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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
Matthew 5

 

 

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Verse 1

Matthew 5:1. Seeing the multitudes. Comp. Mark 4:7-8; Luke 6:17, on the gathering of these multitudes.

He went up. Not to avoid them, but to gather from them a willing audience.

Into the mountain, the Horns of Hattin, according to tradition. Stanley: ‘It is the only height seen in this direction from the lake of Gennesareth. The plain on which it stands is easily accessible from the lake, and from that plain to the summit is but a few minutes’ walk. The platform at the top is evidently suitable for the collection of a multitude, and corresponds precisely to the “level place” to which He would “come down” as from one of its higher horns to address the people.’ This suits the requirements of the view that Matthew and Luke report the same discourse (see note, p. 54). The central situation would also permit the gathering there of multitudes from all quarters.

When he had sat down, or was seated. The usual posture of an Oriental teacher, and the natural one for familiar instruction.

His disciples came unto him. The Twelve had already been chosen (comp. Mark 3:14; Luke 7:13-20), but this was not an ordination discourse to them. It is too general, and they were not to be sent out at once. The ordination discourse is in chap. 10 ‘His disciples’ may include all who came to be taught, as distinguished from the ‘multitudes’ who had come to see the miracles of healing.


Verses 1-16

The scene (Matthew 5:1), the formal preface of the Evangelist (Matthew 5:2); the opening description of the citizens of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3-10); their relation to the world (Matthew 5:11-16), in the form of a personal application. The discourse opens with a simplicity that would be abrupt, were it not so full of blessing. Only One bringing heaven’s blessedness to earth could thus speak.—The beatitudes (so called from beati, the word which begins these verses in the Latin version) are usually spoken of as seven in number, Matthew 5:10-11 being considered supplementary, i.e., Matthew 5:10 sums up the preceding seven under the comprehensive term of righteousness, and Matthew 5:11 applies the whole to the disciples. Describing one class of persons, they explain each other.—Contrasts: Sinai and the Mount of Beatitudes; the law ends with blessing to those who keep it; Christ begins with blessings to those who through it have been brought to a sense of sin and guilt. The citizens of the kingdom, as the Jews expected them to be, and as Christ declared them to be (comp. on this contrast, the beatitudes and ‘woes’ of Luke’s account; chap. Matthew 6:20-26); those whom they regarded as blessed; and those whom He pronounced so; these beatitudes found in the Old Testament, but only in the light that Christ sheds upon it; the world’s judgment and Christ’s judgment as to qualities to be honored; the world had honored and deified courage, wisdom, and strength; Christ proclaims as divine, poverty of spirit contrition, meekness, moral longings, mercy, purity, peaceableness, and patient endurance. Men may adore intellect and power, praising the active virtues; but the distinctive virtues of the citizens of Christ’s kingdom are those passive ones He has shown to be divine.


Verses 1-34

GENERAL CHARACTER. The magna charta of Christ’s Kingdom: the unfolding of His righteousness; the sublimest code of morals ever proclaimed on earth; the counterpart of the legislation on Mount Sinai; Christ here appears as Lawgiver and King; Moses spoke in God’s name; Christ speaks in His own.—Its position, contents, connection, as well as the whole tenor of the New Testament, show that it is the end of the law and the beginning of the gospel, the connecting link between the two: (1) a mighty call to repentance for the unconverted, showing them their infinite distance from the holiness required by the law; (2) a mirror of the divine will for believers, showing them the ideal of Christian morality; (3) an announcement of blessings (beatitudes) to all in whom the law has fulfilled its mission, to create a sense of sin and guilt, to beget humility and meekness of spirit, as well as to encourage and impel to higher attainments. It is at once a warning, a standard and a promise, but not the whole gospel. The gospel is about Christ as well as from Christ. This discourse contains little about His Person and Work; nor could it. The audience was not ready, not even the Twelve (Mark 1:16-20), facts were not accomplished, the Teacher was wise in withholding, was still in His humiliation; only when He was glorified did the full glory of the gospel appear. The improper estimate of its significance makes Christ a mere teacher of ethics, not a Saviour; makes the gospel a higher legalism, not the power of God unto salvation; exalting Christ’s earliest instruction to the Apostles at the expense of the later; uses His tender words on the Mount of Beatitudes to make us forget Calvary; puts His principles before His Person, failing to lead us to Him. But while it is not the full gospel, its tone is evangelical, and its ideal is Christian; not telling how or why we are saved, it implies throughout that God must and will help, encourages us to ask from Him (chap. Matthew 7:11). Addressed to those under the law, it is the best introduction to the gospel.

2. Leading thought and plan. The connection of thoughts, so far as Matthew indicates it, is with chap. Matthew 4:17 : ‘Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ The motive to repentance was the coming of the ‘kingdom,’ about which the Jews had wrong expectations. These errors are met at the outset by a description of the character of the citizens of that kingdom, while the call to repentance is both expanded and enforced in the body of the discourse, which spiritualizes the law. The leading thoughts are respecting the true standard of righteousness, negatively, higher than the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees (chap. Matthew 5:20), positively, like God’s (chap. Matthew 5:48). The Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) is not the leading thought, since the ethics of the discourse are religious; see notes.

The discourse follows the method of natural association, although in some cases the connection of thought is difficult to determine. A plan ‘is simply such an analysis as will help us to understand it as a whole.

