Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 5–7. Sermon on the Mount
It is instructive to find the Sermon on the Mount following close upon the works of mercy which would open men’s hearts to receive the Saviour’s words. It is a discourse about the changed life or Metanoia, showing its conditions; and about the Kingdom or Basileia, showing its nature, legislation, and privileges.
The description of the Kingdom here given may be compared with the thoughts suggested by Satan in the Temptation. Jesus makes no promise to conquer the world, or to dazzle men by a display of power, or to satisfy bodily wants, making poverty cease.
In regard to heathenism the sermon is a contrast, in regard to the Jewish Law it is a sublime fulfilment Again, instead of curses there are blessings, instead of penalties, reward.
Two questions are raised in regard to the Sermon on the Mount (1) Is it a connected discourse, and not merely a collection of our Lord’s sayings? (2) Is it to be identified with the Sermon on the Plain, Luke 6:17-49?
It is probable that the answer should be in the affirmative to each question. 1. (a) This is the most natural inference from the Evangelist’s words and from the manner in which the discourse is introduced. (b) An analysis points to a close connection of thought and to a systematic arrangement of the different sections of the Sermon. (c) The objection that some of the sayings are found in a different connection in St Luke’s Gospel cannot have great weight. For it is more than probable that our Lord repeated on many occasions various portions of His teaching. 2. (a) The beginning and end are identical as well as much of the intervening matter. (b) The portions omitted—a comparison between the old and the new legislation—are such as would be less adapted for St Luke’s readers than for St Matthew’s. (c) The “mount” and the “plain” are not necessarily distinct localities. The plain is more accurately translated “a level place,” a platform on the high land. (d) The place in the order of events differs in St Luke, but it is probable that here as well as elsewhere St Matthew does not observe the order of time.
Here the question of time is important as bearing on a further question, whether Matthew was himself among the audience. Was the Sermon delivered after the call of the twelve (Luke) or before (Matthew)?
The following analysis may be of use in showing the connection.
A. The Subjects of the Kingdom, Matthew 5:3-16.
(1) Their character and privileges, Matthew 5:3-12.
(2) Their responsibility, Matthew 5:13-16.
B. The Kingdom of Heaven in relation (1) to the Law, Matthew 5:17-48; and (2) to Pharisaic rules, Matthew 6:1-34.
(1) It is the highest fulfilment of the law in regard to (a) The Decalogue, Matthew 5:21-37. (b) The law of Retaliation, 38–42. (c) Love or Charity, 43–48.
(2) It exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees in regard to (a) Almsgiving, Matthew 6:1-4; (b) Prayer, Matthew 6:5-15; (c) Fasting, Matthew 6:16-18; (d) Earthly possessions and daily cares, Matthew 6:19-34.
C. Characteristics of the Kingdom, Matthew 7:1-27. (a) Judgment on others, Matthew 7:1-6. (b) The Father’s love for the Children of the Kingdom, 7–12. (c) The narrow entrance therein, 13, 14. (d) The danger of false guides to the narrow entrance, and the test of the true, 15–23. (e) A description of the true subjects of the Kingdom, as distinguished from the false, 24–27.
And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:1. a mountain] Accurately, the mountain, the high land bordering on the Lake, behind Tell Hûm or Et Tabigah, which the inhabitants of those places would naturally call “the mountain” (see map). It was the Sinai of the New Law. Cp. Psalm 72:3.
he was set] The usual position of a Jewish teacher. In the Talmud “to sit” is nearly synonymous with “to teach.”
his disciples came unto him] This may be regarded as the beginning of the Christian Church.
And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.A. The Subjects of the Kingdom, Matthew 5:3-16.
(1) Their character and privileges, Matthew 5:3-12.
