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The Ten Commandments on a monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol. The third non-indented commandment listed is "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy", but see also Biblical law in Christianity.

The Expounding of the Law,[1] called by some the Antithesis of the Law, is a highly structured ("Ye have heard ... But I say unto you") part of the Sermon on the Mount in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. It follows both the famed Beatitudes and the metaphors of salt and light.

Many traditional Christians view it (see the Gospel according to the Hebrews) as, rather than a literal antitheses, a reinterpretation of Mosaic Law, in particular the Ten Commandments. This appears to be supported in verse 17: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." The teachings themselves are not viewed as literal antitheses to the law. But this opinion is not absolute. Leo Tolstoy builds his interpretation of Christianity on the rejection of the Old Testament.

The expounding is at the core of the argument about the relationship between the views attributed to Jesus (see also Gospel, Grace, New Covenant, New Commandment, Law of Christ), and those attributed to Moses or the Mosaic Law, and hence how the relationship between the New Testament and Old Testament should be interpreted, including whether either the extreme of antinomianism or that of legalism has any validity. This issue would have been a central one among the Jewish Christians, a group that the Gospel of Matthew is widely believed to have been directed at, or written by, as the Jewish Christians would have been divided on the question. Some of them accused other Early Christian groups like the Pauline Christians, followers of Simon Magus, Gnostics, Marcionites, Montanists, and Manichaeists, of abandoning Mosaic customs, as for example in the Book of Acts 15[2] record of the Council of Jerusalem.[3][4][5][6]

Adherence to the Law

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"The law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil" lies at the heart of how different Christian groups view the Mosaic law as there are a wide number of interpretations of what is meant by fulfil.[7] Fulfil[8] is interpreted as meaning any of the following: establish, confirm, validate, complete, actualise, properly explain, accomplish, or obey. In contrast, Marcion's version of Luke 23:2 states: "We found this fellow perverting the nation and destroying the law and the prophets."[9] See also Ephesians 2:15.[10]

Some argue that Jesus rejects some of the accepted tenets of Mosaic law, such as the understanding of Sabbath, divorce laws, dietary laws, and Biblical festival days (such as Passover), while accepting others, and presents a New Covenant, doing so particularly by the antitheses. In contrast, E. P. Sanders in his 1985 book Jesus and Judaism, argued that, in spite of denunciations of Pharisees attributed to Jesus in the Gospels, no substantial points of opposition could be found, especially since according to the Gospels Jesus did not transgress any part of Mosaic law, did not oppose or reject the law itself, and that the disciples continued to keep it: for example the Acts of the Apostles recounts that they continued to worship in Herod's Temple.[11]

According to Augustine of Hippo, Jesus expanded the law but did not replace it. Others used analogy to explain this notion: Chrysostom used the analogy of a race saying that Jesus had added extra distance for the Christians to run, but the beginning remained the same; Theophylact of Bulgaria used the image of an artist colouring in an outline, and Thomas Aquinas saw it as how a tree still contains the seed. This view became the accepted Roman Catholic position, but was challenged in the Protestant reformation, with leading Protestants such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Huldrych Zwingli rejecting the idea Jesus had added to the Law, and instead arguing that Jesus only illustrated the true Law that had always existed, but that the Law had been badly understood by the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders. The Anabaptists took the opposite view and felt that Jesus had greatly reformed the Law, and rejected anything that the Bible doesn't mention him as having confirmed.

Matthew 5:8 states that "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled".[12] Jot is the King James Version's translation of iota, the smallest letter in the Greek alphabet, as the parallel letter yodh (י) is the smallest in the Aramaic alphabet. Tittle, the KJV translation of κερεία (a word which literally means horn), is a small mark of some sort, generally considered by scholars to refer to minor projections (horns) that differentiate certain letters, such as hooks in Aramaic - ב versus כ for example. Hence the phrase refers to even the tiniest minutiae being unaltered,[13] and it is this meaning that not one iota, a common English phrase deriving from the statement, has taken. Some[who?] view the statement as eschatological, regarding that "till heaven and earth pass" means that Mosaic law would be superseded in the end times, though most[who?] view it simply as an idiom for the inconceivable. Likewise "till all be fulfilled" is somewhat debated, with some viewing it as a reference to end times (i.e., "fulfilled" having the same meaning as "heaven and earth pass"), others as a reference to such a time as all of Mosaic law is completely adhered to, and others still that it means that the law would only last until a messiah arrives, i.e. that the time had arrived with Jesus' existence and hence the law is superseded already. Many view the last interpretation as somewhat doubtful, since it is unlikely that Jesus would state till if it had already occurred, or would contradict his prior statement that heaven and earth must first pass before the law does. As for "till all be fulfilled", it is widely believed that Jesus has not yet fulfilled all Messianic prophecy (such as the Resurrection of the dead, Last Judgment and establishment of the Kingdom of God) but that he will in his Second Coming. An exception to this belief is full Preterism which believes that all these events have already happened. A parallel to this verse is found in Luke 16:17.[14] See also John 10:35.[15]

Matthew 5:19 condemns those who preach the commandments but do not uphold them, i.e. hypocrites.[16] See also Cafeteria Christianity and discourse on judgementalism. Some interpret commandments as referring to the Sermon on the Mount itself, though others think that the text is obviously referring to the Mosaic law, Noahide laws, or to the Ethical decalogue. Still others believe that Paul stressed the ethical and pedagogical value of the law as a standard for righteous living, rejecting it only as a means of justification.

