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Go to Bible: Matthew 5
|Mat 5:1||- (top)|
|Mat 5:2||- (top)|
“Blessed.” This verse is the first of what is called “The Beatitudes.” The word “beatitudes” means “supreme blessedness or happiness, perfect bliss,” so theologians named the first nine verses in the Sermon on the Mount, “The Beatitudes” because they each start with the phrase, “Blessed are.” The Beatitudes primarily refer to the future Kingdom on earth, not this life. Although some aspects of them can sometimes apply to this life, the promises of Beatitudes will only be fully fulfilled in Christ’s Millennial Kingdom when he reigns as king over the earth.
Jesus knew the value of having a clear and living hope, as opposed to a hazy or even false hope, and he spent the opening part of the Sermon on the Mount, which was his first major teaching recorded in the Word of God, rebuilding the Hope for Israel. Most Christians do not know that everything Jesus said in the Beatitudes, which is the opening of the Sermon on the Mount, relates primarily to the future hope. Most Christians also do not know that what he taught was not “new revelation.” It had already been stated in the Old Testament but had been almost forgotten by his time. What is commonly taught by Christians is that the Beatitudes refer to this life. For example, under “Beatitudes” in the Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, the following definition is provided:
It is a distortion of the text to interpret the Beatitudes as referring to this life. Although there are certain aspects that do apply today, such as a pure-hearted person seeing God more clearly than someone with an impure heart, the primary emphasis is on the future. Students of the Bible must understand the difference between “interpretation” and “application.” “Interpretation” is what the verse is actually saying—what it means. “Application” is how a person can apply the verse or an insinuation from the verse in his own life. Someone may say he is “blessed” by God because he is “poor in spirit” (i.e., humble) and refer to Matthew 5:3. However, that is not the primary meaning of the verse, even though the person applies it to his life. A more accurate application (and interpretation) of his idea would come from his using 1 Peter 5:5.
How can “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” be accurately applied to this life when many people who mourn die without ever being comforted? Or, how can “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” be applied to this life? Many meek people never own land and most never “inherit” any land at all. These blessings relate to the future, and Christ was simply teaching what the prophets of long ago had taught. He was rebuilding the walls of doctrine that had been torn down by years of unbelief.
Some Christians try to apply the Beatitudes to this life by spiritualizing them, i.e., by making them something other than a strictly literal reading would say. For example, The New International Commentary expounds on the phrase “the meek shall inherit the earth” by saying that greedy, aggressive people are not able to enjoy what they have in this life, but the meek “have the capacity to enjoy in life all those things that provide genuine and lasting satisfaction.” The first and most obvious problem with this interpretation is that it does not deal with what the verse actually says. There is a world of difference between “inheriting the earth” and “enjoying what one has.” It is safe to assume that if Christ had wanted to communicate to his audience that only meek people can enjoy what they have, he would have said just that.
A second problem with the idea that the verse refers to enjoying things now is that such an interpretation does not provide the comfort and hope that many people need. Many of those in Christ’s audience were poor, hungry, sick, had lost children or relatives to premature death, and were terribly oppressed by the Romans and even their fellow Jews who had rulership over them. They owned little and life was very difficult. Would it really have comforted them if what Christ said had meant, “Don’t worry, those greedy people cannot really enjoy all the wealth they have, but you can enjoy what you have”? It would not have comforted them any more than it would comfort people who are poor, sick, and oppressed today. But having hope that things in the future will be better than they are now can be very comforting and encouraging. Furthermore, experience teaches that hope in a wonderful future is more important to people who are having difficulties in life than to those who are having an easy life. William Shakespeare, a brilliant writer and keen observer of human life, wrote, “The miserable have no other medicine, but only hope,” and the Beatitudes provide a wonderful hope for the future.
When a person understands that the subject of the Beatitudes is primarily the future life and not this current life, the Beatitudes become easy to understand, profound in their meaning, and powerful in their impact. Christ, the master teacher, garnered truth from the Old Testament and taught it, and as long as the Beatitudes are taken literally and applied to his future Kingdom, what is taught is simple and clear. The Beatitudes are recorded in both Matthew and Luke. There are significant differences between the two Gospels, so both should be examined carefully. In Matthew, Jesus was teaching to a crowd (Matt. 5:1), some of whom were his disciples, but many were not. Not everyone in the crowd was a believer. Since he was teaching from a mountainside, the teaching is called, “The Sermon on the Mount.” In Luke, Christ was teaching on a plain (Luke 6:17) and although a crowd was listening, he spoke specifically to his disciples (Luke 6:20). Each of the Beatitudes should be studied in light of the Old Testament verses that teach the same basic truth.
“Poor in spirit.” This is the figure of speech “idiom,” and is an idiomatic way of saying “humble in their attitude.” To fully understand the idiom, we must examine both “poor” and “spirit.” The Greek word “poor” is ptochos (#4434 πτωχός), and it means poor in wealth, but can refer to being “poor” in other ways. For example, the people Christ addresses in Revelation 3:17 are technically wealthy in material goods, yet Jesus says: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” In this verse, “poor” refers to being poor in godliness and in the treasure that will be bestowed at the Judgment. Similarly, the word “poor” can refer to being poor or humble in one’s attitude. This is reflected in Isaiah 66:2, which mentions the person to whom God will pay attention: “but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.” This verse mentions a “poor and contrite spirit” but many versions correctly understand that the word “poor” refers to “humble,” and translate it that way (ESV; HCSB; NASB, NIV, NRSV). Kenneth Bailey (Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes (IVP Academic, 2008, pp. 68, 69, 158, 159) does a good job in showing from the Old Testament, the Qumran texts, and even early Christian sources, that “poor” was used idiomatically for “humble.”
The word “spirit” is translated from the Greek word pneuma (#4151 πνεῦμα), which has many meanings. Furthermore, when pneuma is translated “spirit,” it can refer to many different things, including God (John 4:24); Jesus (2 Cor. 3:17); angels (Heb. 1:14); and demons (Matt. 10:1). It can also refer to “attitude,” which it does here. Other places it refers to attitude are Matthew 26:41 and Mark 14:38, when Peter and the other disciples were sleepy and Jesus told them, “The spirit [attitude] is willing, but the body is weak.” It is also “attitude” in Acts 18:25 when Apollos was called, “fervent in the spirit” (KJV), meaning that he had a fervent attitude, which is why the NRSV translates the phrase, “he spoke with burning enthusiasm.” Interestingly, English also uses “spirit” as “attitude.” For example, we speak of a person being “in good spirits,” or a school having good “school spirit.”
The “spirit” in Matthew 5:3 cannot refer to the gift of holy spirit, because before the day of Pentecost, holy spirit was only upon a select few people, not upon the crowds Jesus was speaking to. Also, before the Day of Pentecost God gave His holy spirit to whom He wanted and in the measure He wanted, so there was no way anyone could have been “poor” in holy spirit. [For more about the uses of pneuma (spirit) see Appendix 6, “Usages of ‘Spirit’”, and also Graeser, Lynn, and Schoenheit, The Gift of Holy Spirit: The Power to be like Christ, Appendix B.]
