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Words from GOD – Words to GOD

Matthew 1-7, The Life of Jesus, part 8, by Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz

Madonna, Mary, Mother of the KING

Seated to the right side of the KING

2.2.5 Fifth Antithesis: On Nonviolence (5:38–42*)
Literature on 5:38–48*
Josef Blank, “Gewaltlosigkeit—Krieg—Militärdienst,” Orientierung 46 (1982) 157–63, 213–16, 220–23.
Catchpole, Quest, 101–16.
Dihle, Regel.
Paul Fiebig, “Jesu Worte über die Feindesliebe,” ThStK 91 (1918) 30–64.
Daniel Kosch, Die eschatologische Tora des Menschensohns: Untersuchungen zur Rezeption der Stellung Jesu zur Tora in Q (NTOA 12; Freiburg: Universitätsverlag, 1989) 213–426.
Wolfgang Lienemann, Gewalt und Gewaltlosigkeit: Studien zur abendländischen Vorgeschichte der gegenwärtigen Wahrnehmung von Gewalt (FBESG 36; Munich: Kaiser, 1982).
Dieter Lührmann, “Liebet eure Feinde (Lk 6,27–36; Mt 5,39–48),” ZThK 69 (1972) 412–38.
Fritz Neugebauer, “Die dargebotene Wange und Jesu Gebot der Feindesliebe: Erwägungen zu Lk 6,27–36/Mt 5,38–48,” ThLZ 110 (1985) 865–76.
Piper, Enemies.
Sauer, “Erwägungen.”
Schottroff, “Non-Violence.”
Georg Strecker, “Compliance—Love of One’s Enemy—The Golden Rule,” ABR 29 (1981) 38–46.
Gerd Theissen, “Nonviolence and Love of Enemies (Matthew 5:38–48; Luke 6:27–38): The Social Background,” in Social Reality, 115–56.
Leif E. Vaage, Galilean Upstarts: Jesus’ First Followers according to Q (Valley Forge, Pa.: Trinity Press International, 1994) 40–54.
Literature on 5:38–42*
Ingo Broer, Friede durch Gewaltverzicht? Vier Abhandlungen zu Friedensproblematik und Bergpredigt (KRB 25; Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1984).
Henri Clavier, “Matthieu 5,39 et la non-résistance,” RHPhR 37 (1957) 44–57.
Stuart D. Currie, “Matthew 5:39f—Resistance or Protest?” HTR 57 (1964) 140–45.
Daube, New Testament, 254–65.
Paul Fiebig, “ἀγγαρεύω,” ZNW 18 (1917/18) 64–72.
Jan Lambrecht, “The Sayings of Jesus on Nonviolence,” LouvSt 12 (1987) 291–305.
Harald Sahlin, “Traditionskritische Bemerkungen zu zwei Evangelienperikopen,” StTh 33 (1979) 69–84.
Schulz, Q, 120–27.
Robert C. Tannehill, “The ‘Focal Instance’ as a Form of New Testament Speech: A Study of Matthew 5:39b–42,” JR 50 (1970) 372–85.
Anton Vögtle, “Ein unablässiger ‘Stachel’ (Mt 5,39b–42 par. Lk 6,29–30),” in Helmut Merklein, ed., Neues Testament und Ethik: Für Rudolf Schnackenburg (Freiburg: Herder, 1989) 53–70.
Dorothy Jean Weaver, “Transforming Nonresistance: From Lex Talionis to ‘Do Not Resist the Evil One,’ ” in Willard M. Swartley, ed., The Love of Enemy and Nonretaliation in the New Testament (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1992) 32–71.
Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992).
Idem, “Neither Passivity nor Violence: Jesus’ Third Way,” in Swartley, ed., Love of Enemy, 102–25.
Werner Wolbert, “Bergpredigt und Gewaltlosigkeit,” ThPh 57 (1982) 498–525.
Zeller, Mahnsprüche, 55–60.

For additional literature see above, II A on the Sermon on the Mount (5:1–7:29) and II A 2.2 on the antitheses (5:21–48).

38 “You have heard that it was said:
‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
39 But I say to you:
Do not resist evil.
But whoever strikes you on the right cheek,
offer him the other as well.
40 And to the one who wants to sue you and take your undergarment,
let him also have your cloak.
41 And whoever shall force you to go one mile,
go with him two.
42 Give to the one who asks you.
And do not turn away from the one who would borrow from you.”
Again the introductory phrase is abbreviated, identical to 5:43*. As in 5:34* Jesus’ prohibition is stated with μή plus the infinitive. The fifth antithesis has links backward and forward. Following the actual antithesis in vv. 38–39a* there is, as in the first two antitheses, a transition to the second person singular with four admonitions as concrete examples, introduced alternatively with “whoever” (ὅστις) and a participle. Thus the entire text is formally very compact; only v. 42* leaves the symmetry of the concrete examples. The double imperative concluding the two clauses gives it a special accent.
Redaction and Sources
Except for vv. 38–39a*, the source is Q. Matthew has removed the logia in Luke 6:29–30* from the Q composition on the love of enemies (Luke 6:27–36*) and with them has formed the explanation of the fifth antithesis. The reconstruction of the wording of Q is difficult. The numerous variants in the Apostolic Fathers and in the Apologists offer little help here.
1. The antithesis, vv. 38–39a*, probably comes from the evangelist.2 Reasons: The quotation from Exod 21:24*; Lev 24:20*; Deut 19:21* corresponds to the LXX text. In v. 39* μή with the infinitive formally repeats v. 34*. Although the verb “resist” (ἀνθίστημι) appears only here in Matthew, it was necessary, because in almost all antitheses there is a verbal connection between the thesis and the antithesis (ἀντί—ἀντιστῆναι). “Evil” (πονηρός) is Matthean.
2. Verses 39b–41*: In vv. 39b* and 41* Matthew changes the participial constructions; he likes the word “whoever” (ὅστις), and he is also familiar with the semitizing resumption of the relative pronoun by means of an incongruent “he” (αὐτός) in the oblique case (“with him”: μετ ̓ αὐτοῦ). In v. 39b* the addition of “right” (δεξιός) may go back to Matthew, the other linguistic differences to Luke. In v. 40*6 it must remain an open question whether the Matthean version (the situation of a trial with the sequence shirt—cloak) or the Lukan (the situation of a robbery? with the sequence cloak—shirt) is earlier. Neither of the versions is redactional. Is Luke secondary, since in a Hellenistic environment the Jewish law of seizure is unknown?8
3. Verse 41* is usually regarded as a preredactional addition in Q.9 It is also possible that the verse appeared in Q and that Luke omitted it, because he lived either in a senatorial province or in Rome, where forced service was not required since no troops were stationed there.10
4. Verse 42*: Verse 42a* probably corresponds to the Q text. The Matthean version of v. 42b* is less radical than the Lukan version, which again presupposes the situation of a robbery. Most people regard the Matthean version as older and assume that Luke 6:34* is a reminiscence of the original Q version in Matt 5:42*.11 However, the reverse is also possible—in order to maintain the symmetry Matthew had to shorten Q 6:32–34 and reformulate v. 42b* with his vocabulary,13 take over from the omitted verse Luke 6:34* the theme of lending, which otherwise was missing, and form it into a command one could practice in his church. In a similar way, in vv. 43* and 46–47* he will take over from Q 6:27, 35 the catchwords “hate” and “reward.”
Tradition History and Origin
The four sayings in vv. 39b–42* are to be regarded as parenetic exhortations formulated in the second person singular. It is worth noting—even if it is not unique in the framework of wisdom sayings—that the admonition is given no justification that would make it plausible. The wording of vv. 39b* and 40* is so pointed that, on the basis of the “criterion of dissimilarity,” with their closeness to other Jewish expressions, it is probable that they come from Jesus. The same could also be true for v. 41* in spite of its smaller basis in the tradition. Verse 42* is an originally independent admonition about whose origin the uncertain relationships in the tradition alone make it impossible to say anything certain.

The most important questions are: (1) What do the hyperbolic formulations mean? To what degree are these commandments meant literally or to what degree to they “only” point to a course of action or to an attitude? (2) In what area are they valid? Do they deal only with the area of personal relationships, or do they also deal with a change of structures, for example, of the justice system or of political life?

■ 39b* We begin by interpreting the three sayings of Jesus (vv. 39b–41*) by themselves. A slap in the face (v. 39b*) was regarded as an expression of hate and as an insult; the insult is even more important than the pain.14 No particular situation is in view. The issue is not that a master hits his slave or the oppressor hits the oppressed, nor is it the renunciation of one’s rights to legal retribution for insults, nor is it the blows the disciples receive during their mission (“as heretics”16). It is rather any violent confrontation that may happen in everyday life. It is possible that many readers also are reminded of biblical passages such as the beaten servant of God in Isa 50:6*.17
The slap on the right cheek—the addition of “right” may come from the evangelist—is not what would ordinarily happen, since one either must be left-handed or hit with the back of the hand. It may indicate an especially strong insult. It is more probable, however, that he instinctively mentioned which cheek for rhetorical reasons.19

■ 40* Verse 40* is thinking of the situation of a debtor’s trial. A poor man’s undergarment is to be taken as security. That he is also to give his cloak means that the issue is greatly sharpened, because the cloak is much more valuable than the undergarment. In addition, indirectly there is tension here with the OT law of pledges: if a poor man has to give his cloak as security, one is to return it to him every evening so he can sleep in it (Exod 22:26–27*; Deut 24:12–13*). Thus the saying means: one is to avoid trials completely and, even as a debtor, is voluntarily to give up the minimum legal protection for the poor. Here the hyperbolic formulation is clear, since a man whose shirt and cloak were also taken in a trial would be naked.20 Verse 40* cannot be demanding that.

■ 41* Verse 41* speaks of services one is compelled to do. Ἀγγαρεύω—perhaps a Persian loanword that also appears in Latin and in rabbinic22 sources—means services compelled by the army or by officials, services such as carrying equipment or escorting, but also providing provisions and finally any kind of compulsory work, even that demanded through others. Thus it may be, although it is not certain, that the verse implies hostility toward the Roman occupying power. Most probably one is to think here of guidance on the way, perhaps in unsafe areas or for carrying one’s baggage. In their Matthean version all three sayings reflect the experiences of “little people” who are beaten, who are threatened by debtor’s trials, and who suffer under foreign occupations.25

■ 39b–41* However, this merely explains our verses from the outside. What is Jesus’ intention with his surprising demands? To whom are they directed? From which situation are they to be understood?
The general exhortation to suffer injustice without retaliating is widespread in antiquity. There are more specific parallels among the Cynics.27 In Judaism there are numerous exhortations advocating patience, the renunciation of revenge, and suffering when dealing with one’s personal enemy. The idea of renouncing personal revenge is often combined with that of God’s judgment.29
If one tries to determine what is distinctive about these three sayings, one is struck by the fact that there is no mention of renouncing force as a motivation. There is no sign of resignation: “Give in; there’s nothing you can do about it.” There is no optimistic calculating: “By giving in you can turn your enemies into friends.”31 There is nothing that could emphasize these demands as clever and sensible. That is all the more noteworthy, since the wording is quite overstated and concrete.33 In my judgment the the sayings are not directly obvious. It is by no means certain that by offering the other cheek in a fight one can intimidate one’s enemy so that he really feels the “coals of fire” on his head (Rom 12:20*). Ignatius already had a different experience here.34 The passion narrative in particular showed the Christians that this does not work. Or why in a debtor’s trial must the poor man also give up his coat? Eager collaboration with an occupying power is neither a way of escaping without harm—it is better to remain unnoticed and to do only what one must—nor a way of converting a political enemy, nor even a means of passive resistance. No, as shrewd advice for practicing “a love that disarms,” Jesus’ demands are not very convincing. At least they give no thought to what may be their quite ambivalent consequences. It may be that the hitter will double up his fist for another blow, that the poor man will freeze without his cloak, or that the hostile occupying power becomes even stronger.
There is an element of intentional provocation in our logia. They alienate, they shock, they protest symbolically against the standard use of force. Their evidence is not that the behavior they demand would be plausible but that they are “a sigh of the oppressed,”37 to the degree that one understands this statement in its broadest sense rather than in an economic-political sense. They are the expression of a protest against dehumanizing spirals of violence and of the hope for a different kind of personal behavior than what can be experienced in everyday life. They do not stop there, however, because they demand active behavior in which there is both an element of protest and an element of provocative contrast against the force used to rule the world.
It is also clear that Jesus’ demands ask for more than they concretely say. The three examples bring into focus what Jesus means for a much larger area of life. One might call them condensed examples of a behavior that is to be discovered and realized in all areas of life. In that sense, although these commandments are meant to be obeyed, their intention is not that they simply be obeyed literally; they are to be obeyed in such a way that in new situations what they demand is repeatedly to be discovered anew in freedom but in a similar radicality. Therefore, it is probably no accident that they are formulated in the second person singular: such behavior can always be discovered, invented, and risked only by individuals.39
There is no direct reference to the kingdom of God in our logia. Nevertheless, it seems to me that the contrast between the kingdom of God and the world emerges in them. In my judgment their intentionally protesting character that turns normal behavior on its head can be understood only this way. Thus they are indirectly defined by the arrival of the kingdom of God. That fits well with the eschatology of Jesus, who repeatedly speaks not of the kingdom of God itself but of daily life as it is influenced by the kingdom of God (parables). If that is correct, then we may dare to add that for Jesus the arrival of the kingdom of God manifests itself as God’s unlimited love for people that for its part makes possible people’s love for their enemies. Is there a relationship between our demands for renouncing the use of force and this love? The Sayings Source first made this explicit, and it did so by bracketing our logia with the love of one’s enemies (Luke 6:27–28*, 35*). We can only postulate that it was true for Jesus. It means that the provocative renunciation of force must be understood as an expression of love.41 It also means, however, that the love of one’s neighbor is not to be understood in a narrow sense as merely limited to interpersonal relationships; it also involves a protest against the force that rules the world and breaking through the machinery of behavior determined by it.

