific unintentional sin, and involved confession of sin, forgiveness of sin and cleansing from defilement. The animal was specified as a young bull for the high priest and congregation, male goat for a leader, female goat or lamb for a common person, and a dove or pigeon for the poor (Lev 4:1-5:13)
Guilt Offering. Heb. asham; Grk. plēmmeleias, trespass offering (derived from Grk plēktēs, a striker, bully) for an offense or guilt. This offering was mandatory for unintentional sin against God’s holy things, or offenses against persons. The animal had to be a ram or lamb. For sins related to money restitution had to be accomplished, including nonpayment of tithe, with an added 20% fine. (Lev 5:15-6:7; 7:1-6)
at: Grk. epi, prep., lit. "upon." With the noun following in the accusative case, the preposition emphasizes motion or direction (DM 106), so a better translation would be 'to,' or 'up to," which is found in several versions. the altar: Grk. thusiastērion, an altar designed for the purpose of worship. The term occurs 23 times in the Besekh, in relation to the Temple in Jerusalem the altar of burnt offering (Matt 23:35; Luke 11:51; 1Cor 9:13; 10:18) and the altar of incense (Luke 1:11). The term is also used of ancient altars erected by the patriarchs (Rom 11:3; Jas 2:21) and the altar of incense in heaven (Rev 8:3, 5; 9:13). The word thusiastērion is used once in a fig. sense for the atoning sacrifice of Yeshua (Heb 13:10).
Thusiastērion occurs 419 times in the LXX to render Heb. mizbeach, an altar (DNTT 3:418). From the earliest times this term refers primarily to an altar devoted to YHVH (Gen 8:20; 12:7, 8; 13:4, 18; 22:9; 26:25; 33:20; 35:1, 3, 7). The term was later used for altars in the Tabernacle: the bronze altar of burnt offering (Ex 27:1-8; 38:1-7; Lev 4:7) and the golden altar of incense (Ex 30:1-10; 37:25-28). The altar of burnt offering was located in the court of the priests. In the Tanakh the term "altar" is also used fig. of the Tabernacle or Temple as the central place of worship (Ps 26:6; 43:4). For this context the opening verbal clause would be better translated as "bring your offering to the altar" (Einspruch; also CEB, GNC, JUB, KJ21, KJV, Marshall; Mounce NT, NET, NKJV, OJB and YLT have comparable wording).
Some Bible versions give the impression that the worshipper is sacrificing the animal on the altar, but that is not what happened. Only a priest could place a sacrificial animal or portions of an animal on the bronze altar (Lev 1:5, 8). Stern suggests Yom Kippur as the most likely time for this scenario (28), because of the statement in the Mishnah: "For transgressions as between man and his fellow the Day of Atonement does not procure any atonement, until he has pacified his fellow" (Yoma 8:6). However, Yeshua is not specific. Voluntary sacrificial offerings by individual Israelites occurred at all the pilgrim festivals (Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot) and the Mishnah principle would also apply on all occasions.
The pilgrim would enter through the gates on the north side of the temple (Lev 1:11). Inside the court of the priests there was a separate area designed for killing the animal. The pilgrim bringing the animal would actually perform the slaughter under the supervision of a priest (Lev 1:2-5, 10-11). Then the priest would drain blood into a bowl and the bowl would be passed up a long line of priests until it reached the bronze altar where it was poured at the base (Lev 1:5). The pilgrim would then skin the animal and cut it in pieces (Lev 1:6). Priests would then carry portions or all of the animal to the bronze altar for burning (Lev 1:7-9). The amount of the animal roasted depended on its category of offering. For a complete explanation of the sacrifices see Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services, Hendrickson Pub., 1994; Chap. 5 and Chap. 6.
To the Christian mind it seems incongruous for Yeshua to speak of a sacrificial offering when his own death would at the very least eliminate the need for the burnt offering, a sin offering or a guilt offering (Rom 8:3; Eph 5:2; Heb 10:18). However, his anticipated atoning sacrifice did not immediately eliminate the importance of offerings to God. Yeshua directed the leper he healed to present the prescribed offering to the priest (Matt 8:4), which would have included a guilt offering, sin offering and burnt offering (Lev 14:10-13). He chided the Pharisees over how offerings were made, but not the act of giving (Matt 23:19). Yeshua's apostles would later bring offerings to the Temple (cf. Acts 21:20, 26; 24:27; 1Pet 2:5). The destruction of the temple in AD 70 ended sacrifices there, but did not end divine expectation for offerings from His people.
and there: Grk. kakei, conj., a compound of kai, 'and,' and ekei, 'in that place.' remember: Grk. mimnēskomai, aor. pass. subj., to call something to mind that one has noted or thought about in the past; recollect, remember. In the LXX mimnēskomai generally renders Heb. zakar with the same meaning (DNTT 3:232). In the Tanakh Israelites were often called to remember, sometimes serving as a call for Israel to retain the knowledge of their history and past deliverances (Ex 13:3; 32:13; Deut 5:15; 7:18; 8:2; 9:7; 15:15; 16:12; 24:9, 18; 25:17; 32:7; Mic 6:5), sometimes to recall God's nature, power and spiritual redemption (Isa 44:21-22; 46:8-10) and sometime to obey the commandments and keep traditions instructed by the Lord (Ex 20:8; Num 15:39-40; Deut 8:18; 16:3; Josh 1:13).
that your brother: Grk. adelphos. See the previous verse. The term here would refer to a fellow Israelite, someone who is part of the covenant community. has something: Grk. tis, indefinite pronoun used to indicate non-specification. The neuter form would mean 'something' or 'anything.' against: Grk. kata, prep., lit. "down." The preposition is applied with a remote meaning of 'with reference to,' with respect to,' or 'pertaining to.' you: The phrase indicates that in the eyes of the brother the worshipper has committed some offence. As a word picture it implies the brother looks down on the worshipper with judgment. For the context, the most likely sacrifice the pilgrim would be making is a guilt offering and the "something" could be any of those offenses listed in Leviticus 6:2-5.
In addition, no guilt offering could be presented until restitution had been paid (Baba Kama 9:7). Regardless of the perceived or actual offence the matter must be handled according to the rule Yeshua lays down. Any offering or gift presented to God should cause reflection on relationships. If the one making the offering becomes mindful of an unresolved offense, he is duty bound to remedy that situation before completing his offering. The "remembering" may be likened to the modern Jewish greeting, mah shalomkah - "how is your shalom?" (Tverberg 13). It’s as if in presenting his offering the worshipper hears God whisper, "mah shalomkah? Isn’t there someone you need to make peace with?"
But, you say, what about now? There is no temple and there are no sacrifices to be offered. How would this instruction apply to us today? In Scripture there are several figurative uses of "sacrifice" that fit the modern era. Five kinds of sacrifice may be found in the writings of Paul and one in Peter.
First, in Romans 12:1 Paul exhorts disciples to present themselves as living sacrifices. (See my commentary there.) Being a living sacrifice means dying to selfish desires in the service of our Master. However, consecration to God cannot be complete if there is an unconfessed wrong against someone else.
Second, in Hebrews 13:15 Paul describes the praise of worship as a sacrificial offering (cf. Ps 27:6). David said, "who can approach the hill of Adonai. He who has clean hands" (Ps 24:3-4). An unwillingness to make peace would make one's praise a discordant sound in the ears of the God of peace.
Third, in Hebrews 13:16 Paul also describes doing good to others and sharing as sacrifices. Yeshua considered love of God and neighbor greater than all burnt offerings (Mark 12:33). However, you can't fix a wrong by doing something good for God or someone else. Love for a neighbor requires admitting fault and seeking to mend the broken relationship.
Fourth, in Philippians 4:18 Paul describes financial support of ministry as a sacrifice. Should we expect God to return blessing for tithes and offerings as promised in Malachi if at the same time no effort is made to give a wounded brother the gift of an apology?
Fifth, the Lord's Supper, S'udat Adonai, which is derived from Passover, is a form of peace offering. In Paul's instructions in 1 Corinthians 11, he commanded disciples to examine themselves since the congregation was full of unreconciled relationships. The elements of this meal symbolize Yeshua's sacrifice as a sin offering. How can one participate in a meal of redemption and shalom with God while having an unconfessed wrong against another person?
Lastly, intercession is a sacrificial offering to God (cf. Ex 8:28-29; Ezra 6:10; Prov 15:8; Heb 7:23-25). According to Peter disciples as priests before God have a ministry to offer up spiritual sacrifices (1Pet 2:5). The house of sacrifice was also a house of prayer (Isa 56:7; Matt 21:13). But, if you fail to fix a wrong, you may hinder your own prayers, as Peter warns husbands concerning treatment of their wives (1Pet 3:7).
Each of these occasions: consecration, praise, sharing, giving, the Lord's Supper and intercession are appropriate times for examining self and considering the nature of our relationships with others. If we recall that we have not made something right with another person then we must seek reconciliation. Going to the offended person and admitting wrong requires a sacrifice of one's pride but such humility will gain the favor of God. Let us be the kind of disciples who are eager to make peace.
