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He went up into the mountain (ανεβη εις το ορος). Not "a" mountain as the Authorized Version has it. The Greek article is poorly handled in most English versions. We do not know what mountain it was. It was the one there where Jesus and the crowds were. "Delitzsch calls the Mount of Beatitudes the Sinai of the New Testament" (Vincent). He apparently went up to get in closer contact with the disciples, "seeing the multitudes." Luke (Luke 6:12) says that he went out into the mountain to pray, Mark (Mark 3:13) that he went up and called the twelve. All three purposes are true. Luke adds that after a whole night in prayer and after the choice of the twelve Jesus came down to a level place on the mountain and spoke to the multitudes from Judea to Phoenicia. The crowds are great in both Matthew and in Luke and include disciples and the other crowds. There is no real difficulty in considering the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke as one and the same. See full discussion in my Harmony of the Gospels.
Taught them (εδιδασκεν). Inchoative imperfect, began to teach. He sat down on the mountain side as the Jewish rabbis did instead of standing. It was a most impressive scene as Jesus opened his mouth wide and spoke loud enough for the great throng to hear him. The newly chosen twelve apostles were there, "a great number of disciples and a great number of the people" (Luke 6:17).
Blessed (μακαριο). The English word "blessed" is more exactly represented by the Greek verbal ευλογητο as in Luke 1:68 of God by Zacharias, or the perfect passive participle ευλογημενος as in Luke 1:42 of Mary by Elizabeth and in Matthew 21:9. Both forms come from ευλογεω, to speak well of (ευ, λογος). The Greek word here (μακαριο) is an adjective that means "happy" which in English etymology goes back to hap, chance, good-luck as seen in our words haply, hapless, happily, happiness. "Blessedness is, of course, an infinitely higher and better thing than mere happiness" (Weymouth). English has thus ennobled "blessed" to a higher rank than "happy." But "happy" is what Jesus said and the Braid Scots New Testament dares to say "Happy" each time here as does the Improved Edition of the American Bible Union Version. The Greek word is as old as Homer and Pindar and was used of the Greek gods and also of men, but largely of outward prosperity. Then it is applied to the dead who died in the Lord as in Revelation 14:13. Already in the Old Testament the Septuagint uses it of moral quality. "Shaking itself loose from all thoughts of outward good, it becomes the express symbol of a happiness identified with pure character. Behind it lies the clear cognition of sin as the fountain-head of all misery, and of holiness as the final and effectual cure for every woe. For knowledge as the basis of virtue, and therefore of happiness, it substitutes faith and love" (Vincent). Jesus takes this word "happy" and puts it in this rich environment. "This is one of the words which have been transformed and ennobled by New Testament use; by association, as in the Beatitudes, with unusual conditions, accounted by the world miserable, or with rare and difficult" (Bruce). It is a pity that we have not kept the word "happy" to the high and holy plane where Jesus placed it. "If you know these things, happy (μακαριο) are you if you do them" (John 13:17). "Happy (μακαριο) are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (John 20:29). And Paul applies this adjective to God, "according to the gospel of the glory of the happy (μακαριου) God" (1 Timothy 1:11. Cf. also Titus 2:13). The term "Beatitudes" (Latin beatus) comes close to the meaning of Christ here by μακαριο. It will repay one to make a careful study of all the "beatitudes" in the New Testament where this word is employed. It occurs nine times here (Matthew 5:3-11), though the beatitudes in verses 10 and 11 are very much alike. The copula is not expressed in either of these nine beatitudes. In each case a reason is given for the beatitude, "for" (οτ), that shows the spiritual quality involved. Some of the phrases employed by Jesus here occur in the Psalms, some even in the Talmud (itself later than the New Testament, though of separate origin). That is of small moment. "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 " (Bruce). Jesus repeated his sayings many times as all great teachers and preachers do, but this sermon has unity, progress, and consummation. It does not contain all that Jesus taught by any means, but it stands out as the greatest single sermon of all time, in its penetration, pungency, and power.
