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Matthew 5


The Sermon on the Mount The Beatitudes The Sermon on the Mount The Sermon on the Mount The Beatitudes
5:1-2 5:1-12 5:1-2 5:1-2 5:1-12
The Beatitudes   The Beatitudes True Happiness  
5:3-12   5:3 5:3-10 (3-10)
    5:11-12 5:11-12  
Salt and Light Believers are Salt and Light The Witness of the Disciples Salt and Light Salt for the Earth and Light for the World
5:13-16 5:13-16 5:13 5:13 5:13
    5:14-16 5:14-16 5:14-16
Teaching About the Law Christ Fulfills the Law The Relation of Jesus' Message to the Jewish Law Teaching About the Law The Fulfillment of the Law
5:17-20 5:17-20 5:17-20 5:17-20 5:17-19
Teaching About Anger Murder Begins in the Heart Illustrations of the True Understanding of the Law Teaching About Anger The New Standard Higher Than the Old
5:21-26 5:21-26 5:21-26 5:21-24 5:21-26
Teaching About Adultery Adultery in the Heart   Teaching About Adultery  
5:27-30 5:27-30 5:27-30 5:27-20 5:27-30
Teaching About Divorce Marriage is Sacred and Binding   Teaching About Divorce  
5:31-32 5:31-32 5:31-32 5:31-32 5:31-32
Teaching About Oaths Jesus Forbids Oaths   Teaching About Vows  
5:33-37 5:33-37 5:33-37 5:33-37 5:33-37
Teaching About Retaliation Go the Second Mile   Teaching About Revenge  
5:38-42 5:38-42 5:38-42 5:38-42 5:38-42
Love for Enemies Love Your Enemies   Love for Enemies  
5:43-48 5:43-48 5:43-48 5:43-48 5:43-48


READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")



This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



A. This sermon has been called

1. "The Ordination Address to the Twelve"

2. "The Compendium of Christian Doctrine"

3. "The Magna Carta of the Kingdom"

4. "The Manifesto of the King"

The term "Sermon on the Mount" was first used by Augustine (a.d. 354-430) in his Latin Commentary on Matthew. This title came into our English Bibles through the Coverdale Bible of a.d. 1535.

B. "The Sermon on the Mount" in Matthew 5-7 is possibly the same as "the Sermon on the Plain" in Luke 6. The difference in the contents can be explained by comparing the target audiences of the Gospels writers; Matthew's readers were Palestinian Jews and Luke's were Gentiles. However, because the differences are so great, many believe they are not the same sermon. They may be examples of often repeated themes used by Jesus in many places with differing audiences. An example of this is the parable of the lost sheep. In Matthew 18 it was directed to disciples, but in Luke 15 to sinners.


C. Under God's inspiration, the Gospel writers were free to select from Jesus' teachings and actions and to combine them in non-chronological ways to communicate theological truth. See Fee and Stuart's How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, pp. 127-148. The Gospels are not biographies-they are evangelistic tracts and discipleship manuals. Matthew combines Jesus' teachings and miracles into thematic units, while Luke records these same teachings in different contexts throughout his Gospel.


D. The structure of Matthew's first (of five, i.e., 5-7; 10-13; 18; 24-25) and longest discourse of Jesus is very Jewish, possibly a conscious structural parallel to the Ten Commandments. The statements are pointed gnomic sentences, often paradoxical, which attempt to summarize truth and aid memory. Thematically they are loosely related but grammatically separate.


E. These teachings are the ultimate kingdom ethic meant to convict the lost and motivate the saved. The audience was comprised of several different groups: the disciples, the curious, the sick, the skeptical and the religious elite. Different texts were intended for the differing groups.


F. These teachings are basically an attitude toward life or a " worldview" which is radically reoriented toward faith and obedience to God. There is an obvious play on Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5.


G. A good book which describes Jesus' teaching and preaching methods is Robert H. Stein's, The Methods and Message of Jesus' Teaching, Westminister Press, 1978, ISBN 0-664-24216-2.


H. The purpose is not to show the lost how to be saved, but how God expects the saved to live. The new kingdom ethic is so radical that even the most committed self-righteous legalists feel inadequate. Grace is the only hope for salvation (i.e., Isa 55:1-3) and the Spirit's power the only hope for kingdom living (i.e., Isa. 55:6-7).



A. The Beatitudes form a spiritual ladder (1) from salvation to Christlikeness or (2) from mankind's sense of spiritual need to mankind's new life in Christ.


B. Their number has been understood differently as 7, 8, 9, and even 10.


C. The Beatitudes demand a response from the reader/hearer! They are not informational but motivational!


D. Three helpful quotes:

1. Every moral system is a road which by self-denial, discipline, and effort, men seek to reach the goal. Christ begins with this goal, and places His disciples at once in the position to which all other teachers point as the end. . .They began by commanding, He by bestowing: because He brings good tidings of forgiveness and mercy." The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim, p. 528-529.

2. "The Sermon on the Mount is neither an impractical ideal nor a set of fixed legal regulations. It is, instead, a statement of the principles of life essential in a normal society. . .Many of the sayings of the Sermon are metaphorical or proverbial statements and are not to be understood in a literal or legal sense. In them, Jesus was illustrating principles in concrete terms." The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. vol. 4 p. 2735.

3. "Basic Principles:

a. Character is the secret of happiness.

b. Righteousness is grounded in the inner life. Character is not something imposed from without, but a life that unfolds from within.

c. The inner life is a unity.

d. Universal love is the fundamental social law.

e. Character and life exist in and for fellowship with the Father. All worship and conduct look toward God.

f. Fulfillment is the final test of life.

g. Deeds and character are the only things that abide and endurance is the final test."

