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the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 5

The Expositor's Greek TestamentExpositor's Greek Testament

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This extended utterance of Jesus comes upon us as a surprise. Nothing goes before to prepare us to expect anything so transcendently great. The impressions made on the Baptist, the people in Capernaum Synagogue (Mark 1:27 ), and the four fishermen, speak to wisdom, power, and personal charm, but not so as to make us take the sermon as a thing of course. Our surprise is all the greater that there is so little antecedent narrative. By an effort of imagination we have to realise that much went before preaching, teaching, interviews with disciples, conflicts with Pharisees, only once mentioned hitherto (Matthew 3:7 ), yet here the leading theme of discourse.

The sermon belongs to the didache , not to the kerygma . Jesus is here the Master, not the Evangelist. He ascends the hill to get away from the crowds below, and the disciples, now become a considerable band, gather about Him. Others may not be excluded, but the μαθηταὶ are the audience proper. The discourse may represent the teaching, not of a single hour or day, but of a period of retirement from an exciting, exhausting ministry below, and all over Galilee; rest being sought in variation of work, evangelist and teacher alternately. A better name for these chapters than the Sermon on the Mount , which suggests a concio ad populum , might be The Teaching on the Hill . It may be a combination of several lessons. One very outstanding topic is Pharisaic righteousness. Christ evidently made it His business in one of the hill lessons to define controversially His position in reference to the prevailing type of piety, which we may assume to have been to Him a subject of long and careful study before the opening of His public career. The portions of the discourse which bear on that subject can be picked out, and others not relating thereto eliminated, and we may say if we choose that the resulting body of teaching is the Sermon on the Mount (so Weiss). Perhaps the truth is that these portions formed one of the lessons given to disciples on the hill in their holiday summer school. The Beatitudes might form another, instructions on prayer (Matthew 6:7-15 ) a third, admonitions against covetousness and care (Matthew 6:19-34 ) a fourth, and so on. As these chapters stand, the various parts cohere and sympathise wonderfully so as to present the appearance of a unity; but that need not hinder us from regarding the whole as a skilful combination of originally distinct lessons, possessing the generic unity of the Teaching on the Hill. This view I prefer to that which regards the sermon as a compendium of Christ’s whole doctrine (De Wette), or the magna charta of the kingdom (Tholuck), though there is a truth in that title, or as an ordination discourse in connection with the setting apart of the Twelve (Ewald), or in its original parts an anti-Pharisaic manifesto (Weiss-Meyer). For comparison of Matthew’s version of the discourse with Luke’s see notes on Luke 6:20-49 .

Verses 1-2

Matthew 5:1-2 . Introductory statement by evangelist . Ἰδὼν δὲ … εἰς τὸ ὄρος . Christ ascended the hill, according to some, because there was more room there for the crowd than below. I prefer the view well put by Euthy. Zig.: “He ascended the near hill, to avoid the din of the crowd ( θορύβους ) and to give instruction without distraction; for He passed from the healing of the body to the cure of souls. This was His habit, passing from that to this and from this to that, providing varied benefit.” But we must be on our guard against a double misunderstanding that might be suggested by the statement in Matthew 5:1 , that Jesus went up to the mountain, as if in ascetic retirement from the world, and addressed Himself henceforth to His disciples, as if they alone were the objects of His care, or to teach them an esoteric doctrine with which the multitude had no concern. Jesus was not monastic in spirit, and He had not two doctrines, one for the many, another for the few, like Buddha. His highest teaching, even the Beatitudes and the beautiful discourse against care, was meant for the million. He taught disciples that they might teach the world and so be its light. For this purpose His disciples came to Him when He sat down ( καθίσαντος αὐτοῦ ) taking the teacher’s position ( cf. Mark 4:1 ; Mark 9:35 ; Mark 13:3 ). Lutteroth ( Essai d’Interprétation , p. 65) takes καθίσαντος as meaning to camp out ( camper ), to remain for a time, as in Luke 24:49 , Acts 18:11 . He, I find, adopts the view I have indicated of the sermon as a summary of all the discourses of Jesus on the hill during a sojourn of some duration. The hill, τὸ ὄρος , may be most naturally taken to mean the elevated plateau rising above the seashore. It is idle to inquire what particular hill is intended.

Verse 2

Matthew 5:2 . ἀνοίξας τὸ στόμα : solemn description of the beginning of a weighty discourse. ἐδίδασκεν , imperfect, implying continued discourse.

Verse 3

Matthew 5:3 . μακάριοι . This is one of the words which have been transformed and ennobled by N. T. use; by association, as in the Beatitudes, with unusual conditions, accounted by the world miserable, or with rare and difficult conduct, e.g. , in John 13:17 , “if ye know these things, happy ( μακάριοι ) are ye if ye do them”. Notable in this connection is the expression in 1 Timothy 1:11 , “The Gospel of the glory of the happy God”. The implied truth is that the happiness of the Christian God consists in being a Redeemer, bearing the burden of the world’s sin and misery. How different from the Epicurean idea of God! Our word “blessed” represents the new conception of felicity. οἱ πτωχοὶ : πτωχός in Sept [17] stands for אֶבִיוֹן Psalms 109:16 , or עָנִי Ps. 40:18: the poor , taken even in the most abject sense, mendici , Tertull. adv. Mar. iv. 14. πτωχός and πένης originally differed, the latter meaning poor as opposed to rich, the former destitute. But in Biblical Greek πτωχοί , πένητες , πραεῖς , ταπεινοί are used indiscriminately for the same class, the poor of an oppressed country. Vide Hatch, Essays in Biblical Greek , p. 76. The term is used here in a pregnant sense, absolute and unqualified at least to begin with; qualifications come after. From πτώσσω , to cower in dispiritment and fear, always used in an evil sense till Christ taught the poor man to lift up his head in hope and self-respect; the very lowest social class not to be despaired of, a future possible even for the mendicant. Blessedness possible for the poor in every sense; they, in comparison with others, under no disabilities, rather contrariwise such is the first and fundamental lesson. τῷ πνεύματι . Possibilities are not certainties; to turn the one into the other the soul or will of the individual must come in, for as Euthy. Zig. quaintly says, nothing involuntary can bless ( οὐδὲν τῶν ἀπροαιρέτων μακαριστόν ). “In spirit” is, therefore, added to develop and define the idea of poverty. The comment on the theme passes from the lower to the higher sphere. Christ’s thought includes the physical and social, but it does not end there. Luke seems to have the social aspect in view, in accordance with one of his tendencies and the impoverished condition of most members of the apostolic Church. To limit the meaning to that were a mistake, but to include that or even to emphasise it in given circumstances was no error. Note that the physical and spiritual lay close together in Christ’s mind. He passed easily from one to the other (John 4:7-10 ; Luke 10:42 , see notes there). τῷ πν . is, of course, to be connected with πτωχοὶ , not with μακάριοι . Poor in spirit is not to be taken objectively, as if spirit indicated the element in which the poverty is manifest poor intellect: “homines ingenio et eruditione parum florentes” (Fritzsche) = the νηπίοι in Matthew 11:25 ; but subjectively, poor in their own esteem. Self-estimate is the essence of the matter, and is compatible with real wealth. Only the noble think meanly of themselves. The soul of goodness is in the man who is really humble. Poverty laid to heart passes into riches. A high ideal of life lies beneath all. And than ideal is the link between the social and the spiritual. The poor man passes into the blessedness of the kingdom as soon as he realises what a man is or ought to be. Poor in purse or even in character, no man is beggared who has a vision of man’s chief end and chief good. αὐτὼν , emphatic position: theirs , note it well. So in the following verses αὐτοὶ and αὐτῶν . ἐοτι , not merely in prospect, but in present possession. The kingdom of heaven is often presented in the Gospels apocalyptically as a thing in the future to be given to the worthy by way of external recompense. But this view pertains rather to the form of thought than to the essence of the matter. Christ speaks of the kingdom here not as a known quantity, but as a thing whose nature He is in the act of defining by the aphorisms He utters. If so, then it consists essentially in states of mind. It is within. It is ourselves, the true ideal human.

[17] Septuagint.

Verses 3-12

Matthew 5:3-12 . The Beatitudes . Some general observations may helpfully introduce the detailed exegesis of these golden words.

1. They breathe the spirit of the scene. On the mountain tops away from the bustle and the sultry heat of the region below, the air cool, the blue sky overhead, quiet all around, and divine tranquillity within. We are near heaven here.

2. The originality of these sayings has been disputed, especially by modern Jews desirous to credit their Rabbis with such good things. Some of them, e.g. , the third, may be found in substance in the Psalter, and possibly many, or all of them, even in the Talmud. But what then? They are in the Talmud as a few grains of wheat lost in a vast heap of chaff. The originality of Jesus lies in putting the due value on these thoughts, collecting them, and making them as prominent as the Ten Commandments. No greater service can be rendered to mankind than to rescue from obscurity neglected moral commonplaces.