The poor in spirit (ο πτωχο τω πνευματ). Luke has only "the poor," but he means the same by it as this form in Matthew, "the pious in Israel, for the most part poor, whom the worldly rich despised and persecuted" (McNeile). The word used here (πτωχο) is applied to the beggar Lazarus in Luke 16:20; Luke 16:22 and suggests spiritual destitution (from πτωσσω to crouch, to cower). The other word πενης is from πενομα, to work for one's daily bread and so means one who works for his living. The word πτωχος is more frequent in the New Testament and implies deeper poverty than πενης. "The kingdom of heaven" here means the reign of God in the heart and life. This is the summum bonum and is what matters most.
They that mourn (ο πενθουντες). This is another paradox. This verb "is most frequent in the LXX for mourning for the dead, and for the sorrows and sins of others" (McNeile). "There can be no comfort where there is no grief" (Bruce). Sorrow should make us look for the heart and hand of God and so find the comfort latent in the grief.
The meek (ο πραεις). Wycliff has it "Blessed be mild men." The ancients used the word for outward conduct and towards men. They did not rank it as a virtue anyhow. It was a mild equanimity that was sometimes negative and sometimes positively kind. But Jesus lifted the word to a nobility never attained before. In fact, the Beatitudes assume a new heart, for the natural man does not find in happiness the qualities mentioned here by Christ. The English word "meek" has largely lost the fine blend of spiritual poise and strength meant by the Master. He calls himself "meek and lowly in heart" (Matthew 11:29) and Moses is also called meek. It is the gentleness of strength, not mere effeminacy. By "the earth" (την γην) Jesus seems to mean the Land of Promise (Psalms 37:11) though Bruce thinks that it is the whole earth. Can it be the solid earth as opposed to the sea or the air?
They that hunger and thirst after righteousness (ο πεινωντες κα διψωντες την δικαιοσυνην). Here Jesus turns one of the elemental human instincts to spiritual use. There is in all men hunger for food, for love, for God. It is passionate hunger and thirst for goodness, for holiness. The word for "filled" (χορτασθησοντα) means to feed or to fatten cattle from the word for fodder or grass like Mark 6:39 "green grass" (χορτος χλωρος).
Obtain mercy (ελεηθησοντα) "Sal win pitie theirsels" (Braid Scots). "A self-acting law of the moral world" (Bruce).
Shall see God (τον θεον οψοντα). Without holiness no man will see the Lord in heaven (Hebrews 12:14). The Beatific Vision is only possible here on earth to those with pure hearts. No other can see the King now. Sin befogs and beclouds the heart so that one cannot see God. Purity has here its widest sense and includes everything.
The peacemakers (ο ειρηνοποιο). Not merely "peaceable men" (Wycliff) but "makkers up o' strife" (Braid Scots). It is hard enough to keep the peace. It is still more difficult to bring peace where it is not. "The perfect peacemaker is the Son of God (Ephesians 2:14)" (McNeile). Thus we shall be like our Elder Brother.
That have been persecuted for righteousness' sake (ο δεδιωγμενο ενεκεν δικαιοσυνης). Posing as persecuted is a favourite stunt. The kingdom of heaven belongs only to those who suffer for the sake of goodness, not who are guilty of wrong.
Falsely, for my sake (ψευδομενο ενεκεν εμου). Codex Bezae changes the order of these last Beatitudes, but that is immaterial. What does matter is that the bad things said of Christ's followers shall be untrue and that they are slandered for Christ's sake. Both things must be true before one can wear a martyr's crown and receive the great reward (μισθος) in heaven. No prize awaits one there who deserves all the evil said of him and done to him here.
Lost its savour (μωρανθη). The verb is from μωρος (dull, sluggish, stupid, foolish) and means to play the fool, to become foolish, of salt become tasteless, insipid (Mark 9:50). It is common in Syria and Palestine to see salt scattered in piles on the ground because it has lost its flavour, "hae tint its tang" (Braid Scots), the most worthless thing imaginable. Jesus may have used here a current proverb.
Under the bushel (υπο τον μοδιον). Not a bushel. "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" (Bruce). It was not put under the bushel (the only one in the room) save to put it out or to hide it. The bushel was an earthenware grain measure. "
The stand " (την λυχνιαν), not "candlestick." It is "lamp-stand" in each of the twelve examples in the Bible. There was the one lamp-stand for the single room.
