Posts Tagged ‘Matthew 5’


An Eye for an Eye: the Rules for Revenge…

February 9, 2012

In considering Sermon on the Mount, one is constantly confronted with statements that seem all to common though frequently misread.  It is amazing when you listen to popular culture, to hear the tell-tale signs of Biblical influence.  How often have we heard the statement “an eye for an eye” in regards to revenge or retribution.  Absent its Biblical context these phrases have very divergent meanings.  And absent the Sermon on the Mount and Christ’s revelation regarding God’s Law, we are prone to misuse and mistake God’s Law for our license to sin.  In Matthew 38-42 Jesus defines the scope of Christian ethics in relation to other people.  He begins by challenging the assumptions of His listeners and confounding their tendencies.  Here we will ask and attempt to answer two questions; What was the original intent of the OT law regarding “an eye for an eye”? and Did Jesus contradict this law?

What was the original O.T. Intent in the law of an eye for an eye?

An eye for an eye – This is an exact quotation found in three OT passages (Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21) and reflects the principle of lex talionis a Latin phrase from, (lex = law and talionis = retaliation = literally the “law of retaliation”)  Mankind is prone to an excess of sin in every area of life, and in seeking justice there is no exception.  This principle serves to “rein in reckless blood vengeance,”[1] such as we find in Genesis 4:23-24, where Lamech boasts that he will return abundant vengeance on those who have done him wrong. If Cain is avenged 7 times, then Lamech 70 times.”  To prevent such excess this principle was instituted, to insure that the punishment would fit the crime.  This principle was meant to inform the law courts on the appropriate level of punishment needed for offense and to provide an end to unlimited blood-feuds between wronged parties. However, by the time of Jesus, this was being misused as a license to pursue vengeance.

The Old Testament “did not allow an individual to take the law into his own hands and apply it personally. Yet that is exactly what rabbinic tradition had done. Each man was permitted, in effect, to become his own judge, jury, and executioner. God’s law was turned to individual license (permit to act, freedom to take a specific course of action), and civil justice was perverted to personal vengeance. Instead of properly acknowledging the law of an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth as a limit on punishment, they conveniently used it as a mandate for vengeance-as it has often been wrongly viewed throughout history. What God gave as a restriction on civil courts, Jewish tradition had turned into personal license for revenge. In still another way, the self-centered and self-asserted “righteousness” of the scribes and Pharisees had made a shambles of God’s holy law.”[2]

We see this same perversion being addressed occurring earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, concerning divorce. (5:31-32 and Matt 19:8)  Where additions were made to God’s law not to alter His law, but because of the hardness of the human heart.  “God gives by concession a legal regulation as a dam against the river of violence which flows from man’s evil heart.”  Jesus here is addressing and focusing on the heart of His disciples, not the law of God.

Does Jesus contradict The OT Law?

No. Jesus did not come to end the law but to fulfill it.  To redeem the law, which did not exist to provide a license to sin through legalism, but to guard the hearts of Israel, expose sin, and provide for sins redemption through sacrifice.  “Jesus opposed the rabbinic interpretation of the Law, rather than the Law itself.”[3] In the Old Testament the principle of lex talionis  (the law of retaliation, “eye for an eye.”) was meant to be used and applied in the judiciary process, “this is not the sphere of application in Matthew.  Jesus does not overthrow the principle of equivalent compensation on an institutional level that question is just not addressed but declares it illegitimate for His followers to apply it to their private disputes.”[4]

[1] Dockery, David. Seeking the Kingdom: the Sermon on the mount for Today. Wheaton: Shaw Pub. 1992. 61

[2] MacArthur, John.  Matthew 1-7 Macarthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Quarles, Charles. The Sermon on the Mount. Nashville: B&H pub. 2011. 146.

[4] Allison, Dale. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel of the According to St. Matthew, Vol 1. T&T clark Pub. 2000.  542.


The Turning of the Cheek… Was Jesus a Pacifist?

February 8, 2012

Matthew 5:38-42

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”

In the Sermon on the Mount, is Jesus teaching Pacifism?

