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Bailey Sadler Class
SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON STUDY GUIDE – Winter
Study Theme: Distinct:
Living Above The Norm
What This Lesson Is About:
lesson focuses on how believers can reflect that “greater
righteousness” in their relationships with others.
Distinct in My Character
Distinct in My Influence
Distinct in My Approach To Conflict
Distinct in My Relationships
Distinct in My Reactions
Distinct in My Love
onto purity at all costs.
Purity In Your Conduct (Matthew 5:27-30)
Faithfulness In Your Relationships (Matthew 5:31-32)
longest recorded sermon, the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5—7), details
now kingdom citizens, Christians, should live—we should be distinct,
living above the norms of the world. Jesus
began this Sermon by listing actions and attitudes that are blessed by God
and that cause us to be distinctive in our character (the Beatitudes,
5:3-12). He continued by
commanding His followers to make their influence count for what matters,
making them distinct in their influence (vv. 13-20).
Jesus concluded this section by stressing that the “greater
righteousness” of those who follow Him should surpass that of the
scribes and Pharisees (v. 20).
Matthew 5:21-48 Jesus explained that “greater righteousness” by citing
six examples from the Law and showing what God intended those laws to do
so that a person could “be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is
perfect” (v. 48). In the
first of these examples, Jesus taught believers to take the lead in
resolving conflict, making them distinct from the world by their approach
to conflict (vv. 21-26). This
study deals with verse 27-32, in which Jesus commanded Christians to hold
on to sexual and marriage purity at all costs so that they would be
distinct in their relationships.
SOURCE: Holman Bible Handbook; General
Editor David S.
Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee
We applaud the anniversaries of those who have
been married for 25 years or longer. We rightly celebrate with them, but
society often does with an added sense of amazement, as if it’s
miraculous that two people have stayed committed to each other for so
long. Faithfulness and purity have been a wonder to our culture, but it
should be our norm. Jesus calls us to sexual purity, both physically and
Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by
Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza,
Purity In Your Conduct (Matthew 5:27-30)
27 “You have heard that it was said, Do not commit adultery. 28
But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already
committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your
right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. For it is
better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole
body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand
causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you
lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to go into
Faithful In Your Relationships (Matthew 5:31-32)
31 “It was also said, Whoever divorces his wife must give her a written
notice of divorce. 32 But I tell you, everyone who
divorces his wife, except in a case of sexual immorality, causes her to
commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
you think these verses difficult to understand these verses?
is it difficult to apply these verses to our lives today?
can we be both firm in upholding Jesus’ commands and loving to those involved
had the law been distorted or abused as it related to divorce?
did Jesus challenge the practices that allowed for easy divorce?
was God’s plan for marriage? (See
Mark 10:5-9; Matt. 19:4-9.)
What are some keys to faithfulness in marriage over
Do you think strong, faithful marriages benefit all
people, whether single or married? If
How are we to love God and
love others in a culture of divorce?
What are some things we
(believers) can do to help those who have been divorced or are going through a
you think these 2 verses have a message for believers in their relationships
with others now?
so, what do you think it would be?
What role do you think we should play in a world
where the biblical model for relationships between men and women is ignored at
best and attacked at worst?
What are some things we (believers) can do to
promote godly living in today’s world?
Lessons in Matthew 5:31-32:
intends for one man and one woman to be married for life.
allowed for divorce because of the hardness of our hearts, but it is not
words reflected the demand for “a greater righteousness” from His
people more than anyone expected, a righteousness that leads to
allowed for divorce but did not require
it, and for only one reason, sexual immorality.
to Jesus, when people divorce for reasons other than sexual immorality,
they are placed in a dangerous position in which both may commit adultery.
We live in the
reality of a fallen world where human beings habitually fall short of
God’s ideal both in our relationships with God and with other people. Our
sinful, selfish actions and attitudes often put a strain on the
relationships we have with others, including our families. We
can learn from the Old Testament that as we maintain faithfulness and
purity in our relationships, we present a picture of the loving
relationship between God and His people. When
we are unfaithful in our relationships we pervert that image of the loving
relationship between God and His people. In
the New Testament, Paul taught that as we live out God’s design in our
relationships with others, we project an image of Christ’s love for the
church. Regrettably, as we
break our relationships with others through our sinful, selfish actions
and attitudes, we present a distorted image to the world of Christ’s
love for the church. In
contrast to contemporary culture, let us passionately advocate for godly
relationships as we strive for that “greater righteousness” at all
costs. As we do, we project an
image to the world of God’s love and faithfulness to His people.
So, where do you stand when it comes to godly distinction in your
relationships with others? Are
you striving for that “greater righteousness” in all your
relationships? On a scale of 1
(very weak) to 10 (very strong), rate how well you are striving for that
“greater righteousness” Jesus has been teaching us in our last four
studies? Do all your
relationships reflect your rating? If
they are not as reflective that you are striving for that “greater
righteousness,” what do you want God to help you with?
are the implications of these truths for your life?
THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!
the safest place for a believer is in the center of God’s will.
Outline, Introduction, Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the
Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources
of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.
Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by
Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville,
SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza,
Passage from three different translations of God’s Word:
New King James Version:
27 "You have heard that
it was said to those of old, 'You shall
not commit adultery.' 28
But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already
committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes
you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your
members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. 30 And
if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it
from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish,
than for your whole body to be cast into hell. 31 "Furthermore
it has been said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of
divorce.' 32 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any
reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever
marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery. (NKJV)
New American Standard Bible: Matthew 5:27-32
27 "You have heard that
it was said, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY'; 28 but I say to you
that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed
adultery with her in his heart. 29 "If 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. 30
"If 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. 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. (NASB)
New Living Translation:
27 “You have heard the
commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ 28 But I
say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery
with her in his heart. 29 So if your eye—even your good
eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you
to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30
And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off
and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for
your whole body to be thrown into hell. 31 “You have heard the law
that says, ‘A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a written notice
of divorce.’ 32 But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless
she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a
divorced woman also commits adultery. (NLT)
Commentary for the focal passage comes from four sources: “The Expositor’s Bible Commentary New Testament,” “Believer's Bible Commentary,” “The Complete Biblical Library Commentary,” and “The College Press NIV Commentary,” and is provided for your study.)
Lesson Outline — “Distinct in My Relationships” — Matthew 5:27-32
Practice Purity In
Your Conduct (Matthew 5:27-30)
Remain Faithful In
Your Relationships (Matthew 5:31-32)
Expositor’s Bible Commentary New Testament: Matthew
Adultery and purity (5:27-30)
5:27-28. The OT command not to commit
adultery (Exod 20:14; Deut 5:18) is often treated in Jewish sources not so
much as a function of purity as of theft: it was to steal another’s wife
(references in Bonnard). Jesus insisted that the seventh commandment points in
another direction—toward purity that refuses to lust (v. 28). The tenth
commandment had already explicitly made the point; and gyne here
more likely means “woman” than “wife.” “To interpret the law on the
side of stringency is not to annul the Law, but to change it in accordance with
its own intention” (cf. Job 31:1; Prov 6:25; 2 Peter 2:14).
Klaus Haacker has convincingly argued that the second auten
(“[committed adultery] with her”) is contrary to the common interpretation
of this verse. In Greek it is unnecessary, especially if the sin is entirely the
man’s. But it is explainable if pros to epithymesai auten,
commonly understood to mean “with a view to lusting for her,” is translated
“so as to get her to lust.” The evidence for this interpretation is strong.
The man is therefore looking at the woman with a view to enticing her to lust.
Thus, so far as his intention goes, he is committing adultery with her, he makes
her an adulteress. This does not weaken the force of Jesus’ teaching; the
heart of the matter is still lust and intent.
5:29-30. The radical treatment of parts
of the body that cause one to sin has led some to castrate themselves. But that
is not radical enough, since lust is not thereby removed. The “eye” (v. 29)
is the member of the body most commonly blamed for leading us astray, especially
in sexual sins (cf. Num 15:39; Prov 21:4; Ezek 6:9; 18:12; 20:8;
v. 11. Eccl 11:9); the “right eye” refers to one’s best eye. But
why the “right hand” (v. 30) in a context dealing with lust? This may
be merely illustrative or a way of saving that even lust is a kind of theft.
