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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 5

International Critical Commentary NTInternational Critical

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Verses 1-99

(b) 5-7. Illustration of the Messiah’s teaching

From the Logia.2


A. Nine Beatitudes, 5:3-12.

B. Two metaphors of discipleship, 5:13-16.

C. Relation of the Christian character to the Law, 5:17-48

The Christian character is not released from the obligations of the Law. It is under still heavier responsibilities.

Christian “righteousness” is to be not less than that of the scribes, but greater, 17-20.

Five illustrations of the permanence of the Law and of this greater righteousness.

(1). Threefold interpretation of “do not kill,” 21-22.

Twofold application, 23-26.

(2). Interpretation of “do not commit adultery,” 27-28.

Twofold application, 29, 30.

Application of this to divorce, 31-32.

(3). Interpretation of “do not swear falsely,” 33-34a

Fourfold application, 34b-37.

(4). Interpretation of the lex talionis, 38-39a.

Fourfold application, 39b-42.

(5). Interpretation of “love thy neighbour,” 43-45.

Twofold illustration, 46-48.

D. Three illustrations of the way in which the Christian “righteousness” is to exceed that of the Pharisees, 6:1-18.

(1). Alms, 2-4.

(2). Prayer, 5-15.

(3). Fasting, 16-18.

E. Three Prohibitions, 6:19-7:6.

(1). μὴ θησαυρίζετε, 19-34.

(2). μὴ κρίνετε, 7:1-5.

(3). μὴ δῶτε, 6.

F. Three Commands, 7-23.

(1). αἰτεῖτε, 7-12.

(2). εἰσέλθατε, 13-14.

(3). προσέχετε, 15-23.

G. Concluding Parable, 24-27.

(E) 1. And seeing the multitudes, He went up into the mountain: and having sat down, His disciples came to Him.] Luke 6:17 has: “And He came down with them, and stood upon a level place.”

τὸ ὄρος] Cf. 14:23, 15:29. The article is less natural here than in these two places, where it may not unnaturally designate the hill country adjoining the lake. It suggests that the Sermon had long been traditionally connected with a mountain, and seems to mean the mountain upon which the Sermon was delivered.

καθίσαντος αὐτοῦ προσῆλθον αὐτῷ] For the unclassical construction, see Blass, p. 251.

προσῆλθον is a favourite word with Mt. It occurs 52 times, 6 in Mk., 10 in Lk., 1 in Ju.

οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ] Since nothing has been told us apart from 4:18-22 of any disciples, their sudden appearance here is a hint that the Sermon is anticipated here from a later period.

2. And He opened His mouth and taught them, saying.] Lk. has: “And He lifted up His eyes upon His disciples, and said.”

ἀνοίξας τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ Again of Philip, Acts 8:35; Peter, Acts 10:34; Paul, Acts 18:14; cf. Luke 1:64. It is a somewhat formal introductory clause; cf. Job 3:1.

(L) 3. Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.] Lk. has: “Blessed are ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.” μακάριος in the LXX. is equivalent to אַשְׁרֵי. It describes a state not of inner feeling on the part of those to whom it is applied, but of blessedness from an ideal point of view in the judgement of others.

οἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι] Cf. καθαροὶ τῇ καρδίᾳ v. 8; ταπεινοὺς τῷ πνεύματι, Psalms 33:19; ζέων τῷ πνεύματι, Acts 18:25; ἁγία τῷ πνεύματι, 1 Corinthians 7:34. By analogy with these parallels the clause must mean “those whose spirit is poor.” The idea of poverty intended can best be reached through the corresponding Hebrew word עָנִי, for which πτωχός stands in the LXX. 38 times. The עני is the man who is poor in the sense of being needy. But the word frequently denotes the poor man who is oppressed by the rich and powerful. The word then attracts to itself the sense of poor, pious, religious people who are oppressed by the ungodly. They are therefore the objects of God’s favour. He does not forget them, Psalms 9:13, but delivers them, Psalms 34:10, and has compassion on them, Isaiah 49:13. On these lines πτωχοί here will mean those who, because they endeavour to lead pious lives of obedience to God, are “poor,” i.e. are oppressed and downtrodden by ungodly people. They are “poor” as needing God’s help. The τῷ πνεύματι serves to spiritualise the sense, and to lay the emphasis rather on the religious and moral than on the social condition of those referred to. Their spirit is “poor,” because they feel their need of God’s help, and are aware that it can come from Him alone. In their inner spiritual life they realise their need of God, and this conscious spiritual poverty constitutes their claim to the blessings promised in the next clause. The τῷ πνεύματι here suggests that πτωχοί in Luke 6:20 should be interpreted in the same sense and not of literal poverty. The editor of the First Gospel probably felt quite rightly that the simple πτωχοί would be misinterpreted by Greek readers unacquainted with Semitic idiom. It compressed a complicated Hebrew train of thought in a Greek word which would be misunderstood if literally interpreted. See Zahn’s admirable note on the passage.

For theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.] On the meaning of this phrase, see Introduction, p. lxvii. It is clear that the meaning must be determined from a general survey of the sense which the phrase has throughout the Gospel. The ἐστιν probably was not represented in the Semitic original, and cannot be pressed. If the “kingdom” be a state or condition which is necessarily future, the ἐστιν must naturally be equivalent to ἔσται. “The kingdom is theirs, i.e. will belong to them when it comes or is realised.” Or, “they will enter into it when it comes”; or, “the kingdom will consist of such as these.” The future tenses in the following verses suggest that the whole emphasis of the blessings lies upon a future condition which shall compensate for the unsatisfying present.