24― leave your offering there before the altar and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.
leave: Grk. aphiēmi, aor. imp., has a range of meaning, (1) release from one's presence; send away, divorce, give up; (2) release from an obligation; cancel, forgive; (3) let remain behind; leave, leave behind, give up, abandon; (4) leave standing or lying; and (5) permissive sense of let, let go, allow or tolerate. The third or fourth meanings would apply here. your offering: Grk. dōron. See the previous verse. The intention is to leave before the animal is killed. Since the offering is to be completed later then the animal would be turned over to a friend or relative until the worshipper could return. there: Grk. ekei, adv., 'in that place,' as opposed to here or another place. before: Grk. emprosthen, prep. that expresses position that is in front or ahead; before, in front of.
the altar: Grk. thusiastērion. See the previous verse. and go your way: Grk. hupagō, pres. imp., to proceed from a position, with the focus on an objective destination, go. The present tense emphasizes beginning and continuing the action until accomplished. Yeshua commands, "Go from here to wherever you need to go to accomplish what I'm commanding you to do." first: Grk. prōtos, adj., having to do with 'beforeness.' The term is used in two ways: (1) having primary position in a temporal sequence; first, earlier, earliest; and (2) standing out in significance or importance; first, most prominent, most important, first of all. The first meaning fits best here.
be reconciled: Grk. diallassomai, aor. pass. imp., become reconciled, of exchanging enmity for amity and so be restored to normal relations (Danker). The verb is a compound of dia, 'through,' and allassō, to alter, change or exchange (DNTT 3:166). The verb is related to the verbs katallassō, 'reconcile' (Acts 12:22; Rom 5:10; 1Cor 7:11; 2Cor 5:18-20), katallagē, 'reconciliation,' (Rom 5:11; 11:15; 2Cor 5:18-19), and apokatallassō, 'reconcile' (Eph 2:16; Col 1:20). Diallassomai occurs rarely in the LXX: Judg 19:3 (for Heb. shub, 'bring back,' 'return'); 1Sam 29:4 (for Heb. ratsah, 'to be pleased with,' 'accept favorably'), Job 12:20, 24 (for Heb. sur, to turn aside, remove), and without Heb. equivalent in Job 37:5. Delitzsch translates diallassomai with Heb. kaphar, which means to cover, to make atonement, be forgiven (Karni 80).
to your brother: Grk. adelphos. See verse 22 above. Yeshua emphasizes that relationships with others are just as important as our relationship with God. Thus, when presenting offerings to God at one’s congregation as described in the previous verse the disciple should consider whether there is any matter that needs correcting with a brother or sister. We should note that the command to go does not assure success. The worshipper can only put himself in a place where reconciliation is possible, but reconciliation will never occur unless someone goes.
Going to the offended brother and admitting wrong requires a sacrifice of one's pride and gaining forgiveness will cleanse the heart. While the Tanakh may not employ the terminology for reconciliation, there are nevertheless poignant reconciliation stories: Jacob with Esau (Gen 33), and Joseph with his brothers and father (Gen 43—50). There is the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15). It’s interesting that when the prodigal returns home the father offers a bull as a peace offering. Of course, the greatest reconciliation story is that of the Father reaching out to a lost world to restore fellowship through the atoning sacrifice of Yeshua (Rom 5:10; Eph 2:14; Col 1:20).
and then come: Grk. erchomai, aor. part., come or arrive, with implication of a position from which action or movement takes place. In other words, come back to the Temple. and present: Grk. prospherō, aor. subj. See the previous verse. your offering: Grk. dōron. Since the scenario began with the pilgrim about to bring an offering, he is expected to complete that ministry.
25― "Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, in order that your opponent may not deliver you to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.
At first glance it may seem as if Yeshua has gone on to a new subject, but it most likely relates to the setting of verses 23 and 24. Leviticus 6:1-7 lists situations parallel to the legal scenario here that required a guilt offering, including fiduciary liability (malfeasance as trustee), robbery, extortion, false testimony and failing to return lost property.
Make friends: Grk. eunoeō, pres. part., be ready to reach agreement with, be well disposed toward, or lit. "be making friends." Yeshua uses the participle as an imperative. Scholars have long been puzzled over this particular usage of the participle in hortatory instructions concerning rules of social behavior within the community of faith and in families (especially in the apostolic letters). W.D. Davies says that non-biblical Jewish writings used the participle in exactly the same manner (Paul and Rabbinic Judaism: Some Rabbinic Elements in Pauline Theology, 1967, p. 130f.) quickly: Grk. tachus, adj., exhibiting swiftness; speedily, quickly, without delay. The point is not to delay or procrastinate. How would the disciple who had offended another make friends? Crimes against property required restitution and a 20% fine of the value. In Leviticus these penalties are self-inflicted. The repentant sinner brings them upon himself by confession, and with a view to divine forgiveness and forgiveness of the wronged party.
with your opponent at law: Grk. antidikos, adversary or opponent in a legal context. Formed from two words: anti meaning against, opposite or instead of; and dikē, meaning right or justice. Thus, the plaintiff is seeking a legal remedy for the dispute. while you are with him on the way: Grk. hodos, lit. "in the way," may refer to (1) a route for traveling; way, road, highway; or (2) the act of traveling; way, journey, trip. Yeshua paints a word picture of two Israelites traveling together to Jerusalem to attend the pilgrim feasts. This would be an opportune time to discuss differences and reach a settlement.
in order that: Grk. mēpote, conj. expressing possibility and indicating a circumstance or attitude designed to counteract a consequence ordinarily undesirable; lit. "lest" (Marshall). your opponent: Grk. antidikos. may not deliver: Grk. paradidōmi, aor. subj., to convey from one position to another. The verb in general refers to subjecting a person to a custodial procedure, which could involve various stages and numerous parties in the judicial process, with delivery to an authority for penalty by someone filled with animus. Yeshua then summarizes the legal process that could result. The plaintiff is going to court to ask the judge to uphold his rights and give him justice because the defendant won’t do it voluntarily.
you to the judge: Grk. kritēs, judge or magistrate, an official office of one presiding over a court. and the judge to the officer: Grk. hupēretēs, one who renders service and context-specific. The term is used here of an official at the service of the judge. and you be thrown: Grk. ballō, fut. pass. ind., a forceful action to throw, cast or hurl. into prison: Grk. phulakē, a place for detaining a lawbreaker, not a prison for carrying out a specified period of detention. Given the verb this place was likely a pit in the ground. Imprisonment as a punishment for crime is not known in the Torah. The few apparent cases mentioned (Lev 24:12; Num 15:34) refer to the temporary detention of the criminal until sentence could be passed on him.
Later, however, during the period of the first commonwealth, a few cases of punishment by imprisonment are recorded (1Kgs 22:27; 2Chr 16:10; Jer 37:15-16; cf. Ps 107:10). These incidents seem to have been an arbitrary punishment inflicted by the magistrates or by the kings upon those who were under accusation or in disfavor (cf. Matt 11:2; 18:30; Acts 4:1-3; 5:18; 12:7).
26― "Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.
Last cent: The "last cent" could refer to restitution or a fine or both as punishment decreed by the judge. If the offender were smart he would take care of the restitution voluntarily rather than be forced to do it by a court. There were other crimes besides those listed in Leviticus 6 that required compensation in money, such as ravishing of an unbetrothed maiden (Deut 22:28-29) and manslaughter by an ox, if the owner was forewarned of its vicious disposition (Ex 21:29-32). It should be noted that punishment by a judge required testimony of at least two witnesses. The assumption in this scenario is that the opponent at law has the witnesses.
Instruction on Marriage, 5:27-32
27― "You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY';
You have heard: Grk. akouō, aor., the sensory act of hearing with the ears, metaphorically of paying attention, but also probably with the sense of comprehension or understanding. In the LXX akouō consistently stands for Heb. shama, which not only means to apprehend, but also to accept and to act upon what has been apprehended (DNTT 2:173). This phrase alludes to hearing the Scripture read in synagogue services (Luke 4:16; Acts 13:15; 15:21; 2Cor 3:15), which would be conducted by seven readers each week selected by the chazan, a public minister of the synagogue, and translated by a meturgan as necessary (Moseley 9, 11). Early congregations of Yeshua followers continued the Jewish practice (cf. Col 4:16; 1Th 5:27; 1Tim 4:13; Rev 1:3).
that it was said: Grk. errethēn, 1st aor. pass. eipon, which is 2nd aor. of legō, to make a statement or utterance, whether oral or in written form. In the LXX legō renders Heb. amar, to utter, say, shew, command or think. The Greek verb "say" functions as quotation marks for the text following since ancient writings did not contain punctuation. However, the verb could be translated as "spoken" and would allude to the fact that the commandments were originally oral from the mouth of God (Gen 9:8; 26:5; Ex 19:8; 20:22; 24:3; 34:32; cf. Matt 4:4) and then later written down by Moses (Ex 24:4; Deut 31:9).
You shall not commit adultery: Grk. moicheuō, fut. The wording of the command is derived from the seventh commandment given at Mt. Sinai (Ex 20:14) and repeated in Moab before Israel crossed over into Canaan (Deut 5:18). This is one of the cardinal commandments that Yeshua insists to the rich young ruler is essential for experiencing eternal life (Matt 19:17-18; para. Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20). Jacob the brother of Yeshua warned the early Jerusalem congregation that violating this commandment makes one a transgressor of God's Torah. Paul affirmed the continuing authority of this commandment along with the rest of the ten commandments to the Roman congregation (Rom 13:9).