More likely it is a euphemism for the male sexual organ (cf. yad,
“hand,” most likely used in this way in Isa 57:8).
Cutting off or gouging out the offending part is a way of
saying that Jesus’ disciples must deal radically with sin. Imagination is a God-given gift; but if it is fed
dirt by the eye, it will be dirty. All sin, not least sexual sin, begins with
the imagination. Therefore what feeds the imagination is of maximum
importance in the pursuit of kingdom righteousness (compare Philippians
4:8). Not everyone reacts the same way to all objects. But if (vv. 28-29)
your eye is causing you to sin, gouge it out; or at very least, don’t look!
The alternative is sin and hell, sin’s reward. The point is so fundamental
that Jesus doubtless repeated it on numerous occasions (cf. 18:8-9).
Divorce and remarriage (5:31-32)
5:31-32. The introductory formula “It
has been said” is shorter than all the others in this chapter and is linked to
the preceding by a connective de (“and”). Therefore, though
these two verses are innately antithetical, they carry further the argument of
the preceding pericope. The OT not only points toward insisting that lust is the
moral equivalent of adultery (vv. 27-30) but that divorce is as well. This
arises out of the fact that the divorced woman will in most circumstances
remarry (esp. in first-century Palestine, where this would probably be her means
of support). That new marriage, whether from the perspective of the divorcee or
the one marrying her, is adulterous.
The OT passage to which Jesus refers (v. 31) is Deuteronomy
24:1-4, whose thrust is that if a man divorces his wife because of “something
indecent” (not further defined) in her, he must give her a certificate of
divorce, and if she then becomes another man’s wife and is divorced again, the
first man cannot remarry her. This double restriction—the certificate and the
prohibition of remarriage—discouraged hasty divorces. Here Jesus does not go
into the force of “something indecent.” Instead he insists that the law was
pointing to the sanctity of marriage.
The natural way to take the “except” clause is that
divorce is wrong because it generates adultery except in the case of
fornication. In that case, where sexual sin has already been committed, nothing
is laid down, though it appears that divorce is then implicitly permitted, even
if not mandated.
The numerous points for exegetical dispute (e.g., the
meaning of porneia [“fornication,” or, in NIV, “marital
unfaithfulness”], the force of the “except” clause, and the tradition
history behind these verses and their relationship to 19:3-9, Mark
10:11-12; Luke 16:18) are treated more fully at 19:3-12. The one
theory that must be rejected here (because it has no counterpart in 19:3-12)
is that which takes the words “makes her an adulteress” to mean
“stigmatizes her as an adulteress (even though it is not so).” The Greek
uses the verb, not the noun (cf. NIV’s “causes her to become an
adulteress”). The verbal construction disallows Powers’s paraphrase.
SOURCE: The Expositor’s
Bible Commentary New Testament; Frank E. Gaebelein; General
Editor; Zondervan Publishing House; A Division of Harper Collins Publishers
Bible Commentary: Matthew 5:27-32
Jesus Condemns Adultery (5:27-30)
5:27, 28. The
Mosaic Law clearly prohibited adultery (Ex. 20:14; Deut. 5:18). A person might
be proud that he had never broken this commandment, and yet have his "eyes
full of adultery" (2 Pet. 2:14). While outwardly respectable, his mind
might be constantly wandering down labyrinths of impurity. So Jesus reminded His
disciples that mere abstinence from the physical act was not enough—there must
be inward purity. The law forbade the act of adultery; Jesus forbids the desire:
Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with
her in his heart. E. Stanley Jones caught the import of this verse when he
wrote: "If you think or act adultery, you do not satisfy the sex urge; you
pour oil on a fire to quench it." Sin begins in the mind, and if we nourish
it, we eventually commit the act.
5:29, 30. Maintaining
an undefiled thought life demands strict self-discipline. Thus, Jesus taught
that if any part of our body causes us to sin, it would be better to lose that
member during life rather than to lose one's soul for eternity. Are we to take
Jesus' words literally? Was He actually advocating self-mutilation? The words
are literal to this extent: if it were necessary to lose a member rather
than one's soul, then we should gladly part with the member. Fortunately it
is never necessary, since the Holy Spirit empowers the believer to live a
holy life. However, there must be cooperation and rigid discipline on the
Jesus Censures Divorce (5:31, 32)
OT law, divorce was permitted according to Deuteronomy 24:1-4. This passage was
not concerned with the case of an adulterous wife (the penalty for adultery was
death, see Deut. 22:22). Rather, it deals with divorce because of dislike or
5:32. However, in the kingdom of Christ, whoever divorces his wife for any
reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery. This does not
mean that she automatically becomes an adulteress; it presupposes that, having
no means of support, she is forced to live with another man. In so doing she
becomes an adulteress. Not only is the former wife living in adultery, whoever
marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.
The subject of divorce and remarriage is one of the most complicated
topics in the Bible. It is virtually impossible to answer all the questions that
arise, but it may be helpful to survey and summarize what we believe the
Excursus On Divorce and Remarriage:
Divorce was never God's intention for man. His ideal is that one man and
one woman remain married until their union is broken by death (Rom. 7:2, 3).
Jesus made this clear to the Pharisees by appealing to the divine order at
creation (Matt. 19:4-6).
God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16), that is, unscriptural divorce. He does not
hate all divorce because He speaks of Himself as having divorced Israel (Jer.
3:8). This was because the nation forsook Him to worship idols. Israel was
In Matthew 5:31, 32 and 19:9, Jesus taught that divorce was forbidden
except when one of the partners had been guilty of sexual immorality. In Mark
10:11, 12 and Luke 16:18, the exception clause is omitted.
The discrepancy is probably best explained as that neither Mark nor Luke
record the entire saying. Therefore, even though divorce is not the ideal, it is
permitted in the case where one's partner has been unfaithful. Jesus allows
divorce, but He does not command it.
Some scholars see 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 as teaching
that divorce is acceptable when a believer is deserted by an unbeliever. Paul
says that the remaining person is "not under bondage in such cases,"
i.e., he or she is free to obtain a divorce (for desertion). The present
writer's opinion is that this case is the same exception granted in Matthew 5
and 19; namely, the unbeliever departs to live with someone else. Therefore, the
believer can be granted a divorce on the scriptural grounds only if the other
party commits adultery.
It is often contended that, although divorce is permitted in the NT,
remarriage is never contemplated. However, this argument begs the question.
Remarriage is not condemned for the innocent party in the NT only for the
offending person. Also, one of the main purposes of a scriptural divorce is to
permit remarriage; otherwise, separation would serve the purpose just as well.
In any discussion of this topic, the question inevitably arises,
"What about people who were divorced before they were saved?" There
should be no question that unlawful divorces and remarriages contracted before
conversion are sins which have been fully forgiven (see, for example, 1 Cor.
6:11 where Paul includes adultery in the list of sins in which the Corinthian
believers had formerly participated). Pre-conversion sins do not bar believers
from full participation in the local church.
A more difficult question concerns Christians who
have divorced for unscriptural reasons and then remarry. Can they be received
back into the fellowship of the local church? The answer depends on whether
adultery is the initial act of physical union or a continued state. If these
people are living in a state of adultery, then they would not only have to
confess their sin but also forsake their present partner. But God's solution for
a problem is never one that creates worse problems. If, in order to untangle a
marital snarl, men or women are driven into sin, or women and children are left
homeless and penniless, the cure is worse than the disease.
In the writer's opinion, Christians who have been divorced unscripturally
and then remarried can truly repent of their sin and be restored to the Lord and
to the fellowship of the church. In the matter of divorce, it seems that almost
every case is different. Therefore, the elders of a local church must
investigate each case individually and judge it according to the Word of God. If
at times, disciplinary action has to be taken, all concerned should submit to
the decision of the elders.
Bible Commentary; by William MacDonald; Copyright © 1995, 1992, 1990,
1989 by William McDonald. Database © 2014 WORDsearch.