3. The existence of another version of the discourse (in Lk.), with varying forms of the sayings, has raised a question as to the original form. Did Christ, e.g. , say “Blessed the poor” (Lk.) or “Blessed the poor in spirit” (Matt.)? This raises a larger question as to the manner of Christ’s teaching on the hill. Suppose one day in a week of instruction was devoted to the subject of happiness, its conditions, and heirs, many things might be said on each leading proposition. The theme would be announced, then accompanied with expansions. A modern biographer would have prefaced a discourse like this with an introductory account of the Teacher’s method. There is no such account in the Gospels, but there are incidental notices from which we can learn somewhat. The disciples asked questions and the Master answered them. Jesus explained some of His parables to the twelve. From certain parts of His teaching, as reported, it appears that He not only uttered great thoughts in aphoristic form, but occasionally enlarged. The Sermon on the Mount contains at least two instances of such enlargement. The thesis, “I am not come to destroy but to fulfil” (Matthew 5:17 ), is copiously illustrated (Matthew 5:21-48 ). The counsel against care, which as a thesis might be stated thus: “Blessed are the care-free,” is amply expanded (Matthew 5:25-34 ). Even in one of the Beatitudes we find traces of explanatory enlargement; in the last, “Blessed are the persecuted”. It is perhaps the most startling of all the paradoxes, and would need enlargement greatly, and some parts of the expansion have been preserved (Matthew 5:10-12 ). On this view both forms of the first Beatitude might be authentic, the one as theme, the other as comment. The theme would always be put in the fewest possible words; the first Beatitude therefore, as Luke puts it, Μακάριοι οἱ πτωχοί , Matthew preserving one of the expansions, not necessarily the only one. Of course, another view of the expansion is possible, that it proceeded not from Christ, but from the transmitters of His sayings. But this hypothesis is not a whit more legitimate or likely than the other. I make this observation, not in the spirit of an antiquated Harmonistic, but simply as a contribution to historical criticism.

4. Each Beatitude has a reason annexed, that of the first being “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. They vary in the different Beatitudes as reported. It is conceivable that in the original themes the reason annexed to the first was common to them all. It was understood to be repeated like the refrain of a song, or like the words, “him do I call a Brahmana,” annexed to many of the moral sentences in the Footsteps of the Law in the Buddhist Canon. “He who, when assailed, does not resist, but speaks mildly to his tormentors him do I call a Brahmana.” So “Blessed the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”, “blessed they who mourn, for,” etc.; “blessed the meek, the hungry, for,” etc. The actual reasons annexed, when they vary from the refrain, are to be viewed as explanatory comments.

5. It has been maintained that only certain of the Beatitudes belong to the authentic discourse on the mount, the rest, possibly based on true logia of Jesus spoken at another time, being added by the evangelist, true to his habit of massing the teaching of Jesus in topical groups. This is the view of Weiss (in Matt. Evan., and in Meyer). He thinks only three are authentic the first, third, and fourth all pointing to the righteousness of the kingdom as the summum bonum : the first to righteousness as not yet possessed; the second to the want as a cause of sorrow; the third to righteousness as an object of desire. This view goes with the theory that Christ’s discourse on the hill had reference exclusively to the nature of true and false righteousness.

6. A final much less important question in reference to the Beatitudes is that which relates to their number. One would say at a first glance eight, counting Matthew 5:10 as one, Matthew 5:11-12 being an enlargement. The traditional number, however, is seven

Verse 4

Matthew 5:4 . οἱ πενθοῦντες . Who are they? All who on any account grieve? Then this Beatitude would give utterance to a thoroughgoing optimism. Pessimists say that there are many griefs for which there is no remedy, so many that life is not worth living. Did Jesus mean to meet this position with a direct negative, and to affirm that there is no sorrow without remedy? If not, then He propounds a puzzle provoking thoughtful scholars to ask: What grief is that which will without fail find comfort? There can be no comfort where there is no grief, for the two ideas are correlative. But in most cases there is no apparent necessary connection. Necessary connection is asserted in this aphorism, which gives us a clue to the class described as οἱ πενθοῦντες . Their peculiar sorrow roust be one which comforts itself, a grief that has the thing it grieves for in the very grief. The comfort is then no outward good. It lies in a right state of soul, and that is given in the sorrow which laments the lack of it. The sorrow reveals love of the good, and that love is possession. In so far as all kinds of sorrow tend to awaken reflection on the real good and ill of human life, and so to issue in the higher sorrow of the soul, the second Beatitude may be taken absolutely as expressing the tendency of all grief to end in consolation. παρακληθήσονται , future. The comfort is latent in the very grief, but for the present there is no conscious joy, but only poignant sorrow. The joy, however, will inevitably come to birth. No noble nature abides permanently in the house of mourning. The greater the sorrow, the greater the ultimate gladness, the “joy in the Holy Ghost” mentioned by St. Paul among the essentials of the Kingdom of God (Romans 14:17 ).

Verse 5

Matthew 5:5 . οἱ πραεῖς : in Sept [18] for עֲנָוִים in Psalms 37:11 , of which this Beatitude is an echo. The men who suffer wrong without bitterness or desire for revenge, a class who in this world are apt to go to the wall. In this case we should have expected the Teacher to end with the common refrain: theirs is the kingdom of heaven, that being the only thing they are likely to get. Jean Paul Richter humorously said: “The French have the empire of the land, the English the empire of the sea; to the Germans belongs the empire of the air ”. But Jesus promises to the meek the empire of the solid earth κληρονομήσουσι τὴν γῆν . Surely a startling paradox! That the meek should find a foremost place in the kingdom of heaven is very intelligible, but “inherit the earth” the land of Canaan or any other part of this planet is it not a delusive promise? Not altogether. It is at least true as a doctrine of moral tendency . Meekness after all is a power even in this world, a “world-conquering principle” (Tholuck). The meek of England, driven from their native land by religious intolerance, have inherited the continent of America. Weiss (Meyer) is quite sure, however, that this thought was far ( ganz fern ) from Christ’s mind. I venture to think he is mistaken.

[18] Septuagint.

The inverse order of the second and third Beatitudes found in Codex [19] , and favoured by some of the Fathers, e.g. , Jerome, might be plausibly justified by the affinity between poverty of spirit and meekness, and the natural sequence of the two promises: possession of the kingdom of heaven and inheritance of the earth. But the connection beneath the surface is in favour of the order as it stands in T. R.

[19] Codex Bezae

Verse 6

Matthew 5:6 . If the object of the hunger and thirst had not been mentioned this fourth Beatitude would have been parallel in form to the second: Blessed the hungry, for they shall be filled. We should then have another absolute affirmation requiring qualification, and raising the question: What sort of hunger is it which is sure to be satisfied? That might be the original form of the aphorism as given in Luke. The answer to the question it suggests is similar to that given under Beatitude 1. The hunger whose satisfaction is sure is that which contains its own satisfaction. It is the hunger for moral good. The passion for righteousness is righteousness in the deepest sense of the word. πεινῶντες καὶ διψῶντες . These verbs, like all verbs of desire, ordinarily take the genitive of the object. Here and in other places in N. T. they take the accusative, the object being of a spiritual nature, which one not merely desires to participate in, but to possess in whole. Winer, § xxx. 10, thus distinguishes the two constructions: διψᾶν φιλοσοφίας = to thirst after philosophy; διψ . φιλοσοφίαν = to thirst for possession of philosophy as a whole. Some have thought that διὰ is to be understood before δικ ., and that the meaning is: “Blessed they who suffer natural hunger and thirst on account of righteousness”. Grotius understands by δικ . the way or doctrine of righteousness.

Verse 7

Matthew 5:7 . This Beatitude states a self-acting law of the moral world. The exercise of mercy ( ἔλεος , active pity) tends to elicit mercy from others God and men. The chief reference may be to the mercy of God in the final awards of the kingdom, but the application need not be restricted to this. The doctrine of Christ abounds in great ethical principles of universal validity: “he that humbleth himself shall be exalted,” “to him that hath shall be given,” etc. This Beatitude suitably follows the preceding. Mercy is an element in true righteousness (Micah 6:8 ). It was lacking in Pharisaic righteousness (Matthew 23:23 ). It needed much to be inculcated in Christ’s time, when sympathy was killed by the theory that all suffering was penalty of special sin, a theory which fostered a pitiless type of righteousness (Schanz). Mercy may be practised by many means; “not by money alone,” says Euthy. Zig., “but by word, and if you have nothing, by tears” ( διὰ δακρύων ).

