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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Matthew 5

 

 

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Introduction

Matthew 5-7. The Sermon on the Mount.—This is the first of five blocks in which Mt. collects the greater part of the words of Jesus. He places it here in view of Mark 1:21. Attempts to locate the mountain or the exact time are useless in view of the fact that the sermon is a collection of material, not a discourse spoken in one place at one time.


Verse 2

Matthew 5:2. opened his mouth: a Semitic redundancy.


Verses 3-12

Matthew 5:3-12. The Beatitudes (cf. Luke 6:20-23).—These nine sayings (eight if we reckon Matthew 5:10-12 as one, or regard Matthew 5:11 f. as having originally stood elsewhere; seven if we omit Matthew 5:5) have analogies in OT (e.g. Psalms 1:1; Psalms 32:1; Psalms 89:15; Proverbs 8:32; Isaiah 32:20) and in other parts of the Gospel and NT (e.g. Matthew 13:16, Luke 12:37, James 1:12, Revelation 14:13). Blessed connotes happy and successful prosperity. the poor (Matthew 5:3), i.e. the pious in Israel, not necessarily, though usually, poor in worldly possessions, yet rich in faith (James 2:5). Lk. perhaps keeps the original wording, but Mt. gives the right interpretation by adding in spirit. Cf. W. Sanday in Exp., Dec. 1916. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven, i.e. potentially; the actual possession is still (Matthew 5:4-9) in the future. We are not to limit mourn (Matthew 5:4) to penitence for sin; one of the titles of the Messiah was "Comforter." Meek (Matthew 5:5) is the antithesis of arrogant; the idea of inheritance goes back to the Hebrew occupation of Canaan, and is used in Psalms 37 and in apocalyptic writings; here it is another aspect of the possession of the Kingdom (cf. Matthew 19:29, Matthew 25:34). If we follow some early (chiefly Latin) authorities in transposing Matthew 5:4-5, we get a good contrast between "heaven" (Matthew 5:3) and "earth" (Matthew 5:5). Lk. omits Matthew 5:5. In 6 and thirst after righteousness (Gr. "the righteousness," i.e. the longed-for blessing in the coming Kingdom) is a gloss; Lk. is to be preferred. The "poor" (in spirit) already possess righteousness in the form of moral goodness. They also have the compassionate spirit, and they shall receive compassion in the coming Kingdom (Matthew 5:7). For the connexion between righteousness and mercy cf. Psalms 36:10; Psalms 85:10. To possess the Kingdom is to see God (Matthew 5:8), and this is for the pure in heart (as distinct from the ceremonially pure); cf. Psalms 24:3 f. Note the complementary truth of 1 John 3:2 f. The peacemaker (not, as was generally believed, every Israelite) shall be called (i.e. "shall be"; the name stands for the nature) in the coming age God's son (Matthew 5:9), because he shares God's nature (cf. Matthew 5:45, also Luke 20:36). Righteousness in Matthew 5:10 is (contrast Matthew 5:6) a quality for which the "poor" are persecuted; the saying connects with the first beatitude and completes the golden chain. Matthew 5:11 f. is an expansion and application of Matthew 5:10. The persecuted are to rejoice because of, not despite, the persecution (cf. Lk.); in heaven means "with God" (Dalman, Words, 206ff.). While the teaching of Jesus often reflects the current thought of His day on the question of rewards and punishments (cf. p. 665), viz. that they were graduated and quantitative, we also find in it new elements which transform the idea, and so even eliminate it. Reward is qualitative and identical for all (Matthew 20:1-16,* Matthew 25:21-23), it is the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5:3-10), it is given to those for whom it has been prepared (Matthew 20:23). Cf. also Matthew 25:14 f., Luke 17:9 f., and M'Neile, pp. 54f.


Verses 13-17

Matthew 5:13-37. Mt. here brings together material (a) found scattered in Lk., (b) peculiar to himself.

Matthew 5:13-16. Salt and Light.—Good men are not only rewarded in the coming age, they help the world now and save it from both insipidity and corruption. To appreciate the value of salt one must live in a land where it is rare, and much more highly prized than sugar. The second clause of Matthew 5:13 (cf. Mark 9:50, Luke 14:34) was a current proverb; salt was heavily taxed, and therefore often so adulterated as to lose its salinity. With the third clause cf. Hebrews 6:4-8; Hebrews 10:26-29, and the fate of Judas Iscariot. With Matthew 5:14 cf. Romans 2:19 (Jews), Philippians 2:15, Acts 13:47, John 8:12. The connexion between the two parts of Matthew 5:14 is the conspicuousness of an elevated character. Ideally a true disciple (Matthew 5:15) cannot hide his light (the word translated bushel means a measure holding about a peck); actually it is only too possible (Matthew 5:16). In Matthew 5:15 the light may be the influence of preaching (cf. Luke 8:16; Luke 11:33); in Matthew 5:16 it is the influence of deeds (cf. 1 Peter 2:12).