Complete Biblical Library Commentary: Matthew
5:27, 28. The old-time scribes quoted the seventh commandment
(Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18) and were satisfied to keep the letter of the
Law. You could break up a family or destroy the love between a husband and wife,
but as long as you did not commit the act of adultery you had not sinned. Jesus
went deeper and gave an explanation totally different from the experts in the
Law. Deuteronomy 24:1, concerning writing a bill of divorce, was their starting
point (see verse 31). The problem of divorce was out of hand, and their solution
was to tolerate it. In contrast Jesus emphasized the seventh commandment,
concerning God's positive will. He proceeded to explain it in the light of the
10th commandment (Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21). God makes demands upon the
whole person, including his or her attitudes. Thus Jesus explained that to allow
sinful desires is just as much in violation of God's will as sinful actions.
Believers should deal with sin at the earliest possible point.
This passage is not talking about natural desire and love of one's
spouse, nor of friendship with another person in general. It does not discount a
normal interest in women by men and vice versa; rather, it is concerned with
continual, lustful desires by the married or unmarried person.
In other words, Jesus was not talking about a passing glance or
temptation that the person rejects. But the person who keeps looking or lets the
mind dwell on a forbidden sin or on a person who belongs to someone else, or on
one for whom he or she has no honorable intentions, that person has sinned.
What we let our minds dwell on is important. (See Philippians 4:8, 9.)
The Bible calls on us to fix our minds on that which is good, for if we allow
our minds to dwell on anything that arouses lust or wrong desire, this is the
first step to sin. James explains it this way: "Each one is tempted when,
by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has
conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to
death" (James 1:14, 15, NIV).
5:29, 30. Jesus warned further that if we would avoid the
fires of eternal death, we must get rid of anything that offends in the sense
that it keeps causing us to sin. Here, He was still focusing His teaching on the
serious danger of the sinful heart and its sinful desires. The expression
"offend" (skandalizei) literally means "a bait in a
trap," and more generally it connotes a "trap" or a
"stumbling" that keeps causing one to sin.
Gehenna here is not the place of punishment during the present age prior
to the resurrection of the dead, which is ordinarily called hell but which is
properly called Hades. Rather, it equals the "lake of fire," to which
all unbelievers will be condemned at the Last Judgment (Revelation 20:14, 15).
The name Gehenna is taken from the valley of the sons of Hinnom on the
south side of Jerusalem. In New Testament times it was a place where fires for
trash and rubbish were always burning. Popular Jewish tradition said the Last
Judgment would take place there. But Jesus used it as a name for the final place
of punishment. (See Matthew 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke
The eye serves as a "receptor" for the rest of the body; the
hand acts. An individual can sin either in what he receives or in what he does.
Even the loss of a hand or an eye does not compare with the value of the loss of
the whole person in eternal judgment. The eye is especially important for it
excites the mind and then the hand to action. Jesus recognized this when He
said, "If therefore thine eye be single (clear, sound, healthy, generous,
sincere, guileless), thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be
evil (sick, bad, spoiled, evil-intentioned), thy whole body shall be full of
darkness" (6:22, 23). Christians need to
be careful lest any unwholesome thought or thing cloud their spiritual eyes and
keep them from seeing clearly the exceeding sinfulness of sin.
Jesus' words obviously are not intended to be taken literally, but
figuratively. A person could gouge out an eye or cut off a hand and keep on
sinning. Using deliberate exaggeration, Jesus wanted to show that if a wrong
desire or action becomes as important as an eye or a right hand, that desire or
intent to act must be chopped off or cut out. Temptation and sinful thought have
to be dealt with in a radical way before they are converted into deeds. God's
call is for believers to yield themselves to God and their "members
servants to righteousness unto holiness" (Romans 6:13, 19).
the Jews only the man was permitted to divorce. Opinions of what were valid
reasons for divorce were divided. The school of Shammai declared that the words
of Deuteronomy 24:1, "because he finds something indecent about her" (NIV),
refer to sexual impropriety. The school of Hillel, however, interpreted the
words as applicable to anything a husband might disapprove, even something so
minor as burning a meal.
The "bill of divorce" was very broad: "May this be my bill
of divorce to you. You are free to marry who you will." The husband had to
present the bill, signed by two witnesses, to his wife. Then the divorce was
Jesus made an allusion to Deuteronomy 24:1, following somewhat the
scribes' understanding. Actually, they had taken a less than desirable situation
("If a man... writes") and turned it into a commandment ("let him
give her..."). Deuteronomy 24:1ff., however, contains only a single
positive command: a man was forbidden to remarry the woman he divorced because
she was unclean (verse 4). Because Jesus did not cite the accepted reason for
divorce, it can be concluded He did not want to become involved in the debates
between Hillel and Shammai.
5:32. Jesus' answer is closely related to the sixth
commandment (Exodus 20:14). He directed His questioners' attention to what God
originally intended by the sixth commandment and to how the creation account
should affect one's understanding (Genesis 1:27; 2:24; also cf. Matthew 19:3-9;
Ephesians 5:31, 32; Hebrews 13:4). He declared that three people become guilty
of adultery in a divorce and remarriage situation: the woman, the first husband,
and the second.
The first marriage is binding except for the case of sexual immorality. Porneias
literally denotes "prostitution, habitual immorality," and it has a
broader meaning than "adultery." It particularly concerns illegal
extramarital sexual relations of any kind. Adultery carried the death penalty
(Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22), but what should happen in case of
immorality is in fact not mentioned here. Nonetheless, it is clear that in this
case divorce, although not mandatory, is certainly permitted.
Complete Biblical Library Commentary - Matthew. Copyright ©
2009 WORDsearch Corp.; World Library Press, Inc.
The College Press NIV Commentary –
27“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit
adultery.’ 28But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman
lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If
your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better
for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into
hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off
and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for
your whole body to go into hell. (NIV)
5:27. Jesus once again goes to the core of Jewish Law,
this time citing the seventh commandment of the Decalogue: Do not commit
adultery (Exod 20:14; Deut 5:18). In the OT adultery was understood to
involve sexual relations between a man (married or single) and another man’s
wife, or a virgin betrothed to be married to someone else (Lev 18:20; 20:10;
Deut 22:22). The primary concern in the injunction against adultery was the
violation or defiling of another man’s wife. Hence, the seventh commandment
(“you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife”). The excessive desire for the
wife of one’s neighbor (along with anything else that belonged to the man, v.
12, “house,” “manservant,” “maid servant,” “ox,” “donkey,”
Exod 20:17; Deut 5:21), is viewed as a serious breach of a covenantal
relationship and the “gateway to the violation of every other principle in the
radically internalizes the concept of adultery by tracing its root to a lustful
look. The phrase, looks at a woman lustfully (πρός τὸ [pros to] + infinitive) describes a look
that results in another’s spouse becoming the object of one’s sexual desire
(cf. 2 Pet 2:14). Since Jesus intends the whole person to be captivated by the
will of God, he places emphasis upon the inner disposition of the heart, not
just the overt physical act. God would rule over his people from the inside out.
It should be observed that unlike some Jewish thinking, Jesus does not
regard women as the sole or primary causal factor of male involvement in sexual
sins. According to certain rabbis, men do not initiate a lustful look or an
adulterous act but are merely enticed by the alluring look of a woman. Rather
than demanding the seclusion of women, Jesus places the responsibility upon the
male to exercise sexual restraint.
hyperbolic illustrations now follow to dramatically reinforce the radical
measures one must take to avoid succumbing to illicit desire. If the eye
or hand cause one to sin, drastic action must be taken (gouge it out,
cut it off) to avoid the snare of sin. Of course, the language is not to
be taken literally, since lust cannot ultimately be controlled by maiming the
body. The “eye” and “right hand” metaphorically illustrate valued
possessions or desires that must be sacrificed for the sake of the kingdom of
God. The alternative is the loss of the whole body in gehenna.
Obviously, such a standard of righteousness cannot be measured by a mere
legal criteria. The entire person, including inner motivations must be radically
transformed to reflect a righteousness commensurate with the very character of
God. It should also be observed, as noted by Levison,
As in 5:21-26, the hearer must take initiative: there, to effect
reconciliation, and here, to keep oneself from stumbling. Jesus makes no
concession for various inner motivations or external causes. He calls his
hearers to radical, responsible initiative, particularly in the light of the
inevitable judgment of sin (cf. 7:24-27).