In the LXX moicheuō renders Heb. na'aph, to commit adultery (DNTT 2:582). In the literal sense na'aph always refers to the sexual congress of a man with the wife of another (e.g., Lev 20:10; Job 24:15; Prov 6:32; Jer 5:7; 7:9; 23:14; 29:23; Hos 2:2; 4:2) (BDB 610). The guilty man is called an adulterer and a guilty wife is called an adulteress (Lev 20:10; Ezek 16:38; 23:45; Rom 7:3). Everyone knew the seriousness of adultery since the Torah prescribed death for the offenders (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22-24) and any children born of an adulterous union were considered mamzer or illegitimate (cf. Deut 23:2; Isa 57:3). In addition, God announced through the prophets Hosea (4:13-14), Isaiah (57:3), Jeremiah (3:8; 9:1), and Ezekiel (16:22; 23:37) that idolatrous worship and unfaithfulness to the covenant constituted adultery. Similarly, Jacob the apostle likened friendship with the world as adultery (Jas 4:1).
Although one may assume that Yeshua is quoting from Exodus or Deuteronomy he does not say "you have read," or "it is written." Yeshua probably implies the authority of antiquity as in the previous discussion of murder. In reality, adultery was an offense long before Moses. According to the Talmud the prohibition of adultery dated from the time of Noah:
"Our Rabbis taught: The sons of Noah were given seven commandments: practicing justice and abstaining from blasphemy, idolatry, adultery, bloodshed, robbery, and eating flesh torn from a live animal" (Sanhedrin 56a).
In Scripture the earliest mention of adultery is in the life of Abraham. When Abraham traveled into Egypt he knew the covetousness of Pharaoh and in an attempt to protect himself and Sarah he decided to say that Sarah was his sister (Gen 12:13), which she was (Gen 20:12). Nevertheless Pharaoh took Sarah against her will and without discussing the matter with Abraham as would normally happen in marriage negotiations. Pharaoh tried to justify his wickedness by giving gifts to Abraham. God, then, came to Sarah's rescue: "But the LORD struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues" (Gen 12:17). Pharaoh then revealed his knowledge that adultery as wrong when he rationalized his actions by blaming Abraham, "What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife?" (Gen 12:18)
This scenario was repeated when Abraham went into Gerar, the land of the Philistines (Gen 20:1). Abraham was still identifying Sarah as his sister in public. Abimelech (a standard name for Philistine kings, like the Pharaoh of Egypt), took Sarah against her will intending to make her a wife. God intervened again and spoke harshly to the king in a dream, "Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is married" (Gen 20:3). God gave Abimelech the choice of restoring Sarah to Abraham or suffering death of his entire household. In addition God struck the women of Abimelech's household with barrenness (Gen 20:17). Abimelech, like Pharaoh, tried to rationalize his covetous actions and accused Abraham of bringing sin upon him (Gen 20:9). At the end Abraham acted as a priest to intercede for the healing of the Philistine women.
These powerful men never looked into the mirror of God's righteousness to realize they had no right to take whatever they saw. We should note that God never criticized Abraham and no blame can be attached to him for the actions of Pharaoh and Abimelech. Abraham did the best he could in the circumstances. The adulterous actions of Pharaoh and Abimelech attacked God's creation design for marriage, a covenantal relationship of loyalty and security. See my web article Marriage By Design.
28― but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.
but I say to you: Yeshua asserts his authority in contrast to historic teaching. that everyone: Grk. pas, adj. that conveys the idea of comprehensiveness as qualified by the context and without statistical emphasis; each, every (one/thing/body), every kind/sort (of). "Everyone" would mean Gentiles as well as Jews, but Yeshua particularly had men in mind. Indeed all the commands in the Torah prohibiting certain intimate relations are directed to men, not to women. who looks: Grk. blepō, pres. part., may mean (1) possess the capacity to see; (2) use one's eyes to take note of an object; (3) be looking in a certain direction; or (4) to have inward or mental sight. The participle gives the verb a substantive meaning, "one who is looking," which indicates a certain intentionality about the looking. The verb indicates the first step toward the act of sin.
at: Grk. pros, prep., used primarily in marking a destination or goal with the implication of relationship rather than entry into an entity. The root meaning of pros is near, facing (DM 110), so in an Hebraic sense the meaning is "face to face." a woman: Grk. gunē, an adult female person, without respect to age, marital or social status except as defined in the context. In the LXX gunē renders the Heb. ishshah ("woman"), the first use of which is to a married woman. Within this context concerning the subject of adultery the "woman" is betrothed or fully married and may belong to a neighbor, a relative or someone in the community.
with lust: Grk. epithumeō, aor. inf., to have a strong desire for something, but here an inordinate desire, lit. "to covet." The infinitive is a verbal noun, which means it has the voice and tense of a verb, but also the case relations of a noun. As a verb it may express purpose (the most common usage), result, time (as a temporal expression), cause or command. Here the infinitive emphasizes the purpose of the looking. This is the same word used in the LXX to translate the Heb. verb chamad in the tenth commandment that prohibits covetousness (Ex 20:17). Chamad means to 'desire' or 'take pleasure in' and is used of normal desires (BDB 326). However, whenever desire develops into an inordinate, ungoverned or selfish desire for something to which the person is not entitled, then it's called covetousness.
for her: There is no word "for" in the Greek text. The verbal phrase is simply "to covet her." Most versions, including most Messianic versions (CJB, Einspruch, HNV, OJB, TLV), translate the verb with "lust" or "lustfully," as if it were an adjective or adverb. Gruber offers a good literal translation with "everyone who gazes at a woman to desire her" (MW). Cassirer makes Yeshua's intention clear: "anyone who looks at a woman in such a way that desire for her is aroused in him" (GNC). I would translate the verbal phrase literally as "everyone looking at a woman to covet her," instead of "everyone who looks on a woman with lust for her" as found in most versions, because the issue is more than just sex. This "coveting" strikes at the foundation of God's creation design for marriage, a covenantal relationship of loyalty and security.
We must point out that the problem is not in the looking. Yeshua is not criticizing the simple act of noticing a woman, admiring a woman's qualities or having normal romantic desire. After all, courtship and marriage begin with looking. What Yeshua warns against is fixation with one specific person that would be an unlawful by Torah commandments (e.g. adultery, incest, harlotry, seduction or rape).
has committed adultery: Grk. moicheuō, aor. The second usage implies that the contemplated act is just as real to God as the completed act. Since there is no preposition following the verb, the aorist tense could possibly mean "to adulterate," that is, to debase or make impure. In other words the offender is regarding the woman as someone who is ready to be defiled. with her: Grk. heautou, fem. pronoun, acc. case. The accusative case signifies that the object referred to is considered as the point toward which something is proceeding; that it is the end of the action or motion described (DM 91). already: Grk. ēdē, adv., with focus on temporal culmination, now, already.
in his heart: Grk. kardia, the pumplike organ of blood circulation, but used here metaphorically as the center for personhood, character, cognition, emotion and volition. Yeshua invokes the tenth commandment and decrees that this kind of selfish desire constitutes adultery in the heart. He will later repeat his point that adultery originates in the heart, not the genitals (Matt 15:19). As far as God is concerned the contemplated act is equal to the completed act. Just as uncontrolled anger is the root of murder so inordinate desire is the root of sexual sins. An adulterous relationship can only bring death, as King David learned with great tragedy. Ironically Solomon, David's son of that relationship, would later say, "Can a man take fire into his bosom and his clothes not be burned?" (Proverbs 6:27) Solomon goes on to say that the one committing adultery is lacking sense," perhaps an understated commentary on his father (v. 32).
The underlying principle in Yeshua's teaching is the concept of property or belongingness. In Scripture a woman generally belongs to a man, first her father and then her husband. If the woman becomes a widow then the head of the family assumes responsibility for her (cf. 1Tim 5:8). Adultery constitutes theft, because the woman belongs to another. Moreover, adultery is not simply an immoral sex act, but an attack on the foundation of God's creation design for marriage, a covenantal relationship of loyalty and security. Thus, Solomon described the adulteress as having forgotten "the covenant of her God" (Prov 2:17). (For guidance on responding to an adulterous mate see my web article My Mate Has Been Unfaithful ~ What Do I Do?)
Yeshua never addresses the opposite problem: female lust. Indeed, the Scriptures present the subject of inordinate sexual desires of women very little, but usually in connection with the seductive "adulterous woman" who is in reality a predator (e.g., Prov 2:16; 5:3; 6:24, 26; 7:5, 10-23; 9:13-18; 22:14; 23:27; 27:13; 30:20; Eccl 7:26; Hos 3:1). God likens Israel to two wives, Oholah and Oholibah, who were guilty of lusting after their neighbors (Ezek 23:5, 11). An excellent treatment of female lust may be found in Judy Reamer, Feelings Women Rarely Share (Whitaker House, 1987).
29― "And if your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.