Chap. 5. A description of the character of the citizens of the kingdom of heaven, their relation to the world (Matthew 5:3-16); the relation of Christ to the law, with HIS exposition of the law, culminating in a reference to God’s perfection (Matthew 5:17-48).

Chap. 6. Religious duties; the false and true performance of them contrasted (Matthew 6:1-18); instruction regarding dedication of the heart to God and consequent trust in Him (Matthew 6:19-34).

Chap. 7. Caution against censoriousness, prayer enjoined through promise of an answer, to which promise the Golden Rule is annexed (Matthew 7:1-12); exhortation to self-denial, warning against false teachers and false professions (Matthew 7:13-23); conclusion, two similitudes respecting obedient and disobedient hearers (Matthew 7:24-27). The impression produced on the multitude is then stated (Matthew 5:28-29).

3. RELATION OF THE DISCOURSES in Matthew and Luke (Luke 6:20-49).

Points of agreement: Both begin with beatitudes, end with the same similitudes, contain substantially the same thoughts, frequently expressed in the same language. In both Gospels an account of the healing of the centurion’s servant immediately follows.

Points of difference: Matthew gives one hundred and seven verses, Luke but thirty; Matthew seven (or nine) beatitudes, Luke four, followed by four ‘woes.’ Luke is sometimes fuller than Matthew, and the order is occasionally different. Our Lord was sitting (Matthew 6:1) when this discourse was delivered; apparently standing (Luke 6:17) during the other. This was uttered on a mountain, the other on a plain. A number of important events mentioned by Luke before the discourse are heard by Matthew after it.

Explanations: (a) Two reports of the same discourse; each Evangelist modifying to suit his purpose. This is the common view, involving fewest difficulties. It is then assumed, that our Lord was standing immediately before the discourse, but sat down to speak; that on the mountain there was a plain just below the summit (the fact in the traditional locality: ‘the Horns of Hattin,’ or ‘Kur’n Hattin,’ see Matthew 6:1). The chronological difficulty is not serious. Matthew mentions the sending out of the Twelve (chap. 10), not the choice, which is narrated by Mark and Luke. The latter immediately preceded the discourse (so Luke), the former took place some time after. The mention by Matthew of his own call out of its chronological position is readily accounted for (see in chap. Matthew 9:1-17).

(b) Two discourses on entirely different occasions. So Augustine and others. This is an improbable solution, not called for by the chronological difficulties. The mention of the same miracle as immediately following in both Gospels shows that the occasions, if different, were not widely separated.

(c) Different discourses, but delivered in immediate succession; the longer one on the mountain to the disciples, the other on the plain to the multitudes. So Lange. Favored by the direct address to the disciples, and the allusion to the Pharisees (Matthew 5), not found in Luke’s account; opposed however by the fact that the multitudes also heard the longer discourse (Matthew 7:28).

(d) Two summaries of our Lord’s teaching about this time, not reports of particular discourses. Such summaries would be in an appropriate place, since in both cases a general sketch of our Lord’s ministry proceeds. But both Evangelists specify the place, and even our Lord’s posture.—Accepting the differing reports of the same discourse, we should remember that the Evangelists did not compose their histories from written documents and with literal accuracy in details, but (according to Oriental fashion) from memory, which was then much better trained than now, and from living impressions of the whole Christ, strengthened and guarded by the Holy Spirit. Hence we have after all a truer, more lifelike and instructive account of our Lord’s ministry, just as pictures embodying the varied expressions of a man’s countenance are more true to the life than a photograph which can only fix the momentary image. This fact accounts both for the remarkable essential agreement and the decided individuality and difference in detail, which characterize the Gospels. The two reports of the Sermon on the Mount present in a striking manner these characteristics. The date is probably just after the feast mentioned in John 5:1, if that is to be placed during the Galilean ministry. Our Lord had certainly been preaching in Galilee for some time, and had already aroused the antagonism of the Pharisees. See chap. Matthew 12:1-15, for the events immediately preceding (comp. Mark 2:1-19; Luke 6:1-16).


Verse 2

Matthew 5:2. Opened his mouth. A formula indicating indicating ‘a solemn and authoritative utterance;’ comp, references. He had before opened the mouths of others; the King Himself now becomes the Teacher. When the Lord opens his mouth, we should open our ears and hearts.

Taught, literally, ‘was teaching,’ implying either continued or habitual discourse. It is appropriate, whether this sermon was uttered on one occasion, or is a summary of our Lord’s teachings.


Verse 3

Matthew 5:3. The poor in spirit, not ‘in body,’ nor ‘in mind.’ The humble, those conscious of their spiritual needs, and thus prepared to be filled with the riches of the gospel. The discourse begins at the beginning; sense of want comes before spiritual blessings; the fruit of the law and the germ of the gospel. The Jews with their carnal hopes were not ‘poor in spirit,’ hence the appropriateness of the introduction. Pride is always the first and great hindrance to obtaining a part in the kingdom.

For theirs is. It belongs to them.

The kingdom of heaven. See notes on chap. Matthew 3:2; comp. chap. 13. Both the habits of the Teacher and the expectations of the audience made this a familiar thought.


Verses 3-11

Matthew 5:3-11. The beatitudes constitute an ascending series. The same thoughts are found in the Old Testament, but only since Christ has been found there.

Blessed. The word, first applied to God, means more than ‘happy.’ Happiness may come from earthly things; blessedness comes from God. It is not bestowed arbitrarily; a reason follows each beatitude.


