This entry is part 24 of 89 in the series: Troublesome texts
- Genesis 1:26 – Why a plural name for God?
- Genesis 3 – traditional and revisionist readings
- Genesis 5 – the ages of the antedeluvians
- Genesis 6:1f – ‘The sons of God’
- Genesis 6-8 – A worldwide flood?
- Genesis 12:3 – ‘I will bless those who bless you’
- Genesis 22 – “Abraham, kill your son”
- Exodus – Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart?
- Exodus 12:37 – How many Israelites left Egypt?
- Joshua 6 – the fall of Jericho
- Joshua 10 – Joshua’s ‘long day’
- Judges 19:11-28 – The priest and the concubine
- 2 Sam 24:1, 1 Chron 21:1 – Who incited David?
- 1 Kings 20:30 – ‘The wall collapsed on 27,000 of them’
- Psalm 105:15 – ‘Touch not my anointed’
- Psalm 137:8f – ‘Happy is he who dashes your infants against the rocks’
- Isaiah 7:14/Matthew 1:23 – “The virgin will conceive”
- Jonah – history or fiction?
- Mt 1:1-17 and Lk 3:23-38 – the genealogies of Jesus
- Matthew 2:1 – ‘Magi from the east’
- Matthew 2:2 – The star of Bethlehem
- Matthew 2:8f – Can God speak through astrology?
- Matthew 2:23 – ‘Jesus would be called a Nazarene’
- Matthew 5:21f – Did Jesus reject the Old Testament?
- Matthew 7:16,20 – ‘You will recognise them by their fruit’
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:3 – Who asked Jesus to help?
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:7 – son? servant? male lover?
- Matthew 8:28 – Gadara or Gerasa?
- Matthew 10:23 – ‘Before the Son of Man comes’
- Matthew 11:12 – Forceful entry, or violent opposition, to the kingdom?
- Matthew 12:40 – Three days and three nights
- The Parable of the Sower – return from exile?
- Mt 15:21-28/Mk 7:24-30 – Jesus and the Canaanite woman
- Matthew 18:10 – What about ‘guardian angels’?
- Matthew 18:20 – ‘Where two or three are gathered…’
- Matthew 16:18 – Peter the rock?
- Matthew 21:7 – One animal or two?
- Matthew 24:34 – This generation will not pass away?
- Matthew 25:40 – ‘These brothers of mine’
- Matthew 27:46/Mark 15:34 – Jesus’ cry of dereliction
- Matthew 27:52f – Many bodies raised?
- Mark 1:41 – ‘Compassion’, or ‘anger/indignation’?
- Mark 2:25f – ‘When Abiathar was high priest’
- Mark 4:31 – ‘The smallest of all the seeds’?
- Mark 6:45 – ‘To Bethsaida’
- Mark 12:41-44/Luke 21:1-4 – ‘The widow’s mite’
- Luke 2:1f – Quirinius and ‘the first registration’
- Luke 2:7 – ‘No room at the inn’
- Luke 2:8 – Shepherds: a despised class?
- Luke 4:16-19 – An incomplete quotation?
- Luke 7:2 – ‘Highly valued servant’ or ‘gay lover’?
- John 1:1 – ‘The Word was God’
- John 2:6 – symbol or history?
- John 2:12 – Did Mary bear other children?
- When did Jesus cleanse the Temple?
- John 3:16f – What is meant by ‘the world’?
- John 4:44 – ‘His own country’
- John 7:53-8:11 – The woman caught in adultery
- John 14:6 – “No one comes to the Father except through me”
- John 14:12 – ‘Greater deeds’
- John 20:21 – “Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”
- Acts 5:1-11 – Ananias and Sapphira
- Romans 1:5 – ‘The obedience of faith’
- Romans 1:18 – Wrath: personal or impersonal?
- Rom 3:22; Gal 2:16 – faith in, or faithfulness of Christ?
- Romans 5:18 – ‘Life for all?’
- Rom 7:24 – Who is the ‘wretched man’?
- Romans 11:26a – ‘And so all Israel will be saved’
- 1 Corinthians 14:34 – ‘Women should be silent in the churches’
- 1 Corinthians 15:29 – ‘Baptized for the dead’
- 1 Corinthians 15:44 – ‘Raised a spiritual body’
- 2 Corinthians 5:21 – ‘God made Christ to be sin for us’
- Galatians 3:17 – How much later?
- Galatians 3:28 – ‘Neither male nor female’
- Galatians 6:2 – ‘The law of Christ’
- Galatians 6:16 – The Israel of God
- Ephesians 1:10 – ‘The fullness of the times’
- Ephesians 5:23- ‘The head of a wife is her husband’
- Colossians 1:19f – Universal reconciliation?
- 1 Thessalonians 2:14f – ‘The Jews, who killed Jesus’
- 1 Timothy 2:4 – ‘God wants all people to be saved’
- 1 Timothy 2:15 – ‘Saved through child-bearing’
- 1 Timothy 4:10 – ‘The Saviour of all people’
- Hebrews 6:4-6 – Who are these people?
- Hebrews 12:1 – Who are these witnesses?
- 1 Peter 3:18-20 – Christ and the spirits in prison
- 2 Peter 3:9 – ‘The Lord wishes all to come to repentance’
- Jude 7 – ‘Unnatural desire’
- Revelation 14:11 – ‘No rest day or night’
5:21 “You have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders will be subjected to judgment.’ 5:22 But I say to you…”
William Barclay thinks that Jesus ‘Jesus quotes the Law, only to contradict it, and to substitute a teaching of his own. He claimed the right to point out the inadequacies of the most sacred writings in the world, and to correct them out of his own wisdom.’
