Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

Matthew 5


In this and the two following chapters the textual criticism rises to higher importance; the precise words spoken by our Lord being in question.


It is instructive to find the Sermon on the Mount following close upon the works of mercy which would open men’s hearts to receive the Saviour’s words. It is a discourse about the changed life or μετάνοια, showing its conditions; and about the Kingdom or βασιλεία showing its nature, legislation, and privileges.

The description of the Kingdom here given may be compared with the thoughts suggested by Satan in the Temptation. Jesus makes no promise to conquer the world, or to dazzle men by a display of power, or to satisfy bodily wants, making poverty cease.

In regard to heathenism the sermon is a contrast, in regard to the Jewish Law it is a sublime fulfilment. Again, instead of curses there are blessings, instead of penalties, reward.

Two questions are raised in regard to the Sermon on the Mount. [1] Is it a connected discourse, and not merely a collection of our Lord’s sayings? [2] Is it to be identified with the Sermon on the Plain, Luke 6:17-49?

The first of these questions may without doubt be answered in the affirmative, the second with less certainty. 1. (a) This is the most natural inference from the Evangelist’s words and from the manner in which the discourse is introduced. (b) An analysis points to a close connection of thought and to a systematic arrangement of the different sections of the Sermon. It is true that some of the sayings are found in a different connection in St Luke’s Gospel, but it is more than probable that our Lord repeated portions of His teaching on various occasions. 2. In favour of the identity of the two discourses it may be noted that: (a) The beginning and end are identical as well as much of the intervening matter. (b) The portions omitted—a comparison between the old and the new legislation—are such as would be less adapted for St Luke’s readers than for St Matthew’s. On the other hand it is urged that (α) St Matthew describes the sermon as being delivered on the mountain (ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος) while St Luke’s words are ἔστη ἐπὶ τόπου πεδινοῦ. But the ‘mount’ and the ‘plain’ are not necessarily distinct localities. The τόπος πεδινὸς was probably a platform on the high land. Summoque in vertice montis | planities ignota jacet tutique receptus. Verg. Æn. XI. 526. (β) The place in the order of events differs in St Luke. But it is probable that here as well as elsewhere St Matthew does not observe the order of time.

Here the question of time is important as bearing on a further question, whether Matthew was himself among the audience. Was the Sermon delivered after the call of the twelve (Luke) or before (Matthew)?

The following analysis may be of use in shewing the connection.

A. The Subjects of the Kingdom, Matthew 5:3-16.

[1] Their character and privileges, Matthew 5:3-12.

[2] Their responsibility, Matthew 5:13-16.

B. The Kingdom of Heaven in relation [1] to the Law, Matthew 5:17-48; and [2] to Pharisaic rules, Matthew 6:1-34.

[1] It is the highest fulfilment of the law in regard to (a) The Decalogue, Matthew 5:21-37. (b) The law of Retaliation, 38–42. (c) Love or Charity, 43–48.

[2] It exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees in regard to (a) Almsgiving, Matthew 6:1-4; (b) Prayer, Matthew 6:5-15; (c) Fasting, Matthew 6:16-18; (d) Earthly possessions and daily cares, Matthew 6:19-34.

C. Characteristics of the Kingdom, Matthew 7:1-27. (a) Judgment on others, Matthew 7:1-6. (b) The Father’s love for the Children of the Kingdom, 7–12. (c) The narrow entrance therein, 13, 14. (d) The danger of false guides to the narrow entrance, and the test of the true, 15–23. (e) A description of the true subjects of the Kingdom, as distinguished from the false, 24–27.

ὄχλους. The plural indicates either [1] the separate groups of listeners; or [2] the people the several units of which the whole was composed. This use of the plural to signify the parts which together form the whole may be illustrated by εὔνοιαι ‘marks of favour,’ μανίαι ‘fits of madness,’ (Clyde, Gk. Synt. § 10); and by ars ‘art,’ artes ‘works of art,’ regnum ‘kingdom,’ regna ‘royal prerogatives.’

τὸ ὄρος, ‘the mountain’, the high land bordering on the Lake, behind Tell Hûm or Ain et Tâbigah, which the inhabitants of those places would naturally call ‘the mountain’ (see map). It was the Sinai of the New Law. Cp. Psalms 72:3.

καθίσαντος αὐτοῦ. The usual position of a Jewish teacher. In the Talmud ‘to sit’ is nearly synonymous with ‘to teach.’

Christ is not preaching a sermon or heralding the Gospel as in ch. Matthew 4:23. ‘The Sermon on the Mount’ is more properly the ‘New Law.’ Therefore he does not stand like a modern or mediæval preacher as often represented, but sits like an Oriental monarch or teacher. The difference seems slight, but in the Ceremonial East it would mean a great deal.

In Mediæval art the Sermon on the Mount is an illustration of ‘Practical Theology.’ (See Ruskin, Mornings in Florence, 5:145.)

προσῆλθαν. This aoristic form, of which ἔλαβα, ἔφαγα, ἔπεσα are examples, is rightly restored on the highest MS. authority in many passages. Sturz (Dial. Mac. et Alex. § 9) regards it as a Cilician form—a point of some interest in relation to St Paul’s Greek.