 The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. vol. 4 p. 2735.



 1When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying,

5:1 "When Jesus saw the crowds" People from all areas of society flocked to Jesus. These huge crowds were also present in Matt. 4:23-25 and Luke 6:17. Probably the disciples and those who were truly interested, formed an inner circle closest to Jesus with the others in the background (cf. Matt. 7:28).

▣ "the mountain" In Luke 6:17 the physical setting is a plain, but the content of the messages is basically the same. Luke's historical setting seems best. Jesus was praying on the mountain about His choice of the Twelve, but He came down onto the plain to receive the crowd and then moved back up the hillside a short distance so all could hear and see. The Greek term in Matthew can refer to the hill country and the term in Luke can refer to a level place in the hill country. So maybe the apparent contradiction is an English translation problem. However the two messages are different in many ways. Matthew may have described a mountain setting to parallel the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. Jesus is the new law-giver (cf. Matt. 5:21-48).

The Gospel writer is purposely structuring the life of Jesus in such a way as to mimic the life of Moses (here, Exod. 19:3; 24:12). Jesus is the new and greater "law-giver" ! He is the prophet that Moses said would come after him (cf. Deut. 18:14-22). Fallen humans (both Jew and Gentile) find their salvation in Him, not in performance-based religion (cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:22-38, "the new covenant")!

▣ "He sat down" This was a rabbinical idiom for an official teaching session (26:55; Mark 9:35; Luke 4:20; 5:3; John 8:2), as was " He opened His mouth" (Matt. 5:2). These phrases, as well as the standardized close at Matt. 7:28, "When Jesus had closed this address," imply that this is presented by Matthew as one sermon. This is the first and longest of five sermons by Jesus recorded by Matthew (Matthew 10, 13, 18, & 24-25).

▣ "His disciples came to Him" Some, assuming that Matthew and Luke are different sermons, assert that only disciples were present here. They were the object and recipients of this sermon, but the common people and the religious leaders were standing around listening (cf. Matt. 7:28). It is possible that Jesus spoke to one group and then another.

5:2 "began to teach them" This is an imperfect tense, which can mean (1) He began to teach or (2) he continued to reiterate these things on different occasions. Matthew's Gospel is characterized by combining Jesus' teachings into topics. The content of Matthew 5-7 is scattered throughout many chapters in Luke.

 3"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

5:3 "Blessed" This term meant "happy" or "honored" (cf. Matt. 5:3-11). The English word "happy" comes from the Old English " happenstance." Believers' God-given happiness is not based on physical circumstances, but inner joy. There are no verbs in these statements. They are exclamatory (cf. Rev. 1:3) in form like in Aramaic or Hebrew (cf. Ps.1:1). This blessedness is both a current attitude toward God and life as well as an eschatological hope. A blessed person was a righteous person (cf. Psalm 119:1-2).

▣ "poor in spirit," Two terms in Greek were used to describe poverty; the one used here was the more severe of the two. It was often used of a beggar who was dependent on a provider. In the OT this implied hope in God alone! Matthew makes it clear that this does not refer to physical poverty, but to spiritual inadequacy. Man must recognize God's adequacy and his own inadequacy (cf. John. 15:5; 2 Cor. 12:9). This is the beginning of the gospel (cf. Rom. 1:18-3:31). Possibly these first few beatitudes reflect Isa. 61:1-3, which predicted the Messianic blessings of the coming New Age.

▣ "kingdom of heaven" This phrase, "Kingdom of Heaven" or "Kingdom of God," is used over 100 times in the Gospels. In Luke 6:20 it is the "kingdom of God." Matthew was writing for people with a Jewish background who were nervous pronouncing God's name because of Exod. 20:7. But the Gospels of Mark (cf. Matt. 10:14) and Luke were written to Gentiles. The two phrases are synonymous. See Special Topic at Matt. 4:17.

The phrase refers to the reign of God in human hearts now that will one day be consummated over all the earth (cf. Matt. 6:10). This is possibly confirmed by Matthew alternating between present tense "is" in Matt. 5:3 and 10, and future tense "shall be" in Matt. 5:4-9.

 4"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."

5:4 "mourn" This referred to "loud wailing," which was the strongest term for mourning in the Greek language. The context implies that the mourning was for our sin. The result of seeing one's sin (Matt. 5:3) must be repentance (Matt. 5:4). It is possible, if the OT referent is Isa. 61:1-3, that it was mourning in a corporate, societal sense.

▣ "comforted" See Isa. 12:1; 40:1; 49:13; 51:3,12; 52:9; 66:13. The new age has dawned in Christ. God comforts not only the OT people of God, but all who believe/trust Jesus. The OT promises to Israel have been universalized to the whole world (cf. John 3:16).

 5"Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth."

5:5 "gentle" This is literally "meek" or " humble." Jesus used this term for Himself (cf. Matt. 11:29; 21:5). Its origin implies domesticated strength, like a trained horse. Recognizing our need for God and His provision in Christ makes believers humble and teachable (cf. 1 Pet. 3:4). God wants to direct our strengths to His purposes (He gave them, cf. Psalm 139; 1 Corinthians 12), not break them.

▣ "inherit the earth" This was often associated with the Promised Land (cf. Ps.37:11), but it could be an eschatological reference for the entire earth (cf. Isa. 11:6-9). This reflects the ambiguity of the Hebrew term erets (BDB 75). Again God's OT promises have been universalized.