Verse 4

Matthew 5:4. They that mourn, or ‘the mourning ones.’ A spiritual mourning is meant. A sense of need makes men ‘poor in spirit,’ but a consciousness of the positive power of sin makes them mourn. Not terror, fear of punishment, but actual sorrow that sin has power over us.

Comforted. This is a promise; hence the comfort comes not from ourselves, but from God. If repentance saved, then the promise would be: they shall comfort themselves.


Verse 5

Matthew 5:5. The meek; the mild, the gentle, opposed to the ambitious, who succeed in such a kingdom as the Jews were looking for. A higher quality than the preceding.

Inherit the earth, or ‘the land,’ i.e., of Canaan, the type of all blessings, not merely of spiritual ones. The literal fulfilment is not infrequent, but the primary reference is to the Messiah’s kingdom.


Verse 6

Matthew 5:6. Hunger and thirst after righteousness. The righteousness,’ i.e., God’s; something without us, given to us, not merely imputed to us, though that is included, but made ours, part of our life, as food is assimilated. A still stronger representation of the sense of spiritual need, advancing to positive longing, for a blessing, known to be the one needed, namely, God’s approval—conformity to the will of God. Those thus hungering are blessed, for they shall be filled, shall get in abundance what they want. A narrow view of this righteousness interferes with the full obtaining of it.


Verse 7

Matthew 5:7. The merciful. Meekness is a passive virtue, mercy an active one. ‘The meek bear the injustice of the world, the merciful bravely address themselves to the wants of the world.’—‘Every degree of sympathy and mutual love and help’ is included. The spring of this grace is in God’s mercy, although it is ever rewarded with new mercy; according to the annexed promise: for they shall obtain mercy. First of all, God’s mercy; the merciful character is both the evidence and the measure of God’s mercy. Mercy from men is included. All these beatitudes have a subordinate temporal application, for God rules the world, despite its sin.


Verse 8

Matthew 5:8. The pore in heart. Either a single virtue, or total freedom from sin. The former is here meant, i.e., a simplicity of heart, or ‘that steady direction of the soul toward the Divine life which excludes every other object from the homage of the heart’ More than sincerity, or chastity of feeling, or outward purity, such as the Levitical law demanded and the hearers might have deemed sufficient, or the moral purity which philosophers enjoin; it is inward purity derived from God (comp, 1 John 3:9). Hence the promise: they shall see God. Fulfilled even here. This vision of God begins when spiritual vision begins in the regenerate heart (Ephesians 1:18); it is perfected when in eternity we shall see Him face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 John 3:2), perfect knowledge being combined with perfect love.


Verse 9

Matthew 5:9. The peacemakers. Not simply the peaceful, but those who reconcile others. However understood by Christ’s hearers, we must refer it to those who proclaim and further the Gospel of peace, which alone makes men truly at peace with one another by making them at peace with God. In most kingdoms those who make war stand highest, but in the Messiah’s kingdom, the crowning beatitude respects those who make peace.

They shall be called sons of God; recognized as sons, i.e., children of full age. This acknowledgment is the reward freely given of God to those doing His work of peacemaking.

Matthew 5:10 speaks of the blessedness of the citizens of the kingdom of heaven, as opposed by the world, and the same idea is repeated in Matthew 5:11-12, addressed to the disciples directly. Then follows a declaration of their office in blessing the world. This variation in the thought leads most to reckon the beatitudes as seven in number, closing with Matthew 5:9.


Verse 10

Matthew 5:10. For righteousness’ sake. ‘Righteousness includes all the preceding graces; but the peacemakers are especially persecuted; the effort to spread the gospel of peace provokes the hostility of men. Righteous living does the same, however men may be compelled to admit its excellence. The Jews would not expect persecution to befall the Messiah’s subjects. Yet theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The promise to the ‘poor in spirit’ also. The only difference grows out of the nature of the parties. The ‘persecuted’ are probably capable of receiving a higher blessing. One class is spoken of throughout; the list of rewards begins and ends with the kingdom of heaven, a phrase summing up all the blessings.


Verse 11

Matthew 5:11. Blessed are ye. The personal application; a prophecy also, since when men shall revile you, etc., implies that this will happen. The first revilers and persecutors were the unbelieving Jews, here referred to indefinitely.

Revile, i.e., reproach you to your face.

Persecute refers to acts and the last phrase to backbiting.

Falsely, literally, ‘lying’(agreeing with ‘men’). The word is omitted by some authorities; but in any case it is implied.

For my sake. This shows that all the preceding beatitudes describe Christ’s disciples, that He is embodied Righteousness. Those only suffer for righteousness’ sake, who suffer for Christ’s sake; elsewhere we learn more distinctly; those only are blessed with righteousness who are blessed for Christ’s sake. The promised trouble for Christ’s sake comes as a part of the promised blessing for Christ’s sake.


Verse 12

Matthew 5:12. Rejoice, etc. An exhortation based on the declaration of blessedness in Matthew 5:11, and confirming it. Needful, because the prospect of persecution is far from awakening joy.

For great is your reward in heaven. The reason both for rejoicing and for the blessedness. ‘Reward,’ i.e., recompense; but of grace, not of debt ‘Great’ implies that it would be beyond merit ‘In heaven:’ either, in heaven, given in a future state of blessedness, or heavenly, spiritual, i.e., in the enjoyment of the blessings of the Messiah’s kingdom, the kingdom of heaven. The latter sense accords best with the language of the discourse, and culminates in the former one.