■ 42* The admonition on giving and lending in v. 42* is much more general, and in its Matthean wording it does not have the exaggeration that is characteristic of vv. 39b–41*. It is part of the tradition of Jewish exhortations to practice charity.42 It is loosely connected with the situation of the debtor’s trial in v. 40*, but now it is speaking to the one who has possessions. Unlike vv. 39b–41* and also the original Lukan version, the problem of force is no longer an issue in this verse. Is v. 42* an attempt on the part of the evangelist to rediscover Jesus’ demand to give up one’s personal rights in the situation of his community in which there is no robbery but there is asking and borrowing? Admittedly, the radical quality of the first three examples is lost in the process.

■ 38–39a* Matthew formulates the introductory antithesis in vv. 38–39a*. Following Deut 19:21*,43 v. 38* emphasizes the biblical principle of the talion, which is also widely known beyond the Bible.44 It was interpreted in different ways in Jewish law. Along with the literal understanding there was also the principle that one could provide a substitute in the form of a monetary payment. In v. 39a* Matthew summarizes the examples of vv. 39b–41* in his “do not resist evil.” What does that mean?
a. Matthew does not intend to narrow the scope of the application of the demands.
There would be such a narrowing if “evil” (πονηρός) meant the opponent in the trial and if the demand not to resist him only meant giving up the legal process. However, such a restriction is not possible. Ἀνθίστημι means “to resist” in general; the legal usage appears relatively seldom. The examples that follow in vv. 39b–42* also show that more is at stake than simply abandoning trials. As in v. 37* and usually in Matthew, πονηρῷ is presumably to be understood in a neutral sense as “evil” and not, as ὅστις might suggest, in a masculine sense as “the evildoer.”
Thus “do not resist evil” makes clear that the following commands are meant as examples of a fundamental behavior that is not limited to them. Indeed, they are taken from completely different areas of life.
b. A certain shift of the accent in the direction of a Christian passivity is clear in Matthew. That he summarizes the positive challenges of vv. 39b–42* with the negative formulation “not to resist” means a new tone—a tone that has been dominant in the history of the text’s interpretation and influence. The motto in the church’s tradition will not be “contrast,” “provocation”; it will be (at the most) “distance” (no military service, no service as judge, etc.).
c. Determining the relationship in this antithesis to the OT is especially difficult. Can one still say here that Christ has “fulfilled” the law? A few reflections here:
1. One must point out the intentio legis. For the rabbis, who interpreted the principle “an eye for an eye” in the sense of a fine, it was clear that the intent of the law was not a person’s self-mutilation. Especially the church father Tertullian knew, for example, that the purpose of the OT talion already was to limit revenge and in that sense already meant a positive move in the direction of Jesus’ victory over force. The Jewish Christian Matthew can be aware of that just as well as the church father can. At any rate, this explanation from the early church is more convincing than are many modern ones.49
2. A new legal principle is not being formed in vv. 38–42*. It is more the case that an ethical principle is being contrasted with a legal principle. That corresponds to the rabbinic insistence on a behavior “within the legal boundaries.”50 According to Jewish understanding, however, such behavior does not abolish the law.
3. In spite of these considerations the Matthean formulations still leave one uneasy. The response in v. 39a* to “an eye for an eye,” and so on, is a negative statement: “do not resist.” At any rate, this formulation of the evangelist (mis?)leads one to conclude that he is thinking less of a fulfillment of the OT than of an antithesis. Of course, in Judaism one can also invalidate individual OT commandments and still fulfill the entire Torah, for example, when a commandment no longer corresponds to the new situation or when the life that God wants to create with the Torah would be destroyed by an individual commandment.52 Matthew may be thinking of that, but there is still a certain difficulty.
d. In Matthew’s sense this antithesis also applies to the church. The individual to whom the words in vv. 39–42* are addressed lives in a fellowship,53 and the demand to renounce force is valid in this fellowship. The history of the community is a history of suffering, persecutions, scourging, and dying (23:34*). Experiencing violence is real for them; renouncing resistance is a concrete task. Here Jesus’ own behavior in his passion is their model. Jesus commands the disciple who rushes to help him with his sword to put it away (26:51–54*). Jesus too was slapped but he did not resist (26:67*). Matthew tells his story as that of the “humble king” (βασιλεὺς … πραΰς) who modeled nonviolence in his passion and was led through it by God to the resurrection. Here—and only here—is for him the chance and the possibility of nonviolence.
Matthew was not thinking primarily of a political application of renouncing force. Of course it is also true that one may not exclude the political area. It is touched on in v. 41* just as the legal area is touched on in v. 40*.54 It is above all true, however, that renouncing force for the church is not an internal concern of a conventicle but a demand and an offer to all people. Thus nonviolence and surrendering one’s rights determine the community’s behavior toward the world, as an example of lived discipleship, that may make people begin to praise the Father (5:16*).
e. By arranging nonviolence and surrendering one’s rights in the entire section of the six antitheses as he does, Matthew associates them with love. That is most clear in v. 42*, but new light is also shed on vv. 39–41* by the love of enemy proclaimed in v. 44*. Much as he did in the first antithesis with v. 22* and vv. 23–24*, Matthew also concludes his antitheses by contrasting the deeds of love under negative and positive aspects. Negatively love means no longer repaying violence with violence and renouncing resistance (vv. 39–41*). Verses 44–47* will make clear what it means positively. Thus far not only does the negative formulation of the antithesis of v. 39a* mean a moderating interpretation; it also needs to be supplemented by the sixth antithesis.
History of Interpretation

This text, especially the principle of v. 39a*, has had a widespread influence, and in its consequences is still hotly controversial even today. There are, to simplify things, two competing lines of interpretation: (a) a “rigoristic” line and (b) a “moderating” line.
a. The rigorist line of interpretation. Prior to Constantine the church always prohibited Christians from entering the army, even in the third century when many soldiers became converts to Christianity. The decisive problem here is not so much idolatry as killing.56 Consistent with this view, without exception the literal interpretation of these sayings of Jesus dominated. Tertullian, for example, expands v. 40* to include all possessions and is even willing to give away all of his clothes as long as his faith is not threatened.57 The practice-oriented author of the Opus Imperfectum, who in many regards is quite close to Matthew, states: “For if you strike back, you have denied that you are Christ’s disciple, not with words but with deeds.”58
In the post-Constantinian period there is a significant change. Now the representatives of a literal interpretation of this text are to be found among heretics and minority churches or groups: the Waldensians, Francis of Assisi, the followers of Wycliff, Erasmus,60 Schwenkfeld, the Anabaptists, the Quakers, Tolstoy, Gandhi (who was influenced by Tolstoy), Albert Schweitzer, Christian pacifists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses—in short, people who from the perspective of the Reformation are “Enthusiasts” [Schwärmer]. Here, however, they are in agreement with the overwhelming witness of the ancient church. In their early period—not without being considerably influenced by Matthew—the Baptists reject the participation of believing Christians, whose citizenship is in heaven and whose weapons are spiritual,63 in court judgments and in the army. For the most part they do this not because they reject the divinely ordained character of the state and the validity of secular standards for its sphere but because as Christians they do not see their task in this area.65 They bear witness not so much to the fundamental conflict between secular law and the law of Christ as to a more relaxed distance between the two that even outlasts the centuries. For Tolstoy Matt 5:39* is “the very essence of Christianity.”66 He rejects a cult of suffering for its own sake, however, and understands that “Jesus did not exhort us to turn the other cheek that we might endure suffering.” Nor is Tolstoy merely “legalistic”; he can explicate the demand “never use force” as “never do anything contrary to the law of love,” thus in much the same way as does the interpretation that comes from Augustine. For him, however, love cannot coexist so easily with evil. While it is true that a certain biblicism is present in most representatives of this kind of interpretation,68 it is usually not an absolute biblicism, and it often appears in connection with a horror over what Christian collaboration with force was able to tolerate or even to do in the name of love. We can understand the Waldensians only by comparing them with the medieval papacy, the Anabaptists by comparing them with the Reformation, George Fox by comparing him with Cromwell, Tolstoy by comparing him with the Russian Orthodox Church, and Martin Luther King by comparing him with the Christian West.
b. The father of the “moderating” interpretation in both its Catholic and Protestant forms is Augustine. In his draft of the relationship of civitas Dei and civitas terrena (Civ. D. 19) he does not deal with our text. Instead, he makes his most important comment on Matt 5:38–39* when he is compelled to refute the objection of Marcellinus that Jesus’ teaching “is contrary to the laws of the state.”69 In his answer Augustine tries to blunt the conflict between Jesus’ demands and the requirements of the state. The former refer “rather to the interior disposition of the heart than to the act which appears exteriorly.” Those who live in a state governed by Christians are in the same situation as a father who must punish his son: sometimes one must perform actions “benigna quadam asperitate” whereby one “must do what is useful rather than what is [God’s] will.” Among such things is the war that “will not be waged without kindness”71 and that in the godly nation is called “just,” as well as punishment in the right spirit—that is, without hate—even if it is the death penalty. In the ancient church one evaded the harshness of Jesus’ commands in various ways. One could, for example, interpret turning the cheek allegorically as offering the right doctrine in the face of heretical objections.74 In the later two-level ethic the prohibition against going to court applies only to monks. In any case, one must oppose public injustice.
In spite of its sharp polemic against the two-level ethic, the Reformation’s interpretation arrives at a similar practice. Our text plays a central role in Luther’s work “Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed.” While Jesus’ commandments are for all and are not only advice for the perfect, the law is for the world and the commandments of the Sermon on the Mount apply only to Christians (92). Although “Christians among themselves and by and for themselves need no law or sword” (94),77 Luther speaks of the “Christian-in-relation: not about his being a Christian, but about his life and his obligation in it to some other person … like a lord or a lady, a wife or children or neighbors.” In all of these relations—not only in the state but also in community and family—one is not to be a fool like that crazy saint “who let the lice nibble at him and refused to kill any of them on account of this text.” Decisive for the interpretation of the Reformation is that Christians participate in maintaining justice and peace because of their responsibility toward their neighbor.79 Thus for the sake of his neighbor the Christian must be able not to practice Jesus’ command to renounce force. That is true first of all for public officials: “Do you want to know what your duty is as a prince or a judge or a lord or a lady …? You do not have to ask Christ.” For the sake of the neighbor Luther can even accept the position of the soldier and the work he does like any other position.81 However, there are far-reaching consequences. Since a Christian is always “in relation,” there is actually no Christian who at the same time would not be an officeholder. Indeed, since no human activity takes place separate from other human beings—the commandments of the Sermon on the Mount are not meant for hermits—on this basis one can justify ignoring the commandments in every situation. Granted, Luther did not intend this consequence.
Because of his high regard for the OT law, Calvin, if anything, goes even further than Luther. In commenting on our text he says of Christians that “this equity and moderateness of their minds will not prevent them from using the help of the magistrate in preserving their own possessions.” Then in the churches of the Reformation this kind of interpretation becomes quite common.84 Where then can the commandment of nonviolence still be practiced? According to Hans Weder, “Such sentences are only written on a person’s heart. It is impossible to want to translate them into structural realities, such as church structures. In the structures one must be sure that justice is done, even if they are the church’s structures.… In the hearts of those who are active in these structures, however, the word of Jesus oriented to the kingdom of God is preserved. It will demand to be heard when justice is taken too much for granted.” That means that such sentences as those of Matt 5:39–41* can nowhere be put into practice, neither in the church nor—certainly not—in the state. They remain an exclamation point at the world’s margin. In the hearts of those in whom the word of God is preserved this exclamation point may cause a deep sadness that the world—including the church—is not yet the kingdom of God. The end of the Sermon on the Mount in our churches could not be more clearly described.
Finally, v. 42*, with its almost practical-sounding admonition, has been the occasion for numerous and influential efforts to weaken the commandments. Giving spiritual gifts is less painful, as Jerome inadvertently admits: “Money … that you don’t miss when you give it away, namely … wisdom.” The greatest gift is compassion.87 One must always be careful to harm neither oneself (!) nor anyone else with one’s gift, or, stated somewhat more generally: dignity and justice89 must be foremost in keeping this commandment. An ordo caritatis that begins with the person closest to you is also a frequent guideline. In short, a mocking objection from Julian the Apostate, which remained valid for many centuries, wondered what it would be like if Christians took this commandment seriously.91
Meaning for Today