No. Pacifism is defined as “opposition to war or violence as a means of settling disputes; or an attitude or policy of nonresistance.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)  This is not what Jesus is talking about.  He is not invalidating or even speaking to the ideas of international affairs, or wars, or the draft, or civil or criminal justice.  Jesus repeatedly in this sermon is trying to confront the common beliefs of His disciples and radically change their view of the world and how a kingdom citizen should act in the world.  Jesus here again, just like with murder, just like with adultery, is dealing with the heart.  His command is meant to “prohibit acts of retaliation and revenge inspired by anger and resentment.”[1]

Charles Quarles in his book,  Sermon on the Mount: Restoring Christ’s Message to the Modern Church, a couple very helpful qualifications for Jesus’ instruction not resist evil and to turn the other cheek:

a. Jesus’ message does not prohibit defensive action or evasive action necessary to protect oneself or others from serious harm.  “Jesus Himself, “turning the cheek” is to be understood as a figure for enduring abuse without seeking revenge.”  We see a prime example of this in John 18:22-23, Jesus is slapped by the guards and rather than suffering silently he protested the injustice of the beating, Jesus verbally defended himself and challenged the guards to provide evidence supporting their actions.  Scripture gives us several instances where Jesus withdrew from a situation to avoid injury: Mark 9:30-31; Luke 4:30; John 7:1,10; 10:39.

b. Jesus’ message does not prescribe that his disciples suffer fatal abuse without resistance.  The “slap” His disciples were to endure graciously, while painful and insulting, was not likely to cause permanent harm or be life threatening.  It is significant that He did not say “if anyone strikes your right cheek with a sword…” or ” if someone pummels your nose with his fist…”  So, for example, the believing wife who is in an abusive marriage should not simply “turn the other cheek” but should seek remedy through escape, legal recourse, and even physical resistance to protect herself and her family.  Likewise if someone breaks into your house, and attempts to steal from you, and harm you and your family, you are not bound to simply sit and let the violence be done.  “a person may do what is necessary to protect himself in the case of life-threatening or potentially dangerous attack.” Certainly we are to protect the innocent from evil, and defend the helpless, even if violence is called for in the endeavor.  Jesus is not addressing that.  He is addressing our tendency to be filled with anger and the desire for revenge when someone wrongs us.  Jesus is telling us, “wait, slow down, vengeance is mine, I will repay, do not respond in anger if someone insults you. Rather rise above it and display God’s love in the face of hostility, as I did.”

c. Jesus message does not preclude us from prosecuting those who have harmed someone if the legal action is against the one who assaulted them. “Victims of violent crimes should press charges against the one who assaulted them.  This is necessary for the public good in order to prevent others from being victimized.  Still the victim should purge his or her heart of malice, quenching the longing for revenge.”

[1] Quarles, 150.


How to Love our Enemies…

February 7, 2012

Matthew 5:44, “pray for those who persecute you…”

Jesus models for us the actions we must take to display love to those who are our enemies.  The love here in this passage is the Greek word Agapaw or “Agapa’oh”.  This love is a self-sacrificing love; love that goes beyond feeling, but moves to action.  This is the same word we find in John 3:16.  The world was hostile to God, denying Him and choosing their own way (Romans 1) and yet he “loved” them so much that he sent His only Son. That is the love for “enemies” that is displayed before us.

How do we show enemies we love them?  Love for our enemies begins in our heart.  Jesus has already told us that we are to consider ourselves blessed when “others insult you and persecute you… because of me.”  Jesus makes clear that outward actions have their genesis in the heart, whether its murder, lust, adultery, anger, it begins with the condition of our heart.  Here He instructs us concerning love.  We are to display our love to our enemies through prayer.  We are to pray for them.  When we are reviled we don’t curse in kind, we pray.  When we are taunted we don’t take the bait, we pray.  When we are teased we don’t respond in anger, we pray.  It is difficult to pray for anyone you hate, and that is kind of the point.  Prayer softens our heart, orients it toward God, and focuses on Him and His love for us and others.  We are rarely more like Christ than when we pray for those who seek our harm.  “praying for an enemy and loving him proves mutually reinforcing, the more love, the more prayer, the more prayer the more love.”[1]

“When you pray for someone while they are persecuting you, you are assaulting the throne of God on their behalf: “God, help this person.” That is supernatural! If you do that, you are walking in the heavenlies with Jesus. One of the benefits of praying for our enemies is that it changes us. It is impossible to go on praying for another without loving him or her. Those for whom we truly pray will become objects of our conscious love.”[2]

[1] Carson, DA. The Gospel of Matthew. The Expositors Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1984. 158

[2] Hughes, R. K. Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom. Crossway Books


Who is our Enemy and Does it Matter?