If: it's very easy to overlook this important Greek particle, which is used to express a condition thought of as real or to denote assumptions relating to what has already happened. The particle introduces a hypothetical situation related to the cause of covetousness. your right eye: "The appetite grows by what it feeds on." The eye is the medium through which temptation comes. The hand is the instrument for carrying out the deed. The right eye is presumably the more precious of the two. makes you stumble: Grk. skandalizō, pres., to lay an obstacle in another's way. The root word refers to a bait-stick in a trap. It was a stick or arm on which the bait was fixed and which operated the trap to catch the animal lured to its own destruction. So the word came to mean anything which causes man’s destruction. Spiritually speaking the verb means to cause someone to be guilty of a transgression.
The Sages understood the concept of which Yeshua speaks as they pointed out that the Hebrew verb "commit adultery" in Exodus 20:14 consists of four letters (tav-nun-aleph-fey). These letters are a reminder that adultery may be committed with the hand, or with the foot, or with the eye, or with the heart (Midrash Hagadol Ex. 20:14 cited in Kasdan 56). The mention of "looking" in the previous verse and the "eye" in this verse could allude to practices of the Pharisees.
First, No orthodox teacher of Torah would be seen talking to a woman in public, even if that woman was his own wife or sister. The Pharisees had strict standards concerning contact or conversation with a woman in public (cf. Luke 7:39), based on the Torah injunction "none of you shall approach a blood relative" (Lev 18:6). This "fence around the law" is reflected in the Talmud:
Mishnah: "Jose B. Johanan of Jerusalem [pres. of Sanhedrin, 2 c. BC] used to say: Engage not in too much conversation with women. He said this with regard to one's own wife, how much more (does the rule apply) with regard to another man's wife. Hence have the Sages said: as long as a man engages in too much conversation with women, he causes evil to himself, [for] he goes idle from (the study of) the words of the Torah, so that his end will be that he will inherit Gehinnom." (Avot 1:5)
Tosephtha--Aboth of R. Nathan (2nd c.): "From this it was said one must not stay in a separate room with any woman in a hostelry, though she be his sister or daughter, because of public opinion. For the same reason one must not converse with a woman in the market, not even with his wife. For the same reason a man shall not walk behind a woman, even though she be his wife." (on Avot 1:1) [The reason given for not even conversing with one's own wife in public is that not everyone knows who are his female relatives. Berachot 43b]
Second, there were so-called Kizai ("bloody-browed" or "bruised") Pharisees. This Pharisee would demonstrate piety by walking with his eyes shut in order not to look upon women, and would invariably run into a wall resulting in a bruised or bloody brow (Avot 5:9; Sotah 22b). Their intention was good, but their plan was flawed. Yeshua could be criticizing the Pharisees with satire. Obviously closing one’s eyes is not sufficient remedy. Perhaps you should remove your ability to see.
Of course, sin in not in any organ of the body and Yeshua did not intend for his words to be taken literalistically. Rather, his conditional proposition should cause the disciple to consider, "what does cause me to sin." As the previous verse indicates the problem is in the heart. King David’s sin with Bathsheba began when he saw her immersing (2Sam 11:2), and what he saw he wanted.
tear it out and throw it from you: The verbal command is hyperbole and not meant to be taken literalistically. This is a Jewish idiom that refers to stopping the act at an early or light stage. for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell: Yeshua reminds his disciples of the eternal place of punishment. See verse 22 above.
30― "And if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to go into hell.
And if your right hand: Symbol of strength. Matthew 18:8-9 repeats the same warning and adds the foot. The Jewish Rabbis had their sayings. "The eyes and the hand are the two brokers of sin." "Eye and heart are the two handmaids of sin." "Passions lodge only in him who sees." "Woe to him who goes after his eyes for they are adulterous." makes you stumble: Grk. skandalizō, pres. See the not on the previous verse. [KJV "offend" no longer means "to trip up" as it did in 1611, so it’s an inadequate term for today.] Again one must consider the true cause of sin. Can a bodily part cause a person to sin? No. The word "if" sets up the condition. If the right eye or the right hand could be blamed, then the remedy would be simple. Since the problem is in the will, the remedy is not so easy.
cut it off, and throw it from you: The verbal command is hyperbole and not meant to be taken literalistically. This is a Jewish idiom that refers to stopping the act at an early or light stage, not actual cutting off. There are two laws in the Torah that mention severing limbs.
"If two men, a man and his countryman, are struggling together, and the wife of one comes near to deliver her husband from the hand of the one who is striking him, and puts out her hand and seizes his genitals, then you shall cut off her hand; you shall not show pity." (Deut 25:11-12)
"Thus you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot." (Deut 19:21) This law reflects proportional punishment.
The point is to remove whatever influences the temptation. Take personal action before someone else does. Remember Solomon’s warning:
"The one who commits adultery with a woman is lacking sense; He who would destroy himself does it. Wounds and disgrace he will find, And his reproach will not be blotted out. For jealousy enrages a man, And he will not spare in the day of vengeance. He will not accept any ransom, Nor will he be satisfied though you give many gifts." (Prov 6:32-35)
Best to exercise self-discipline (cf. 1Cor 9:27) and remove what might lead to sin in your life than risk being removed from the Kingdom of God. This implies a certain asceticism, that is avoiding books, film, websites, places, activities and people that might lead to such temptation. Paul counseled a form of displacement philosophy in Philippians 4:8. Focus on what is good and the bad will be eliminated.
Hell: See note on verse 22. "Can a man take fire in his bosom And his clothes not be burned?" (Prov 6:27)
31― "And it was said, `WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE'"
In context the teaching on divorce is a continuation of his saying on coveting another woman. It was said: Grk. errethēn, 1st aor. pass. eipon, which is 2nd aor. of legō, to make a statement. See verse 27 above. Yeshua refers to what was spoken as opposed to what was written, a reminder that was first spoken by God and then later written down by Moses. The passive voice indicates something received. The opening phrase alludes to the instruction of Deuteronomy 24:1.
"When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house."
whoever sends away: Grk. apoluō, aor. subj., may mean (1) to set free from a condition or obligation; release, deliver, free; (2) cause to depart from a place; send off, dismiss; (3) dissolve a marriage relationship, of divorce at a husband's initiative; or (4) of departure from a place; go off, leave. This verb also occurs in other passages concerning divorce (Matt 1:19; 5:32; 19:3, 8, 9; Mark 10:2, 11, 12; and Luke 16:18). let him give: Grk. didōmi, aor. imp., to give, whether the focus is on generosity or other rationale for the giving. In the LXX didōmi generally renders Heb. natan, SH-5414, to give, used in one of three settings (1) by men one to another; (2) by men to God; and (3) by God to men (DNTT 2:41). The command puts the responsibility on the man.
her a certificate of divorce: Grk. apostasion, certificate of divorce, a legal term for a document used to relinquish property after sale, abandonment, etc. The word apostasia, apostasy, means rebellion or abandonment. Here the term is used without the technical term biblion ("notice, certificate"), which appears in Matthew 19:7 and Mark 10:4. So, in divorce one party is abandoning the other. In modern times the decision is often mutual. The corresponding Hebrew term is sefer keritut, (or "bill of cutting off"), which occurs three times in the Tanakh (Deut 24:1; Isa 50:1; Jer 3:8). The certificate of divorce formally announces the divorce and settles property claims. A Jewish divorce decree later became known as a get, a Hebrew word for a legal document, but without further identification refers to a divorce document.
The mention of the certificate of divorce affirms the antiquity of its use. In Matthew 19:8 Yeshua acknowledged Moses as the source of the current law that required a man to such a written document. He was not criticizing Moses. No doubt Moses faced the dilemma of watching wives discarded without any support or due process. Instituting a legal procedure helped to provide accountability for the men. Under rabbinic law a get had to be written on durable material with ink that did not fade, be signed by two witnesses, dated and conveyed by the husband directly to the wife on the date of the get. Once he had delivered the writ in person to his wife in the presence of witnesses he could not retract it; the woman was free. The get was intended as a protection for the wife, because her ketubah (marriage contract) was at stake. Mere physical separation could not end the marriage (cf. Rom 7:1-3). For the Jewish regulation on preparation and use of the bill of divorce see the Talmud Tractate Gittin ("Bill of Divorcement").
32― "but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."
but I say to you: Again Yeshua asserts his authority over conventional thinking. that everyone: Grk. pas, adj. See verse 28 above. The intention would be "any man." who divorces: Grk. apoluō, pres. part. See the previous verse There were two circumstances in the Torah in which a man was not allowed to ever divorce his wife: (1) if he falsely accused her of unfaithfulness during their betrothal period (Deut 22:13-19); and (2) if he seduced an unbetrothed maiden (Deut 22:28-29). There are four different words are used in the Tanakh for divorce: shalach, to send away (Gen 21:14; Deut. 22:19, 29; Jer. 3:1; Mal 2:16); garash, to drive out (Lev. 21:7, 14; 22:13; Num. 30:9; Ezek. 44:22); yatsa, to go or come out, to put away (Ezra 10:3, 19) and badal, to divide or to separate (Ezra 10:11). See my web article Divorce in the Bible.