Verse 8

Matthew 5:8 . οἱ καθαροὶ τῇ καρδίᾳ : τ . καρδ . may be an explanatory addition to indicate the region in which purity shows itself. That purity is in the heart, the seat of thought, desire, motive, not in the outward act, goes without saying from Christ’s point of view. Blessed the pure . Here there is a wide range of suggestion. The pure may be the spotless or faultless in general; the continent with special reference to sexual indulgence those whose very thoughts are clean; or the pure in motive, the single-minded, the men who seek the kingdom as the summum bonum with undivided heart. The last is the most relevant to the general connection and the most deserving to be insisted on. In the words of Augustine, the mundum cor is above all the simplex cor . Moral simplicity is the cardinal demand in Christ’s ethics. The man who has attained to it is in His view perfect (Matthew 19:21 ). Without it a large numerical list of virtues and good habits goes for nothing. With it character, however faulty in temper or otherwise, is ennobled and redeemed. τὸν θεὸν ὄψονται : their reward is the beatific vision. Some think the reference is not to the faculty of clear vision but to the rare privilege of seeing the face of the Great King (so Fritzsche and Schanz). “The expression has its origin in the ways of eastern monarchs, who rarely show themselves in public, so that only the most intimate circle behold the royal countenance” (Schanz) = the pure have access to the all but inaccessible. This idea does not seem to harmonise with Christ’s general way of conceiving God. On the other hand, it was His habit to insist on the connection between clear vision and moral simplioity; to teach that it is the single eye that is full of light (Matthew 6:22 ). It is true that the pure shall have access to God’s presence, but the truth to be insisted on in connection with this Beatitude is that through purity, singleness of mind, they are qualified for seeing, knowing, truly conceiving God and all that relates to the moral universe. It is the pure in heart who are able to see and say that “truly God is good” (Psalms 73:1 ) and rightly to interpret the whole phenomena of life in relation to Providence. They shall see, says Jesus casting His thought into eschatological form, but He means the pure are the men who see; the double-minded, the two-souled ( δίψυχος , James 1:8 ) man is blind. Theophylact illustrates the connection between purity and vision thus: ὥσπερ γὰρ τὸ κάτοπτρον , ἐὰν ᾖ καθαρὸγ τότε δέχεται τὰς ἐμφάσεις , οὕτω καὶ ἡ καθαρὰ ψυχὴ δέχεται ὄψιν θεοῦ .

Verse 9

Matthew 5:9 . οἱ εἰρηνοποιοί : not merely those who have peace in their own souls through purity (Augustine), or the peace-loving (Grotius, Wetstein), but the active heroic promoters of peace in a world full of alienation, party passion, and strife. Their efforts largely consist in keeping aloof from sectional strifes and the passions which beget them, and living tranquilly for and in the whole. Such men have few friends. Christ, the ideal peace-maker, was alone in a time given up to sectarian division. But they have their compensation υἱοὶ θεοῦ κληθήσονται . God owns the disowned and distrusted as His sons. They shall be called because they are . They shall be called at the great consummation; nay, even before that, in after generations, when party strifes and passions have ceased, and men have come to see who were the true friends of the Divine interest in an evil time.

Verses 10-12

Matthew 5:10-12 . οἱ δεδιωγμένοι ε . δικ . The original form of the Beatitude was probably: Blessed the persecuted. The added words only state what is a matter of course. No one deserves to be called a persecuted one unless he suffers for righteousness. οἱ δεδιωγ . (perf. part.): the persecuted are not merely men who have passed through a certain experience, but men who bear abiding traces of it in their character . They are marked men, and bear the stamp of trial on their faces. It arrests the notice of the passer-by: commands his respect, and prompts the question, Who and whence? They are veteran soldiers of righteousness with an unmistakable air of dignity, serenity, and buoyancy about them. αὐτῶν ἐστὶν ἡ β . τ . οὐρ . The common refrain of all the Beatitudes is expressly repeated here to hint that theirs emphatically is the Kingdom of Heaven. It is the proper guerdon of the soldier of righteousness. It is his now, within him in the disciplined spirit and the heroic temper developed by trial.

Verse 11

Matthew 5:11 . μακάριοί ἐστε . The Teacher expatiates as if it were a favourite theme, giving a personal turn to His further reflections “Blessed are ye.” Is it likely that Jesus would speak so early of this topic to disciples? Would He not wait till it came more nearly within the range of their experience? Nay, is the whole discourse about persecution not a reflection back into the teaching of the Master of the later experiences of the apostolic age, that suffering disciples might be inspired by the thought that their Lord had so spoken? It is possible to be too incredulous here. If it was not too soon to speak of Pharisaic righteousness it was not too soon to speak of suffering for true righteousness. The one was sure to give rise to the other. The disciples may already have had experience of Pharisaic disfavour (Mark 2:3 ). In any case Jesus saw clearly what was coming. He had had an apocalypse of the dark future in the season of temptation, and He deemed it fitting to lift the veil a little that His disciples might get a glimpse of it. ὅταν ὀνειδίσωσιν … ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ : illustrative details pointing to persistent relentless persecution by word and deed, culminating in wilful, malicious, lying imputations of the grossest sort πᾶν πονηρὸν , every conceivable calumny ψευδόμενοι , lying: not merely in the sense that the statements are false, but in the sense of deliberately inventing the most improbable lies; their only excuse being that violent prejudice leads the calumniators to think nothing too evil to be believed against the objects of their malice. ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ : for Him who has undertaken to make you fishers of men. Do you repent following Him? No reason why.

Verse 12

Matthew 5:12 . χαίρετε καὶ ἀγ . In spite of all, joy, exultation is possible nay, inevitable. I not only exhort you to it, but I tell you, you cannot help being in this mood, if once you throw yourselves enthusiastically into the warfare of God. Ἀγαλλιάω is a strong word of Hellenistic coinage, from ἄγαν and ἅλλομαι , to leap much, signifying irrepressible demonstrative gladness. This joy is inseparable from the heroic temper. It is the joy of the Alpine climber standing on the top of a snowclad mountain. But the Teacher gives two reasons to help inexperienced disciples to rise to that moral elevation. ὅτι ὁ μισθὸς … οὐρανοῖς . For evil treatment on earth there is a compensating reward in heaven. This hope, weak now, was strong in primitive Christianity, and greatly helped martyrs and confessors. οὔτως γὰρ γὰρ ἐ . τοὺς προφήτας . If we take the γὰρ as giving a reason for the previous statement the sense will be: you cannot doubt that the prophets who suffered likewise have received an eternal reward (so Bengel, Fritzsche, Schanz, Meyer, Weiss). But we may take it as giving a co-ordinate reason for joy = ye are in good company. There is inspiration in the “goodly fellowship of the prophets,” quite as much as in thought of their posthumous reward. It is to be noted that the prophets themselves did not get much comfort from such thoughts, and more generally that they did not rise to the joyous mood commended to His disciples by Jesus; but were desponding and querulous. On that side, therefore, there was no inspiration to be got from thinking of them. But they were thoroughly loyal to righteousness at all hazards, and reflection on their noble career was fitted to infect disciples with their spirit. τοὺς πρὸ ὑμῶν : words skilfully chosen to raise the spirit. Before you not only in time but in vocation and destiny. Your predecessors in function and suffering; take up the prophetic succession and along with it, cheerfully, its tribulations.

Verses 13-14

Matthew 5:13 . ἄλας , a late form for ἄλς , ἄλος , masculine. The properties of salt are assumed to be known. Commentators have enumerated four. Salt is pure, preserves against corruption. gives flavour to food, and as a manuring element helps to fertilise the land. The last mentioned property is specially insisted on by Schanz, who finds a reference to it in Luke 14:35 , and thinks it is also pointed to here by the expression τῆς γῆς . The first, purity, is a quality of salt per se , rather than a condition on which its function in nature depends. The second and third are doubtless the main points to be insisted on, and the second more than the third and above all. Salt arrests or prevents the process of putrefaction in food, and the citizens of the kingdom perform the same function for the earth, that is, for the people who dwell on it. In Schanz’s view there is a confusion of the metaphor with its moral interpretation. Fritzsche limits the point of comparison to indispensableness = ye are as necessary an element in the world as salt is; a needlessly bald interpretation. Necessary certainly, but why and for what? τῆς γῆς might mean the land of Israel (Achelis, Bergpredigt ), but it is more natural to take it in its widest significance in harmony with κόσμου . Holtzmann (H. C.) sets κόσμου down to the account of the evangelist, and thinks γῆς in the narrow sense more suited to the views of Jesus.

Verses 13-16

Matthew 5:13-16 . Disciple functions . It is quite credible that these sentences formed part of the Teaching on the Hill. Jesus might say these things at a comparatively early period to the men to whom He had already said: I will make you fishers of men. The functions assigned to disciples here are not more ambitious than that alluded to at the time of their call. The new section rests on what goes before, and postulates possession of the attributes named in the Beatitudes. With these the disciples will be indeed the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Vitally important functions are indicated by the two figures. Nil sole et sale utilius was a Roman proverb (Pliny, H. N., 31, 9). Both harmonise with, the latter points expressly to, a universal destination of the new religion. The sun lightens all lands. Both also show how alien it was from the aims of Christ to be the teacher of an esoteric faith.

Verse 14

Matthew 5:14 . τὸ φῶς τ . κ ., the light, the sun of the moral world conceived of as full of the darkness of ignorance and sin. The disciple function is now viewed as illuminating. And as under the figure of salt the danger warned against was that of becoming insipid, so here the danger to be avoided is that of obscuring the light. The light will shine, that is its nature, if pains be not taken to hide it. οὐ δύναται πόλις , etc. As a city situate on the top of a hill cannot be hid, neither can a light fail to be seen unless it be expressly prevented from shining. No pains need to be taken to secure that the light shall shine. For that it is enough to be a light. But Christ knew that there would be strong temptation for the men that had it in them to be lights to hide their light. It would draw the world’s attention to them, and so expose them to the ill will of such as hate the light. Therefore He goes on to caution disciples against the policy of obscuration.