February 6, 2012

Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, and even throughout His ministry Jesus is constantly reorienting His listeners and directing His disciples.  In this Sermon, blessing is defined, the law is upheld, and the disciples are called to a new level of living.  Murder is no longer an outward act alone, but a condition of a fallen heart.  Likewise lust, adultery, hatred, and confessions become out-workings of a heart that is not pure, and as a result has not seen God.  In Matthew 5: 43-48 Jesus begins to confront the hearts of those who felt it appropriate to reserve love, and display it to a select few.

Matthew 5:43-44 “You have heard it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute you.”

For the Jews, the enemy was the one who was not your neighbor.  A neighbor was one who was part of the community, typically a fellow Jew, but even a foreigner sojourning through your community. (Ex. 23:4-5; Lev 19:18, 3334)  The enemies were those outside of these communities, the non-Jews.  The Jews of this time were known for their exclusion and hatred of non-Jews.  This is evidenced in the writings of the Roman Historians, Tacitus and Juvenal.[1]  The Old Testament never prescribes, outlines, or commands that Israel is to hate their enemies.  Rather, they were commanded in Leviticus 19:18, which Jesus here quotes, to “Love your neighbor.”

The “and hate your enemies” line seems to be referring to the traditional Rabbinic Teaching that grew up around the Law of God.  The Rabbi’s and Jewish religious establishment slowly added to God’s Law, distorting it and choking the life out of it, turning it into legalism devoid of God’s character.  Throughout His Sermon, Jesus is breaking down these man-made barriers, and revealing the Law we are meant to uphold.  One rooted in a heart reflecting the love of God, who “while we were still enemies, reconciled (us) to God through the death of His son.” (Romans 5:10)

For us, loving our enemies is not an easy task.  G.K. Chesterton once remarked that “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also love our enemies; probably because they are often the same people.”  There is a certain amount of wisdom in that saying, as we often have the greatest amount of strife with those who are close to us.  The word used here for enemy is the Greek word ekthros or Echthros, it is an adjective meaning hated, a man who is hostile toward others or toward God.  The common idea throughout the New Testament regarding the word enemy is one who stands in opposition.  They may be standing in opposition to God, or in opposition to you, or both if you are attempting to accomplish God’s work.  Your enemy may be real or perceived.  He or they may be actively opposing you, or simply passively displaying anger; inflicting pain, emotional damage, or financial hardship on you.  They may be family members, children, co-workers, or someone who happen to dislike.  They may be the drunk driver who accidentally killed your uncle in an accident.  They may be the boss who passed over you for promotion.  Obviously the list could go on and on.

It is much easier to identify your enemies than it is to show them God’s love, forgiveness and kindness.  Jesus is less concerned with the form your enemies take, and more concerned with the form of your attitude toward them.  For the Christian, an enemy should not be defined by the hatred in our heart or the vitriol from our lips, but rather our enemies should be marked as those who receive the outpouring of our kindness and love.  If they are hungry, we should feed them; if they are thirsty, we should give them something to drink. (Romans 12:20)

God Himself is kind to “ungrateful and evil men” (Luke 6:35); He came among them, and though they did not receive Him, He died for them.  And as they were pounding nails into His flesh, to hang Him up to die on a cross, He cried out on their behalf.  His cry was not one of cursing, as we might do when someone cuts us off in traffic;  His cry was not for God’s wrath, as we might call on for the one who steals from us at work.  His cry was that they might be forgiven, that the Father who loved them, might forgive them this horrendous act. What wrong could be done to us that has not been felt and forgiven by God?  If we are His and have His love, how can we love less those who He loves so much. “If the cruel torture of crucifixion could not silence our Lord’s prayer for His enemies, what pain, pride, prejudice, or sloth could justify the silencing our ours.” – John Stott

[1] Quarles, Charles. The Sermon on the Mount. Nashville. B&H. 2011. 160.


The Legalities of Lust… In the Sermon on the Mount

January 26, 2012

In Matthew 5:27-30…

Does this passage primarily function as an indictment against legalism (the Pharisees), or is it addressed toward everyone?

It does both. It condemns legalism and the “cover” that legalism affords.  Legalists maintain a sinful lifestyle but offset their sin by acts of righteousness in order to take shelter under those acts and feel forgiven.  To those who would draw the line and attempt to box God in and say, “well I’m not really being adulterous, I haven’t slept with that woman, I’ve just looked at her and thought about it…” Jesus says “ah but I am concerned with the desire of your heart.  If you claim to know me, and claim to want the blessing of my Father then listen to what I have said, mourn over your sin and you will be comforted; hunger for my righteousness and you will be satisfied; be pure in your heart and you will see Me for who I really am,  And that vision of me will outshine any earthly temptation you face.”