31“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife
must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except
for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who
marries the divorced woman commits adultery.
5:31. Jesus now counters popular Jewish notions
concerning divorce which were based on a faulty reading of Deut 24:1-4. Jewish
divorce laws grounded the authorization of a husband’s right to divorce his
wife in Deut 24 by reading the language “he writes her a certificate of
divorce” (24:1) as a legitimation of divorce. Since it was assumed that only
the husband could initiate a divorce, rabbinic debate shifted to the precise
meaning of the vague phrase, “he finds something indecent about her” (24:1).
On the one hand, the rabbinic tradition represented by the school of Shammai
interpreted the phrase as some form of immorality, while the school of Hillel
understood the phrase to include virtually anything that her husband found
displeasing (which could include something as trivial as burning his food).
Later Rabbi Akiba emphasized the phrase “she finds no favor in his eyes,”
and concluded that divorce was permitted when the husband was attracted to
someone more beautiful than his wife (m. Gitten 9:10). It should be noted that
originally Deut 24:1-4 was not intended to provide divine sanction for divorce,
but was intended as a legal provision to protect the woman from a potentially
abusive situation. Later Jesus will interpret the Mosaic legislation not as a
command, but as a concession to the hardness of heart characterizing Jewish
males (see 19:8-9).
the Mosaic Law implicitly upheld the sanctity of marriage, Jesus explicitly held
males accountable for propagating adulterous unions if women are persistently
discarded because of a husband’s frivolous displeasure. Jesus’ radical
limitation on the right of divorce is later explained as an expression of
God’s ideal will who places value and sanctity upon the marital state (cf.
Jesus’ words are intended to drive home, especially to Jewish males
(cf. Mark 10:11-12), the seriousness of initiating divorce proceedings against
one’s wife. The husband, in effect, cannot divorce his wife, unless the
“certificate of divorce” is intended to publicly announce that the wife has
already severed the relationship through some form of illicit sexual activity (πορνεία,
porneia, cf. 1:18-19). In that case the formal act of divorce is simply
the legal ratification that the wife has dissolved the union by her infidelity.
It follows that Matthew’s unique exception clause (cf. Mark 10:11; Luke 16:18)
is not intended to introduce a new provision for divorce, but simply makes
explicit what any Jewish reader would have taken for granted.
Precisely what is meant by the “exception clause” (except for
marital unfaithfulness, παρεκτὸς λόγου πορνείας, parektos logou porneias) has not found unanimity of opinion. In
general, proposals tend to gravitate either to a specifically restrictive
meaning of porneia (e.g., premarital sex, incest, adultery), or to a much
more inclusive meaning, referring to any form of illicit sexual conduct. Since
there is no contextual reason in 5:32 (or 19:9) to limit porneia to some
specific form of sexual immorality, it appears that the NIV rendering of
“marital unfaithfulness” adequately communicates the broad range of sexual
misconduct inherent in the term. While
adultery (μοιχεία, moicheia) is not to be
equated with porneia, it certainly falls within the broad semantic domain
suggested by porneia. However, by the use of porneia rather than moicheia
the Matthean “exception clause” would probably be understood by Jewish
readers to include any form of indiscretion or illicit conduct undermining the
The husband who divorces his wife for reasons other than porneia
is guilty of promoting subsequent adulterous unions. Two unstated assumptions
seem to undergird Jesus’ perspective. First, the saying assumes a first
century culture where a divorced woman would naturally remarry. Second, any
remarriage of the divorced woman is viewed as adulterous because she is still
the wife of her first husband. Hence, implicitly Jesus upholds the permanence of
marriage in contrast to the legal maneuvering of Jewish males based on Deut 24.
Certainly, calling a man who legally marries a divorced woman (not guilty of
immorality) an adulterer would have struck Jewish hearers as overly rigid (cf.
19:10). However, the idealism of kingdom righteousness demands a return to
God’s original intent for marriage.
It is doubtful that Jesus intended his words to be construed as case law
demanding legal extrapolation to cover all circumstances leading to divorce. In
fact, a survey of the divorce sayings within the Synoptic tradition (i.e.,
5:31-32; 19:3-12; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18), reveals a fluidity of
interpretation and application of Jesus’ words. By far the clearest emendation
of Jesus’ words is the notorious “Pauline privilege” (1 Cor 7:12-15) which
seems to permit divorce and remarriage for reasons not explicitly stated in the
Gospel tradition. It appears that the disconcerting realities of our fallen
condition, to some extent, determine the application of God’s ideal will.
While Jesus assumes a prophetic spirit by articulating the timeless truth
that God “hates divorce” (Mal 2:16), his disclosure of the heart of God also
reveals a compassionate response to the particulars of the human condition (cf.
9:13; 12:7). It would seem that while we should never compromise our pursuit of
the ideal, the hard reality of our persistent failures demands a redemptive
response to those who fail. After all, the radical demands of the kingdom
include statements about anger, lust, revenge, and loving our enemies, along
with the prohibition of divorce. Interpreting Jesus’ words legalistically
always fails to take seriously both the depth of God’s demand and the extent
of human failure.
SOURCE: The College Press NIV Commentary: Matthew; by
Larry Chouinard; New Testament Series Co-Editors: Jack Cottrell, Ph.D.,
Cincinnati Bible Seminar; Tony Ash, Ph.D., Abilene Christian University; College
Press Publishing Company, Joplin, Missouri
written notice of divorce (v.
31)—The Greek word translated here originally had the
sense of abandonment of property, then in Jewish circles acquired the meaning of
a certificate or notice of divorce given to a woman so she could remarry without
charge of adultery.
Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources
of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.
legal ending of a marriage. From early time provision was made for divorce among
the Israelites (Deut. 24:1-4). Persumably prior to this decree, a wife could be
put out of the home at the pleasure of the husband. Now he was required to write
out “a bill of divorce” and give it to his wife as proof that he was
divorcing her. This gave some dignity and protection to the divorced woman.
common enough among the Jews in New Testament times to cause division among the
rabbis as to the valid basis for divorce. The passage in Deuteronomy did not
give clear guidelines. “Because he hath found some uncleanness in her”
(Deut. 24:1) left room for interpretation. One group of rabbis insisted that
divorce could be granted only if the wife was immoral. Another group argued that
divorce could be secured by the husband if the wife displeased him in any way.
Among the Jews, only the husband had the right to secure a divorce. The wife
might leave her husband, but she could not divorce him. The situation was
different in the Roman world. There the wife had equal rights with the husband
in the matter of divorce.
of Jesus are the clearest to be found in the Bible concerning divorce. He
refused to be drawn into the rabbinical controversy over the possible valid
basis for divorce. When such an attempt was made (Matt. 19:3-9; Mark 10:2-12),
Jesus referred His questioners to the Old Testament law. They cited the
permission granted in Deuteronomy 24. Jesus pointed out that this was not
God’s original intent. Divorce was permitted only because of “the hardness
of your heart” (Mark 10:5). Then Jesus went back to God’s original intent
which was permanent monogamy, one man and one woman together for life. He
supported this by referring back to Genesis 1:27 and 2:24. God intended marriage
to be permanent.
occasion as Jesus taught about divorce (Matt. 5:31-32), He referred to the
passage in Deuteronomy 24 as common knowledge among His hearers. He did not give
His approval to the practice of divorce. Rather, He showed the consequences of
divorce in the lives of people. If a man divorced his wife, he made her an
adulteress unless the basis of the divorce was her own immorality. This
statement has been understood in various ways. One idea is that Jesus was giving
here a justifiable ground for divorce. If the wife violated her marriage vows,
the husband had the right to divorce her. However, another suggestion is that
Jesus was not making a law. Instead, he was saying that the husband would make
the wife become an adulteress unless she had already become one by her own
action. A divorced woman in Palestine of that day had few choices. To survive
she could remarry or become a prostitute. In either case she was guilty of
adultery. In a few instances, the divorced wife might have been able to return
to live with her parents. Whichever interpretation of Jesus’ statement is
considered best, He indicated that God’s intention was permanent marriage.