 6"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied."

5:6 "hunger and thirst" This is a present active participle describing the basic ongoing spiritual needs of humankind (cf. John. 4:10-15). This metaphor reflects a kingdom person's ongoing attitude toward God (cf. Ps. 42:2; 63:1-5; Isa. 55:1; Amos 8:11-12). This is a sign that the image of God, lost in the fall, has been restored through Christ.

NRSV"for righteousness"
TEV"to do what God requires"
NJB"for uprightness"

This key theological term can mean (1) a declared (legal) or imputed (banking) right standing (cf. Romans 4) or (2) a personal kingdom ethic, which is Matthew's use of the term (cf. Matt. 6:1 for Synagogue usage). It involves both justification and justice; both sanctification and sanctified living! This is another example of Matthew's circumlocution, a substitution of another word or phrase for the name of God (cf. Matt. 5:7-8).


▣ "satisfied" Literally "gorged," this term was used of fattening cattle for market.

 7"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy."

5:7 "merciful" Mercy is the result-not the grounds-of knowing God. It is the ability to put one's self in another's situation and act with compassion (cf. Matt. 6:12,14-15; 18:21-35; Luke 6:36-38; James 2:13).

A change occurs here in the beatitudes. The two previous ones have focused on the Kingdom person's sense of spiritual need; the following ones, however, focus on the attitudes that motivate one's actions. This was what was missing in Pharisaism then and legalism now.

▣ "they shall receive mercy" This is a future passive indicative which is literally translated "shall be mercied." The implications of this tense are: (1) the future tense was used in the sense of certainty now, in this age or (2) the FUTURE blessing and forgiveness in the Last Day Judgment (eschatology) scene. The passive voice may be another circumlocution like "kingdom of heaven," to avoid using God's name.

 8"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

5:8 "pure in heart" Our attitudes are crucial (cf. Titus 1:15). Priorities are equally crucial (cf. Heb. 12:14). From Ps. 24:4 and 73:1, "pure" can mean (1) single-minded, (2) focused, or (3) cleansed (cf. Heb.12:14). This term was used in the OT for ritual washings. Notice the focus is on the heart, the center of the individual's being, not the intellect or ritual actions. The central aspect of personhood in the OT was the "heart," while in Greek thought it was the "mind."


▣ "shall see God" To the pure in heart, God can be seen in all creation and in every situation. Purity opens the spiritual eyes. In the OT to see God meant to die (cf. Gen. 16:13; 32:30; Exod. 20:19; 33:20; Jdgs. 6:22, 23; 13:22; Isa. 6:5). This statement, therefore, would probably refer to an eschatological setting.

 9"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."

5:9 "peacemakers" This compound word appears only here. It refers to reconciliation between God and humanity, which results in peace between persons. However, this is not a peace at any price, but peace through repentance and faith (cf. Mark 1:15; Acts 3:16,19; 20:21; Rom. 5:1). God has not changed, humanity has (i.e., Genesis 3; Rom. 3:9-19; Gal. 3:22), but in Christ the original mindset has been restored.


▣ "sons of God" In the OT this phrase usually referred to angels. It is a Hebrew idiom reflecting God's character. The goal of Christianity is Christlikeness (cf. Rom. 8:28-29; Gal. 4:19), which is the restoration of the image of God in mankind lost in the Fall of Genesis 3. See Special Topic at Matt. 27:54.

 10"Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

5:10 "those who have been persecuted" This is a perfect passive participle. It speaks to those who have been and continue to be persecuted by an outside agent (i.e., Satan, demonic, unbelievers). The persecution of believers is a real possibility, even an expected reality, for God's children in a fallen world (cf. Acts 14:22; Rom. 5:3-4; 8:17; Phil. 1:29; 1 Thess. 3:3; 2 Tim. 3:12; James 1:2-4; 1 Pet.3:14; 4:12-19; Rev. 11:7; 13:7). Notice the suffering is occurring because of the godly lifestyle and witness of believers. God uses it to make believers like Christ (cf. Heb. 5:8).This verse is a needed balance to the modern American (health, wealth and prosperity, see Gordon Fee, The Disease of the Health Wealth Gospel) overemphasis on the covenant promises of Deuteronomy 27-29 applied directly and unconditionally (i.e., ignoring the curses for disobedience) to all believers. Health, wealth, and prosperity promises must be balanced by the repeated acknowledgment of the suffering of believers, because they are people of faith in a fallen, godless world. Jesus suffered, the Apostles suffered, the early Christians suffered, so shall believers in every age! With this truth in mind it is also probable that the church will go through the tribulation period (no secret rapture)!

 11"Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

5:11-12 A new paragraph should start with Matt. 5:11 (cf. NRSV & TEV). The pronouns in these verses change from the third person to the second. Luke 6:22-23 has an even stronger wording.

5:11 "insult you and persecute you" These are both aorist subjunctives which denoted a contingency but with a Third class conditional structure which showed it was potential (cf. Rom. 5:3-5; James 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 4:12-19). Persecution may be common, but it is not to be desired or pursued (as did many of the early church fathers). In the OT, problems and persecution were often interpreted as a sign of God's displeasure because of sin (cf. Job, Psalm 73, and Habakkuk deal with the subject). The righteous do suffer. But Jesus went one step further. Those who live and witness for Him will suffer rejection and persecution from a fallen world as He did (cf. John. 15:20; Acts 14:22; 2 Tim. 3:12).