Although it is easy to distance oneself, at least theoretically, from the almost ecumenical watering down of this text, that was not the purpose of these comments. Instead, the history of interpretation should make us aware of some of the basic problems that are important for applying the text in our present situation.
1. Nowhere, perhaps not even in Matthew, have Jesus’ impulses been maintained with complete rigor. Their purpose was nothing less than in the situation of the dawning of the kingdom of God to experience and endure its truth in and against the world and to do so in a contrasting and provocative way. The kingdom of God did not come in the way Jesus expected. This fundamental change makes it necessary to reevaluate Jesus’ demands. The task is made easier by the fact that they were not meant legally; they are examples, and from the very beginning they were intended to leave room for creative imagination. Thus for basic theological reasons a simple “back to Jesus” is not possible. Furthermore, the exemplary character of the text makes it necessary to consider one’s own situation. The history of interpretation bears witness to the necessity of this change and to the freedom given by the text itself.
2. The history of interpretation showed that the Constantinian transition brought with it a fundamental change that had to influence the interpretation of our text if it is really to be discovered anew in each situation. To that point the only question for the Christians was how they should carry out their witness in the world of law and politics—a world about which they could do nothing anyway. “Wars were a characteristic of that world” from which the Christians knew that they were divorced and for which they also were not responsible. After the Constantinian transition it was possible for Christians to be involved directly in politics, and such involvement on principle could be the task of love. Only after this time was there tension between the Christian duty to bear witness to the gospel over against the world, living as a contrarian society, and the Christian duty to help shape politics and the larger world of which the church is increasingly a part and to do so in the best interest of humanity. This tension still exists today.
We cannot avoid the tension. The Anabaptists, in part because of external pressure, resolutely gave their priority to proclaiming and realizing the gospel in their own community rather than to sharing in improving the world. Celsus had already criticized such an attitude, saying that “earthly things would come into the power of the most lawless and savage barbarians” who respect neither the worship of God nor true wisdom among people.
On the other hand, the decisions in the major churches show how great the danger was that responsible participation in secular power meant that the proclamation of the reign of God was blurred and that for all practical purposes these commandments of Jesus that belong to it were abolished. No interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount has ever completely avoided justifying what in its own day actually was happening in the church. For example, the Reformation’s interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount, although it did not intend to do so, had the effect of moving far away from the intention of the Preacher on the mount. However, who would dare say that all of that was merely conformity and opportunism and that the decision of the reformers to participate in secular power was not primarily an attempt to express evangelical love for one’s neighbor?
3. Nevertheless, in many Western countries our situation has changed. In many places churches and Christians have become minorities, as they were in the pre-Constantinian period. As long as the churches were pure national churches, they were not able to put into practice in their own shape the gospel of renouncing the protection of the law and the use of force and the ethos of nonviolence that corresponds to the coming kingdom of God. For all practical purposes most national churches today have again become minority churches that are obligated to give the gospel to a world that may still be nominally Christian. The missionary confrontation with the world that makes even the church’s practice an element of its proclamation (cf. Matt 5:16*) is today the same as it was in the pre-Constantinian era. However, the possibilities for many churches and their members, who at the same time are responsible citizens, to participate in the political shaping of the world are often still those of the post-Constantinian era. Today we live in a special time of transition as far as the church is concerned. In my judgment in this situation it is no longer enough to take our bearings from the normative interpretive traditions in the major churches; instead we need to develop a new interpretation that corresponds to our own modern situation, and we need to do it in conversation with the rigoristic interpretive traditions of the minority churches, of monasticism, and above all with the biblical texts themselves.
On the way to that goal it seems to me that the following impulses of the text are especially important:
1. The renunciation of force is a sign of contrast—a sign, that is, that the kingdom of God is different, or one might also call it a part of the new way of righteousness inaugurated by Jesus. Therefore, every realization of our text must make clear that the “use of force” belongs “to the signature of the unredeemed world,” which “desperately needs redemption and thus … the sign of nonviolence.” That is, force—all force: criminal, political, economic, military, and all preparatory participation in it—is as a part of the unredeemed world godless and evil. An interpretation of our text must say this clearly against every human inclination to come to terms with the use of force, to accept it as part of life, and to live in the framework established by the conditions it sets.97 Signs of contrast are necessary for the kingdom of God in order to make clear that there is no form of force, not even “just” wars or “just” death penalties, that is legitimate in God’s eyes.
2. Therefore, two things are needed in the modern situation: (a) radical pacifists who as “fundamentalists of the kingdom of God” with their practice and their proclamation remind the church and the world that under no conditions does God approve of force; and (b) pragmatists who take consciously responsible political steps to minimize force and thus help this power-crazed world become somewhat more humane.
3. The two ways are ultimately complementary, because both Jesus and Matthew understand the renunciation of force as an expression of love. However, love has the freedom to think about its consequences. Based on our text, therefore, in the final analysis there can be no alternative between an ethic of sentiment and an ethic of responsibility, either in the Christian’s behavior or in the Christians’ life together in the church or in the ecumene.
The existence side by side in Jesus and in Matthew of the renunciation of force and the demand for love is able to remind Christian love of its origin in the kingdom of God and of the radical quality it has from that origin. It is able to keep love from being merely a secular aid for survival.
2.2.6 Sixth Antithesis: On Loving the Enemy (5:43–48*)
Walter Bauer, “Das Gebot der Feindesliebe und die alten Christen,” in Aufsätze und kleine Schriften (Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1967) 235–52.
Gerhard Dautzenberg, “ ‘Ihr habt gehört, dass gesagt worden ist: Du sollst … deinen Feind hassen’ (Mt 5,43ac),” in Ludger Schenke, ed., Studien zum Matthäusevangelium: Festschrift für Wilhelm Pesch (Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1988) 49–77.
Jacques Dupont, “ ‘Soyez parfaits’ (Mt 5,48), ‘soyez miséricordieux’ (Lc 6,36),” in J. Coppens, A. Descamps, and E. Massaux, eds., Sacra Pagina (2 vols.; BEThL 12–13; Gembloux: Duculot, 1959) 2.150–62.
Peter Fiedler, Jesus und die Sünder (BBETh 3; Frankfurt: Lang, 1976) 185–94.
Ernst Fuchs, “Die vollkommene Gewissheit,” in Zur Frage nach dem historischen Jesus (Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1960) 126–35.
Hans Haas, Idee und Ideal der Feindesliebe in der ausserchristlichen Welt: Ein religionsgeschichtlicher Forschungsbericht (Rede zur Feier des Reformationsfestes und des Übergangs des Rektorats; Leipzig: Edelmann, 1927).
Hans-Peter Hasenfratz, Die Rede von der Auferstehung Jesu Christi (FThL 10; Bonn: Linguistica Biblica, 1975) 238–42.
Paul Hoffmann, “Tradition und Situation: Zur ‘Verbindlichkeit’ des Gebots der Feindesliebe in der synoptischen Überlieferung und in der gegenwärtigen Friedensdiskussion,” in Karl Kertelge, ed., Ethik im Neuen Testament (QD 192; Freiburg: Herder, 1984) 50–118.
Hoffmann-Eid, Jesus, 147–85.
Otfried Hofius, “Nächstenliebe und Feindeshass: Erwägungen zu Mt 5,43,” in Johannes Joachim Degenhardt, ed., Die Freude an Gott, unsere Kraft: Festschrift für Otto Bernhard Knoch zum 65. Geburtstag (Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1991) 102–9.
Wolfgang Huber, “Feindschaft und Feindesliebe,” ZEE 26 (1982) 128–58.
Olof Linton, “St. Matthew 5:43,” StTh 18 (1964) 66–79.
Ulrich Luz, “Jesu Gebot der Feindesliebe und die kirchliche Verantwortung für den Frieden,” Ref. 31 (1982) 253–66.
Merklein, Gottesherrschaft, 222–37.
Nissen, Gott, 278–329.
Stephan Randlinger, Die Feindesliebe nach dem natürlichen und positiven Sittengesetz (Paderborn: Schöningh, 1906).
Hans-Richard Reuter, “Liebet eure Feinde,” ZEE 26 (1982) 159–87.
Rudolf Schnackenburg, “Die Vollkommenheit des Christen nach den Evangelien,” GuL 32 (1959) 420–33.
Schulz, Q, 127–39.
O. J. F. Seitz, “Love Your Enemies,” NTS 16 (1969/70) 39–54.
W. C. van Unnik, “Die Motivierung der Feindesliebe in Lukas VI 32–35,” NovT 8 (1966) 284–300.
Michael Waldmann, Die Feindesliebe in der antiken Welt und im Urchristentum: Eine historischethische Untersuchung (ThSLG 1; Vienna: Mayer, 1902).
Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker, “Intelligente Feindesliebe,” Ref. 29 (1980) 413–18.
Zeller, Mahnsprüche, 101–13.

See also the literature above, II A 2.2 on the antitheses (5:21–48); for additional literature see above, II A on the Sermon on the Mount (5:1–7:29).

43 “You have heard that it was said:
‘You shall love your neighbor’
and hate your enemy.
44 But I say to you:
Love your enemies
and pray for your persecutors,
45 so that you may become sons of your Father in heaven,
because he makes his sun rise on evil and good
and makes it rain on righteous and unrighteous.
46 For if you love those who love you,
what reward do you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
47 And if you greet only your brothers,
what are you doing that is special?
Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
48 You, therefore, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
A thesis and antithesis (vv. 43–45*) are followed by a double saying as an additional reason (vv. 46–47*) and a concluding verse 48*. Important catchwords from what has gone before are repeated: “persecute” (διώκω, vv. 10*, 11*, 44*), “sons of God” (υἱοὶ θεοῦ, v. 9*), “Father in heaven” (πατὴρ ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς, v. 16*), “reward” (μισθός, v. 12*), and “exceed” (περισσο-, v. 20*). That shows that this antithesis brings together earlier material. Verse 48* occupies a special position. It no longer contains the leading catchword “love,” and with “perfect” it introduces a new one. It thus makes the impression that it is not connected and, in comparison with the previous verses, abstract. The three-part structure characteristic of the previous verses is also discontinued. That shows that this verse has a special position. It is a kelal, a summarizing transitional verse. With the phrase “your Father in heaven,” which is repeated from vv. 16* and 45*, it leads over to the following section on prayer, 6:1–18*, where this designation for God becomes the central feature.
Redaction and Source
These verses are a frequently transmitted text in early Christianity. Matthew makes use of the logia Q 6:27–28, 35, and 32–34 transmitted in Q. He tightens the Q text, perhaps in order to produce the symmetry between the two blocks of antitheses, vv. 21–32* and 34–48*.4 He largely reworks v. 48*,5 in Q (= Luke 6:36*) presumably the introduction to Luke 6:37–42*, in order to bring the entire series of antitheses to a close and to get a reference back to v. 20*. Many things remain uncertain in the details.
1. Again the antithetic formulation—that is, in this case the thesis in v. 43*—may come from the evangelist. He shortened the quotation from Lev 19:18* by omitting “as yourself,” presumably for rhetorical reasons. In so doing he achieved an impressive parallel to “you shall hate your enemy” (μισήσεις τὸν ἐχθρόν σου). Nowhere else in early Christianity is the commandment to love one’s enemy transmitted in the context of an antithesis. There is no linguistic evidence of redaction: “hate” (μισέω) is a reminiscence of the abbreviated verse Q 6:27. “Enemy” (ἐχθρός) creates a rhetorically effective, additional verbal connection to the traditional v. 44* (ἐχθρούς).
2. Verse 44*: The tradition outside the NT often refers back to all four members of Q 6:27–28. That suggests that Matthew was the one who shortened the logion to two members. He is also responsible for the pointed inclusion of the situation of persecution.7 The connection between the commandment of the love of the enemy and its theological justification in v. 45*, which Luke postpones until 6:35*, is probably old; v. 45* presupposes something!
3. In v. 45* Matthew, who speaks in images, takes precedence over Luke, whose formulations are more theological.8
4. Verses 46–47* are quite uncertain. Again the reduction to two members probably goes back to Matthew. The secondary generalizations (“sinner” [ἁμαρτωλός] instead of “tax collector/Gentile” [τελώνης/ἐθνικός]; “do good” [ἀγαθοποιέω] instead of “greet” [ἀσπάζομαι]) are Lukan or pre-Lukan. It is difficult to decide whether the Matthean reference to reward or the Lukan formulation with “thanks,” “credit” (χάρις), is older. Most regard χάρις as Lukan redaction. On the other hand, reward is important for Matthew.11 In my judgment it is more likely that Matthew changed the Q text. Again, however, he was conservative, since he probably already found the reference to reward in Q (Q 6:35b). Matthew, who for formal reasons was compelled to abbreviate his material, took over an important topos from Q in a new way, much as he did in v. 42* with “borrowing.”
The two meshalim, Q 6:27–28, 35 and Q 6:32–34, belong together thematically but not literarily. The first certainly comes from Jesus, the second probably does so. Q 6:36 corresponds to a Jewish principle; we can say nothing about its origin.
Interpretation: Jesus