On only one occasion did Paul deal with the matter of divorce in his
writings. The church at Corinth asked him questions concerning marriage. In his
response to their questions, he had to give advice in matters relating to the
marriage of a Christian with another Christian and that of a Christian with a
nonbeliever (1 Cor. 7:10-13). With regard to the marriage of two Christians, he
cited the teaching of Jesus. The Christian man should not divorce his wife, and
the Christian woman should not separate from her husband. In the matter of a
Christian married to a nonbeliever, Paul did not have a specific teaching from
Jesus. But he gave his advice under the guidance of God’s Spirit (1 Cor.
7:40). He stated that a Christian was not to take the initiative to divorce the
nonbeliever. So long as the nonbeliever was willing to live in a proper marriage
relationship, the Christian was to maintain that relationship.
intention of God from creation has been that man and woman live together in a
permanent marriage relationship. Divorce was allowed in the Old Testament as a
protection to the married partners and a means to salvage whatever good could be
gained from a bad situation. But Jesus clearly taught that it was not the proper
action for His people.
does not give specific instructions as to what a divorced person should do. The
nearest is Paul’s advice that the woman who separates from her husband should
remain single or else be reconciled with her husband (1 Cor. 7:11). This advice
was given in a context where Paul urged the single state for anyone who was not
SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary;
General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.
IN THE FIRST CENTURY
Gerald L. Stevens
L. Stevens is professor of New Testament and Greek, New Orleans Baptist
Theological Seminary, New Orleans, Louisiana
was a Roman world.1 Jesus
was born into this Roman world when it was ruled by Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1).
Augustus (27 B.C.-A.D. 14) founded a new order of peace and stability
after centuries of political and social chaos during the Roman civil wars.
The Augustan age reaffirmed old values of the Republican age, including
those of hearth and home. To
repopulate the empire after decimation by wars, Augustus encouraged marriage and
regulated divorce. The two basic
forms of marriage were civil and common. Roman
law regulated civil marriages.
reforms of Augustus dealt with civil marriage, which already had a long
tradition in Roman law. Initially
only aristocrats could contract civil marriages.
Later, patrician and plebeian classes joined the ranks around 445 B.C.
Under Augustus, marriage contracts were expanded to freeborn and freed
persons. The slave never was allowed
to execute a civil marriage contract.
contractual power invested in a civil marriage was that of defining progeny and
distributing authority. Defining
legitimate (legal) progeny was crucial to Roman society, because progeny
inherited the social status of the father and the family wealth.
And distributing authority was important because it designated the proper
legal authority of the individuals involved.
civil marriage contract had two forms. The
first form was “with power.” This
“power” referred to legal authority over the wife’s property.
A civil marriage “with power’ transferred legal authority of the
wife’s property from father to husband. The
“with power” form of civil marriage had practically disappeared, though, by
the first century.
favored the second marriage form, “without power.”
In the second form, property was retained in the old traditional
families. “Without power” also
allowed the wife to manage her own affairs.
A handsome dowry encouraged husbands to accept such arrangements.
Just how independent the wife could be in the administration of her own
affairs was the subject of some debate. Cicero,
the famous Roman orator, seemed to favor the wife managing at least some of her
own affairs independently, even of her father.2
In any case, by Paul’s day, most
Roman civil marriages were this second form “without power,” in which the
wife held some authority to manage her own affairs.
This authority gave the woman some financial security after divorce.
marriage was a second form of marriage. Although
this form lacked official legal status, Roman society at large generally
recognized these arrangements as functional marriages.
One form, especially common among slaves, was “sharing the same
roof.” Another form was
“concubinage” in which a man could take a concubine as a wife.
No dowry was exchanged, and the children were considered illegitimate
legally and thus could not inherit property.
Roman soldiers were forbidden marriage during their 20 years of service.
They were required to divorce their wives if they were already married at
the time of conscription. For this
reason, soldiers customarily maintained concubines local to their station during
their military service.3
presence of divorce in the first century is hard to put to specific numbers due
to questions of how to read ancient authors on the matter.
Roman authors probably exaggerated problems about marriage and divorce.
The famous Roman poet Ovid (43 B.C.-A.D. 17) himself entered into
marriage unions three different times.4
In any case, divorce seems a common way of life in the Roman world of
Paul and the early Christians.
first only the husband could initiate divorce, but in the later Republic the
wife could initiate the divorce from her husband.5
Divorce could be initiated unilaterally and required only that one party
no longer consent to the marriage. Remarriage
was presumed in almost any divorce.
attempted to quell the rising tide of Roman divorce rates.
He put regulations on divorce. Examples
of his restrictions include: (1)
provision of official notification of divorce proceedings,6 (2) a
required separation period prior to final legal action, (3) dowry reclamation to
the wife’s family, (4) required child custody by the father, (5) required
remarriages of divorcees between 20 to 50 years old when childless.
was the most common reason for divorce. Adultery
was made a statutory public crime when Augustus enacted the lex Julia de
Adulteriis in 18 B.C. A husband
was forced by law to divorce an adulterous wife, and those guilty of adultery
could face banishment or even death.7
In a remarkable example of how strictly the law was enforced, Emperor
August personally banished his own daughter Julia after he learned of her
indiscretions while she was married to Tiberius.8
Society’s rules for the husband, however, were quite different.
An adulterous husband might face no crime unless the woman with whom he
was involved was married or of high social standing.9
Thus, in general, even pagan Roman society considered adultery wrong and
adultery generally was condemned, and spouses could be jealous, the central
Roman issue was legal status, not romantic commitment.
Establishing legitimate heirs was a core value in Roman law.
Adultery jeopardized the legal standing of progeny.
Any progeny that resulted by the husband’s indiscretions already was
declared illegitimate by law. Such
progeny accrued no legal status and could make no claims whatsoever in a Roman
court. Inheritance issues were not
conflicted. Adultery of the wife, on
the other hand, did conflict inheritance laws, because the Romans did not have
the blood of DNA tests to establish claimed paternity in the case of pregnancy.
Besides the issue of adultery, another ground for Roman
divorce was childlessness. The issue
in childlessness, as in adultery, again was inheritance law.
An entire family tradition of wealth and status could come to naught in a
childless generation. Other reasons
for divorce would be the typical relational issues of money, in-laws, social
status, and so forth. In none of
these situations, however, was sex outside the marriage actually a part of the
fact, sex outside of marriage for the male was common and expected in the Roman
world. Thus, a double standard
clearly existed. Four Greek terms
describe four types of common sexual relationships.
The mistress (etaira, Greek) gave intellectual companionship.
The concubine (pallake, Greek) often was the slave in the
household. The harlot (porne,
Greek) gave casual gratification. The
wife (gunaikos, Greek) secured legitimate heirs and household management.
Here is how Demosthenes characterized these relationships:
“Mistresses we keep for pleasure, concubines for daily attendance upon
person, wives to bear us legitimate children and be our faithful housekeeper.”11
sum, marriage was supported in the Roman world, but pagan mores condoned or at
least allowed other types of sexual relationships outside of marriage.
Divorce was common in Roman life, easily initiated, and even commanded by
law in particular cases. As a result
Christian converts would experience culture shock as they attempted to make the
transition from their pagan lifestyle where sex outside of marriage was a given
and divorce, a frequent course of action. The
high standards for marriage and general intolerance for divorce in the Christian
world were great challenges for many new believers.
An excellent resource that covers much more in depth the issues treated in this
article is Craig S. Keener, “Adultery, Divorce,” Dictionary of New
Testament Background, Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter, eds.
(Downers Grove, Leicester: InterVarsity Press: 2000), 6-16.
Ciero, The Speeches, Pro Flacco in The Loeb Classical Library,
Louis E. Lord, trans. (Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 1964), 34-84 (p. 455).
Some soldiers would marry their concubines after completing their military
service. See Gaius, The
Institutes of Gaius, Part 1, Francis De Zulueta, trans. (Oxford: the
Clarendon Press, 1946), 1.57 (p. 19).