NRSV"and falsely say all kinds of evil against you"
TEV"and tell all kinds of evil lies against you"
NJB"and speak all kinds of calumny against you"

There is some manuscript doubt about the present participle "falsely." It is missing in the western uncial manuscript D, the Diatesseron, and the Greek texts used by Origen, Tertullian, and Eusebius. It is included in the early Greek uncial manuscripts א, B, C, W, and the Vulgate and Coptic translations. It does reflect the historical situation of the early church. The early Christians were accused of incest, cannibalism, treason, and atheism. All of these accusations were related to misunderstandings about Christian terms and worship practices (cf. 1 Pet. 2:12,15; 3:16). The UBS4 gives its inclusion a C rating (difficulty in deciding).

▣ "because of Me" This is linked to Matt. 5:10. The persecution discussed is specifically related to being an active follower of Christ (cf. 1 Pet. 4:12-16).

5:12 "Rejoice and be glad" These are two present imperatives (cf. Acts 5:41; 16:25). Rejoicing comes from being counted worthy to suffer for/with Christ and being rewarded (cf. Rom. 8:17). Be careful of self pity. Nothing "just happens" to God's children (cf. Rom. 5:2-5; James 1:2-4, see Hannah Whithall Smith's The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life). Suffering has a purpose in the plan of God.

▣ "for your reward in heaven is great" See Special Topic following.


▣ "the prophets" This was a veiled reference to Christ's Deity. As the prophets of the OT suffered because of their relationship with and service to YHWH, so too, the Christian will suffer because of his relationship with and service to Christ.

 13"You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men."

5:13 "You are the salt of the earth" Because of the extreme value of salt in the ancient world (1) for healing and cleansing; (2) for preserving food; (3) for flavoring food; and (4) for sustaining moisture in humans in very dry climates, salt was a prized possession. It was often used to pay soldiers'wages. Christians are called the "salt of the earth" because of their penetrating and preserving power in a lost world. "You" is plural and emphatic like Matt. 5:14. Believers are salt (cf. Mark 9:50). It is not an option. The only choice is what kind of salt will they be. Salt can become adulterated and useless (cf. Luke 14:34-35). Lost people are watching.

▣ "if salt has become tasteless" This is a third class conditional sentence which meant potential action. Literally salt cannot lose its strength but when mixed with impurities the salt can leach away and, thereby, the salt content is diluted. Christians can lose and/or damage their testimonies!

The term "tasteless" was normally used in the sense of "foolish" (cf. Rom. 1:27; 1 Cor. 1:20).

▣ "It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men" Salt that was unusable as a preservative or flavor enhancer was absolutely useless. It was thrown on the footpaths or roof tops to form a hard top seal. Salt taken from the Dead Sea had many impurities. The people in this part of the world were accustomed to unusable salt.

 14"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven."

5:14 "You are the light of the world" Light has always been a biblical metaphor of truth and healing. It was used by Jesus to describe Himself (cf. John. 9:5). The question is not, "Will you be the light of the world?" As a believer, you are the light of the world (cf. Phil. 2:15). The only real question is, "What kind of light will you be?" All that some people know about God, they know from you and your life! "You" is plural and emphatic like Matt. 5:13.

▣ "a city" This was a generic reference either to (1) the location of a city in plain view or (2) its white limestone which gleamed in the sun. Those who try to relate it to an eschatological Jerusalem are hard pressed to explain the absence of the definite article. Cities, like lights, are not designed or intended to be hidden.


NASB, NKJV"a basket"
NRSV"the bushel basket"
TEV"a bowl"
NJB"a tub"

This referred to an earthen pot used for measuring grain.

▣ "lampstand" There was a small protrusion from the wall in ancient Palestinian homes on which a small oil lamp was placed which gave light to the whole room (cf. Mark 4:21-22; Luke 8:16-17).

5:16 Believers'lifestyles must bring glory and honor to God (i.e., "sons of God" in Matt. 5:9, cf. Eph. 1:4; 2:8-10). It is possible that the thrust of this verse related to the exclusivism and cloistering of groups like the Essenes. Believers must stay engaged with an evil society, but not become part of it (cf. John. 17:15-18).

▣ "Father" The normal posture for Jewish prayer was standing with the eyes open and the head and arms lifted upward. They prayed as if in dialogue with God.

Jesus' use of the title Father to describe YHWH is one of the unique aspects of His teachings. Matthew records Jesus' use of the title for God over forty times.



This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. To whom are these statements directed?

2. Can anyone meet these standards?

3. Why do Matthew and Luke record the same sermon differently?

4. Why are these statements so paradoxical?

5. How do the Beatitudes relate to each other?

6. What is the purpose of the Sermon on the Mount?

7. Write the central truth of each paragraph in your own words and then summarize the whole.



A. To understand 5:17-20 one must realize that Jesus rejected the Jewish oral tradition (Talmud) which attempted to interpret the written Old Testament. Jesus elevated the OT in strong and definitive statements (i.e., 5:17-19), then showed Himself to be its true fulfillment and ultimate interpreter (i.e., 5:21-48). This can be seen in the fact that Jesus used the phrase "you have heard" not "it is written." This is a powerful Christological passage, in light of the Jews'respect for the written and oral Law.


B. This section is not exhaustive of the misinterpretations of first century Judaism but representative. The entire sermon, Matthew 5-7, is an attitude check for humble believers and a pride killer for self-righteous legalists. Jesus placed the mind alongside the hand as the source of sin and rebellion against God's law. He addressed the inner man as well as the outer. Sin begins in the thought life.


