|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
5:21-26 The Jewish teachers had taught, that nothing except actual murder was forbidden by the sixth commandment. Thus they explained away its spiritual meaning. Christ showed the full meaning of this commandment; according to which we must be judged hereafter, and therefore ought to be ruled now. All rash anger is heart murder. By our brother, here, we are to understand any person, though ever so much below us, for we are all made of one blood. Raca, is a scornful word, and comes from pride: Thou fool, is a spiteful word, and comes from hatred. Malicious slanders and censures are poison that kills secretly and slowly. Christ told them that how light soever they made of these sins, they would certainly be called into judgment for them. We ought carefully to preserve Christian love and peace with all our brethren; and if at any time there is a quarrel, we should confess our fault, humble ourselves to our brother, making or offering satisfaction for wrong done in word or deed: and we should do this quickly; because, till this is done, we are unfit for communion with God in holy ordinances. And when we are preparing for any religious exercises, it is good for us to make that an occasion of serious reflection and self-examination. What is here said is very applicable to our being reconciled to God through Christ. While we are alive, we are in the way to his judgement-seat; after death, it will be too late. When we consider the importance of the case, and the uncertainty of life, how needful it is to seek peace with God, without delay!
Verses 21-48. - (a) Our Lord is still concerned with the relation of himself and his followers to the religion of the day, of which the Old Testament (ver. 17), and more especially the Law (ver. 18), was the accepted standard. But after having spoken of the need of careful attention to (vers. 17,18), and observance of (ver. 19), even the least commands of the Law, he goes on to point out the far-reaching character of these commands, whether they are such as we should call more (vers. 21, 27, 81) or less (vers. 33, 38, 43) impotent. It is essential to notice that our Lord refers to these commands, not merely as statements contained in the Law, but as part of the religion of the day, and that he contrasts their true bearing on life and conduct with that false bearing on this which was commonly predicated of them. By this it is not meant that our Lord was only opposing such narrow glosses and interpretations as had arisen at various times during the centuries after the promulgation of the Law (for these were for the most part perfectly natural and legitimate developments of the earliest possible interpretations of it), still less that he was thinking only of the worst of the misrepresentations of its commands, comparatively recently made by the Pharisees; but that he was now going back, beyond this so far natural and normal development of the earliest interpretations, to the first principles underlying the revelation contained in the Law. While the Jews, not unnaturally, clung to the primary, but temporary, meaning of the Law as a revelation of God's will for them as a nation, our Lord was now about to expound its commands as a revelation of God's permanent will for them and all men as men. Our Lord was now, that is to say, wishing to do more than merely cut off the excrescences that, chiefly through the Pharisaic party, had grown up round the Law, but less than root up the Law itself. He rather cuts down the whole growth that had been, notwithstanding some mere excrescences, the right and proper outcome of the Law in its original environment, in order that, in fresh environment, which corresponded better to its nature, the Law might produce a growth still more right and proper. Verses 21-26. - The sixth commandment. Verses 21-24 Matthew only; vers. 25, 26 have parts common to Luke. Verse 21. - Ye have heard (ἠκούσατε, frequentative aorist). Our Lord does not say, "ye have read" (cf. Matthew 21:42), for he was not now speaking to the learned classes, but to a large audience many of whom were probably unable to read. "Ye have heard," i.e. from your teachers whose teaching claims to be the substance of the Law. So, probably, even in John 12:34, where the multitude say that they "have heard out of the Law that the Christ abideth for ever," which, since this is hardly expressed in so many words in the Old Testament, must mean that the instructions they have received on this subject truly represent the substance of its teaching. So here our Lord says, "You have heard from your teachers (cf. Romans 2:18) that the substance of the sixth commandment is so-and-so." It is thus quite intelligible that in some of these utterances there should be found added to (vers. 21, 43) or intermingled with (ver. 33) the words of a passage of Scripture, other words which are either taken from Scripture, but from another place in it (perhaps ver. 33), or do not occur in Scripture at all, but merely help to form a compendious statement of a definite interpretation (here and ver. 43). It must remain doubtful whether our Lord himself formulated these statements of the popular teaching, or quoted them verbally as current. If the latter, as is perhaps more likely, there remains the at present still more insoluble question whether they were only oral or (cf. the case of the 'Didaehe') had already been committed to writing (cf. in this connexion Bishop Westcott, 'Hebr.,' p. 480). That it was said by them of old time (ὅτι ἐῥῤέθη τοῖς ἀρχαίοις). By; Revised Version, to. Similarly ver. 33. Although "by" may be defended (cf. Madvig, § 39 g), "to" (Wickliffe and Tyndale downwards) is certainly right, because
(a) it is the common usage with a passive verb;
(b) it is the constant usage with ἐῥῤέθη in the New Testament (e.g. Romans 9:12, 26);
(c) the parallelism with ἐγὼ δέ κ.τ.λ., is more exact;
(d) the popular teaching claimed to be, even in its strictest esoteric form of oral tradition, derived ultimately, not from the words of any human teachers, however primitive, but from the words of God spoken by him to them. In the case before us our Lord accepts the popular teaching of the time as truly representing the Divine utterance in the giving of the Law, so far as that utterance was then intended to be understood. Them of old time. This can hardly be limited to "the original founders of the Jewish Commonwealth," to use Trench's curiously unbiblical expression ('Syn.,' § 67.). It probably includes all who lived a generation or more before our Lord's time (cf. Weiss). Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment. The substance, according to the popular teaching, of the sixth commandment (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17). This the current form of it (based partly on Leviticus 24:21; Numbers 35; Deuteronomy 19:12) was that murder was not to be committed, and that if it was committed the murderer was to be brought up for trial. Shall be in danger of (ἔνοχος ἔσται); i.e. in legal danger - legally guilty of a charge which involves the judgment (cf. Matthew 26:66). The judgment; i.e. the local Sanhedrin (cf. Matthew 10:17), of apparently seven men in a smaller, twenty-three in a larger, town (cf. Schurer, II. 1. pp. 149-154). This answers to "the congregation," or "the elders" of the town to which the murderer belonged, before whom he was to be tried (Numbers 35:12, 16, 24; Deuteronomy 19:12).