In the first century under Jewish law only the husband had the legal right to divorce, and he could divorce his wife at will for any reason. Most of the rabbinic discussions recorded later in the Mishnah and Talmud have to do with various aspects of the legal process and the wording of the divorce certificate. A wife could appeal to Rabbinic authority to force the husband into a divorce if he failed to fulfill his obligations of Exodus 21:10-11. It was not until the Mishnah was codified in the 2nd century AD that this right was established. In Greek and Roman society a woman could divorce her husband at will.
The one substantive check on divorce was that the husband had to pay his wife her ketubah settlement, which consisted of her dowry and 200 zuzim (Aramaic for silver coins), roughly equivalent to a year of support. [Note: to understand the value of zuzim it was said that a goat could be purchased for 2 zuzim and a house for 50 zuzim.] The requirement for 200 zuzim may have been taken from Deuteronomy 22:29, which requires 50 shekels to be paid to the father for seducing his daughter. There were 4 zuzim to a shekel, this is equal to 200 zuzim. Divorce was expensive to the husband. You could imagine that some selfish men might seek divorce on grounds that would cancel his monetary obligation toward his wife. Requirements for the ketubah are set forth in the Tractate Kethuboth.
The irony in the situation is that Jews practiced polygamy in the first century. If the husband had the means he could add a wife or concubine without divorcing. A concubine could be released without a divorce certificate, because there was no marriage contract as with a principal wife. In biblical history there is no criticism of polygamy from God or any person, whereas there is pointed criticism of divorce. So the fact of divorce indicates a deliberate effort to evade responsibility for his wife. Many Gentiles use this passage to criticize Judaism as being lax in the matter of divorce. However, the Talmud Tractate Gittin ends with the comment, "If a man divorces his first wife, even the altar sheds tears" (90b).
except for: Grk. parektos, prep. expressing an exclusionary aspect; excluding, except for. the cause: Grk. logos, vocalized expression, word, discourse, statement, message or speech. In the LXX logos stands principally for Heb. dabar, which has a range of meaning "speech, word, report, command, advice, counsel, thing, matter" (Gen 29:13; SH-1697; BDB 182). The use of logos here indicates information publicly known. of unchastity: Grk. porneia. The word-group originally meant a prostitute or the practice of prostitution. A pornē (probably derived from pernēmi, "export for sale") was a woman who sold her body, a prostitute or a courtesan (1Cor 6:15-16). A pornos referred to a male prostitute, a man who frequented prostitutes or an habitually immoral man (1Cor 5:11) (DNTT 1:497).
In the LXX porneia translates zanah, which means "harlotry" (BDB 275). The Tanakh usage of harlotry included both the practice of prostitution (Gen 38:24; Lev 21:9, 14; Deut 22:21), but also wives having multiple lovers (Prov 6:24-32). Intertestament Jewish writings also included unlawful sexual relations (Lev 18) in porneia as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 5:1. Zanah particularly stood for the wicked practices of idolatry, pagan religion, occultism, child sacrifice, and intermarriage with forbidden peoples (Ex 34:15-16; Lev 20:5-6; Num 25:1-2; Deut 31:16). Zanah is rebellion against God.
makes: Grk. poieō, pres., means to do or to make. As an activity it can have the sense of bringing something about or of creating conditions that will cause something to happen. her commit adultery: Grk. moicheuō, aor. pass. inf. See verse 27 above. The aorist tense refers to a single event in time, not a continuous future activity. Being an infinitive the verb emphasizes the result of the action. Yeshua is not saying that the divorce and subsequent remarriage are not legal realities. Since the divorce was fraudulent, the wife’s wedding and consummation with another man would constitute adultery. Yeshua makes it clear that this is the first husband’s fault.
The grounds Yeshua requires really pertain to remarriage. Unlike the Pharisees Yeshua put the emphasis on remarriage rather than on divorce itself. The parallel passages in Mark 10 and Luke 16:18 vary in phraseology, but the emphasis is the same, remarriage after divorce.
Whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery: i.e., a woman divorced under the aforementioned conditions. If she was an innocent spouse, divorced under fraudulent circumstances, then she still belongs to her husband and should be reconciled to him. Marriage to another would be equivalent to bigamy. This implies that anyone contemplating marriage to a divorced person should inquire into the circumstances. With the common practice in Israel of divorce for any cause, the Essenes opposed taking a second wife as long as the divorced wife was alive.
In context Yeshua is describing a purposeful act. The man has coveted after another woman and now he divorces his wife in order to marry the other woman. The decision to divorce equals adultery, just as lust or coveting another woman equals adultery and adultery breaks God’s covenant (cf. Prov 2:17). The parallel passages illustrate the point. The sentence in Hebrew would indicate intention or purpose, not two events separated by years by two people previously strangers. The story of King David and Bathsheba illustrates what Yeshua is talking about.
Instruction on Vows, 5:33-37
33― "Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.'
The Ancients. See verse 21. You shall not make false vows: Grk. epiorkeō, to swear without fulfilling one's obligations, to break an oath. fulfill your vows: pl. of Grk. horkos, an oath. In the LXX horkos corresponds to the Heb. shebuah, oath, typically used to attest innocence (Ex 22:10; Num 5:21) or make/fulfill a promise (Gen 26:3; Deut 7:8), but occasionally to render alah, curse, act of cursing (Prov 29:24) (DNTT 3:739). Here Yeshua uses the term for making an oath as assurance that a promise to do something will be performed (e.g., Gen 28:20-22; Lev 5:4; Josh 9:20; Ps 105:9; 1Kgs 2:43). One of the famous sayings of Hillel is that "Three things support the world--law, truth, and peace" (Avot 1:17) The proper use of vows and oaths upholds these principles. Failure to fulfill vows destroys these principles.
The Torah makes it clear that vows are not mandatory, but if made God expects vows to be fulfilled,
"If a man makes a vow [Heb. neder] to the LORD, or takes an oath [Heb. shebuah] to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth." (Num 30:2)
"When you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay to pay it, for it would be sin in you, and the LORD your God will surely require it of you. However, if you refrain from vowing, it would not be sin in you. You shall be careful to perform what goes out from your lips, just as you have voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God, what you have promised." (Deut 23:21-23)
God himself swore on important occasions. "By myself I have sworn" says the Lord Almighty" (Gen 22:16). God swore to give the land of Canaan to the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Gen 24:7; 26:3; Ex 6:8; 33:1; Deut 1:8; 6:10). God swore to multiply the seed of Abraham as the stars and the sand (Ex 32:13). God swore a perpetual covenant with Israel (Deut 4:31). God swore to establish his people as a holy people (Deut 28:9). God swore that his Messiah is high priest forever (Heb 7:21). We can be very sure that God will keep His promises.
Textual Note: Yeshua is not talking about marital vows, because there were no vows in the Jewish wedding ceremony. In fact, the only answer required was "yes" or "no" in terms of whether the bride accepted the bridegroom’s marriage contract. Since the Torah contains all the important obligations of husbands and wives to each other and the spouses are in covenant with God, there is no need for additional vows.
34― "But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35― or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING. 36― "Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.
Why should anyone swear and use oaths? Paul answers, "For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute" (Heb 6:16). Various Bible characters made solemn oaths, e.g., Abraham (Gen 14:22; 24:9) and Jacob (Gen 28:20-22; 31:53; 47:31). Yeshua essentially offers a midrash on two contrasting commands:
"You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain." (Deut 5:11)
"You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name." (Deut 6:13)
Taking God’s name refers both to covenantal identity and to legal usage. In Scripture swearing has nothing to do with using crude language. Just as a wife takes her husband’s name so Israel took God’s name and must seek to glorify him. Idolatry, or worshipping other gods, is betrayal of identity as God’s people. God infers that there would be times when swearing would be necessary and in those occasions it must be done in his name. God condemns the man who swears something is true, or who makes some promise, in the name of God, and who has taken the oath falsely. Atonement for false swearing required 20% restitution (Lev 6:5). In Pharisaic Judaism the focus shifted to avoidance of speaking the divine name, but they nevertheless made oaths in a manner that Yeshua found unacceptable.
no oath at all: Yeshua's words echo other writers. Solomon said, "It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay" (Eccl 5:5). Sirach 23:9, "Do not accustom your mouth to swearing oaths, and do not habitually use the name of the Holy One." Philo of Alexandria similarly recommended avoiding oaths entirely (Decalogue 84). Josephus says this virtue characterized the Essenes:
"They are eminent for fidelity, and are the ministers of peace; whatsoever they say also is firmer than an oath; but swearing is avoided by them, and they esteem it worse than perjury for they say that he who cannot be believed without [swearing by] God is already condemned." (Wars, II, 8:6)
However, Yeshua means "no oath" of the type that follows. The early disciples understood Yeshua not as prohibiting all vows (Acts 18:5; 21:23). Yeshua did not object to being putting under oath at his trial (Matt 26:63). Paul put himself under oath on various occasions (Acts 18:5; 2Cor 1:23; Gal 1:20). Yeshua is talking about voluntary oaths used to add assurance to one’s word. Yeshua then lists four improper oaths. by heaven: Grk. ouranos, the area above the earth that encompasses the atmosphere, interstellar space and associated phenomena, or the transcendent dwelling-place of God. In the LXX ouranos translates the Heb. word hashamayim ("the heavens"). Among Jews "heaven" was often used as a circumlocution for the Name of God.