It is important for us to understand that Jesus opened the Sermon on the Mount by teaching that those who were humble in their attitude were blessed. This was not a new teaching, but was an important teaching in the Old Testament as well. Being humble is the door to God’s further blessings. 1 Peter 5:5 says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” When we are humble we hear the voice of God and obey it. When we are not humble we do not get the blessings God would have poured out to us. In the context of Matthew 5:5, which is the coming Kingdom of Heaven, those who are humble will obey God and thus receive everlasting life in the Kingdom, so they are blessed. References in the Old Testament that humble people would be blessed include Psalm 149:4; Isaiah 29:19; 66:2; and Zephaniah 3:12.(top)
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” This truth was revealed in the Old Testament in verses such as Isaiah 61:3, and it is not primarily referring to people being comforted in this life. As this verse promises, no matter how sad and difficult a person’s life is here on earth, and even if they die without experiencing true comfort, the promise will be fulfilled and they will be comforted in the next life. [For more on the Beatitudes being about the future, see commentary on Matt. 5:3. For more on Christ’s coming kingdom on earth, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth].(top)
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” This verse is a quotation, or at least a rephrasing, of Psalm 37:11. The plain and simple meaning of this verse has been lost due to the traditional teaching that saved people go to heaven when they die and then live in heaven forever. Actually, what the Bible teaches is that Jesus Christ will come down from heaven to the earth, fight and win the Battle of Armageddon, and set up his kingdom on earth, which will fill the whole earth (Dan. 2:35, 44; Rev. 19:11-21). He will set up his palace in the newly rebuilt Jerusalem, and for 1,000 years reign over all the earth. Many scholars refer to this 1,000-year kingdom as the “Millennial Kingdom.” It is the “Kingdom” that Jesus spoke about so often. After the 1,000 years are over there will be a great war (Rev. 20:7-10). Then there will be the second resurrection, and after that the Eternal City will come from heaven to earth, in which the saved will live forever (Rev. 21:1-4).
The reason the “meek” will inherit the earth is that the meek, the humble, believe and obey God and will be granted everlasting life, and that life will be on earth, and many verses of Scripture teach that, which is why Jesus taught it (cp. Psalm 37:9-11; Isaiah 57:13; Ezekiel 37:12; Zephaniah 3:8-12, Matt. 5:5). Many commentators espouse the erroneous teaching that “the meek...will inherit the earth” means something like, “the meek can enjoy what they have on earth.” But that is not what the verse is saying. Anyone who has lived among the truly poor and destitute knows that their lives are incredibly hard and a daily struggle, and to say, “Well, if they are godly they can enjoy what they have” is ignorant and insulting; they have little or nothing, often not even food, adequate clothing, or health.
Matthew 5:5 says nothing about enjoying life now, nor does it say the opposite—although the opposite is sometimes taught—that wicked people cannot enjoy what they have. The verse is simple and straightforward and says exactly what the Old Testament says: that meek people will be saved and live in Christ’s Millennial Kingdom and inherit the future earth. In contrast, we also know from the Old Testament that the wicked will be destroyed and will not live on the earth: “Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more. Yes, though you look all over for his place, yet he will not be. For the wicked will perish. Yes, the enemies of Yahweh will be like the beauty of the fields. They will vanish—vanish like the smoke” (Ps. 37:10, 20).
[For more on the Beatitudes being about the future, see commentary on Matt. 5:3. For more on Christ’s coming kingdom on earth, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth].
“earth.” The Greek word ge (#1093 γῆ; pronounced “gay”), means 1. arable land; 2. the ground, the earth; 3. the mainland, opposed to sea or water; 4. the earth as a whole, the world; a. the earth as opposed to the heavens; 5. a country, land enclosed within fixed boundaries, a tract of land, territory, or region, when it is plain from the context what land is meant, as that of the Jews.(top)
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.” What Matthew 5:6 is saying is, “Blessed are those who earnestly desire righteousness and justice because they will have what they desire.” This is one of the clear verses in the Beatitudes that shows that Jesus was speaking about the future Hope—his future Millennial Kingdom and his reign on earth—and not about this life. To “hunger and thirst” for something is idiomatic, and means to earnestly desire something, to long for it. But it does not matter how much people hunger for justice in this life, they will not be “filled,” that is “satisfied.” We live in an evil world and the Devil is the god of this age (2 Cor. 4:4) and the earth is under his sway (1 John 5:19). There will not be justice on earth until Christ reigns as king over the earth, and then there will justice for everyone, just as the Old Testament prophecies say. When Jesus reigns as king over the earth, those who hunger for righteousness and justice will be filled.
It is important to note, however, that even though there will not be justice on earth until the Lord Jesus reigns as king, people who “hunger and thirst” for righteousness and justice on earth should do their best to accomplish what they can here and now. We can make a difference to some people, and the Lord will reward people for their efforts on his behalf.
“righteousness.” To understand what it means to hunger and thirst for “righteousness,” one must understand that there are two aspects, two meanings, to “righteousness” and they both apply here. “Righteousness” refers both to having a right standing in the sight of God and also acting in a godly and just manner towards others. To fully understand that, it is important to know that in Hebrew the word “righteousness” could mean either or both being right in the sight of God and doing what was right, while in Greek, both “righteousness” and “justice” are usually translated from the same Greek words. It has been a general convention in translating the Greek New Testament that when the context is one’s relationship with God the translators use the word “righteousness,” and when the context is how one treats other people the translators use “just” and “justice.”
The meaning that most Christians think of when they think of “righteousness” is being righteous in the sight of God, that is, being accepted by God. In the minds of most Christians, righteousness in the sight of God is equivalent to, or almost equivalent to, being saved. A person who is righteous in the sight of God is saved, and a person who is saved is righteous in the sight of God. So, for most Christians, being “righteous” means having a solid vertical relationship with God and being “right” in His sight. Based on that understanding of “righteousness,” most Christians read Matthew 5:6 as if it said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for salvation, for they will be saved.” While it is true that people who seek salvation will find it, that is not the primary point that Jesus was making in this Beatitude in the Sermon on the Mount. For example, people don’t have to “hunger and thirst” for salvation to be saved. There are things to do to be saved, but “hunger and thirst” are not necessary.
The primary meaning of “righteousness” here in Matthew 5:6, as well as in the Old Testament, Gospels, and even many verses in the New Testament Epistles, is “doing what is right to God and to others.” God sets the norms of what is right and godly, and He determines how to treat God and others. When we understand that we can see why there are verses in the Old Testament that say that God acts righteously—He keeps His own laws and norms and treats others “rightly.” God has “righteous acts” because He acts rightly and justly (Judg. 5:11; 1 Sam. 12:7; Micah 6:5). Nehemiah said God was “righteous” because He acted rightly toward others and treated them as they deserved to be treated (Neh. 9:33).
Similarly, “righteous” people do what is right to God and to fellow humans. They act as God would have them act, in a loving and godly manner, and with justice. In contrast, “wicked” people are “wicked” because they defy God and do terrible things to other humans. God the Creator set the laws and standards of life, and He sets the definition of right and wrong. Thus, people who love and obey Him and treat other people in a godly and just manner are “righteous,” while people who defy God and hurt other people are “wicked.” Many verses in the Bible contrast the righteous and the wicked, and a study of those verses shows that “righteous” people treat others justly, while “wicked” people hurt others and take advantage of them (cp. 1 Kings 8:32; Ps. 7:9; 11:5; 37:21; Prov. 10:11, 32; 11:23; 12:5, 10, 12, 26; 13:5; 14:32; 15:28; 24:15; 29:7; Hab. 1:4).
This second meaning of “righteous”—treating people in a just and godly manner—is the primary meaning in Matthew 5:6. Based on the use of “righteous” in the Old Testament and many other places in the Gospels, and remembering that Jesus was speaking to a mostly Jewish audience early in his ministry, the people who were hungering and thirsting for “righteousness” wanted “justice” on earth. They were tired and worn down by the evil and injustice of their leaders, the injustice in the courts, and frankly, the injustice everywhere in their lives. By the way, that situation has not changed, and even Christians who know they are saved and are right with God hunger and thirst for the future time in which Christ will reign and there will be justice on earth.
We live in a world controlled by the Devil and there is no way that Jesus could promise that people who hungered for “righteousness”—justice on earth—would be “filled” (satisfied) in this life. Ever since Cain killed Abel there have been countless people who have been treated unrighteously through their lives right up to their death. But one of the great promises of the future kingdom of Christ is that there will be “righteousness” on earth, that is, people will be right in the sight of God and also there will be true justice on earth for everyone (cp. Isa. 1:26-27; 11:4; 16:5; 32:1, 16, 17; 33:5; 56:1; Jer. 23:5; 31:23; 33:15; Dan. 9:24; Zech. 8:8).