4, 5. The order of these two verses is uncertain. The arrangement πενθοῦντες—πρᾳεῖς is found in א B. C and most unc., in most curss. in S1 S3 S4 S5 b f q, Tert. Orig.1 On the other hand, the order πρᾳεῖς—πενθοῦντες occurs in D 33 a c ff1 g1 h k S2 Tat.2 That is to say, both arrangements were known in the second century. Zahn is probably right in saying that if vv. 3, 5 had originally stood together with their rhetorical antithesis of heaven and earth, it is unlikely that any copyist would have thrust v. 4 in between them. On the other hand, the Western scribes, who represent the order 5, 4, may have preferred this arrangement because it heightened the antithesis, or to draw together the closely allied πτωχοί and πρᾳεῖς. Wellhausen, observing that the clause about the πρᾳεῖς is directly quoted from Psalms 36:11, and that its position in this chapter varies in the manuscripts, condemns it as an interpolation. If πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι in v. 3, and not rather πτωχοί simply (= עניים), were original, there would be something to be said for this on the ground that πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι and πρᾳεῖς are practically synonymous terms. πτωχοί, as we have seen, corresponds in the LXX. to עניים, and implies not poverty alone or in the literal sense, but misery suffered at the hands of others because of godliness. πρᾳεῖς, on the other hand, corresponds to ענוים (8 times). This word emphasises not the social condition implied in עניים but humbleness of mind. (See Driver, art. “Poor,” DB.) But by adding τῷ πνεύματι the editor has obliterated the distinctive meaning of πτωχοί as = עניים, and made it practically equivalent to πρᾳεῖς = ענוים. But this identity belongs to the Greek forms of the sayings, not to their Semitic original. There the distinction would have been clear. The Lord singled out for His approval both the godly oppressed and the godly humble-minded. Of the former, He declared that when the kingdom came, they and, by implication, not their ungodly oppressors, should enter into it. Of the latter, He affirms that because they humbly submit themselves to God’s will, and look for His help, they shall, as the Psalmist said, “inherit the earth,” which, purged of the ungodly, will be coextensive with the kingdom. It seems best, therefore, to retain the usual order of verses, on the grounds (a) that it is best supported; (b) that it was more likely to be reversed than the rival order, which would at once suggest itself to scribes who would like to bring πτωχοί and πρᾳεῖς into close connection, and to emphasise by close contact the antithesis between “heaven” and “earth.”

(L) 4. Blessed are those who mourn: because they shall be comforted.] Cf. Isaiah 61:2 παρακαλέσαι πάντας τοῦς πενθοῦντας. The thought is of those who mourn for the sin in Israel, which checks and thwarts God’s purposes for His people, and delays the coming of the kingdom.

(L) 5. Blessed are “the humble-minded”: because “they shall inherit the earth”.] Quoted from Psalms 36:11. See above.

(L) 6. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness: because they shall be filled.] Lk has: “Blessed are ye who mourn now: for ye shall be filled.” Cf. Jeremiah 38:25 (LXX.) ὅτι ἐμέθυσα πᾶσαν ψυχὴν διψῶσαν καὶ πᾶσαν ψυχὴν πεινῶσαν ἐνέπλησα; Isaiah 55:1, Psalms 106:9 (LXX.) ὅτι ἐχόρτασεν ψυχὴν κενὴν καὶ ψυχὴν πεινῶσαν ἐνέπλησεν�

The thought is of those who spend their lives in endeavours to fulfil the requirements of the law, and to obtain the “righteousness” which God demands. Such whole-hearted search will not fail.

χορτασθήσονται] A coarse word softened down in Comedy and in colloquial use. Common in the LXX. and N.T. in the sense to feed. See Kennedy, Sources, 82.

(L) 7. Blessed are the merciful: because they shall obtain mercy.] i.e. in the day of judgement.

(L) 8. Blessed are the pure in heart: because they shall see God.]

καθαροὶ τῇ καρδίᾳ] Cf. Psalms 23:4.—ὄψονται] Cf. Psalms 10:7. For the vision of God as the aim of the religious life, cf. Philo, De Vit. Contempl. ii. 473: The Therapeutæ aim at vision τοῦ Ὄντος. They persevere μέχρις ἂν τὸ ποθούμενον ἴδωσιν. Leg. Alleg. i. 115: the wise man is θεωρίᾳ τῶν θείων τρεφόμενος. De Vit. Mos. ii. 106: Moses by his ascetic life entered into the darkness where God was, τὰ�Revelation 22:4, 1 John 3:2 ὀφόμεθα αὐτὸν καθώς ἐστιν, and Philo, de Abr. ii. 10: ὅτῳ δὲ ἐξεγένετο μὴ μόνον τὰ ἄλλα ὅσα ἐν τῇ φύσει διʼ ἐπιστήμης καταλαμβάνειν,�

(L) 9. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God.] Cf. Secrets of Enoch 52:11 “Blessed is he who establishes peace and love”; Aboth 1:12 “Hillel said, Be ye of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace”; Ps.-Sol. 17:30 γνώσεται γὰρ αὐτοὺς ὅτι πάντες υἱοὶ θεοῦ αὐτῶν εἰσι; Aboth 3:18 “The Israelites are beloved, for they are called children of God.” Cf. Deuteronomy 14:1.

(L) 10. Blessed are they who have suffered persecution for righteousness’ sake: because theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.]