Paul did not object to the observance of the Mosaic Law, as long as it did not interfere with the liberty of the Gentiles, but he conformed to its prescriptions when occasion required.[17] This is demonstrated by the circumcised Timothy,[18] and his observiation of the Mosaic ritual when he was arrested at Jerusalem.[19][20] See also New Perspective on Paul. A parallel to this verse is found in James 2:10.

Matthew 5:20 subtly condemns the Pharisees: only those who were more righteous than they would enter the "kingdom of heaven". Matthew generally condemns the manner in which the Pharisees adhere to the law,[21] portraying it as excessively legalistic, and here is no exception. This begins a pattern, repeated later in the Sermon on the Mount, in the Discourse on ostentation, where outward and public adherence to religious behaviour are condemned as being hollow, in favour of private and internal adherence.

Antithesis of the Law

This section of the sermon is sometimes called the Antithesis of the Law.[22] As applied to this section of Matthew, the phrase is used in different ways. Some writers use it to mean something like "statements affirming the Law but going beyond it".[23] Others mean something like "opposed to the false glosses of the Law".[24] Still others mean "directly contradicting the Law";[25] the second of the four basic tenets of Dispensationalism posits: "A radical distinction between the Law and Grace; that is, they are mutually exclusive ideas."

The 1577 Lutheran Formula of Concord in Article V states: "We believe, teach, and confess that the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is to be maintained in the Church with great diligence. . ."[26] Martin Luther wrote: "Hence, whoever knows well this art of distinguishing between Law and Gospel, him place at the head and call him a doctor of Holy Scripture."[27] Throughout the Lutheran Age of Orthodoxy (1580–1713) this hermeneutical discipline was considered foundational and important by Lutheran theologians. Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther (1811–1887), who was the first (and third) president of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, renewed interest in and attention to this theological skill in his evening lectures at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis 1884-1885.[28]

Adolf von Harnack states: Marcion "accordingly supposed that it was necessary to make the sharp antitheses of Paul, law and gospel, wrath and grace, works and faith, flesh and spirit, sin and righteousness, death and life, that is the Pauline criticism of the Old Testament religion, the foundation of his religious views, and to refer them to two principles, the righteous and wrathful god of the Old Testament, who is at the same time identical with the creator of the world, and the God of the Gospel, quite unknown before Christ, who is only love and mercy."[29]

Cyrus Scofield states: "The most obvious and striking division of the Word of truth is that between law and grace. Indeed, these contrasting principles characterize the two most important dispensations: the Jewish and Christian. "For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). … Law kills; grace makes alive. … Law says, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth"; grace says, "Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." Law says, "Hate thine enemy"; grace says, "Love your enemies, bless them that despitefully use you." Law says, do and live; grace says, believe and live. … Law stones an adulteress; grace says, "Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more." … Everywhere the Scriptures present law and grace in sharply contrasted spheres. The mingling of them in much of the current teaching of the day spoils both, for law is robbed of its terror, and grace of its freeness."[30]

Antinomianism was "apparently coined by Luther to stigmatize Johannes Agricola and his following, indicating an interpretation of the antithesis between law and gospel, recurrent from the earliest times."[31] "It may be said that in the 2nd century only one Christian—Marcion—took the trouble to understand Paul; but it must be added that he misunderstood him. The profound reflections of the apostle on the radical antithesis of law and gospel, works and faith, were not appreciated in the 2nd century. Marcion alone perceived their decisive religious importance, and with them confronted the legalizing, and in this sense judaizing, tendencies of his Christian contemporaries. But the Pauline ideas lost their truth under his treatment; for, when it is denied that the God of redemption is at the same time the almighty Lord of Heaven and Earth, the gospel is turned upside down."[32]

Some[who?] believe that Paul believed Jesus fulfilled his relationship with the Law of Moses at his death.[33][34][35][36] The death of a spouse terminates the marriage relationship and makes the surviving spouse free to have a relationship with someone else. The death of Jesus made him free to have a relationship with his bride or the church.[37] Paul believed Christians participated in the death of Christ and in his new life by baptism.[38] See also Antinomianism in the New Testament, Supersessionism, and Paul of Tarsus and Judaism.

Specialised focuses

As well as a more general discussion about adherence to the law, the expositions individually cover the following aspects in greater detail:

Each of these specialised sections begins with a scriptural quotation that indicates how the law officially regards each of these issues, and then goes on to, depending on one's interpretation, either extend the law's commandment to its most radical extent, or make a radical assertion opposing it. Though sometimes not as radical, Jewish sentiment in the period was much more in keeping with the exposition than the law itself, partly due to the influence of Hellenism, and so although parts of the exposition may seem quite radical in respect to the law itself, it should be understood that in many cases the exposition simply describes popular sentiment of the time. In addition, as the Jewish Encyclopedia article on Jesus notes: "Jesus, however, does not appear to have taken into account the fact that the Halakah was at this period just becoming crystallized, and that much variation existed as to its definite form; the disputes of the Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai were occurring about the time of his maturity." See also Hillel and Shammai.


Christians believe that Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant, for example Hebrews 8:6. His famous Sermon on the Mount (the mount representing Mount Zion) is considered by some Christian scholars to be the antitype of the proclamation of the Old Covenant by Moses from the Biblical Mount Sinai[58].