3. Blessed are the poor in spirit] The beatitudes—so called from the opening word “beati” (blessed), in the Vulgate. Mark the Christian growth step by step. First, spiritual poverty, the only character which is receptive of repentance, therefore alone admissible into the Kingdom. Secondly, sadness for sin. Thirdly, meekness, implying submission to the will of God, a characteristic of Jesus Himself, who says “I am meek and lowly in heart.” Fourthly, the soul-hunger for righteousness. Then three virtues of the Christian life, each of which wins, without seeking it, a reward in an ascending scale—mercy, purity, peacemaking. (It is a little remarkable that the English language supplies no abstract term to express this last, the highest grace of the Christian life.) The last two beatitudes Matthew 5:10-11 may be regarded as encouragements to the disciples, and as tests of their true discipleship.
poor in spirit] Opposed to the spiritually proud, the just who need no repentance. St Luke omits “in spirit,” showing that the literal poor are primarily meant, St Matthew shows that they are not exclusively meant.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.4. mourn] Those who mourn for sin are primarily intended; but the secondary meaning, “those who are in suffering and distress,” is not excluded. The first meaning is illustrated by 2 Corinthians 7:10, “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of, but the sorrow of the world worketh death.”
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.5. the meek] Psalm 37:11. “But the meek shall inherit the earth.” See note Matthew 5:3. Meekness is mentioned with very faint praise by the greatest of heathen moralists, Aristotle. He calls it “a mean inclining to a defect.” It is indeed essentially a Christian virtue.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.6. This longing for righteousness is God’s gift to the meek.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.7. they shall obtain mercy] This principle in the divine Government that men shall be dealt with as they deal with their fellow-men is taught in the parable of the Unmerciful Servant, ch. 18, and underlies the fifth petition in the Lord’s Prayer, ch. Matthew 6:12.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.8. pure in heart] Purity is a distinguishing virtue of Christianity. It finds no place even in the teaching of Socrates, or in the system of Aristotle. Pure in heart “non sufficit puritas ceremonialis.” Bengel.
shall see God] The Christian education is a gradual unveiling of God, all have glimpses of Him, to the pure He appears quite plainly. Cp. 1 John 3:2-3. In a further sense the unveiled sight of God is reserved for the Eternal life.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.9. peacemakers] not only in the sense of those who heal dissension. Peace is used in a deeper sense, “the peace of God,” Php 4:7; “the peace of Christ,” Colossians 3:15.
children of God] These are most akin to the divine nature, perfect as their Father which is in heaven is perfect, Matthew 5:48, cp. 1 John 3:1, “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us that we should be called the Sons of God.”
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.10, 11. for righteousness’ sake.… for my sake] Observe these limitations. The cause in which a man suffers is everything. Many Galilæan zealots who had been persecuted, reviled, traduced, when they rose against Herod or the Roman power had no share in this blessedness.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.12. so persecuted they the prophets …] Persecution is a test and token of true discipleship, that which naturally brings distress and despair to men will bring delight in the kingdom of God. The passion and death of Christ gave a fresh force to these words, see 1 Peter 4:13-14.
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.(2) Their responsibility, Matthew 5:13-16.
13. Ye are the salt of the earth] Here the disciples and primarily the Apostles are addressed. Those who fulfil the condition of discipleship have a responsibility laid upon them.
have lost his savour] i. e. become tasteless. Salt is essential to all organized life, it is also the great preservative from corruption. If these virtues pass from it, it is worse than useless. It cannot even be thrown on the fields, it must be cast into the street to be trodden under foot. (See a very interesting illustration of this in Land and Book, pp. 381, 382.) So to the apostles who hold the highest and most necessary places in the kingdom of God, there is no middle course, either they must be the salt of the earth, be its very life, or fall utterly. If not Peter, then Judas.
Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.14. the light of the world] See John 8:12, where Jesus says of Himself “I am the light of the world.” Cp. Php 2:15, “Ye shine as lights (rather ‘luminaries’) in the world.”
a city that is set on a hill …] Stanley remarks (S. and P. 337) that in Northern Palestine “the plain and mountain-sides are dotted with villages … situated for the most part (not like those of Judæa, on hilltops, or Samaria, in deep valleys, but) as in Philistia, on the slopes of the ranges which intersect or bound the plain.” The image in the text therefore recalls Judæa rather than Galilee, Bethlehem rather than Nazareth. Some however have conjectured that the lofty Safed was in sight, and was pointed to by our Lord. Land and Book, 273.
Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.15. a bushel] Rather, the bushel, i. e. the common measure found in every Jewish house. Strictly speaking, the modius, translated “bushel,” denoted a smaller measure equal to about two gallons.
candle … candlestick …] Or rather, lamp … lampstand. The lamp in a Jewish house was not set on a table, but on a tall pedestal or stand, sometimes made with a sliding shaft.
all that are in the house] i. e. the Jews. St Luke, true to the character of his gospel, says “that they which enter in,” i. e. the Gentiles, “may see the light.”
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.16. Let your light so shine …] The word translated “shine” is rendered “giveth light” in the preceding verse. It would be better to use the same English word in both cases. So = “in like manner.” That is final, not consecutive = ‘in order that.’
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.B. The Kingdom of Heaven is a fulfilment of the law, Matthew 5:17-48. Stated generally, Matthew 5:17-20.
17. I am come …] Lit. I came.
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.18. verily …] The Hebr. Amen is retained in the Greek text. This particle is used (a) to confirm the truth of what has been said. (b) To affirm the truth of what is about to be said. The second (b) is a Syriac use, and therefore more usual in the N.T. than in the O.T. where the use is nearly limited to (a).
one jot …] “yod” (י) the smallest of the Hebr. characters, generally a silent letter, rather the adjunct of a letter than an independent letter. Still a critical interpretation might turn on the presence or absence of yod in a word. The controversy as to the meaning of Shiloh, Genesis 49:10, is an instance of this. The letter yod makes the difference between Sarai and Sarah. It is the first letter in Jehovah and in the Hebrew form of Jesus or Joshua.
tittle] The English word means a “point,” from Anglo-Saxon thyd-an to prick, connected with “thistle.” The Greek word means lit. a horn. Here the extremity of a letter, a little point, in which one letter differs from another.
fulfilled] The Greek word is different from that which has the same rendering in Matthew 5:17.
Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.19. Again addressed to the Apostles as teachers. The union of doing and teaching is essential. It was the grave sin of the Pharisees that they taught without doing. See ch. Matthew 23:2-3. This explains the for of next verse.
For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.20. scribes] See note, ch. Matthew 7:29.
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:(a) Instances from the Decalogue, Matthew 5:21-37. (a) Murder, Matthew 5:21-26.
21. Ye have heard] Rather, ye heard either in the service of the synagogue or in the teaching of the scribes.
by them of old time] Better, to them of old time.
in danger of] Lit. bound by them, liable, exposed to.
But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.22. I say] A most emphatic formula, which implies the authority of a lawgiver.
without a cause] The Greek word is omitted in the oldest MSS., and has probably been inserted by a copyist desirous of softening the expression.
the judgment] = the local court: see next note.
Raca] A word of contempt, said to be from a root meaning to “spit.” The distinction between Raca and Thou fool is lost, and naturally, for they belong to that class of words, the meaning of which depends entirely on the usage of the day. An expression innocent and unmeaning in one age becomes the watchword of a revolution in another. There is, however, clearly a climax. (1) Feeling of anger without words. (2) Anger venting itself in words. (3) Insulting anger. The gradation of punishment corresponds; liable (1) to the local court; (2) to the Sanhedrin; (3) to Gehenna.
council] i. e. the Sanhedrin. See note ch. Matthew 26:3.
hell fire] Lit. Gehenna of fire, i. e. “burning Gehenna.” Gehenna is the Greek form of the Hebrew Ge-Hinnom or “Valley of Hinnom,” sometimes called “Valley of the son of Hinnom,” also “Tophet” (Jeremiah 7:31). It was a deep narrow glen S. W. of Jerusalem, once the scene of the cruel worship of Moloch; but Josiah, in the course of his reformation, “defiled Tophet, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Moloch” (2 Kings 23:10). Cp. Milton, Paradise Lost i.:
“First Moloch, horrid king, besmeared with blood
Of human sacrifice and parents’ tears;
Though, for the noise of drums and timbrels loud,
Their children’s cries unheard that passed through fire
To his grim idol.”
