The Sermon on the Mount. 1#5:1–7:29] The first of the five discourses that are a central part of the structure of this gospel. It is the discourse section of the first book and contains sayings of Jesus derived from Q and from M. The Lucan parallel is in that gospel’s “Sermon on the Plain” (Lk 6:20–49), although some of the sayings in Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount” have their parallels in other parts of Luke. The careful topical arrangement of the sermon is probably not due only to Matthew’s editing; he seems to have had a structured discourse of Jesus as one of his sources. The form of that source may have been as follows: four beatitudes (Mt 5:3–4, 6, 11–12), a section on the new righteousness with illustrations (Mt 5:17, 20–24, 27–28, 33–48), a section on good works (Mt 6:1–6, 16–18), and three warnings (Mt 7:1–2, 15–21, 24–27). When he saw the crowds,#Unlike Luke’s sermon, this is addressed not only to the disciples but to the crowds (see Mt 7:28). he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. 2He began to teach them, saying:
The Beatitudes#The form Blessed are (is) occurs frequently in the Old Testament in the Wisdom literature and in the psalms. Although modified by Matthew, the first, second, fourth, and ninth beatitudes have Lucan parallels (Mt 5:3 // Lk 6:20; Mt 5:4 // Lk 6:21b; Mt 5:6 // Lk 6:21a; Mt 5:11–12 // Lk 5:22–23). The others were added by the evangelist and are probably his own composition. A few manuscripts, Western and Alexandrian, and many versions and patristic quotations give the second and third beatitudes in inverted order.
3“Blessed are the poor in spirit,#The poor in spirit: in the Old Testament, the poor (’anāwîm) are those who are without material possessions and whose confidence is in God (see Is 61:1; Zep 2:3; in the NAB the word is translated lowly and humble, respectively, in those texts). Matthew added in spirit in order either to indicate that only the devout poor were meant or to extend the beatitude to all, of whatever social rank, who recognized their complete dependence on God. The same phrase poor in spirit is found in the Qumran literature (1QM 14:7).
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.#Lk 6:20–23.
4#Cf. Is 61:2, “(The Lord has sent me)
to comfort all who mourn.” They will be comforted: here the passive is a “theological passive” equivalent to the active “God will comfort them”; so also in Mt 5:6, 7. Blessed are they who mourn,#Is 61:2–3; Rev 21:4.
for they will be comforted.
5#Cf. Ps 37:11, “
the meek shall possess the land.” In the psalm “the land” means the land of Palestine; here it means the kingdom. Blessed are the meek,#Gn 13:15; Ps 37:11.
for they will inherit the land.
6Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,#For righteousness: a Matthean addition. For the meaning of righteousness here, see note on Mt 3:14–15.
for they will be satisfied.
7Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.#18:33; Jas 2:13.
8#Cf. Ps 24:4. Only one “whose heart is clean” can take part in the temple worship. To be with God in the temple is described in Ps 42:3 as “beholding his face,” but here the promise to the clean of heart is that they will see God not in the temple but in the coming kingdom. Blessed are the clean of heart,#Ps 24:4–5; 73:1.
for they will see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,#Righteousness here, as usually in Matthew, means conduct in conformity with God’s will.
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.#1 Pt 2:20; 3:14; 4:14.
11Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me.#10:22; Acts 5:41. 12#The prophets who were before you: the disciples of Jesus stand in the line of the persecuted prophets of Israel. Some would see the expression as indicating also that Matthew considered all Christian disciples as prophets. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.#2 Chr 36:16; Heb 11:32–38; Jas 5:10. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The Similes of Salt and Light.#By their deeds the disciples are to influence the world for good. They can no more escape notice than a city set on a mountain. If they fail in good works, they are as useless as flavorless salt or as a lamp whose light is concealed. 13#Mk 9:50; Lk 14:34–35. “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.#The unusual supposition of salt losing its flavor has led some to suppose that the saying refers to the salt of the Dead Sea that, because chemically impure, could lose its taste. 14You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.#Jn 8:12. 15Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house.#Mk 4:21; Lk 8:16; 11:33. 16Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.#Jn 3:21.