The preceding eight blessings seem to form a complete paragraph begun and ended with the same promise, “because theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.” It is clear that this phrase contains in itself all the blessings promised in the six intermediate clauses. It seems clear also that the kingdom is regarded as a condition of things still in the future. When it comes, those whose spirit is poor, i.e. those who humbly rely upon God, or, as originally spoken without τῷ πνεύματι, those who are poor, i.e. the oppressed godly people, will be its citizens. Then those who mourn for the sin which now delays its coming, will receive consolation when they see righteousness triumphant. Then, too, the humble minded, i.e. those who feel their need of God, will inherit the earth. It seems best to suppose that this clause should be understood literally in spite of the fact that it is a quotation from the Psalter. The earth purified from sin and purged of the ungodly, who now oppress the “poor” and meek godly people, will then be coextensive with the kingdom. Then, too, those who hunger and thirst after the divine righteousness, will be satisfied when they find it to be the ruling principle in their own lives and in those of other people. The merciful, i.e. those who show mercy and compassion to be the ruling principle of their lives, will obtain mercy at the great day of judgement, which divides the present age from the establishment of the kingdom. The pure in heart will then see God. The peacemakers will be openly proclaimed as God’s sons. Those who have been persecuted for their devotion to religion will become its citizens.

(L) 11, 12. In the ninth blessing Christ addresses Himself directly to the disciples. S. Luke has the second person throughout.

Blessed are ye when they shall reproach you and persecute you, and speak all manner of evil against you for My sake. Rejoice and exult, Because your reward is great in the heavens. For so did they per secute the prophets who were before you.] Lk. has: “Blessed are ye when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you, and reproach you, and cast out your name as evil for the sake of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven. For likewise did their fathers treat the prophets.”

μισθός] The later Jewish theology is much coloured by ideas of reward and punishment. In Wis 2:22 we read of the “reward of holiness” μισθός—ὁσιότητος. Cf. Wis 5:15, 2 Es 7:35, 83, 98, Esther 7:8:33, 39, 13:56. Occasionally, however, we find a protest against the idea of reward for goodness. “Be not,” saith Antigonus of Socho, “as slaves who minister to the Lord in order to receive recompense,” Aboth 1:3. Here the thought is not that of reward for piety, but of future recompense for a present condition of persecution and reproach. The number of the Beatitudes is much disputed. They can be reckoned as seven by disconnecting 11-12 from the preceding verses and uniting 8 and 10 as one (so Meyer), or by regarding v. 5 as a marginal gloss (so Bacon, Wellhausen); or they may be reckoned as eight by treating 10-12 as one beatitude (so Votaw), or by disconnecting 11-12 from the preceding (so Zahn). But it seems better to treat them as nine in number in spite of the fact that 11-12 only repeat and apply v. 10 to the disciples. In the Secrets of Enoch, two groups of Blessings occur, one (42:6-14) of nine, the other (52) of seven Beatitudes.

11. καθʼ ὐμῶν] Add ψευδόμενοι, א B. al. Om. D k S1. The word seems to have been added to limit a wide generalisation; cf. v. 22.

13-16. Not in Lk.’s sermon.

(EL) 13. Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have become insipid, wherewith shall it be salted? it is no longer of any use, except to be cast out, and trodden under foot of men.] Cf. Luke 14:34, Luke 14:35.

The idea underlying “salt” here is probably its use as a preservative. The disciples are the element in the world which keeps it wholesome, and delays the day of decay and of consequent judgment. But since salt may become useless for household purposes, and be thrown out of doors, so the disciples should beware lest they lose their essentially Christian character. The saying is probably proverbial, and it is needless to object that, properly speaking, salt cannot change its nature. It may become so soiled or mixed with dirt and other extraneous substances as to become practically useless.

(EL) 14. Ye are the light of the world. A city set upon a hill cannot be hid.]

If salt designates the disciples as an element in the world, so light describes their attitude to it as one of aloofness and separation. But though separated from it they cannot but exercise an influence upon it, just as a city built on a hill is too conspicuous to remain unnoticed. For the light, cf. Test. Leviticus 14:3 “Ye are the lights of Israel”; 2 Es 12:42 “Thou only art left … as a lamp in a dark place”; Philippians 2:15. For κειμένη of a city, cf. 2 Mac 4:33. For the city, cf. Logia Jesu 7: πόλις ᾠκοδομηένη ἐπʼ ἄκρον ὄρους ὑψηλοῦ καὶ ἐστηριγμένη οὔτε πεσεῖν δύναται οὔτε κρυβῆναι. For the combination of “light” and “city,” cf. Cicero, Catilin. iv. 6: “Videor enim mihi hanc urbem videre, lucem orbis terrarum atque arcem omnium gentium.”

(L) 15. Neither do they light a lamp, and place it under the bushel, but on the lampstand; and it lightens all who are in the house.] Cf. Luke 8:16, Luke 11:33, Mark 4:21.

(L) 16. So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in the heavens.]

λυχνία] a word of the later Greek writers for the Attic λυχνίον. It is used in the LXX., Joseph., Luc., Philo, Galen, but was an old vernacular word. Cf. Kennedy, Sources, 40.

16. τὸν πατέρα ὑμῶν τὸν ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς] The phrase is characteristic of Mt. See Introduction, p. lvi. It occurs besides only in Mar 11:25, cf. Luke 11:13. As early as the books of Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus we find Israelites addressing God as “Father”; cf. Wis 2:16, 14:3, Ecclus 23:1. 4 “O Lord, Father and Master of my life”; and the idea of God as Father of the nation had been familiar from very primitive times. For examples from the later literature, cf. To 13:4 “our Father,” Jub 1:24 “their Father,” 3 Mac 5:7 “their merciful God and Father.” The term “Father in heaven” is not infrequent in the Rabbinical literature; cf. Mechilta (Ugol.) 397: “my Father who is in heaven”; 331: “their Father who is in heaven”; Siphri (Ugol.) 871: “his Father who is in heaven”; Aboth 5:22 “Jehuda ben Tema said, Be … strong as a lion to do the will of thy Father who is in heaven”; Sotah, ix. 15 (49b): “Upon whom shall we lean? Upon our Father who is in heaven”; Rosh ha-Shana, iii. 8 (29a): “As often as the Israelites directed their heart towards their Father who is in heaven they were strong”; Shabbath 116a, Joma, viii. 9 (85b), Pesikta (Wünsche), pp. 228, 238; Vayyikra R. (Wünsche), p. 222; Siphri (Ugol.) 593. These examples carry us back to the beginning of the second cent. a.d., for the speaker in the last case is Simeon ben Jochai, who lived c. 130 a.d.1 Cf. Bacher, Ag. d. Tann. ii. 70 ff. For the phrase in Jewish literature, see Dalm. Words, pp. 184 ff. Bousset, Rel. Jud. p. 357, sees in the phrase a possible influence of Christianity upon Judaism; cf. Bischoff, Jesu und die Rabbinen, p. 74. But it is not improbable that the phrase was already current in Palestine at the time of Christ.