Verse 15

Matthew 5:15 . A parabolic word pointing out that such a policy in the natural sphere is unheard of and absurd. καίουσι , to kindle, accendere , ordinarily neuter = urere ; not as Beza thought, a Hebraism; examples occur in late Greek authors ( vide Kypke, Obser. Sac. ). The figure is taken from lowly cottage life. There was a projecting stone in the wall on which the lamp was set. The house consisted of a single room, so that the tiny light sufficed for all. It might now and then be placed under the modius , an earthenware grain measure, or under the bed (Mark 4:21 ), high to keep clear of serpents, therefore without danger of setting it on fire (Koetsveld, De Gelijkenissen , p. 305). But that would be the exception, not the rule done occasionally for special reasons, perhaps during the hours of sleep. Schanz says the lamp burned all night, and that when they wanted darkness they put it on the floor and covered it with the “bushel”. Tholuck also thinks people might cover the light when they wished to keep it burning, when they had occasion to leave the room for a time. Weiss, on the other hand, thinks it would be put under a cover only when they wished to put it out (Matt.-Evan., p. 144). But was it ever put out? Not so, according to Benzinger (Heb. Arch., p. 124).

Verse 16

Matthew 5:16 . οὕτω . Do ye as they do in cottage life: apply the parable. λαμψάτω , let your light shine. Don’t use means to prevent it, turning the rare exception of household practice into the rule, so extinguishing your light, or at least rendering it useless. Cowards can always find plausible excuses for the policy of obscuration reasons of prudence and wisdom: gradual accustoming of men to new ideas; deference to the prejudices of good men; avoidance of rupture by premature outspokenness; but generally the true reason is fear of unpleasant consequences to oneself. Their conduct Jesus represents as disloyalty to God ὅπως , etc. The shining of light from the good works of disciples glorifies God the Father in heaven. The hiding of the light means withholding glory. The temptation arises from the fact a stern law of the moral world it is that just when most glory is likely to accrue to God, least glory comes to the light-bearer; not glory but dishonour and evil treatment his share. Many are ready enough to let their light shine when honour comes to themselves. But their “light” is not true heaven-kindled light; their works are not καλὰ , noble, heroic, but πονηρὰ (Matthew 7:17 ), ignoble, worthless, at best of the conventional type in fashion among religious people, and wrought often in a spirit of vanity and ostentation. This is theatrical goodness, which is emphatically not what Jesus wanted. Euthy. Zig. says: οὐ κελεύει θεατρίζειν τὴν ἀρετὴν .

Note that here, for the first time in the Gospel, Christ’s distinctive name for God, “Father,” occurs. It comes in as a thing of course. Does it presuppose previous instruction? (So Meyer.) One might have expected so important a topic as the nature and name of God to have formed the subject of a distinct lesson. But Christ’s method of teaching was not scholastic or formal. He defined terms by discriminating use ; Father, e.g. , as a name for God, by using it as a motive to noble conduct. The motive suggested throws light on the name. God, we learn, as Father delights in noble conduct; as human fathers find joy in sons who acquit themselves bravely. Jesus may have given formal instruction on the point, but not necessarily. This first use of the title is very significant. It is full , solemn, impressive: your Father, He who is in the heavens; so again in Matthew 5:45 . It is suggestive of reasons for faithfulness, reasons of love and reverence. It hints at a reflected glory, the reward of heroism. The noble works which glorify the Father reveal the workers to be sons. The double-sided doctrine of this logion of Jesus is that the divine is revealed by the heroic in human conduct, and that the moral hero is the true son of God. Jesus Himself is the highest illustration of the twofold truth.

Verse 17

Matthew 5:17 . Μὴ νομίσητε : These words betray a consciousness that there was that in His teaching and bearing which might create such an impression, and are a protest against taking a surface impression for the truth. καταλῦσαι , to abrogate, to set aside in the exercise of legislative authority. What freedom of mind is implied in the bare suggestion of this as a possibility! To the ordinary religious Jew the mere conception would appear a profanity. A greater than the O. T., than Moses and the prophets, is here. But the Greater is full of reverence for the institutions and sacred books of His people. He is not come to disannul either the law or the prophets. ἢ before τ . προφ . is not = καὶ . “Law” and “Prophets” are not taken here as one idea = the O. T. Scriptures, as law, prophets and psalms seem to be in Luke 24:44 , but as distinct parts, with reference to which different attitudes might conceivably be taken up. ἢ implies that the attitude actually taken up is the same towards both. The prophets are not to be conceived of as coming under the category of law (Weiss), but as retaining their distinctive character as revealers of God’s nature and providence. Christ’s attitude towards them in that capacity is the same as that towards the law, though the Sermon contains no illustrations under that head. “The idea of God and of salvation which Jesus taught bore the same relations to the O. T. revelation as His doctrine of righteousness to the O. T. law” (Wendt, Die L. J. , ii., 344). πληρῶσαι : the common relation is expressed by this weighty word. Christ protests that He came not as an abrogator, but as a fulfiller . What rôle does He thereby claim? Such as belongs to one whose attitude is at once free and reverential. He fulfils by realising in theory and practice an ideal to which O. T. institutions and revelations point, but which they do not adequately express. Therefore, in fulfilling He necessarily abrogates in effect, while repudiating the spirit of a destroyer. He brings in a law of the spirit which cancels the law of the letter, a kingdom which realises prophetic ideals, while setting aside the crude details of their conception of the Messianic time.

Verses 17-20

Matthew 5:17-20 . Jesus defines His position . At the period of the Teaching on the Hill Jesus felt constrained to define His ethical and religious position all round, with reference to the O. T. as the recognised authority, and also to contemporary presentations of righteousness. The disciples had already heard Him teach in the synagogues (Matthew 4:23 ) in a manner that at once arrested attention and led hearers to recognise in Him a new type of teacher (Mark 1:27 ), entirely different from the scribes (Mark 1:22 ). The sentences before us contain just such a statement of the Teacher’s attitude as the previously awakened surprise of His audiences would lead us to expect. There is no reason to doubt their substantial authenticity though they may not reproduce the precise words of the speaker; no ground for the suggestion of Holtzmann (H. C.) that so decided a position either for or against the law was not likely to be taken up in Christ’s time, and that we must find in these vv. and anti-Pauline programme of the Judaists. At a first glance the various statements may appear inconsistent with each other. And assuming their genuineness, they might easily be misunderstood, and give rise to disputes in the apostolic age, or be taken hold of in rival interests. The words of great epoch-making men generally have this fate. Though apparently contradictory they might all proceed from the many-sided mind of Jesus, and be so reported by the genial Galilean publican in his Logia . The best guide to the meaning of the momentous declaration they contain is acquaintance with the general drift of Christ’s teaching ( vide Wendt, Die Lehre Jesu , ii., 330). Verbal exegesis will not do much for us. We must bring to the words sympathetic insight into the whole significance of Christ’s ministry. Yet the passage by itself, well weighed, is more luminous than at first it may seem.

Verses 18-19

Matthew 5:18-19 . These verses wear on first view a Judaistic look, and have been regarded as an interpolation, or set down to the credit of an over-conservative evangelist. But they may be reconciled with Matthew 5:17 , as above interpreted. Jesus expresses here in the strongest manner His conviction that the whole O. T. is a Divine revelation, and that therefore every minutest precept has religious significance which must be recognised in the ideal fulfilment. Ἀμὴν , formula of solemn asseveration, often used by Jesus, never by apostles, found doubled only in fourth Gospel. ἕως ἂν παρέλθῃ , etc.: not intended to fix a period after which the law will pass away, but a strong way of saying never (so Tholuck and Weiss). ἰῶτα , the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet. κεραία , the little projecting point in some of the letters, e.g. , of the base line in Beth ; both representing the minutiae in the Mosaic legislation. Christ, though totally opposed to the spirit of the scribes, would not allow them to have a monopoly of zeal for the commandments great and small. It was important in a polemical interest to make this clear. οὐ μὴ π ., elliptical = do not fear lest. Vide Kühner, Gram., § 516, 9; also Goodwin’s Syntax, Appendix ii. ἕως ἄν π . γεν ., a second protasis introduced with ἕως explanatory of the first ἕως ἂν παρέλθῃ ; vide Goodwin, § 510; not saying the same thing, but a kindred: eternal, lasting, till adequately fulfilled; the latter the more exact statement of Christ’s thought.

Verse 19

Matthew 5:19 . ὃς ἐὰν οὖν λύσῃ , etc.: οὗν pointing to a natural inference from what goes before. Christ’s view being such as indicated, He must so judge of the setter aside of any laws however small. When a religious system has lasted long, and is wearing towards its decline and fall, there are always such men. The Baptist was in some respects such a man. He seems to have totally neglected the temple worship and sacred festivals. He shared the prophetic disgust at formalism. Note now what Christ’s judgment about such really is. A scribe or Pharisee would regard a breaker of even the least commandments as a miscreant. Jesus simply calls him the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. He takes for granted that he is an earnest man, with a passion for righteousness, which is the key to his iconoclastic conduct. He recognises him therefore as possessing real moral worth, but, in virtue of his impatient radical-reformer temper, not great, only little in the scale of true moral values, in spite of his earnestness in action and sincerity in teaching. John the Baptist was possibly in His mind, or some others not known to us from the Gospels. ὃς δʼ ἂν ποιήσῃ καὶ διδάξῃ , etc. We know now who is least: who is great? The man who does and teaches to do all the commands great and small; great not named but understood οὗτος μέγας . Jesus has in view O. T. saints, the piety reflected in the Psalter, where the great ethical laws and the precepts respecting ritual are both alike respected, and men in His own time living in their spirit. In such was a sweetness and graciousness, akin to the Kingdom as He conceived it, lacking in the character of the hot-headed law-breaker. The geniality of Jesus made Him value these sweet saintly souls.