For so persecuted they, i.e., the unbelieving Jews, (as in Matthew 5:11), the prophets who were before you. Not an express assertion that the disciples were prophets. It, however, puts them on the same level, establishes the connection between the Old and the New Testaments, showing that the old antagonism remains. A permanent reason for rejoicing, not for the greatness of the reward.

Matthew 5:13-16 teach the relation of the disciples, as thus described, to the world, under the two figures of salt and light.


Verse 13

Matthew 5:13. Ye, i.e., the disciples, though not yet forming a distinct organization. The influence here spoken of depends not upon external organizations, but upon the power of Christ in the individual believers.

The salt of the earth. Salt preserves, Christ’s disciples preserve the world from utter corruption.—Salt seasons food and prevents insipidity; Christians are to give a spiritual seasoning to what is made ‘stale, flat, and unprofitable’ by ‘earthly’ minds; comp. Colossians 4:6. The first thought is the prominent one. ‘The earth’ refers to society as it exists.

But. A warning against pride.

If the salt have lost its savour. A mere supposition,—yet salt in the East does lose its saltness by exposure, or foreign admixture rendering it impure, and is then ‘good for nothing,’ except to destroy fertility. Dr. Thomson (The Land And The Book, vol. ii., pp. 43, 44) mentions an instance coming under his own observation. Pure salt cannot lose its savor. The doctrinal bearings of the figure need not be pressed.

Of men. No special emphasis seems to rest upon this phrase. The early date of the sermon forbids an exclusive reference of the verse to excommunication or deposition from the ministerial office.


Verse 14

Matthew 5:14. The light of the world. The influence of salt is internal, of light, external; hence ‘earth’ (Matthew 5:13), and here ‘world,’ both referring to society or mankind, the latter more to its organized external form. Light is opposed to darkness, and dispels it; is the symbol of truth and holiness. Christ’s disciples opposed to the world, and yet to transform it, by driving away its ignorance and sin. They become the light of the world, because He is ‘the true light,’ and makes them partakers of His light.

A city set on a hill. In the East, cities are often built on hills. Such a city may have been in sight, as later travellers think; but in any case, the figure is striking. The Church of God is such a city, and must be seen, like the light.


Verse 15

Matthew 5:15. A candle, or ‘lamp.’

The bushel. The ordinary household measure, holding about a peck. Under this the light could be hid.

But on the candlestick, or ‘lampstand;’ its proper place, an elevated holder or stand, so that its light might be diffused as widely as possible.

It shineth. ‘Giveth light,’ implies that a certain effect is necessarily produced, but the lamp only shines, its light may be rejected.


Verse 16

Matthew 5:16. Even Song of Solomon, i.e., like the city on the hill, the candle on the candlestick, not ‘so that they may see,’ as the common version might be understood.

Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works. Not professions or teachings, but what men, with all their prejudices against Christ’s people (Matthew 5:10-12), are forced to acknowledge as real excellences.—The supreme end both of the shining and seeing is added, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. ‘The praise and glory of a well-lighted and brilliant feast would be given, not to the light, but to the master of the house; and of a stately city on a hill, not to the buildings, but to those who built them’ (Alford). The exhortation humbles in order to exalt: all good works, light-giving, purifying and preserving influences, come from God, to whom the glory belongs, but He is ‘your Father.’ This is the first occurrence of the gospel phrase, ‘Father who is in heaven.’ It is taught us by the only begotten Son of God, through whom we become sons of God, who is His Father and our Father. The beatitudes culminated in the promise, ‘for they shall be called sons of God’(Matthew 5:9); the statement of our world to our ‘Father,’ from whom our blessings come, shows us that in the world we may cause position in the world, while leading us above the Him to be glorified. Our true glory is in His glory.


Verse 17

Matthew 5:17. Think not. See above. The great Teacher addresses Himself to the thoughts of the audience before Him.

I came. This implies that He had a special mission; not as yet a direct avowal that He was the Messiah.

To destroy, to undo, or do away with. Christ’s mission not negative and destructive, but positive and constructive; Christianity is neither revolution nor restoration, but a new creation, which, however, conserves and perfects all that is good in the old.

The law or the prophets. The whole spiritual development of the Old Testament is meant. This Christ came to fulfil, to make perfect as doctrine and to exhibit perfectly in life. So that we need not limit ‘law’ to the ceremonial law, or ‘prophets’ to the Messianic predictions. Christ fulfils the law: (1) theoretically, by unfolding its deep spiritual significance, as in this sermon; (2) practically, in his holy life, a perfect pattern for imitation; (3) by realizing the types and shadows of the ceremonial law; (4) by redeeming us through His expiatory death from the penalty and curse of the broken law; (5) by enabling us, through His Holy Spirit, to fulfil the law in gratitude to Him and in living union with Him.


Verses 17-48

Our Lord defines His relation to the old dispensation (Matthew 5:17-19), thus introducing the negative leading thought, viz., the utter failure of the Pharisees to attain true righteousness, according to the law, which He came to fulfil (Matthew 5:20); an exposition of the requirements of the law (Matthew 5:21-47), culminating in the positive leading thought, our perfect heavenly Father the true standard of righteousness (Matthew 5:48).—The occasion of this part of the discourse was, either the false notion that the Messiah would introduce a period of license (Matthew 5:17), or the antagonism between what He had just said and the teaching of the Pharisees. The former is simpler. Still the other is natural. A popular audience generally puts an extreme construction on new doctrines; as he seemed to oppose the strict legalists, they may have asked themselves, ‘Will He do away with the law.’ In any case the connection with what precedes is: Our Lord shows His disciples that they are to become lights of the world (Matthew 5:15-16), not as revolutionary radicals but as historical reformers. The law fulfilled by Christ, in Christ, through Christ. The law spiritualized, not abrogated. The gentle Teacher the most exacting; not externally but internally. The boldness (‘I say unto you’), breadth, depth, and height of this exposition. Like the introduction, it culminates in a reference to our heavenly Father.