The anacoluthon καθίσαντος αὐτοῦπροσῆλθαν αὐτῷ is frequent in the N.T. and not very uncommon in the Classics, cp. εἰκὸς γὰρ ὀργὰς θῆλυ ποιεῖσθαι γένος, | γάμους παρεμπολῶντος ἀλλοίους πόσει. Eur. Med. 909. ὕπεστί μοι θράσος, | ἁδυπνόων κλύουσαν | ἀρτίως ὀνειράτων. Soph. El. 479. See also Æsch. Suppl. 437.


[1] Their character and privileges, Matthew 5:3-12

Verses 3-9

3–9. The transposition of Matthew 5:4-5 to their order in the text is on the authority of the leading textual critics without however conclusive MS. support. The logical gradation of thought is in favour of the change. Of the ‘Beatitudes’—so called from the opening word ‘beati’ in the Vulgate—the first seven may be regarded as groups of characters, or as a scheme of Christian ethics on an ascending scale, tracing the Christian growth step by step; the two last have special reference to the disciples—they supply the tests and the hopes of discipleship.

First, two passive qualities ‘lowliness and meekness,’ which mark the character receptive of Christianity, then two activities or movements of the soul; ‘mourning,’ which alienates it from earth, tending ‘to loose the chain | that binds us to a world of pain.’ Then divine ‘hungering and thirsting’ which draw it to heaven. This fourth Beatitude is the central point: δικαιοσύνη is the coping-stone of the soul seeking God, the foundation of the soul which has found Him. Three graces of the Christian life follow, ‘mercy,’ the first-fruits of righteousness, (see the close connection between the two ch. Matthew 6:1 and comp. the fruits of righteousness in the judgment-scene ch. 25,) ‘purity of heart,’ the soul cleansed from all defilement sees God, and ‘peace-making’, wherein the soul that has seen God imitates the work of God—reconciliation.Practical action.ἐλεήμονεςMovement of the Soul from Sin to Righteousness

πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι. St Luke omits τῷ πνεύματι, showing that the literal poor are primarily meant, St Matthew shows that they are not exclusively meant. The πτωχοὶ (nearly i.q. ταπεινοί) are opposed to the spiritually proud and the self-sufficient; they have need of the riches of Christ and feel their need. To reckon ταπεινότης οι ταπεινοφροσύνη as a virtue is a Christian thought and opposed to heathen ethics, τίς θέλει ζῆν ταπεινός; Epict. Dissert. IV. 1. 2.

αὐτῶν ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία. By a kind of divine irony the unsought reward is the most diverse from the character that wins it: the least ambitious shall have the prize of the most ambitious.

Verse 4

4. πρᾳότης, as an ethical term, is concerned with anger, it means absence from resentment, meekness in suffering; it is mentioned with very faint praise by Aristotle who says, ἐπὶ τὸν μέσον τὴν πρᾳότητα φέρομεν πρὸς τὴν ἔλλειψιν ἀποκλίνουσαν, and again, εἴπερ δὴ ἡ πρᾳότης ἐπαινεῖται, Eth. Nic. IV. 5. 1–3. In the Christian scheme πρᾳότης is the root of ἀγάπη, absence of resentment grows into perfect love through ἐπιείκεια. Jesus who was πρᾳῢς loved (ἠγάπησεν) his enemies.

κληρονομήσουσιν τὴν γῆν., Psalms 37:11. In a literal sense the meek have inherited the earth. History has no example of higher exaltation than that of the Apostles, and the code which they promulgated rules the world. To this thought may possibly be referred, 1 Corinthians 6:2, οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτι οἱ ἅγιοι τὸν κόσμον κρινοῦσιν;

Verse 4-5

4, 5. These verses are transposed by the leading critics following Origen, Eusebius and other fathers, but not on the very highest MS. authority, viz. D. 33 and some versions. On the effect of this change see notes.

Verse 5

5. οἱ πενθοῦντες. Those who mourn for sin are primarily intended, but the secondary meaning of ‘all who are sorrowful’ is not excluded. Sorrow is in itself neutral, cp. 2 Corinthians 7:9, νῦν χαίρω οὐχ ὅτι ἐλυπήθητε ἀλλʼ ὅτι ἐλυπήθητε εἰς μετάνοιαν.

παρακληθήσονται. The supreme παράκλησις is Christ.

Verse 6

6. αὐτοί, they in their turn.

χορτασθήσονται. χορτάζειν is one of those words strong and even coarse in their origin which came to be used by the Jews at Alexandria with a softened and more refined meaning. It is properly used of cattle ‘to feed,’ βοσκημάτων δίκηνβόσκονται χορταζόμενοι, Plato, Rep. 586, then in mid. voice in comedy of men ‘to eat’; cp. German fressen and see Thuc. VII. 48 and Arnold’s note there on βόσκοντας. In late Greek as here χορτάζειν = ‘to satisfy’ for the classical κορεννύναι. It is curious to note how completely the distinction between χορτάζεσθαι and ἐσθίειν has vanished. In Mark 7:27-28 both verbs are used, but their proper application is reversed, ἐσθίειν being used of the κυνάρια, and χορτάζεσθαι of the τέκνα.

Verse 7

7. ἐλεήμονες. With the Stoics ἔλεος was reckoned among the defects or vices, it was a disturbing element that broke in upon the philosophic calm, cp. the following passage which gives the Stoic view of most of the moral ideas of the Beatitudes: ὁ ἀπειθῶν τῇ θείᾳ διοικήσει ἔστω ταπεινός, ἔστω δοῦλος, λυπείσθω, φθονείτω, ἐλεείτω· τὸ κεφάλαιον πάντων δυστυχείτω, θρηνείτω. Epict. Diss. III. 24. 43.