Verses 17-20

Matthew 5:17 to Matthew 6:18. Righteousness, Legal and Real.—After laying down the principle that the Law is not destroyed or annulled, but developed and transcended (Matthew 5:17-20), Jesus applies it to (a) the teaching of the Scribes (Matthew 5:21-48), (b) the life of the Pharisees (Matthew 6:1-18).

Matthew 5:17-20. On the attitude of Jesus towards the OT see pp. 663, 666f., also M'Neile in Cambridge Biblical Essays, pp. 216ff.; Kent, Life and Teachings of Jesus, pp. 126f.

Matthew 5:17. Jesus was never accused of destroying the moral teaching of the prophets, and here He deals only with the Law. He declares that His mission is to preserve it by revealing its depth of meaning, by carrying it forward into that which it had been designed to bring about—the Kingdom of God.

Matthew 5:18 f. seems misplaced; Matthew 5:19 may be a later gloss, no "commandments" have been mentioned; Matthew 5:20 continues the thought of Matthew 5:17.

Matthew 5:18. jot: Gr. iota, Heb. yod, the smallest letter in the alphabet.—tittle: the stroke above an abbreviated word. The Gr. is "horn," and perhaps denotes the projecting tip whose presence or absence changes a Heb. letter and may make a great difference in a word.—till all things be accomplished repeats the thought of "till heaven and earth," i.e. the present age, "pass away." Many Jewish sayings speak of the perpetuity of the Law.

Matthew 5:19. The Jews recognised that the Matthew 6:13 commandments in the Law were not equally important; some were "heavy," others "light." Nor would the Kingdom of Heaven bring equality to all its members (cf. Matthew 5:11 f.* supra, Matthew 18:1-4).

Matthew 5:20 continues Matthew 5:17.—scribes: "a comparatively small body of men who (a) expounded the Law, (b) developed it, (c) administered it as assessors in courts of justice."—Pharisees: "the whole body of orthodox pietists who lived the ‘separated' life" (cf. pp. 624, 666f.). Many of the later Rabbis were, like the one in Mark 12:28-34, very worthy men, but this does not prove that Rabbinism generally was beyond reproach. It was not only Jesus who arraigned it. Cf. Fragments of a Zadokite Work (Charles, Introd. xi.).


Verses 21-26

Matthew 5:21-48. The "fulfilled" Law in Relation to the Teaching of the Scribes.

Matthew 5:21-26. Murder and Malice.—Ye (have) heard: i.e. in the synagogues. The addition to the sixth commandment represents the "tradition of the elders"; the judgement means legal proceedings. Jesus shows that the commandment involves more than the act of murder; it embraces also feelings and words. Anger, let alone murder, is a crime, and involves judgment at God's hands. "Without cause" is rightly omitted: it weakens the sharp antithesis of Jesus' words. In the Raca sentence Jesus returns to current Jewish teaching. As to Matthew 5:21 He opposed His own teaching (Matthew 5:22 a), so to this (Matthew 5:22 b) He opposes Matthew 5:22 c. "Your teachers say that abusive language such as Raca is punishable by the local court (there was a sanhedrin or council of thirteen persons in every place with a population of over 120), but I say that abusive language such as Baca (the equivalent of ‘thou fool') is punishable by the fire of Gehenna" (Mark 9:43*).

Matthew 5:23-26 further illustrates the foregoing principle. A sacrifice is not acceptable to God so long as the offerer is not reconciled to anyone whom he has wronged Matthew 5:23 f.). The literal and metaphorical in Matthew 5:25 f. are inextricably combined. On the face of them the words mean: "If you are in debt to anyone, come to a settlement with him while you can, before he takes the matter into court, which will mean imprisonment." But something further is implied in 26: "The Day of judgment is at hand when the creditor will be able to claim Divine justice."—adversary: the injured party.


Verses 27-32

Matthew 5:27 f. Adultery.—Jesus again extends the scope of the prohibition from actions to thoughts. There is so mething more here than the seventh or even the tenth commandment, where the coveting is only a matter of property (cf. Job 31:1; Job 31:7-12). The papyri show that a married woman is probably meant in Matthew 5:28.

Matthew 5:29 f. The Right Eye and Hand (cf. Matthew 18:8 f. Mark 9:43-47*).—"Right eye" is an assimilation to "right hand"; the two eyes are really of equal value. The eye is the member that should keep a man from stumbling, instead of being a stumbling-block. To go into Gehenna implies the destruction of the material body; it is the opposite of entering the Kingdom, or life, or the joy of the Lord.

Matthew 5:31 f. Divorce (Luke 16:18; cf. Matthew 19:9, Mark 10:11 f.*).—These passages should be considered together. In Matthew 19:4-8 and Mark 10:5-9 the condemnation of divorce is emphasized by reference to God's purpose in the Creation. The change in the formula (Matthew 5:31) suggests that the passage was not originally part of the Sermon. On the strength of Deuteronomy 24:1-3 (really the restriction of a custom taken for granted, not a law prescribing divorce), divorce was practised on very trivial pretexts (cf. Matthew 19:3; Matthew 19:7). Jesus declares that, according to the true intention of God, divorce is sinful. The saving clause ("except for fornication," i.e. unchastity) is absent from Mk. and Lk. (cf. Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:10 f.); probably it is due not to Jesus but to the early Church's desire to meet a pressing ethical need which has not yet ceased. Jesus, in view of the near approach of the Kingdom "laid down principles without reference to any limitations which the complexity of life now demands." It is taken for granted that the woman will re-marry, but since divorce is sinful and the first marriage still holds, the new marriage is sinful.