The first exposition is on the subject of murder. Beginning by quoting the commandment thou shalt not murder[59] Matthew describes Jesus as going on to condemn the anger which lead to it as being just as bad. This view is not particularly new to Jesus, appearing in the Old Testament at places such as Ecclesiastes and Ecclesiasticus, as well as in the Slavonic Enoch, Pesahim, and Nedarim. Jesus is also described as condemning people who insult each other, specifically identifying the insult of calling someone a Raca.[60] Scholars seem divided on how grievous an insult it was - for example Hill feels it was very grievous while France thinks it minor.

What Raca means is unknown though there have been frequent attempts to explain it, particularly in the context of fool,[61] the next insult to be mentioned. Despite condemning the use of the term fool, according to Matthew, Jesus himself used it to deride the Pharisees,[62] see also Woes of the Pharisees), see also Luke 11:40,[63] Luke 24:25,[64] Romans 1:21-22,[65] Cor 15:36,[66] Gal 3:1.[67] The most common view is that Raca is a reference to the Aramaic word reka (see also Aramaic of Jesus), which literally means empty one, probably referring to empty headed, or foolish. The word translated as fool is Moros which has a similar meaning to the Aramaic reka, but it can also be used to mean godless, and so was a much stronger term. Some writers[who?] have argued that raca can mean effeminate and moros referring to a homosexual aggressor, and so Jesus could here be seen to be condemning homophobia. Halsall repeats this argument but concedes that it is less than conclusive.(Halsall, 1999)

Those that are angry with their brother are then said in Matthew to be subject to judgement, sent to the council, which some consider a reference to a sanhedrin,[68] for using the insult of Raca, and sent to Gehenna for using the insult of moros. (Gehenna was the rubbish heap south of Jerusalem which was permanently aflame, and had in the past been the place of cremation for human sacrifice; the term was also used figuratively to refer to the place of damned souls.) Despite the vivid unpleasantness of this, traditionally scholars have read this as only a metaphorical reference to damnation to Hell, though other scholars see the literal reading - being thrown into the rubbish heap south of Jerusalem - as the accurate one. Early manuscripts of Matthew are divided between some that state it is anger without cause that is being condemned, and those that state that all anger is condemned, with most modern scholars feeling that without cause was an emendation added by a later scribe (see Lectio brevior).

The exposition then goes on to state that even if one is in the middle of making the korban sacrifice (see also Korbanas), whenever one realises there is a dispute with one's brother, it is better to immediately stop what one is doing and try to resolve the dispute. Although the theme of asserting that "worship devoid of moral life is useless" occurs throughout the Old Testament, several scholars see Matthew here as attacking the overly ritualised Pharisees, with those scholars, for example Schweizer, thinking that the Pharisees believed sacrifice should not be interrupted. That Matthew here mentions the korban, which came to a halt in 70AD when the Temple was destroyed (Siege of Jerusalem (70)), is taken by a few scholars, like Albright and Mann, as evidence that Matthew was written before that date.

The expositions finally culminate with what could easily be seen as very practical advice to reconcile with enemies quickly, before the enemy causes the issue to be brought before a judge, since being placed into jail will require you to buy yourself out of jail, not even leaving you with a penny. This piece of advice also appears in Luke 12:58-59,[69] causing those who accept the Q hypothesis to suggest that it originates in Q, though the words that are usually translated as penny differ between Luke and Matthew, with Matthew referring to a quadrans and Luke to a mite, which was worth half a quadrans. Luke gives the text a much more eschatalogical context, implying it refers to the Last Judgement, and so most Christians interpret Matthew the same way, some using it to argue for the existence of purgatory. Fundamentalists, however, have a tendency to be uncomfortable with the soteriology that this implies - that good behaviour is sufficient to avoid punishment - and so those such as Albright claim that some material is likely to be missing from this part of Matthew.


The second exposition is on the subject of adultery. Firstly it quotes the commandment in the ethical decalogue at Exodus 20:14[70] about adultery, and then goes on to state that looking at a woman in lust is equal to the act of adultery itself. This is often interpreted as Jesus expanding on the requirements of Mosaic law, but not rejecting it, and similar ideas were anciently expressed in the Testament of Issachar and Tractate Kallah.

When accompanied by a noun or pronoun in the genitive case or by a possessive adjective or when specified in some other way, the word "γυνή", which in itself means simply "a woman",[71] is used to refer to a "wife". In this context there is no such specification of the word "γυνή". In any case, it would be quite unwarranted to conclude, perhaps on the basis of the reference to committing adultery, that Jesus was declaring that lustful looks at others than married women were permitted.

The discussion in Matthew continues with two now well known phrases that are also to a degree present in Mark 9:43[72] and Mark 9:47[73] and Matthew 18:8-9:[74]

  • If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out
  • If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off

Rather than if...offend thee, the Greek text is literally if...causes you to stumble, which while a common metaphor for sin, also acts as a joke since plucking out one's eye will result in one stumbling about. No major Christian denomination has ever taken these commands literally, although Origen supposedly castrated himself in order to avoid sexual temptation. That almost everyone views them as deliberate hyperbole has led some commentators to see parts of the other expositions in the Sermon on the Mount as also being hyperbole.