C. God's standard of judgment is so different from man's (cf. Isa. 55:8-9). Believers'righteousness is both an initial gift and a developing Christlikeness, both a forensic, legal position and a spirit directed progressive sanctification. This section focused on the latter.


D. If these verses were spoken in the historical context of modern conservative Christianity, we would all be shocked at how God views our religiosity!



 17"Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven."

5:17 "Do not think" This is a negative aorist active subjunctive which was a grammatical construction that meant "do not ever start!"

▣ "that I came to abolish the Law" The context of Matt. 5:17-20 is a statement affirming the inspiration and eternality of the Old Covenant. Jesus acted in a sense as the second Moses, the new Law-giver. Jesus Himself was the fulfillment of the Old Covenant. The New Covenant is a person, not a set of required rules. The two covenants are radically different, not in purpose but in the means of accomplishing that purpose. The thrust here is not on the inability of the Old Covenant to make man right with God as in Galatians 3, but rather on the rabbis'incomplete and improper interpretation of the biblical texts by means of their Socratic or dialectical method of interpretation.

Jesus, in effect, expanded the scope of the Law from overt actions to mental thoughts. This takes the difficulty of true righteousness through the Old Covenant to a level of utter impossibility (cf. Gal. 3:10,21-22). This impossibility will be met by Christ Himself and given back to the repentant/believing faith community through imputed righteousness or justification by faith (cf. Rom. 4:6; 10:4). Mankind's religious life is a result of a relationship with God, not a means to that relationship.

▣ "the Law or the Prophets" This was an idiom referring to two of the three divisions of the Hebrew Canon: Law, Prophets, and Writings. It was a way of designating the entire Old Testament. It also showed that Jesus' understanding of Scripture was closer to the theology of the Pharisees than of the Sadducees, who only accepted the Torah, or Law (Genesis-Deuteronomy) as authoritative.

NRSV"but to fulfill"
TEV"but to make their teachings come true"
NJB"to complete"

This was a common term (pleroō) which was used in several senses. In this context it meant to consummate or to come to a designated completion (cf. Rom. 10:4). The Mosaic Covenant has been fulfilled and surpassed by the New Covenant. This is the main truth of the book of Hebrews and Galatians 3!

5:18 "truly" This is literally "Amen." See Special Topic below.


▣ "heaven and earth" In the OT these two permanent entities were used as the two required witnesses to confirm YHWH's statements (cf. Num. 35:30; Deut. 17:6; 19:15). They are aspects of our world that will remain as long as this age remains. This statement was like an oath from YHWH.

NASB"not the smallest letter or stroke"
NKJV"one jot or one tittle"
NRSV"not one letter, not one stroke of a letter"
TEV"not a letter, not a dot"
NJB"not one dot, not one little stroke"

This referred to

1. the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet, yodh, paralleled in the smallest letter in Greek alphabet, iota

2. the ornamental additions to squared Hebrew script, similar to serifs in modern calligraphy

3. a small stroke that distinguishes between two similar Hebrew letters

The point is that the OT is significant in all its parts; even its most seemingly insignificant parts were from God. Yet the OT was completely fulfilled in the person, work, and teachings of Christ.

NASB"shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished"
NKJV"will by no means pass. . .till all is fulfilled"
NRSV"will pass. . .until all is accomplished"
TEV"will not be done away with-not until the end of all things"
NJB"is to disappear. . .until all its purpose is achieved"

The first term usually referred to destroying something by pulling it down, like a wall. The second term was used in Matt. 1:22 to fulfill, as in accomplishing its declared function. Although this term had several other meanings in other parts of the NT, here it speaks of the OT finding its completion in Christ. Jesus' teachings are like the new wine that cannot be contained in the old wine skins (cf. Matt. 9:16-17).

This fulfillment referred to Jesus' life, death, resurrection, second coming, judgment, and eternal reign, which are, in some sense, incipient in the Old Testament. The OT points to Christ and His work. The Apostles interpreted it in a typological or Christological sense!

5:19 This verse is not a threat directed toward modern interpreters and teachers, but a rejection of Pharisaic traditional legalism, spiritual arrogance, and sectarian dogmatism. Jesus Himself clearly set aside the Oral Tradition (Talmud), but also parts of the written Law! Two examples would be (1) the concept of divorce in Deut. 24:1-4 rejected in Matt. 5:31-32 (cf. Mark 7:15,19-23) and (2) the food laws of Leviticus 11 rejected in Mark 7:15-23.

The use of "least" and "greatest" may be evidence for some type of gradation within the Kingdom (cf. Matt. 20:20-28; Luke 12:47-48; 1 Cor. 3:10-15).

 20"For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven."

5:20 This was a shocking statement to sincere, legalistic religionists. Self-righteousness is a common plague of religious mankind (cf. Isa. 29:13; Col. 2:16-23). Neither correct doctrine (James 2:19) nor religious actions (Matt. 7:21-23) replace the need for a personal repentance/faith relationship (cf. Mark 1:15; Acts 3:16,19; 20:21; Phil. 3:8-9; Rom. 10:3-4). This verse and verse 48, are keys to interpreting the whole Sermon on the Mount.

For a full discussion of the origin and theology of the Pharisees, see Special Topic at Matt. 22:15.

