In this post we are going to be covering Matthew 5:21-48 in our “Torah Teaching on the Mount” series. Vs. 21 (IMO) is where Yeshua really begins His “teaching” – everything up to vs. 21 are His preliminary remarks to prepare the hearers (and now readers). As I said in a previous post, the “Beatitudes” really prepare the listener/reader for the things to follow as it lays out the heart/mind attitude of the subjects of the
At first glance, it appears as though Yeshua is contrasting His words against “the letter of the law.” This has been the prevailing view of Christianity (or, the majority Christians at least) throughout the centuries. It is supposed that Yeshua took the commands of the law, such as “thou shalt not commit adultery” and super ceded them with His own, “higher” law. But this is not what He was doing at all. What He was actually doing was tying the Torah together and making it a complete unit (as it was intended to be) so that one could not (and cannot) isolate the various commandments, or create loopholes for oneself, which is exactly what the teachers of the law in His day had been doing, as can be easily figured out in reading the four gospels. He rebuked the Pharisees in Mark chapter 7, for example, for “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” and for “laying aside the commandment of God” in order to “hold the tradition of men” (Mark 7:6-9). If Yeshua rebuked the Pharisees for “laying aside the commandment of God” would He then turn around and do the same?
When Satan came to Yeshua in the wilderness and sought to tempt Him, 3 times Yeshua said “it is written….” Whenever Yeshua quoted from scripture, He always said “it is written…”, or, “have you not read…”, or, “is it not written…”, etc. But as we head into vv. 21-48, we will see that He began each subject, not with “it is written”, but with “you have heard that it was said….” This is an important point, because Yeshua did not contrast His teaching against God’s law, but rather, with the teachings and interpretations of the Teachers of the law, the Scribes and the Pharisees. Therefore, rather than the law being in contrast to Yeshua’s teaching, it is the backdrop, or bedrock for His teaching in contrast with the teachings and interpretations of the teachers of the law, the Scribes and Pharisees! (As a side note, it should be pointed out that Yeshua did not contend against everything that the Scribes and Pharisees, and the teachers of the law taught – He only contended against those teachings and interpretations that were contrary to God’s word.)
So, having said all of that, let us begin…
In vv. 21-26, Yeshua began with an understanding of the commandment not to kill (lit. “murder”) that was the prevailing thought and interpretation of His day among the teachers of
. Apparently there really was no issue with “being angry without a cause” (or in other words, being unjustifiably angry). Apparently it was an acceptable behavior to be angry “without a cause” and, or to call one another “raca” (which is Aramaic, roughly translated as “empty head” – or, as we would probably put it – idiot), or “you fool.” This type of mindset/attitude, however, is the seedbed for worse things – yes, even murder. It doesn’t mean that everyone that is angry without a cause is going to murder someone, but certainly murder stems from a previous disdain/anger/outrage that would lend one to call another “idiot” (take road rage for example, which has, more than once I might add, ended in someone getting killed. How often are the words “you idiot”, or worse, uttered from the mouth of one driver toward another!). The person who has “good will” toward others is not the likely candidate to murder others! But more than this, Yeshua was drawing upon an obviously overlooked, if not completely ignored commandment in the law that obviously found no correlation to the command not to murder in the teachings and interpretations of the teachers of the law in Yeshua’s day, the which, to violate, was not considered even remotely connected to the 6th of the 10 commandments. Israel
Yeshua knew that the second of the “two greatest commandments” was and is “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Lev. 19:18). But He, being Himself the original law giver, knew what the verse just prior to the second great commandment said/says: “…Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart” (Lev. 19:17). One cannot “love thy neighbor as thyself” while at the same time “hat[ing] thy brother in thine heart!” Furthermore, you hate your brother in your heart, you are all the closer to doing damage to your “brother” (neighbor), with the ultimate damage being that of murder (and “murder can be extended to many levels – actual, physical murder, character murder, etc.). Our tendency is to justify ourselves by saying “well, I’ve never murdered anyone” even though we might be full of hate and unjustified anger in our hearts toward others.
Yeshua did not super cede, or even simply add to the 6th commandment with a “higher” law”, because the commandment was already IN the law! He simply took away our ability to isolate commandments in order to justify our behavior. He contradicted the teaching and interpretations of the teachers of the law by taking them straight back to the law!
Yeshua then went on to the issue of Adultery. Again, He didn’t begin by saying “It is written…”, but rather, with “Ye have heard that it hath been said….” But isn’t it written “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Ex. 20:14)? So then, why didn’t He say something like “It is written…but I say…?” Because Yeshua was not addressing the written command in His teaching, but the interpretation “…of them of old time.” Again, I want to re-state that Yeshua did not contrast His teaching against the law of Moses, but against the teachings of “them of old time.” We can get an idea of what may have been going on in some of the teachings and interpretations that were the common understanding in His day because several times throughout the Gospels we read where Yeshua spoke against the Scribes and Pharisees for setting aside the commandments of God for the sake of their traditions. Yeshua simply took them back to the commandments of God: “But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh upon a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” “But where is this commandment written?” You ask. “Wasn’t Yeshua taking the simple written commandment to a “higher” level, the higher “law of Christ”? No. Let me ask a simple question: what is the 10th of the 10 Commandments? “Thou shalt not covet…thy neighbors wife….” In Romans 7: 7 Paul says the following: “…for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” In Romans chapter 7, did Paul say that while he knew that adultery was wrong, but then came to realize that lust was also wrong because Yeshua taught us a “higher law?” No – Paul said that he knew lust was wrong because the Law said so!
Perhaps the dominant teaching at the time of Yeshua permitted, or, at least winked at lust. Whatever the case may be, Yeshua did not introduce something new and “higher”, He simply took them back to the plain written word, and contradicted with His teaching that which the people had heard ‘by them of old time.” Again, we can see clearly that Yeshua’s intent is to counter previously held teachings because He creates the contrast in this way: “ye have heard it was said by them of old time…but I say unto you….”
Human tendency is to minimize our own failings by pointing out the bad things we don’t do: “well, at least I never murdered anyone.” “Ok, so I look at porn, at least I’ve never committed adultery.” Yeshua’s point was that the same law which said “do not commit adultery” also said (and says still) “you shall not covet (lust for) your neighbors wife.” And if the story of the man from Samaria giving aid to the man fallen among thieves gives us a clue as to who our “neighbor” is, then it is not a far stretch to say that we should not “covet” anyone’s wife!
The sentiment of connecting commandments is also found in the writings of James as well. In James 2:10,11 we read “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For that He said ‘do not commit adultery’ said also ‘do not kill. Now, if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.” If one is a “transgressor of the law”, then naturally, one is a law-breaker. A man with a heart full of lust may not be in violation of man’s law – but he is certainly in violation of God’s law! The same law condemns both the physical act of adultery AND the adulterous thoughts of a person. Yeshua did not need to give us any “higher” law – we already have it in stone! But, as the NT often points out, a law of stone and a heart of stone will produce nothing. We need a living Torah, written on a heart of flesh to see life! This is what Yeshua was demonstrating.
In the two previous instances, the issue of murder and the issue of adultery, Yeshua did not give us any new, higher law – He did not need to. He simply took the “law of the LORD” which is “perfect” (cf. Psalm 19:7) and “ma[de] it honorable” (cf. Isaiah 42:21).
We will leave it here for now, and pick up with Matt. 5:31 and following next time. Until then, “study to shew thyself approved unto God…” (2 Tim. 2:15).
Blessings and Peace in Yeshua (Jesus).