Ovid, Tristia in The Loeb Classical Library, Arthur Leslie Wheeler,
trans. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press , 1959), 4.10.69-74 (p. 203).
An example of a divorce contract is in The New Testament Background:
Writings from Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire That Illuminate Christian
Origins. Revised Edition, C. K.
Barrett, ed. (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1989), 41-42.
Justinian’s Institutes, Peter Birks and Grant McLeon, trans. (London:
Gerald Duckworth and Co., Ltd., 1987), 4.18.4 (p. 154).
L. Annaeus Seneca, On Benefits in Bohn’s Classical Library. Aubrey
Stewart, trans. (London: George Bell and Sons, 1887), 6.32.1 (p. 186).
Cicero, Pro Caelio in The Loeb Classical Library, R.
Gardner., trans. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970), 20.48-50 (p.
Epictetus, Discourses in The Loeb Classical Library, W.A. Oldfather,
trans. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1961), 2.4 (p. 235-237); 2.10.18
(p. 279), 2.18.15 (p. 353).
The Orations of Demosthenes, Against Neaera in Bohn’s Classical
Library, Charles Rann Kennedy, trans. (London: George Bell and Sons, 1884),
Heard It Said”. Jewish Laws Behind
By John Polhill
Polhill is a professor of New Testament, The Southern Baptist Theological
Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.
SIX INSTANCES in
Matthew 5:32-48 where Jesus contrasted His own interpretation of the law with
that of the Old Testament are often called the “antitheses,”
Strictly speaking, they are not antithetical to but a strengthening of
the law. Three of the Ten
Commandments are addressed: murder
(v. 21), adultery (v. 27), and oaths (v.33).
The other three relate to other Old Testament laws.
In Jesus’ time the rabbis often
discussed the Old Testament laws. They
used formulas similar to Jesus’ antitheses.
For example, they would state that a certain rabbi said thus and so, but
another rabbi would differ would him by offering another interpretation:
“Rabbi X said ….but Rabbi Y said ….”
Jesus did something no rabbi would ever have done: He explained the Old
Testament law with His own interpretation. The
“it was said” of the antitheses should probably be understood as a “divine
passive” referring to God: “God
said, ‘you shall not kill,’ but
I say….” As Son of God, Jesus
provided His own radical interpretation of the divine law.
In the Sermon on the Mount, He prepared His listeners for this new
interpretation by stating that He had not come to destroy the law but to fulfill
it (vv. 17-20). This
“fulfillment” takes the form of a radical restatement of the law that went
far beyond any understanding of Jesus’ contemporaries.
prohibition of killing is one of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:13).
Other passages clearly indicate this referred to willful murder
(21:12-14). For cases of accidental
killings, cities of refuge provided protection from any of the victims’
relatives who might want to see revenge (Num. 35:9-28).
No such provision was available for willful murder, and the penalty was
Jesus’ antithesis went to the root of the problem, forbidding the anger
that can lead to killing. The Old
Testament speaks against hatred, anger, and vengeance (for example, Lev. 19:18,
Prov. 15:1). No source, however,
equates anger with murder in the manner of Jesus’ antitheses.
Jesus was the only one to teach that the one who is angry with his
brother shall be liable to judgment (Matt. 5:22).
Readers should probably view verse 22 as stating the same principle three
times. The principle is that anger,
like murder, is liable to judgment. Anger
in general is stated first, followed by two examples of anger expressed in
name-calling. The two words are
virtually synonymous, one being Aramaic (raca, “fool” in HCSB), the
other Greek (moe, “moron” in HCSB).
Both mean “fool, empty-head.” The
three expressions for judgment probably move from lesser to greater:
judgment (the local court), Sanhedrin
(the Supreme Court), Gehenna (divine judgment).
Since Jesus equated anger with murder, the death penalty for murder would
apply for all three courts.
Verses 23-26 illustrate the basic principle Jesus emphasized—one must
maintain good relationships with others. One
can avoid murder and hatred by overcoming the anger that leads to them.
The two illustrations about reconciliation emphasize this.
When anger arises, one must deal with it and be reconciled to one’s
fellow human before that anger leads to something far worse.
Obviously, unlike murder, anger cannot be legislated.
Controlling it requires a change of the heart, a new relationship with
God. Nothing in the old law came
close to such a radical view.
Ten Commandments likewise prohibit adultery (Ex. 20:14).
For both the Old Testament and Judaism contemporary with Jesus, adultery
consisted of a man having relations with another’s wife.
The penalty was death for both parties (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22).
Interestingly, Jewish tradition did not consider it adultery for a
married man to have relations with an unmarried woman.
The whole matter was viewed primarily from a male perspective.
Passages are common in the Jewish
literature that warn against the lustful look.
For example, one Jewish source of the first century B.C. condemns the man
whose “eyes are on every woman indiscriminately,” who “with his eyes he
speaks to every woman of illicit affairs.”1
A second-century writing describes the righteous man as one who has not
been “promiscuous by lustful look.:2
These statements, however, are vastly different from Jesus’ antithesis
which equates lustful feelings with the actual adulterous act.
Jesus’ contemporaries would have viewed the woman as the seductress and
would have warned the men against being aroused by womanly wiles and enticed
into adultery. Jesus, however, was
concerned with both the woman and the man and right relationships between them.
Those who are among Jesus’ kingdom
people, male and female, are to rise above the sensual level of unredeemed
humanity and have an altogether different basis of relationships.
The hyperbolic statements of verses 29-30 are not intended literally but
emphasize the need for one’s whole being to be in right relationship with God
as evidenced in maintaining right relationships with others.
Old Testament does not expressly prohibit divorce.
Instead, Deuteronomy 24:1-4 lays down guidelines for a “proper”
divorce. Jesus rejected these
altogether, considering divorce something God only tolerated because of
humanity’s “hardness of heart” (Matt. 19:8).
His basic teaching was that God does not accept divorce, considering the
one-flesh relationship He ordained in Eden to be a permanent state (vv. 4-6;
Mark 10:6-9; I Cor. 7:10). Deuteronomy
24:1 establishes the proper grounds for divorce as being when a man finds
“some indecency” (NASB) in his wife. The
rabbis debated what might constitute such an “indecency..”
The strict school of Shammai identified it as infidelity.
The more liberal school of Hillel maintained
that it could be disrespect or some displeasuring act.
Rabbi Akiba (ca. A.D. 45-135) stated that if a husband no longer
considered his wife attractive, then he had adequate grounds for divorce.
The traditions concerning divorce clearly tended to give the greatest
share of the leniency and benefits to the husband.
Of the New Testament texts dealing
with Jesus’ teaching on divorce, only Matthew provides the exception of
immorality (5:32; 19:9), which is basically the position of Shammai.
Jesus’ teaching, however, was far more radical than any rabbi.
His concern for the woman was unparalleled, as expressed by His teaching
that when a man divorced his wife, he caused her to commit adultery.
Jesus took marriage to a higher
level—back to God’s intention in creation for the permanence of the
one-flesh relationship. This
reaching removes the legalistic basis for marriage and raises marriage to a new
level based on relationship to God.
the prohibition of swearing, Jesus quoted Leviticus 19:12 and Psalm 50:14, which
are based on the Third Commandment about taking the name of the Lord in vain
(Ex. 20:7). The particular swearing
is that of invoking name of the Lord when taking an other:
“By God, I will do so and so.” Not
to carry through on the oath was to take God’s name lightly.
Vows were generally considered to be binding (Num. 30:1-2); Deut. 23:21),
but the rabbis often debated whether some forms of vows were nonbinding.
Matthew 5:34-36 provides three such examples of rabbinic casuistry.
The Mishnah, the first written collection of the rabbinic oral
laws, provides examples of all three “exceptions.”
First, one’s oath was seen to be non-binding if one swore by heaven or
by earth.3 Second, when
swearing by Jerusalem, whether it was binding or not depended on the particular
wording of the oath.4 Third,
as for the head, swearing by “the life” of one’s head was considered to be
binding by most rabbis, although others considered it nonbinding.5
Jesus rejected all such casuistry as well as all oath taking, insisting
on one’s word being one’s bond, one’s “yes” being yes, and one’s
“no” being no. Jesus’ brother
James echoed this same teaching in his own epistle (Jas. 5:12).
