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.
Ch. 7. C. Characteristics of the Kingdom, Matthew 7:1-27After contrasting the New Law with the Mosaic Law and with Pharisaic rules and conduct, Jesus proceeds to lay down rules for the guidance of His disciples in the Christian life.
Judge not, that ye be not judged.1. Judge not, &c.] This is the form which the “lex talionis,” or law of reciprocity, takes in the kingdom of heaven.
The censorious spirit is condemned, it is opposed to the ἐπιείκεια, “forbearance,” “fairness in judgment,” that allows for faults, a characteristic ascribed to Jesus Christ Himself, 2 Corinthians 10:1; cp. also Romans 14:3 foll.
that ye be not judged] by Christ on the Last Day.
(a) Judgment on others, Matthew 7:1-6.
The passage occurs in St Luke’s report of the Sermon on the Mount (ch. Luke 6:37-38), with a different context, and a further illustration of “full measure.”
For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.2. judgment] The same Greek word is used Romans 2:2-3 of the divine sentence or decision: see that passage and context which are closely parallel to these verses: cp. also Mark 12:40, where the same word is translated “damnation.”
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?3. the mote] The English word is either connected with mite (the coin) from a Latin root (minutum), or mite (the insect) from an Anglo-Saxon root meaning “to cut,” “sever,” or from one meaning “to eat.” The Greek word = a “dry particle” of dust, wool, &c.
beholdest … considerest] It is the contrast between judging from the outside, and examination of the heart. The Greek verbs in this, and the Greek prepositions in the following verses, convey this contrast.
Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?4. a beam is in thine own eye] Which (1) ought to prevent condemnation of another for a less grave offence; and which (2) would obscure the spiritual discernment, and so render thee an incapable judge. The Pharisaic sin of hypocrisy (see next verse) was deeper and more fatal to the spiritual life than the sins which the Pharisee condemned.
out of] Greek ἀπό (a reading which rests on the highest MS. authority) = “from the outside surface,” which alone the Pharisee discerns—
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.5. out of] Greek ἐκ = “from within,” of the deep-seated root of sin which the Pharisee may discern only when he has cast out the beam from his own eye.
Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.(b) The Father’s love for the children of the Kingdom shewn by answering prayer, 7–11.
6. The connection between this verse and the preceding section is not quite obvious. It seems to be this. Although evil and censorious judgment is to be avoided, discrimination is needful. The Christian must be judicious, not judicial.
that which is holy] i. e. “spiritual truths.” Some have seen in the expression a reference to the holy flesh of the offering (Haggai 2:12). But this allusion is very doubtful; see Meyer on this passage.
dogs … swine] Unclean animals; see the proverb quoted 2 Peter 2:22; cp. Php 3:2, “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers;” also Hor. Ep. i. 2. 25, “vel canis immundus vel amica luto sus.” See note on ch. Matthew 15:26.
pearls] The only gems mentioned in the Gospels, twice named by Jesus: here, where they signify the deepest spiritual thoughts of God and heaven, and ch. Matthew 13:46, where “the pearl of great price” is the kingdom of heaven itself. The general sense is “use discrimination, discern between holy and unholy, between those who are receptive of these high truths and those who are not.” The profane will despise the gift and put the giver to shame. Want of common sense does great harm to religion.
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:7. Ask, and it shall be given] The connection is again difficult. The verse may be the answer to the disciples’ unspoken questions: (1) “How shall we discriminate?” or (2) “Who are fit to receive these divine truths?” The words of Christ teach, (1) that discernment will be given, among other “good things,” in answer to prayer; (2) that prayer in itself implies fitness, because it implies desire for such truths.
For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.8. The triple formula covers every kind of want. The prayer shall be granted, the treasure found, the gate of heaven opened. St Luke 13:24-25. Observe the climax: ask—seek—knock; the fervour of the prayer must grow more and more intense.
Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?9. bread … a stone … fish … a serpent] The things contrasted have a certain superficial resemblance, but in each case one thing is good, the other unclean or even dangerous.
Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?11. good things] For this St Luke (Luke 11:13) has “the Holy Spirit,” shewing that spiritual rather than temporal “good things” are intended.
Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.12. Therefore] The practical result of what has been said both in regard to judgment and to prayer is mutual charity. The thought of the divine judgment teaches forbearance; the thought of the divine goodness teaches kindness.
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:13. The broad and the narrow way, Luke 13:24-25. The illustration seems to be drawn from a mansion having a large portal at which many enter, and a narrow entrance known to few.
strait = narrow.