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Ye have heard,.... That is, from the Scriptures being read to them, and the explanations of the ancients, which were called "hearing", being read in the schools, and heard by the scholars (o); so that to "hear", was along with the recital of the text, to receive by tradition, the sense the elders had given of it: of this kind is the instance produced by Christ. Thus Onkelos, and Jonathan ben Uzziel, render the phrase, "him shall ye hear", in Deuteronomy 18:15 by , "from him shall ye receive"; so those phrases (p), , "they learn from hearing", or by report from others; and "they speak from hearing", or from what they have heard, are often used for receiving and reporting things as they have them by tradition. That "it was said", or "it hath been said"; this is also a Talmudic form of expression; often is this phrase to be met with in the Talmud, "it has been said" (q); that is, by the ancient doctors, as here, "by them of old time", or "to the ancients", so in Munster's Hebrew Gospel; not to the Israelites in the time of Moses, but to the ancestors of the Jews, since the times of Ezra; by the elders, who were contemporary with them; and who by their false glosses corrupted the law, when they recited any part of it to the people; or "by the ancients", the ancient doctors and commentators, which preceded the times of Christ, whom the Jews often call "our ancients" (r). Now, upon that law, "thou shalt not kill", they put this gloss, or added this by way of interpretation,
and whosoever shall kill, shall be in danger of the judgment; which they understood only of actual murder, either committed in their own persons, or by the means of others. Their rules for the judgment of such persons were these;
"everyone that kills his neighbour with his hand; as if he strikes him with a sword, or with a stone that kills him; or strangles him till he die; or burns him in fire; seeing he kills him in any manner, in his own person, lo! such an one must be put to death , "by the house of judgment", or the sanhedrim (s).''
Not that which consisted of three persons only, but either that which consisted of twenty three, or the supreme one, which was made up of seventy one; which two last had only power of judging capital offences. Again,
"if a man hires a murderer to kill his neighbour, or sends his servants, and they kill him, or binds him, and leaves him before a lion, or the like, and the beast kills him, everyone of these is a shedder of blood; and the sin of slaughter is in his hand; and he is guilty of death by the hand of heaven, i.e. God; but he is not to be put to death by the house of judgment, or the sanhedrim (t).''
A little after, it is said, "their judgment" is delivered to heaven, i.e. to God; and this seems to be the sense of the word "judgment" here, namely, the judgment of God, or death by the hand of God; since it is manifestly distinguished from the council, or sanhedrim, in the next "verse". The phrase,
in danger of judgment, is the same with (u) , "guilty of judgment", or deserves condemnation.
(o) Vid. Buxtorf. Lex. Rabbin, fol. 2453. (p) Maimon. Hilch. Issure Mizbeach, c. 1. sect. 2, 4, 5, 7, 10. & passim, & T. Bab. Sanhedrim, fol. 88. 1.((q) Vid. Edzardi Not. in Avoda Zara, c. 2. p. 284. (r) Vid. R. Aben Ezra in Exodus 21.17. & in Isaiah 52.13. & lxvi. 24. (s) Maimon. Hilch. Rotseach, c. 2. sect. 1.((t) Maimon. Hilch. Rotseach, c. 2. sect. 2.((u) In Targ. in 2 Chronicles 19.10.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
21. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time—or, as in the Margin, "to them of old time." Which of these translations is the right one has been much controverted. Either of them is grammatically defensible, though the latter—"to the ancients"—is more consistent with New Testament usage (see the Greek of Ro 9:12, 26; Re 6:11; 9:4); and most critics decide in favor of it. But it is not a question of Greek only. Nearly all who would translate "to the ancients" take the speaker of the words quoted to be Moses in the law; "the ancients" to be the people to whom Moses gave the law; and the intention of our Lord here to be to contrast His own teaching, more or less, with that of Moses; either as opposed to it—as some go the length of affirming—or at least as modifying, enlarging, elevating it. But who can reasonably imagine such a thing, just after the most solemn and emphatic proclamation of the perpetuity of the law, and the honor and glory in which it was to be held under the new economy? To us it seems as plain as possible that our Lord's one object is to contrast the traditional perversions of the law with the true sense of it as expounded by Himself. A few of those who assent to this still think that "to the ancients" is the only legitimate translation of the words; understanding that our Lord is reporting what had been said to the ancients, not by Moses, but by the perverters of his law. We do not object to this; but we incline to think (with Beza, and after him with Fritzsche, Olshausen, Stier, and Bloomfield) that "by the ancients" must have been what our Lord meant here, referring to the corrupt teachers rather than the perverted people.
Thou shall not kill:—that is, This being all that the law requires, whosoever has imbrued his hands in his brother's blood, but he only, is guilty of a breach of this commandment.
and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment—liable to the judgment; that is, of the sentence of those inferior courts of judicature which were established in all the principal towns, in compliance with De 16:16. Thus was this commandment reduced, from a holy law of the heart-searching God, to a mere criminal statute, taking cognizance only of outward actions, such as that which we read in Ex 21:12; Le 24:17.
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