Even so (ουτως). The adverb points backward to the lamp-stand. Thus men are to let their light shine, not to glorify themselves, but "your Father in heaven." Light shines to see others by, not to call attention to itself.
I came not to destroy, but to fulfil (ουκ ηλθον καταλυσα αλλα πληρωσα). The verb "destroy" means to "loosen down" as of a house or tent (2 Corinthians 5:1). Fulfil is to fill full. This Jesus did to the ceremonial law which pointed to him and the moral law he kept. "He came to fill the law, to reveal the full depth of meaning that it was intended to hold" (McNeile).
One jot or one tittle (ιωτα εν η μια κερεα). "Not an iota, not a comma" (Moffatt), "not the smallest letter, not a particle" (Weymouth). The iota is the smallest Greek vowel, which Matthew here uses to represent the Hebrew yod (jot), the smallest Hebrew letter. "Tittle" is from the Latin titulus which came to mean the stroke above an abbreviated word, then any small mark. It is not certain here whether κερεα means a little horn, the mere point which distinguishes some Hebrew letters from others or the "hook" letter Vav. Sometimes yod and vav were hardly distinguishable. "In Vay. R. 19 the guilt of altering one of them is pronounced so great that if it were done the world would be destroyed" (McNeile).
Shall do and teach (ποιηση κα διδαξη). Jesus puts practice before preaching. The teacher must apply the doctrine to himself before he is qualified to teach others. The scribes and Pharisees were men who "say and do not" (Matthew 23:3), who preach but do not perform. This is Christ's test of greatness.
Shall exceed (περισσευση πλειον). Overflow like a river out of its banks and then Jesus adds "more" followed by an unexpressed ablative (της δικαιοσυνης), brachylogy. A daring statement on Christ's part that they had to be better than the rabbis. They must excel the scribes, the small number of regular teachers (Matthew 5:21-48), and the Pharisees in the Pharisaic life (Matthew 6:1-18) who were the separated ones, the orthodox pietists.
But I say unto you (εγω δε λεγω υμιν). Jesus thus assumes a tone of superiority over the Mosaic regulations and proves it in each of the six examples. He goes further than the Law into the very heart.
"Raca" (Ρακα) and
"Thou fool" (Μωρε). The first is probably an Aramaic word meaning "Empty," a frequent word for contempt. The second word is Greek (dull, stupid) and is a fair equivalent of "raca." It is urged by some that μωρε is a Hebrew word, but Field (Otium Norvicense) objects to that idea. "Raca expresses contempt for a man's head=you stupid! More expresses contempt for his heart and character=you scoundrel" (Bruce).
"The hell of fire" (την γεενναν του πυρος), "the Gehenna of fire," the genitive case (του πυρος) as the genus case describing Gehenna as marked by fire. Gehenna is the Valley of Hinnom where the fire burned continually. Here idolatrous Jews once offered their children to Molech (2 Kings 23:10). Jesus finds one cause of murder to be abusive language. Gehenna "should be carefully distinguished from Hades (αιδης) which is never used for the place of punishment, but for the place of departed spirits, without reference to their moral condition" (Vincent). The place of torment is in Hades (Luke 16:23), but so is heaven.
First be reconciled (πρωτον διαλλαγηθ). Second aorist passive imperative. Get reconciled (ingressive aorist, take the initiative). Only example of this compound in the New Testament where usually καταλλασσω occurs. Deissmann (Light from the Ancient East, p. 187, New Ed.) gives a papyrus example second century A.D. A prodigal son, Longinus, writes to his mother Nilus: "I beseech thee, mother, be reconciled (διαλαγητ) with me." The boy is a poor speller, but with a broken heart he uses the identical form that Jesus does. "The verb denotes mutual concession after mutual hostility, an idea absent from καταλλασσω" (Lightfoot). This because of δια (two, between two).