■ 44–45* The commandment to love one’s enemy is one of the central Christian texts. Not only is it quoted frequently in early Christian parenesis14—and that in almost all Christian areas—but also since the Apologists it is regarded as the Christian proprium and novum about which the Gentiles marvel.17 For the Christian missionary preaching, the Apologists, and the early Latin fathers, it was decisive in portraying Christianity as a religion of the deed; loving one’s enemy was not only taught, it was also practiced.19 The central position of the love of one’s enemy in the early church reflects the intention of the Sayings Source and especially of Matthew, who has given it a favored position in his last, conclusive antithesis. Thus he presents the love commandment as the middle of the Christians’ “better” righteousness, which he summarizes in v. 48* with “perfect.”
When the church fathers claimed that Jesus’ command to love one’s enemy is a novum, they were only partly right. There are similar statements in many different places: in Judaism, in the Greek (esp. Stoic) area, in India, in Buddhism, in Taoism. The most important biblical examples are Exod 23:4–5* (help for the enemy’s ox or donkey); 1 Samuel 24 (David and Saul in the cave of En-gedi); Prov 24:17–18* (do not rejoice when your enemy falls); 25:21–22* (give your enemy bread to eat and water to drink). Early Jewish examples speak of individual concrete ways of behaving toward one’s enemy, for example, of generosity toward people who think differently (Ep. Arist. 227) or of peaceableness and forgiveness toward enemies (T. Gad 6.3–7; cf. T. Benj. 4.2–3). The catchword of the “love” of enemies is missing. Jews themselves regard this difference as significant. The Jewish texts guard against extravagant statements and demand what is realistically possible.22
There are also basic statements similar to those of Jesus in Greek philosophy, especially in the Platonic and Stoic traditions. The fundamental device is that of the unconditional love of human beings, which includes being congenial to those who are not likable and to those who are evil or hostile. Basic here is that every person shares in the same divine origin so that the universal love of human beings is in harmony with nature. The wise man resides in himself and cannot be harmed by external hostility. Hellenistic parallels can also speak in this context of imitating God.25 Finally, for the Stoic, God’s indiscriminate goodness is an expression of amazement over the harmony of the cosmos—a harmony that human beings do not make but that they experience as grace—a harmony in which they share through the love of all people. In an antithesis similar to the Matthean antithesis, Sophocles’ Antigone says: “I cannot share in hatred but in love.”
By contrast, Jesus’ original four-part logion states in exaggerated form: loving and enemies, doing good and haters, blessing and cursers, praying and maltreaters are opposites that, as if pasted on a poster, emphasize the element of contrast in the behavior demanded by Jesus. Again, the first part of the saying is probably the basic title for the three following parts, a title that is then exemplified with individual examples. Thus “love” is something comprehensive. While it is true that the thought is primarily of concrete deeds rather than of cordial feelings,28 it is even more important that “love” is an attitude or behavior of the whole person and that it does not exclude feelings. If we take as a whole the many individual Jewish sayings that point in a similar direction—there are others as well—the most likely explanation is that Jesus makes an extreme absolute of a statement that (along with others) was also present in Judaism.
Jesus speaks emphatically of the love of enemies. The four hyperbolic imperatives do not permit us to see them as extreme cases of a general love of humanity. At issue are enemies in their total maliciousness. Absent is the hidden ulterior motive that the enemy might be made a friend. Limiting the enemy to one’s personal enemy misses the point; based on the LXX the Greek ἐχθρός is a general word for enemy. The increasing intensity of the three examples of Luke 6:27* suggests that even the most extreme kind of enmity is to be included.31 Jesus’ demand is one of contrast. The contrast here is not that Jesus refuses “to divide the world into a sector of love and a sector of hate.”33 With their idea of philanthropy the Greeks also refused to do that. Rather, the contrast is that Jesus takes away absolutely nothing from the enemies’ cruelty and maliciousness and that he demands not that one also love them but that one love precisely them.
That is related to Jesus’ idea of God. In spite of similar sounding wording, it is different from the idea of God in Hellenistic parallels. His command to love one’s enemy corresponds not to the world’s harmony but to God’s will. The extreme demand to love one’s enemy corresponds to God’s extreme love toward sinners and outcasts in the inbreaking of his kingdom. That is why Jesus links his demand with an eschatological promise: you will be sons of God.
The motivation in v. 45b*, c* speaks not of the kingdom of God but is based on a theology of creation. However, the creation does not speak an unambiguous language. The sun can also scorch, and the rain can also cause flooding. In addition, God’s goodness toward evil and good is not actually a motivation for the demand to love specifically the enemies. Thus there is a certain lack of balance between the creation-theological motivation and the behavior that is demanded. It also remains unclear what the reference to God’s government in his creation has to do with the promise in v. 45a* of becoming sons of God. At the most one can recall that there is no tension in Jesus between eschatology and theology. Jesus’ eschatology makes possible a new experience of the present world and thus the possibility of speaking of God’s activity in creation in an unbroken, theological way. Jesus’ parables, which in principle belong to the realm of theology and not eschatology, are also a form of speech made possible by Jesus’ special eschatology.36
Interpretation: Matthew

Matthew shortens the four-part command and thus makes it more precise. The contrast with “neighbor” and with the narrow Jewish interpretation of Lev 19:18* suggests that with “enemy” he is also thinking of the Gentiles.37 The catchword “persecute,” taken over from vv. 10–11*, makes clear that he is especially thinking of the enemies of the church and in this sense summarizes the statements of Q (“hate,” “curse,” “mistreat”). National enemies in a war are hardly the major concern, although the experiences of the church in the Jewish War in no way exclude such an interpretation. It is conceivable that in the community’s worship prayers were offered for the enemies and persecutors.39

■ 45* It may be that Matthew understood the traditional justification in v. 45b*, c* for the love of the enemy—God’s goodness toward good and evil—in the sense of his idea of the corpus permixtum. Both the world and the church are fields in which weeds and wheat grow together (13:36–43*; cf. 22:9*). Thus God is now gracious toward everyone; it is in the judgment that the sons of God will be revealed.

■ 43*/44a* With the antithetic wording of vv. 43–44aα Matthew offers a clearer interpretation of the command to love the enemies. It creates a twofold difficulty for interpretation: (a) The second part of the thesis, “and you shall hate your enemy,” does not appear in the Bible. (b) It remains unclear against whom the evangelist is speaking in this thesis.
a. The reference to Lev 19:18* suggested itself to Matthew because he was familiar with it and because formally it was easy to contrast it with the command to love one’s enemies (common catchword: “love” [ἀγαπάω]). However, since for him the command to love one’s neighbor is the “highest commandment”—a commandment that Jesus affirms (22:34–40*)—he could not simply contrast it with the OT word of scripture without explanation. Therefore, he had to make the biblical word more precise with an exegetical insertion41 without opening himself to the charge that he regarded this addition (that he himself had created) as an OT word. Thus what is meant is that the command to love one’s neighbor was given to the ancients in a special interpretation that excluded enemies. In 22:34–40* Jesus will make clear that there are also other interpretations.
No single antithesis expresses as clearly as this one the anti-Jewish front so important for Matthew. No antithesis “fulfills” (5:17*) the law as clearly without abolishing it. In no other antithesis is there so much support for the classic “Protestant” thesis that the antitheses are directed not against the OT but against its Jewish interpretation.
b. Against whom is the Matthean thesis directed? Occasionally in OT or Jewish texts it is not one’s personal enemy but the enemy of God and his people who is the object of hate. However, such statements are rare. In many cases, such as in the Qumran community, which has often been suspected of being the secret addressee of Matt 5:43*,43 the hate against God’s enemies does not lead to corresponding actions, since one does not want to anticipate God’s wrath with one’s own revenge. However, there are numerous statements that, although they do not speak of hating enemies, do speak of limiting the command of Lev 19:18* in particular to Israel.45 With his interpretive addition “and hate your enemy” Matthew has chosen an especially harsh formulation of this particular interpretive tradition of Lev 19:18*, which in no way is representative of it. Why? Was he simply interested in the rhetorical opposite to the antithesis? Or is he writing out of his own experiences of the church’s persecution in Israel (Matt 10:22–23*; cf. 5:11–12*; 23:34–36*)?46 With his antithesis, however, the Matthean Jesus strengthens and sharpens a different interpretive tradition of Lev 19:18*—the universalistic, which more likely corresponds to Hellenistic Jewish statements about φιλανθρωπία (kindness, love of humanity) and to isolated later rabbinic interpretations of Lev 19:18*.47 In addition, v. 43* touches on the (not only) Hellenistic popular ethical principle of repaying in like kind, that is, repaying love with love and hate with hate.48
Thus v. 43b* is presumably directed not against a particular position or group that advocates hating one’s enemies but in quite general terms against a limited interpretation of the love command in the sense of Jewish particularism or in the sense of popular ethical common sense. “To love your enemy” is a rhetorical counterstatement inspired by Lev 19:18* designed to speak to the hearer.49 For all practical purposes hating enemies is what happens when one understands the love command in a particularistic or popular ethical sense.

■ 46–47* The two following logia clarify that loving enemies does not exclude loving friends (“only” = μόνον, v. 47*; of course one should greet one’s friends). It means rather: your love should be so wide-reaching that it also encompasses enemies.50 The love of enemies is the “more” (περισσόν) that belongs to the better righteousness (cf. 5:20*).51 The reward consists of the promise that those whose righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees and scribes may enter the kingdom of heaven. The tax collectors and Gentiles are the negative contrast. Matthew takes them over from the tradition; that he keeps them (Luke replaces them with the more general expression “sinners”) shows that his community continues to live in the horizon of Jewish thought. With its love of enemies it sets itself off from “the others” and thus anticipates the ancient church’s interpretation where Christian love became the topos of its apologetics. The idea of the missionary effectiveness of the practice (5:16*) and the danger of self-justification through one’s own περισσόν are closely interwoven, especially in a situation of persecution.

■ 48* After the catchword “more” (v. 47*) has already clearly referred back to v. 20*, v. 48* brings the entire series of antitheses to a close.
The saying in Q 6:36 serves as the basis. This verse is one of the earliest formulations on Palestinian soil of the Jewish imitatio Dei principle based on Lev 19:2*.54 It was perhaps formed with Hellenistic influence. Matthew has completely reworded it. Statements about God’s perfection are found especially in the Greek area. However, Matthew is also able to link up with OT statements.56
The key to understanding the verse is the word “perfect” (τέλειος), which, in addition to this passage, also appears in 19:21*. Some have correctly emphasized that the concept must be interpreted not on the basis of the Greek doctrine of virtues but on the basis of its Jewish background. In Jewish texts individual pious persons (e.g., Noah or Abraham) can be described as perfect because of their piety and their obedience.57 The Hebrew equivalent תָמִים appears with special frequency in the Qumran texts; it is a self-designation of this group that goes “the perfect way,” that is, that keeps the more rigorously interpreted Torah. There are two elements in this perfection: the unity of heart and totality of obedience as a subjective element and fulfilling all the law’s demands as an objective element. The quantitative element in the Matthean idea of righteousness, suggested already in v. 20* and repeated in v. 47* with the word “more,” along with 19:20–21*, which speaks of keeping a commandment still lacking for perfection, makes it probable that the qualitative element also should not be ignored in our passage. Whoever obeys God’s commandments without any omissions is “perfect.” The Didache, standing in the Matthean tradition, understands it this way also. Perfection means: “bearing the whole yoke of the Lord” (Did. 6.2). Specifically Matthew is probably thinking above all of the love of enemies, while in the case of God’s perfection he is, based on v. 45*, thinking of the goodness of God, who has his sun rise on the evil and the good. The emphasis is on the “you”: by means of its perfection the community is to distinguish itself from the Gentiles (v. 47*).
Why did Matthew change the Q tradition at all if he too was concerned about mercy? With “perfect” he emphasizes the fundamental significance of the love of enemies. It is not one demand among others but the center and apex of all the commandments that lead to perfection. Thus perfection is not a special status of a few “exceptional” Christians. At this point in particular on the surface there appears to be a tension between our passage and 19:20–21*, where renouncing possessions is emphasized and one is closer to a two-level ethic.60 The tension is resolved if one recognizes that for Matthew perfection is a task confronting all Christians and activating all. The righteousness that is greater (περισσεύσῃ … πλεῖον, 5:20*) than that of the Pharisees and scribes also includes in its quantifying element the idea that different Christians can make different degrees of progress on the way. However, all have the same goal; Matthew has marked it out with the antitheses. In this sense he too is thoroughly perfectionistic. The Didache’s “do what you can” is already valid for him but without its overtone of resignation.
With v. 48* Matthew finally returns the parenesis of the antitheses to God himself. He is perfect who bestows gifts on “righteous and unrighteous” (v. 45*). For this reason Matthew calls him “your heavenly Father.” This term for God is much more than popular embellishment here. It appears at the beginning of the central part of the Sermon on the Mount where the evangelist speaks of the prayer to the Father and thus states the inner dimension and the point of reference of the Christian struggle for the better righteousness. In so doing the evangelist points to the fundamental reality that makes the entire Sermon on the Mount possible. It is a reality that he had expressed in a different way by putting the ethical demand of this chapter into the story of the way God has gone with his Son.
History of Interpretation

The first thing one notices is that it was simply taken for granted in the ancient church that this “basic law” of faith is practicable63 and is practiced. A good example is 2 Clement 13–14, where it is clearly stated that whoever does not love the one who hates him is not a Christian and stands under God’s judgment. From an early date, however, there are already indications that the actual practice did not always conform to the demand. One can see the tendency to temper the command throughout the entire history of interpretation.
a. 2 Clement 13–14 is instructive. The community must be admonished not only because it does not love those who hate it but also because it does not even love those who love it (13.4). The harmony within the community was not what it should be! The author reminds the community: whoever does not do the Father’s will does not belong to the church (14.1). The first attempt to soften the requirement comes then from Origen: since there is no “love as you love yourself” connected with the love of one’s enemies, unlike the love of one’s neighbor it is enough that one not hate the enemies. Although this interpretation was energetically rejected by most people, it was nevertheless influential. One argued that, of course, loving the enemies does not mean that I must love enemies in the same way I love relatives and friends so that there is no longer any difference between them.
b. Many have attempted to manage the problem by means of a two-level ethic. In his doctrine of duties Ambrose already assigns the love of enemies to the “perfect duties,” which he distinguishes from the “middle” duties. In the Liber Graduum the love of enemies belongs to the via perfecta. According to Augustine the injunctions “are only for the perfect sons of God. All the faithful should indeed strive to make them their own.”69 In Scholasticism it was never made a mere “counsel” in an undifferentiated way, yet with the help of Stoic traditions a distinction is made: although the enemies are not to be excluded from the general love of humanity and from the general prayers, everyone is required to be spiritually ready to love enemies “si necessitas occurreret” (if the necessity were to occur). It is not necessary, however, for salvation to love the enemy “pertinet ad perfectionem caritas” (according to the perfection of love) “absque articulo necessitatis” (without it being necessary to do so). Thus loving enemies is no longer the center of Christian practice; it is simply a borderline case.
c. Restricting the command to love enemies to the personal area is ecumenically popular. The enemy in a war is explicitly exempted; loving enemies is developed as a matter of individual ethics. One is to overcome personal feelings of hate against “the unfriendly neighbor, the competitor at work,” “whom the simple farmer or craftsman hates with all the fervor of his heart,” not, as Tolstoy, for example, thought, to overcome national hate.72 At any rate, “hate directed against the national enemy is less intensive and develops with greater difficulty.” In this way the problem of war can be removed from the realm of loving one’s enemies, since one has no personal bad feelings toward the national enemy.74
Especially important then is the transformation of Jesus’ demand into an inner attitude. “Like lightning his [scil. Jesus’] words penetrate the stifling air of thinking about revenge, and they make clear that the attitude he requires is to be free of all thoughts of retaliation and revenge. What Jesus is concerned about is one’s attitude.” The emphasis moves from the acts of loving enemies to the individual’s feelings. The ethic of intention is continued in the area of existential interpretation. Loving the enemy means “the renunciation of one’s own claim.”76 However, for Matthew loving the enemy means a concrete deed.
Meaning for Today