The link between the right hand and the discussion of adultery is somewhat unclear, although in Jewish writings of the time it was common to a triple structure, XYZ eye ABC XYZ hand ABC XYZ foot ABC, seen in Mark 9:43-48 and Matthew 18:8-9. That the hand appears here but not the foot is felt by Hill to be a deliberate reference to theft, which at the time adultery was seen as being a form of. An alternative view is that the mention of a hand linked to lust is a reference to masturbation - though in a Semitic culture the left hand, rather than the right, would be mentioned in that context - and many who criticise masturbation use this verse to condemn it, making this one of the Bible phrases most often cited for that purpose. In the Babylonian Talmud there are similar statements about masturbation and mention is made of cutting off the hand and suffering bodily harm rather than going to the pit of destruction [75] A third view is to see the hand reference as a connecting link to the next exposition, which is about divorce, as a metaphor for separation from a sinful spouse.

Jesus is portrayed in Matthew as making these statements because he considers it better that one cut oneself off from sin so as not to condemn the remainder of oneself to Gehenna. There is much debate as to quite in what way Gehenna is being referred to - whether Jesus was meant to be talking about a physical valley of fire, an afterlife of damnation, or whether the reference is eschatalogical. That the text refers to a whole body being thrown to Gehenna is regarded by some as implying that everyone, even the wicked, would have a full bodily resurrection in the end times, which conforms to the standard Protestant understanding of all being resurrected and judged.


The third exposition, sometimes considered a continuation of the prior one about adultery, is on divorce, and is comparatively short. It begins with a reference to Deuteronomy 24:1, requiring a man who dismisses his wife for "some indecency" he finds in her to give her a formal written divorce certificate. However, the exposition describes Jesus as condemning anyone who, except in the event of porneia, divorces his wife and thus "makes her an adulteress", adding: "whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."

The Greek word Porneia (πορνεία) literally means fornication with a prostitute (πόρνη), but was used to indicate unchaste conduct generally.[76] Among English Bible translations, the King James Version (and derivatives such as the American Standard Version) has "fornication", the Revised Standard Version "unchastity", the New International Version "marital unfaithfulness"; the New American Bible "unlawful marriage".

At the time of Jesus, the majority view on Deuteronomy 24:1 was that of Hillel the Elder, who allowed divorce under a wide range of circumstances, even as minor as a wife burning dinner, while the minority opinion followed Shammai, who argued that only adultery could be grounds for divorce.

The house of Shammai say, a man may not put away his wife, unless he finds some uncleanness in her, according to Deu. 24:1. The house of Hillel say, if she should spoil his food, (that is, as Jarchi and Bartenora explain it, burns it either at the fire, or with salt, i.e. over-roasts or over-salts it,) who appeal also to Deu. 24:1. R. Akiba says, if he finds another more beautiful than her, as it is said, Deu. 24:1 "and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes."[77]

Some scholars, especially Protestants, believe Jesus was endorsing Shammai's view, arguing that under the liberal divorce policy of Hillel, men had been casually divorcing their wives on losing interest in them, thus deeply injuring them, and that Jesus was here defending the rights of downtrodden wives. Other reject this claim on the grounds that elaborate prenuptial agreements were negotiated prior to every marriage, invariably including steep financial penalties, known as ketubah, that a divorcing husband had to pay his wife, guaranteeing her financial security. On the other hand, such a prenuptial contract might address financial issues but not the divorced wife's social alienation and stigmatisation), which were very important aspects of life in a society such as ancient Israel.[78]

In the same verse, the specific term for "adultery", moicheia (μοιχεία) is used, in its verbal form (μοιχευθῆναι), immediately after the term porneia. Accordingly, some scholars conclude that porneia refers to something other than adultery, such as concubinage (a relationship between the man and the woman he puts away that is not that of a valid marriage but only cohabitation). They point to the quaintness, to say the least, of the interpretation, "He who dismisses his wife, except for adultery, makes her commit adultery", i.e. the divorced wife then commits adultery unless she has already committed adultery. And, in view of the fact that Greek has no specific word for "wife" — the word γυνή ("woman"), when specified by the context, is used for someone's "wife", as mujer in Spanish — they see as much more satisfactory the interpretation according to which the verse reads: "Every one who sends away his woman — except in the case of concubinage — makes her commit adultery."

In line with this view, some scholars read porneia as referring specifically to marriages that, while perhaps permissible under pagan religions, were illegal under Jewish and Christian law, such as those between blood relations — in 1 Corinthians 5:1, Paul used the word porneia of a relationship he wanted ended between a man and a woman who had been the man's presumably dead father's wife — or mixed marriages with those of a different religion, while others have proposed that the phrase about porneia is in fact a later addition to the text, particularly since it is not present in the parallel passages of Mark and Luke.

In two cases Jesus makes no exception to his condemnation of divorce with a view to remarriage.[79]

Some believe that Jesus is using the same kind of formula he used to condemn the Scribes and Pharisees elsewhere,[80] an argument that takes the form: "You claim you are doing a lawful thing, but by doing it you break the law or cause others to." John Gill explained the sense as follows: "[causeth her to commit adultery;] that is, as much as in him lies: should she commit it, he is the cause of it, by exposing her, through a rejection of her, to the sinful embraces of others". This interpretation seems to support the idea that Jesus is condemning divorce absolutely.

Paul of Tarsus, writing in about the middle of the first century, likewise quotes Jesus as forbidding divorce without any exception: "To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband) — and that the husband should not divorce his wife".[81] However, "to the rest" Paul, on his own authority ("I say, not the Lord"), gives the rule (later referred to as the Pauline privilege) that someone who on becoming a Christian is abandoned by a non-Christian spouse is not tied to that spouse.[82] Many interpreters have held that Paul has two different groups in mind (viz., in the first instance, "the [legally] married", and in the second, "the rest [in mixed marriages]"), so that Paul's sanction does not contradict that of "the Lord", but expands on it to meet an exigent situation.