Agree with (ισθ ευνοων). A present periphrastic active imperative. The verb is from ευνοος (friendly, kindly disposed). "Mak up wi' yere enemy" (Braid Scots). Compromise is better than prison where no principle is involved, but only personal interest. It is so easy to see principle where pride is involved.
The officer (τω υπηρετη). This word means "under rower" on the ship with several ranks of rowers, the bottom rower (υπο under and ηρεσσω, to row), the galley-slave, then any servant, the attendant in the synagogue (Luke 4:20). Luke so describes John Mark in his relation to Barnabas and Saul (Acts 13:5). Then it is applied to the "ministers of the word" (Luke 1:2).
The last farthing (τον εσχατον κοδραντην). A Latin word, quadrans, 1/4 of an as_ (ασσαριον) or two mites (Mark 12:42), a vivid picture of inevitable punishment for debt. This is emphasized by the strong double negative ου μη with the aorist subjunctive.
Thou shalt not commit adultery (ου μοιχευσεις). These quotations (verses Matthew 5:21; Matthew 5:27; Matthew 5:33) from the Decalogue (Matthew 5:20 and Matthew 5:5) are from the Septuagint and use ου and the future indicative (volitive future, common Greek idiom). In Matthew 5:43 the positive form, volitive future, occurs (αγαπησεις). In Matthew 5:41 the third person (δοτω) singular second aorist active imperative is used. In Matthew 5:38 no verb occurs.
In his heart (εν τη καρδια αυτου). Not just the centre of the blood circulation though it means that. Not just the emotional part of man's nature, but here the inner man including the intellect, the affections, the will. This word is exceedingly common in the New Testament and repays careful study always. It is from a root that means to quiver or palpitate. Jesus locates adultery in the eye and heart before the outward act. Wunsche (Beitrage) quotes two pertinent rabbinical sayings as translated by Bruce: "The eye and the heart are the two brokers of sin." "Passions lodge only in him who sees." Hence the peril of lewd pictures and plays to the pure.
Causeth thee to stumble (σκανδαλιζε σε). This is far better than the Authorized Version "Offend thee." Braid Scots has it rightly "ensnare ye." It is not the notion of giving offence or provoking, but of setting a trap or snare for one. The substantive (σκανδαλον, from σκανδαληθρον) means the stick in the trap that springs and closes the trap when the animal touches it. Pluck out the eye when it is a snare, cut off the hand, even the right hand. These vivid pictures are not to be taken literally, but powerfully plead for self-mastery. Bengel says: Non oculum, sed scandalizentem oculum. It is not mutilating of the body that Christ enjoins, but control of the body against sin. The man who plays with fire will get burnt. Modern surgery finely illustrates the teaching of Jesus. The tonsils, the teeth, the appendix, to go no further, if left diseased, will destroy the whole body. Cut them out in time and the life will be saved. Vincent notes that "the words scandal and slander are both derived from σκανδαλον. And Wyc. renders, 'if thy right eye slander thee.'" Certainly slander is a scandal and a stumbling-block, a trap, and a snare.
A writing of divorcement (αποστασιον), "a divorce certificate" (Moffatt), "a written notice of divorce" (Weymouth). The Greek is an abbreviation of βιβλιον αποστασιου (Malachi 19:7; Mark 10:4). Vulgate has here libellum repudii. The papyri use συγγραφη αποστασιου in commercial transactions as "a bond of release" (see Moulton and Milligan's Vocabulary, etc.) The written notice (βιβλιον) was a protection to the wife against an angry whim of the husband who might send her away with no paper to show for it.
Saving for the cause of fornication (παρεκτος λογου πορνειας). An unusual phrase that perhaps means "except for a matter of unchastity." "Except on the ground of unchastity" (Weymouth), "except unfaithfulness" (Goodspeed), and is equivalent to μη επ πορνεια in Matthew 19:9. McNeile denies that Jesus made this exception because Mark and Luke do not give it. He claims that the early Christians made the exception to meet a pressing need, but one fails to see the force of this charge against Matthew's report of the words of Jesus. It looks like criticism to meet modern needs.