Verse 20

Matthew 5:20 . Here is another type still, that of the scribes and Pharisees. We have had two degrees of worth, the little and the great. This new type gives us the moral zero. λέγω γὰρ . The γὰρ is somewhat puzzling. We expect δὲ , taking our attention off two types described in the previous sentence and fixing it on a distinct one. Yet there is a hidden logic latent in the γὰρ . It explains the ἐλάχιστος of the previous verse. The earnest reformer is a small character compared with the sweet wholesome performer, but he is not a moral nullity. That place is reserved for another class. I call him least, not nothing, for the scribe is the zero. πλεῖον τῶν γρ . κ . φ ., a compendious comparison, τῆς δικαιοσύνης being understood after πλεῖον . Christ’s statements concerning these classes of the Jewish community, elsewhere recorded, enable us to understand the verdict He pronounces here. They differed from the two classes named in Matthew 5:18 , thus: Class 1 set aside the least commandments for the sake of the great; class 2 conscientiously did all, great and small; class 3 set aside the great for the sake of the little, the ethical for the sake of the ritual, the divine for the sake of the traditional. That threw them outside the Kingdom, where only the moral has value. And the second is greater, higher, than the first, because, while zeal for the ethical is good, spirit, temper, disposition has supreme value in the Kingdom. These valuations of Jesus are of great importance as a contribution towards defining the nature of the Kingdom as He conceived it.

Nothing, little, great: there is a higher grade still, the highest. It belongs to Christ Himself, the Fulfiller, who is neither a sophistical scribe, nor an impatient reformer, nor a strict performer of all laws great and small, walking humbly with God in the old ways, without thought, dream or purpose of change, but one who lives above the past and the present in the ideal, knows that a change is impending, but wishes it to come gently, and so as to do full justice to all that is divine, venerable, and of good tendency in the past. His is the unique greatness of the reverently conservative yet free, bold inaugurator of a new time.

Verse 21

Matthew 5:21 . Ἠκούσατε . The common people knew the law by hearing it read in the synagogue, not by reading it themselves. The aorist expresses what they were accustomed to hear, an instance of the “gnomic” use. Tholuck thinks there may be an allusion to the tradition of the scribes, called Shema . τοῖς ἀρχαίοις might mean: in ancient times, to the ancients, or by the ancients. The second is in accord with N. T. usage, and is adopted by Meyer, Weiss and Holtzmann (H. C.). How far back does Christ go in thought? To Moses or to Ezra? The expression is vague, and might cover the whole past, and perhaps is intended to do so. There is no reason à priori why the criticism should be restricted to the interpretation of the law by the scribes. Christ’s position as fulfiller entitled Him to point out the defects of the law itself, and we must be prepared to find Him doing so, and there is reason to believe that in the sequel He actually does (so Wendt, L. J. , ii., 332). Οὐ φονεύσεις … κρίσει . This is a correct statement, not only of the Pharisaic interpretation of the law, but of the law itself. As a law for the life of a nation, it could forbid and punish only the outward act. But just here lay its defect as a summary of human duty. It restrained the end not the beginning of transgression (Euthy. Zig.). ἔνοχος = ἐνεχόμενος , with dative of the tribunal here.

Verses 21-26

Matthew 5:21-26 . First illustration of Christ’s ethical attitude , taken from the Sixth Commandment. In connection with this and the following exemplifications of Christ’s ethical method, the interpreter is embarrassed by the long-continued strifes of the theological schools, which have brought back the spirit of legalism, from which the great Teacher sought to deliver His disciples. It will be best to ignore these strifes and go steadily on our way.

Verse 22

Matthew 5:22 . ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν . Christ supplies the defect, as a painter fills in a rude outline of a picture ( σκιαγραφίαν ), says Theophy. He goes back on the roots of crime in the feelings: anger, contempt, etc. πᾶς … αὐτοῦ . Every one; universal interdict of angry passion. ἀδελφῷ : not in blood (the classical meaning) or in faith, but by common humanity. The implied doctrine is that every man is my brother; companion doctrine to the universal Fatherhood of God (Matthew 5:45 ). εἰκῆ is of course a gloss; qualification of the interdict against anger may be required, but it was not Christ’s habit to supply qualifications. His aim was to impress the main idea, anger a deadly sin. κρίσει , here as in Matthew 5:21 . The reference is to the provincial court of seven ( Deu 16:18 , 2 Chronicles 19:5 , Joseph. Ant. iv. 8, 14) possessing power to punish capital offences by the sword. Christ’s words are of course not to be taken literally as if He were enacting that the angry man be tried as a criminal. So understood He would be simply introducing an extension of legalism. He deserves to go before the seven, He says, meaning he is as great an offender as the homicide who is actually tried by them.

Ῥακά : left untranslated in A. V [20] and R. V [21] ; a word of little meaning, rendered by Jerome “inanis aut vacuus absque cerebro”. Augustine says a Jew told him it was not properly a word at all, but an interjection like Hem . Theophy. gives as an equivalent σὺ spoken by a Greek to a man whom he despised. And the man who commits this trivial offence (as it seems) must go before, not the provincial seven, but the supreme seventy, the Sanhedrim that tried the most heinous offences and sentenced to the severest penalties, e.g. , death by stoning! Trivial in appearance, the offence is deadly in Christ’s eyes. It means contempt for a fellow-man, more inhuman than anger a violent passion, prompting to words and acts often bitterly regretted when the hot temper cools down. Μωρέ , if a Greek word, the equivalent for נָבָל = fool, good for nothing, morally worthless. It may, as Paulus, and after him Nösgen, suggests, be a Hebrew word, מוֹרֶה (Numbers 20:24 , Deuteronomy 21:18 ), a rebel against God or against parents, the most worthless of characters. Against this Field ( Otium Norviccuse ) remarks that it would be the only instance of a pure Hebrew word in the N. T. In either case the word expresses a more serious form of contempt than Raca . Raca expresses contempt for a man’s head = you stupid! More expresses contempt for his heart and character = you scoundrel. The reckless use of such opprobrious epithets Jesus regarded as the supreme offence against the law of humanity. ἔνοχος … πυρός . He deserves to go, not to the seven or the seventy, but to hell, his sin altogether damnable. Kuinoel thinks the meaning is: He deserves to be burned alive in the valley of Hinnom: is dignus est qui in valle Hinnomi vivus comburatur . This interpretation finds little approval, but it is not so improbable when we remember what Christ said about the offender of the little ones (Matthew 18:6 ). Neither burning alive nor drowning was actually practised. In these words of Jesus against anger and contempt there is an aspect of exaggeration. They are the strong utterance of one in whom all forms of inhumanity roused feelings of passionate abhorrence. They are of the utmost value as a revelation of character.

[20] Authorised Version.

[21] Revised Version.

Verses 23-24

Matthew 5:23-24 . Holtzmann (H. C.) regards these verses, as well as the two following, as an addition by the evangelist. But the passage is at least in thorough harmony with what goes before, as well as with the whole discourse. Ἐὰν οὖν προσφέρῃς , if thou art in the very act of presenting thine offering (present tense) at the altar. κἀκεῖ μνησθῇς … κατὰ σοῦ , and it suddenly flashes through thy mind there that thou hast done something to a brother man fitted to provoke angry feeling in him. What then? Get through with thy worship as fast as possible and go directly after and make peace with the offended? No, interrupt the religious action and go on that errand first. ἄφες ἐκεῖ . Lay it down on the spur of the moment before the altar without handing it to the priest to be offered by him in thy stead. καὶ ὕπαγε πρῶτον . The πρῶτον is to be joined to ὕπαγε , not to the following verb as in A. V [22] and R. V [23] ( πρῶτον stands after the verb also in chaps. Matthew 6:33 , Matthew 7:5 ). First go : remove thyself from the temple, break off thy worship, though it may seem profane to do so. διαλλάγηθι … καὶ τότε … πρόσφερε : no contempt for religious service expressed or implied. Holtzmann (H. C.) asks, did Jesus offer sacrifice? and answers, hardly. In any case He respected the practice. But, reconciliation before sacrifice: morality before religion. Significant utterance, first announcement of a great principle often repeated, systematically neglected by the religion of the time. Placability before sacrifice, mercy before sacrifice, filial affection and duty before sacrifice; so always in Christ’s teaching (Matthew 9:13 ; Matthew 15:5 ). πρόσφερε : present; set about offering: plenty of time now for the sacred action.

[22] Authorised Version.

[23] Revised Version.

