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.
Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.Ch. Matthew 6:1-4. Almsgiving
(2) The Kingdom of Heaven exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees in regard to (a) Almsgiving, 1–4
1. alms] The best MSS. have “righteousness;” the two words were nearly synonymous with the Jews, partly because the poor had a right to share in the produce of the land; partly because almsgiving is the most natural and obvious external work of righteousness. In the same way agapé (love), the leading Christian virtue, has lost its original breadth of meaning and has sunk to the modern and restricted sense of “charity.”
Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.2. do not sound a trumpet before thee] The chests for alms in the Court of the Women, where the temple-treasury was placed, were called “trumpets” from their shape. Possibly the words of the text contain an allusion to these alms-chests. See Edersheim’s Temple in the time of our Lord, ch. ii. p. 26. But perhaps the expression means simply, “avoid ostentation in almsgiving.”
hypocrites] Lit. actors; those who play a part in life, whose actions are not the true reflection of their thoughts, whose religion is external and unreal. Such men begin by deceiving others, but end in self-deception. It is against these that our Lord’s severest reproofs are delivered.
in the synagogues] To this day alms are given in the Jewish synagogues.
They have] Strictly, have in full. Their reward is now and on earth.
But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:3. when thou doest alms] Observe that the singular number is used throughout these instructions on the subject of almsgiving and prayer, and in these only. These duties are essentially personal and individual. The teaching of the Talmud commends secrecy in almsgiving in such sayings as “he that doeth alms in secret is greater than Moses.” But the spirit of hypocrisy prevailed; the Pharisees taught and did not.
That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.4. himself] God, not man, will reward.
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.(b) Prayer, Matthew 6:5-15.
5. pray standing] The posture of standing was as closely associated with prayer as that of sitting was with teaching.
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.6. closet] A private oratory or place of prayer. These were usually in the upper part of the house. The Greek word in the original is translated (1) “Secret Chambers,” ch. Matthew 24:26; (2) “Storehouse,” Luke 12:24.
pray to thy Father which is in secret] Christ was the first to enjoin clearly secret and silent prayer. Certainly to pray aloud and in public appears to have been the Jewish practice; it is still the practice with the heathen and Mahomedans. The Roman looked with suspicion on private prayer: “quod scire hominem nolunt deo narrant” (Seneca). Cp. Hor. Ep. i. 16. 59–62, where see Macleane’s note. Cp. also Soph. Electra, 638, where Clytemnestra apologises for offering up a secret prayer.
But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.7. use not vain repetitions] It is not the length of time spent in prayer or the fervent or reasonable repetition of forms of prayer that is forbidden, but the mechanical repetition of set words, and the belief that the efficacy of prayer consists in such repetition. The word itself lit. means to stammer, then to “repeat uselessly.”
as the heathen] The Jews also had a saying, “Every one that multiplies prayer is heard.”
Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.8. for your Father knoweth … before ye ask him] Our Father knows our wants, still we are bound to express them. Why? because this is a proof of our faith and dependence upon God, which are the conditions of success in prayer.
After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.9. Our Father] It is of the essence of Christian prayer that God should be addressed as a Father to whose love we appeal, not as a God whose anger we appease. The analogy removes nearly all the real difficulties on the subject of prayer. A wise earthly father does not grant all requests, but all which are for the good of his children and which are in his power to grant. Again, the child asks without fear, yet no refusal shakes his trust in his father’s love or power.
Hallowed] “held sacred,” “revered.” Each of these petitions implies an obligation to carry out on our own part what we pray God to accomplish.
9–13. The Lord’s Prayer
St Luke 11:2-4, where the prayer is found in a different connection, and is given by our Lord in answer to a request from the disciples to teach them to pray, “even as John taught his disciples.” The text of St Luke as it stands in E. V. has probably been supplemented by additions from St Matthew.
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.10. Thy kingdom come] See note ch. Matthew 3:2. Lightfoot quotes an axiom from the Jewish Schools, “that prayer wherein there is not mention of the Kingdom of God is not a prayer.”
Give us this day our daily bread.11. this day] In Luke, “day by day.”
our daily bread] The Greek word translated “daily” occurs only in the Lord’s Prayer here and Luke 11:3, it is not found in any classical author. The rendering of the E. V. “daily” as nearly as possible represents the probable force of the word, which is strictly (bread) “for the coming day,” i. e. for the day now beginning. Others render “bread for the future,” taking bread in a spiritual sense; others, following a different etymology, translate “bread of subsistence.” Bread, primarily the bread on which we subsist (see Prof. Lightfoot in appendix to his work On a Fresh Revision of the N. T.); subsistence as distinct from luxury; but the spiritual meaning cannot be excluded, Christ the Bread of Life is the Christian’s daily food.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.12. debts] Sins are debts, shortcomings in the service due to God.
forgive] The aorist should be read in the Greek text. The force would then be that an act of forgiveness on man’s part is past before he prays to receive forgiveness. Cp. ch. Matthew 5:23-24, also the parable of the unforgiving servant, ch. Matthew 18:23 seqq.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.13. lead us not into temptation] The statement of James, James 1:2, “Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations,” is not really contradictory. The Christian character is strengthened and purified by temptation, but no one can think of temptation without dread.
deliver] Lit. draw to thyself, “rescue,” as from an enemy. Cp. 1 Thessalonians 1:10, “Jesus which delivered us from the wrath to come.”
from evil] Or, from the Evil One, Satan. The Greek bears either rendering, but the neuter is preferable and gives a deeper sense. We pray to be delivered not only from external evil, but from the evil within us.