Verse 18

Matthew 5:18. Verily, lit., ‘Amen,’ I say unto you. The Evangelist John generally repeats the first word. The whole phrase is used by Christ alone, the absolute, personal Truth.

Till heaven, etc. Paraphrase: ‘While heaven and earth last, one jot or one tittle shall not pass from the law without all these, declared, promised, or typified, being done.’ A strong assertion of the permanent character of the law.

Jot means the smallest letter of the (Hebrew) alphabet, while tittle, i.e., ‘little horns,’ refers to the small turns by which one letter was distinguished from another. A warning against contempt for the Old Testament, which leads at last to a denial of Christ. He has Himself fulfilled the ceremonial law; He teaches the true, higher, spiritual significance of the whole law.


Verse 19

Matthew 5:19. An application of the truth just announced.

Whosoever, therefore, because of this permanent character of the law.

Shall break, or at any time may break, one of these least commandments, the smallest part of this law, or, in the wider sense, of this revelation which God has made, and shall teach men so, by example or precept, shall be called, recognized as, least in the kingdom of heaven, in the new dispensation He was proclaiming. Such are not excluded, because not opposing the law as a whole, but only some of its minutiae. ‘Least’ may allude to the Jewish distinction between great and small commandments, a distinction revived by the Romanists, but which cannot exist in God’s law. The positive declaration which follows corresponds. The subsequent part of the chapter, especially the next verse, shows that our Lord does not command a strict observance of the letter of the ceremonial law. He there condemns those most scrupulous on these points. The fulfilment and the keeping of the law here required are explained by the fuller light shed upon it by the Saviour’s exposition.

He shall be called great. ‘He’ is emphatic here.


Verse 20

Matthew 5:20. The scribes and Pharisees, by minute explanations of the law, had made it very burdensome. The people, oppressed by this, longed for deliverance. Some hoped for it through an abolition of the law, but our Lord opposes this further, by His exposition of the real demands of the law.

Except your righteousness, your obedience, rectitude, shall exceed, abound more than, that of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven. He exacts more than these so exact and exacting in their’ righteousness.’—Less a charge of hypocrisy or wickedness than a declaration that they, with all their care, had not yet understood the real spirit of the law. Their scrupulous literal obedience was only a perversion of the law. Christ only unfolds its true meaning, first, by saying that the way to obey it is not that of the Pharisees. Christ is the way to obedience. His words here are to awaken a sense of the need of Him, to enable us to attain to this ‘righteousness.’—The rest of the chapter contains five contrasts between the true fulfilment of the law and the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees. We include Matthew 5:31-32, respecting divorce, under the second contrast (seventh commandment).


Verse 21

Matthew 5:21. Ye have heard, when the law was read in public, etc.

It was said to (not ‘by’) them of old time, ‘the ancients.’ As the passage is from the law, the indefinite phrase, ‘it was said,’ cannot be referred to a false teacher or author of tradition.

Thou shalt not kill. From the Decalogue, the sixth commandment (Exodus 20:13), the first of the second table; the fifth belongs rather to the first table, containing duties to God.

Whosoever shall kill, commit actual murder, shall be in danger of the judgment, i.e., subject to trial by an earthly court, probably the one in the place he lived. The interpretation of the scribes; correct, but not complete.


Verse 22

Matthew 5:22. But I say unto you. This implies equal authority with Him who gave the Decalogue, greater authority than those who expounded it. The two thoughts of Matthew 5:21 require two here.

Every one who. This is the literal sense.

Angry with his brother. ‘Brother’ is equivalent to neighbor, in the wide sense.—The best authorities omit ‘without cause.’ Probably inserted by way of mitigation. Several fathers expressly say that it is not in the text

The judgment. As before, the earthly court.

Raca. This is a word of contempt, meaning either ‘empty head,’ or ‘spit out,’ i.e., heretic. It is rendered, ‘vain fellows,’ in the plural, by the translators in 2 Samuel 6:20.

Council. The Sanhedrin at Jerusalem, consisting of seventy-two members; the highest earthly court.

Thou fool. The Greek word implies ‘stupid fool.’ It may be a Hebrew expression (‘moreh’) containing a charge of wickedness and great impiety. Perhaps an allusion to the atheist, Psalms 14:1.

In danger of, literally, ‘into,’ i.e., in danger of being cast into, the hell of fire, ‘Gehenna of fire.’ The first word originally meant the valley of Hinnom, once a place of idolatrous worship, on the south side of Jerusalem. It became a place of defilement, where the corpses of malefactors were thrown, and was also, it is said, the scene of execution in certain cases. ‘Of fire;’ either because of the fires kept burning in this valley to consume the offal of the city, or on account of the worship of Moloch, practised there, in which children were burnt alive. In either case, the whole phrase is a significant expression for the place of future punishment. It probably means this here, but not necessarily.—General sense: murderous feelings and words are deemed a proper ground of condemnation in Christ’s kingdom. A more particular explanation involves a difficulty. Two kinds of earthly punishment are spoken of, and then a future one is attached to the use of a word, which does not seem very different from the preceding ones. Since no earthly court does punish feelings of anger, it would seem that all three refer to a future punishment, or at least to God’s judgments, the degrees being represented by Jewish usages. It is clear from the passage that there are different degrees of guilt, and that even the germ of sin in the heart condemns before God. The sin is not in the word and act as such, but in the motive and spirit. There is also a righteous indignation and wrath, an innocent use of terms like those forbidden here (comp. Matthew 23:17; Matthew 23:19; Luke 24:25; Galatians 1:8-9; Galatians 3:1; Galatians 3:3; Tas. Matthew 2:20).