for it is the throne of God: "Heaven" is often associated with the location where God sits on a throne (1Kgs 22:19; 2Kgs 19:15; Ps 2:4; 11:4). Paul spoke of this place as the "third heaven" (2Cor 12:2-4). by the earth: Grk. gē. See verse 5 above. In this context gē should be translated as "land" as a reference to erets Yisrael. for it is the footstool: Grk. hupopodion, a device for supporting one's feet when in a sitting position, a footstool. The mention of a footstool is rather curious given its usage in Scripture. King Solomon had a gold footstool attached to his a throne (2Chr 9:18). However, "footstool" is used fig. of the worship sanctuary of Israel (1Chr 28:2; Ps 99:5; 132:7; Lam 2:1; Isa 66:1).
of His feet: pl. of Grk. pous, the body part used for walking or running, foot. Yeshua employs an anthropomorphism common in the Tanakh (e.g., Ex 24:10), which presents a theological paradox. Yes, God is Spirit (John 4:24), but passages speak of God walking (Gen 3:8; Deut 1:31), standing (Gen 18:22; Job 19:25; Ps 82:1) and sitting (Ps 2:4; 47:8; 55:19). In Isaiah 60:14 Zion is referred to as the "soles" of God's feet. by Jerusalem: Grk. Hierosoluma, a rough transliteration of the Heb. Yerushalayim, which means "possession" or "foundation of peace" (BDB 436). The city is situated some 2500 feet above sea level and eighteen miles west of the northern end of the Dead Sea, is renowned as the capitol of all Israel, afterwards of the Kingdom of Judah and the seat of central worship in the temple.
For the faithful Jew the city of Jerusalem represented all that was dear in the covenant relationship with God. One psalmist expressed his affection thus, "If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget her skill, may my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy" (Psalm 137:5-6). What a precious name is Jerusalem! for it is the city of the great King: Jerusalem belongs to the God of Israel, the Great King, but also to his Anointed One, the Messiah (which happens to be Yeshua), who will reign from this blessed city (Isa 2:3; 16:5; 59:20; Ezek 34:23-24; 37:24-25; Zech 14:3-4; Luke 1:32; 13:35).
by your head: Grk. kephalē, the head as an anatomical term. No one can change the substance of their hair color, although it may be dyed. God created your hair color and has even counted the number of hairs on one's head (Matt 10:30).
We might ask what makes these four categories of oath-making bad. They illustrate misuse of swearing. First, there is frivolous swearing, or taking an oath where none was necessary or proper. For example, rabbis ruled that to use an oath to affirm "That is an olive tree" was sinful and wrong.
A second misuse of oath-making is evasive swearing. Jews divided oaths into two classes: those absolutely binding and those which were not. In Pharisaic Judaism an oath which contained the name of God was absolutely binding, but an oath which succeeded in avoiding the name of God was held not to be binding. The principle is that if God’s name was used, God became a partner in the transaction; whereas if God’s name was not used, He had nothing to do with the transaction (Barclay 1:159).
The result was that if a man swore by the name of God in any form, he would rigidly keep that oath; but if he swore by heaven or by earth or by Jerusalem, he felt quite free to break that oath. The mode of swearing mentioned in verse 35 was very frequently adopted. They also swore by the Covenant, by the service of the Temple, or by the Temple itself. But perhaps the usual mode of swearing, which is attributed even to the Almighty, is "By thy life." Yeshua illustrates the practice of evasive swearing in Matthew 23.
16 "Woe to you, blind guides, who say, `Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.' 17 "You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold? 18 "And, `Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering on it, he is obligated.' 19 "You blind men, which is more important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering? 20 "Therefore, whoever swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. 21 "And whoever swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. 22 "And whoever swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it."
Yeshua asserts that no man can keep God out of any transaction. Life cannot be divided into rooms in which God does not live or is uninvolved. There cannot be one standard at home, another at work and another within the Body of Messiah.
37― "But let your statement be, 'Yes, yes' or `No, no'; and anything beyond these is of evil.
Yes or No. The Talmud concurs, "Let your ‘no’ and ‘yes’ both be righteous [i.e., straightforward]" (Baba Metzia 49a). A man’s character should make an oath unnecessary. This principle is echoed in James 5:12: "But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment."
Anything beyond these is of evil. This statement might mean: (1) If it is necessary to take an oath from a man, that necessity arises from the evil that is in the human race. If there was no evil, there would be no need for an oath. (2) It is not necessary to say "I swear." If asked in a courtroom "Do you swear that…?" you only need to answer "yes" or "no" and thus fulfill the command of Yeshua, because Yeshua said "Let your statement be…"
Instruction on Revenge, 5:38-42
38― "You have heard that it was said, `AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.'
The so-called lex talionis, law of retaliation, was said not just once but three times in the Torah.
"then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. (Ex 21:23-25)
"If a man injures his neighbor, just as he has done, so it shall be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted on him." (Lev 19:19-20)
"Thus you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot." (Deut 19:21)
Contrary to popular thinking, the context of these passages shows that God was not commanding or authorizing personal revenge, but providing a guideline for judicial authority as a limit on punishment or damages imposed in a court hearing. The offender is to be punished to the same degree, but not more, as he has inflicted on the victim.
In jurisprudence this is the principle of proportionality. In biblical case law proportionality was determined by considering three levels of causation: accidental, negligence and intentional.
a. For accidental damage to property the loss was to be divided equally by the parties (Ex 21:35), whereas accidental loss of life was not to be punished. It should be noted that God called for measures to protect the life of the offender in accidental homicide from revenge of the victim's family (Ex 21:13; Deut 19:4-6).
b. For ordinary negligence the offender was to bear the full loss of property by restitution or satisfaction (Ex 21:36; 22:6). Where negligence caused a death the offender deserved death, but the death penalty could be averted by means of a ransom (Ex 21:29-30).
c. For willful negligence or intentional conduct that results in harm to property the offender was to bear the full loss, plus incur punitive damages at least double the amount of the loss, but not more than five times the loss (Ex 22:1). Similarly, for intentional conduct that resulted in loss of life the offender was to be executed without pity (Ex 21:14, 29f; Lev 24:19; Deut 19:11-13).
Rabbinic authority went far beyond the simple Torah guidance and required that damages for personal injuries be based on five different aspects of the injury: damage, pain, healing, loss of time from work, and insult. (Baba Kama 8:1)
a. For damage (e.g., loss of sight or limb, or broken limb), they valued the injured person as if he were a slave for sale on the market, and they appraised his value before the injury and afterwards.
b. For pain (e.g., work related injury), they determined how much a man of his position would be willing to be paid to suffer that amount of pain.
c. For healing, the amount was determined based on the expenses of healing the injured person.
d. For loss of time, the amount is determined from the kind of work the person would be fit for doing after recovery, such as a watchman over a cucumber field, which required no special skills.
e. For insult, compensation was determined based on the social status of the victim and the offender. The example given is of insulting a person who is naked, blind or asleep.
39― "But I say to you, do not resist him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Since most people are right-handed, this would be a slap of insult with the back of the hand. Yeshua is saying, don’t take the Rabbinic approach and calculate the five types of compensation for being slapped. (Modern litigation in America takes the Rabbinic principles to extremes so that people treat a lawsuit as an alternative to the lottery.)
There are three biblical examples of being struck on the face:
a. In 1 Kings 22 King Jehoshaphat of Judah and King Ahab of Israel discussed an alliance to fight against Aram. The prophet Micaiah counseled against war and prophesied defeat. In the confrontation between prophet and king one of Ahab’s officers struck Micaiah on the cheek for calling Ahab’s advisors deceivers. Micaiah could only respond by saying that the proof of God’s word would be in the fulfillment.
b. Yeshua was struck at his trial and responded assertively by saying, "If I have spoken wrongly, testify of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?" (John 18:23).
c. Paul reacted similarly in Acts 23 when the high priest ordered that Paul be struck in the mouth. He responded more strongly than Yeshua by saying, "God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?" (Acts 23:3)
The forbidden resistance Yeshua alludes to is returning evil behavior with evil behavior (cf. 1Pet 2:21-23). The Torah requires that evil behavior by a neighbor be confronted (Lev 19:17-18). The biblical examples indicate the striking occurs because of speaking the truth. None of these cases indicate actually offering the other cheek to be hit. Rather the command appears to be an idiomatic expression for confronting with words. The striking occurred because of speaking and the disciple should not allow the striking to silence the word of God.
Some Christians have attempted to apply this standard literalistically to communities and nations, effectively nullifying the duty God gave to governments to punish the wicked (Gen 9:6; Rom 13:1-4). Yeshua clearly gave this commandment to his disciples as a guideline for personal behavior. Conversely, in history the Church enlisted the aid of the government to not only promote its interests but also enforce its edicts, including coerced conversions at the point of a sword. However, as someone once said, Yeshua intended that his Body receive blows rather than inflict them. (See my web article The Error of Pacifism.)
40― "And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also."
