Title: The Sermon on the Mount part 5
Scriptures to Read: Read Matthew 5:21-48
Jesus picks six examples from the Law of Moses
Following this introduction to the code of true righteousness, Jesus gave specific examples showing the difference between His interpretation of the kind of righteousness demanded by the Law and the Pharisaic interpretation of that righteousness. He picked out six specific commandments of the Mosaic Law and then differentiated His interpretation from that of the Pharisees. The contrast was between mere external conformity and internal conformity. The Pharisaic interpretation was to declare that one was not guilty of violating the righteousness of the Law until He committed the act forbidden by the Law. However, Jesus taught that this was wrong. While one was not guilty of breaking the letter of the Law until he committed the act, he had violated the righteousness of the Law before that.
The pattern: “You have heard that it was said…but I say to you…”
In the examples that follow we see Him using a pattern: “you have heard that it was said”, followed by a quotation from the oral Law, then followed by “but I say to you …”, followed by His interpretation of the written Law.
The Mosaic Law versus the Mishnah (Oral) Law
When Jesus says, as He does in other contexts, “It is written….” He is speaking about the Mosaic Law, the written Law. When Jesus says here, “You have heard it said…” He is speaking about the Mishnah. The Mishnah is the Oral Law and it is said out loud. It was not written until AD 220.
1. The Law regarding murder: Matthew 5:21-26
In the Pharisaic interpretation you were not guilty of breaking the righteousness of this command until you commit the act. The Messiah says this is a wrong interpretation. He points out that before anyone commits murder he first of all develops inside of him an animosity towards the victim. Once the animosity is inside him the righteousness of this command has been broken. “raca” is an Aramaic term meaning “you empty head”. Once you start calling people names, not in friendly jest, but in animosity, the righteousness of this command has already been broken. The Mosaic Law did not merely require external conformity; it required both external and internal conformity.
2. The Law regarding adultery: Matthew 5:27-30
Pharisees say you are not guilty of adultery until you commit the act. Jesus says that is wrong: true righteousness requires a pure mind. Once the lust is there internally, righteousness has been broken. Again, you do not violate the letter of the command until the act is committed, and you cannot be stoned to death until the act is committed. But the righteousness of the command is broken before the act is performed. Before a married man commits adultery, he begins to lust after someone he is not married to. Once the lust is there inside him the righteousness of this command has already been broken. It is the internal violation that could lead to the act of adultery. Whether it does or does not lead to adultery the righteousness of this command has been broken.
3. The Law regarding divorce: Matthew 5:31-32
In Deuteronomy 24:1 there is a commandment concerning the issue of divorce. The Pharisees interpreted it to mean that one may divorce his wife for any and every reason. Even the mere burning of supper became grounds for divorce in the Pharisaic interpretation. Again Jesus said that was wrong because the kind of righteousness which this law of divorce was trying to perpetuate was to show that God hated divorce, and therefore the grounds for divorce were to be extremely limited. So He gave an example of limited grounds for divorce: fornication. To allow divorce for any and every cause went beyond what the Law allowed, so the righteousness of the Law was again violated.
4. The Law regarding taking of an oath: Mathew 5:33-37
The rabbis developed proper ways of saying oaths such that, if you say it one way you have to keep it, and if you say it another way you don’t have to keep it. But the person hearing you would not know that subtle difference. Jesus points out in this section that a believer should be recognized to be true to his word. If a believer says “yea” or “nay” it should be understood to be “yea” or “nay” and so a believer should not have to take an oath to be believed. And the character of a believer is to be trustworthy rather than needing oath taking. We definitely should not make promises we cannot keep or don’t intend to keep.
5. The Law of Retaliation or an Eye for an Eye: Matthew 5:38-42
In the Mosaic context this was a judicial judgement that the punishment must fit the crime. It was to be carried out by a judicial court of law. But the Pharisees used this law as the basis for individual vengeance, ignoring the fact that God says in the Old Testament “vengeance is mine”, He will repay. So they totally misconstrued the purpose of this commandment.
6. The Law of Love: Matthew 5:43-48
The Pharisees defined neighbor, not merely as being a fellow Jew, but a fellow Pharisee. They divided the Jewish world between a group called the haverim, those who are fellow Pharisees, and the ‘am ha-aretz’, people of the land outside the Pharisaic circle. And by making that unnecessary division they limited the loving of neighbour only to fellow Pharisees. The principle of the Law is that your neighbour is anyone who has a need that you can meet.