Verse 23

Matthew 5:23. Therefore. Application of the teaching just uttered.

Art offering thy gift at the altar, engaged in what was then the highest act of worship. Even the most sacred act should make room for reconciliation.

And there rememberest. Proper worship makes us mindful of duty to others.

Thy brother, one closely connected with thee.

Hath aught against thee. The charge may be groundless, but still may give occasion to bad feeling on our part.

Leave there thy gift, etc. Better postpone even an acknowledged religious duty than the duty of reconciliation. The case is put in the strongest form.

Go thy way, not to neglect the religious duty, but in order to first be reconciled. The two clauses must be closely connected.

Then come and offer thy gift. The reconciliation does not make the worship unnecessary. Discharge of duty to men does not do away with duty to God. One truly reconciled to his brother is readiest to come to God in His appointed way.


Verse 25

Matthew 5:25. Agree with thine adversary quickly. An opponent in a law-suit

With him in the way, i.e., to the place of judgment, the last opportunity for settlement. The rest of the verse describes the possible course in case of losing the suit. The words: ‘at any time,’ are superfluous.

Officer, is the same as our sheriff.


Verse 26

Matthew 5:26. Verily I say unto thee. A higher application of the illustration. The prudent course in worldly affairs points out the prudent course in the higher sphere. ‘Reconciliation with an offended brother in this life is absolutely necessary before his wrong cry against us to the Great Judge, and we be cast into eternal condemnation.’ (Alford.) This view can be held without definitely assigning a higher meaning to adversary and officer, etc. The warning against law-suits is evident enough, but is not the principal thought.

The last farthing. A coin of insignificant value. The meaning is: until everything is paid. If our sins be regarded as ‘debts’ this is impossible, but no conclusive argument for or against the eternity of punishment can be based on the figure. See, however, Luke 12:59, where the reference to future punishment is perhaps more marked. Roman Catholic expositors understand this passage of purgatory; Universalists use it in support of their view of final restoration; but neither ‘prison’ ‘nor ‘till’ necessarily points to ultimate deliverance. Comp. 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 1:6. The main idea is the inexorable rigor of divine justice against the impenitent sinner.

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Verse 27

Matthew 5:27. The seventh commandment (Exodus 20:14) is now cited, with an implied reference to the interpretation given by the scribes, namely, that adultery alone was forbidden.


Verse 28

Matthew 5:28. Every one who, not seeth, but voluntarily looketh, with a view to lust after her. Our Lord declares, not that such an one shall be condemned, but that in his heart he has committed the sin. Adultery of the heart, and of the eye, desecrate the temple of the Holy Spirit; how much more adultery in deed.

A woman may mean a ‘wife,’ but the widest sense is not inappropriate.


Verse 29

Matthew 5:29. An application by direct address.

Thy right eye, etc. Comp. chap. Matthew 18:8-9; Mark 9:43-48, where the order is different. Here the ‘eye’ is placed first, on account of the connection with the lustful look (Matthew 5:28). The ‘right eye,’ in popular esteem the better one.

Cause (or ‘is causing’) thee to offend, to stumble, to fall into sin.

Pluck it out. Not: as soon as thine eye causeth thee to sin, pluck it out; rather: should it appear that the sight is an incurable cause of sin, then pluck it out; but such bodily mutilation would not of itself cure sin. We should resist ‘the first springs and occasions of evil desire, even by the sacrifice of what is most useful and dear to us.’

Cast it from thee, as something hateful, because given over to sin. The surgeon does not hesitate to amputate a limb, if he hopes thereby to save a life; no earthly sacrifice is too great where eternal life is concerned.

Profitable. Such self-denial is true self-interest, as all virtue is, could we but so understand it. However ‘profitable,’ the overcoming of sin is painful.

Body, standing for the whole life here, because the sin referred to is a sin against the body.

Hell, Gehenna, not Hades; the place of punishment, not the place of the dead; hence spiritual, not physical death is referred to.

Matthew 5:30 repeats the same thought, instancing the right hand. The eye is the symbol of delight in looking (sense of beauty); the hand, the symbol of converse and intercourse (social feeling, friendship); but in any case here represented as organs of temptation.

Go (or, ‘go away’) into hell. The change in expression perhaps marks a development of lust inevitably tending toward hell. Here, too, we must avoid a slavish literalism, and remember the main thought, which is to spare nothing which hinders our salvation. A literal execution would turn the Church into a house of invalids, since every Christian is more or less tempted to sin by his eye or hand; nor would the cutting off of all the members, of itself, destroy lust in the heart. Here, too, the rule applies: ‘The letter killeth, the spirit maketh alive.’


Verse 31

Matthew 5:31. The teaching in regard to divorce belongs properly under the exposition of the seventh commandment. Loose notions about divorce indicate and increase unchastity.