NASB"will not"
NKJV"by no means"
NRSV, NJB"will never"

This is the doubling of two Greek terms for negation. One functions with the indicative mood and the second with the other Greek moods. It was a very emphatic way to negate a statement (cf. Matt. 5:18,26; 10:23,42; 13:14; 15:6; 16:22,28; 18:3; 23:39; 24:2,21,34,35; 25:9; 26:29,35).

 21"You have heard that the ancients were told, 'You shall not commit murder'and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.'22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,'shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,'shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. 23Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. 25Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 26Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent."

5:21 "You have heard that the ancients were told" This could be understood as "to the ancients" or "by the ancients." The first part of this verse is from the Ten Commandments, but the second part is harder to identify and may be a quote from the rabbinical schools (Shammai, the conservative, or Hillel, the liberal). This implied a rejection of Pharisaic scribal interpretation while at the same time asserting the inspiration of the OT.

▣ "murder" This is a quote from the Septuagint (LXX) of Exod. 20:13 or Deut. 5:12. It is a future active indicative used as an imperative. The KJV has " kill," but this rendering is too broad in scope. The NKJV has "murder." A more accurate translation would be "nonlegal premeditated murder." In the OT there was a legal premeditated murder-the "Blood Avenger" (cf. Deuteronomy 19; Numbers 35; Joshua 20).


5:22 "But I say to you" Jesus' teaching was radically different from the rabbis of His day, whose authority was found in quoting previous Jewish teachers as their authority (cf. Matt. 7:28-29; Mark 1:22). Jesus' authority lay in Himself. He is the true revealer of the meaning of the Old Testament. Jesus is Lord of Scripture. The "I" is emphatic-"I myself and no other" or "myself (as the Son of God who knows the mind of God.)"

▣ "everyone who is angry" This is a present middle participle. This was the Greek term for a settled, nurtured, non-forgiving, long term anger. This person continued to be intensely angry.

▣ "with his brother" The KJV adds "without cause." This is a Greek manuscript variation. The addition is not in the early Greek manuscripts P67, א*, B, or the Vulgate. However, it is in the uncial manuscripts אc, D, K, L, W, the Diatesseron, and the early Syrian and Coptic translations. The UBS4 gives the shorter text a B rating (almost certain). The addition weakens the strong thrust of the passage.

It might be helpful at this point to explain the superscripts: the * means the oldest copy of the manuscript type that is available; the c means the later correctors of copyists. This is often represented by 1, 2, 3, etc, if there is a series of correctors; the number after P refers to the papyrus manuscript. Uncial Greek manuscripts are designated by capital letters while papyrus manuscripts are designated by numbers. For additional information, see Textual Criticism.

NASB"You fool"
NRSV"if you insult"
TEV"You good-for-nothing"

Raca was Aramaic for "an empty-headed person incapable of life." This section is not dealing with what specific titles one can or cannot call another person, but with a supposed believer's attitude toward others, especially covenant brothers.

The Greek term, mōros, translated "fool," was meant to reflect the Aramaic term raca. However, Jesus' word play was not to the Greek word mōros, but the primarily Hebrew word mōreh, BDB 598, which meant " rebel against God" (cf. Num. 20:10; Deut. 21:18,20; see F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions, p. 42). Jesus called the Pharisees by this very term in Matt. 23:17. Not only our actions, but our motives, attitudes, and purposes determine sin against our fellow human. Murder, as far as God is concerned, can be a thought! Hatred of our brother or sister clearly shows that we do not know God (cf. 1 John. 2:9-11; 3:15, and 4:20). Socially speaking, a hateful thought is better than a death, but remember that this section of Scripture is meant to shatter all self-righteousness and pride in one's own goodness. It is possible that this three-fold expression was a sarcastic play on scribal interpretation methods.


NASB"fiery hell"
NKJV, NJB"hell fire"
NRSV"the hell of fire"
TEV"fire of hell"

This is the Greek contraction Gehenna. See Special Topic below, II. D.

SPECIAL TOPIC: Where Are the Dead?

5:23 This is a third class conditional sentence, which means probable action.

▣ "presenting your offering at the altar" This strongly implies that Matthew wrote before the destruction of the Temple by the Roman general Titus in a.d. 70. Lifestyle love precedes religious acts! Relationships take precedence over ritual. People are the top priority with God. Only people are eternal.

5:24 "be reconciled to your brother" This is an aorist passive imperative. Personal relationships are more significant than (1) periodic ritual (Matt. 5:24) or (2) judicial decisions (Matt. 5:25).

5:26 "Truly" See Special Topic at Matt. 5:18.

▣ "until you have paid the last cent" "Cent" is the smallest Roman coin, quadrans (see Special Topic at Matt. 17:24). Judgment extracts the full penalty. Mercy and love forgive all!

 27"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery'; 28but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell."

5:27 "adultery" Here the term is moichaomai. It is a quote from the Ten Commandments found in Exod. 20:14 and Deut. 5:18. The Greek term from the Septuagint is porneia. This word usually referred to extramarital intercourse, but it also had the added connotation of any improper extramarital sexual activity, such as homosexuality or bestiality. In the OT adultery was a sexual affair involving a married person. Jesus redefined sexual sin as an attitude of the heart. Sex is a gift of God, a good and wholesome thing. But God has also put boundaries on its expression for our well-being and long term enjoyment. Prideful, self-centered humans always want to go beyond the God-given bounds. These words of Jesus by inference would also refer to premarital sexual activity.


5:28 "heart" See Special Topic at Matt. 5:8.

5:29-30 This is obviously hyperbolic for emotional impact! Sin is dangerous and its consequences eternal!