When we understand that “righteous” and “righteousness” refer to acting in a way that was “right” and godly in God’s eyes, and that were also “just” and fair, many New Testament verses become clear. For example, still teaching the Sermon on the Mount, just a little while after Matthew 5:6, Jesus said, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the experts in the law and Pharisees, you will absolutely not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt. 5:20). Jesus was not saying, “Unless you are more saved than the Pharisees you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” He was saying “Unless you live a life in which you do more right and godly things than the Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom.” Considering the injustice of the Pharisees, he was also saying, “Unless you are more just and fair to other people than the Pharisees are, you will not enter the kingdom.”
Also, even later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “But seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). Here again, the primary meaning of seeking God’s “righteousness” was seeking to act like God and do what is right, godly, and just in His sight. The primary meaning of Jesus’ teaching was not, “seek to be saved.” Of course it is wonderful to be saved, but in teaching us to “seek God’s righteousness,” Jesus was teaching us to act like God acts, in a way that is right, just, and fair.
Matthew 25:31-46 is the record of the Sheep and Goat Judgment, at which time Jesus will judge the people who are left alive on earth after the Battle of Armageddon and will decide who is allowed to enter his kingdom and who is not. The “righteous” get to enter the kingdom (Matt. 25:37). But how were they said to be “righteous”? Jesus made it clear: they did what was right to other people. They fed the hungry, gave water to the thirsty, showed hospitality to people in need, gave clothes to the naked, and visited the sick and those in prison (Matt. 25:35-36).
Besides the Old Testament and Gospels, we also see “righteous” and “righteousness” with the meaning of “doing what is right” in Acts and the New Testament epistles. For example, Acts 10:35 (KJV) says, “But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” To “work righteousness” is to act rightly and justly. Ephesians says, “for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth” (Eph. 5:9 REV). The “fruit” of the light is doing what is right and just to God and humanity. In Philippians 3:6, Paul said he was blameless concerning “the righteousness that is in the law,” which was all the righteous acts covered in the law. Timothy says that the law was not made for a “righteous” person (1 Tim. 1:9). But that is not saying that saved people do not need law, it is saying that people who act in ways that are right and just in the sight of God and others don’t need law. 1 Timothy 6:11 (REV) says the godly person should “diligently pursue righteousness, godliness, trust, love, endurance, and meekness.” “Righteousness” in the list does not mean salvation, it means doing righteous acts; doing things that are “right” in the sight of God and people (cp. 2 Tim. 2:2). 2 Timothy 3:16 (REV) speaks of “instruction in righteousness.” That is not instruction in how to be saved and thus be in a righteous state before God; it means instruction in how to make right and godly decisions and do what is right and just for God and fellow humans. There are other verses in the New Testament Epistles besides those given above that use “righteous” or “righteousness,” with the sense of doing righteous acts (cp. Titus 2:12; 3:5; Heb. 1:9; 11:33; 12:11, James 3:18; James 5:16; 1 Pet. 2:23, 24; 3:12; 2 Pet. 3:13; 1 John 3:12; Rev. 16:7; 19:2, 11).
Jesus taught that people who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled because there is a time coming when the Lord will come from heaven, set up his kingdom on earth, and rule with righteousness and justice over the whole earth. That is a wonderful message of hope.
[For more on the Beatitudes being about the future, see commentary on Matt. 5:3. For more on the meanings of “righteousness,” see commentary on Rom. 3:22 and commentary on 1 John 1:9. For more on Christ’s future Millennial Kingdom on earth, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth”].
“filled.” The Greek word is chortazō (#5526 χορτάζω) and it means “filled” or “satisfied.” When it is used in the context of eating, it means “filled, fully satisfied,” and Jesus used “filled” here because it fits with the idiom “hunger and thirst.” If Jesus had not used the illustration of hunger and thirst, he might have said something like, “Blessed are those who long for righteousness, because they will get what they want and be satisfied.” In the Millennial Kingdom people will get the righteousness and justice they long for.(top)
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will obtain mercy.” This is one of the clear verses in the Beatitudes that shows they are about the future hope, not this life. There are many merciful people who never receive mercy in this life, but they will definitely be shown mercy by God at the Judgment and afterwards. In Matthew 25:31-46, Christ said that those who had fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, sheltered the outcast, clothed the naked, and visited those who were sick or in prison would be shown mercy at the Judgment and allowed into the Kingdom where they will enjoy everlasting life with Christ, while those who had not shown mercy would be excluded. Old Testament verses that show that people who are merciful will be shown mercy include Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:8; and Zechariah 7:9.(top)
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” People who are pure in heart believe God, and thus will be saved, which is why Jesus said they would see God. In the future God will indeed live with His people (Rev. 21:3). That the pure in heart would be saved and live forever, and thus get to see God, was a common teaching in the Old Testament.
In this context, the word “see” would include not only seeing God, but understanding Him better. Isaiah 11:9 says, “the earth will be full of the knowledge of Yahweh like the waters cover the sea” (cp. Hab. 2:14). In the future, the people who are saved will physically see God and also know Him.(top)
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” This clearly refers to the future because the peacemakers on the earth today are often scoffed at and discounted as cowards and compromisers. This is the case whether the conflicts are inter-family, inter-racial, or international. Nevertheless, the Lord recognizes their efforts and they will be called “the sons of God” in the Kingdom, where they will live forever. That peacemakers would have everlasting life was stated in the Old Testament. Psalm 37:37 (NIV84) says, “there is a future for the man of peace.”(top)
“Blessed are those who have been persecuted because of their righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Many of the people who have been persecuted died in the persecution, but they are promised “the Kingdom of Heaven,” i.e., everlasting life in Christ’s wonderful future kingdom on earth. In this context, “righteousness” in the phrase “because of their righteousness” refers to both a believer’s righteous standing in the sight of God and the righteous acts that they do. The primary emphasis of “righteousness” in this verse is “righteous acts,” because it is the righteous acts of godly people that draws the attention of ungodly people and incites them to persecute the godly. Thus, in that sense this verse is very similar to 2 Timothy 3:12, that everyone who lives a godly life will be persecuted. Also, however, on a spiritual level, the Devil and his people cannot be at peace with people who have a right standing in the sight of God (are spiritually “righteous”) and so persecute them for that reason also.
[For more on “righteousness” having the meaning of doing what is right or just (“justice”), see commentary on Matt. 5:6. For more on the meaning of “righteousness” and that word family, see commentary on Rom. 3:22. For more on Christ’s future Millennial Kingdom on earth, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth”].(top)
|Mat 5:11||- (top)|
“reward.” The Greek is misthos (#3408 μισθός), and it refers to a payment made for work done; wages. As “wages” or “payment,” it can refer to either a reward (cp. Matt. 5:12; 10:41; Luke 6:35; 1 Cor. 3:14) or a punishment (2 Pet. 2:13), depending on what kind of “payment” is due. In the future Millennial Kingdom, when Jesus Christ rules as king on the earth, people will be repaid for what they have done in this life (see commentary on 2 Cor. 5:10, “good or worthless”). Some people might think they have done very little to support God’s work, but if anyone has helped accomplish God’s work on earth, he will be amply rewarded.
In Matthew 5:12 and some other verses, the reward is said to be “in heaven.” The Bible makes it clear that, with the exception of Christians, who are in the Rapture, believers from Old Testament times get up from the dead and live on the earth. Ezekiel 37:12 (KJV) says, “Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel.” There is no verse in the Old Testament that states that people go to heaven to live forever. The OT states that when people are resurrected they live on earth.
The rewards that people would receive for their works were said to be “in heaven,” meaning, in God’s keeping. God is keeping a record of people’s deeds, and is thus said to be storing up either the reward, or the punishment, that the person deserves and will receive after the Day of Judgment when Jesus is reigning as king on the earth.
