You Have Heard It Said… Matthew 5 21-48

In this section of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus uses the above saying 5x:

“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ Matthew 5:21

“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; Matthew 5:27

“Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘ YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.’ Matthew 5:33

“You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ Matthew 5:38

“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ Matthew 5:43

The form of the sentences

  • The Formula (You have heard it said)
  • The quotation (from the Law)
  • The commentary

This would possibly be the same form that rabbis used when discoursing.  (I need to check this up).  Even if it isn’t the case modern Bible commentaries follow this type of format.  The quotation and then naturally with the commentary.

The grammar

In the root ‘to hear’ and ‘to say’ are both in the aorist and plural.   He was speaking to his disciples and not just one disciple.   In the saying ‘you have heard it said’, the main verbs are in the aorist or passive aorist.  It seems to be a formula that introduces something very important from the Law.

General description of the formula ‘You have heard that it was said’. 

In every verse of this found here in Matthew the grammar is the same.  This is understandable as it is just the flow of the Gospel story.

 And I say to you…

I found this interesting and it validates what I said earlier about the form of speech Jesus used was a traditional rabbinic ways of speaking about the Law and explanations:

“the second half of the comparison used by Jesus, ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν, “but I say to you” (in all six antitheses: vv 22, 28, 32, 34, 39, and 44), involves an authority that is alien to the spirit of the rabbis—especially, of course, where the new interpretation seems to stand in tension with the direct statement of Scripture. The rabbis, who never would pit their views against Scripture, preferred to support differing interpretations by appealing to other earlier representatives of the rabbinic tradition. Jesus’ remarkable use of the “but I say to you” formula is to be explained by his identity as the messianic bringer of the kingdom (Hengel points out that the element “to you,” which gives each antithesis the tonality of a kerygmatic statement, is lacking in the rabbinic parallels [TRu 52 (1987) 376]). It is the Messiah’s interpretation of the Torah that is finally authoritative.”

From Hagner, D. A. (1993). Matthew 1–13 (Vol. 33A, pp. 111–113). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

Our Lord as the Messiah and the King of Israel relied on his own authority.  There would have been many interpretations but for the disciple it is the Lord’s understanding of it that counts as it is the true understanding (Trinitarian revelation). Jesus did not do what these Rabbis did by finding earlier quotes from past teachers.  Our Lord as the second Person of the Trinity had the correct interpretation through divine access to the original and deeper spiritual meaning.

What is our Lord doing?

In each section after he says ‘You have heard it said’ he then quotes from the First five books of the Law.   It is interesting that there is only five.  My question is, did Matthew choose 5 as symbolic of the five books of Moses.  I don’t know the answer to that. 

Our Lord is taking examples from the Law and giving it a twist that brings out the real meaning behind each saying through ‘but I say to you’.  We have seen that the beatitudes are mainly spiritual and hence our lord is taking us deeper into the text and how it ought to be interpreted.  Perhaps using our Lords method, we could also build on this for ethical decisions. 

In a scientific way our Lord is taking the moral object and then having interrogated through the beatitudes, he explains the meaning to us.

Let’s now look at the first saying in more detail:

21 “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’

22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.

23 Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,

24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.

25 Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent. Matthew 5:21-26

The law from the 10 commandments is very basic.  If one murders, one is guilty before the law courts.  This is the same as in British Law or any Western Law. Murder is murder.  However, our Lord brings out some steps in this law.  We can see them

  • Anger with the brother = guilty before the court!
  • Saying ‘good for nothing’ to one’s brother= guilty before the Supreme court!
  • Whoever says ‘You fool’= guilty enough to go into the fiery Hell

Why such strong sayings from our Lords mouth?

God is the giver of the law.  It is God who is the Creator of the universe.  Our Lord then takes us into the Second Temple Institution (before it was destroyed in AD 70). Jesus says:

” Therefore, if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,”

We know what the two great commandments are, loving God and loving our neighbour. We cannot love God if we do not love our brother.  This is an impossibility.   God will not accept anything less.  These are standards that would test any religious and non-religious institution to its limits.

Jesus our Lord continues by saying:

“25 Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.

26 Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.”

Hmm when I look at the context, I ask myself who this ‘opponent’ is.  I feel that the opponent here would be God.  I also feel that the prison would be hell.  This is a prison with no key because the price cannot be paid.

In a sense we are all prisoners locked up in our sin but what is impossible with us is not impossible with God.  Christ died on the cross so that we could be released from this prison. 

So, then Matthew seems to emphasize close relationships whereas Luke seems to emphasis Judgement

“Christ Divides Men

49 “I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! 51 Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; 52 for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

54 And He was also saying to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming,’ and so it turns out. 55 And when you see a south wind blowing, you say, ‘It will be a hot day,’ and it turns out that way. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but why do you not analyze this present time?

57 “And why do you not even on your own initiative judge what is right? 58 For while you are going with your opponent to appear before the magistrate, on your way there make an effort to settle with him, so that he may not drag you before the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. 59 I say to you, you will not get out of there until you have paid the very last cent.” Luke 12:49-59” (NASB)

Reflection

The kingdom of God is Here and with the eyes of faith we know that the next time our Lord comes will be a time of reckoning and judgement. 

What have we learned?

Positively

  1. We need to love our neighbour.
  2. We need to keep in step with our Lord’s sayings and be ready to forgive
  3. We shouldn’t hold grudges and sort things out while we still can.

Negatively:

  1. Hate has dire consequences
  2. If we do not forgive, we should expect the same from God
  3. Holding grudges pulls us down and away from the Kingdom of God

Following in the steps of Christ in our strength is impossible.  But Jesus died on the cross for us and in Him our election is sure through the gift of faith and its fruit of good works.  Pertaining to salvation it has all been done by God.

  • God came down to earth in the incarnation
  • Christ is the High priest who mediates for us
  • Christ is the sacrifice for us
  • Christ by the Holy Spirit brings us into the Trinitarian life through the resurrection of Christ.

All we need to do is confess him as our Lord and believe that God the Father by the Holy Spirit raised him from the dead.  We in our strength can do nothing to please God.  After we have been saved good works flow from gratitude for what He has done for us.  By faith gratitude flows by remembering our neighbour whoever our neighbour might be.

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