All of that leads to the question whether loving enemies is not asking too much of a person. In the NT we find not only the love of enemies; we also find Paul, who was not exactly a wimp in dealing with his opponents, not to mention the author of 2 Peter and his way of dealing with enemies (2 Pet 2:12–22*). Many interpreters have admitted their difficulties here.77 However, especially illustrative of the problems is the Gospel of Matthew itself. The same author who put love for enemies at the pinnacle of his antitheses not only took over the great woes discourse against the Pharisees in Matthew 23 from the tradition as a word of Jesus; he vigorously expanded it. One can, of course, give many reasons for this discourse, but it is certainly not an example of loving the enemy, not even of fairness toward opponents about whom the Jewish Christian Matthew could have known better. Does the evangelist Matthew thus himself serve as a prime example of this commandment’s problematic?
I pose the question with the words of a (well-meaning) Jew, since the Jews have suffered most because of the Christian deficiency in loving enemies: “the defect in the ethical teaching of Jesus is that it is strung so high that it has failed to produce solid and practical results just where its admirers vaunt that it differs from, and is superior to the ethical codes of the Pentateuch, the Prophets and the Rabbis.” According to this critic, a less absolute and more realistic ethic, perhaps like that of the rabbis, would have been more useful. Joseph Klausner took this criticism farther, saying that Jesus advocated an elevated ethical doctrine; with him there is “the laying down of virtually nothing but ethical rules.” “Judaism,” on the other hand, is “not only religion and it is not only ethics: it is the sum-total of all the needs of the nation.” Therefore the rabbis were able to build bridges to the sphere of national and political life, while Jesus’ doctrine could only be realized in monasticism, an institution that characteristically does not exist in Judaism.80
Is then the love of enemies a utopian demand that is ambivalent because it contradicts basic anthropological and psychological human presuppositions? Is it a “claim offensive to nature”?
Heinrich Heine states: “If the dear God really wants to make me happy, he will let me experience the joy of seeing six or seven of my enemies hang. With a heart filled with emotion I will forgive them every injury before they die.… Yes, one must forgive his enemies, but not before they are hanged.” For Friedrich Nietzsche loving enemies is weakness and dishonesty: “To be unable to avenge oneself is called to be unwilling to avenge oneself.… Also there’s some talk of loving one’s enemy—accompanied by much sweat.” For Sigmund Freud the command to love enemies is a successful but happiness-negating attempt on the part of the cultural superego to transform one’s aggressive needs into feelings of guilt and thus to combat them.84 Measured by the standard of human nature the command to love one’s enemies is part of “I believe, because it is absurd” (credo quia absurdum). In Christian history one can see how problematic it is. Loving one’s neighbor, of which love of enemies is an extreme example, was always able to be realized only in manageable communities. The price one pays for it is heightened aggression toward the outside world. “When once the Apostle Paul had posited universal love between men as the foundation of his Christian community, extreme intolerance on the part of Christendom towards those who remained outside it became the inevitable consequence.”
One can see something of that in the history of interpretation. In the ancient church it is often clear that the enemy of Matt 5:44* whom one is to love is the Gentile, while 7:1–5* speaks of relationships among the members of the church.86 Thus the enemy whom one is to love is, from a missionary perspective, the potential brother. Then the “enemy” is loved no longer for his own sake but so that he can be won for Christ. What happens, however, when those who are loved this way do not want to be won for Christ? When they persist in their enmity? The history of the church provides many examples of how “loving enemies” then becomes aggression; the attitudes of Matthew and Luther to the Jews are only two such examples.
According to Matthew, one distinguishes between true and false prophets by their fruits (7:15–23*). Fruits can be judged in various ways. A by no means sympathetic critic, Gottfried Keller, says: “The genuine love of an enemy, while he is flourishing in prosperity and still working us harm, is a thing I have never seen anywhere.” Church history’s balance sheet is ambiguous at best. It is true that there are not only crusades, religious wars, forced conversions, and Christian anti-Judaism, but there are also these things. What do they have to do with Jesus’ command to love enemies? We cannot ignore the questions raised by history and psychology when we ask about the fruits Matthew demands.
They lead to three considerations. The first is self-critical. Jesus spoke of the enemy in all of his harshness and brutality. He did not connect love to a purpose. The love of one’s enemy was not a chance for the enemy to become something better or even a test he must pass in order to do so. It is an expression of Christian failure with this command that so often it has been associated with a missionary purpose. Love-for-the-purpose-of is not love, and it is not what Jesus meant.
The second consideration is also self-critical. It comes from the history of the influence of the commandment to love enemies, a history that is more than ambiguous. It is a history of turning love into an instrument for achieving Christian purposes and of unvarnished neglect, the latter also for the sake of Christian purposes. I think that what is to be learned from this history is that real love is possible only when the Christian religion is enlisted in the service of love but not when love is enlisted in the service of the Christian religion. Love can grow only when it is the be all and end all, the embodiment of faith and the gift of life, but not when it is used by Christianity as a way of portraying or asserting itself.
The third consideration takes us deeper. Jesus, Matthew, and the critics of the command to love enemies are in agreement that this command is not a “natural” demand. How could it be? Jesus had stated it in sharp contrast to “natural” behavior. It is not the tactic of a fighter, not the magnanimity of a victor, not the resignation of a loser, and also not the detachment of a sage. Instead, Jesus has made his demand under the completely “unnatural” presupposition that the kingdom of God is dawning and that human beings should conform to it. It therefore is not to be understood, as has often been the case in the history of interpretation, as the pinnacle of the “natural” love of humanity. Matthew was not its advocate because it is reasonable or natural or because it holds out the promise of success; he did so because the one who makes the demand is with his church as the risen Lord always until the end of the world. Thus the question is not whether it is tactically or psychologically realistic but whether the experience of grace it presupposes has the carrying power to free a person for such love. It obviously cannot be produced simply in response to God’s orders.
Herein lies also the main difference from the Marxist view of the love of enemies. In a suggestive reflection Mao Zedong has stated that it is not possible while the class struggle is still going on. “There will be genuine love of humanity—after classes are eliminated all over the world. Classes have split society into many antagonistic groupings; there will be love of humanity when classes are eliminated, but not now. We cannot love enemies, we cannot love social evils, our aim is to destroy them.” There is no analogy here to the fundamental Christian distinction between saying yes to the sinner and no to the sin.92 Instead, people are so strongly identified with the class to which they belong and their class perspective that loving enemies would run the risk of weakening the struggle against evil. In a world characterized by struggle, however, Christian faith tries in every case to establish on the basis of God’s kingdom signs of God’s unconditional yes to people. That is what loving the enemy means.
This final consideration makes clear, however, that such unconditional signs of God’s yes to people cannot and will not answer the questions about the strategy to follow in the struggle for social justice or for the survival of humanity. Their legitimacy and power lie on a different level. Achieving the “extraordinary” is a “comparative” thing, especially on the political level. It consists of a more of righteousness, of peace, of mutual respect. Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker has called this “intelligent love of enemy.” For the sake of loving one’s fellow human being it is a necessary political strategy or political alternative to the class struggle. However, it is not what Jesus means by “love of enemy”; it is only a perspective that follows from it. It was not Jesus’ intention to improve the world situation. From his perspective acts of love toward one’s enemies are an expression of God’s unconditional yes to people for their own sake. They are necessary in a fundamental sense, and they stand beside and before all realistic strategies of “intelligent” love.
2.3 Better Righteousness, II: Attitude toward God (6:1–18*)

The central section of the Sermon on the Mount, 6:1–18*, is shorter than 5:21–48* and 6:19–7:11*. It consists of an exhortation to right devotion consisting of three strophes. It begins with a title (6:1*). There is an intercalation after the second strophe. The evangelist inserted the Lord’s Prayer (6:9–13*) and framed it with two logia (6:7–8*, 14–15*). All the admonitions have the same structure: a negative part (vv. 2*, 5*, 7–8*, 16*) is followed by a positive antithesis (vv. 3–4*, 6*, 9–13*, 17–18*). Thus formally the Lord’s Prayer is the positive counterpoint to the warning against prating prayer in vv. 7–8*. In its contents, however, it breaks the bounds of this framework. With the addition of vv. 14–15* an important aspect of prayer is repeated. In this way the Lord’s Prayer is the center of the section and thus of the entire Sermon on the Mount. Its title word, “Father (in heaven),” is the leading word of the entire section and through steady repetition is imprinted on the minds of the readers (vv. 1*, 4*, 6*, 8*, 9*, 14*, 15*, 18*). The word also links our section to the preceding and following sections of the Sermon on the Mount (5:16*, 45*, 48*; 6:26*, 32*; 7:11*, 21*). The concentration of the word πατήρ alone shows where the center lies with regard to content. In spite of its compositional character the section makes a unified impression. The catchword “to pray” (προσεύχεσθαι) creates a close linkage between vv. 5–6* and vv. 7–13*. The addition of vv. 14–15* repeats the most detailed petition of the Lord’s Prayer in v. 12*, both in its vocabulary and in its content.
In commenting on the text it makes sense in this one case to depart from the sequence of the pericopes and to begin with the three-strophe exhortation of 6:2–6*, 16–18*.
2.3.1 On Almsgiving, Praying, and Fasting (6:1–6*, 16–18*)
Hans Dieter Betz, “A Jewish-Christian Cultic Didache in Matt. 6:1–18: Reflections and Questions on the Problem of the Historical Jesus,” in Essays on the Sermon on the Mount (trans. L. L. Welborn; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985) 55–69. Christian Dietzfelbinger, “Die Frömmigkeitsregeln von Mt 6,1–18 als Zeugnisse frühchristlicher Geschichte,” ZNW 75 (1984) 184–201.
Dupont, Béatitudes 3.260–72.
A. George, “La justice à faire dans le secret (Matthieu 6,1–6 et 16–18),” Bib 40 (1959) 590–98.
Birger Gerhardsson, “Geistiger Opferdienst nach Matth 6,1–6, 16–21,” in Heinrich Baltensweiler and Bo Reicke, eds., Neues Testament und Geschichte: Historisches Geschehen und Deutung im Neuen Testament: Oscar Cullmann zum 70. Geburtstag (Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1972) 69–77.
Erich Klostermann, “Zum Verständnis von Mt 6,2,” ZNW 47 (1956) 280–81.
Walter Nagel, “Gerechtigkeit—oder Almosen? (Mt 6:1),” VC 15 (1961) 141–45.
Eduard Schweizer, “ ‘Der Jude im Verborgenen …, dessen Lob nicht von Menschen, sondern von Gott kommt’: Zu Röm 2,28f und Mt 6,1–18,” in Matthäus, 86–97.
Kari Syreeni, “Separation and Identity: Aspects of the Symbolic World of Mt 6,1–18,” NTS 40 (1994) 522–41.
Tannehill, Sword, 78–88.
Tilborg, Jewish Leaders, 8–13.
Zeller, Mahnsprüche, 71–74.

For additional literature see above, II A on the Sermon on the Mount (5:1–7:29).