It is understandable that Matthew 5:12 and other verses like it, which speak of rewards, treasures, or even a home in heaven, can be confusing and may lead one to believe that righteous people go to heaven when they die. These include verses such as Matthew 5:12 (“Great is your reward in heaven”), Matthew 6:20 (“store up for yourselves treasures in heaven”), Colossians 1:5 (“The hope that is stored up for you in heaven”) and 1 Peter 1:4 (“Kept in heaven for you”). However, Jesus was talking to Jews who knew (or should have known from the Old Testament scriptures) that they would inherit the earth when the Messiah sets up his kingdom on earth (see commentary on Matt. 5:5: “the meek will inherit the earth”). Therefore, the Jews understanding of these concepts would not be based on a literal use of the word heaven in the sense that these physical things, namely, rewards, treasures, and homes, were actually in heaven, but rather, that God, who is in heaven, is “storing” them or keeping record of them. The actual receipt of these things will occur in the future on earth.
God is keeping records of the behavior of each person, a fact that is clearly stated in the Old Testament.
The “record books” of God are also mentioned in the book of Revelation. At the Judgment, “The books were opened” and “The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books” (Rev. 20:12).
Because the Old Testament said that God in heaven was recording people’s deeds, it was a common (and true!) concept in Judaism that people could add to that treasure by their good deeds.
The Jews in Christ’s audience knew that God was keeping track of their deeds with the intention of rewarding them. They will receive what is rightfully theirs when the Messiah returns and establishes his Kingdom on earth.(top)
“if the salt has become tasteless.” Some commentators say that Jesus is stating something that is unnatural (that salt could become unsalty) to catch people’s attention and make them realize that while salt cannot become unsalty, believers can stop serving God and thus become “unsalty,” and if that happens, how could they become salty again? However, that is much less likely than the fact that biblical salt in Israel came from places such as the salt marshes around the Dead Sea (cp. Ezek. 47:11), and salt that had evaporated from the sea and was sitting on the soil was often mixed with dirt and other minerals such as gypsum. Thus it could happen that over time a block of “salt” could have the actual salt leached out of it, leaving the “salt” unsalty and worthless. At that point it could not be “resalted,” it could only be thrown out as worthless. Similarly, if a believer is exposed to the world and allows the “salt” in them to be leached out, they are in danger of being worthless for the work of the kingdom.
Matthew 5:13 is well explained by William McClure Thomson (1806-1894). Thomson did missionary work in the biblical lands for over 30 years. He acquired a vast knowledge of the customs of the land, many of which had not changed or not changed much since the biblical period. He was used as a guide by some noted biblical scholars, and traveled with Edward Robinson, one of the founders of modern Biblical archeology, on Robinson’s second tour of the Holy Land. He was beloved by the locals, who took notice of the broad-brimmed hat he always wore and called him “Abu Tangera,” which means “father of a cooking pan” because of the shape of his hat. His famous book, The Land and the Book was first published in 1859, and for several decades was the second-best selling book in America after Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It was framed around a pilgrimage around the Bible Lands that he took in 1857. As well as describing the places he saw, Thompson weaved many customs and personal experiences into the book that make it invaluable to Bible Study, especially since many of the customs he describes are biblical but are no longer practiced. Thompson’s 1850’s English can make the book somewhat challenging in places, but it can be understood. About salt losing its saltiness, Thompson wrote:
“It is plainly implied that salt, under certain conditions so generally known as to permit him [Jesus Christ] to found his instruction upon them, did actually lose its saltness; and our only business is to discover these conditions, not to question their existence. Nor is this difficult. I have often seen just such salt, and the identical disposition of it that our Lord has mentioned. A merchant of Sidon having farmed of the Government the revenue from the importation of salt, brought over an immense quantity from the marshes of Cyprus—enough, in fact, to supply the whole province for at least twenty years. This he had transferred to the mountains, to cheat the Government out of some small percentage. Sixty-five houses in June—Lady Stanhope’s village—were rented and filled with salt. These houses have merely earthen floors [i.e., have only dirt floors], and the salt next [to] the ground in a few years entirely spoiled. I saw large quantities of it literally thrown into the street, to be trodden underfoot of men and beasts. It was “good for nothing.” Similar magazines [storehouses] are common in this country, and have been from remote ages, as we learn from history both sacred and profane; and the sweeping out of the spoiled salt and casting it into the street are actions familiar to all men.
It should be stated in this connection, that the salt used in this country is not manufactured by boiling clean salt water, nor quarried from mines, but is obtained from marshes along the sea-shore, as in Cyprus, or from salt lakes in the interior, which dry up in the summer, as one in the desert north of Palmyra, and the great Lake of Jebbul, south-east of Aleppo. The salt of our Sidon merchant was from the vast marches near Larnaca. I have seen these marshes covered with a thick crust of salt, and have also visited them when it had been gathered into heaps like hay-cocks [haystacks] in a meadow. The large winter lake south-east of Aleppo I found dried up by the last of August, and the entire basin, further than the eye could reach, was white as snow with an incrustation of course salt. Hundreds of people were out gathering and carrying it to Jebbul, where the Government stores were kept.
Maundrell, who visited the lake at Jebbul, tells us that he found salt there which had entirely “lost its savor;” and the same abounds among the debris at Usdum, and other localities of rock-salt at the south end of the Dead Sea. Indeed, it is a well-known fact that the salt of this country, when in contact with the ground, or exposed to rain and sun, does become insipid and useless. From the manner in which it is gathered, much earth and other impurities are necessarily collected with it. Not a little of it is so impure that it cannot be used at all; and such salt soon effloresces and turns to dust—not to fruitful soil however. It is not only good for nothing itself, but it actually destroys all fertility wherever it is thrown; and this is the reason why it is cast into the street. There is a sort of verbal verisimilitude in the manner in which our Lord alludes to the act—“it is cast out” and “trodden underfoot;” so troublesome is this corrupted salt that it is carefully swept up, carried forth, and thrown into the street. There is no place about the house, yard, or garden where it can be tolerated. No man will allow it to be thrown on to his field, and the only place for it is the street; and there it is cast, to be trodden under the foot of men” (W. M. Thompson, The Land and the Book, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, reprinted 1973. Chap. XXVI, “Kersa-Tiberias,” Pps. 381-382).
“thrown out into the street.” The words “into the street” are added for clarity. Although the text just says “thrown out,” to most people today that means “thrown into the trash.” But there were no trash cans in the biblical world, and no trash collectors. “Thrown out,” meant “thrown out of the house into the street,” and that happened with most unwanted things. For example, in the Roman world, sewage was almost always simply thrown into the street, which was a major reason for the horrible stench in the cities, the prevalence of disease, and why it was important to wash one’s feet upon entering a house (and why that job was given to the lowest slaves in the household). Salt that had lost its saltiness was thrown out into the street and was trampled on by the street traffic.(top)
|Mat 5:14||- (top)|
|Mat 5:15||- (top)|
|Mat 5:16||- (top)|
|Mat 5:17||- (top)|
“not…will ever.” This phrase is constructed in the Greek by ou me, an intensified form of “no.” Literally, it is composed of two words for no, “no not.”
“smallest letter.” Matthew 5:18 is an interesting study in translation. The ESV says, “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. But what are an “iota” and a “dot.” An “iota,” is the smallest letter in the Greek alphabet, and the “dot” is from the Greek keraia, which means “little horn.” Of course, Jesus was speaking Hebrew or Aramaic to his audience, and the King James Version picked up on that and brought the Greek into Hebrew, using “jot,” which is more properly “yod,” the tenth and smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet, and tittle, which are the little horns or ornaments on nicely drawn letters in the Hebrew text. Most modern translators do not want to force their readers to know details of Greek or Hebrew, and so translate the phrase something such as, “not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen,” as the NIV does. The point of what Jesus was saying was that nothing would pass from the Law until all was fulfilled.(top)
|Mat 5:19||- (top)|
“your righteousness exceed.” This is one of the places where the word “righteousness” does not refer to salvation, but refers to doing right in the sight of God and others. It is obeying God and treating others in a godly and just fashion. The Pharisees were hypocrites and were not doing right by God and others, which is why Jesus called them “snakes” and challenged them with, “How can you escape the judgment of Gehenna” (Matt. 23:33). Here in Matthew 5:20, Jesus boldly stated to the people that unless they obeyed God and treated people in a godly and just manner, and certainly better than the Pharisees did, they would not be granted everlasting life. [For more on this use of “righteousness,” see commentary on Matt. 5:6].
“enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” In this context, the phrase “enter Kingdom of Heaven” means to enter the future kingdom of Jesus Christ when he reigns as king on earth. It means being in the resurrection of the righteous (the first resurrection) and being granted everlasting life.
[For more on Jesus reigning on earth and the names of his future kingdom, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth.” For more on the resurrections in the future, see commentary on Acts 24:15].(top)
Quoted from Exodus 20:13.(top)
“I.” The addition of the first person personal pronoun egō along with the first person singular verb, legō (I say) is emphatic (BDAG). Jesus not only demonstrated his authority when he taught by doing signs and miracles, he taught with authority, i.e., he taught as one who had the authority to say what he was saying (cp. Matt. 7:29; Mark 1:27).
“Raca.” An Aramaic word that is meant to be an insult. Probably means something like “empty” with the idea of denoting someone as having an “empty-head” or “blockhead.” The point Jesus is making has little to do with the exact word, as if there was some “magic word” that got you in trouble with God. The point is that the word—in this example, raca,—expresses the contempt of the heart and one person’s judgment on another person, and it is that contempt and judgment that is the real sin in the eyes of God.
“the fire of Gehenna.” The Greek is literally, “the Gehenna of the fire,” which can be understood as “the fiery Gehenna” (Rotherham), or more clearly, “the fire of Gehenna,” because Revelation 20:14-15 make it clear that the Gehenna of the Day of Judgment refers to the Lake of Fire and not a literal garbage dump in the Valley of Hinnom..
There are levels of sin and darkness in the human heart. We all have some darkness because we all have a sin nature, but sin does not keep a person from being saved or else no one would be saved. It is the rejection of God and his ways of forgiveness that keeps a person from being saved. Here in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was using an example that in the biblical culture was so heinous and unfeeling that it revealed a heart that had never known forgiveness and salvation, so the person would be in danger of death in the Lake of Fire (Gehenna) if they did not change. Although what Jesus said sounds harsh, it is a great example of being a loving, honest teacher. If a person finds themselves constantly saying hateful, hurtful, and nasty things about others, then they have a dark heart (Matt. 12:34), and it is likely that they are unsaved or at least are in danger of having little or no rewards in the kingdom of Christ. Christ’s warning could help people see the danger they were in and decide to change their ways.
“Gehenna” is Greek for the “Valley of Hinnom.” Gehenna is the Greek word that comes from the Hebrew words “ge,” meaning “valley,” and “Hinnom,” which was a man’s name. In the Old Testament, the valley is known both as the Valley of Hinnom (Neh. 11:30; and some Hebrew texts of Josh. 15:8) and also as the “valley of the sons of Hinnom” (Josh. 18:16; 2 Kings 23:10; Jer. 7:31). It seems that Hinnom’s descendants eventually took over and controlled the valley, and thus “the valley of Hinnom” became “the valley of the sons of Hinnom.” The “Ge Hinnom,” the Valley of Hinnom, is first mentioned in the book of Joshua as part of the northern boundary of the tribal area assigned to Judah (Josh. 15:8). It is the valley immediately south of the city of Jerusalem. This geographical point is very important because the history of the Ge Hinnom is closely tied to Jerusalem.
In Old Testament times, the Valley of Hinnom became associated with pagan sacrifice and even child sacrifice. For example, Ahaz, king of Judah, offered his children as human sacrifices there (2 Chron. 28:1-3). The prophet Jeremiah spoke out against these evils and foretold that the Valley of Hinnom would be so full of buried bones that there would finally be no more room to bury anyone else (Jer. 7:31, 32). Although Jeremiah spoke of dead bodies and ashes being thrown there, he also mentioned that it would one day be clean, which will happen in the Millennial Kingdom of Christ (Jer. 31:40). The bones made the whole area a place to avoid, because if an Israelite touched a human bone then that person would be unclean for seven days (Num. 19:16). This could be a serious hindrance to worship, especially if someone had come a long way to Jerusalem to worship but then became unclean and unable to worship for seven days because he or she accidentally touched a bone on the way into the city.
Because it was unclean, the Valley of Hinnom came to be used as the garbage dump by the people of Jerusalem. This was very handy because, as anyone who has to take out the garbage knows, it is always nice if you can carry it downhill and not too far. The inhabitants of Jerusalem would just carry their garbage, including dead animals, bones and other waste, outside the south gate of the city (still to this day called “the dung gate”), down the hill and into the “Valley of Hinnom;” into Ge Hinnom. The waste that was dumped there was then either burned up in the fires that usually burned there, or it rotted away, being eaten by maggots and worms. The fire and maggots that continually consumed the garbage in the Valley of Hinnom is the reason Scripture says that after the Judgment, the fire will not be quenched nor the worm die (Isa. 66:24; Mark 9:48). By the time of Christ, the Valley of Hinnom had been used for centuries by the inhabitants of Jerusalem as their local garbage dump.
When the Hebrew words, “GeHinnom” were translated into Greek in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the “Ge Hinnom” became the “pharagx Hennom,” because “pharagx” is the Greek word for “valley.” Then, by the time the New Testament was written, the Greek name for the valley had simply become “Gehenna.” The Greek word for “valley,” pharagx, dropped off and the Hebrew word for valley, “ge,” was brought directly from the Hebrew into the Greek even though it did not have a meaning in Greek. Of course, something got lost when that happened, and what got lost was that Gehenna was a real geographical valley south of Jerusalem, and that real place became thought of as some otherworldly fiery region and eventually translated “hell” in some English Bibles, including the King James Version.
Christ spoke in Aramaic or Hebrew, so his audience was never confused about the identity of the place he was talking about. Christ’s audience knew the Ge Hinnom very well, and a large percentage of them had probably thrown garbage there. They understood perfectly what Jesus was saying and the seriousness of his words: if someone purposely continues in flagrant sin, then on the Day of Judgment that person would not be let into the wonderful Millennial Kingdom, but like the garbage, would be thrown out and destroyed. The garbage was worthless, and people who arrogantly and flagrantly lived a life of sin were worthless to their Creator, and both the garbage and the unsaved sinners were to be destroyed. These are hard words, but they are the truth, and Christ taught them.
Christ’s audience knew about the valley of Hinnom where the garbage was burned until it was gone, but they would have known nothing about a place where people are burned alive forever. The Old Testament certainly does not mention such a place. However, when Gehenna is translated “hell,” English readers are led to believe that when Christ spoke of Ge Hinnom he was speaking of a place of eternal torment. He was not. He was speaking of the simple concept that the wicked and unsaved will be destroyed. The wicked will, like the garbage, be totally consumed into nothingness. Their lives will end in every way—they will be annihilated.
The concept of “burning forever in hell” came into Christianity from the Greeks who believed in an “immortal soul.” It is important, however, to realize that the phrase “immortal soul” is not in the Bible. Eternal torment is not the teaching of Scripture. John 3:16, and many other verses teach the simple truth that each person will either live forever or be destroyed and be totally gone.
Although many Christians believe that the unquenchable fire and worms that do not die refer to everlasting torment, that is not the case. No one in Christ’s audience thought the garbage thrown into Gehenna burned forever or that the worms (maggots) were “eternal maggots.” Christ's audience knew that the fire burned and the worms ate until the garbage was gone, and after the judgment, the garbage people thrown into Gehenna will one day be gone too. The picture of Gehenna is one of the total destruction of the sinner.