The message of Jesus is that the key to sexual purity is to seek “a circumcised heart (Duet 10:16), a heart on which God’s Holy Law is writtenJer 31:31-34), a new heart (Ezek 36:24-27), a heart that is pure (Matt 5:8).  Only God may grant such a heart in fulfillment of his new convenant promise, the promise that forms the theological foundation for the radical demands of the sermon on the mount.”[1]

 What does it mean to look at a woman to lust for her?  Is there to be no admiration for a woman’s body?

“The man whom Jesus here condemns (in Mt 5:27, 28) is the man who deliberately uses his eyes to stimulate his desires; the man who finds a strange delight in things which waken the desire for the forbidden thing.”  The verb here is a present participle, which is to say that it has the sense of on-going action.  To look and keep on looking, the lustful look “locks eyes on another person and uses him or her to fuel one’s sexual imagination.”[2]

“The “look” that Jesus mentioned was not a casual glance, but a constant stare with the purpose of lusting. It is possible for a man to glance at a beautiful woman and know that she is beautiful, but not lust (Job 31:1) after her. The man Jesus described looked at the woman for the purpose of feeding his inner sensual appetites as a substitute for the act (James 1:14, 15). It was not accidental; it was planned.[3]

The “lust” in view here is the word epiqumhsai or (epi-thu-meysai)  which means literally to fix the desire upon (object could be good Mt 13:17, Lk 22:15 used of Jesus; or bad 1Co 10:6). It means to have a strong desire to do or secure something. To desire greatly.

Mankind, both male and female were created in the image of God.  In the image of God He created him, male and female He created them. (Gen 2:27)  This includes their physical person as well as their spiritual nature and soul.  Whether one lusts and sins when one looks at the human body is not reliant on the ‘body’ viewed but in the heart of the viewer.  “To the pure all things are pure. But the man whose heart is defiled can look at any scene and find something in it titillate and excite the wrong desire.”[4]

To appreciate a human body properly, within the context of God’s good creation, one must see beyond the physical and see that this is someone created in God’s own image made to know Him and glorify Him.  The problem with today’s pornography culture is that individuals are not seen as the image of God but rather as a means to excite the eyes for sexual gratification.  They are a means to an end.  Anytime we look at the opposite sex as a means to some end we are not glorifying God but denigrating his creation, and ourselves.






[1] Quarles, 124.

[2] Ibid. 117.

[3] Wiersbe, W: Bible Exposition Commentary. 1989. Victor)

[4] Barclay, W: The Daily Study Bible Series. The Westminster Press.


The Costly Consequences of Sin… Christ’s Solution

January 25, 2012

“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”

-Matthew 5:29-30

Is there any Old Testament precedent for Jesus’ teaching on removing stumbling blocks for oneself (in this passage the right eye and the right hand).

There is no specific example of this (mutilation) being done; but its absence is key in and of itself.  Would that Israel had that mindset; that the Jews would have chosen to flee sin and idolatry instead of indulging it.  “Several Old Testament prophets used adultery as a metaphor to describe unfaithfulness to God. Idolatry (Ezekiel 23:27) and other pagan religious practices (Jeremiah 3:6-10) were viewed as adulterous unfaithfulness to the exclusive covenant that God established with His people. To engage in such was to play the harlot (Hosea 4:11-14).”[1]  Jesus is reminding and re-emphasizing the seriousness of adultery; whether physical adultery, mental adultery or spiritual adultery.  Israel, as a people, had been unfaithful to God, and as a result many had found judgment and condemnation.  Better to incur loss and stay in God’s blessing than remain whole and stand outside his presence.

The point of this hyperbole is to communicate the willingness of the individual to flee sin even at great personal and perhaps even physical cost.  There are two examples in Scripture that bear witness to this in principle; a positive example and a negative one.

The positive example is that of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife (Gen 39:10-20).  Joseph, though single, viewed sexual relations with the wife of another man as a heinous act.  He fled and did so at a great cost to himself and his well being.  In this case it was not his hand that was causing him to sin, nor his eye but his proximity to Potiphar’s wife.  So he fled and eliminated that proximity.  As a result he lost his position, his job, and was cast into prison, but maintained his character and was ultimately restored.