It was said also. ‘Hath been said’ (here and Matthew 5:33; Matthew 5:38; Matthew 5:43), is an unnecessary variation.—Quotation from Deuteronomy 24. Our Lord says elsewhere (chap. Matthew 19:8; Mark 10:5), that even this precept was owing to the hardness of their hearts.

The writing of divorcement, designed not to encourage divorce, but to render it more difficult, was in effect a protection of the repudiated wife. Our Lord’s explicit teaching opposed the perversion of this provision of the Mosaic law. Some of the Rabbins allowed divorce in a great variety of cases, one going so far as to make the discovery of a more pleasing woman a sufficient ground.


Verse 32

Matthew 5:32. Fornication, or unchastity.

Maketh her to commit adultery, not by the fact of her being divorced, but in view of the extremely probable case of another marriage.

When she is put away. The force of the original is best given thus. The Romanists claim that this includes one divorced for the sufficient cause just mentioned, but it is doubtful, since, grammatically, the reference is still to the one divorced on insufficient grounds. Besides, a woman divorced for adultery would be stoned, according to the law, and there is here no reference to infidelity on the part of the man. The application to the case of a man is not only required by the spirit of Christ’s teaching in general, but by the fact that He is here speaking of and condemning the sin of the man. This high ideal of the marriage union (comp. Ephesians 5:22-23) is the basis of social morality. To oppose it is not only unchristian, but to demoralize the family, and to make war against the welfare of humanity.


Verse 33

Matthew 5:33. A summary of the Mosaic precepts in regard to swearing; negatively, Thou shalt not swear falsely; positively, but shalt perform to the Lord thine oaths. (Comp. Leviticus 19:12; Numbers 25:2.) The twofold mistake of the Jews, answered by our Lord: that only false swearing, and swearing by the name of God, were forbidden. They probably considered no oaths binding, save those in which the name of God occurred; this error, though not mentioned, is necessarily opposed.


Verse 34

Matthew 5:34. That ye swear not at all, lit., ‘not to swear at all.’ The reason is given, in Matthew 5:37. The prohibition is absolute for private and social life, and also for the kingdom of heaven, for which alone Christ legislates here. Civil governments, on account of the fearful amount of falsehood in the world (comp. Matthew 5:37), must require judicial oaths as a guarantee of veracity. That these are not referred to we infer from the example of our Lord (chap. Matthew 26:63-64), and of His Apostles (Romans 1:9; Galatians 1:20; 1 Corinthians 15:31). Objection to them often becomes a species of Pharisaism. Yet such oaths are not to be lightly administered. The next examples refer to the habit, so silly and sinful, of swearing in ordinary conversation.

Neither by the heaven. An oath then used, and considered allowable.

For it is the throne of God. To swear by heaven, is to swear by God Himself. Otherwise the oath is senseless. A condemnation of many phrases which are corrupted forms of actual oaths, and are used by those who scruple to swear outright


Verse 35

Matthew 5:35. Nor by the earth. In this case also, the oath, if not senseless, would derive its validity from the relation of the earth to God.

By Jerusalem, or, strictly, ‘towards,’ turning towards it, as in praying. Any solemnity attending this oath, came from the fact that it was the city of the great; where the temple stood, the seat of the special religious government Jehovah had established over Israel.


Verse 36

Matthew 5:36. By thy head. No man can create a hair of his head, or even transform its color; what solemnity, then, in such an oath. Or, if carried further, to swear by what is under God’s control alone, is to swear by Him, and that in a very roundabout and senseless way. Dr. Thomson (The Land And The Book) says the Orientals today are fearfully profane, swearing continually, by the heart, their life, the temple, or the church.


Verse 37

Matthew 5:37. But let your speech be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay. Not only foolish oaths, like those cited, are forbidden, but also all unnecessary appealing to God. Even judicial appeals to God should not be multiplied. The true oath consists in the simple asseveration uttered under a sense of the presence of God, before Him, and in Him.

Cometh of evil, or ‘of the evil one.’ The meaning is the same in either case. All strengthening of simple yea and nay is occasioned by the presence of sin, and the power of Satan, in the world.—There is no more striking proof of the existence of evil, than the prevalence of the foolish, low, useless habit of profanity. It could never have arisen, if men did not believe each other to be liars. Liars are most profane, and the reverse is true. Ignorance and stupidity increase the habit. Some men swear from want of ideas.


Verse 38

Matthew 5:38. Eye for an eye, etc. The law of retaliation (Exodus 21:24) was a judicial rule, righteous in itself, and especially necessary in the East. Introduced to do away with the private revenge, so common in the time of Moses, it had been perverted into a warrant for retaliation of every kind. Our Lord teaches that while this rule is correct in law, our personal conduct should be governed by a very different principle.


Verse 39

Matthew 5:39. Resist not evil (‘wrong’),or, ‘the evil man.’ The general principle governing all the cases mentioned. Lange: ‘Our Lord refers to sin and evil in the world, which is conquered by wise Christian submission rather than by strenuous resistance. To be merely passive, were weakness; but a non-resistance, from Christian principle and for a spiritual object, is true strength and real victory.’

But whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek, etc. An application of the principle to a case of violence against the person. Christian love must make us bear twice as much as the world, in its injustice, could demand. This neither justifies the world in its demand, nor requires passive non-resistance, since the example of Christ (John 18:22) and His Apostles show that there is a time for standing upon our rights. The literal observance may be Pharisaical, yet when rendered in the true spirit, has often most successfully overcome violence. These remarks apply in general to all the cases adduced.