13-16. Two of the verses in this section find parallels in Lk. V. 13 occurs in Luke 14:34, Luke 14:35 in a somewhat different form, akin partly to Mt., partly to Mark 9:50, where Lk. in his parallel passage omits it. Mt. also omits it in the parallel to Mk. V. 15 finds a parallel in Luke 8:16 = Mark 4:21, where Mt. omits it, and again in Luke 11:33. It is therefore probable that Lk. had not this section in his Sermon, and that the editor of Mt. has inserted it here; because it is more likely that Mt. should have inserted, in accordance with his general tendency to enlarge discourses, than that Lk should have omitted The setting of these sayings in Luke 14:34 and 11:33 is not internally probable, and it seems very unlikely that he would have omitted them from the Sermon in order to place them afterwards in such artificial connections. The clauses ὑμεῖς ἐστε τὸ ἅλας τῆς γῆς, ὑμεῖς ἐστε τὸ φῶς τοῦ κόσμου are very probably editorial additions to link together detached sayings.

(L) 17-20. Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I came not to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say to you, Till heaven and earth pass away, one yōd or one tittle shall not pass from the law, till all things come to pass. Whosoever therefore shall weaken one of these commandments (even) the least, and shall teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of the heavens: but whosoever shall do and teach (them), he shall be called great in the kingdom of the heavens. For I say to you, That except your righteousness shall exceed (that) of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of the heavens.] The meaning of the words is clear. Christ did not come to overthrow the authority of the Mosaic law, which was to be eternally binding upon the hearts and consciences of men. So long as the world lasted its authority was to be permanent. If any of His disciples taught men to disobey any of its commandments, he would be placed in an inferior position in the coming Kingdom. If he was a faithful servant of the law, and upheld its authority before men, he would receive high rank in the Kingdom.

Commentators have exhausted their ingenuity in attempts to explain away this passage, but its meaning is too clear to be misunderstood. Christ is here represented as speaking in the spirit of Alexandrine and Rabbinical Judaism.

Cf. Philo, Vita Mos. ii. 136: “(The Laws of Moses) will, it may be hoped, remain to all eternity immortal so long as sun and moon and the whole heaven and world last.” Ass. Mos 1:12 “He has created the world for the sake of His law” (reading legem for plebem. See Bousset, Rel. Jud. p. 90). 2 Es 9:37 “The law perisheth not, but abideth in its honour.” Joseph. Contra Apion. ii. 277: “Our law remains immortal.” Bereshith R. x. 1 (Wünsche, 39): “Everything has its end, the heaven and the earth have their end, only one thing is excepted which has no end, and that is the law.” Shemoth R. 6 (Wünsche, 67): “Not a letter shall be abolished from the law for ever”; Midrash Koh 714 “The law shall remain in perpetuity for ever”;1 Aboth 1:2 “Upon three things is the world supported: on the Thorah,” etc. Shemoth R. 33 (Wünsche, 261): “(The law) is an everlasting inheritance for Israel. Vayyikra R. 19 (Wünsche, 123): “If all the peoples of the world came together to rend a single word from the law, they could not do it.”

The attitude to the law here described is inconsistent with the general tenor of the Sermon Vv. 21-48 are clearly intended to expain and illustrate the way in which Christ fulfilled the law. But they describe a fulfilment which consists in a penetrating insight into the true moral principles underlying the enactments of the Mosaic Code, and vv. 34, 39 directly traverse two propositions of the law. Fulfilment in this sense is something very different from the fulfilment which rests upon the idea of the permanent authority of the least commandment of the law (cf. v. 19). It seems probable, therefore, that vv. 18, 19 did not originally belong to the Sermon, but have been placed here by the editor, who has thus given to πληρῶσαι (= to bring into clear light the ture scope and meaning) a sense (viz. to reaffirm and carry out in detail) which is foreign to the general tenor of the Sermon. V. 18 finds a parallel in an artificial context in Luke 16:17. It is therefore a well-authenticated traditional utterance of Christ. Both it and v. 19 may well have been spoken by Him on different occasions, and under circumstances which made His meaning clear, as hyperbolical expressions of respect for the authority of the general tenor and purport of the law.

17. For καταλύειν of overthrowing or destroying the authority of the law, cf. 2 Mac 2:22, Malachi 2:4:11, Malachi 2:4 Mac 5:33, 17:9.—τὸν νόμον ἢ τοὺς προφήτας] The reference to the prophets seems out of place. It is the law alone which is taken into consideration in the rest of the chapter. The editor has probably added ἢ τοὺς προφήτας in view of the fact that, according to Christ’s teaching elsewhere, Prophets and Law alike (i.e. the whole O.T.) found their fulfilment in Him.

πληρῶσαι] See above. The sentence finds a distorted reminiscence in the Bab. Tal. Shabb. 116b “I gospel came not to diminish the law of Moses, but to add to the law of Moses did I come.”