The negative example would be that of David.  He gazed out over the rooftops of Jerusalem and saw Bathsheba. (2 Sam 11)  Instead of fleeing, he indulged the look, lusted and finally acted.  As a result of his sin; she became pregnant, David killed her husband, their child died at birth and David’s kingdom was greatly troubled.  If David had known the consequences that would come and could have chosen, one might assume that he would have been willing to loose an eye or a hand to prevent such evil from occurring.

What did Jesus mean when he said ‘tear out the right eye and cut off the right hand’?

Most scholars today take this statement is hyperbole, or extreme speech that was not intended to be taken literally.  Jesus mentions the ‘right’ hand and the ‘right’ eye, the right hand “typically had greater strength, dexterity, and purity.  The right hand was used to greet others, bestow blessings, and establish legal agreements.”[2]  Thus the right hand was seen as more valuable and useful, its loss would be greater than the left.  The point being that the Christian should be willing, not only to make sacrifices, but genuine even costly sacrifices to avoid sin.  For a life that does not avoid sin is a life lived in sin, a life bent for judgment.

“Avoiding spiritual downfall is worthy of any sacrifice, no matter how great!”

So if we think about this in modern terms; if your job is causing you to sin i.e. coworkers tempting you to steal or cheat etc. better to quit your job and maintain your integrity than to stay and engage in sin.  If your friends are tempting you to sin i.e. drink, have sex, do drugs, look at pornography etc.  better to remove those friendships and follow Christ than place those friendships above your relationship with Jesus.  If you are tempted by pornography or internet gambling etc. to the point that you can not sit at a computer without engaging in it, better to get rid of your computer and enter heaven; than to keep your computer and continue to live a life of sin.  Either way your actions reflect the orientation of your heart.  A pure heart endeavors to be pure in action; an impure heart is careless and inspires sinful action.

[1]  Butler, Trent C. Editor.. “Entry for ‘ADULTERY'”. “Holman Bible Dictionary”.
<;. 1991.

[2] The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), dexioV 2:37-40.


Back to the Future…Adultery in the First Century

January 25, 2012


So when Jesus uses the word “adultery,” what would this word bring to mind for his Jewish audience?  Certainly he is pointing back to Exodus 20, but what would constitute adultery in 1st century Judaism?

By the first century, society still viewed adultery as serious.  Jews had entire sections of their law, devoted to the explanation of adultery down to the finest point.  But we should never underestimate mankind’s ability to take a law or precept from God and begin to twist it and conform it to make excuses for the very sin it was meant to warn against.  Such was the case with the Jews.

Many in Jesus’ era “assumed that unconditional fidelity was demanded only of the woman in a marriage.”  There is some biblical example for this assumption. “The incident with Tamar and Judah in Genesis 38:24-26 vividly illustrates this attitude.  Judah considered himself above reproach when he dallied with someone he thought to be a prostitute (Tamar in disguise) at his shepherds convention, but he was ready to stone Tamar when she turned up pregnant.  This chauvinistic attitude was prevalent in the Roman world.”[1]   Laws concerning adultery were very much lopsided and favored men far more than women. This was not God’s design by any means, as the Seventh Commandment reflects.  But man had twisted God’s law and bent it to excuse bad behavior.  The man is exhorted in proverbs to be faithful to his wife (Pr 5:15-19) but according to Jewish law his infidelity is only punished if he violates the rights of another man by taking a married woman as his partner.[2]  Jews would have viewed adultery “as sexual intercourse with the wife or betrothed of another Jew,”[3] and sought to punish the woman first, before the man.  Consider the story of woman brought to Jesus “caught in the act of adultery” (John 8:1-11).  The woman is present for punishment but the man is absent.

Moreover, the Rabbis made a distinction between the thoughts of a man and those thoughts acted out.  They held that a man’s good intentions were reckoned to him as good deeds, while his evil intentions are counted ONLY if he succumbs to them.  In other words, you were not guilt per se if you had lustful thoughts; but only if those thoughts were turned into action.[4]

[1] Dockery, David and David E Garland Seeking the Kingdom: the Sermon on the Mount made Practical for today. Wheaton: Harold Shaw Pub. 1992. 53.

[2] de Vaux, Roland. Ancient Israel: social institutions. Vol. 1 New York: McGraw Hill. 1965. 37.

[3] Johnson, Sherman The Gospel According to St. Matthew. The Interpreters Bible Vol. 7 Nashville: Abingdon. 1951. 297.

[4] Ibid. 297.