Yeshua, like other Jewish men of his day, wore two garments. The first one mentioned is the shirt, Grk. chitōn. In the LXX chitōn renders Heb. kethoneth, "tunic," the principal ordinary garment made of linen and extended to just above the ankles. The inner tunic was worn next to the skin by both men and women (BDB 509). The coat, Grk. himation, made of wool, was worn over the chitōn. In the LXX himation rendered the Heb. beged, meaning both the outer garment and the clothes as a whole (DNTT 1:316). In the Tanakh beged meant garment, clothing, raiment, or robe of any kind, from the filthy clothing of the leper to the holy robes of the High Priest, the simplest covering of the poor as well as the costly raiment of the rich and noble (BDB 94).
Notice that the lawsuit is for the chitōn. Clothing was important property and could be taken as a pledge or security.
"If you ever take your neighbor's cloak [LXX himation]as a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets, for that is his only covering; it is his cloak for his body. What else shall he sleep in? And it shall come about that when he cries out to Me, I will hear him, for I am gracious. (Ex 22:26-27)
Taken literalistically Yeshua would be saying that for the sake of peace you should be willing to go naked. This action would have the effect of shaming the adversary. Taken metaphorically, Yeshua would be saying to be generous in settlement of a claim and to take responsibility for the needs of the other.
Yeshua is not saying that a disciple should never be concerned about his legal rights. Paul claimed his right as a Roman citizen to a fair trial when faced with a capital charge (Acts 25:8-11) and indeed the government has a responsibility to protect the rights of its citizens (Rom 13:1-4). However, the situation Yeshua addresses appears to be a personal dispute, strictly a civil matter. Yeshua gave no authorization to sue others, but required his disciples to remember they are called to be shalom-makers. Disciples are especially not to sue other disciples, but turn to the Body of Messiah to help resolve disputes (Matt 18:15-19; 1Cor 6:1-6).
41― "And whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two."
The most likely context is that under Roman occupation soldiers could force free citizens to perform specific work for them or carry their gear. The Greek word for "forces" is used in Matthew 27:32 of Simon of Cyrene who was "pressed" into service to carry the cross for Yeshua. It should be noted that the requirement here is to do something lawful, not unlawful.
Yeshua exhorts his disciples to consider that even if they must perform involuntary unpaid service for Caesar to remember they are still ambassadors for the Messiah. Their response to such unfair treatment reflects on their Master and either harms or conserves the possibility for sharing God’s love and message of salvation.
There could be many situations where a disciple is required to interrupt his schedule to obey someone who has authority over him, such as an employer. A disciple should always be generous with his time just as the Father is generous with his time toward us.
42― "Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you."
Ask/Borrow: The common translation gives the impression that a disciple is duty-bound to give his material possessions to anyone who asks him for them. The Greek text and Christian Bible versions fail to recognize the Hebraic parallelism of Yeshua’ words. In Hebrew parallelism, common to the Wisdom Literature, the same thought is expressed twice using different words. The verb "ask," therefore, is parallel in meaning to the verb "borrow" in the second half of the verse. The Hebrew verb "ask," unlike its Greek and English counterparts, has three meanings: (1) ask a question; (2) make a request; and (3) borrow.
There is a subtle difference between the words for "borrow." In Hebrew a distinction is made between borrowing an object, such as a tool, which must be returned to the owner, and borrowing something such as money or flour, which must be returned in kind. One is not actually returning the same flour, but the same amount. Yeshua uses the first word for "borrow" in the first half of the verse and the second word in the second half in order to address a real social problem.
Yeshua could be saying that in relations with a quarrelsome neighbor the disciple should not try to get even by refusing to loan his tools or a cup of flour. Even a cup of cold water given in the name of Yeshua will have its reward (Matt 10:42). Conversely, this command does not negate all the biblical instruction to be good stewards of what God has entrusted to us. One should not foolishly dispose of his possessions without God’s guidance.
Yeshua could also have been addressing a serious breach of the Torah occurring in his day.
"At the end of every seven years you shall grant a remission of debts. 2 "This is the manner of remission: every creditor shall release what he has loaned to his neighbor; he shall not exact it of his neighbor and his brother, because the LORD'S remission has been proclaimed. … 7 "If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; 8 but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks. 9 "Beware that there is no base thought in your heart, saying, 'The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,' and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing; then he may cry to the LORD against you, and it will be a sin in you." (Deut 15:1-2, 7-9)
Apparently, in the time of Hillel (who ruled the Great Sanhedrin during Yeshua’ youth), poor Israelites were unable to obtain needed loans before the Sabbatical year, because their better-off brothers were not obeying the Torah, not fearing that the Lord would find them "guilty of sin." In response Hillel instituted the prosbul, a deed whereby a creditor transferred his debts to the Beth Din, which were then regarded as though already collected from the debtor, so that the seventh year did not cancel them (Kiddushin 26b, Gittin 36a-b; Shebiith 10:4). This was done only if the debtor possessed land. Hillel reasoned that, because of the people's disobedience, annulling the Torah would produce a greater good (more loans) than following it.
Yeshua was accused of trying to annul Torah and yet here is a clear example where rabbinic authority annulled an important commandment of the Torah. Yeshua commanded his disciples to follow Torah and be willing to make loans, even in the year before the year of remission. The implication is that they should also cancel loans in accordance with Torah and not take advantage of the prosbul.
There is a great promise of the Torah that may also lay behind Yeshua’ teaching.
"For the LORD your God will bless you as He has promised you, and you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; and you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you." (Deut 15:16)
Yeshua could be saying that he wants his disciples to be lenders to the poor as encouraged in the Torah (Deut 15:7-8). The only stipulation is that the poor must not be charged interest (Ex 22:25; Deut 23:19).
Instruction on Love, 5:43-48
43― "You have heard that it was said, `YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy."
You have heard: Grk. akouō, aor., to hear with a focus on the willingness to hear or heed what is said. that it was said: See verse 21 above. Yeshua responded both to Scripture and to contemporary Jewish thinking.
"You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD." (Lev 19:18)
"Do I not hate those who hate You, O LORD ? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You? I hate them with the utmost hatred; they have become my enemies." (Ps 139:21-22)
However, while David commended himself for hating God’s enemies (and that’s an important distinction), Scripture nowhere teaches that you should hate your enemy. This common sentiment of Yeshua’ day resulted from a misinterpretation of David’s attitude.
Contemporary Judaism indeed reflected Yeshua’ words. Baseless hatred was considered more serious than immorality, idolatry and the shedding of blood put together (Yoma 9a) and "put one out of the world" (Avot 2:11). At the same time hatred was encouraged: "Love every one except the infidels, the enticers, the misleaders, and the informers" (Tosephtha, Avot R. Nathan, Avot 2). Another rabbinic source said "It is forbidden to harbor feelings of anger and revenge against the sons of the people, but not against others (Siphra on Lev 19:18). The Qumran community also spoke in a similar vein (Bivin 90). In the Charter of Jewish Sectarian Association (commonly referred to as the Community Rule) are these declarations:
"the Instructor is ... to teach them to love everything He chose and to hate everything He rejected, to distance themselves from all evil." (1QS 1:3-4; TDSS 117)
"love all the Children of Light, each commensurate with his rightful place in the council of God—and to hate all the Children of Darkness, each commensurate with his guilt and the vengeance due him from God." (1QS 1:9-11; TDSS 117)
"These are the precepts of the Way for the Instructor in these times, as to his loving and hating: eternal hatred and a concealing spirit for the Men of the Pit! He shall leave them their wealth and profit like a slave does his master—presently humble before his oppressor, but a zealot for God's law whose time will come: even the Day of Vengeance. He shall work God's will when he attacks the wicked." (1QS 9:21-23; TDSS 131).
And, of course, the zealots certainly agreed with hating the Roman enemies of Israel.
You shall love your neighbor: Scripture contains a number of admonitions of how to behave toward specific individuals or groups of people. A neighbor most commonly referred to someone that lived in adjoining property or dwelling, but could also refer to any member of the community and then lastly to any Israelite (cf. Lev 19:17). In the Hebrew perspective neighbors are bound by their covenant to God. Thus Gentile proselytes who attached themselves to Israel were accorded the same rights and privileges as native Israelites. Strangers (Gentiles) living in the land were subject to Jewish law (Ex 12:49) and thus Israelites were expected to treat them fairly (Ex 23:9; Lev 19:33).
and hate: Grk. miseō means to detest, abhor or reject. The Heb. equivalent is sane, which may be an emotional impulse (e.g., Joseph’s brothers hated him because he was the favorite, Gen 37:2-5). Wisdom teaches that hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses (Prov 10:12). The Hebrew word can also mean to love less (e.g., Jacob loved Leah less than Rachel, Gen 29:30; cf. Deut 21:15-17).
your enemy: In both Greek and Hebrew the word enemy refers to someone that is hostile toward you. In the Tanakh enemies are military opponents, the nations with which one is in a state of war. An enemy will could also be personal or religious. Since Israel is God’s people, then its enemies are also God’s enemies (Ex 23:22; Josh 7:8; 2Sam 12:14). The ungodly man is the enemy of the righteous (Ps 5:8-10; 55:3) and of God (Ps 37:20). Hope for the future depends on deliverance from enemies and their destruction (Num 24:18; Ps 110:1-2; 132:18; Isa 62:8; Mic 5:9).
The Torah contains a curious requirement that has a lot to do with the teaching of Yeshua.