Verses 25-26

Matthew 5:25-26 . There is much more reason for regarding this passage as an interpolation. It is connected only externally (by the references to courts of law) with what goes before, and it is out of keeping with the general drift of the teaching on the hill. It occurs in a different connection in Luke 12:58 , there as a solemn warning to the Jewish people, on its way to judgment, to repent. Meyer pleads that the logion might be repeated. It might, but only on suitable occasions, and the teaching on the hill does not seem to offer such an occasion. Kuinoel, Bleek, Holtzmann, Weiss and others regard the words as foreign to the connection. Referring to the exposition in Luke, I offer here only a few verbal notes mainly on points in which Matthew differs from Luke. ἴσθι εὐνοῶν , be in a conciliatory mood, ready to come to terms with your opponent in a legal process ( ἀντίδικος ). It is a case of debt, and the two, creditor and debtor, are on the way to the court where they must appear together (Deuteronomy 21:18 ; Deuteronomy 25:1 ). Matthew’s expression implies willingness to come to terms amicably on the creditor’s part, and the debtor is exhorted to meet him half way. Luke’s δὸς ἐργασίαν throws the willingness on the other side, or at least implies that the debtor will need to make an effort to bring the creditor to terms. παραδῷ , a much milder word than Luke’s κατασύρῃ , which points to rough, rude handling, dragging an unwilling debtor along whither he would rather not go. ὑπηρέτῃ , the officer of the court whose business it was to collect the debt and generally to carry out the decision of the judge; in Luke πράκτωρ . κοδράντην = quadrans , less than a farthing. Luke has λεπτὸν , half the value of a κοδ ., thereby strengthening the statement that the imprisoned debtor will not escape till he has paid all he owes.

Verses 27-30

Matthew 5:27-30 . Second illustration , taken from the seventh commandment. A grand moral law, in brief lapidary style guarding the married relation and the sanctity of home. Of course the Hebrew legislator condemned lust after another man’s wife; it is expressly prohibited in the tenth commandment. But in practical working as a public law the statute laid main stress on the outward act, and it was the tendency of the scribes to give exclusive prominence to this. Therefore Christ brings to the front what both Moses and the scribes left in the background, the inward desire of which adultery is the fruit

Verse 28

Matthew 5:28 . ὁ βλέπων : the looker is supposed to be a husband who by his look wrongs his own wife. γυναῖκα : married or unmarried. πρὸς τὸ ἐπιθυμῆσαι . he look is supposed to be not casual but persistent, the desire not involuntary or momentary, but cherished with longing. Augustine, a severe judge in such matters, defines the offence thus: “Qui hoc fine et hoc animo attenderit ut eam concupiscat; quod jam non est titillari delectatione carnis sed plene consentire libidini” (De ser. Domini). Chrysostom, the merciless scourge of the vices of Antioch, says: ὁ ἑαυτῷ τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν συλλέγων , ὁ μηδενὸς ἀναγκάζοντος τὸ θηρίον ἐπεισάγων ἠρεμοῦντι τῷ λογισμῷ . Hom. xvii. The Rabbis also condemned unchaste looks, but in how coarse a style compared with Jesus let this quotation given by Fritzsche show: “Intuens vel in minimum digitum feminae est ac si intueretur in locum pudendum”. In better taste are these sayings quoted by Wünsche (Beiträge): “The eye and the heart are the two brokers of sin”; “Passions lodge only in him who sees”. αὐτὴν (bracketed as doubtful by W. H [24] ): the accusative after ἐπιθ . is rare and late. We cannot but think of the personal relations to woman of One who understood so well the subtle sources of sexual sin. Shall we say that He was tempted in all points as we are, but desire was expelled by the mighty power of a pure love to which every woman was as a daughter, a sister, or a betrothed: a sacred object of tender respect?

[24] Westcott and Hort.

Verses 29-30

Matthew 5:29-30 . Counsel to the tempted , expressing keen perception of the danger and strong recoil from a sin to be shunned at all hazards, even by excision, as it were, of offending members; two named , eye and hand, eye first as mentioned before. ὁ ὀφ . ὁ δεξιὸς : the right eye deemed the more precious (1 Samuel 11:2 , Zechariah 11:17 ). Similarly Matthew 5:30 the right hand, the most indispensable for work. Even these right members of the body must go. But as the remaining left eye and hand can still offend, it is obvious that these counsels are not meant to be taken literally, but symbolically, as expressing strenuous effort to master sexual passion ( vide Grotius). Mutilation will not serve the purpose; it may prevent the outward act, but it will not extinguish desire. σκανδαλίζει , cause to stumble; not found in Greek authors but in Sept [25] Sirach, and in N. T. in a tropical moral sense. The noun σκάνδαλον is also of frequent occurrence, a late form for σκανδάληθρον , a trap-stick with bait on it which being touched the trap springs. Hesychius gives as its equivalent ἐμποδισμός . It is used in a literal sense in Leviticus 19:14 (Sept [26] ). συμφέρει … ἵνα ἀπολ .: ἵνα with subjunctive instead of infinitive ( vide on ch. Matthew 4:3 ). Meyer insists on ἵνα having here as always its telic sense and praises Fritzsche as alone interpreting the passage correctly. But, as Weiss observes, the mere destruction of the member is not the purpose of its excision. Note the impressive solemn repetition in Matthew 5:30 of the thought in Matthew 5:29 , in identical terms save that for βληθῇ is substituted, in the true reading, ἀπέλθῃ . This logion occurs again in Matthew (Matthew 18:8-9 ). Weiss (Marc.-Evang., 326) thinks it is taken here from the Apostolic document, i.e. , Matthew’s book of Logia, and there from Mark 9:43-47 .

[25] Septuagint.

[26] Septuagint.

Verses 31-32

Matthew 5:31-32 . Third illustration , subordinate to the previous one, connected with the same general topic, sex relations, therefore introduced less formally with a simple ἐρρέθη δὲ . This instance is certainly directed against the scribes rather than Moses. The law (Deuteronomy 24:1 ) was meant to mitigate an existing usage, regarded as evil, in woman’s interest. The scribes busied themselves solely about getting the bill of separation into due legal form. They did nothing to restrain the unjust caprice of husbands; they rather opened a wider door to licence. The law contemplated as the ground of separation a strong loathing, probably of sexual origin. The Rabbis (the school of Shammai excepted) recognised whimsical dislikes, even a fancy for another fairer woman, as sufficient reasons. But they were zealous to have the bill in due form that the woman might be able to show she was free to marry again, and they probably flattered themselves they were defending the rights of women. Brave men! Jesus raised the previous question, and asserted a more radical right of woman not to be put away , except when she put herself away by unfaithfulness. He raised anew the prophetic cry (Malachi 2:16 ), I hate putting away . It was an act of humanity of immense significance for civilisation, and of rare courage; for He was fighting single-handed against widely prevalent, long established opinion and custom. ἀπολύσῃ : the corresponding word in Greek authors is ἀποπέμπειν . ἀποστάσιον = βιβλίον ἀποστασίου in Deuteronomy 24:0 . The husband is to give her her dismissal, with a bill stating that she is no longer his wife. The singular form in ιον is to be noted. The tendency in later Greek was to substitute ιον for ια , the plural ending. Vide Lobeck, Phryn. , p. 517. παρ . λ . πορνείας : a most important exception which has given rise to much controversy that will probably last till the world’s end. The first question is: Did Christ really say this, or is it not rather an explanatory gloss due to the evangelist, or to the tradition he followed? De Wette, Weiss, Holtzmann (H. C.) take the latter view. It would certainly be in accordance with Christ’s manner of teaching, using strong, brief, unqualified assertions to drive home unfamiliar or unwelcome truths, if the word as He spoke it took the form given in Luke 16:18 : “Every one putting away his wife and marrying another committeth adultery”. This was the fitting word to be spoken by one who hated putting away, in a time when it was common and sanctioned by the authorities. A second question is: What does πορνεία mean? Schanz, a master, as becomes a Catholic, in this class of questions, enumerates five senses, but decides that it means adultery committed by a married woman. Some, including Döllinger ( Christenthum und Kirche: The First Age of Christianity and the Church , vol. ii., app. iii.), think it means fornication committed before marriage. The predominant opinion, both ancient and modern, is that adopted by Schanz. A third question is: Does Christ, assuming the words to have been spoken by Him, recognise adultery as a ground of absolute divorce, or only, as Catholics teach, of separation a toro et mensa ? Is it possible to be quite sure as to this point? One thing is certain. Christ did not come to be a new legislator making laws for social life. He came to set up a high ethical ideal, and leave that to work on men’s minds. The tendency of His teaching is to create deep aversion to rupture of married relations. That aversion might even go the length of shrinking from severance of the tie even in the case of one who had forfeited all claims. The last clause is bracketed by W. H [27] as of doubtful genuineness. It states unqualifiedly that to marry a dismissed wife is adultery. Meyer thinks that the qualification “unjustly dismissed,” i.e. , not for adultery, is understood. Weiss (Meyer) denies this.

[27] Westcott and Hort.

Verses 33-37

Matthew 5:33-37 . Fourth illustration: concerning oaths . A new theme, therefore formally introduced as in Matthew 5:21 . πάλιν points to a new series of illustrations (Weiss, Mt.-Evan., p. 165). The first series is based on the Decalogue. Thou shalt not swear falsely (Leviticus 19:12 ), and thou shalt perform unto the Lord thy vows (Numbers 30:3 : Deuteronomy 23:22 ) what is wrong in these dicta ? Nothing save what is left unsaid. The scribes misplaced the emphasis. They had a great deal to say, in sophistical style, of the oaths that were binding and not binding, nothing about the fundamental requirement of truth in the inward parts. Again, therefore, Jesus goes back on the previous question: Should there be any need for oaths?