(c) The narrow entrance to the Kingdom, 13, 14
These verses are linked to the preceding by the thought of prayer, for it is by prayer chiefly that the narrow entrance must be gained.
Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.14. because] To be taken after “enter ye” as in preceding verse, or it gives a reason why many go in at the wide gate.
narrow] Literally, pressed, confined.
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.(d) The false guides to the narrow entrance, and the test of the true, 15–23
15. false prophets] who will not help you to find the narrow way.
in sheep’s clothing] Not in a literal sense, but figuratively, “wearing the appearance of guilelessness and truth.”
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?16. thorns] The Greek word means, probably, a kind of acacia, or perhaps “thistles.” There is a Greek proverb οὐ γὰρ ἄκανθαι, “no thistles,” i. e. “nothing useless.”
thistles] Rather, caltrop, a prickly water-plant.
Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.19. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, &c.] To this day in the East trees are valued only so far as they produce fruit.
Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?22. in that day] The day of judgment. This is a forecast far into the distant future, when it would be worth while to assume Christianity, when hypocrisy would take the form of pretending to be a follower of the now despised Jesus. (See Canon Mozley’s sermon On the reversal of human judgment.)
For the pathetic repetition, Lord, Lord, cp. ch. Matthew 23:37; Luke 22:31.
prophesied] i. e. preached. The greatest of preachers dreads such a sentence. 1 Corinthians 9:27, “Lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”
devils] See note, ch. Matthew 4:24.
And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.23. I never knew you] “Never recognised you as my disciples. While my name was on your lips, your hearts were far from me.” Clement of Rome (Ep. ii:4), referring to this passage, says: “let us then not only call Him ‘Lord,’ for that will not save us;” he then quotes the words of Matthew 7:21.
iniquity] Literally, lawlessness.
Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:24. whosoever heareth] Cp. Matthew 7:26, every one that heareth. Both classes of men hear the word. So far they are alike. In like manner the two houses have externally the same appearance. The great day of trial shews the difference. The imagery is from a mountain country where the torrent-beds, sometimes more than half a mile in width in the plain below the mountain, are dry in summer, and present a level waste of sand and stones. We may picture the foolish man building on this sandy bottom, while the wise or prudent man builds on a rock planted on the shore, or rising out of the river bed, too high to be affected by the rush of waters. In the autumn the torrents stream down filling the sandy channel and carrying all before them. For the spiritual sense of the parable see 1 Corinthians 3:10 foll.
(e) A description of the true subjects of the Kingdom as opposed to the false. The wise and foolish builders, 24–27
Luke 6:47-49, where the phraseology differs a good deal from St Matthew. St Matthew, who living near the lake had often witnessed such sudden floods as are described, uses more vigorous language and draws the picture more vividly. St Luke marks the connection with the insincere “Lord, Lord,” more distinctly, but omits the reference to the last day and to the future of the Church.
And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:
And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.27. the rain descended, &c.] In the original both the tense and the position of the verbs give great vivacity to the description.
And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine:
For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.29. having authority] He was Himself a lawgiver. His teaching was not a mere expansion of the old law. Much less did he confine himself to the words of any particular Rabbi.
the scribes] Sopherim = either (1) “those who count;” because the Scribes counted each word and letter of the Scriptures; or (2) “those occupied with books.” The Scribes, as an organized body, originated with Ezra, who was in a special sense the “Sopher” or Scribe. This order of Sopherim, strictly so called, terminated b. c. 300. Their successors in our Lord’s time were usually termed Tanaim, “those who repeat, i. e. teach the Law.” They are called “lawyers” (ch. Matthew 22:35; Luke 5:17; Acts 5:34), also “the wise,” “Elders,” and “Rabbis.”
A scribe’s education began as early as in his fifth year. At thirteen he became a “son of the precept,” Bar-mitsvah. If deemed fit, he became a disciple. At thirty he was admitted as a teacher, having tablets and a key given him. See note, ch. Matthew 16:19. His functions were various; he transcribed the law (here the greatest accuracy was demanded); he expounded the law, always with reference to authority—he acted as judge in family litigation, and was employed in drawing up various legal documents, such as marriage contracts, writings of divorce, etc. (See Kitto’s Cycl. Bib. Lit. and Smith’s Bib. Dict. art. Scribes.)
The alliance between Scribes and Pharisees was very close, each taught that the law could be interpreted, fenced round and aided by tradition, in opposition to the Sadducees, who adhered to the strict letter of the written law.