6:1 “But be careful not to practice your righteousness before people in order to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward with your Father in heaven.
2 Thus when you practice charity
do not sound a trumpet before you
as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets
in order to be praised by people.
Amen, I say to you: They already have their reward.
3 But you, when you practice charity,
are not to let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
4 so that your charity may be in secret.
And your Father who sees into secret places will reward you.4
5 And when you pray
do not be like the hypocrites,
for they love to stand in the synagogues and on the street corners and to pray
in order to be seen by people.
Amen, I say to you: They already have their reward.
6 But you, when you pray,
‘go into your private room and close the door’
in order to pray to your Father who is in secret.
And your Father who sees into secret places will reward you.
16 When you fast,
do not be like the gloomy hypocrites,
for they make the appearance of their faces homely
so that they appear to people to be fasting.
Amen, I say to you: They already have their reward.
17 But you, when fasting,
Anoint your head and wash your face,
18 so that you do not appear to people to be fasting
but to your Father in secret.
And your Father who sees into secret places will reward you.”
With “righteousness” (δικαιοσύνη, 6:1*), “before men” (ἔμπροσθεν τῶν ἀνθρώπων, 6:1*) “Father … in heaven” (πατὴρ … ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς, 6:1*), and “praise/glorify” (δοξάζω, 6:2*) the pericope is linked with 5:16* and 20*; with the rare word ἀφανίζω (translated in 6:16* as “make homely” and in 6:19–20* as “destroy) it is linked with 6:19–24*. In addition, v. 7* (“Gentiles”: ἐθνικοί) contains a reference back to 5:47*. Once again one sees that in spite of what is clearly a new beginning the evangelist connects the sections to one another. Thus the theme “righteousness,” stated in 5:20*, is further discussed but in a different aspect—one already suggested in 5:16*. The catchword “hypocrite” and especially “to be seen by them” (v. 1*) appear again in chap. 23 (cf. 23:5*), where the final reckoning with the hypocrites will take place.
Verses 2–4*, 5–6*, and 16–18* make up a single composition consisting of three strophes. Each strophe has a negative and a positive part. Both the negative and positive parts contain: (1) a statement of the situation (almsgiving, praying, fasting), (2) a prohibition or a command, (3) a statement of purpose, and (4) the divine promise or the amen saying that denies the promise. Each warning contains a comparison with the “hypocrites”; it is therefore somewhat longer than its corresponding positive part. The language is articulated, rigorous prose, not poetry. We have neither rhythms nor, strictly speaking, parallelisms, only corresponding parts. The final admonition, the one on right fasting, is somewhat longer, as is appropriate for a conclusion. The polarity between people and the “Father in secret” is expressly repeated in v. 18b*. All three strophes are formed by the same pairs of opposites: public—secret; people—Father; present reward (“they have their reward”)—future reward (“the Father … will reward”). It is especially impressive that the Father is introduced only in the second half of each strophe, with almsgiving, praying, and fasting in secret, while the behavior of the hypocrites designed to get people’s attention ends from a religious perspective in a dead-end track. The rich language is impressive. The heightened metaphor of a trumpet (v. 2*), the wordplay φαίνω—ἀφανίζω in v. 16*,6 and the biting statement “they have their reward” reveal that a master is at work. This text has given several proverbial sayings to both German and English, further evidence of its linguistic power.8
That v. 1* comes from the evangelist is probable simply on the basis of the numerous cross-references, a conclusion that is supported by the analysis of its vocabulary.9 For vv. 2–6* and 16–18* it is likely that there was a written source in which Matthew at the most made some changes. However, the text contains a series of linguistic characteristics that Matthew himself also frequently uses,10 for example, designating God as Father. In his language and in his theology the evangelist is rooted in his community. It is conceivable that the source was connected to the source for the primary antitheses.12
Development of the Tradition and Form
In my judgment the text cannot be deconstructed. It is true that there are small asymmetries, but did the original version have to be rigidly symmetrical? Perhaps one can conjecture that the entire unit was formed in the second person singular, since, as vv. 1* and 7–15* show, Matthew prefers the plural.13 The single allusion to the scripture in the middle strophe offers no basis for concluding that the text has been reworked. The section was poured in one casting.15
The text does not fit any preexisting genre. Betz speaks somewhat carelessly of a “cultic didache” in three parts (“ritual instruction” is better, since we are not really dealing with a “cult”), but there is no evidence for a three-part scheme in either content or form.17 The wisdom admonition is a related form. Typical of it are the second person singular, the concreteness tending toward hyperbole, and the polarity of prohibition and command. Not typical are the eschatological versions of the heavenly reward (vv. 4*, 6*, end of 18*), the conclusions of the prohibition with an amen saying (end of vv. 2*, 5*, 16*), and the concrete stylizing of the opposing type, the Jewish hypocrite. Unlike wisdom sayings elsewhere, the admonition does not have a general meaning; it has specific addressees and a specific opposition. Connecting three different themes in three strophes is also not typical of the wisdom saying. All of this points to a situation in which thorough polemical instructions about the basic dimensions of piety became necessary. The symmetrical style in strophes makes it easier to commit the material to memory.
Does this text come from Jesus? Based on the criterion of dissimilarity, the decision is easy. The text has been perceived to be Jewish or reforming Jewish20 and was therefore declared to be not authentic. However, the post-Easter origin is by no means certain. The most important argument against the authenticity is the tension with Mark 2:19a*, where the disciples do not fast. There are possible explanations for the apparent discrepancy. Matt 6:16–18* could contain general instructions for the people, while Mark 2:19a* relates to the special situation of the disciples. Or Mark 2:19a* may be thinking of the practice of the disciples as a group, while Matt 6:16–18* speaks of the individual’s private fasting. “Amen, I say to you” and “Father” as a designation for God are Jesus language or Christ language. Thus the author could have been a Jewish Christian who was influenced by Jesus’ language. However, the text contains no traces of a christology of the kind one could expect especially with fasting (cf. Mark 2:20*).
So does it come from Jesus? The hyperbolic formulations and the address directed only to the individual might suggest that it does. The text is not only interested in the temple or synagogue worship, the Pharisaic fast days, or the beginnings of Jewish care for the members of the community; it also shows—something that in this case is more important—no interest in the Christian worship services with their communal prayers,23 the presumably quite old Christian fast days and the care of the members of the Christian community. Can all of that be explained solely by the style of wisdom exhortation? Thus with regard to the origin of this text many questions remain open that earlier scholars, using only the criterion of dissimilarity, were able to “solve” easily. Of course, it would be most easy for us if, based on the few linguistic observations, we could surmise that the original text was Greek. Then it would come from a gifted Jewish Christian teacher who—in Jesus’ spirit and language—composed it at a time when the Jesus people within the association of synagogues had to cope with Jewish forms of piety. Even that is uncertain, however, and it is still possible that the text came from Jesus.

■ 1* The Matthean opening verse is a summarizing title. It has a twofold function. First, it generalizes. Almsgiving, praying, and fasting are exemplary possibilities of the right relationship to God. Once again “righteousness” (δικαιοσύνη) means human conduct according to the will of God, the heavenly Father. In substance it corresponds to what we would call “piety” today.26 Second, the verse anchors this section in its context. It looks ahead to 23:5* and thus secures the parenetic secondary dimension of the opening section of the great woes discourse against Pharisees and scribes. Above all, however, it looks back to 5:20*; it repeats “your righteousness” from that verse. The readers still remember the Pharisees and scribes from 5:20*. They would presumably think of the “hypocrites” as the Pharisees and scribes. Thus in the macrotext of the Gospel of Matthew our text is a component of his great controversy with mainstream Judaism dominated by the Pharisees and scribes.
This development continued in the Didache, which illustrates the post-history of the Matthean communities. Judaism and Christianity have separated; here the “hypocrites” are simply the Jews. Correspondingly, what is decisive for Matthew—namely, the right attitude in giving charity, in prayer, and in fasting—is no longer useful as a distinguishing criterion. The “hypocrisy” of the Jews consists simply in that they, unlike the Christians, fast on Monday and Thursday and that they do not pray the Lord’s Prayer (Did. 8.1–2).

■ 2* Three examples follow. They speak of forms of Jewish piety28 that were also of central importance in the Christian communities. The first strophe deals with private charity. Along with the general meaning “mercy” in Jewish Greek, ἐλεημοσύνη (German Almosen derives from this Greek word), also had the more specialized meaning “beneficence,” “charitableness,” “alms.”31 At the time of primitive Christianity there did not yet exist in the synagogue the community-wide care of the poor that was unique in antiquity; the distribution of the tithe for the poor was left to the discretion of the individual. Charity was urged all the more strongly. Jewish sources give evidence that almsgiving was also misused and was the occasion for showing off in public.
It was not the case that trumpets were ever blown in the synagogues or in the streets to accompany spectacular acts of benevolence.34 The text speaks here with ironic caricature by making use of a widespread metaphor. However, charitable donations could well be talked about publicly in the synagogue or at fasting worship services.36 A person who made an especially large contribution was highly honored and was permitted, for example, to sit next to the rabbi. This form of self-promotion by means of charitable deeds was widespread. Hellenistic cities were full of inscriptions and statues of “benefactors” who had earned the honor with their λειτουργία (contributions for the public good). It was the ancient form of “sponsoring.”
The text apostrophizes as hypocrisy this hyperbolically caricatured practice of giving charity in order to promote oneself. In Greek usage ὑποκριτής is a neutral word that means “actor.” When used in ethics it takes on, in both Greek and Jewish usage, a negative sense and describes people who do or are something that differs from what they say. In contrast to Matthew 23 it is not the deed of the Jewish opponents that is criticized but their attitude. The almsgivers are accused of giving the promised alms not from love for the neighbor or for God’s sake but out of their own interests. They have, with the honor due them, already received their reward. Standing in the background is the rabbinic concept of God’s compensating righteousness. Some people, preferably Gentiles and the wicked, are rewarded for good deeds on earth and punished later in heaven, while the righteous often suffer on earth and are rewarded in heaven. If we read the text for itself—that is, on the level of the pre-Matthean tradition—the hypocrites are not identified with a particular Jewish group or even with “the synagogue”;40 they remain a general negative type. No one is directly criticized by the wording of the text, but everyone knew against what basic attitude the text is directed. Matthew is the first one who presumably is thinking of the Pharisees and scribes.

■ 3–4* The text also formulates the opposite position with exaggerated and hyperbolic language:41 the left should not know what the right is doing. One should not press this image, which has become a household saying. The idea is not that “he who practices mercy is not himself permitted to know that he practices mercy.”43 The ideal of “entirely spontaneous and unpremeditated” good deeds is foreign to the text. The image means only that no one, not even your most intimate confidant, needs to know anything about your alms. Benevolence takes place before God alone, before whom nothing is hidden45 and who—again a Jewish idea—in the last judgment will reveal, reward, and punish hidden deeds. The perspective is that of the eschatological judgment according to works as it is found in Paul in Rom 2:16*, 28–29*. Thus the text assumes that benefactors will receive a reward from God.47 However, it does not call on people simply to be more skillful in their calculations and to live with a more subtle, that is, religious, form of self-affirmation. Instead, it uses the reference to the reward (actually) given by God to expose human self-promotion as the secret goal of good deeds.
Numerous Jewish and Hellenistic texts make similar demands. Wisdom texts warn against religious hypocrisy (Sir 1:28–29*) and recommend “a gift in secret” (Prov 21:14*). Rabbi Zadok (1st century) warns against making the Torah a crown with which to magnify oneself (m. ʾAbot 4.5). The principle of giving alms secretly to the poor in order to keep from publicly shaming them is often advocated. Therefore, one should also put money in the “Chamber of Secrets” located in the temple (m. Šeqal. 5.6). The practice of pledging alms publicly is criticized by the Shammaites. Practicing charity for the sake of one’s own reputation was regarded as a decidedly Gentile practice.50 However, similar tones are also sounded in Hellenistic, especially Stoic, texts. “Whatever I did well, I did so, not on account of the spectators, but on my own account …; it was all for myself and for God” (Epictetus Diss. 4.8.17). To be sure, God is not the external judge but is identical with the person’s conscience. “There is no higher audience for virtue than the conscience” (Cicero Tusc. 2.26 [64]). What is unique in Jewish texts in comparison with Hellenistic texts—namely, the wise person’s renunciation of self-promotion—lies in its understanding of God. In our text it is creatively expressed with the idea of reward.
There is little difference between our text and its Jewish parallels. Noteworthy is the overly sharp demand that elsewhere is characteristic of Jesus. It is also in Jesus’ style that the hyperbolic-metaphorical demand “the left is not to know what the right is doing” cannot be legally regularized. How this demand is to be fulfilled is left to the hearer’s creative imagination. Finally, in the designation of God as “your Father” the community is reminded of Jesus’ relationship to God. That is, it knows about the loving God who is near at hand.

■ 5* The second strophe deals with right praying. In Judaism the preferred place of prayer is the synagogue.52 Since it is not understood as sacred space, however, in principle one can pray anywhere. The text is probably thinking of the regular prayers—the morning, midday, and evening prayers. Since the times of prayer are not precisely established, as they are in Islam, for example, but the prayers simply must be offered within a certain time span,54 the people who stood on the corners of intersections56 and who prayed in the open attracted attention. It may be that in the synagogue one was thinking of the free prayers spoken out loud by individuals in the worship services. That does not appear in Jewish texts as a problem; although on the one hand praying apparently often took place in the streets,58 on the other hand prayers in private rooms are regarded as exemplary. Presumably for most Jews prayer was too much taken for granted to be suitable as a means of special self-promotion. It is difficult to say what the source is of this special sensitivity of the text precisely toward prayer as a potentially self-promoting act. Could this be characteristic of Jesus?60

■ 6* Once again the positive instruction is drastic and figurative: “Go into your private room.” Strictly speaking, ταμεῖον is the storage room that was always found in the Palestinian farmhouse, but in a broader sense it was any chamber that was hidden and not visible from the street. However, the intention of the command is not simply to prescribe certain places for prayer or to forbid praying in the synagogue.62 To that extent the ancient church’s interpretation is right: “It is not the place (τόπος) that harms, but the nature (τρόπος) and the purpose (σκοπός).” Instead, with images and hyperboles the saying is designed to emphasize the right attitude for prayer, saying that even prayer can become a means of self-promotion. It intends to make people aware of this danger and then to teach them to pray the right way. Prayer is to be addressed solely to God, who again is designated as Father and thus as the God of Jesus. The statement that he will reward correct prayers,64 for which we are “indebted” to the symmetry of the strophes, is very troublesome.
History of Interpretation

The question of Christian community prayer is no more directly addressed than is the question of the Jewish community prayer in the synagogue or in the temple. On the one hand, the church’s interpretation tried explicitly to exempt Christian community prayer from the critical questions posed by the text, while on the other hand it was simply taken for granted that Jesus issued a wholesale condemnation of the Jewish practice of prayer.
a. The concept generally advocated is that the common prayer of Christians in worship provides no opportunity for promoting one’s own piety. Even in community worship the one who prays is to think only of God.66 The metaphors of v. 6* were interpreted allegorically. The text means the chambers of the heart and the doors of the senses.67 Not until the rise of Pietism is this text understood literally, as a call to worship in homes and to collegia in the quiet chamber.
b. There is also the tendency to condemn Jewish prayers completely. All three strophes of this text are given a wholesale anti-Jewish interpretation of the kind implied for the first time in Did. 8.1–2. In the first strophe the interpretation of “trumpeting” offers a grotesque example. For a thousand years, in spite of many protests, the legend persisted that when alms were given in the synagogue trumpets were blown in order to attract the poor; as late as the twentieth century one scholar was still confident that someday we would find the missing evidence for such nonsense.70 As early as Origen, Jewish prayer was regarded as inferior, even when it was no different from Christian prayer. He argued that since there is a difference in principle between the church, which has no wrinkles, and the synagogue, whoever prays in the synagogues is “not far from the corners of the street, whereas the saint [Christian] is not such,” because the Christian prays in the Christian community. Here “synagogue” is simply an abstract invective.
By contrast, if this text were a creation of the community, it would be especially unusual that it does not set Christian prayer against Jewish prayer. Since this text is interested in the one who prays and not in the prayer, it is not directed against any community prayer, Christian or Jewish. However, the issue is indeed how one should pray both for oneself and mutatis mutandis in the gathered community as well. In the perspective of this concrete, illustrative text one can say that prayer should never serve any other purpose than to speak with God. For the community worship that can mean: “prayer as a demonstration of faith, as disguised preaching,” prayer as a didactic preparation of the listener for the sermon or as a summarizing résumé of the sermon’s content, “prayer as an instrument of edification is obviously not prayer at all. Prayer is not prayer if it is addressed to anyone else but God.”