In Jesus' time, capital punishment was not actually imposed for adultery, but was technically prescribed by Mosaic Law,[83] so Martin Luther argued that, since in the eyes of God an adulterer was dead, the spouse was free to remarry. The view that adultery was a valid reason for divorce became the majority Protestant position. Some Protestants even took broader views, with Zwingli and Bullinger both reading porneia to refer to all manner of marital immorality such as spousal abuse, and abandonment. Nowadays, while the porneia clause in Matthew has significance for individual Protestants, many Protestant Churches simply leave questions of divorce and remarriage to civil law, without taking any doctrinal stand on the question.[84]

From an early stage, the Roman Catholic Church clearly excluded divorce. Saint Augustine of Hippo stated "[T]he compact of marriage is not done away by divorce intervening; so that they continue wedded persons one to another, even after separation; and commit adultery with those with whom they shall be joined, even after their own divorce, either the woman with a man, or the man with a woman."[85]

There were disputes about what constitutes a valid and indissoluble marriage, with some claiming that what constitutes marriage is the contract entered into by free and knowing consent, and others saying that carnal union[86] is what is essential. By medieval times it was accepted that marriage, though constituted by consent alone, becomes indissoluble only when completed or consummated with the second element, so that only death can dissolve a valid, consummated marriage. If a presumed marriage is proved to have been invalid from the start, the Church issues an annulment or declaration of nullity at the request of at least one of the parties. It also grants petitions for dissolution of a marriage shown not to have been consummated and, in certain circumstances, of a non-sacramental marriage.


The third/fourth exposition is about oaths. While Gundry feels that this follows the discussion of divorce since Deuteronomy discusses these things one after another, though in reverse order, other scholars feel that it is simply a natural progression, as one of the major legal issues of the day was over marriage vows.

The exposition opens with a quote from the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, which appears to come from Numbers 30:2. While the text literally condemns perjury, it can also mean break an oath, and some individuals translate it much less restrictively as do not make vows rashly.

After having made the quote, Matthew presents Jesus as extracting from it the rule never swear and then moves directly to examples, quoted from the Old Testament:

  • Not to swear by heaven (Isaiah 66:1) - at the time one view held that, as expressed in M. Shebuoth, while oaths to God were binding, oaths to other subjects, such as heaven, were not. Schweizer feels that Jesus is here indicating that swearing by heaven is swearing by God with heaven being God's throne.
  • Not to swear by the earth (quoted from Isaiah 66:1) - Schweizer feels that Jesus is here indicating that swearing by earth is swearing by God with earth being God's foot stool
  • Not to swear by Jerusalem the city of the great King (quoted from Psalms 48:2) - this could be linked to the practice of turning toward Jerusalem when swearing an oath. The term great king may either be a reference to David or to God, with Christians usually interpreting it as the latter. Schweizer feels that Jesus is here indicating that swearing by Jerusalem is the same as swearing by God, owing to it being God's city.
  • Not to swear by your head, because you can't make one hair white or black - this does not, according to Schweizer, take into account hair dye, which was a common and well known practice even in that time.

Very few Christians interpret this exposition to literally mean that all oaths are prohibited, since in other parts of the Bible oaths are looked upon more favourably. Paul for example is described in 2 Corinthians and Galatians as swearing oaths. Avoiding the literal meaning, most Christian thinkers have concluded that by never swear, Jesus is using hyperbole to emphasise his point or failing to mention exceptions to this rule that would have been implicit to his audience. Thus most Christian churches believe that only false and vain oaths are prohibited, and John Calvin argued that only oaths counter to God are wrong. Several important Christian groups do not however accept such re-interpretations, preferring to uphold what the text actually says; most notably the Quakers and Mennonites firmly reject all oaths, a stance that has led to their persecution by governments that insist on oath taking.

According to Matthew, Jesus then instructs people to only respond with yes, yes; no, no. The exact meaning of this is much disputed, and while one reading is that you should simply always answer with yes or no, as is clearly the view of James 5:12 where this whole exposition is reiterated, the Slavonic Enoch, however, states that a double yes or a double no were themselves forms of oath, and so by this understanding Jesus is not banning all oaths, but outlining an example of an oath that is permissible. Jesus is described as going on to say that whatever is more than this response constitutes something of the evil one, which in other parts of the New Testament are frequently used to refer to the devil, and Schweizer believes that the implication is merely that swearing was evil, many Christians do not see a theological difference. The formula yes, yes; no, no also appears in 2 Cor 1:17.[87] According to the Jewish Encyclopedia's article on New Testament Misunderstood Passages,[88] this passage is derived from Lev 19:36.[89]


The penultimate exposition partly paralleled in Luke's Sermon on the Plain, is on the subject of punishment. It begins with a quote of the lex talionis - an eye for an eye - which is found in three of the law codes in the pentuateuch (in the Deuteronomic code, Holiness Code, and Covenant Code). Although this principle of retributive punishment dates back at least to the Code of Hammurabi, by the first century AD it had been superseded by a system of fines, and so several scholars here consider that it is the whole principle of retribution which Jesus is here meant to be discussing, rather than just the lex talionis.