At the Judgment, sinners will be thrown into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:15), which Christ compared to the Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna). In the Lake of Fire, sinners will burn until they are completely consumed. There will be no repentance accepted and no restoration to life. The punishment is not for a specific time of repayment, as if the sinners were only in jail, after which they are restored to everlasting life. The death of the unsaved sinner will be ultimate and final. The fire will not be “quenched,” it will burn until all the garbage is gone. Similarly, the worms in Gehenna (if there are actually some kind of maggots there) will not die off until there is no more garbage to consume. Thus, the “punishment” of the sinners is eternal. The people whose bodies are burned up in the Lake of Fire (which Jesus compared to the Valley of Hinnom) never receive eternal life. They die, and that punishment, their death, lasts forever.
[For more on annihilation in the Lake of Fire, Gehenna, see Appendix 5, “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire”].(top)
|Mat 5:23||- (top)|
“and then come and offer your gift.” This teaching of Jesus shows that having the right heart toward God and other people is much more important in God’s sight than sacrifices and offerings. By extension, this teaching also means that loving God and people is also more important than the other “religious duties” that make people feel accepted in the sight of God. Offerings and sacrifices were never designed to make a person with an evil heart acceptable in the sight of God. An evil and arrogant person who has no real intention of obeying God cannot simply do a sacrifice, make an offering, or pray, and by doing that be accepted by God.
The sacrifices and offerings in the Law were designed to be an outward show of an obedient and humble heart; they were not designed to allow the person to gain favor in the sight of God if the person was evil and unrepentant, as if God would overlook evil as long as the person offered sacrifices. God is much more interested in obedience and a humble heart than in a person’s making sacrifices (1 Sam. 15:22; Ps. 40:6-8; 51:16-17; Jer. 7:22-23; Hos. 6:6 [quoted in Matt. 9:13 and 12:7]; Micah 6:6-8).
In fact, the Bible is quite clear that when a person is evil and unrepentant, the sacrifices and offerings he makes, including prayers, are simply rejected by God. God’s favor is not for sale: no amount of sacrifices, offerings, or prayers, can buy God’s favor or prod Him into giving His grace. God is looking for a humble heart, and that is what He responds to. This is a huge point with God, and so He makes it over and over (cp. Prov. 15:8; 21:27; 28:9; Isa. 1:11-15; 58:1-8; Jer. 6:20; 14:10-12; Hos. 5:5-6; Amos 5:21-23; Mal. 1:10; 2:13-14; James 4:6. Verses that specifically mention prayer include: Job 35:12-13; Prov. 15:29; Isa. 59:1-2; Ezek. 8:17-18; Micah 3:4; Zech. 7:12-13; James 4:3; 1 Pet. 3:7).
Jesus corrected many religious errors in the Sermon on the Mount, and here he corrected the self-righteous attitude of many of the religious leaders and people who were hypocrites and who made sure they payed tithes from their herb gardens and gave mint, dill, and cumin, but who omitted the much weightier matters of justice, mercy, and trust (Matt. 23:23). The Jews were treating the sacrifices like they were gifts that bought God’s favor instead of being offerings that expressed their love and thankfulness for God’s favor and forgiveness.
Being truly humble and loving is much harder than giving offerings and prayers. In this teaching of Jesus, the man going to the altar with his gift had a fairly easy road: procure the gift, go to the Temple, offer the gift, and leave feeling righteous in the sight of God (but sadly, perhaps not being righteous in the sight of God). On the other hand, going to another person who is offended at you and doing what it takes to mend the relationship—well, that can be difficult indeed. We all know how hard it can be to mend a broken relationship. Proverbs 18:19 says an offended brother or sister is harder to win than a strongly fortified city.
Of course there are some people who simply refuse to mend a relationship, and Jesus does not speak about those people in this context; he is only speaking about the person who wants to offer the gift to God. If the offended person does not want to heal the relationship, then Romans 12:18 applies: “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with all people.”
[For more on God not being as concerned with sacrifices as obedience, see commentary on Jer. 7:22].(top)
“opponent.” The Greek word is antidikos (#476 ἀντίδικος), and it has two meanings: to be constantly against as an enemy to, or to be an opponent in a court of law (thus, an “opponent at law”). The word antidikos occurs five times in the New Testament, and here in Matthew it has the legal meaning of an opponent in a lawsuit (cp. NASB in Matt. 5:25). The other occurrences seem to fit the general situation of an opponent well (see commentary on 1 Pet. 5:8).(top)
“quadrans.” The Roman quadrans was the smallest Roman coin, and was worth ¼ of an assarion, which was 1/64 of a denarius. A denarius was a day’s wage for a common laborer, so if a laborer makes eight dollars an hour for eight hours, or sixty-four dollars a day, a quadrans was worth one dollar.(top)
Quoted from Exodus 20:14(top)
|Mat 5:28||- (top)|
“causes you to fall.” We have gone with “causes you to fall” as a translation of skandalizō (4624 σκανδαλίζω). “Offends you” misses the mark, because many people are not offended by sin, especially their own. You may or may not be offended by your own sin, but that is not the point of the verse. The idea is that if your hand causes you to fall away from obedience, then something has to be done. We felt that “cause you to stumble” was too weak, given that by definition stumble means “almost fall.” Christ is not saying that if your hand almost makes you fall, then cut it off, but rather if your hand causes you to fall into sin and disobedience, do what it takes to stop the situation from happening.
“cut it off.” This is the figure of speech Hyperbole (exaggeration; Cp. Bullinger; Figures of Speech Used in the Bible). The people of the Eastern culture often use hyperbole to make a point, even as we Westerners do. We say, “I’m starved,” when we mean we are hungry, or “I’m freezing” when we are uncomfortably cold. In the same way, people in the biblical culture overstated points to make a point. In this case, Christ was saying that people need to take drastic action to keep from sinning. This is a lesson we all need to learn: many people make peace with their sin rather than deal with it and stop sinning.
“Gehenna.” For information on Gehenna and that people do not burn forever, see commentary on Matthew 5:22. [For information on annihilation in the lake of fire, see Appendix 5, “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire”.](top)
“Gehenna.” See commentary on Matthew 5:22. [For information on annihilation in the lake of fire, see Appendix 5, “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire”].(top)
Quoted from Deuteronomy. 24:1.(top)
“sexual immorality.” The Greek is porneia (#4202 πορνεία). Pornē (#4204 πόρνη) is traditionally a female prostitute, while pornos (#4205) is the masculine and in the Greek culture, especially in the early centuries, referred to a male prostitute. However, in the New Testament, the words were often used in a more general sense and so often referred to sexual immorality of many kinds, even though the Greek words still retained some of the gender overtones. In this context, which is a man divorcing his wife for “sexual immorality,” the obvious assumption would be that she had committed adultery. Although the Old Testament stated that adulterers were to be executed (Leviticus 20:10), by Roman times that was seldom done, in part because the Romans had taken the authority for capital punishment away from the Jews (cp. John 18:31). Generally, husbands who thought their wives had committed adultery just divorced them, as Joseph initially intended to do to Mary (Matthew 1:19).
“makes her look as if she had committed adultery.” To properly and fully understand Jesus’ teaching about divorce and remarriage, we need to closely examine the three different times he addressed the subject in his teaching ministry, which were:
1. The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:32).
2. When the Pharisees specifically questioned him about it (Matt. 19:3-9, esp. verse 9; and Mark 10:2-12, esp. verses 11 and 12).
3. When he directly confronted the Pharisees (Luke 16:14-18, esp. verse 18).
Matthew 5:32 seems almost identical to the records in Matthew 19:9; Mark 10:11-12; and Luke 16:18, but the three events are actually different in important ways (Matt. 19 and Mark 10 are the same event with different details). In the culture in which Christ lived, the prevailing belief among the people—promoted by the rabbinic school of Hillel and opposed by the rabbinic school of Shammai—was that a man could divorce his wife for any reason whatsoever. Although Jesus addressed the debate among the Jews about “easy divorce” in Matthew 19, that is not what he was doing here in the Sermon on the Mount [for Jesus comments on divorce in the context of the debate about it going on between the Jews, see commentary on Matt. 19:3 and 19:9]. Here, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was trying to get the people to return to God; he is not promoting any specific rabbinic school of thought over another.