■ 16* The third strophe, the one on fasting, also exaggerates the opposite type, the hypocrite. Σκυθρωπός (“with a dark look,” “gloomy”) is a word that is often used in Hellenistic literature to refer to the members of strange, foreign cults. The idea is that one puts on sackcloth, uses no ointments, and covers the head with ashes, customs practiced by the community only on the Day of Atonement74 and on the occasion of public fasting in extreme situations, for example, in a drought. However, this text is thinking of individual fasting as an expression of mourning, of repentance, as an act of humility, or to strengthen prayer.76 Such individual fasting was quite popular. Only by fasting in such an extreme manner could one become conspicuous and thus gain the reputation of a holy person.78

■ 17–18* By contrast, the text instructs people to wash and anoint the face when fasting. Whether, as in the previous strophes, this order is exaggerated and hyperbolic—one might then be thinking of dressing for festive occasions79—or whether the text is simply thinking of normal daily hygiene so that people do not notice that one is fasting, is not so important. As in the previous two strophes, the issue is not so much a concrete instruction as the basic attitude of hiddenness and inconspicuousness in acts of piety. The hearers then had to discover for themselves what “washing and anointing” means in their situation. Again such powerful “focal instances”81 appeal to one’s creative imagination and freedom. To that degree they fit well with Jesus not only formally but also in a performative sense.
The text does not reflect on the problems of fasting itself, nor does it give a special Christian rationale for fasting, such as is found in Mark 2:20*. Instead, it simply presupposes fasting as an expression of piety in order to enjoin the fasting person’s proper orientation to God alone. The issue is the person and not the religious practice.82
History of Interpretation
Thus the text is neither a justification nor a criticism of fasting as some have occasionally thought, especially in the Reformed tradition. In another way the allegorical interpretation also asks too much of the text. It was said, for example, that “washing and anointing” relate to the removal of sin and that the oil is the oil of spiritual joy, of love, of compassion, or even Christ himself.84 Nevertheless, just such allegorical interpretations are important, because in their way they try to integrate fasting into a comprehensive understanding of being a Christian. Thus the allegorical interpretation proves to be an important attempt to include a single text in the totality of Christian faith. In a deeper sense it does justice to the character of the three strophes as examples.

The evangelist provides here the deepest insight into his understanding of righteousness. Christian righteousness is to be better than that of the scribes and Pharisees (5:20*) not only in the quantity of its fulfillment of the law (5:20*) and in the radical nature of its obedience (5:21–48*) but also inwardly, in its intention and basic attitude. The church fathers have correctly emphasized that now, after 5:21–48*, the issue is the right intention of a person’s conduct.86 After what God’s will is has been developed in chap. 5, the issue now in chap. 6 is to protect those who do God’s will from a danger that especially threatens them. With Bonhoeffer’s words: chap. 6 “takes up the theme of the περισσόν [scil. of 5:20*, 47*] and lays bare its ambiguity.… The call to the ‘extraordinary’ is the inevitable risk men must take when they follow Christ.”87
Matthew is aware of the danger of good deeds in particular: “In every human act the devil is able to deceive; only in the conscience is cunning impossible.” In this sense, in chap. 6 he does not move on to another theme, such as piety or religious exercises; instead, he speaks of the inner dimension of the same righteousness of which he spoke in the antitheses. Without reflection on this inner dimension the righteousness would remain a deeply ambiguous matter. Thus 5:21–48* is not yet the high point of the Sermon on the Mount; the high point is 6:1–18*, with the Lord’s Prayer at its center.
This center of the Sermon on the Mount brings Matthew close to Paul. In Matthew too we find the awareness that the quality of a human act is not automatically determined by its agreement with God’s demand; the basic attitude of the heart must also be right. There is a close analogy to the Pauline concern that one’s own religious accomplishments become the basis of boasting (cf. 1 Cor 1:29–31*; 2 Cor 10:13–18*; 11:17–18*). For our understanding of the Gospel of Matthew it is of the greatest significance that the evangelist, driven by the question of total, not merely external, obedience to God’s will, reflects on the question of the right attitude of the heart as the decisive problem of the better righteousness. This will be seen again in 6:19–34* with the question about possessions.
It is even more important that in this context Matthew emphasizes prayer as the decisive center of obedience and righteousness. If in the admonitions of the traditional address alms, prayer, and fasting appear equally side by side, Matthew himself lifts out prayer as the center of Christian life. He does so with the insertion of the logion about the answer to prayer (vv. 7–8*) and with the Lord’s Prayer by calling attention to what in the final analysis is the only thing that can draw a person into the right, not self-centered attitude toward God—namely, prayer. It may be that he was thinking in the vein in which the Opus Imperfectum understands him: There “can be no cure for vain boasting other than prayer alone.… Thus mercy is the preparation for prayer and fasting an aid to prayer.”
2.3.2 Against Babbling Prayer (6:7–8*)
Gerhard Delling, “βατταλογέω,” TDNT 1 (1964) 597.
Zeller, Mahnsprüche, 133–35.

For additional literature see above, II A on the Sermon on the Mount (5:1–7:29).

7 “When you pray do not use empty words as the Gentiles, for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8/ Therefore, do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
We have here an independent logion that is so distinctive in its vocabulary that the evangelist can hardly have been its author.2 It also speaks against Matthean authorship that it has a distinctive scope in v. 8b*, a verse with which v. 9* is not directly related. The contents could well come from Jesus.3

The meaning and the etymology of the quite rare word βατταλογέω are matters of dispute. It is most probably related to the substantives βάτταλος or βάττος (stutterer) or the verb βατταρίζω (to stutter). It probably means the repetition of meaningless syllables. The content of the word is repeated in the expression “many words” (πολυλογία). The prohibition is probably thinking of Gentile prayers that by accumulating epithets for God or also words of magic give the impression of babbling. As a positive contrast to such babbling Matthew emphasizes the Lord’s Prayer as a short prayer.
This meaning, which would appear to make sense, was obscured in the tradition of Greek interpretation. There one interpreted βατταλογέω in the sense of φλυαρία (meaningless gossip) and applied the warning not to the length but to the content of the prayer. The text thus forbids asking for unseemly things, that is, unspiritual, lowly, earthly things,7 the things below for which one is not to pray. Then the Lord’s Prayer—even in the interpretation of the petition for bread—becomes an instruction of how one is to ask for heavenly things. The Latin interpretive tradition never accepted this exegesis, and rightly so,9 although its right interpretation caused some difficulties in view of the verbosity of ecclesiastical prayers.
If this logion were only an admonition to pray short prayers, it would agree with many Jewish texts and even with many Hellenistic statements.11 However, it has a special aim. The subordinate statement of v. 7b* already shows that long-winded prayers are not criticized as such; they are criticized as a means of gaining a hearing with God. The parallel rationale in v. 8b* repeats this scope: the central theme of this logion is not a prayer’s length but whether it is heard. Long prayers are not necessary, because God knows what people need before they even ask. The issue is not simply preventing manipulation, nor is it that God knows everything anyway and that prayer is no longer necessary at all; it is that God in his love is with people before they pray and thus relieves them of the need to pray long-winded prayers. This text belongs with others that speak of the absolute certainty that prayer is heard and of God’s nearness to people (cf. Matt 7:7–11*; Luke 11:5–8*; 18:2–7*; and the way God is addressed in the Lord’s Prayer). This absolute certainty that prayer is heard is characteristic of Jesus.12 He probably linked up with the Jewish expectation that in the new world God answers people before they call on him. Bringing this hope into the present is part of the dawning of the kingdom of God in the here-and-now. Of course, he does not intend to make prayer superfluous; he wants to encourage prayer. The church’s traditional interpretation, which repeatedly had to wrestle with the question whether prayer is still necessary at all, has understood this well, unlike modern Enlightenment.14 Cocceius states it pointedly: “Our prayer is not the reason for God’s gifts that we receive but more a sign that God has prepared his gifts for us.” That is, the prayer commanded by God is based on the promise that it will be answered.
History of Interpretation
a. The criticism of long prayers led to polemics among the confessions. Luther directed his criticism against the “slave labor of their mouths or their tongues” of monastic prayers. It is understandable that the criticism was directed in particular against the rosary and litanies.17 The judgment of H. E. G. Paulus is fair: “Whether … one counts the Ave Marias as one prays or whether inside and outside our [scil. Protestant] churches so many of our desires and repetitions of ‘Have mercy, dear Lord God’ have become liturgical, it is obvious that both of them are against Jesus’ simply noble word, ‘God knows what you need before you ask.’ ”18 In defending the church’s practice one appealed to the Pauline “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17*; cf. Rom 12:12*). However, the conventional thesis that long payers are permitted “cum cordis devotione”19 does not reflect the sense of Matt 6:7–8*.
b. This text was also drawn into the wake of the polemics against Judaism. Since it is formulated against Gentile babbling prayer, the misinterpretation is especially strange. Sometimes the influence of vv. 5–6* is carried over. Thus Origen is able to say: “Whoever babbles when praying is on the lower level, that of the synagogue.”20 Here “synagogue” has become the type for the negative things the Christian church has overcome—a type, to be sure, with which the actual Jews had to identify. Given this reality it is understandable that repeatedly—from Chromatius to Adolf Schlatter—it is the Pharisees or “the Jews” who become those whose long-winded prayers Jesus is criticizing.
2.3.3 The Lord’s Prayer (6:9–13*)
Israel Abrahams, “The Lord’s Prayer,” in Studies 2.94–108.
James Barr, “ʾAbbā Isn’t ‘Daddy,’ ” JTS n.s. 39 (1988) 28–47.
Matthew Black, “The Doxology to the Pater Noster with a Note on Matt 6.13B,” in Philip R. Davies and Richard T. White, eds., A Tribute to Geza Vermes: Essays on Jewish and Christian Literature and History (JSOTSup 100; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1990) 327–38.
Raymond Brown, “The Pater Noster as an Eschatological Prayer,” in New Testament Essays (1965; reprinted Garden City, N.Y.: Image Books, 1968) 275–320.
Jean Carmignac, Recherches sur le “Notre Père” (Paris: Letouzey & Ané, 1969).
Shawn Carruth and Albrecht Garsky, Q 11:2b–4 (Documenta Q; Louvain: Peeters, 1996).
Warren Carter “Recalling the Lord’s Prayer: The Authorial Audience and Matthew’s Prayer as Familiar Liturgical Experience,” CBQ 57 (1995) 514–30.
Dalman, Worte, 283–365 (the appendix on the Lord’s Prayer is not included in the ET of 1902).
Albert Debrunner, “Ἐπιούσιος,” Glotta 4 (1913) 249–53.
Joël Delobel, “The Lord’s Prayer in the Textual Tradition,” in Jean-Marie Sevrin, ed., The New Testament in Early Christianity (BEThL 86; Louvain: Louvain University Press, 1989) 293–309.
Louis-Marie Dewailly, “ ‘Donne-nous notre pain’: quell pain? Notes sur la quatrième demande du Pater,” RSPhTh 64 (1980) 561–88.
Monica Dorneich, ed., Vaterunser Bibliographie (Jubiläumsgabe der Stiftung Oratio Dominica; Freiburg: Oratio Dominica, 1988).
Wolfgang Fenske, “Und wenn ihr betet …,” (Mt 6,5): Gebete in der zwischenmenschlichen Kommunikation der Antike als Ausdruck der Frömmigkeit (SUNT 21; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1997) 238–59.
Paul Fiebig, Das Vaterunser: Ursprung, Sinn und Bedeutung des christlichen Hauptgebets (BFCTh 30/3; Gütersloh: Bertelsmann, 1927).
Joseph A. Fitzmyer, “Abba and Jesus’ Relation to God,” in François Refoulé, ed., À cause de l’Évangile: Études sur les Synoptiques et les Actes, offertes au P. Jacques Dupont, O.S.B. à l’occasion de son 70e anniversaire (LD 123; Paris: Cerf, 1985) 15–38.
Werner Foerster, “ἐπιούσιος,” TDNT 2 (1964) 590–99.
Rudolf Freudenberger, “Zum Text der zweiten Vaterunserbitte,” NTS 15 (1968/69) 419–32.
Anton Fridrichsen, “Ἄρτος ἐπιούσιος,” SO 2 (1924) 31–41.
Idem, “Ἄρτος ἐπιούσιος: Eine Nachlese,” SO 9 (1930) 62–68.
Birger Gerhardsson, “The Matthean Version of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9b–13),” in The Shema in the New Testament: Deut 6:4–5 in Significant Passages (Lund: Novapress, 1996) 84–98.
Erich Grässer, Das Problem der Parusieverzögerung in den synoptischen Evangelien und in der Apostelgeschichte (2d ed.; BZNW 22; Berlin: Töpelmann, 1960) 95–113.
Heinrich Greeven, Gebet und Eschatologie im Neuen Testament (NTF 3/1; Gütersloh: Bertelsmann, 1931) 72–101.
Pierre Grelot, “La quatrième demande du ‘Pater’ et son arrière-plan sémitique,” NTS 25 (1978/79) 299–314.
Idem, “L’arrière-plan araméen du ‘Pater,’ ” RB 91 (1984) 531–56.
Werner Grimm, Die Motive Jesu: Das Vaterunser kommentiert und ausgelegt (Stuttgart: Calwer, 1992).
Adolf von Harnack, “Über einige Worte Jesu, die nicht in den kanonischen Evangelien stehen, nebst einem Anhang über die ursprüngliche Gestalt des Vater-Unsers,” SPAW.PH (1904) 170–208.
Idem, “Zwei Worte Jesu (Matth 6,13 = Luk 11,4; Matth 11,12f = Luk 16,16),” SPAW (1907) 942–57.
Heinemann, Prayer.
Colin Hemer, “ἐπιούσιος,” JSNT 22 (1984) 81–94.
Ernst Jenni, “Kausativ und Funktionsverbgefüge: Sprachliche Bermerkungen zur Bitte ‘Führe uns nicht in Versuchung,’ ” ThZ 48 (1992) 77–88.
Jeremias, “Lord’s Prayer.”
Idem, Theology, 193–203.
Reinhard Gregor Kratz, “Die Gnade des täglichen Brots,” ZThK 89 (1992) 1–40.
Karl Georg Kuhn, Achtzehngebet und Vaterunser und der Reim (WUNT 1; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1950).
Robert Leany, “The Lucan Text of the Lord’s Prayer,” NovT 1 (1956) 103–11.
Jan Milič Lochman, The Lord’s Prayer (trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990).
Gerhard Lohfink, “Der präexistente Heilsplan: Sinn und Hintergrund der dritten Vaterunserbitte,” in Studien zum Neuen Testament (Stuttgarter biblische Aufsatzbände 5; Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1989) 49–75.
Ernst Lohmeyer, The Lord’s Prayer (trans. John Bowden; London: Collins, 1965).
T. W. Manson, “The Lord’s Prayer,” BJRL 38 (1955/56) 99–113.
Ulrich Mell, “Gehört das Vater-Unser zur authentischen Jesus-Tradition?” BThZ 11 (1994) 148–80.
Wilhelm Ott, Gebet und Heil (SANT 12; Munich: Kösel, 1965) 91–99.
Wiard Popkes, “Die letzte Bitte des Vater-Unser: Formgeschichtliche Beobachtungen zum Gebet Jesu,” ZNW 81 (1990) 1–21.
Georg Schelbert, “Sprachgeschichtliches zu ‘abba,’ ” in Pierre Casetti, Othmar Keel, and Adrian Schenker, eds., Mélanges Dominique Barthélemy: Études bibliques offertes à l’occasion de son 60e anniversaire (OBO 38; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1981) 395–447.
Jacques Schlosser, Le règne de Dieu dans les dits de Jésus (2 vols.; EtB; Paris: Gabalda, 1980) 1.247–322.
Gerhard Schneider, “Das Vaterunser des Matthäus,” in Jesusüberlieferung und Christologie (NovTSup 67; Leiden: Brill, 1992) 52–85.
Schulz, Q, 84–93.
Heinz Schürmann, Das Gebet des Herrn: Als Schlüssel zum Verstehen Jesu (Freiburg: Herder, 1958).
Günther Schwarz, “Matthäus VI. 9–13; Lukas XI. 2–4,” NTS 15 (1968/69) 233–47.
Jean Starcky, “La quatrième demande du Pater,” HTR 64 (1971) 401–9.
Georg Strecker, “Vaterunser und Glaube,” in Ferdinand Hahn and Hans Klein, eds., Glaube im Neuen Testament: Studien zu Ehren von Hermann Binder anlässlich seines 70. Geburtstages (BThSt 7; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1982) 11–28.
S. van Tilborg, “A Form-Criticism of the Lord’s Prayer,” NovT 14 (1972) 94–105.
Raymond J. Tournay, “Que signifie la sixième demand du Notre-Père?” RThL 26 (1995) 299–306.
Anton Vögtle, “Der ‘eschatologische’ Bezug der Wir-Bitten des Vaterunser,” in E. Earle Ellis and Erich Grässer, eds., Jesus und Paulus: Festschrift für Werner Georg Kümmel zum 70. Geburtstag (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1975) 344–62.
Dieter Zeller, “God as Father in the Proclamation and in the Prayer of Jesus,” in Asher Finkel and Lawrence Frizzell, eds., Standing before God: Studies on Prayer in Scriptures and Tradition with Essays: in Honor of John M. Oesterreicher (New York: Ktav, 1981) 117–29.