Having made the quotation, Matthew goes on to describe Jesus as saying that one should instead turn the other cheek, and superficially appears to state that one should not resist evil at all, even going so far as to give someone your cloak as well when they sue you for your tunic, and when you are compelled to travel one mile one should go so far as to travel two. Though this appears to quite clearly advocate a radical degree of pacifism, many Christians reject this interpretation. According to France, the Greek words translated as don't resist have a far more restricted meaning, and should instead be translated as do not resist by legal means, as this is how Schweizer believes the words are used in Deuteronomy and Isaiah (even though they are different, Hebrew, words in Deuteronomy and Isaiah). Striking on the right cheek refers to a back-handed slap to the face, which throughout the Middle East, both in the first century and today, is one of the highest forms of contempt. According to France the gesture is a grave insult, not a physical attack, and so, again according to France, this would distance the instruction from espousing non-violence.

Appearance of Christ to the People, John 1:36, by Alexander Ivanov, 1837-57. The large figure is John the Baptist, with camel hair tunic and leather belt.

To give someone your cloak (a sleeveless coat, likely of heavy wool, see also Himation) was quite a radical thing to do, since at the time, it referred to a blanket, like a poncho, that was used to keep warm in the night. Due to the often cold nights in the region, a cloak was hence necessary for survival to the extent that Jewish law regarded it as "distrainable" (a legal term meaning seizable against unpaid debt), see also Exod 22:26-27, Deut 24:10-13. The tunic (a full-length sleeveless shirt, likely of light cotton or linen, see also Chiton) on the other hand was merely the basic piece of clothing worn on the body. Although most people interpret the instruction from Jesus to give the cloak up to be enforcement of pacifism, France disagrees, and instead sees it as referring to renunciation of property and material possessions. In Luke the situation is somewhat reversed, where highway robbers demand the outer cloak and Jesus is described as insisting that one give up one's tunic as well. Ultimately, the instruction in Luke and Matthew may originate in the tale of Diogenes, a Greek philosopher who is said to have given robbers his tunic as well when they only demanded his cloak.[90] The Scholar's Version notes for Luke 6:29: "The coat and shirt are the full-length outer and under garments worn in the ancient world. One who lacked both garments would be nearly nude."

The requirement to go the extra mile specifically refers to the Roman practice of requisitioning individuals to act as a guide or porter, a practice which the Zealots loathed. Thomas Aquinas used this requirement to argue that it is reasonable to follow laws that are unjust (though he also argued that unconscionable laws mustn't be obeyed). After making this requirement, Jesus is described as insisting that one should give to anyone who asks you and not to turn away those who would borrow from you. Most major Christian groups do not advocate the unrestricted level of charity that literal readings would imply, with Luther arguing that the verse is restricted only to those who need assistance, and Calvin stating that generosity is important, but one should never be profligate. Some have interpreted that not turning away those who would borrow is condemnation of usury, particularly since this interpretation is more strongly supported by a similar instruction in the Gospel of Thomas, #95: "[Jesus said], "If you have money, don't lend it at interest. Rather, give [it] to someone from whom you won't get it back." [SV], causing those who accept the Q hypothesis to suggest that it may originate in Q.

Love for enemies

The final exposition is on the subject of love. It begins by making a now famous quotation from Leviticus - love thy neighbour as thyself,[91] also known as the Great Commandment. Matthew continues the quote to state that it includes hate thine enemy, which is not actually part of the command in Leviticus, though neighbour could be interpreted to refer to fellow Jews rather than everyone.[92] To hate one's enemies is however a sentiment expressed in some Old Testament verses such as the vengeful Psalms 137:9,[93], and also in some of the rules of the Qumran community, and even in the New Testament such as Luke 14:26,[94] see also But to bring a sword. The Scholar's Version notes on Matthew 5:43: "It may be a reference to the Community Rule of Qumran: "They may love all that He has chosen and hate all that he has rejected.""

Vereschagin's painting Apotheosis of War (1871) came to be admired as one of the earliest artistic expressions of pacifism.

After having made the quotation, the exposition then goes on to contradict it by instructing people to love thine enemy. Early church thinkers saw this as one of Jesus' most important teachings, but the history of the early church shows that very few church fathers actually lived up to the literal ideal it espouses. By the Middle Ages, the verse had become seen as problematic in regard to war, and so it was re-interpreted so as to only apply to relations between individuals rather than those between nations, countries, faiths, or ideologies. Several later thinkers rejected this view as a blatant attempt to re-write things that one disagreed with rather than accept that it contradicts ones own stance at face value, and Leo Tolstoy specifically read this verse as a rejection of militant nationalism. This does not however mean that those later thinkers approved of the sentiment of the verse, and Nietzsche rejected the command entirely, arguing that love of one's enemies is weakness and dishonesty.

The Jewish Encyclopedia states:

Jewish Encyclopedia: Brotherly love[95]
… Jesus asserted the principle of brotherly love as applied by the liberal school of Hillel to all men. Indeed, the Talmud insists, with reference to Lev. xix. 18, that even the criminal at the time of execution should be treated with tender love (Sanh. 45a). As Schechter in "J. Q. R." x. 11, shows, the expression "Ye have heard …" is an inexact translation of the rabbinical formula (שןמע אני), which is only a formal logical interrogation introducing the opposite view as the only correct one: "Ye might deduce from this verse that thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy, but I say to you the only correct interpretation is, Love all men, even thine enemies."