"If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, you shall refrain from leaving it to him, you shall surely release it with him." (Ex 23:4-5)
Torah requires decent treatment of animals (Deut 22:6) and a bad relationship with a neighbor should not undermine this care.
44― "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
Love. Grk. agapaō means to treat respectfully, to welcome, to be pleased with. It is generally devoid of strong emotion, although it can mean to be fond of. It contains the idea of devotion for the sake of another. In the Besekh that devotion is often portrayed in sacrificial terms.
In the LXX agapaō translates aheb, but aheb is a far more comprehensive word than agapao. There are four words in Greek for love. Besides agapao there is eros, desire or longing between a man and woman; storgē, family affection; phileō, affection of people who are close to one another, whether inside a family or out, also care and compassion, and then love of things that one enjoys. Aheb is like the English word "love" which is used to mean all these things.
Yeshua is not commanding to have good feelings or affection for enemies. In another example of parallelism the second part of verse 44 explains the identity of the enemies and what Yeshua means by loving your enemies. Yeshua’ command may well have been imitated by a medieval Jewish work that says "pray for your enemy that he serve God" (Orchot Tzaddikim 15c, quoted in Stern 30).
Hillel had said: "Be a disciple of Aaron, love peace, pursue peace, love all men too, and bring them nigh unto the Law." (Avot 1:12)
45― in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."
Sons of your Father: If you recall from the lesson on verse 9 "son" can have a variety of meanings. In Hebrew "son of" implies being like one’s father in character. What is the character of the Father? Even without knowing him or praying to him God blesses the evil and unrighteousness with the basic necessities for sustaining life on earth, sun and rain. The inference is clear. If God treats those who have no regard for him with such generosity, how should the disciples of Yeshua behave?
46― "For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same?"
Love those who love you: This is a definition of selfish altruism. Giving in order to get. Quid pro quo. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. The world functions by this principle, including disciples. Yeshua points out that there is no spiritual or heavenly reward for such "love" because it has already been rewarded.
This attitude also reflects an exclusivism, a separation from others "not like us." We only fellowship with those like us, who won’t taint us. However, Paul clarifies the divine intent: "I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world" (1Cor 5:9-10).
There is an implied insult in the comparison with tax collectors. In other words, if you limit your love to selfish altruism then you’re no better than the person you consider to be the worst in society.
tax-gatherers: The Roman government also created a wide variety of taxes, including property taxes, sales taxes, highway tolls, duties on commerce and assorted government fees. Like today, the Roman government taxed anything that lived, grew, sat or moved. The plan of Augustus relied on a regular census being taken to evaluate the taxable number of people and their income/wealth status. Tax collectors were hired by the local government and assisted in the census taking and collecting the taxes that had been assessed.
Tax collectors were independent contractors, not civil servants, and earned their income from fees charged to individual taxpayers for changing property or money used to pay taxes into Roman coinage, as well as banking services. The cost of collection rested squarely on the shoulders of the taxpayer, not the government, and the system was under local control. Citizens knew beforehand the exact amount to pay for taxes. However, Israel experienced Roman taxation as a crushing weight.
Paying taxes to the oppressive Roman government was regarded by the Pharisees and other traditional groups as robbery and, of course, those who collected the taxes were classed as robbers. While there may have been unscrupulous Jewish tax collectors there is NO evidence of a pervasive problem and Scripture never impugns the fiduciary integrity of any Jewish tax collector. So, Jewish tax collectors, like Matthew and Zaccheus, were considered robbers, not because they robbed by Torah definition, but because they collected revenue on behalf of the Roman government. In contrast the Levites who collected the temple tax were not considered robbers.
47― "And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?"
Greet: Grk. aspazomai, to greet includes the act of embracing as in the mutual greeting of two good friends. Among Jews this included extending words of blessing. "Shalom" was common greeting and was intended as a desire for the other person to experience the greatest good possible. Four times in his letters Paul commands disciples to greet one another with a holy kiss (Rom 16:16; 1Cor 16:20; 2Cor 13:12; 1Th 5:26).
Gentiles: pl. of Grk. ethnos, humans belonging to a people group. In the Besekh the plural form ethnos normally corresponds to the Heb. goyim, which in the Tanakh referred to all nations, including Israel (cf. Gen 10:5; Ex 19:6; Deut 4:6; Ps 106:5; Isa 9:1). The term is used often in the Besekh for "Gentiles" in contradistinction to Jews and Israel (e.g., Matt 5:47; Acts 2:27; 21:21; 26:17; Rom 3:29; 1Cor 1:23; Gal 2:14-15), but is also used of the Samaritan Jews (Acts 8:9) and Israel (Matt 21:43; John 18:35; Acts 24:10; 26:4; 1Cor 10:18). Often ethnos is used in a geographical sense with a diverse population that would include descendants of Jacob as residents or citizens (Matt 12:21; 24:14; Acts 17:26; Rom 1:5; 16:26; Gal 2:9; 1Tim 3:16). In my view "pagans" would be a better translation (as in NIV, NLT, PNT, TEV, TLV), because the term would certainly include Hellenistic Jews who were known for adopting pagan culture.
Yeshua makes the same comparison here as with the tax collectors and makes "greet" parallel to "love." He does not intend any negative meaning about non-Jews. He is only pointing out that that are friendly with one another, too.
48― "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
You are to be: In the Greek this is a future tense, indicative mood, whereas most Bible versions translate it as if it were in the present tense, imperative mood. While Yeshua may have intended this statement to be a command, it is most certainly a prophetic statement of his intention of what they would be with the power of the Holy Spirit. Only the NASB and NLT preserve this dual aspect of the verse. In addition the middle voice of the verb implies that the disciple is an active agent in bringing about the perfection, but is not the sole agent.
Perfect: Grk. teleios essentially means to be complete. In the LXX teleios occurs 20 times; seven times as equivalent for the Heb. root salem, to be sound, and seven times for tamim, complete, sound. The stress lies on being whole, perfect, intact. It is used of the heart that is wholly turned towards God (1Kgs 8:61; 11:4), and of the man who has bound himself wholly to God (Gen 6:9; cf. Deut 18:13). The thought of totality is also shown in the mention of total depopulation (Jer 13:19), and in the fact that whole-offerings can be called teleai (Jud 20:26; 21:4).
Father is perfect. God is whole, undivided. He does not love just his people, but the entire world. In context the perfection being highlighted is not his moral holiness, but his generosity and grace toward all people, even to those who have no interest in him and live contrary to his will.
Works Cited and Consulted
BAG: Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. trans. W.F. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich. The University of Chicago Press, 1957.
Barclay: William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series. Revised Ed., 16 Vols. The Westminster Press, 1975-76.
BDB: The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. London: Oxford University Press, 1907. Reprinted by Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., 1981. Online at BibleHub.com.
Bivin: David Bivin, New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus: Insights from His Jewish Context. En–Gedi Resource Center, 2007.
Carson: D.A. Carson, Matthew, Vol. 8, Expositor's Bible Commentary, Software version 2.6. Zondervan Corp., 1989-1999.
Clarke: Adam Clarke (1762-1832), Commentary on the Holy Bible: Acts (1826). Abridged by Ralph Earle, Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1967. Complete commentary Online.
Danker: F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. The University of Chicago Press, 2009.
Delitzsch: Franz Delitzsch (1813-1890), Hebrew New Testament. Leipzig, 1877. Online. (Translation into biblical Hebrew.)
DM: H.E. Dana & Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament. The Macmillan Co., 1955.
DNTT: Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 Vols. Colin Brown, ed. Zondervan Publishing House, 1975.
Edersheim: Alfred Edersheim (1825-1889), The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah(1883). New Updated Edition. Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1993. Also online.
Einspruch: Henry Einspruch, The Good News According to Matthew. Lederer Publications, 1964.
Gale: Aaron M. Gale, Annotations on "Matthew," Jewish Annotated New Testament, eds. Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Brettler. Oxford University Press, 2011.
HELPS: Gleason L. Archer and Gary Hill, eds., The Discovery Bible New Testament: HELPS Word Studies. Moody Press, 1987, 2011. (Online at BibleHub.com)
Gesenius: Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius (1786-1842), Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament. Trans. Samuel P. Tregelles (1846). Baker Book House, 1979. Online.
Gill: John Gill (1697-1771), Exposition of the Entire Bible. Online.
Jastrow: Marcus Jastrow, Dictionary of Targumim, Talmud and Midrashic Literature. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1903, 1926. Online.
Kasdan: Barney Kasdan, Matthew Presents Yeshua, King Messiah: A Messianic Commentary. Lederer Books, 2011.
Lightfoot: John Lightfoot (1602-1675), A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica (1859 ed.), 4 Vols. Hendrickson Pub., 1989. Online.
LSJ: Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon. Revised and augmented by Sir Henry Stuart Jones. Clarendon Press, 1940. Online.
Mounce: William D. Mounce, Mounce Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament. 2011. Online.
NIBD: Nelson's Illustrated Dictionary of the Bible. Herbert Lockyer, ed. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986.
Philo: Philo of Alexandria (aka Philo Judaeus, c. 25 BC─50 AD), The Works of Philo. Online.
Stern: David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996.
TDSS: The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation. Rev. ed. Trans. Michael Wise, Martin Abegg Jr. and Edward Cook. HarperOne, 2005.
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