After that time pollutions of every kind, among them the bodies of criminals who had been executed, were thrown into the valley. From this defilement and from its former desecration Gehenna was used to express the abode of the wicked after death. The words “of fire” are added, either because of the ancient rites of Moloch, or, if a Rabbinical tradition is to be credited, because fires were always burning in the valley, or, further, as a symbol of everlasting punishment.
Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;23. if thou bring thy gift to the altar] i. e. thy offering, such as a lamb or a pair of doves.
rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee] that thy brother hath cause of complaint against thee, just or unjust, if the quarrel is still not made up.
Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.24. before the altar] Stay the sacrifice, though begun, for God will not accept it unless the heart be free from anger, and the conscience from offence. It is an application of the great principle summed up in “I will have mercy and not sacrifice.” Cp. also Psalm 26:6, “I will wash my hands in innocency, O Lord, and so will I go to thine altar.”
Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.25. Agree] Lit. be friendly with. The participle in the orig. conveys the idea of continuance. The thought of the preceding verse is extended and generalised. By the “adversary” are meant those against whom we harbour that resentment which keeps us from the kingdom of God. “While there is time in this life put away the resentment. Show thyself to be a son of God by being a peacemaker.” Matthew 5:9.
The imagery is taken from the law-courts. It would be well for a man to compound with his creditor before the case should be brought before the judge.
Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.(β) Adultery, 27–32.
28. to lust after her i. e. “with a view to lust after her.”
in his heart] Contrast with the pure in heart, Matthew 5:8.
And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.29. thy right eye] suggested by the preceding verse. The eye and the hand are not only in themselves good and serviceable, but necessary. Still they may become the occasion of sin to us. So pursuits and pleasures innocent in themselves may bring temptation, and involve us in sin. These must be resigned, however great the effort implied in “cast it from thee.”
offend thee] “cause thee to fall.”
And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:31. a writing of divorcement] See note on ch. Matthew 1:19. The greatest abuses had arisen in regard to divorce, which was permitted on very trivial grounds. One Rabbinical saying was “If any man hate his wife, let him put her away.” Copies of these bills of divorce are still preserved. The formula may be seen in Lightfoot, Hor. Hebr. ad loc. The same facility of divorce prevails in Mohammedan countries.
But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.32. causeth her to commit adultery] By adopting a slightly different reading in the original with Lachmann, Tischendorf, and Tregelles, the idea of wilful sin on the woman’s part is removed.
that is divorced] Lit. when she hath been divorced.
Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:(γ) Oaths, 33–37.
33. Thou shalt not forswear thyself] The special reference may be to the third commandment. Cp. also Leviticus 19:12, “Ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God.” In the kingdom of God no external act or profession as distinct from the thought of the heart can find a place. But such words as those of the Apostle, “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not” (2 Corinthians 11:31), will prevent Christians observing the letter rather than the spirit of our Blessed Saviour’s words.
But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne:34. Swear not at all] The prohibition must be understood of rash and careless oaths in conversation, not of solemn asseveration in Courts of Justice.
for it is God’s throne] Such was the prevalent hypocrisy that the Jews of the day thought that they escaped the sin of perjury if in their oaths they avoided using the name of God. One of the Rabbinical sayings was “As heaven and earth shall pass away, so passeth away the oath taken by them.” Our Lord shows that a false oath taken by heaven, by earth, or by Jerusalem is none the less a profanation of God’s name.
Hypocrisy reproduces itself. Louis XI. “admitted to one or two peculiar forms of oath the force of a binding obligation which he denied to all others, strictly preserving the secret, which mode of swearing he really accounted obligatory, as one of the most valuable of state mysteries.” Introd. to Quentin Durward.
Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.
Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.36. by thy head] A common form of oath in the ancient world: cp. “Per caput hoc juro per quod pater ante solebat.” Verg. Æn.
But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:(b) The law of retaliation, 38–42.
38. An eye for an eye] See Exodus 21:24. The Scribes draw a false inference from the letter of the law. As a legal remedy the lex talionis was probably the best possible in a rude state of society. The principle was admitted in all ancient nations. But the retribution was exacted by a judicial sentence for the good of the community, not to gratify personal vengeance. The deduction that it was morally right for individuals to indulge revenge could not be justified.