The verse as originally followed by v. 20 meant: “I did not come, as you might think, to overthrow the authority of the law of Moses. In its general scope and purport its authority as an expression of the divine will is permanent. I came to fulfil it by emphasising its true meaning, and as being the Messiah whom it dimly foreshadowed. So far from depreciating it, I tell you that your ‘righteousness’ must be more fundamental than the ‘righteousness’ of the scribes and Pharisees, based not upon external adherence to the letter of the law, but upon insight into the principles which underlie it.”

If Christ was from this point of view the fulfiller of the law, He was from another its “end”; cf. Romans 10:4.

As here expounded by the editor, the passage means: “I came to reaffirm the authority of the law of Moses, not to overthrow it. No particle of it shall lose its validity so long as the world lasts. Anyone who weakens the hold which the smallest commandment has over the minds of men will receive an inferior position in the coming Kingdom. He who obeys its precepts and teaches others to do so, will be ranked high in the Kingdom. For your ‘righteousness’ is to be not less, but more exacting than that of the scribes and Pharisees.”

ἦλθον] (cf. 9:13, 10:40: 11:10, 15:24) has behind it the thought of the divine sending.

(L) 18. Cf. Luke 16:17.—ἀμήν] For this word as characteristic of Christ’s diction, cf. Dalman, Words, 226 ff.—ἕως ἂν παρέλθῃ ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ] a hyperbolical expression signifying “never”; cf. the passages from Philo and Bereshith R. quoted on v. 17; cf. also 24:35.—ἰῶτα] Yod = y, is the smallest letter to the Hebrew Square Alphabet. Bab. Sanh. 107a “If the yod which I took from Sarai (in changing it to Sarah) stood and complained many years until Joshua came and I added it to him,” etc. κεραία] The κεραῖαι are presumably the small strokes that distinguish from one another otherwise similar letters of the Hebrew Alphabet. For examples of similar letters which may be confused and pervert the sense of a passage, see Vayyikra R. 19 (Wünsche, 124).—οὐ μὴ παρέλθῃ] For the construction, see Moulton, pp. 190-92. It is rare in the N.T. (except in words of Christ) and in the Papyri.

ἕως ἂν πάντα γένηται] (1) Until all things (in the law) happen, i.e. receive their fulfilment”; (2) parallel to and synonymous with ἕως ἂν παρέλθῃ, κ.τ.λ., “until the end of the world.” The similarity to Philo, Vit. Mos. ii. 136: ἕως ἂν ἥλιος καὶ σελήνη καὶ ὁ σύμπας οὐρανός τε καὶ κόσμος ᾖ, rather favours this meaning.

21-26. First illustration of the fulfilment of the law.

(L) 21. Ye heard that it was said to the ancients, Thou shalt not commit murder; and whosoever commits murder is liable to the judgement.]

ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρῥέθη τοῖς�John 12:34 ἠκούσαμεν ἐκ τοῦ νόμου. Moreover, each word in the sentence is chosen in order to form a direct antithesis to ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν. This partly accounts for ἠκούσατε rather than�Exodus 20:15, Deuteronomy 5:18 (LXX.). The following words are not a direct quotation, but a summary of the teaching of the law; cf. Exodus 21:12. For τῇ κρίσει = the verdict of the judges, cf. Deuteronomy 17:8 ἐν κρίσει�

(L E?) 22. But I say to you, That every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to the judgement. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be liable to the Sanhedrin. And whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be liable to the Gehenna of fire.]

Not only will the external act receive due punishment at human tribunals, but the inner feeling that prompts it is liable to the verdict of condemnation which will be pronounced by God. In other words, both prohibition and penalty must be interpreted spiritually as well as literally. The addition of the last two clauses is unexpected and difficult. Nothing further seems wanted. The law said that murder should be punished by the proper authority. Christ says that the feeling of anger which prompts the crime will meet with the divine condemnation. In this way He fulfilled the law by drawing out the moral principles which underlay the enactment. But the next two clauses seem to create an artificial distinction between different grades of enmity and between the penalties to be assigned to them. τῷ συνεδρίῳ, the Sanhedrin, i.e. the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, seems to presuppose the interpretation of τῇ κρίσει as equivalent to “the local district court.” Thus we have a climax: the local court, the Sanhedrin, the final judgement of God. The corresponding sins are anger, contempt, and abuse. But, of course, only the last two of these would, in fact, lead to trial either before a local court or the Sanhedrin. Nor is there any distinction between them to justify the increasing severity of punishment.

Zahn thinks that Christ is here satirising by imitation the Scribal methods of exegesis; showing their futility by a reductio ad absurdum which at the same time serves to emphasise his main point, that sins of the inner life are as culpable as those of the external act. Others would reconstruct the passage. Prof. Richards suggests that 22b and c should follow v. 21. The three clauses would then form a Rabbinical comment and explanation of the text “Thou shalt not commit murder,” followed by Christ’s simple antithesis, “Whosoever is angry” is liable to the judgement. But in this case τῇ κρίσει = the local court, must be understood in a sense different from that of τῇ κρίσει in Christ’s answer where it = the judgement of God. For another rearrangement of the verses, see DB., art. “Sermon on the Mount,” 26. The fact that as the passage stands κρίσει of v. 21 and κρίσει of v. 22 must be taken in two different senses, suggests that 22b and c do not originally belong here. They may be duplicate versions of a saying which originally stood in some context similar to this, where a distinction was being drawn by Christ between moral disorder and external action. Or they may be current Scribal precepts added here by the editor in a manner which has led to their being understood as part of Christ’s words: “And (it was also said by the Scribes) whosoever,” etc. For parallels, cf: Kiddushin 28a “He that calleth his neighbour a slave, let him be excommunicated; he that calleth him a bastard, let him be punished with forty stripes”; Bab. Mes. 58b. Vv. 21 and 22 will then mean: “It was said in the law that the murderer should be subjected to the judgement of death. I say that anger is equally deserving of judgement.”