See also Christianity and Judaism#Love.

Love here has a much more restricted sense than the normal English term. Greek considered there to be four quite different forms of love, having a word for each, all of which we now translate as love:

  • eros - erotic love
  • storge - brotherly/familial love
  • philia - deep affection
  • agape - the selfless love of God for humanity which, through Christ, can be echoed back.

Agape, the word translated as love in the instruction love thine enemy, is referred to some 140 times in the New Testament, and so its meaning is the focus of some debate. That it appears elsewhere in Greek use tends not to influence the arguments. Barclay translates it as continued benevolence, Tertullian viewed it as referring to charity, and ancient philosophers used it in a sense of universal, all encompassing love, like a lust for life, and like philanthropy. This kind of love had a high priority in Early Christianity, and the ritual of the love feast was viewed as one of the most important. Enemies is also a broad term, and it applies to all manner of foes and adversaries, and so several commentators have sought to restrict it only to non-Christians, to make it have the sense that one should love converting non-Christians to Christianity, though this advocation is not supported as its meaning by scholars.

As a motive for acting according to the commandment to love thine enemy, the exposition recommends imitating God rather than groups whom the listeners despised.

God treats both friend and enemy the same. Although in wetter and more northern societies, rain is often viewed as unpleasant, in Mediterranean society it was seen as positive, and so here stating that God rains upon friend and enemy alike would have been interpreted as a positive equality not a negative one. The prominent Rabbi Joshua ben Nehemiah had made similar note of rain's equal treatment of the good and the wicked, and saw it as a sign of God's benevolence.

God's attitude is contrasted with that of the tax collectors (τελῶναι — verse 46 — sometimes translated as publicans) and Gentiles (ἐθνικοί — verse 47 — but some manuscripts have τελῶναι again). The tax collectors referred to were Jews employed by the Romans to collect taxes on their behalf, sometimes even extorting further funds, and consequently were seen by other Jews as traitors, and criminals, much like debt collectors and some bailiffs are today. These were hence viewed as the lowest of the low, and being no better than them was considered a terrible insult, as was being put on the same level as non-Jews. The basic argument of the allegory is that, since even these despised individuals love their friends and family, then if you love only those who are close to you, you are no better than them, and so, in order to stay above them, one should love enemies.

This exposition, and the whole collection of expositions, culminates with the instruction Be perfect, just as God is perfect.

This is known as the imitatio Dei — the imitation of God — and also appears in Luke's Sermon on the Plain. It originates in the holiness code's fundamental command to be holy because God is holy. There is some debate in Christian circles about what exactly this verse means, since many view being as perfect as God something of a complete impossibility. Some Christians believe that this is deliberate on Jesus' part, that the purpose is not what it seems at first but instead a goal is being set that cannot be reached in order to teach people humility,[96] though others interpret it for what it appears to be - that the pursuit of perfection is important, even if the attainment of it impossible, see also Theosis. Like many Protestants, Fowler has proposed that it is merely a limited form of perfection being sought - that Abraham and Noah are referred to as perfect due to their obedience to God, and hence that this imitatio Dei is an instruction to be completely obedient to God. Conversely, other Protestants, such as Barclay, consider that since Greek philosophers used teleios[97] — the word here translated as perfect — to refer to things that fulfilled their function, that the imitatio Dei is an instruction to love (agape), as the preceding discussion implies this is mankind's function. The Scholar's Version translation notes: "To be unstinting in your generosity means to follow all the demands of the Torah without any reduction. See 1 Cor 14:20 where Christians are urged by Paul not to be babies but mature. The same Greek word is used to translate perfect and mature."