ἐλεηθήσονται. This principle in the divine government that men shall be dealt with as they deal with their fellow-men is taught in the parable of the Unmerciful Servant, ch. 18, and underlies the fifth petition in the Lord’s Prayer, ch. Matthew 6:12.

Verse 8

8. καθαροὶ τῇ καρδίᾳ. Purity is a distinguishing virtue of Christianity. It finds no place even in the teaching of Socrates, or in the system of Aristotle. Pure in heart ‘non sufficit puritas ceremonialis,’ Bengel.

τὸν θεὸν ὄψονται. The Christian education is a gradual unveiling of God (ἀποκάλυψις), all have glimpses of Him, to the pure He appears quite plainly; cp. Hebrews 12:14, τὸν ἁγιασμὸν οὖ χωρὶς οὐδεὶς ὄψεται τὸν κύριον, and see 1 John 3:2-3. In a further sense the unveiled sight of God is reserved for the Eternal life.

Verse 9

9. εἰρηνοποιοί, this is the highest energy of the perfected soul that has seen God, has had the deepest insight into the divine nature and is thereby moved to do a divine work. εἰρήνη in its lower sense is the absence of dissension or difference between men, in a higher sense it is reconciliation of man with God—the peace made by Christ.

εἰρηνοποιὸς does not occur elsewhere in N.T., but εἰρηνοποιεῖν is used Colossians 1:20 in the latter sense, cp. also Ephesians 2:15, αὐτὸς γάρ ἐστιν ἡ εἰρήνη ἡμῶν ὁ ποιήσας τὰ ἀμφότερα ἓντὴν ἒχθρανκαταργήσας ἵνα τοὺς δύο κτίσῃ ἐν ἑαυτῷ εἰς ἕνα καινὸν ἄνθρωπον.

υἱοὶ θεοῦ. These are most akin to the divine nature, perfect as their Father which is in heaven is perfect, Matthew 5:48, cp. 1 John 3:1, ἴδετε ποταπὴν ἀγάπην δέδωκεν ἡμῖν ὁ πατὴρ ἵνα τέκνα θεοῦ κληθῶμεν, καὶ ἐσμέν.

κληθήσονται. καλεῖσθαι is not merely equivalent to the substantive verb, but implies [1] prestige, as ὁ πᾶσι κλεινὸς Οἰδίπους καλούμενος, Soph. Œd. R. 8. [2] permanence in a class, τάδε γὰρ ἄλυτα κεκλήσεται, Soph. El. 230. See Jebb on the last passage and Ellendt’s Lex. sub. voc. [3] recognition by others, cp. Luke 1:76. Romans 9:26. James 2:23.

Verse 10

10. οἱ δεδιωγμένοι. ‘Those who have been persecuted,’ not as in A.V. ‘they which are persecuted’. The tense brings the past action into close relation with the present, and implies either [1] generally Blessed are the prophets and other servants of God, who in all past time have been persecuted, i.e. the results of persecution are good, or persecution is a test of good: or [2] specially and with direct reference to the present hour, Blessed are my followers who have already suffered such persecution for my sake as is indicated in Matthew 5:11, see next note. According to the second view [2] Jesus after enumerating the excellencies of the kingdom of God turns to His own followers, comforting them with the thought that their very troubles have already given them a claim to the title of ‘Blessed.’

The turn to the passive is very beautiful in this connection, the quality itself is veiled but the result is given; not blessed are the δίκαιοι, but blessed are those that have been persecuted ἕνεκεν δικαιοσύνης. Persecution is the seal of perfect δικαιοσύνη.

Verse 11

11. The nature of the persecution is indicated in this verse; not torture, imprisonment, and death, but reproach and calumny, precisely the form of persecution to which the disciples must have been now subjected.

Verse 12

12. ἀγαλλιᾶσθε, of excessive and demonstrative joy. Neither the verb nor its derivatives are classical. St Luke in his parallel passage (Matthew 6:23), has χάρητε ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ καὶ σκιρτήσατε.

Such contrasts as this which the kingdom of heaven presents have their counterpart in the εἰρωνεία of Greek tragedy.

τοὺς προφήτας τοὺς πρὸ ὑμῶν. Implying that the disciples too were προφῆται.

[2] Their responsibility, Matthew 5:13-16

The disciples, though lowly and meek, are heirs of the world. They must claim their inheritance, and not shrink from a foremost position either from fear of persecution or from a false idea of Christian πτωχεία and ταπεινότης.

Verse 13

13. τὸ ἅλας τῆς γῆς. Salt [1] preserves from corruption; [2] gives taste to all that is insipid; [3] is essential to all organised life. So the Apostles alone can save the world from corruption; the gospel alone can give zest and meaning to society; it is essential to the life of the world.

ἅλας. Late as a literary word for ἅλς, but it occurs in the adage ἅλασιν ὕει. In Mark 9:49 both forms are used according to the best reading, τὸ ἅλας and accus. ἅλα, dat. ἁλὶ from ἅλς. In Colossians 4:6, the dat. ἅλατι of the neuter form is used. Attic prose has the plural only.