Ῥακά] seems to be equivalent to the Aramaic רֵיָקא = empty. It was a term of contemptuous address; cf. James 2:20. It is not infrequently used in Jewish writings; cf. Bab. Berakh 32b, where it is applied by a ruler to one who had not returned his salute, Mechilta (Ugol.), 389, Sanhedrin 100a.

μωρέ] is the Greek word. It has quite unnecessarily been identified with the Hebrew מוֹרֶח Numbers 20:10 Since the Jews borrowed many foreign words, it is quite possible that μωρός was in use amongst the Aramaic-speaking population in Christ’s time. Or μωρέ may be a translation of Ῥακά. For examples of μωρός in the Midrashim, cf. Levy, Neuheb. Wörterb., and Pesikta, Rab. Kahana 14 (Wünsche, p. 158), where it is used to explain Numbers 20:10.

γέενναν τοῦ πυρός] ניהנם was the name of a valley on the South-west of Jerusalem. In Jewish literature it became a name for the place of punishment of the godless. It occurs in Apoc. Bar 59:10 “the mouth of Gehenna”; 2 Es 7:36 “the furnace of Gehenna shall be revealed”; and Targ. Is 3314 “the wicked shall be given over to Gehenna, (to) burning of everlasting fire.” It occurs frequently in the later Rabbinical literature. It has three doors and seven names, Bab. Erubh 19a. Fire has 1/60th part of the heat of the fire of Gehenna, Bab. Berakh. 57b. “Those who are destined for Gehenna are called sons of Gehenna,” Rosh ha Sh 17a. It was one of seven things created before the world, Bab. Pes 54a Cf. Weber, Jüd. Theol 341 ff.; Volz, Jüd. Eschat. 288 ff.


25, 26. Second application. Cf. Luke 12:57-59.

(L) Be agreed with thine adversary quickly, whilst thou art with him on the way (to judgement); lest the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say to thee, Thou shalt not come out thence, until thou payest the last farthing.]

εὐνοεῖν only here in N.T. “Its regular meaning is ‘be well disposed to,’ ‘have goodwill to.’ ” Abbott, Johannine Vocabulary, 1714. The�Luke 18:3. But with this meaning vv. 25b and 26 have no real point, and 23-24 and 25-26 are not in any true sense parallel. Vv. 23-24 apply the principle of v. 22. “Because anger is implied in the command ‘do not murder,’ therefore remove all cause for anger before coming before God with a gift.” That is an exhortation with an implicit warning. “God will not accept the gift of an offerer whose heart is stained with evil passion.” Vv. 25-26 suggest in the first few words that we have a second application: “For the same reason be reconciled with one who has legal claims against you” “but the following words carry us into a new atmosphere of thought: “Be reconciled” not “because God condemns anger,” but “lest you meet the due reward of your wrongdoing and languish in prison.” Of course it is possible to obtain some sort of connection between the verses by spiritualising the details of vv. 25-26. “On the road throught life be careful to settle your accounts with spiritual enemies,lest you come at last before God,the Judge of all, and by Him be cast into hell.“ But in this case the idea involved in�

27-28. Second illustration.

(L) Ye heard that it was said, Thou shalt not commit adultery. But I say to you, That every one who looks upon a woman to dersire her hath already committed adultery with her in his heart.]

οὐ μοιχεύσεις] Exodus 20:13, Deuteronomy 5:17. The prohibition includes also lustful thoughts.—ὁ βλέπων γυναῖκα] Cf. Jer. Challah 583; Bab. Berakh 24a, quoted by Lightfoot; and Shabbath 64b.

ἐπιθυμῆσαι αὐτήν] Unclassical; but cf. Exodus 20:17, Deuteronomy 5:21 οὐκ ἐπιθυμήσεις τὴν γυναῖκα τοῦ πλησίον σου; cf. Blass, p. 102.

29. First applicatiion for this.

(L) And if thy right eye is causing thee to stumble(by inducing lustful thoughts), pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for its is better for thee that one of thy members perish, than that thy whole body be cast into Gehenna.]

δεξιός as applied to a hand seems to emphasise it as being the more valued of the two. It is here transferred to a eye by a natural assimilatiion of the two phrases.

σκανδαλίζει occurs outside the New Testament in LXX. Daniel 11:41; in Aquila, Psalms 63:9, Isaiah 40:30, Isaiah 63:13, Proverbs 4:12, Daniel 11:41; in Ecclus 9:5, 23:8, 32:15; in Sym. Isaiah 8:21; in Ps.-Sol. 16:7, and in eccles. writers.

30. Second application.

(L) And if thy right hand is causing thee to stumble, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for is better for thee that one of thy members perish, than that thy whole body go away into Gehenna.]

For the hand as an instrument of lust, see Bab. Niddah 13, quoted by Lightfoot. For the greater value of the right hand cf. bab. Berakh 62a. Vv. 29, 30 occur again in substance in 18:8, 9; and it has been questioned whether their position here is not artifical v. 30 is omitted by D and S1. But they may well have been spoken in this connection. The lustful look, v. 28, suggests the thought that the offending member, the eye, should be plucked out; and this leads quite naturally to the thought of another member, the hand, which is a ready instrument wherewith to satisfy desire. Sight and contract which stimulate passion are alike to be avoided. For sight in this connection, cf. Job 31:1

30. Is omitted by S1. This and the previous verse have the same ending in S2, and the verse may have been passsed over for that reason by the ending scribe of S1.