The radical nature of Jesus’ rejection of oaths is clear when you
remember that in Jesus’ day only a few people wrote out contracts.
Agreements were usually by word of mouth and were assured by solemn
oaths. The insistence on absolute
honesty again calls for a different sort of human relationship, a changed
eye for an eye” is one of the most ancient legal principles known traceable as
far back as the Code of Hammurabi in the 18th century B.C.
Three times the Pentateuch mentions the principle (Ex. 21:24; Lev. 24:20;
Deut. 19:21). Though seemingly cruel
to us, its original purpose was to limit blood vengeance, to hold compensation
to the actual injury inflicted and no more.
By Jesus’ day, compensation was generally made in monetary restitution,
as often happens in lawsuits today.6
Jesus’ antithesis rejected any concept of retaliation or compensation
for the injury. He listed three
examples, which emphasize nonretaliation in the most radical fashion.
Offering the left cheek involves a backhanded slap, which Jesus’
contemporaries considered particularly insulting.
They believe such an action warranted doubling the compensation someone
would receive for an ordinary slap.7
For Jesus’ second example, He referred to the one thing that one could
not sue a person for—his cloak, a loose-fitting garment that did double duty
as a blanket at night. The Old
Testament required the return of the cloak by night when it had been taken in
pledge (Ex. 22:26; Deut. 24:12-13). Jesus’
third example involved persons being required to go with another one mile..
The principle behind this teaching was the Roman law that required
private citizens to carry a soldier’s military equipment—as exemplified even
in Simon’s being required to carry Jesus’ cross (Mark 15:21).
The practice was particularly odious to the Jews, who resented the Roman
presence and occupation of Israel in the first place.
To go a second mile was a totally new concept.
Completely denying one’s rights was a radical stance, but a stance
Jesus’ antithesis demanded. We
again find Jesus going beyond the provisions of the law and demanding a
completely new orientation.
and Hate (Matt. 5:43-48)
command to love one’s neighbor comes from Leviticus 19:18.
It applied to fellow Israelites, but included resident aliens
(sojourners) as well (vv. 33-34; Deut. 10:18-19).
In Jesus’ day, just whom “neighbor” included was debated.
As reflected in a lawyer’s question to Jesus (Luke 10:29).
Jesus replied with the parable of the Good Samaritan (vv. 30-37):
a neighbor is someone who cares enough to help.
In His antithesis, Jesus went further:
one’s neighbors include enemies, even persecutors (Matt. 5:44).
Nowhere in the Old Testament do we find a command to hate one’s
enemies, although the monastic handbook of the Qumran community that produced
the Dead Sea Scrolls comes close when it said to “hate all the Children of
understand the command “to love one’s neighbor” as applying only to those
of one’s own religious orientation would also include by implication the
“non-love” of outsiders. Qumran’s
command to “love all the Children of Light” and to hate “all the Children
of Darkness” is to be understood this way, as a rejection of those outside its
community of faith.
The rabbis urged followers to love outsiders (humankind in general) in
order to bring them to God’s law.9 But nowhere do we find Jesus’
contemporaries saying that people should pray for their persecutors (v. 44b).
Jesus even set the example for this in praying for His own persecutors
(Luke 23:34), as did Stephen (Acts 7:60).
Challenge—A New Way of Living
5:45 in a sense provides the key to all of the antitheses: in loving even our
enemies, we show ourselves to be children of God.
Normal human effort is incapable of fulfilling Jesus’ radical statement
of God’s law—no anger, no lust, no infidelity, complete honesty, complete
forgiveness, nondiscriminatory love. These
are only possible for children of God—for those guided by His Spirit.
These are not laws to make us God’s children.
They are rather the characteristics of those who are God’s children.
We are to live as God’s children, complete and whole in all our
relationships, even as God is in His relationship to us.
Nothing in contemporary Judaism approximated such a radically new basis
for living. And this radical, new
way of living is our challenge still today.
of Solomon” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, James H. Charlesworth, ed,.
Vol. 2 (New York: Doubleday, 1985), 4:4-5 (p. 655).
of Issachar” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, James H. Charlesworth, ed,.
Vol. 1 (New York: Doubleday, 1983),
7:2 (p. 804).
Mishnah, Herbert Danby, trans. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1933), Shebuoth
4:13 (p. 415).
Nedarim 1:3 (p. 264)
Sanhedrin 3:2 (p. 385).
Baba Kamma 8:1 (p. 342).
Baba Kamma 8:6 (p. 343).
Dead Sea Scrolls, A New Translation, Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr., and
Edward Cook, trans. (New York; HarperSanFranscisco, 1996), 1QS 1:9-10 (p. 127).
9.The Mishnah, Aboth 1:12 (p. 447).
Turnham is Pastor, Luther Rice Memorial Baptist Church, Silver Spring, Maryland.
This would have been the response to Jesus’ words in Matthew
used over 60 Old Testament quotations—double that of any other Gospel1—to
show Jesus came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17).
As fulfiller of the law, Jesus is the authority in a new Israel, shaped
by more radical morality.
5:21-48 occurs in the Sermon on the Mount. The
sermon was unique to Matthew; as to the form of these verses—they are
were a rabbinic tool for arguing points of law.
An opinion was quoted then refuted. Unlike
the rabbis, however, Jesus argued not against interpretations of the law but
against the law itself! Matthew
then, intentionally recorded words that the Jews would considered sacrilegious.
first antithesis begins “You have heard that it was said to the men of old . .
. “ (RSV). With this phrase Jesus
stated He would refute some ancient authority.
Imagine the shock when He then quoted from the Ten Commandments!
commandment against murder has been discussed for centuries.
Does it prohibit war? Capital
The best view relates to community—the law prohibits an act of killing,
whether it is premeditated or related to vengeance, the violates Yahweh’s
standard of living.2
announced that this is not enough. While
earthly justice may punish killing, the justice of God’s kingdom prohibits
anger, insults, and slander. Further,
peace with the community is more important than worship!
Even a sacrifice must be stopped in order to seek reconciliation.
might say this is unreasonable—who can avoid anger?
Is it likely that a person could leave a sacrifice and seek out an
accuser, holding up worship for hundreds of others?
Does saying “You fool!” result in eternal torment?
Of course not. Jesus Himself
became angry (Mark 3:5) and called Pharisees “fools” (Matt. 23:17)!
Matthew 5:21-48, Jesus dealt with standards of the kingdom, not practicality.
While people could boast they had never killed, under Jesus’ new
teaching every person needed new commitment to God and each other.
Failure to pursue reconciliation is like being thrown in debtor’s
prison. Jewish leaders of the time
condemned the Gentile practice in imprisoning debtors for trivial debts—even
for a penny! Jesus said God will
hold us to a standard equally rigid.
second antithesis uses a shorter introduction—“You have heard that it was
said . . . “ Jesus confronted
another commandment—adultery. The
law demanded capital punishment for the adulterer.
Stories involving Abraham and David suggest that all Jews did not follow
the law. Proverbs and the prophets
did not mean to Israelites what it does to us today, however.
Jewish custom allowed men more than one wife and permitted dalliances
outside of marriage. Men are only
condemned for an affair with a married woman, and then for violating her
of lustful looks has roots in Old Testament and rabbinic teachings.
Proverbs warns of enticing women. The
Tenth Commandment prohibits coveting another’s wife.
Jesus amplified this, declaring lust toward any woman a sin.
He broke with traditional censure of women for leading men astray.
Jesus said men must take responsibility
for their actions—and attitudes—lest they be guilty of committing adultery
in their hearts.
radical nature of Jesus’ demand is seen in steps taken to avoid
lust—plucking out an eye or cutting off a hand.
(See Matt. 18:8-9; Mark 9:43-48). Again,
these demands seem unreasonable. They
are an inappropriate response to impure thoughts.
Such action would isolate a Jewish person from the traditional source for
moral improvement—the temple. Finally,
lust is not a problem of eye or hand; it is a problem, as Jesus said, of the
heart. Earlier Scripture and
rabbinic teachings agree—the heart leads one astray or draws one to God.
seeming unreasonable, these steps serve a function in Jesus’ argument.