ἐὰν μωρανθῇ. The causal force of μωραίνω is Hellenistic; in the classical period the meaning is ‘to be foolish.’ For the use of the word in a literal sense cp. Romans 1:22, φάσκοντες εἶναι σοφοὶ ἐμωράνθησαν. And for the interchange of meaning between folly and insipidity cp. sapere, sapientia, insipidus; sal, sales, ‘salt’, then ‘wit’ (so in late Greek ἅλες); insulsus, ‘unsalted,’ then ‘stupid’.

ἐν τίνι. ἐν is here clearly instrumental, see ch. Matthew 3:11.

καταπατεῖσθαι ὑπὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων. Thomson, Land and Book, 382, describes ‘the sweeping out of the spoiled salt and casting it into the streets’ as ‘actions familiar to all men.’

Verse 14

14. τὸ φῶς τοῦ κόσμου. See John 8:12, where Jesus says of Himself ἐγώ εἰμι τὸ φῶς τοῦ κόσμου. Cp. Philippians 2:15, φαίνεσθε ὡς φωστῆρες ἐν κόσμῳ.

τοῦ κόσμου, i.e. of the whole world, not of Israel only; or of the dark and evil world. κόσμος has an interesting history: [1] ‘order,’ ‘propriety’ (Homer); [2] ‘the divine order and arrangement of nature’ (Heracleitus and Anaxagoras); [3] ‘celestial order’ (Plato); [4] ‘order celestial and terrestrial’—the universe (Plato, see Bruder’s Concordance); [5] ‘the habitable world,’ ἡ πίστις ὑμῶν καταγγέλλεται ἐν ὅλῳ τῷ κόσμῳ, Romans 1:8; [6] the world around us, society; [7] especially ‘the evil world’, so frequently in John as μισεῖ ὑμᾶς ὁ κόσμος, Matthew 15:19; [8] in modern Greek a ‘crowd,’ ‘rabble.’ κόσμος ἄπειρος ‘a countless multitude’ would have seemed to Heracleitus a contradiction in terms (Geldart, Mod. Greek, 94). In LXX. κόσμος is not used in this later sense of ‘the world,’ it there means ‘ornament’ or ‘order (host) of heaven’: καὶ συνετελέσθησαν καὶ πᾶς ὁ κόσμος αὐτῶν, Genesis 2:1.

πόλις ἐπάνω ὄρους κειμένη. Stanley remarks (S. and P. 337) that in Northern Palestine ‘the plain and mountain-sides are dotted with villages … situated for the most part (not like those of Judæa, on hilltops, or Samaria, in deep valleys, but) as in Philistia, on the slopes of the ranges which intersect or bound the plain.’ The image in the text therefore recalls Judæa rather than Galilee, Bethlehem rather than Nazareth. Some however have conjectured that the lofty Safed was in sight, and was pointed to by our Lord. Land and Book, 273.

κρυβῆναι. This 2nd aor. form is late: in Soph. Aj. 1145, κρυφεὶς is now read for κρυβείς.

Verse 15

15. τὸν μόδιον. ‘The bushel,’ i.e. the common measure found in every Jewish house. The article generalises. Strictly speaking, the modius denoted a smaller measure equal to about two gallons.

λύχνοςλυχνία. ‘Lamp,’ ‘lampstand.’ The lamp in a Jewish house was not set on a table, but on a tall pedestal or stand, sometimes made with a sliding shaft.

πᾶσιν τοῖς ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ, i.e. the Jews. St Luke, true to the character of his gospel, says ‘that they which enter in’, i.e. the Gentiles, ‘may see the light’.

Verse 17

17. οὐκ ἦλθον καταλῦσαι κ.τ.λ. ‘I came not to destroy’, a divine captatio which would instantly soothe the possible fear that Christ was a καταλυτὴς τοῦ νόμου. For the word cp. Polyb. III. 2, καταλύσαντα τοὺς νόμους εἰς μοναρχίαν περιστῆσαι τὸ πολίτευμα τῶν Καρχηδονίων.

Verses 17-20

17–20. The poetical form traceable throughout the Sermon on the Mount is especially observable here. οὐ καταλῦσαι and πληρῶσαι are the key-words. The γὰρ in v.18 (ἀμὴν γάρ) introduces an explanation of οὐ καταλῦσαι: the second γὰρ in v.20 (λέγω γάρ) carries out the thought of πληρῶσαι. Then note to what a height the contrasting climax rises. So far from being a κατάλυσις of the whole law, not a jot or tittle shall pass from it (Matthew 5:18). So far from Christ himself destroying (καταλῦσαι) the whole law, if his followers break even (λῦσαι, a weaker word) a single one of the least of the commandments he shall be least in the Kingdom. So also in Matthew 5:20, περισσεύῃ is an advance even on πληρῶσαι, which in itself is more than οὐ καταλῦσαι.

πληρῶσαι. To give the full and true meaning to the law: not to extend or develop it so much as to teach the deep underlying principles of it. Thus St Paul says, πλήρωμα οὖν νόμου ἡ ἀγάπη, Romans 13:10.

Verse 18

18. ἀμήν. Strictly a verbal adjective, ‘firm,’ ‘true,’ from Hebr. aman to ‘support,’ ‘confirm’; thus used, Revelation 3:14, ὁ ἀμὴν ὁ μάρτυς ὁ πιστὸς καὶ ἀληθινός. [2] An adverb of affirmation preceding or concluding a statement or prayer. The familiar use of the word in the Christian liturgy is derived from the service of the synagogue.