See also


  1. Matthew 5:17–48
  2. Acts 15
  3. Acts 6:13–14
  4. Acts 18:13
  5. Acts 21:21
  6. Acts 21:28
  7. Matthew 5:17
  8. In Greek πληρῶσαι: Strong's G4137, Liddell & Scott
  10. Ephesians 2:15
  11. For example, see Acts 3:1; 5:27-42; 21:18-26; 24:5; 24:14; 28:22. See also Romans 3:31.
  12. Matthew 5:18
  13. See also Deut 4:2,12:32
  14. Luke 16:17
  15. John 10:35
  16. Matthew 5:19
  17. 1 Corinthians 9:20
  18. Acts 16:1-3
  19. 21:26 sqq.
  20. Catholic Encyclopedia: Judaizers
  21. Matthew 23:1-3
  22. On Antithesis see 1 Timothy 6:20-21, where it is translated "opposing arguments", Strong's G377.
  23. Greg Bahnsen, John Murray
  24. Adam Clarke, John Gill
  25. Possibly Marcion of Sinope
  26. Triglot Concordia, FC Epitome V, (II).1, p. 503ff
  27. Martin Luther, Dr. Martin Luthers Sämmtliche Schriften, St. Louis ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, N.D.), vol. 9, col. 802.
  28. The Proper Distinction Between LAW AND GOSPEL: 39 Evening Lectures, W.H.T. Dau tr., 1897.
  29. Harnack, Adolf von (1894) History of Dogma vol. 1, ch. 5, p. 269
  30. Scofield, Cyrus (1896) Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth, ch. 6 LAW AND GRACE
  31. Encyclopædia Britannica (1911) Antinomians
  32. Encyclopædia Britannica (1911) Marcion
  33. Romans 7:4
  34. Col 2:14
  35. Ephesians 2:14-17
  36. Galatians 2:19-20
  37. Ephesians 5:28-32
  38. Romans 6
  39. Matthew 5:21-26
  40. Luke 12:58-59
  41. Matthew 5:27-30
  42. Mark 9:43-47
  43. Matthew 5:31-32
  44. Matthew 19:7-9
  45. Mark 10:11-12
  46. Luke 16:18
  47. 1 Corinthians 7:10-11
  48. 1 Corinthians 7:26-28
  49. Matthew 5:33-37
  50. James 5:12
  51. Matthew 5:38-42
  52. Luke 6:29-31
  53. Luke 6:34-35
  54. Matthew 5:43-48
  55. Luke 6:27-28
  56. Luke 6:32-33
  57. Luke 6:36
  58. "Sermon on the Mount." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005
  59. Deuteronomy 5:17
  60. Raca
  61. fool
  62. Matthew 23:17
  63. Luke 11:40
  64. 24:25
  65. Romans 1:21-22
  66. 1 Cor 15:36
  67. Gal 3:1
  68. 5:22NIV, 5:22NAB, 5:22YLT
  69. Luke 12:58-59
  70. Exodus 20:14
  71. See Liddell and Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon and 1 Thayer's Lexicon
  72. Mark 9:43
  73. Mark 9:47
  74. Matthew 18:8-9
  75. Niddah 13b.
  76. Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon
  77. Mishna Gittin, 9.10. See: T. Hieros. Gittin, fol. 49.4; Sota, fol. 16.2; Bemidbar Rabba, 9 (fol. 195.2).
  78. David deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship and Purity (InterVarsity Press, 2000), p. 36; Bruce Malina and Jerome Neyrey, Portraits of Paul: An Archaeology of Ancient Personality (Westminster, 1996), p. 196.
  79. Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18
  80. Mark 7:6-13; Matthew 15:14, 23:15ff
  81. 1 Corinthians 7:10-11
  82. 1 Corinthians 7:12-16
  83. John 8:5, see also List of capital crimes in the Torah
  84. "Divorce and Remarriage from Augustine to Zwingli". Christianity Today. 2000. Retrieved 2008-04-14. 
  85. Of the Good of Marriage (§7)
  86. "two becoming one flesh", Matthew 19:5
  87. 2 Cor 1:17
  88. New Testament Misunderstood Passages
  89. Lev 19:36
  90. Diogenes the Cynic was said to live naked in a barrel in Athens, though Diogenes Laertius's Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers: Life of Diogenes says he slept in a borrowed cloak which he refused to give up.
  91. Leviticus 19:18)
  92. Jewish Encyclopedia: Brotherly Love: "This commandment of love, with the preceding sentence, "Thou shalt not avenge nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people", may originally have referred, and has by some scholars (Stade, "Gesch. des Volkes Israel", i. 510a) been exclusively referred, to the Israelitish neighbor; but in verse 34 of the same chapter it is extended to "the stranger that dwelleth with you . . . and thou shalt love him as thyself." In Job xxxi. 13-15 it is declared unjust to wrong the servant in his cause: "Did not he that made me in the womb make him? and did not one fashion us in the womb?""
  93. Psalms 137:9
  94. Luke 14:26
  95. Kohler, Kaufmann (1901). "Brotherly love". Jewish Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2008-01-12. 
  96. See also Sermon on the Mount#Interpretation, "Repentance View"
  97. Liddell & Scott,Strong's G5046


Some or all of this article is forked from Wikipedia. The original article was at Expounding of the Law. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

  • Albright, W.F. and C.S. Mann. "Matthew." The Anchor Bible Series. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1971.
  • Barclay, William. The Gospel of Matthew: Volume 1 Chapters 1-10. Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1975.
  • France, R.T. The Gospel According to Matthew: an Introduction and Commentary. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1985.
  • Fowler, Harold. The Gospel of Matthew: Volume One. Joplin: College Press, 1968
  • Halsall, Paul. Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Catholic Handbook. Matthew 5:22: Jesus on Gays and Homophobia, 1999. (from the Wayback machine)
  • Hill, David. The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981
  • Instone-Brewer, David. Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 2002.
  • Gundry, Robert H. Matthew a Commentary on his Literary and Theological Art. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982.
  • Johansson, Warren "Whosoever Shall Say To His Brother, Racha." Studies in Homosexuality, Vol XII: Homosexuality and Religion and Philosophy. Ed. Wayne Dynes & Stephen Donaldson. New York & London: Garland, 1992. pp. 212–214
  • Jones, Alexander. The Gospel According to St. Matthew. London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1965.
  • Kissinger, Warren S. The Sermon on the Mount: A History of Interpretation and Bibliography. Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1975.
  • Levine, Amy-Jill. "Matthew." Women's Bible Commentary. Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe, eds. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998.
  • Luz, Ulrich. Matthew 1-7: A Commentary. trans. Wilhlem C. Linss. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1989.
  • McArthur, Harvey King. Understanding the Sermon on the Mount. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1978.
  • Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to Matthew. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1992.
  • Robinson, B. A. 1996-2005 What the Bible says about homosexuality. Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
  • Sabourin, Leopold. The Gospel According to Matthew. Bombay: St. Paul Publications, 1983.
  • Schweizer, Eduard. The Good News According to Matthew. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1975

External links

Expounding of the Law
Preceded by
in the Sermon on the Mount
New Testament
Succeeded by
Discourse on Ostentation
in the Sermon on the Mount