5:29 " if" These are first class conditional sentences which were assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes. Humans have been affected by Genesis 3. We are not what we were created to be.

NASB"makes you stumble"
TEV"causes you to sin"
NJB"should be your downfall"

This term was used of the baited, triggering mechanism of an animal trap. See the parallel in Mark 9:43-48 and Jesus' second mention of this subject in Matt. 18:8-9. Since all humans are affected by sin (different ones for different individuals), we must take personal responsibility to remove ourselves from places/things/occasions of temptation (i.e., Proverbs 1-9; Eph. 4:27; 6:10-18; James 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:8-9). We will not be able to blame Satan, or heredity, or circumstances for our sins when we all stand before God and give an account of the gift of life (cf. Matt. 25:31-46; Rev. 20:11-15). We are free moral agents made in God's image, accountable to Him for our lives!

" lose" This term is in both Matt. 5:29 and 30. See Special Topic: Apollumi at Matt. 2:13.

5:29,30 "hell" There is an eternal hell and sin is the ticket to get in! See Special Topic at Matt. 5:22.

 31"It was said, 'Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce';32 but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."

5:31 "sends his wife away" Verses 27-32 and 19:3-12 deal with the same issue. Be careful not to read your preconceived cultural notions into these passages! In context, Jesus was showing the ways that one commits adultery other than those taught by the Scribes: (1) mental lust and (2) putting away one's spouse except for sexual unfaithfulness (cf. Deut. 24:1). Jesus shows Himself to be Scripture's proper interpreter (i.e., 5:17-19,21-48).

NRSV"a certificate of divorce"
TEV"notice of divorce"
NJB"a writ of dismissal"

This is a quote from Deut. 24:1-4. Moses did this to protect the wife who had no rights or resources at all in that day and culture. Remarriage was assumed. However, Jesus asserted that was a concession to their fallenness, not God's ideal. Divorce is not the unpardonable sin, but it is a failure which affects societal stability.


NASB, NRSV"except for the reason of unchastity"
NKJV"for any reason except sexual immorality"
TEV"she has not been unfaithful"
NJB"except for the cause of an illicit marriage"

This "exception clause" is unique to Matthew's Gospel. Probably because it related to Jewish views of inheritance rights given by God which Gentiles would not comprehend.

"Unchastity" is the term porneia, as in Matt. 5:27. This referred to any kind of sexual misconduct. This was often interpreted as "fornication" or " unfaithfulness." There were two rabbinical schools of interpretation: (1) Shammai, who allowed divorce for inappropriate sexual activity only (" some indecency," Deut. 24:1) and (2) Hillel, who allowed divorce for any reason (i.e., " she finds no favor in his eyes," Deut. 24:1). Divorce had become a major problem within Judaism. Some scholars see this term related not to sexual intercourse, but to incest (cf. Leviticus 18; 1 Cor. 5:1). Still others think it relates to the issue of virginity discussed in Deut. 22:13-21. In the OT adultery affected family inheritance, which was sacred and given by God (Joshua 12-24). The "Year of Jubilee" is an illustration of this concern.

▣ "makes her commit adultery" This is an aorist passive infinitive. The passive voice is crucial in a proper interpretation of "causes her to commit adultery." The very act of divorcing a wife caused the woman to be stigmatized by the community as an adulteress whether or not she was guilty. The one remarrying her also became stigmatized. This is not a dogmatic statement referring to remarriage as being adultery (cf. A. T. Robertson in his Word Pictures in the New Testament, vol. 1 p. 155).

It needs to be stated that this difficult subject of divorce must be dealt with in context. Here it is a message to disciples while in Matt. 19:1-9 and Mark 10:2-12 the setting is Pharisaic trick questions. We must guard against forming our theology on divorce by merging these contexts and claiming to have Jesus' neutral theological views on the subject.

 33"Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, 'You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.' 34But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37But let your statement be, 'Yes, yes'or 'No, no'; anything beyond these is of evil."

5:33 "vows" This was an allusion to several OT texts. This did not mean cursing, but God's name being brought into a conversation to assure the truth of one's statements (cf. Matt. 23:16-22; James 5:12). Vows or oaths in the OT could refer to (1) worship (cf. Deut. 6:15); (2) legal proceedings (cf. Exod. 20:7; Lev. 19:12); or (3) affirmations of doing something (cf. Lev. 27; Num. 30:2; Deut. 23:21-22). Jesus was involved in an oath in Matt. 26:63-64. Paul made oaths in 2 Cor. 1:23, Gal. 1:20, Phil. 1:8, and 1 Thess. 2:5. Another oath is found in Heb. 6:16. The focus is not on oath taking, but on failing to perform the vow!

5:34-36 This showed how elaborately the rabbis had developed binding and unbinding oaths (cf. Matt. 23:16-22). It was a way to appear to be telling the truth by associating one's statement with Deity, but all the time knowing that one's oath, expressed in certain ways, was not legally binding.

5:34 "make no oath" Jesus testified under oath in Matt. 26:63-64. Paul often confirmed his words by oaths in God's name (cf. 2 Cor. 1:23; Gal. 1:20; Phil. 1:8; 1 Thess. 2:5,10). The issue is truthfulness, not restricting oaths (cf. James 5:12).

5:37 " But let your statement be, 'Yes, yes'or 'No, no'" Jesus was concerned with truthfulness, not form! Others who claim to know God should be honest and trustworthy, not tricky.