ἰῶτα.yod’ (י) the smallest of the Hebr. characters, generally a silent letter, rather the adjunct of a letter than an independent letter. Still a critical interpretation might turn on the presence or absence of in a word. The controversy as to the meaning of Shiloh, Genesis 49:10, is an instance of this. The letter makes the difference between Sarai and Sarah. It is the first letter in Jehovah and in the Hebrew form of Jesus or Joshua.

κεραία, lit. ‘a horn.’ Here the extremity of a letter, a little point or a turn, in which one letter differs from another, as e.g. כ [ or c] differs from ב [ or b], or as ד [ or d] differs from ר [ or r]. The Rabbinical writers point out that a confusion between the first two would change the sense of ‘none holy as the Lord’ (1 Samuel 2:2) to ‘nought is holy in the Lord’; and a confusion between the second pair of letters would change ‘one Lord’ (Deuteronomy 6:4) to ‘false Lord.’ Schöttgen loc. The Greek grammarians used the word for ‘a mark over a letter,’ as .

Verse 19

19. λύσῃδιδάξῃ. Recall in this connection St Paul’s attitude in relation to the law. διδάσκειν points to the Presbyter or Teacher, λύσῃ, a more general term, to the people.

ποιήσῃ καὶ διδάξῃ. Again addressed to the Apostles as teachers. The union of doing and teaching is essential. It was the grave sin of the Pharisees that they taught without doing. See ch. Matthew 23:2-3. This explains the for of next verse.

Verse 20

20. δικαιοσύνη, ‘observance of the law.’ Unless ye observe the law with greater exactness than the Pharisees, ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. The Pharisaic δικαιοσύνη consisted in extended and minute external observances, Christ’s περίσσευμα in reaching the spiritual meaning of the law.

(a) Instances from the Decalogue, Matthew 5:21-37

(α) Murder, Matthew 5:21-26

Verse 21

21. ἠκούσατε, ‘ye heard,’ a use of the Greek aorist to express frequentative action where in English it would be natural to use the present tense; ‘ye hear’ daily in the Synagogue the law as it was delivered to them of old time. See note ch. Matthew 11:27.

τοῖς ἀρχαίοις, ‘to them of old time.’ This rendering is made almost certain by the datival force of ὑμῖν in the antithetic clause, Matthew 5:22.

Verse 22

22. ἔνοχος, lit. ‘held fast by,’ (ἐνέχω) so ‘liable to’ with dative. It is frequently used in this technical judicial sense by Plato, the Attic Orators and the later historians, as Polybius and Diod. Siculus. When ἔνοχος is followed by a genitive some word like δίκῃ or γραφῇ should be supplied. See ch. Matthew 26:66 and Mark 3:26 (where ἁμαρτήματος not κρίσεως is the true reading). εἰς τὴν γέενναν is not a change for the dative, but denotes the extent to which the sentence might go ‘subject to a penalty extending to the Gehenna of fire’—usque ad pœnam Gehennæ. The extremity of human punishment is meant with the underlying thought of the figurative sense of Gehenna. See infra.

τῇ κρίσει, to the judgment of the lower court, whose jurisdiction was limited.

ῥακά. A word of contempt, said to be from a root meaning to ‘spit’. The distinction between Raca and Thou fool is lost, and naturally, for they belong to that class of words, the meaning of which depends entirely on the usage of the day. An expression innocent and unmeaning in one age becomes the watchword of a revolution in another. There is, however, clearly a climax. [1] Feeling of anger without words. [2] Anger venting itself in words. [3] Insulting anger. The gradation of punishment corresponds; liable [1] to the local court; [2] to the Sanhedrin; [3] to Gehenna.

συνεδρίῳ. See note ch. Matthew 26:3.

γέενναν τοῦ πυρός. ‘Gehenna of fire, i.e. burning Gehenna’. Gehenna is the Greek form of the Hebrew Ge-Hinnom or ‘Valley of Hinnom,’ sometimes called ‘Valley of the sons of Hinnom’, also ‘Tophet’ (Jeremiah 7:31). It was a deep narrow glen S.W. of Jerusalem, once the scene of the cruel worship of Moloch; but Josiah, in the course of his reformation, ‘defiled Tophet, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Moloch’ (2 Kings 23:10). Cp. Milton, Paradise Lost, I.

‘First Moloch, horrid king, besmeared with blood

Of human sacrifice and parents’ tears;

Though, for the noise of drums and timbrels loud,

Their children’s cries unheard that passed through fire

To his grim idol’.

After that time pollutions of every kind, among them the bodies of criminals who had been executed, were thrown into the valley. From this defilement and from its former desecration Gehenna was used to express the abode of the wicked after death. The words ‘of fire’ are added, either because of the ancient rites of Moloch, or, if a Rabbinical tradition is to be credited, because fires were always burning in the valley.

τοῦ πυρός. The adjectival genitive may be illustrated from classical Greek ἄστρων εὐφρόνη, ‘the starry night,’ Soph. El. 19. χιόνος πτέρυγι, ‘a snowy wing,’ Antig. 114. τραύματα αἵματος, ‘bloody wounds,’ Eur. Phœn. 1616. See Donaldson’s Greek Grammar, § 454. But in this and other instances in the N.T. this genitive may be referred to a Hebrew usage due partly to the comparative scarcity of adjectives in the Hebrew language, partly to the vividness and poetry of oriental speech.