Matthew 5:32 occurs in a teaching context, and we will understand it better if we grasp that context. After teaching the people about anger and the need for reconciliation with others (Matt. 5:21-26), Jesus turned his attention to the foundation of the family, and thus of society itself, which was the marriage of a man and a woman. Marriage was under attack in Jesus’ day just as it is in ours, and it was common for men to have wandering eyes, something perhaps made easier by the nudity, prostitution, and easy divorce that was common at that time (also, any slave was considered the sexual property of the owner and sex with one’s slaves was commonplace). The people had become lax about the fact that God’s original intention for marriage was that it was to be something the husband and wife could both depend on—providing a life partner—and that the marriage “glued” the couple together as “one flesh” until one of them died.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus did not start talking about divorce and remarriage “out of thin air.” He had been talking about adultery, which usually starts with wandering eyes and lust (Matt. 5:27-30). That also explains why Jesus spoke of the right eye and the right hand causing a man to fall (Matt. 5:29-30). Sexual sin usually starts with a lax mindset, then a wandering eye, and then it moves on to physical touch. Once a man has lusted after another woman and his eyes and hands have become involved and he is physically touching her, leaving his wife for his “new love” can be a small step. So we can see why Jesus, after speaking about adultery, lust, and watching what you see and touch, talked about divorce.
To properly understand Matthew 5:32, we must pay close attention to “who” the verse is speaking about, “what” the verse is actually saying, and also to the Greek verbs, which sadly have not been accurately translated in most English versions. Matthew 5:32 is one of the verses in the Bible that people do not really read accurately. Instead, most people read what they think it says. To rightly understand it, we must read what it actually says.
As we read the verse, we see that it is the man who divorces his wife. That certainly was the most common situation in the biblical culture, but Jesus’ teaching applies in today’s culture to both men and women, because both sexes are victims of unwanted divorce. In the biblical culture, a man divorcing his wife almost always left her in a very difficult situation. The usually mostly-innocent woman had to suffer many things: the disgrace of being rejected by her husband; frequently, the terrible loss of her children; and the hardship of how to provide for herself unless her parents or a sibling would take her into their home. But Jesus seems to make her situation even worse—the way most English versions are translated, Jesus says that the woman is an adulteress! Furthermore, any man who married her, which would almost certainly be a huge help to her, became an adulterer. This just does not seem to make sense.
The way Matthew 5:32 is translated in most English versions, there are many things that should alert us to the fact that something is wrong. For one thing, although it was the husband who broke the original intention of God by divorcing his wife, there is nothing in the verse that says he did wrong or became an adulterer. The verse makes the wife guilty, not the husband, even though he is the guilty party.
Also, the way most English versions are translated, the woman is made to be an adulteress simply because her husband divorced her. For example, the NASB says, “everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery.” But why would being divorced make a woman an adulteress? Just because a man divorces a woman does not make her an adulteress; she could have been faithful to her husband before the divorce and then chosen to remain unmarried after the divorce. So why would her divorce make her an adulteress? It would not.
Most commentators explain away that fact by saying that in that culture, a man’s divorcing his wife basically forced her to remarry to survive in society, and thus commit adultery. But there are two big problems with that interpretation—for one thing, it is not what Jesus actually said, and secondly, it does not fit the facts. Just being divorced does not make a woman an adulteress. There were women who were pure in their marriage and then did not remarry after their divorce. Some were taken back in by their families, and a few others, like Lydia in Acts 16, did well on their own. Thus we can see that Matthew 5:32 has been misunderstood and mistranslated.
Moses allowed a divorced woman to remarry and not be an adulteress and so did Paul (1 Cor. 7:27-28). Nevertheless, there are commentators who say Jesus contradicted Moses and set new standards of sexual behavior, allowing for divorce only where there has been sexual sin. However, that does not make sense. For one thing, the words of Moses, Jesus, and Paul came from God, and it does not make sense that it would be okay with God for a divorced woman to remarry throughout the 4,000 years of the Old Testament, and then again as soon as the Church started after Jesus’ ascension, but for the short time of Jesus’ public ministry, if she remarried it would be adultery. Furthermore, Moses allowed divorce if the husband would not feed, clothe, or provide for his wife’s future and protection by having sex with her so she could have children who would care for her (Exod. 21:10-11). It does not make sense or represent the love of God that in the Old Testament, God allowed a woman to remarry after divorcing a man who refused to feed, clothe, or to care for her, but somehow now that Jesus was on the scene she could only leave if the man was sexually unfaithful, no matter how badly he treated her.
Actually, Jesus did not contradict Moses, and the woman did not become an adulteress if her husband divorced her, even if she remarried. Furthermore, her new husband did not become an adulterer by marrying her. The key to understanding Matthew 5:32 is that the two Greek verbs for “adultery” in this verse are in the passive voice. They are passive verbs, not active verbs, despite the fact that most English versions translate them as if they were active verbs. William Hendriksen writes: “The Greek, by using the passive voice of the verb, states not what the woman becomes or what she does, but what she undergoes, suffers, is exposed to. She suffers wrong” (New Testament Commentary: Matthew). R. C. H. Lenski agrees, and writes:
What Hendriksen and Lenski are saying is profound. Because English has no passive voice for verbs like “commit adultery,” it is very challenging to translate the passive Greek verb into English. But, as Lenski points out, that is no reason to twist what Jesus said and distort the meaning of the verse.
The passive voice of a verb describes what happens to someone, not what they do. In the phrase, “She hit the ball,” the verb “hit” is active; the woman acted and hit the ball. To make the sentence passive we have to say, “She was hit by the ball.” The passive describes what happened to the woman, not what she did. But how can you “passively” commit adultery? You cannot. So the passive verb describes what happens to the woman, what she suffers, just as Hendriksen said. The woman “looks as if she committed adultery” and suffers because of it. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was talking about divorce and showing the harm that it does. If a man divorced his wife, what would people think? They would think she must have committed adultery. She did not commit adultery, but that is what people would think and accuse her of.
The passive verb in Matthew 5:32 shows us that the woman is made to seem like she and the man she later married had committed adultery even though they had not. Thus, one way of translating Matthew 5:32 is: “…everyone who puts away his wife, except for the cause of sexual immorality, makes it seem like she is an adulteress, and whoever marries her when she is put away seems like he is committing adultery.” In that culture, the man was the provider and protector, so Jesus says if a man divorces his wife everyone will think it is due to sexual sin.
Now we see why, in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke about divorce. He was trying to call the people back to God and convince them to live godly lives, and so he emphasized how God never intended for married couples to divorce, and he strengthened his point by speaking about the terrible consequences of divorce: if a man divorced his wife, unless it really was because she committed adultery, he stigmatized her in society because people branded her as an adulteress, and furthermore, any man who married her was branded as an adulterer.
Jesus did not contradict Moses (or Paul) in his Sermon on the Mount. He did not forbid a divorced person from marrying again. He pointed out to the people God’s original intention in the marriage, and also pointed out that anyone who divorced his wife caused her great hardship, including the burden of being thought of as an adulteress. The English version, God’s Word to the Nations, gets the sense of Matthew 5:32: “But I can guarantee that any man who divorces his wife for any reason other than unfaithfulness makes her look as though she has committed adultery. Whoever marries a woman divorced in this way makes himself look as though he has committed adultery.”
Now that we have seen that there are cases in which a divorced woman (or man) is not an adulterer and can remarry with God’s blessings, we need to honestly remember that Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:32 is different from his teaching in Matthew 19:9, Mark 10:11-12, and Luke 16:18. Not all divorcees are “mostly innocent victims.” Some people force a divorce upon their spouse for reasons that are unacceptable to God, such as unbridled lust, and God refers to that behavior as adultery.
From God’s standpoint there is little difference between staying married but committing adultery, and getting legally divorced just so you can be with someone you like better than your spouse. Both behaviors destroy the marriage and harm society. God’s advice to people who divorce due to wandering eyes or just to better their financial or social position is given in 1 Corinthians 7:11, which is spoken in the context of women but also applies to men: stay unmarried or be reconciled to your former spouse.