NKJV, NRSV"the evil one"
TEV, NJB"the Evil One"

The inflected form of the term in Greek can either be neuter, "evil" or masculine, "the evil one" (see special Topic at Matt. 4:5). This same ambiguity occurs in Matt. 6:13; 13:19,38; John. 17:15; 2 Thess. 3:3; 1 John. 2:13,14; 3:12; 5:18-19.

Evil has several forms.

1. a fallen world system, Genesis 3; Eph. 2:2; James 4:4

2. personal evil, Eph. 2:2

3. fallen individuals, Eph. 2:3; James 4:1-2

Evil looks for an opportunity to kill, steal, and destroy. Only the mercy of God, His Son, and His Spirit can enable us to live happy, purposeful, contented lives!

 38"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.'39But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other cheek to him also. 40If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you."

5:38 "an eye for an eye" This is an allusion to Exod. 21:24, Lev. 24:20, and Deut. 19:21. This law, like divorce certificates, was originally intended to deal with a societal problem by attempting to limit personal revenge. It did not allow individuals or families to take revenge, but was a guideline for the court. It was often reduced to monetary equivalents by the Jewish judges. However, the principle of limited personal revenge remains.

5:39-42 This was a series of five examples of Jesus' new ethics concerning our attitude toward others, both insiders and outsiders. These are historically conditioned examples. They advocate an attitude, not a hard and fast rule for every society or age. It is the spirit of the believing offended party which should issue in positive actions of love. This should not be interpreted as covering inappropriate or repeated requests from tricky or lazy people.

5:39 "an evil person" This could, in context, refer to the first century legal system in the sense that it is better to endure additional insults than take a covenant brother to an unbelieving judge. If " evil" relates to Matt. 5:37, it could refer to the Evil One. The Charles B. Williams Translation, The New Testament in the Language of the People, gives a third option, "the one who injures you."

5:40 "shirt. . .coat" The first item of clothing refers to an under garment and the second to an outer garment. This is a hyperbolic statement. Jesus is not advocating nudity! This is an allusion to Exod. 22:26-27; Deut. 24:10-13. The central truth of this entire section is that Christians should go beyond what others expect of them. The purpose is to encourage unbelievers to be attracted to God by His people's actions (cf. Matt. 5:16; 1 Pet. 2:12).

5:41 This is historically conditioned to a time when one nation militarily occupied another. The word "force" was of Persian derivation, originally referring to a postal carrier. It came to be the term used for forced labor of any kind by an occupying military or civil government. An example of this is Matt. 27:32. Christians are to go beyond even what is demanded or expected.

5:42 This was not meant to be taken as a hard and fast rule about lending, but an attitude of love and openness toward others, especially the poor, needy, and outcast (cf. Exod. 22:25; Deut. 15:7-11; Pro. 19:17).

 43"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'44But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

5:43 The quote referred to by Jesus is a composite.

1. "You shall love your neighbor" is from Lev. 19:18. Jesus seems to see this as a crucial text, even listed with the Ten Commandments in Matt. 19:18-19. In Mark 12:31, it is the second greatest commandment after Deut. 6:4-5, and in a similar way in Luke 10:25-28.

Paul uses this text as a summary of the entire Law in Rom. 13:8-10.

2. "And hate your enemy" is not a quote from the OT, but a commonly drawn inference by Jewish, exclusivistic religionists (i.e., Sadducees, Pharisee, Essenes).

How different is the new Kingdom ethic from the fallen world model of " self," " more for me at any cost," " what's in it for me" ! Knowing God changes everything (cf. Matt. 5:20,48)!

5:44 The KJV adds a phrase from Luke 6:27-28. It does not appear in ancient Greek uncial manuscripts א or B or several other geographically separated early manuscripts.

In verse 44 there are two present imperatives: " keep on loving and praying" and one present participle, " the one who keeps on persecuting." These presents speak of ongoing commands both of loving and forgiving on the part of the believer as well as the possibility of ongoing persecution.

The Kingdom is radically different from the current world order!

5:45 "that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven" Believers'lifestyles clearly reveal whose family they belong to: God's or Satan's. Children act like their fathers (cf. Lev. 19:2).

5:46-47 The actions of believers must go beyond the expected social acts of unbelievers. These verses contain two third class conditional sentences which implied probable future action.

5:46 "rewards" This was a recurrent theme in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Matt. 6:1,2,4,6). See Special Topic at Matt. 5:12.


NASB"you are to be perfect,"
NKJV"you shall be perfect"
NRSV"be perfect"
TEV, NJB"you must be perfect"

This is an allusion to Lev. 11:44,45; 19:2; 20:7,26. This term literally meant "mature" or "fully equipped." This is a strong statement that God's ultimate standard of righteousness is Himself (cf. Deut. 18:13). Humans cannot achieve perfection except in Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21). However, believers must strive for it in their daily lives. There must be a theological balance between (1) salvation being accepted as a free gift of God through Christ, which is called positional sanctification and (2) striving toward Christlikeness, which is called progressive sanctification.

Some interpreters see this verse as a summary of the immediate paragraph only. If so, it would focus on the inclusive love of God that His children should emulate.



This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Did Jesus reinterpret the OT or change it?

2. What does "fulfill" mean in Matt. 5:17 and 18?

3. Can one lose his salvation for calling another person a derogatory name (v.22)?

4. What do Matt. 5:23-24 say to our modern worship practices?

5. Is remarriage adultery?

6. Is swearing in court a sin?

7. Explain how Matt. 5:17-20 and 48 frame the rest of the verses.


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