Verse 23

23. οὖν. In consequence of this truth that anger makes you liable to the extremity of punishment.

προσφέρῃς τὸ δῶρον, ‘make thy offering.’ Cp. Leviticus 2:1, ἐὰν δὲ ψυχὴ προσφέρῃ δῶρον θυσίαν τῷ κυρίῳ, where the Hebrew words are korban minchah; for korban see note ch. Matthew 17:6. Minchah literally means ‘a gift,’ and technically denoted vegetable offerings as distinguished from the animal offerings. δῶρον is used to translate both korban and minchah. It is adopted in the Talmud as a Hebrew word. μνημόσυνον or ‘memorial,’ another translation for minchah, Leviticus 2:2, seems to form a link with the use of μνησθῇς in this connection. See Speaker’s Commentary, ad loc. cit.

μνησθῇς. The word itself reminds us that true observance of the law lies in thought not in act.

ὅτι ὁ ἀδελφός σου ἔχει τι κατὰ σοῦ. That thy brother hath cause of complaint against thee, just or unjust.

Verse 24

24. ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου. Stay the sacrifice, though begun, for God will not accept it unless the heart be free from anger, and the conscience from offence. It is an application of the great principle summed up in ‘I will have mercy and not sacrifice.’ Cp. also Psalms 26:6, ‘I will wash my hands in innocency, O Lord, and so will I go to thine altar.’

Verse 25-26

25, 26. The illustration is drawn from a legal process. It would be wise for the debtor to arrange with the creditor while he is on the way to the Court; otherwise the judge’s sentence and a hopeless imprisonment await him.

Sin is the debt (here especially anger the source of murder), the sense of sin or the conscience is the adversary. Let the sinner come to terms with his conscience by confession of sin and prayer for forgiveness while he has opportunity, lest he be brought unrepentant and unforgiven to the tribunal of the judge.

ἴσθι εὐνοῶν. The participle conveys the idea of continuance: be at peace with conscience all through life.

Verse 26

26. κοδράντην. Cp. Mark 12:42, λεπτὰ δύο ὅ ἐστιν κοδράντης. κοδράντης = Lat. quadrans, the fourth part of an as, and the smallest Roman coin. τὸ λεπτὸν in the parallel passage in Luke is the prutah or smallest Jewish coin. For this view of sin as a debt cp. ὀφειλήματα in the Lord’s Prayer, and the parable of the Unmerciful Servant, ch. Matthew 18:23 foll., and the Lord’s question to Simon the Pharisee, Luke 7:42.

See Luke 12:57-59, where the same illustration is used in reference to the divine judgment which was swiftly overtaking the Jewish people.

Verse 27

27. The reading of τοῖς ἀρχαίοις after ἐρρέθη is due to the tendency to introduce uniformity of structure; other instances of the same kind in this chapter are ὅς ἂν ἀπολύσῃ for πᾶς ὁ ἀπολύων. Matthew 5:32, βληθῇ εἰς γέενναν for ἀπέλθῃ εἰς γέενναν, Matthew 5:31, to agree with previous verse.

Verses 27-32

(β) Adultery, 27–32

Verse 28

28. πρὸς τὸ ἐπιθυμῆσαι, i.e. ‘with a view to lust after her.’

ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ. Contrast with the pure in heart, Matthew 5:8.

Verse 29

29. ὁ ὀφθαλμός σου, suggested by the preceding verse. The eye and the hand are not only in themselves good and serviceable, but necessary. Still they may become the occasion of sin to us. So pursuits and pleasures innocent in themselves may bring temptation, and involve us in sin. These must be resigned, however great the effort implied in ‘cast it from thee.’

σκανδαλίζει σε, ‘allure thee to destruction.’ This verb which is confined to Hellenistic Greek is derived from σκάνδαλον also Hellenistic; the classical form σκανδάληθρον, itself very rare, is defined as, ‘the crooked stick forming the part of a trap on which the bait is placed’ (the root-meaning of the word is swift darting movement, as of falling or gliding away, Curtius, Greek Etymology, 166). Hence σκάνδαλον and its cognates have first the meaning of temptation, combined with those of entrapping and swift destruction. Cp. σκάνδαληθρʼ ἱστὰς ἐπῶν, Arist. Ach. 647, ‘setting word-traps.’ κρεάδιον τῆς σκανδάλης ἀφάψας, Alciphr. III. 22, ‘having attached a bait to the trap.’ ἐσκανδαλίσθη εἰς ἐμέ. Joan. Mosch. 3049 c. (quoted E. A. Soph. Greek Lex. and there rendered ‘tempted to fall in love with me’). This sense of the word conveying, by a vivid and apt imagery, the idea of temptation or allurement to ruin, is applicable to the use of σκάνδαλον in most passages of the N.T. See notes, chs. Matthew 13:41, Matthew 16:23, Matthew 18:7. It appears also to be the primary thought in σκανδαλίζειν. In other passages the notion of ‘entrapping’ is prominent. Hence to ‘impede,’ ‘bring into difficulties’; so to ‘irritate,’ ‘offend.’ At this point begins the correspondence with the figurative sense of προσκόπτειν and πρόσκομμα, the Latin rendering of which supplies the English words to offend, offence, &c., by which σκανδαλίζειν and σκάνδαλον are translated in the A.V. And though differing in their origin and literal meaning σκάνδαλον appears in parallelism with πρόσκομμα in Romans 9:31 and 1 Peter 2:7, and σκανδαλίζεσθαι is nearly synonymous with the figurative sense of προσκόπτειν.