Verse 34

Matthew 5:34 . ὅλως : emphatic = παντελῶς , don’t swear at all . Again an unqualified statement, to be taken not in the letter as a new law, but in the spirit as inculcating such a love of truth that so far as we are concerned there shall be no need of oaths. In civil life the most truthful man has to take an oath because of the untruth and consequent distrust prevailing in the world, and in doing so he does not sin against Christ’s teaching. Christ Himself took an oath before the High Priest (Matthew 26:63 ). What follows (Matthew 5:34-36 ) is directed against the casuistry which laid stress on the words τῷ κυρίῳ , and evaded obligation by taking oaths in which the divine name was not mentioned: by heaven, earth, Jerusalem, or by one’s own head. Jesus points out that all such oaths involved a reference to God. This is sufficiently obvious in the case of the first three, not so clear in case of the fourth. λευκὴν ἢ μέλαιναν : white is the colour of old age, black of youth. We cannot alter the colour of our hair so as to make our head look young or old. A fortiori we cannot bring on our head any curse by perjury, of which hair suddenly whitened might be the symbol. Providence alone can blast our life. The oath by the head is a direct appeal to God. All these oaths are binding, therefore, says Jesus; but what I most wish to impress on you is: do not swear at all. Observe the use of μήτε (not μηδέ ) to connect these different evasive oaths as forming a homogeneous group. Winer, sect. Leviticus 6:0 , endorses the view of Herrmann in Viger that οὔτε and μήτε are adjunctival , οὐδέ and μηδέ disjunctival , and says that the latter add negation to negation, while the former divide a single negation into parts. Jesus first thinks of these evasive oaths as a bad class, then specifies them one after the other. Away with them one and all, and let your word be ναὶ ναί , οὒ οὔ . That is, if you want to give assurance, let it not be by an oath, but by simple repetition of your yes and no . Grotius interprets: let your yea or nay in word be a yea or nay in deed , be as good as your word even unsupported by an oath. This brings the version of Christ’s saying in Mt. into closer correspondence with James 5:12 ἤτω τὸ Ναί ναὶ , καὶ τὸ Οὔ οὔ . Beza, with whom Achelis ( Bergpredigt ) agrees, renders, “Let your affirmative discourse be a simple yea, and your negative, nay”. τὸ δὲ περισσὸν , the surplus, what goes beyond these simple words. ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ , hardly “from the evil one,” though many ancient and modern interpreters, including Meyer, have so understood it. Meyer says the neuter “of evil” gives a very insipid meaning. I think, however, that Christ expresses Himself mildly out of respect for the necessity of oaths in a world full of falsehood. I know, He means to say, that in certain circumstances something beyond yea and nay will be required of you. But it comes of evil, the evil of untruthfulness. See that the evil be not in you. Chrysostom (Hom. xvii.) asks: How evil, if it be God’s law? and answers: Because the law was good in its season. God acted like a nurse who gives the breast to an infant and afterwards laughs at it when it wants it after weaning.

Verse 38

Matthew 5:38 contains the theme, he following vv. Christ’s comment. Ὀφθαλμὸν … ὀδόντος . An exact quotation from Exodus 21:24 . Christ’s criticism here concerns a precept from the oldest code of Hebrew law. Fritzsche explains the accusatives, ὀφθαλμὸν , ὀδόντα , by supposing εἶναι to be understood: “Ye have heard that Moses wrote that an eye shall be for an eye”. The simplest explanation is that the two nouns in the original passage are under the government of δώσει , Exodus 21:23 . (So Weiss and Meyer after Grotius.) Tersely expressed, a sound principle or civil law for the guidance of the judge, acted on by almost all peoples: Christ does not condemn it: if parties come before the judge, let him by all means give fair compensation for injuries received. He simply leaves it on one side. “Though the judge must give redress when demanded, you are not bound to ask it, and if you take My advice you will not.” In taking up this position Jesus was in harmony with the law itself, which contains dissuasives against vindictiveness, e.g. , Leviticus 19:18 : “Thou shalt not avenge nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people”. The fault of the scribes did not lie in gainsaying this and introducing the justalionis into private life, but in giving greater prominence to the legal than to the ethical element in the O. T. teaching, and in occupying themselves mainly with discussing the casuistry of compensation, e.g. , the items to be compensated for in a case of wounding the pain, the cure, the loss of time, the shame, etc., and the money value of the whole. Jesus turned the minds of His disciples away from these trivialities to the great neglected ethical commonplace.

Verses 38-42

Matthew 5:38-42 . Fifth illustration , from the law of compensation.

Verses 39-40

Matthew 5:39 . μὴ ἀντιστῆναι : resist not, either by endeavouring to prevent injury or by seeking redress for it. τῷ πονηρῷ , not the devil, as Chrys. and Theophy. thought; either the evil doer or the evil doing or done. Opinion is much divided between the last two meanings. The sense is the same in either case. The A. V [28] takes πονηρῷ as neuter, the R. V [29] as masculine. The former is on the whole to be preferred. Instances of injury in various forms are next specified to illustrate the general precept. These injuries have been variously distinguished to body, and property, and freedom, Tholuck; exemplum citatur injuriae, privatae, forensis, curialis , Bengel; injuries connected with honour, material good, waste of time, Achelis, who points out that the relation of the three, Ex. in Matthew 5:39-41 , is that of an anti-climax, injuries to honour being felt most, and those involving waste of time least. ὅστις … ἄλλην . In the following instances there is a climax: injury proceeds from bad to worse. It is natural to expect the same in this one. But when the right cheek has been struck, is it an aggravation to strike the left? Tholuck, Bleek, and Meyer suggest that the right cheek is only named first according to common custom, not supposed to be struck first. Achelis conceives the right cheek to be struck first with the back of the hand, then the left with a return stroke with the palm, harder than the first, and expressing in a higher measure intention to insult. ῥαπίζω in class. Greek = to beat with rods; later, and in N. T., to smite with the palm of the hand; vide Lobeck, Phryn. , p. 175.

[28] Authorised Version.

[29] Revised Version.

Verse 40

Matthew 5:40 , κριθῆναι = κρίνεσθαι in 1 Corinthians 6:1 , to sue at law as in A. V [30] Grotius takes it as meaning extra-judicial strife, while admitting that the word is used in the judicial sense in the Sept [31] , e.g. , Job 9:3 , Ecclesiastes 6:10 . Beza had previously taken the same view. χιτῶνα , ἱμάτιον . The contention is supposed to be about the under garment or the tunic, and the advice is, rather than go to law, let him have not only it but also, καὶ , the more costly upper robe, mantle, toga. The poor man might have several tunics or shirts for change, but only one upper garment, used for clothing by day, for bed-cover by night, therefore humanely forbidden to be retained over night as a pledge, Exodus 22:26 .

[30] Authorised Version.

[31] Septuagint.

Verse 41

Matthew 5:41 . ἀλλαρεύσει : compel thee to go one mile in A. V [32] and R. V [33] Hatch ( Essays in Biblical Greek , p. 37) thinks it means compel thee to carry his baggage , a very probable rendering in view of the history of the word as he gives it. A Persian word, originally, introduced into the Greek, Latin, and Rabbinic languages, it denoted first to requisition men, beasts, or conveyances for the courier system described in Herod. viii. 98, Xen. Cyr. viii. 6, 17; next in post-classical use under the successors of the Persians in the East, and under the Roman Empire, it was applied to the forced transport of military baggage by the inhabitants of a country through which troops were passing. Hatch remarks: “The extent to which this system prevailed is seen in the elaborate provisions of the later Roman law: angariae came to be one of those modes of taxing property which, under the vicious system of the empire, ruined both individuals and communities”. An instance in N. T. of the use of the word in this later sense occurs in Matthew 27:32 , Mark 15:21 , in reference to Simon compelled to carry Christ’s cross. We may conceive the compulsion in the present case to proceed from a military man. μίλιον , a Roman mile, about 1600 yards, a late word. δύο , in point of time, the additional mile = two, there and back, with proportional fatigue, a decided climax of hardship. But it is not merely a question of time, as Achelis thinks. The sense of oppression is involved, subjection to arbitrary military power. Christ’s counsel is: do not submit to the inevitable in a slavish, sullen spirit, harbouring thoughts of revolt. Do the service cheerfully, and more than you are asked. The counsel is far-reaching, covering the case of the Jewish people subject to the Roman yoke, and of slaves serving hard masters. The three cases of non-resistance are not meant to foster an abject spirit. They point out the higher way to victory. He that magnanimously bears overcomes.

[32] Authorised Version.

[33] Revised Version.

Verse 42

Matthew 5:42 . This counsel does not seem to belong to the same category as the preceding three. One does not think of begging or borrowing as an injury, but at most as a nuisance. Some have doubted the genuineness of the logion as a part of the Sermon. But it occurs in Luke’s redaction (Matthew 6:30 ), transformed indeed so as to make it a case of the sturdy beggar who helps himself to what he does not get for the asking. Were there idle, lawless tramps in Palestine in our Lord’s time, and would He counsel such treatment of them? If so, it is the extreme instance of not resisting evil. μὴ ἀποστραφῇς with τὸν θέλοντα in accusative. One would expect the genitive with the middle, the active taking an accusative with genitive, e.g. , 2 Timothy 4:4 , τὴν ἀκοὴν ἀπὸ τῆς ἀληθείας . But the transitive sense is intelligible. In turning myself away from another, I turn him away from me. Vide Hebrews 12:25 , 2 Timothy 1:15 .