Teaching About the Law. 17#This statement of Jesus’ position concerning the Mosaic law is composed of traditional material from Matthew’s sermon documentation (see note on Mt 5:1–7:29), other Q material (cf. Mt 18; Lk 16:17), and the evangelist’s own editorial touches. To fulfill the law appears at first to mean a literal enforcement of the law in the least detail: until heaven and earth pass away nothing of the law will pass (Mt 5:18). Yet the “passing away” of heaven and earth is not necessarily the end of the world understood, as in much apocalyptic literature, as the dissolution of the existing universe. The “turning of the ages” comes with the apocalyptic event of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and those to whom this gospel is addressed are living in the new and final age, prophesied by Isaiah as the time of “new heavens and a new earth” (Is 65:17; 66:22). Meanwhile, during Jesus’ ministry when the kingdom is already breaking in, his mission remains within the framework of the law, though with significant anticipation of the age to come, as the following antitheses (Mt 5:21–48) show. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.#Lk 16:17. 19Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.#Probably these commandments means those of the Mosaic law. But this is an interim ethic “until heaven and earth pass away.” 20I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Teaching About Anger.#Six examples of the conduct demanded of the Christian disciple. Each deals with a commandment of the law, introduced by You have heard that it was said to your ancestors or an equivalent formula, followed by Jesus’ teaching in respect to that commandment, But I say to you; thus their designation as “antitheses.” Three of them accept the Mosaic law but extend or deepen it (Mt 5:21–22; 27–28; 43–44); three reject it as a standard of conduct for the disciples (Mt 5:31–32; 33–37; 38–39). 21“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,#Ex 20:13; Dt 5:17. ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’#Cf. Ex 20:13; Dt 5:17. The second part of the verse is not an exact quotation from the Old Testament, but cf. Ex 21:12. 22#Reconciliation with an offended brother is urged in the admonition of Mt 5:23–24 and the parable of Mt 5:25–26 (// Lk 12:58–59). The severity of the judge in the parable is a warning of the fate of unrepentant sinners in the coming judgment by God. But I say to you, whoever is angry#Anger is the motive behind murder, as the insulting epithets are steps that may lead to it. They, as well as the deed, are all forbidden. Raqa: an Aramaic word rēqā’ or rēqâ probably meaning “imbecile,” “blockhead,” a term of abuse. The ascending order of punishment, judgment (by a local council?), trial before the Sanhedrin, condemnation to Gehenna, points to a higher degree of seriousness in each of the offenses. Sanhedrin: the highest judicial body of Judaism. Gehenna: in Hebrew gê-hinnōm, “Valley of Hinnom,” or gê ben-hinnōm, “Valley of the son of Hinnom,” southwest of Jerusalem, the center of an idolatrous cult during the monarchy in which children were offered in sacrifice (see 2 Kgs 23:10; Jer 7:31). In Jos 18:16 (Septuagint, Codex Vaticanus) the Hebrew is transliterated into Greek as gaienna, which appears in the New Testament as geenna. The concept of punishment of sinners by fire either after death or after the final judgment is found in Jewish apocalyptic literature (e.g., Enoch 90:26) but the name geenna is first given to the place of punishment in the New Testament. with his brother will be liable to judgment,#Jas 1:19–20. and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. 23Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you,#Mk 11:25. 24leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him.#18:34–35; Lk 12:58–59. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.
Teaching About Adultery. 27#See Ex 20:14; Dt 5:18. “You have heard that it was said,#Ex 20:14; Dt 5:18. ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29#No sacrifice is too great to avoid total destruction in Gehenna. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.#18:8–9; Mk 9:43–47. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.