We cannot presume that if we have not committed adultery we are
righteous. Indeed, the heart problem
leads to lust, which leads to adultery. The
consequence is for “your whole body to go into hell.”
Avoiding that is worth any sacrifice.
third antithesis—on divorce—builds on the second.
Again the introduction changes—“It was also said . . . .“
teachings occur in Matthew 19:9; Mark 10:11-12; and Luke 16:18.
This antithesis does not relate to the Ten Commandments, but to
Deuteronomy 24:1-4, which allows divorce if a man finds in his wife a shameful
thing. The meaning here of
“shameful thing,” is uncertain.
Hillel understood it as “any shameful affair.”
He allowed all kinds of offenses as grounds for divorce.
For example, a husband could separate himself from his wife if she burned
the food. Rabbi Shammai, however,
limited the concept and understood it as “a certain shameful matter.”3
teaching on divorce here is puzzling. Mark
and Luke have no provision for divorce. This
would echo the two previous antitheses by refuting current law and offering a
more radical version. Matthew,
however, here and in chapter 19, records an exception—“on the ground of
the underlying principles of the law and of Jesus’ teaching provides a
solution. In ancient times divorce
had no regulation; the husband could send his wife away at any time.
The Deuteronomic law assumed that divorce was part of life and attempted
to restrict the practice. In
Jesus’ day the man must have a reason for divorce, prepare a legal document
stating his intentions, and present that document to some council to record the
rejected this practice and the underlying assumption, recalling an earlier
ideal—“the two shall become one flesh.”
His underlying principle was that divorce is never allowed.
If a man divorces his wife for any reason, he turns her into an
adulteress; if a man marries a divorced woman—regardless of why she is
divorced—he commits adultery. The
exception to this—recorded only by Matthew—is if the woman already has
become an adulteress. In that case
the marriage is ended already, the ideal union between man and woman shattered.
Fourth antithesis begins like the first—referring to hearing from men in
ancient times. Jesus addressed the
swearing of oaths. (See Matt. 23:16-22).
no Scripture is quoted here, oaths are mentioned in several locations (see Lev.
19:12; Num. 30:2-15; Deut. 23:21-23; Ps. 50:14), including the Third
Commandment. These laws deal largely
with treating oaths seriously. In
ancient times oaths were invoked in the name of a god; if the swearer failed to
fulfill the oath, he would incur the wrath of that god.
Later other objects of importance were used to bind oaths.
In ancient Near Eastern thought, spoken words—especially oaths—had
life and power of their own.
in Jesus’ day unethical people would make vows based on items that in fact had
no binding power at all! That person
to whom the oath was made would falsely assume that the
promise was valid. The rabbis
tried to define binding and non-binding oaths in order to prevent this behavior.
Generally the rabbis said that a binding oath had to contain the name of
God or one of His attributes.
than admonish His listeners to treat oaths seriously, as the law had done, and
rather than define what was binding, and the rabbis did, Jesus declared that all
oaths were of “the evil one” (NIV). He
demonstrated with four examples that the ultimate authority behind every oath is
God. If you swear by heaven, by
earth, by Jerusalem, or by hair on you head—these are all under God’s
control. Because everything belongs
to God, calling on the power of anything ultimately calls on God’s power.
This denies God’s sovereignty by reducing “God’s omnipotence to an
object of human manipulation.”4
fifth antithesis reverts to the simpler introduction used in the second.
The subject here is retaliation. The
phrase “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” appears three times in the
Old Testament, each regarding a different law (Ex. 21:24; Lev. 24:19-20; Deut.
custom of retaliation required revenge. Humiliation
was met with physical violence, violence with death, death with
slaughter—resulting in a pattern of escalating violence.
Hebrew legal system provided protection for the accused in the form of sanctuary
in the temple and cities of refuge. More
importantly, it short-circuited escalation of violence by calling for
appropriate violence—the punishment must fit the crime.
Both the problem and this equitable solution were common in the ancient
Near East. Laws in Greek and Roman
cultures, as well as the Code of Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC ), reflect similar
Jesus’ day, blinding or amputation were not practiced; instead an elaborate
system of monetary damages was used. This
is reasonable under the assumption that wrong must be punished.
Jesus, however, required the child of God to refrain form resisting evil
offered four examples. First, when
slapped on the right cheek (indicating a slap with the back of the hand, a
particularly humiliating insult) turn the other also!
second example, of a coat and cloak, has a parallel in Luke’s sermon on the
plain (Luke 6:29). Matthew’s
setting was a courtroom. The victim
is sued for the inner garment and should voluntarily surrender the outer garment
third example reflects a Persian practice, continued by the Greeks and Romans,
of allowing messengers to demand labor and escort service whenever needed.
In the kingdom of God this required services must be doubled voluntarily.
the child of God must give to everyone who begs, loan money to anyone who asks.
Hebrew law forbade charging interest on such loans—this was no
a legal system based on due punishment, Jesus demanded total compliance to
anyone who would hit us, sue us, press us into service, or ask anything of us.
Morality in the kingdom of God is measured by the standard of
surrendering possessions, pride, and independence in service to
others—regardless of who those others might be.
The final antithesis begins as the
second and fifth, “You have heard it said . . .” (RSV), and relates to
loving enemies. Jesus mentioned two
teachings: “love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”
The first is a direct quote for Leviticus 19:18, which is also quoted in
Matthew 19:19 and 22:39.
Hebrew Scripture does not include
the second element—“hate your enemies”—but it can be inferred from
several passages (see Ps. 139:21-22). While
these verses refer to political enemies of Israel, Matthew used a word that
refers to a personal enemy.
The enemies in Jesus’ day did
include national powers—Rome, for example; however, the most common enemy was
the enemy of God’s truth, anyone who opposed the accepted teachings.
God’s people were encouraged to hate such people.
The Dead Sea Scrolls record instructions to members of the Qumran
community to “love all the sons of light, . . . and to detest all the sons of
darkness” (1QS 1:9-10).
Jesus rejected the belief that it is
enough to love only our neighbor and the belief that the child of God is
allowed—even required—to hate the enemy.
He issued a more radical command—love the enemy and pray for the
The idea of loving all people was
known to the world of Greek philosophers. Both
the Law and Wisdom literature of the Old Testament speak of helping the enemy at
times (see Ex. 23:4; Prov. 25:21). Some
Jewish teachers had encouraged praying for one’s enemies, though this was
specifically in order to have them converted.5
Jesus removed ulterior motives for
loving the enemy. The purpose is not
to not to convert, or to “heap coals of fire on their heads’ as in Proverbs.
We are commanded to love our enemies because this is the only way in
which we can live as the children of God. “If
you only love those who love you, what separates you from everyone else?”
Anyone can love a friend—only the person who has been transformed by
the Spirit can live according to the kingdom ideal of loving the enemy.
The laws to which Jesus spoke grew
out of specific problem. People
killed. The committed adultery.
They divorced. They swore
false oaths. The sought revenge and
had trouble loving others. Israel’s
tradition tried to confront these realities and set limits.
Divorce msut have a reason. Revenge
must be reasonable.
Jesus rejected this for “zero
tolerance” toward anything that undermined community.
The kingdom ethic was based not in reality by ideal, not in practicality,
but a standard that gave evidence of God’s presence.
In short, they were based on nothing less than this—“You . . . must
1. Hager, Matthew
I—I3, vol. 33A in Word Biblical
Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1993), liv.
2. Durham, Exodus,
vol. 3 in Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word Books, 1987), 293.
The Sermon on the Mount, trans. Dean,
Jr., (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1988), 74.
SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay
Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234;
What Is The Answer To & Where In The Bible Is This Week’s Trivia
Question Found? (02/14/16) Who plotted to have the
entire Hebrew nation completely exterminated in the kingdom of Ahasuerus? Answer
answer to last week’s question: (02/07/16) What wicked king
of Judah confessed his sins when he was taken into captivity in Assyria?
Answer: Manasseh; 2 Chronicles 33:11-13.