But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.39. resist not evil] i. e. do not seek to retaliate evil.
turn to him the other also] To be understood with the limitation imposed on the words by our Lord’s personal example, John 18:22-23.
The gradation of the examples given is from the greater to the less provocation.
And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.40. coat] Lit. tunic, the under garment. It had sleeves, and reached below the knees, somewhat like a modern shirt. cloke, the upper garment. A large square woollen robe, resembling the modern Arab abba or abayeh. The poorest people wore a tunic only. Among the richer people many wore two tunics besides the upper garment. Wealth is often shown in the East not only by the quality but also by the amount of clothing worn. For the general sense cp. 1 Corinthians 6:7, “There is utterly a fault … suffer yourselves to be defrauded.”
And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.41. compel thee to go a mile] The Greek text has a Persian word here signifying “to press into service as a courier” for the royal post, then, generally, “to force to be a guide,” “to requisition,” men or cattle. This was one of the exactions which the Jews suffered under the Romans. Alford quotes Joseph. Ant. xiii. 2, 3, where Demetrius promises not to press into service the beasts of burden belonging to the Jews. For an instance of this forced service see ch. Matthew 27:32.
Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.42. from him that would borrow of thee] Luke has “lend, hoping for nothing again.” Forced loans have been a mode of oppression in every age, for which, perhaps, no people have suffered more than the Jews.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.(c) Love or Charity, 43–48.
43. Thou shalt love thy neighbour] Leviticus 19:18, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” The second clause does not occur in Levit., but was a Rabbinical inference. Enemies, all who are outside the chosen race, the etymological force of the Greek word. Heathen writers bear testimony to this unsocial characteristic of the Jews. Juvenal says it was their rule—
“Non monstrare vias eadem nisi sacra colenti,
Quaesitum ad fontem solos deducere verpos.”—Sat. xiv. 104.
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;44. Several editors, with high MS. authority, omit the words “bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you,” and “despitefully use you and.” The omission, however, breaks the gradation and balance of the paragraph. The contrast between love and hate is exhibited in four degrees, the antithesis widens, the deeper the hate the higher the love. (1) Feel love towards those who are enemies by position merely. (2) Say loving words in return for enmity that shews itself in curses. (3) Towards those who hate you do not only feel love, but prove love by charitable deeds. (4) To enemies whose hate is active, even to persecution, offer the highest act of love in prayer.
despitefully use you] A forcible word, meaning “to vex out of spite with the sole object of inflicting harm.” In 1 Peter 3:16 it is rendered “to accuse falsely.” The word occurs also in Luke 6:28.
That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.45. that ye may be the children of your Father] See note on Matthew 5:9. To act thus would be to act like God, Who blesses those who curse Him and are His enemies, by the gifts of sun and rain. This is divine. Mere return of love for love is a human, even a heathen virtue.
For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?46. publicans] taxgatherers; not collectors of a regular tax fixed by government as with us, but men who farmed or contracted for the publicum (state revenue), hence called Publicani. At Rome the equestrian order enjoyed almost exclusively the lucrative privilege of farming the state revenues.
The publicans of the N. T. however are a lower class of taxgatherers, to whom the contractors sublet the collection of taxes. These men repaid themselves by cruel and oppressive exactions. Only the least patriotic and most degraded of the population undertook these functions which naturally rendered them odious to their fellow-citizens.
It is this system pursued in the Turkish Empire that produces much frightful misery and illegal oppression.
And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?47. salute your brethren only] See Matthew 5:43. The Hebrew salutation was Shalom (peace).
The higher MS. authority gives “Gentiles” or “heathen,” instead of “publicans.”
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.48. Be ye] Lit. Ye shall be perfect. Either (1) in reference to a future state, “if ye have this true love or charity ye shall be perfect hereafter;” or (2) the future has an imperative force, and perfect is limited by the preceding words = perfect in respect of love, i. e. “love your enemies as well as your neighbours,” because your Father being perfect in respect of love does this.