συμφέρει γάρ σοι κ.τ.λ. Cp. Cic. Phil. VIII. 15, In corpore si quid ejusmodi est quod reliquo corpori noceat, uri necarique patimur; ut membrorum aliquod potius quam totum corpus intereat.

Verse 31

31. ἀποστάσιον. See note on ch. Matthew 1:19. The greatest abuses had arisen in regard to divorce, which was permitted on very trivial grounds. One Rabbinical saying was ‘If any man hate his wife, let him put her away.’ Copies of these bills of divorce are still preserved. The formula may be seen in Lightfoot, Hor. Hebr. ad loc. The same facility of divorce prevails in Mohammedan countries.

Verse 32

32. παρεκτός. A rare word in N.T. and condemned by the Atticists. See Sturz, Dial. Mac. 210.

λόγου πορνείας. A Hebraism, ‘the case of adultery.’

ἀπολελυμένην, ‘when she hath been divorced.’

Verse 33

33. οὐκ ἐπιορκήσεις. The special reference may be to the third commandment. Cp. also Leviticus 19:12, ‘Ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God.’ In the kingdom of God no external act or profession as distinct from the thought of the heart can find a place. But such words as those of the Apostle, ‘The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not’ (2 Corinthians 11:31), will prevent Christians observing the letter rather than the spirit of our Blessed Saviour’s words.

Verses 33-37

(γ) Oaths, 33–37

Verse 34

34. μὴ ὀμόσαι ὅλως. The prohibition must be understood of rash and careless oaths in conversation, not of solemn asseveration in Courts of Justice.

ὅτι θρόνος ἐστὶν τοῦ θεοῦ. Such was the prevalent hypocrisy that the Jews of the day thought that they escaped the sin of perjury if in their oaths they avoided using the name of God. One of the Rabbinical sayings was ‘As heaven and earth shall pass away, so passeth away the oath taken by them.’ Our Lord shows that a false oath taken by heaven, by earth, or by Jerusalem is none the less a profanation of God’s name.

Hypocrisy reproduces itself. Louis XI. ‘admitted to one or two peculiar forms of oath the force of a binding obligation which he denied to all others, strictly preserving the secret, which mode of swearing he really accounted obligatory, as one of the most valuable of state mysteries.’ Introd. to Quentin Durward.

Verse 35

35. εἰς. The change from ἐν τῇ γῇ to εἰς Ἱερ. is to be explained by the etymological identity of εἰς (ἐνς) and ἐν. εἰς is used in late Greek where there is no idea of motion, as ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρός, John 1:18 … where ἐν would be required in Classical Greek; other instances are ἀποθανεῖν εἰς Ἱερουσαλήμ, Acts 18:21, τὰ παιδία μου μετʼ ἐμοῦ εἰς τὴν κοίτην εἰσίν, Luke 11:7. εἰς τὸ κήρυγμα, Luke 11:32. εἰς διαταγὰς ἀγγέλων, Acts 7:53. ἵνʼ αὐτὸ λούσῃ εἰς σκάφην, Epict. III. 22. 71. Conversely ἐν is found for εἰς, Epict. II. 20. 23, ἀπελθεῖν ἐν βαλανείῳ and Id. I. 11. 32, νῦν ἐν Ῥώμῃ ἀνέρχῃ. In the common spoken dialect of modern Greek εἰς is used to the exclusion of ἐν. Clyde, Greek Gram. § 83, Obs. 4. Vincent and Dickson, Handbook to Modern Greek, § 80.

The construction of ὄμνυμι in classical Greek is τι or κατά τινος. The first is found in James 5:12, a passage closely parallel to this, μὴ ὀμνύετε μήτε τὸν οὐρανὸν κ.τ.λ.; the second Hebrews 6:16, ἄνθρωποι γὰρ κατὰ τοῦ μείζονος ὀμνύουσιν. The construction with ἐν and εἰς is a rendering of the Hebrew idiom.

Verse 36

36. ἐν τῇ κεφάλῃ σου. A common form of oath in the ancient world: cp. ‘Per caput hoc juro per quod pater ante solebat.’ Verg. Æn. IX. 300.

Verse 37

37. ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ. [1] ‘of evil’, [2] or perhaps better ‘from the evil one.’

Verse 38

38. ὀφθαλμὸν ἀντὶ ὀφθαλμοῦ. See Exodus 21:24. The Scribes drew a false inference from the letter of the law. As a legal remedy the lex talionis was probably the best possible in a rude state of society. The principle was admitted in all ancient nations. But the retribution was exacted by a judicial sentence for the good of the community, not to gratify personal vengeance. The deduction that it was morally right for individuals to indulge revenge could not be justified.

Jewish history however records no instance of the law being literally carried out. A fine was substituted for the retributive penalty. But the principle of the lex talionis underlay the enactments of the law, and it is against the principle that Christ’s words are directed.