Verses 33-37

Matthew 5:33-37. Oaths.—Jesus sums up several OT passages, e.g. Exodus 20:7, Leviticus 19:12, Numbers 30:2, Deuteronomy 23:21-23. The use of oaths and vows by the Jews was much abused, and the Rabbis were continually discussing whether or no certain vows and oaths were binding. Jesus goes to the root of the matter by forbidding all oaths, and admits no limitations to the general principle, a position adopted by the Quakers as by Irenæus, Origen, Chrysostom, and Jerome. The Essenes abstained from oaths except at their initiation. Yet Paul uses solemn expressions of appeal to God (cf. also 1 Corinthians 15:31, 1 Thessalonians 5:27, and Hebrews 6:13-17).—Heaven (Matthew 5:34) is the sky, the dwelling-place of God, therefore to swear by it is profanation; so with earth (Matthew 5:35), His footstool.—by Jerusalem: lit. "towards Jerusalem." There was a Jewish saying that an oath "by Jerusalem" was void unless it was sworn "towards Jerusalem." Jesus forbids even this. The city of God, like His throne (cf. Matthew 23:22) and footstool, implies the presence of God. Even a man's own head (Matthew 5:36) is not his absolute possession; so he must not swear by it. In Matthew 5:37 Jesus condemns unnecessary emphasis; James 5:12 suggests the probable rendering of the injunction here. Whatever goes beyond plain unequivocal speech arises "from the evil" that is in the world. Oaths spring from the untruthfulness of men. On this whole passage cf. Secrets of Enoch, 491.


Verses 38-42

Matthew 5:38-42. Retaliation (cf. Luke 6:29 f.).—Like the law of divorce, the law of the ius talionis (Exodus 21:24 f.*) was more restrictive than permissive; "it limited revenge by fixing an exact compensation for an injury." Jesus penetrates behind this just principle without abrogating it. His disciples, in virtue of a higher principle, are not to desire human justice for themselves. To take His words literally is to exalt the letter at the expense of the spirit, which He would surely deprecate. Paul appealed to legal justice (Acts 16:37; Acts 25:8-12), and there are occasions when to decline it would mean wronging and betraying others. RV in Matthew 5:39 a is wrong; read "Resist not evil" (mg.), which reveals itself in malice as well as in untruthfulness (Matthew 5:37).

Matthew 5:39 b - Matthew 5:42. The injunctions form a descending scale—violent assaults, legal proceedings, official demands, simple requests. Perhaps the blow on the right cheek is more of an insult than an injury; it would naturally come from an opponent's left hand. But "right" may have no special significance, and the Latin and Syriac versions generally omit it, as Lk. does. Lk. omits the reference to a lawsuit (Matthew 5:40), and seems to describe a robbery with violence, the outer garment being first seized.

Matthew 5:41. compel: the word is originally a Persian one, and means "impress" (Matthew 27:32). Some early good authorities read, "go with him two more."

Matthew 5:42 must be taken in the spirit rather than the letter. Indiscriminate almsgiving is an injury to society, and the injunction is not confined to almsgiving.


Verses 43-48

Matthew 5:43-48. Loving One's Neighbour (cf. Luke 6:27 f., Matthew 5:32-36).—"Thou shalt love thy neighbour" (i.e. fellow Israelite) is the precept of the Law (Leviticus 19:18); "and hate thine enemy" is a Rabbinic inference from, e.g. Deuteronomy 23:3-6, which found much support in apocalyptic writings (cf. pp. 623f.). As in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus sweeps away all distinctions. The additions to Matthew 5:44 in AV are due to Luke 6:27 f.

Matthew 5:45. Sons are those who share their Father's character. If God were to give natural blessings like sun and rain to His friends and withhold them from His enemies, the natural world would be a chaos: "in so far as His sons fall short of His nature the spiritual world is a chaos." Those who love only their friends miss the Divine reward (Luke 6:35), the attainment of the Father's character.

Matthew 5:46. What reward have ye? Justin Martyr has, "Are you doing anything new?" which is perhaps derived from an older text than ours.—publicans: i.e. customs officers of inferior rank, the underlings of the publicani proper (p. 615); they exercised gross oppression and took money for an alien power, so that the Jews regarded them as outcasts, cf. p. 622.

Matthew 5:47 b. brethren may mean "pious law-keeping Jews" in view of early readings "the godless," or "tax-gatherers," in place of "Gentiles."

Matthew 5:48. therefore sums up the teaching of Matthew 5:17-47; ye (my disciples) is emphatic; the future ("shall be") has the force of a command. The comparison with the Divine character is far in advance of that noted in Leviticus 11:44; Leviticus 19:2 ff.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Matthew 5:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/matthew-5.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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