More generally, Richard Rohr writes this: ‘It is rather clear in Jesus’ usage that not all scriptures are created equal. He consistently ignored or even denied exclusionary, punitive, and triumphalist texts in his own Jewish scriptures in favor of passages that emphasized inclusion, mercy, and honesty. Check it out for yourself. He knew what passages were creating a highway for God and which passages were merely cultural, self-serving, paranoid, tribal, and legalistic additions. Jesus read his own inspired scriptures in a spiritual and highly selective way, which is why he was accused of “teaching with authority and not like our scribes” (Matthew 7:29). He even told the fervent and pious “teachers of the law” that they had entirely missed the point: “You understand neither the scriptures nor the power of God” (Mark 12:24).’ But sayings such as that recorded in Mt 7:29 do not imply the highly selective approach claimed by Rohr. For, one the one hand, our Lord repeatedly endorsed the OT without equivocation, and, on the other hand, uttered many statements which, in their own way, are quite as troublesome as any found in the OT.
A number of things can be said by way of explanation:-
(a) Jesus has just said, ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them.’ He isn’t likely to have completely changed his mind within two sentences, is he?
(b) In all six pairings Jesus is referring back to some statement in the Pentateuch. It is thought by some that when he declares, “It was said” (rather that “It was written”) that he is referring not so much to the words of Scripture themselves, but to the ways they have been misquoted or misinterpreted or misapplied by the Jewish teachers of the day. But the NT frequently uses the passive voice (“It was said”) for quotations from Scripture. Moreover, according to Jesus these words were spoken “to an older generation” (lit. ‘to the ancients’). The sayings are all quotations or paraphrases taken from the Pentateuch; we know, therefore to which ‘generation’ they were ‘said’. Jesus cannot therefore be referring to a recent or contemporary teaching.
(c) France comments on the peculiar nature of the citations: ‘While the first two are straightforward quotations of two of the ten commandments (in the first case supplemented by an additional pentateuchal principle), the third is significantly different from the text of Deut 24:1 and is angled in a different direction from the Deuteronomy text, the fourth merely summarizes pentateuchal guidelines on oaths and vows, the fifth quotes the text exactly but the discussion suggests that it was being quoted for a purpose other than that of the original in context, and the non-pentateuchal addition to the sixth places a negative “spin” on the commandment of Lev 19:18 which that passage in no way supports….The general impression they create is that Jesus is here presented as citing a series of “legal” principles based indeed on the pentateuchal laws but in several cases significantly developing and indeed distorting their intention. In other words the dialog partner is not the OT law as such but the OT law as currently (and sometimes misleadingly) understood and applied.’
(d) in all six examples, Jesus does not subtract from the Law; he takes it further. Thus in the first example he does not say, “You have heard that is was said, ‘Do not murder’, but I say “Go ahead, kill anyone you like.” Rather, he says, “Don’t limit this commandment against murder too closely. You can break it simply by being angry with people.” It’s the same with adultery. You can break God’s command not only by your outward act, but also by your inward attitude. And similarly with divorce, with the taking of oaths, with revenge, and with love. The standards of the kingdom are in each case more demanding, more far-reaching, more radical than people have been led to believe. How radical? Mt 5:48, “Be perfect…even as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
(e) The law is reinterpreted and internalised. According to Blomberg: ‘In these six antitheses Jesus illustrates the greater righteousness he demands of his disciples. With each example he contrasts what was said in the Torah and in its traditional interpretations with his more stringent requirements. In the process, however, he contravenes the letter of several of the Old Testament laws, not because he is abolishing them but because he is establishing a new covenant in which God’s law is internalized in a way that prevents it from being fully encapsulated in a list of rules and that precludes perfect obedience (cf. Heb 8:7–13).’
(e) France (TNTC) notes that Jesus is often thought here to be either merely reinterpreting the law (by pointing beyond its letter to its spirit) or to be going so far as to abrogate it. France himself thinks that no simple explanation is possible in the light of the varied nature of the six ‘antitheses’. ‘The introductory formula introduces sometimes a literal Old Testament quotation, sometimes a summary or expansion or even apparently a perversion of an Old Testament law. The treatment varies from a radical intensification of the laws against murder and adultery but with no suggestion of weakening their literal force (vv. 21ff., 27ff.), to an apparent setting aside of the law of equivalent retribution in favour of forgoing legal rights (vv. 38ff.). No consistent pattern of argument need therefore be discerned, beyond the formal contrast of Jesus’ radical ethic with what was previously taught. The emphasis is on Jesus’ teaching rather than on his relationship to either the Old Testament law or scribal tradition. It is to legalism as a principle, not to a specific code of law, that he is stating his opposition. How this attitude will relate to the application of Old Testament regulations can therefore be expected to vary from one case to another, as we shall see that it does. Jesus’ radical ethic takes its starting-point from the Old Testament law, but does not so much either confirm or abrogate it as transcend it.’
(e) Carson (EBC) insists that the contrast is not between inner legalism and inner spirit, or between false interpretation and true. ‘Rather, in every case Jesus contrasts the people’s misunderstanding of the law with the true direction in which the law points, according to his own authority as the law’s “fulfiller” (in the sense established in v.17). Thus if certain antitheses revoke at least the letter of the law, they do so not because they are thereby affirming the law’s true spirit, but because Jesus insists that his teaching on these matters is the direction in which the law actually points.’