Verses 38-42

(b) The law of retaliation, 38–42

Verse 39

39. μὴ ἀντιστῆναι τῷ πονηρῷ, i.e. do not seek to retaliate evil.

ῥαπίζει. See ch. Matthew 26:67.

στρέψον αὐτῷ καὶ τὴν ἄλλην. To be understood with the limitation imposed on the words by our Lord’s personal example, John 18:22-23.

The gradation of the examples given is from the greater to the less provocation.

Verse 40

40. κριθῆναι. In Attic κρίνειν = ‘to bring to trial.’ For the construction of κρίνομαι with dat. cp. Eur. Med. 609, ὡς οὐ κρινοῦμαι τῶνδε σοὶ τὰ πλείονα.

χιτῶνα, ‘tunic,’ the under-garment. It had sleeves, and reached below the knees, somewhat like a modern shirt. ἱμάτιον, the upper garment. A large square woollen robe, resembling the modern Arab abba or abayeh. The poorest people wore a tunic only. Among the richer people many wore two tunics besides the upper garment. Wealth is often shown in the East not only by the quality but also by the amount of clothing worn. For the general sense cp. 1 Corinthians 6:7, ‘There is utterly a fault … suffer yourselves to be defrauded.’

Verse 41

41. ἀγγαρεύειν, from a Persian word which is probably a corruption of hakkáreh, ‘an express messenger’ (see Rawlinson, Herod. VIII. 98, note 1), signifies ‘to press into service as a courier’ for the royal post, then, generally, ‘to force to be a guide,’ ‘to requisition,’ men or cattle. This was one of the exactions which the Jews suffered under the Romans. Alford quotes Joseph. Ant. XIII. 2, 3, where Demetrius promises not to press into the service the beasts of burden belonging to the Jews. For an instance of this forced service see ch. Matthew 27:32.

For the Greek word cp. ἄγγαρον πῦρ, ‘the courier fire,’ Æsch. Agam. 282. The verb is not classical.

μίλιον. Here only in N.T. Used by Strabo = Lat. miliare.

Verse 42

42. τὸν θέλοντα ἀπὸ σοῦ δανείσασθαι. St Luke has, δανείζετε μηδὲν ἀπελπίζοντες (Luke 6:35). Forced loans have been a mode of oppression in every age, from which, perhaps, no people have suffered more than the Jews.

Verse 43

43. ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου., Leviticus 19:18, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’ The second clause does not occur in Levit., but was a Rabbinical inference. ἐχθρούς, all who are outside the chosen race, the etymological force of the word. Heathen writers bear testimony to this unsocial characteristic of the Jews. Juvenal says it was their rule—

‘Non monstrare vias eadem nisi sacra colenti,

Quæsitum ad fontem solos deducere verpos.’—Sat. XIV. 104.

Verse 44

44. See critical notes supra.

Verse 45

45. ὅπως γένησθε κ.τ.λ. See note on Matthew 5:9. To act thus would be to act like God, who blesses those who curse Him and are his enemies, by the gifts of sun and rain. This is divine. Mere return of love for love is a human, even a heathen virtue.

Shakespeare beautifully and most appropriately reproduces this thought in the appeal to the Jew on the Christian principle of mercy, which ‘droppeth like the gentle rain from heaven.’ Merchant of Venice, Act. IV. sc. 1. Comp. also Seneca, de Ben. I. 1. 9, Quam multi indigni luce sunt et tamen dies oritur.

The illustration would be far more telling in a hot eastern climate than with us. In the Hindoo mythology two out of the three manifestations of deity are Sun and Rain. The thought of God as giver of rain and fruitful seasons is seized upon by St Paul as a conception common to Jew and Gentile on which to found his argument at Lystra. Acts 14:17.

βρέχει, used in this sense in the older Greek poets: βρέχε χρυσέαις νιφάδεσσιν (Pindar), afterwards it passed into the vernacular, but reappears in Polybius, it is frequent in the LXX., and in modern Greek the usual phrases are βρέχει, ‘it is raining,’ θὰ βρέξῃ, ‘it is going to rain.’

Verse 46

46. οἱ τελῶναι, tax-gatherers; not collectors of a regular tax fixed by government, as with us, but men who farmed or contracted for the publicum (state revenue), hence called Publicani. At Rome the equestrian order enjoyed almost exclusively the lucrative privilege of farming the state revenues.

The publicans of the N.T. however are a lower class of tax-gatherers, (exactores), to whom the contractors sublet the collection of taxes. These men repaid themselves by cruel and oppressive exactions. Only the least patriotic and most degraded of the population undertook these functions which naturally rendered them odious to their fellow-citizens.

It is this system pursued in the Turkish Empire that produces much frightful misery and illegal oppression.

Verse 47

47. τοὐς ἀδελφοὺς ὑμῶν μόνον. See Matthew 5:43. The Hebrew salutation was Shalom (peace).

Verse 48

48. ἔσεσθε τέλειοι. Lit. ‘ye shall be perfect.’ Either [1] in reference to a future state, ‘if ye have this true love or charity ye shall be perfect hereafter’; or [2] the future has an imperative force, and τέλειοι is limited by the preceding words = perfect in respect of love, i.e. ‘love your enemies as well as your neighbours,’ because your Father being perfect in respect of love does this. This use of the future is in accordance with the Hebrew idiom.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 5". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.