Teaching About Divorce. 31#See Dt 24:1–5. The Old Testament commandment that a bill of divorce be given to the woman assumes the legitimacy of divorce itself. It is this that Jesus denies. (Unless the marriage is unlawful): this “exceptive clause,” as it is often called, occurs also in Mt 19:9, where the Greek is slightly different. There are other sayings of Jesus about divorce that prohibit it absolutely (see Mk 10:11–12; Lk 16:18; cf. 1 Cor 7:10, 11b), and most scholars agree that they represent the stand of Jesus. Matthew’s “exceptive clauses” are understood by some as a modification of the absolute prohibition. It seems, however, that the unlawfulness that Matthew gives as a reason why a marriage must be broken refers to a situation peculiar to his community: the violation of Mosaic law forbidding marriage between persons of certain blood and/or legal relationship (Lv 18:6–18). Marriages of that sort were regarded as incest (porneia), but some rabbis allowed Gentile converts to Judaism who had contracted such marriages to remain in them. Matthew’s “exceptive clause” is against such permissiveness for Gentile converts to Christianity; cf. the similar prohibition of porneia in Acts 15:20, 29. In this interpretation, the clause constitutes no exception to the absolute prohibition of divorce when the marriage is lawful. “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.’#19:3–9; Dt 24:1. 32But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.#Lk 16:18; 1 Cor 7:10–11.
Teaching About Oaths. 33#This is not an exact quotation of any Old Testament text, but see Ex 20:7; Dt 5:11; Lv 19:12. The purpose of an oath was to guarantee truthfulness by one’s calling on God as witness. #Lv 19:12; Nm 30:3. “Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow.’ 34#Ps 48:3; Sir 23:9; Is 66:1; Jas 5:12. But I say to you, do not swear at all;#The use of these oath formularies that avoid the divine name is in fact equivalent to swearing by it, for all the things sworn by are related to God. not by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black. 37#Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No’: literally, “let your speech be ‘Yes, yes,’ ‘No, no.’” Some have understood this as a milder form of oath, permitted by Jesus. In view of Mt 5:34, “Do not swear at all,” that is unlikely. From the evil one: i.e., from the devil. Oath-taking presupposes a sinful weakness of the human race, namely, the tendency to lie. Jesus demands of his disciples a truthfulness that makes oaths unnecessary. Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.
Teaching About Retaliation. 38#See Lv 24:20. The Old Testament commandment was meant to moderate vengeance; the punishment should not exceed the injury done. Jesus forbids even this proportionate retaliation. Of the five examples that follow, only the first deals directly with retaliation for evil; the others speak of liberality. “You have heard that it was said,#Ex 21:24; Lv 24:19–20. ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39#Lk 6:29–30. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. 40If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. 41Should anyone press you into service for one mile,#Roman garrisons in Palestine had the right to requisition the property and services of the native population. go with him for two miles.#Lam 3:30. 42Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.#Dt 15:7–8.
Love of Enemies.#See Lv 19:18. There is no Old Testament commandment demanding hatred of one’s enemy, but the “neighbor” of the love commandment was understood as one’s fellow countryman. Both in the Old Testament (Ps 139:19–22) and at Qumran (1QS 9:21) hatred of evil persons is assumed to be right. Jesus extends the love commandment to the enemy and the persecutor. His disciples, as children of God, must imitate the example of their Father, who grants his gifts of sun and rain to both the good and the bad. 43#Lk 6:27, 32–36. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’#Lv 19:18. 44But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. 46For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors#Tax collectors: Jews who were engaged in the collection of indirect taxes such as tolls and customs. See note on Mk 2:14. do the same? 47And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?#Jesus’ disciples must not be content with merely usual standards of conduct; see Mt 5:20 where the verb “surpass” (Greek perisseuō) is cognate with the unusual (perisson) of this verse. 48So be perfect,#Perfect: in the gospels this word occurs only in Matthew, here and in Mt 19:21. The Lucan parallel (Lk 6:36) demands that the disciples be merciful. just as your heavenly Father is perfect.#Lv 11:44; 19:2; Dt 18:13; Jas 1:4; 1 Pt 1:16; 1 Jn 3:3.