Verse 43

Matthew 5:43 . ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη : said where, by whom, and about whom? The sentiment Jesus supposes His hearers to have heard is not found in so many words in the O. T. The first part, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour,” occurs in Leviticus 19:18 . The contrary of the second part is found in Exodus 23:4 , where humanity towards the straying or overburdened beast of an enemy is enjoined. It is to be hoped that even the scribes did not in cold blood sin against the spirit of this precept by teaching men to love their private friends and hate their private enemies. Does πλησίον then mean an Israelite, and ἐχθρόν a Gentile, and was the fault of the traditional law of love that it confined obligation within national limits? The context in Leviticus 19:18 gives πλ . that sense: “Thou shalt not bear any grudge against the children of thy people”. On the other hand, the tendency of Israel’s election, and of certain texts ( vide Exodus 23:0 , Deuteronomy 7:0 ), was to foster aversion to the outside nations, and from Ezra onwards the spirit of Judaism was one of increasing hostility towards the goyim vide Esther. The saying quoted by Jesus, if not an exact report of Rabbinical teaching, did no injustice to its general attitude. And the average Jew in this respect followed the guidance of his teachers, loving his own countrymen, regarding with racial and religious aversion those beyond the pale.

Verses 43-48

Matthew 5:43-48 . Sixth and final illustration: from the Law of Love . To an old partial form of the law Jesus opposes a new universal one.

Verse 44

Matthew 5:44 . ἐχθροὺς may be taken in all senses: national, private, religious. Jesus absolutely negatives hatred as inhuman. But the sequel shows that He has in view the enemies whom it is most difficult to love διωκόντων : those who persecute on account of religion. The clauses imported into the T. R. from Luke have a more general reference to enmities arising from any cause, although they also receive a very emphatic meaning when the cause of alienation is religious differences. There are no hatreds so bitter and ruthless as those originating therein. How hard to love the persecutor who thinks he does God service by heaping upon you all manner of indignities. But the man who can rejoice in persecution (Matthew 5:12 ) can love and pray for the persecutor. The cleavage between Christians and unbelievers took the place of that between the chosen race and the Gentiles, and tempted to the same sin.

Verses 45-47

Matthew 5:45-47 . Characteristically lofty inducements to obey the new law; likeness to God (Matthew 5:45 ); moral distinction among men (Matthew 5:46-47 ). υἱοὶ τοῦ πατρὸς ὑμῶν : in order that ye may be indeed sons of God: noblesse oblige ; God’s sons must be Godlike. “Father” again. The new name for God occurs sixteen times in the Sermon on the Mount; to familiarise by repetition, and define by discriminating use. ὅτι , not = ὅς , but meaning “because”: for so your Father acts, and not otherwise can ye be His sons. ἀνατέλλει , sometimes intransitive, as in Matthew 4:16 , Luke 12:54 , here transitive, also in Sept [34] , Genesis 3:18 , etc., and in some Greek authors (Pindar. Isth. vi., 110, e.g. ) to cause to rise. The use of καίειν (Matthew 5:15 ) and ἀνατέλλειν in an active sense is a revival of an old poetic use in later Greek (exx. of the former in Elsner). βρέχει = pluit (Vulg [35] ), said of God, as in the expression ὔοντος τοῦ Διὸς (Kypke, Observ. Sac. ). The use of this word also in this sense is a revival of old poetic usage. πονηροὺς , ἀγαθούς ; δικαίους , ἀδίκους , not mere repetition. There is a difference between ἀγαθός and δίκαιος similar to that between generous and just. πονηροὺς may be rendered niggardly vide on Matthew 6:23 . The sentiment thus becomes: “God makes His sun rise on niggardly and generous alike, and His rain fall on just and unjust”. A similar thought in Seneca, De benif. vi. 26: “Si deos imitaris, da et ingratis beneficia, nam et sceleratis sol oritur, et piratis patent maria”. The power of the fact stated to influence as a motive is wholly destroyed by a pantheistic conception of God as indifferent to moral distinctions, or a deistic idea of Him as transcendent, too far above the world, in heaven, as it were, to be able to take note of such differences. The divine impartiality is due to magnanimity, not to indifference or ignorance. Another important reflection is that in this word of Jesus we find distinct recognition of the fact that in human life there is a large sphere (sun and rain, how much these cover!) in which men are treated by Providence irrespectively of character; by no means a matter of course in a Jewish teacher, the tendency being to insist on exact correspondence between lot and character under a purely retributive conception of God’s relation to man.

[34] Septuagint.

[35] Vulgate (Jerome’s revision of old Latin version).

Verse 46

Matthew 5:46 . μισθὸν : here, and three times in next chapter; one of several words used in this connection of thought περισσὸν (Matthew 5:47 ), τέλειοι (Matthew 5:48 ) having a legal sound, and capable of being misunderstood. The scribes and Rabbis had much to say about merit and reward vide Weber, Die Lehren des Talmud , c. xix. § 59, on the idea of Sechûth (merit). Totally opposed to Rabbinism, Jesus did not lose His balance, or allow Himself to be driven into extremes, after the usual manner of controversialists (Protestants and Catholics, e.g. ). He speaks of μισθὸς without scruple ( cf. on Luke 6:32 ). τελῶναι ( τέλος , tax, ὠνέομαι ), first mention of a class often referred to in the Gospels, unpopular beyond their deserts; therefore, like women unjustly treated by husbands, befriended by Jesus; the humble agents of the great farmers of taxes, disliked as representing a foreign yoke, and on account of too frequent acts of injustice, yet human and kindly within their own class, loving those that loved them. Jesus took advantage of this characteristic to win their love by friendly acts.

Verse 47

Matthew 5:47 . ἀσπάσησθε , “Salute,” a very slight display of love from our Western point of view, a mere civility; more significant in the East; symbolic here of friendly relations, hence Tholuck, Bleek and others interpret, “to act in a friendly manner,” which, as Meyer remarks, is, if not the significatio , at least the adsignificatio . περισσὸν , used adverbially, literally “that which is over and above”; A. V [36] , “more”; here, tropically = distinguished, unusually good = “quid magnum, eximium, insigne” (Pricaeus), so in Romans 3:1 . In Plutarch, Romulus , xi., of one who excelled in casting horoscopes. Christ would awaken in disciples the ambition to excel. He does not wish them to be moral mediocrities, men of average morality, but to be morally superior, uncommon. This seems to come perilously near to the spirit of Pharisaism ( cf. Galatians 1:14 , προέκοπτον ), but only seems. Christ commends being superior, not thinking oneself superior, the Pharisaic characteristic. Justin, Apol. i. 15, mixes Matthew 5:46-47 , and for περισσὸν puts καινὸν , and for τελῶναι , or ἐθνικοὶ , πόρνοι : “If ye love those who love you what new thing do ye? for even fornicators do this.” ἐθνικοὶ , here as elsewhere in the Gospels associated with τελῶναι (Matthew 18:17 ). A good many of the publicans would be Gentiles. For a Jew it was a virtue to despise and shun both classes. Surely disciples will not be content to be on a moral level with them! Note that Jesus sees some good even in despised classes, social outcasts.

[36] Authorised Version.

Verse 48

Matthew 5:48 . Concluding exhortation . οὖν , from an ancient form of the participle of the verb εἶναι (Klotz, Devar. ) = “things being so;” either a collective inference from all that goes before (Matthew 5:21-47 ) or as a reflection on the immediately preceding argument. Both come to the same thing. Godlike love is commended in Matthew 5:44-47 , but the gist of all the six illustrations of Christ’s way of thinking is: Love the fulfilling of the law; obviously, except in the case of oaths, where it is truth that is enjoined. But truth has its source in love; Ephesians 4:15 : ἀληθεύοντες ἐν ἀγάπῃ , “truthing it in love”. ἔσεσθε , future, “ye shall be” = BE. ὑμεῖς , ye , emphatic, in contrast with τελ . and ἐθν ., who are content with moral commonplace and conventional standards. Τέλειοι : in general, men who have reached the end, touched the ideal, that at least their purpose, not satisfied with anything short of it. The τέλειοι are not men with a conceit of perfection, but aspirants men who seek to attain, like Paul: διώκω εἰ καὶ καταλάβω , Philippians 3:12 , and like him, single-minded , their motto: ἓν δέ . Single-mindedness is a marked characteristic of all genuine citizens of the kingdom (Matthew 6:33 ), and what the Bible means by perfection. All men who attain have one great ruling aim. That aim for the disciple, as here set forth, is Godlikeness ὡς ὁ πατὴρ … τέλειός ἐστιν . God is what His sons aspire to be; He never sinks below the ideal: impartial, benignant, gracious love, even to the unworthy; for that, not all conceivable attributes, is what is in view. ὡς , not in degree, that were a discouraging demand, but in kind. The kind very necessary to be emphasised in view of current ideas and practice, in which holiness was dissociated from love. The law “Be holy for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44 ) was taken negatively and worked out in separation from the reputedly sinful. Jesus gave it positive contents, and worked it out in gracious love.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Matthew 5". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/egt/matthew-5.html. 1897-1910.
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