[For more on Jesus’ teaching about marriage and divorce, see commentaries on Matt. 19:3; 19:9; Mark 10:11 and Luke 16:18; and for more information on divorce and remarriage, see commentary on 1 Cor. 7:27].(top)
“Do not make false vows.” Jesus’ statement about vows is a summary taken from the Old Testament from verses such as Leviticus 19:12; Numbers 30:2. It is not an exact quote from the Old Testament. The Bible instructs us to keep the vows we have made (cp. Ps. 15:4; Ecc. 5:4-7).
“Yahweh.” “Yahweh” is the personal name of God, and a rabbinic abbreviation for it appears in the Hebrew manuscript of Matthew as well as in the verses of the Old Testament that Matthew quoted. There is evidence that Matthew wrote his Gospel in Hebrew and used the name Yahweh, so we have put it in the REV (see commentary on Matthew 3:3).(top)
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“of the Wicked One.” The word “of” is from the Greek preposition ek (#1537), which in this context would generally mean “from,” but in this case it can also mean “because of,” and both of those meanings apply in this verse (cp. Lenski’s translation, “due to” in The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel). So the translation of Matthew 5:37 should be expanded in our thinking to be something like, “But let your speech be, ‘Yes, yes,’ or ‘No, no,’ and whatever is more than this is from, and because of, the Wicked One.” The Devil is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44), and he influences people to do ungodly things.
The Law of Moses clearly allowed for oaths and vows (Lev. 19:12; Numbers 30:2-16, esp. v. 2; Deut. 23:21-23; cp. Ps. 76:11; Ecc. 5:4) and godly people throughout the Old Testament vowed and made oaths (cp. Judg. 11:30; 1 Sam. 1:11; Isa. 19:21). So why would Jesus say not to make vows? The answer has to do with the culture of the time.
The Old Testament scriptures seem straightforward when it comes to vows: “You must not swear by my name falsely and profane the name of your God” (Lev. 19:12). “When a man vows a vow to Yahweh or swears an oath to bind his soul with a bond, he must not break his word; he must do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth” (Num. 30:2). “When you vow a vow to Yahweh your God, you are not to be slack to pay it” (Deut. 23:21). But by the time of Christ, the religious leaders had changed the clear meaning of the Mosaic Law.
The heart of the Law was that if you vowed, pay your vow, but at the time of Christ the religious leaders had perverted the Law and interpreted it to say, “When you vow a vow to Yahweh your God, you are not to be slack to pay it.” In other words, they taught, “I have to pay the vows I make ‘to Yahweh,’ but I can make vows to and about other things and not be obligated.” Matt. 5:33-36 shows us that at the time of Christ people were making vows based on things besides Yahweh, including heaven, earth, Jerusalem, and their own head.
We get a very good look at how the religious leader’s lying system of vows and oaths worked from Matthew 23:16-22. That section of Scripture shows that the religious leaders had devised a dishonest system of making vows such that a person could swear by the Temple (the “sanctuary”) and the vow be worthless, but an oath on the gold of the Temple had to be kept. Similarly, a vow on the altar in the Temple was worthless, but a vow made based on a sacrifice on the altar was binding. This meant that anyone who did not know the “secret code” of which vows were considered binding and which vows could be ignored was open to be deceived when dealing with those who purposely made vows they did not think they needed to keep.
In saying what he did, “let your speech be, ‘Yes, yes,’ or ‘No, no,’ and whatever is more than this is of the Wicked One,” Jesus did not change the Mosaic Law concerning oaths and vows, instead, he brought them back to God’s original intent. Any vow or oath must be kept, and in fact, even if a person did not vow but just said “yes” or “no,” that must be kept too. We know Jesus did not change the Law concerning oaths because he himself took one at his trial (Matt. 26:63-64). Also, Hebrews 6:16 confirms that oaths were still being made and ending disputes, and people such as Paul and James were still involved with oaths and vows after the time of Jesus (Acts 18:18; 21:23). On the other hand, people were still dishonest and trying to hoodwink people by false oaths, so James repeated what Jesus had said years before and tried to impress upon people that whatever they said or promised was binding. (James 5:12).
Ecclesiastes expresses the heart of God concerning what we say: “It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Do not allow your mouth to cause your flesh to sin. Do not say before the messenger that it [your vow] was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? (Ecc. 5:4-6).
Believers should pay close attention to what the Bible says about making false statements, because it is a serious sin in the eyes of God. Today many untrue things are regularly said in many and various contexts. Advertizers regularly are deceptive about their products; the news media and politicians regularly distort the truth, and average people regularly lie about things to get their way, stay out of trouble, or gain some perceived advantage. All this lying in the world around believers makes it seem like lying is no big deal. But it is. We should make no mistake: lying is a way of the world, comes from the Devil, and is a sin. Believers should not lie.
“Wicked One.” The Greek is ponēros (#4190 πονηρός), which the BDAG Greek-English Lexicon describes as, “pertaining to being morally or socially worthless; therefore, ‘wicked, evil, bad, base, worthless, vicious, and degenerate.’” Ponēros is an adjective, but it is a substantive (an adjective used as a noun). A good example of a substantive in English is the adjectives in the well-known Clint Eastwood movie, “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.” The adjectives “good,” “bad,” and “ugly” refer to people (“good people,” “bad people,” “ugly people”), and thus they function as nouns even though they are adjectives. Similarly, “the wicked” here in Matthew 5:37 is a substantive and means, “the Wicked One,” which is the translation in most modern versions.
Other substantives in the Bible include: 1 John 5:19 where “the evil” also means “the evil one”; Revelation 1:18, where “the Living” actually is “the Living One”; Matthew 10:41, where “a righteous” actually refers to “a righteous one” (or someone righteous); Matthew 12:41, where “a greater” means “a greater one”; Romans 8:28, where “called” refers to “the called ones” (although some versions translate “called” in that sentence as if it was a verb, which it is not); 1 Thessalonians 4:6, where “avenger” is “an avenging one” and 1 Corinthians 2:6, where “the perfect” refers to “the perfect [or mature] ones.”
There are translators who do not believe that poneros is a substantive, but is only the word “evil.” However, evil does not just happen. The wording the Bible uses, that sin is “from” evil, points to a source. “Evil” is not just floating around, it comes from somewhere. It seems that if the Lord simply meant to say that swearing oaths by Jerusalem, or by your hair, was evil, he would have simply said, “it is evil,” and not, it “is from the evil.”
The Devil (Slanderer) is the fount and foundation of wickedness. It was in him that wickedness was first found, when he was lifted up with pride and decided to rebel against God. Ever since that time he has been true to his name, “the Wicked One,” and has been doing and causing wickedness wherever he can, which, since he is “the god of this age,” is a considerable amount of wickedness. [For more names of the Devil and their meanings, see Appendix 14, “Names of the Devil”].(top)
Quoted from Exodus 21:24 (Lev. 24:20; Deut. 19:21).(top)
“turn to him the other also.” See commentary on Luke 6:29.(top)
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Quoted from Leviticus 19:18.(top)
“Love your enemies and pray.” The word “love” is the verb agapaō (#25 ἀγαπάω; the more familiar noun is agape). In this context, to love one’s enemy does not mean to “feel good” about them, but rather to act toward them in a loving manner. To better understand what God is telling us when He says, “love your enemies,” see the commentary on John 21:15, “I am your friend.”
The words, “bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you,” which appear in the KJV, NKJV, and YLT, and partially in Darby’s NT, were not in the original text of Matthew. They were added by scribes who took them from Luke 6:27-28. Early manuscript evidence from Alexandrian, pre-Caesarean, Western, Coptic, and Syriac texts, indicates that the words are not original in Matthew. Also, some early manuscripts do not have both phrases, which is still more evidence that these two phrases were not in the original text of Matthew (see B. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament).(top)
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