Swear not at all (μη ομοσα ολως). More exactly "not to swear at all" (indirect command, and aorist infinitive). Certainly Jesus does not prohibit oaths in a court of justice for he himself answered Caiaphas on oath. Paul made solemn appeals to God (1 Thessalonians 5:27; 1 Corinthians 15:31). Jesus prohibits all forms of profanity. The Jews were past-masters in the art of splitting hairs about allowable and forbidden oaths or forms of profanity just as modern Christians employ a great variety of vernacular "cuss-words" and excuse themselves because they do not use the more flagrant forms.
An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth (οφθαλμον αντ οφθαλμου κα οδοντα αντ οδοντος). Note αντ with the notion of exchange or substitution. The quotation is from Exodus 21:24; Deuteronomy 19:21; Leviticus 24:20. Like divorce this jus talionis is a restriction upon unrestrained vengeance. "It limited revenge by fixing an exact compensation for an injury" (McNeile). A money payment is allowed in the Mishna. The law of retaliation exists in Arabia today.
Resist not him that is evil (με αντιστηνα τω πονηρω). Here again it is the infinitive (second aorist active) in indirect command. But is it "the evil man" or the "evil deed"? The dative case is the same form for masculine and neuter. Weymouth puts it "not to resist a (the) wicked man," Moffatt "not to resist an injury," Goodspeed "not to resist injury." The examples will go with either view. Jesus protested when smitten on the cheek (John 18:22). And Jesus denounced the Pharisees (Matthew 5:23) and fought the devil always. The language of Jesus is bold and picturesque and is not to be pressed too literally. Paradoxes startle and make us think. We are expected to fill in the other side of the picture. One thing certainly is meant by Jesus and that is that personal revenge is taken out of our hands, and that applies to "lynch-law." Aggressive or offensive war by nations is also condemned, but not necessarily defensive war or defence against robbery and murder. Professional pacifism may be mere cowardice.
Thy coat ... thy cloke also (τον χιτωνα σου κα το ιματιον). The "coat" is really a sort of shirt or undergarment and would be demanded at law. A robber would seize first the outer garment or cloke (one coat). If one loses the undergarment at law, the outer one goes also (the more valuable one).
Shall compel thee (αγγαρευσε). The Vulgate has angariaverit. The word is of Persian origin and means public couriers or mounted messengers (αγγαρο) who were stationed by the King of Persia at fixed localities, with horses ready for use, to send royal messages from one to another. So if a man is passing such a post-station, an official may rush out and compel him to go back to another station to do an errand for the king. This was called impressment into service. This very thing was done to Simon of Cyrene who was thus compelled to carry the cross of Christ (Matthew 27:32, ηγγαρευσαν).
Turn not thou away (μη αποστραφηις). Second aorist passive subjunctive in prohibition. "This is one of the clearest instances of the necessity of accepting the spirit and not the letter of the Lord's commands (see vv.Matthew 5:32; Matthew 5:34; Matthew 5:38). Not only does indiscriminate almsgiving do little but injury to society, but the words must embrace far more than almsgiving" (McNeile). Recall again that Jesus is a popular teacher and expects men to understand his paradoxes. In the organized charities of modern life we are in danger of letting the milk of human kindness dry up.
And hate thine enemy (κα μισησεις). This phrase is not in Leviticus 19:18, but is a rabbinical inference which Jesus repudiates bluntly. The Talmud says nothing of love to enemies. Paul in Romans 12:20 quotes Proverbs 25:22 to prove that we ought to treat our enemies kindly. Jesus taught us to pray for our enemies and did it himself even when he hung upon the cross. Our word "neighbour" is "nigh-bor," one who is nigh or near like the Greek word πλησιον here. But proximity often means strife and not love. Those who have adjoining farms or homes may be positively hostile in spirit. The Jews came to look on members of the same tribe as neighbours as even Jews everywhere. But they hated the Samaritans who were half Jews and lived between Judea and Galilee. Jesus taught men how to act as neighbours by the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29).
Perfect (τελειο). The word comes from τελος, end, goal, limit. Here it is the goal set before us, the absolute standard of our Heavenly Father. The word is used also for relative perfection as of adults compared with children.
The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright © Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Matthew 5". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10