Verse 40

Matthew 5:40. This verse may be thus rendered: ‘If any man desires to go to law with thee, and (by so doing) to take away thy coat (the inner garment, or tunic), let thy cloak (the more expensive upper garment) also go to him.’ The ‘cloak’ was frequently used as a covering at night, and according to the Mosaic law (Exodus 21:26; Exodus 21:29) could not be retained as a pledge over night. Rather give up even what the law cannot seize than cherish a vindictive spirit. Christians ought not to be those ‘desiring to go to law.’ Such often harbor vengeance while they speak of justice.


Verse 41

Matthew 5:41. Impress thee. The word is borrowed from the Persian, and refers to couriers pressing men and beasts into the public service, a matter very obnoxious to the Jews; it includes also the quartering of soldiers, and military requisitions, etc.

A mile, a thousand Roman paces, about 1,520 yards (less than an English mile), but the proportion, one to two, is the main point. Endure double hardship, even when it seems most unjust, rather than angrily refuse.


Verse 42

Matthew 5:42. Give to him that asketh thee. Begging was as common and annoying then as now.

And from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away, or ‘be not turned away.’ Obviously to give to every beggar, to lend to ever) borrower, would be as hurtful to them as harassing and exhausting to us. Refusal may often be the best gift. Our gifts and loans are to be measured by the welfare, not by the desert of the asker; and to be made in the spirit of our Heavenly Father (Matthew 5:45).


Verse 43

Matthew 5:43. Thou shalt love thy neighbour. (See Leviticus 19:18). The original precept referred to Israelites, and obedience to it helped to keep them distinct from other nations. But the Pharisees, to increase the distance between the Jews and Gentiles, added the converse precept: and hate thine enemy, meaning by ‘enemy’ the Gentiles (comp. Deuteronomy 23:6). Latin authors speak of this as a distinctive feature of the Jewish character. Personal hatred also was probably justified by this assumed meaning of the words of Moses. Our Lord (‘a light to lighten the Gentiles’) opposes this interpretation. Separatism was necessary to preserve the Jews from heathen influence, but this addition was contrary to prophecy and to the purpose of God in sending the Messiah. (Whom He meant by ‘neighbor,’ we learn from Luke 10:27 ff.)


Verse 44

Matthew 5:44. Love your enemies. The controlling principle, literally and universally applicable. One of the few precepts which admit of no distinction between ‘letter’ and ‘spirit’ The law of love, once deemed applicable only to those of the same nation, is now declared valid towards all men, even personal enemies. This gospel principle and Pharisaism cannot be reconciled; here chiefly our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. By his very hatred our enemy becomes our neighbor; his hatred tempts to retaliation, leaving us no choice but to fall or else defend ourselves with the weapons of love, i.e., to meet ‘persecution’ with ‘prayer.’ The briefer form of the verse, found in the best authorities, is the correct one. The parts we omit were probably inserted from Luke 6:27-28.


Verse 45

Matthew 5:45. That ye may be. Such action proves, not makes, the sonship. So doing we show our resemblance to God our Father (a relation springing from our relation to Christ) who maketh his sun, etc., whose love of benevolence is universal and not measured by the desert of the persons on whom He showers His providential favors. Christ here teaches the power and providence of God in nature, as well as His character of love.


Verse 46

Matthew 5:46. For refers back to Matthew 5:44 : if your action is simply in accordance with the precept of the Pharisees, what reward have ye? What merit is there in it?

The publicans, the taxgatherers who collected the revenue for the Romans. The term was odious, because these men were the agents of the hated Romans, and because the system of letting out the collection of taxes to the highest bidder led to great abuses. The obnoxious office would soon be filled by a disreputable class; hence the phrase,’ publicans and sinners.’ Even such could love those that loved them, practising in this respect a morality as high as that of the Pharisees, who despised them. It is a poor religion which does not beget a higher love than is natural to worldly men.


Verse 47

Matthew 5:47. The same idea is repeated here, except that heathen is substituted for ‘publicans, according to the best authorities. The Jews, despising the Gentiles, did not usually salute them. The morality of the Pharisees is proved to be, in this respect, no better than that of the heathen.

The same. This is correct here; in Matthew 5:46 it is doubtful whether we should read ‘so ‘or ‘the same.’


Verse 48

Matthew 5:48. Ye shall therefore be perfect. The first reference is to completeness in love to others; to an all embracing, instead of a narrow, exclusive affection. But the highest virtue includes all the rest, since God is love. We may then accept the correctness of the ordinary view, which understood the verse as setting up our heavenly Father (lit., ‘your Father, the heavenly one’) as the ultimate standard of our morality and holiness. No other standard is allowable indeed. Even the rendering we adopt implies a command to attain to this standard. Our ability cannot affect the case. ‘Likeness to God in inward purity, love, and holiness, must be the continual aim and end of the Christian in all the departments of his moral life. But how far we are from having attained this likeness, St. Paul shows us (Philippians 3:12), and every Christian feels just in the proportion in which he has striven after it.’ (Alford.) Instruction in morality cannot rise above this verse. Christ alone can really give us such instruction, since He alone by life and death shows the perfection of God in man. Having thus led us up to our Heavenly Father as the true standard, our Lord by a natural transition speaks next of our religious duties, i.e., duties to our Heavenly Father.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Matthew 5:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/matthew-5.html. 1879-90.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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