31. Special applications to divorce.

(L) And it was said that, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give to her a bill of divercement.] Cf. Deuteronomy 24:1, Deuteronomy 24:3 γράψει αὐτῆ βιβλίον�Isaiah 50:1, Jeremiah 3:8 ἔδωκα αὐτῆ βιβλίον�

(L) 32. But I say to you, That every one who puts away his wife, except on account of fornication, causes her to commit adultery: and whosoever marries her that has been put away commits adultery.] Cf. Luke 16:18.—παρεκτὸς λόγου πορνείας] λόγου πορνείας is probably equivalent to the Heb. דבר ערוה= “something unchaste,” which the school of Shammai decreed to be the only ground of divorce; cf. Gittin 90 a1 “No one shall divorce his wife unless there be found in her something unchaste.” πορνεία defines the unchastity as illicit sexual intercourse. It is, however, open to question whether this exception is not an addition of the editor, representing no doubt two influences, viz. Jewish custom and tradition, and the exigencies of ethical necessity in the early Christian Church. A similar exception is made in 19:9, and it will there be seen that the clause is clearly an interpolation. There is, therefore, a presumption that it has also been interpolated here. Moreover, the teaching of Christ as recorded by S. Mark (10:11) seems to preclude any such exception. And S. Luke represents His teaching as a simple prohibition of divorce without reservation (16:18). The same may be said of S. Paul’s account of Christ’s teaching, 1 Corinthians 7:10, 1 Corinthians 7:11.—ποιεῖ σὐτὴν μοιχευθῆναι]. The clause implies the circumstance that after divorce the woman will be likely to marry again. In that case the divorce will have been the means of leading her to marry again; and so from Christ’s standpoint, though not legally, committing adultery, because according to His teaching the divorce was ideally wrong, and the first marriage was ideally still valid.—ὃς ἐάν] cf. Moulton, 42 ff.—μοιχᾶται] because she is ideally still the wife of the first husband. Christ’s teaching here therefore seems to admit of no exceptions. If a man divorces his wife, he causes her to commit adultery (it being presupposed that she will remarry), because ideally her first marriage still holds good. If a man marries such a divorced woman, he not only causes her to commit adultery, but himself does so, since he marries one who ideally is still the wife of her first husband. The interpolated clause confuses the issues. If a man divorced his wife for πορνεία, he would not then cause her to commit adultery, because she would already be guilty of this crime.

32. πᾶς ὁ ἁπολύων] So א B al ὃς ἄν�

οὐκ ἐπιορκήσεις] Cf. Leviticus 19:12.—ἀποδώσεις—τοὺς ὅρκους σου] Cf. Deuteronomy 23:21, Psalms 50:14, Numbers 30:3.—θρόνος] Cf. Isaiah 66:1.—ὑποπόδιον] A late word found in Lucian, Athenæus, LXX., Egyptian Papyri; cf. Deissm. Bib. Stud. 223. Cf. Isaiah 66:1, Lamentations 2:1.—Ἱεροσόλυμα] Cf. on 2:1.—πόλις ἐστὶ τοῦ μεγάλου βασιλέως] Cf. Psalms 47:3. ὀμνύειν ἐν is common in the LXX. For the interchange of εἰς and ἐν, cf. Blass, p. 123, and for swearing, cf. 23:16-22, James 5:12. In its present connection the sequence of thought is confused. “Thou shalt not swear falsely, but shalt pay to the Lord thy oaths,” must, as a reference to Numbers 30:3 shows, mean, “If you bind yourself by an oath, you must carry out your promise.” The emphasis is here clearly not on the way in which the promise is made, whether by an oath or otherwise, but on the necessity of fulfilling promises made to God. That is to say, the “swearing” is merely incidental. “Promise” or “pledge yourself” would be equally in point. But “swear not at all” lays all the emphasis on ἐπιορκήσεις, and neglects altogether the second half of the clause. Again, it seems improbable that Christ should have found in the incidental references to swearing in connection with religious vows in the Old Testament, a text upon which to hang His “swear not at all”; because it is clear that His utterance has in view not the solemn use of oaths in religion, but the casuistical distinctions made by the Jews between different formulas in swearing. In other words, His teaching here is opposed to Jewish tradition, instead of being, as we should here expect, interpretative of Scripture. It seems probable that the editor has adapted words traditionally ascribed to Christ, vv. 34-37, to this context by providing for them an artifical antithesis from the Old Testament, v. 33. Leaving v. 33 out of consideration, the meaning will be that Christ’s disciples should avoid as far as possible the use of unnecessarily strong expressions of affirmation. The Jews avoided swearing by the divine name, and used equivalents for it. The Christian disciple should aviod these. For him Yes and No should be sufficient. His ungarnished statements should carry with them the authority of truthfulness. The necessity for supporting simple statements of fact by artifical formulas of swearing, arises from the evil in life which obscures truth. The Talmud Sanhed 36a discusses the question whether Yes and No are oaths, and decides that they are oaths if repeated twice. Here we should expect a simple ναί and οὐ. They seem to be repeated to add emphasis. James 5:12 has the saying in a slightly different form: “Let your Yes be Yes.” that is, let your statements carry with them the assurance of their accuracy. And the saying is not infrequently quoted in this form in early writers Cf. Resch. Paralleltexte, ii. 96 ff. Zahn thinks that James represents Christ’s words more closely than the Gospel. But it may be questioned whether the construction in the Epistle is not due to a grecising of the original.

38-39a. Fourth illustration.

(L) Ye heard that it was said, Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. But I say unto you. Resist not the malicious.] Cf. Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, Deuteronomy 19:21.