For thine is the kingdom, &c.] This doxology is not supported by high MS. authority, it was doubtless an insertion from the liturgy. The Roman use omits the doxology. In the retention of it the English Church follows the Greek and Gallican uses.
For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:
But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.(c) Fasting, 16–18.
16. Fasting, in itself a natural result of grief, as anyone who has witnessed deep sorrow knows, easily degenerates into a form without reality.
disfigure] Either (1) make unseen, “veil,” or (2) cause to disappear, so “destroy,” “mar,” by leaving the face unwashen. The same word is translated “corrupt,” Matthew 6:19.
The apparent play upon the Greek words for “disfigure” and “appear” has been adduced in support of their view by those who consider Greek to have been the original language of the gospel.
But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;
That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:(d) Earthly possessions and daily cares, 19–34.
19. treasures upon earth] Love of amassing wealth has been characteristic of the Jews in all ages.
moth and rust] Oriental wealth consisted to a great extent in stores of linen, embroidered garments, &c., which were handed down and left as heir-looms.
moth] The English word = “the devourer.”
rust] Money was frequently buried in the ground in those unsettled times, and so would be more liable to rust. Banks in the modern sense were unknown. Rust, lit., an eating away, it is not confined to corrosion of metals.
break through and steal] An expression applicable to the mud walls of Oriental huts.
But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.21. where your treasure is] The words gain point if we think of the hoards buried in the earth.
The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.22. The light] Rather, lamp, or candle as it is translated ch. Matthew 5:15. The eye is not itself the light, but contains the light; it is the “lamp” or candle of the body, the light-conveying principle. If the eye or lamp is single, it admits the influx of the pure light only; if an eye be evil, i. e. affected with disease, the body can receive no light at all. The whole passage is on the subject of the singleness of service to God. There can be but one treasure, one source of light, one master. The eye is the spiritual faculty, through which the light of God’s truth is recognised and admitted into the soul.
The connection in which the words occur in Luke 11:34 is instructive. The inference there is that the spiritual perception of the Pharisees is dimmed, so that they cannot recognise Christ.
But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!23. the light that is in thee] Here the Greek word is correctly rendered “light.” If the light admitted to the body be distorted and obscured by the diseased medium, how great will be the darkness!
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.24. Another illustration of the singleness of the Christian character, “the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3), drawn from the relation of master and slave.
serve two masters] Strictly, be a slave to two masters. The absolute subjection of the slave must be considered. The interests of the “two masters” are presupposed to be diverse.
mammon] A Syriac word meaning “wealth.” There is no proof that it was the name of a god. It stands here for all that mostly estranges men from God: cp. “covetousness, which is idolatry,” Colossians 3:5.
Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?25. Therefore] i. e. because this double service is impossible there must be no distraction of thought.
Take no thought] “Do not be anxious,” which was the meaning of “take no thought,” when the E. V. was made. The same word occurs Php 4:6, “Be careful for nothing.” Cp. 1 Peter 5:7, “Casting all your care [or anxiety] upon him.” See Prof. Lightfoot, On a Fresh Revision of the New Testament, &c., p. 171.
The argument in the verse is: such anxiety is unnecessary; God gave the life and the body; will He not give the smaller gifts of food and clothing?
25–34. The parallel passage (Luke 12:22-31) follows immediately the parable of the “Rich Fool.”
Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?26. fowls] Old English for birds; cp.
“Smale fowles maken melodie
That slepen all the night with open yhe.” Chaucer.
There is no argument here against forethought or labour. In one sense “trusting to providence” is idleness and a sin. God has appointed labour as the means whereby man provides for his wants. Even birds shew forethought, and search for the food which God has provided for them.
Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?27. can add one cubit unto his stature] As the word translated “stature” also=duration of life, the meaning may be “add a cubit to his life.” Comp. Psalm 39:6 (P. B.), “Thou hast made my days as it were a span long.” This rendering falls in better with the connection. With all his anxiety man cannot add to his length of days, or clothe himself like the flowers.
And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:28. for raiment] The birds are an example of God’s care in providing food, the flowers of His care in providing apparel.
the lilies of the field] identified by Dr Thomson (Land and Book, p. 256), with a species of lily found in the neighbourhood of Hûlêh. He speaks of having met with “this incomparable flower, in all its loveliness … around the northern base of Tabor, and on the hills of Nazareth, where our Lord spent His youth.” Canon Tristram (Nat. Hist. of the Bible) claims this honour for the beautiful and varied anemone coronaria. “If in the wondrous richness of bloom which characterises the Land of Israel in spring any one plant can claim preeminence, it is the anemone, the most natural flower for our Lord to pluck and seize upon as an illustration, whether walking in the fields or sitting on the hill-side.”
And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.29. was not arrayed] Rather, arrayed not himself. The middle voice has a special force. Though he arrayed himself, the lilies, who trusted to God for their array, are more beautiful than he.
Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?30. which to day is] Rather, though it is to-day.
cast into the oven] The Jewish oven was a vessel narrower at the top than at the bottom, made of baked clay. Sometimes the fuel was placed within, and the cakes laid against the sides. Sometimes the oven was heated by a fire kindled beneath or around it. Eastern travellers state that wood being rare in most parts of the East, grass, twigs, and straw are commonly used for fuel.
Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?31. take no thought] See Matthew 6:25.
(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.32. the Gentiles seek] Seek with eagerness. A compound verb. The simple verb is used below in the next verse. For the aims of the heathen world read Juvenal Sat. x., or Johnson’s imitation of it “The Vanity of Human Wishes.”
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.34. the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself] The morrow shall have its own anxieties; sufficient for the day is its own distracting evil or distress. This seems to be the force of the Greek word for “evil.” See Schleusner sub voc.