Title: “Correct Text, Bad Interpretation: Jesus Brings Clarity to the original meaning of the Law Concerning Murder, Anger, Contempt, and Reconciliation” (Part I)
Text: Matthew 5:21-26
Date: Sunday, November 11, 2018
Speaker: Pastor Joseph
The Text: Matthew 5:21-26
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”
Introduction: In Matthew 5:21-48, Jesus interprets six legal texts from the Old Testament by providing several examples and illustrations (relating to anger, lust, divorce, oaths, retaliation, love) to his disciples how to practice greater righteousness that exceeds that of the pharisees and the scribes. For Jesus, human righteousness that is approved by God is that which is stemmed from a sincere heart and his deep relationship with God. Righteousness is not an external act, but that is an inward virtue manifest itself outwardly. Jesus gives a warning to his disciples not to practice their righteousness before people in order that they may be seen by people or to receive praise for their good conduct (6:1). Righteousness is a matter of the heart. As David prays to God, “Your law I treasure in my heart so I may not sin against thee.”
The core of this issue in regard to the law can be found in vv. 21 and 22, and vv. 23-26, Jesus shows the application of the issues of the law. The first example pertains to interpersonal relationships in the church (5:23-24), and the second example is about interpersonal conflict with others, as communicated in vv. 25-26.
Exposition of the Text
The structure of the passage can divided in three main parts:
- Jesus’ allusion to the Torah instruction/statement
- Jesus’ explanation of the true intent of the Torah instruction/statement
- Jesus’ providing the practical application of the Torah instruction/statement
The Six illustrations and declarations about Tradition and Interpretation of the Torah: 5:21-48
- “You have heard that it was said to those of old” (v.21): statement on anger
- “You have heard that it was said” (v.27): statement on lust
- “It was also said” (v.31): statement on divorce
- “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of old” (v.33): statement about oaths
- “You have heard that it was said” (v.38): statement about retaliation
- “You have heard that it was said” (v.43): statement about love your enemies
Six declarations about Jesus’s reinterpretation and clarification about the intended meaning and original meaning of the Torah:
- “But I say to you” (v.22)
- “But I say to you” (v.28)
- “But I say to you” (v. 32)
- “But I say to you” (v.34)
- “But I say to you” (v.39)
- “But I say to you” (v.44)
***Through this repeated statement, Jesus was not contrasting his interpretation with the Scripture, but with the rabbinic tradition and interpretations of his day. Jesus was not challenging the authority of Scripture, but the authority of the religious leaders who claimed that they were speaking for God and experts on the law; they appointed themselves as God-mouthpiece and God’s chosen theologians. In this way, Jesus rejects the self-righteous of the Pharisees and the scribes. “God has never merely wanted people to obey rules; he wants them to be holy as he is, to value what he values.” –Craig Keener, THE IVP NEW Commentary Series: Matthew
- In the Jewish-Rabbinic tradition, the people called the Rabbis of past generations the “fathers of antiquity” or “the men of long ago” (Qtd in MacArthur, Mathew, p. 285). Hence, when Jesus states that “it was said to those old” (verses 21, 33), he was referring to God’s revelation to the rabbis of past generations. Hence, in these six statements, Jesus was contrasting his interpretation of the Scriptures, expounding the true intent of the Word of God, to what these rabbis have taught the people of God and preserved both in Jewish writings and oral traditions.
- In other words, Jesus points out to his disciples that the Jewish tradition regulating moral behaviors and ethical practices, and theological interpretation of the law of God was in conflict with Scripture. His goal was to clarify and flesh out fresh and God-given original meaning of the law. Unlike the Pharisees and the scribes who showcased an outward righteousness, Jesus insisted that it is the inner righteousness, that is the unadulterated motive of the heart, that is pleasing to God.
Warnings from Jesus about the interpreters of the Law
- The interpreters of the law misinterpret the Torah; they do not practice or live what they preach. Do not follow false teachers (Matthew 23:24).
- Their practice of the law in the public is not stemmed from a sincere heart or pure inward motive, but they do so to receive public acclaim and honor (v.24).
Four Examples of Misinterpreting the Law: Matthew 23
In Matthew 23, Jesus provides four examples in how the teachers of the law misinterpreted and applied the law wrongly:
- Misinterpretation of the law: 23:16: “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’
Correction interpretation: 23:17: You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred?
- Misinterpretation of the law: 23:18: “and you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’
Correction interpretation: 23:19: You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?
Further detailed explanation and clarity (original intent/superior interpretation) from Jesus: 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.”
- Misinterpretation of the law: 23:23: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin…”,
Correction interpretation: 23:23: “… [You] and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”
Further Examples of Misquoting Scripture: A debate and interpretation about Traditions and Commandments
- Misinterpretation of the law regarding hand-washing: 15:1-2, “Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.”
Correction interpretation: 15:3, “He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?”
- Misinterpretation of the law on honoring one’s parents: 15:5-6, “But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” 6 he need not honor his father.’”
Correction interpretation: 15:4, “For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’”
****Jesus’ Conclusion: 15:6, “So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word[b] of God.”
- Problems of the Heart: Three Major Issues about the Heart’s Disposition and Motive
Matthew 15:18-19, “18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”
See also, Romans 1:28-31, “28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.”
***A Call to get our heart right with God and to have good intentions toward others
- Matthew 23:15,“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.
The call to repentance: Jesus’ prescription: 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
- Matthew 23:17, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.
- Matthew 23:28, So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (See also Matthew 23:3-4)
Indictment against false righteousness and public action to be seen by others: 29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’
- Jesus condemns premeditated manslaughter and intentional murder: 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets….”
Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah,[f] whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.