We are here carried into the atmosphere of the law court. One element in Jewish law was the rough adaptation of punishment to crime. From the individual point of view. recourse to law for protection against injury meant an attempt to retaliate upon the offender through the arm of the law. The question is here contemplated from the point of view of the individual wronged, not from that of social justice. So far from seeking to injure his oppressor by calling in the aid of the law to inflict penalties upon him, the Christian disciple should quietly submit to wrong. We need not ask as to the gender of τῷ πονηρῷ. Just as in v. 37 it meant the evil and sinful element to life regarded from the abstract point of view, so here it is the same element contemplated as in action through an individual. For the lex talionis in Jewish and Babylonian law. cf. Johns. The Oldest Code, and Cook, The Laws of Moses and the Code of Ḫammurabi, 249 ff.

39b-42. Fivefold application. Cf. Luke 6:29-30.

(L) But whosoever smiteth thee upon thy right cheek, turn to him also the other. And if a man wishes to go to law with thee, and to take thy coat, suffer him (to take) also thy cloke. And whosoever shall impress thee for one mile, go with him two. To him that asketh give, and turn not away from him that wishes to borrow of thee.]

χιτών] The coat worn with a girdle over the shirt.—ἱμάτιον] The cloak worn over the χιτών. See DB., art. “Dress.”.�

43-48. Fifth illustration. Cf. Luke 6:27-36.

(L) Ye heard that it was said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and shalt hate thy enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you; that you may be sons of your Father who is in the heavens: because He causes His sun to rise upon evil and good, and sends rain upon just and unjust. For if ye love those who love you, what reward have ye ? do not even the toll-gatherers do the same ? And if ye have saluted your brethren only, what more do ye (than they) ? do not even the Gentiles do the same ? Ye shall therefore be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.]

The first clause is found in Leviticus 19:18, the second is an inference from the distinction drawn in the Old Testament between conduct towards Israelites and conduct towards Gentiles. Christ here sweeps away all casuistical distinctions between neighbours and enemies, Jews and Gentiles. The neighbour of the Old Testament is to include the enemy. Love is to seek the good of all men alike, regardless of moral or racial distinctions. In this respect the Christian disciple is to be a son of the heavenly Father, i.e. like Him in moral character. For He bestows His blessing on all alike. Cf. Secrets of Enoch 50:4 “When you might have vengeance do not repay, either your neighbour or your enemy.” Buddhist and Christian Gospels, Edmunds, p. 82.

“Let one conquer wrath by absence of wrath,

Let one conquer wrong by goodness,

Let one conquer the mean man by a gift,

And a liar by the truth.”

For πατρὸς ὑμῶν τοῦ ἐν οὐρανοῖς, see on v. 16.—βρέχει] In this sense poetical and vernacular. See Kennedy, Sources, 39. It is common in LXX. and N.T. τελώνης here as in the Rabbinical literature, used as descriptive of a despised class of men; cf. Schürer, I. ii. 71.�3 John 1:7. In Oxyrhynchus Papyri, i. 126, 13, a.d. 573, it seems to signify a collector of taxes.

48. τέλειος] Lk. has οἰκτίρμων, but it is probable that he substitutes this word to emphasise the particular aspect of “perfection.” which the whole context in his Sermon makes prominent. “Perfection” in the Old Testament means “without moral blemish,” and can be used of upright men such as Noah (Genesis 6:9), Job (1:1). It is enjoined in Deuteronomy 18:13 τέλειος ἒσῃ ἐναντίον κυρίου τοῦ θεοῦ σου. Here the context defines it as perfection in love, which seeks the good of all men. God is perfect, because He bestows His favour on all alike. The whole section is aimed at definitions of the word “neighbour,” which would limit its application to a particular class who must be treated in accordance with the command “to love,” whilst others not included in it might be treated in a different way. “Perfection” contemplates all men alike from the standpoint of love, and this is in accord with God’s dealings with men. Compassion or mercy is a rather one-sided application of this idea.

44. τοὺς ἐχθροὺς ὑμῶν] Add εὐλογεῖτε τοὺς καταρωμένους ὑμᾶς καλῶς ποιεῖτε τοὺς μισοῦντας ὑμᾶς, D al from Luke 6:28.

ὑπὲρ τῶν] Add ἐπηρεαζόντων ὑμᾶς καί, D al from Luke 6:26; cf. note on 1:25.

47. The verse is omitted by S1 k either by homœoteleuton or intentionally. The “salute” is widened into “love” by Aphraates.

2 On the Sermon on the Mount, see especially the article of Votaw in DB., Extra Volume, pp. 1ff.

E editorial passages.

L the Matthæan Logia.

LXX. The Septuagint Version.

B. Babylonian Talmud.

S Syriac version: Sinaitic MS.

S Syriac version: Peshitta.

S Syriac version: Harclean.

S Syriac version: Jerusalem Lectionary.

Tert. Tertullian.

1 iii. 780 on Matthew 17:3, but in iii. 740 on 16:16 the other order is given.

S Syriac version: Curetonian.

Tat. Tatian.

2 See Zahn, Forschungen, i. 131.

DB. Dictionary of the Bible (Hastings).

Ps.-Sol. The Psalms of Solomon.

al i.e. with other uncial MSS.

Luc. Lucian.

1 He was a disciple of Akiba.

Dalm. Dalman.

1 Cited by Schoettgen, in loc.

Bab. Babylonian Talmud.

Aristoph. Aristophanes.

Arist. Aristotle.

1 Cf. The Instruction of Ptah-Hotep, p. 53: “Set out therefore after a quarrel; be at peace with him that is hostile to (thee) his opponent. It is such souls that makes love grow.”

Sym. Symmachus.

1 = Mishnah Gittin 9:10.

Deissm. Deissmann.

Hdt. Herodotus.

Jos. Josephus.

Polyb. Polybius.

Plut. Plutarch.

Targ. Targum.

Bibliographical Information
Driver, S.A., Plummer, A.A., Briggs, C.A. "Commentary on Matthew 5". International Critical Commentary NT. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/icc/matthew-5.html. 1896-1924.
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