For additional literature see above, II A on the Sermon on the Mount (5:1–7:29).
Literature on the History of the Interpretation and Influence
Karl Aner, Das Vaterunser in der Geschichte der evangelischen Frömmigkeit (SGV 109; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1924).
Josef Angénieux, “Les différents types de structure du ‘Pater’ dans l’histoire de son exégèse,” EThL 36 (1970) 40–77, 325–59.
Johan van Banning, “Il Padre Nostro nell’ Opus Imperfectum in Matthaeum,” Greg 71 (1990) 229–57.
Johann Peter Bock, Die Brotbitte des Vaterunsers: Ein Beitrag zum Verständnis dieses Universalgebetes und einschlägiger patristisch-liturgischer Fragen (Paderborn: Bonifacius, 1911).
F. H. Chase, The Lord’s Prayer in the Early Church (TaS 1/3; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1891).
Otto Dibelius, Das Vaterunser: Umrisse zu einer Geschichte des Gebets in der Alten und Mittleren Kirche (Giessen: J. Ricker’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung [Alfred Töpelmann], 1903).
Leonhard Fendt, Einführung in die Liturgiewissenschaft (Stö.T 5; Berlin: Töpelmann, 1958).
Ingemar Furberg, Pater Noster in der Messe (BTP 21; Lund: Gleerup, 1968).
Adalbert G. Hamman, “Le Notre Père dans la catéchèse des pères de l’Eglise,” La Maison-Dieu 85 (1965) 41–63.
David Hill, “ ‘Our Daily Bread’ (Mt 6,11) in the History of Exegesis,” IBSt 5 (1983) 2–10.
Otto Kuss, “Das Vaterunser,” in Auslegung und Verkündigung, vol. 2 (Regensburg: Pustet, 1967) 277–333.
Norbert Pfältzer, “Die deutschen Vaterunser-Auslegungen von den Anfängen bis ins zwölfte Jahrhundert” (diss., Frankfurt, 1959).
Georg Rietschel, Lehrbuch der Liturgik (ed. Paul Graff; 2d ed.; 2 vols.; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1951–52) (index!).
Willy Rordorf, “The Lord’s Prayer in the Light of Its Liturgical Use in the Early Church,” StLi 14 (1980/81) 1–19.
Santos Sabugal, “Abba”: La Oración del Senor (Historia y exegesis teológica) (BAC 467; Madrid: La Editorial Católica, 1985).
Klaus Bernhard Schnurr, Hören und Handeln: Lateini-sche Auslegungen des Vaterunsers in der Alten Kirche bis zum 5. Jahrhundert (FThSt 132; Freiburg: Herder, 1984).
Maria-Barbara von Stritzky, Studien zur Überlieferung und Interpretation des Vaterunsers in der frühchristlichen Literatur (MBTh 57; Münster: Aschendorff, 1989).
F. E. Vokes, “The Lord’s Prayer in the First Three Centuries,” StPatr 10 (1970) (TU 107) 253–60.
Georg Walther, Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der griechischen Vaterunser-Exegese (TU 40/3; Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1914).
Important Patristic Interpretations of the Lord’s Prayer in Monographs
Cyprian De Dominica Oratione, PL 4.535–62; ET = FC 36.127–59.
Eckhart, Tractatus super Oratione Dominica, in Erich Seeberg, ed., Die lateinischen Werke, vol. 5 (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1936) 101–29.
Gregory of Nyssa De Oratione Dominica, PG 44.1120–93; ET = ACW 18.21–84.
Martin Luther, “Auslegung deutsch des Vater unser fuer dye einfeltigen leyen,” WA 2.80–130; ET = “An Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer for Simple Laymen,” LW 42.15–81.
Origen De Oratione, PG 11.416–561; ET = ACW 19.15–140.
Tertullian De Oratione, PL 1.1153–65; ET = FC 40.157–88.

9 “Now you should pray like this:
Our Father in heaven,
let your name be hallowed.
10 Let your kingdom come,
let your will happen,
as in heaven, (so) also on earth.
11 Our bread for tomorrow
give us today;
12 and forgive us our debts
as we also have forgiven our debtors;
13 and bring us not into temptation,
but preserve us from evil.”
The Lord’s Prayer has come to us in three versions: the Lukan short version consisting only of five petitions (Luke 11:2–4*), and two closely related long versions (Matt 6:9–13*; Did. 8.2–3). The long version shows greater symmetry, a liturgically fuller language, and a clearer rhythm. The easiest structuring of the Matthean Lord’s Prayer is a division into two main parts, the three “you” petitions of vv. 9c–10* and the three somewhat longer two-part “we” petitions in vv. 11–13*.2 The three “you” petitions begin with an aorist imperative in the third person and even in the Greek show traces of rhyming (3 times σου). The “we” petitions are defined by the first person plural of the personal pronoun (7 times). They all consist of two parts, in contrast to the “you” petitions, where only the last one has two members. Beginning with v. 11* the sentence structure changes; after the full-toned ending of v. 10c*, the bread petition is experienced as a new beginning. The address, which in the Matthean version is as long as the first two petitions, stands over the entire prayer and thus carries great weight.
It was certainly Matthew who located the prayer in the center of the Sermon on the Mount following vv. 7–8*.4 The major question is whether the evangelist on his own initiative redactionally edited a text as anchored in the community’s liturgy as was the Lord’s Prayer. It appears that the possibility is not excluded in principle, and in the case of Luke, whose version of the Lord’s Prayer nowhere appears as part of a community liturgy, it is even probable. Is that also true for Matthew?6 It speaks for such a possibility that the vocabulary of the special petitions is largely Matthean. Relevant also is the closely related Didache text that is familiar with the two petitions added in Matthew. Did. 8.1–2 is one of the passages that make it probable that the Didache presupposes the Gospel of Matthew, because it is familiar with the connection of the Lord’s Prayer with Matt 6:5–6*, 16–17*.8 To be sure, the Didachist does not copy Matthew directly; he quotes the texts of the Gospel as he remembers them from the community’s worship. That could also be the case for Matthew himself. Did he take over the wording of the Lord’s Prayer from his community’s tradition? While on the whole the language of the added petitions is Matthean, a few of the details speak against the idea that he is their author.10 Furthermore, there is quite early evidence for the Matthean version not only in the Didache but also in writings that elsewhere show no contacts with the Gospel of Matthew. Thus it is possible that the two added petitions were already found by the evangelist.12 If that is the case, the special petitions illustrate how much in his own diction the evangelist took over the language of his community.
Original Wording and Tradition History
Does it even make sense to ask about the original wording of the Lord’s Prayer? In view of the rich variety in Jewish prayers Joseph Heinemann emphatically rejects the question. Even with prayers transmitted in the name of a teacher one must reckon with the possibility that the teacher taught a prayer in different versions.15 Nevertheless, with such prayers there is at least the possibility that an original version can be reconstructed.
In the quest for an earliest possible wording the frequently advocated thesis might well prove to be the best explanation—that on the whole Luke is earlier in the number of petitions and in the address, while Matthew’s wording is earlier. However, the reference to spontaneous variations of Jewish prayers is more helpful. They explain Matthew’s additional petitions as well as possible changes of the wording.
The expansions in the pre-Matthean Lord’s Prayer are all easily understandable as secondary variations. The address was expanded according to the model of the Jewish way of addressing God in prayer that was becoming important in that day: “Father in the heavens.” The asymmetrical short first part of the two “you” petitions was expanded with the addition of a third petition that brought the first part of the prayer to a suitable close. A positive parallel sentence was added to the last “we” petition, making it closer to the other “we” petitions and increasing the symmetry of the entire prayer. The nice roundness of the pre-Matthean Lord’s Prayer and the continuing rhythmic character point to its liturgical usage.19 On the other hand, Luke’s changes in the wording of the two “we” petitions are secondary. They reflect the delay of the parousia (“give” [δίδου], present imperative; “each day” [τὸ καθʼ ἡμέραν]) and parenetic usage (“everyone indebted” [παντὶ ὀφείλοντι]).
Further attempts at tradition-historical decomposition are really not plausible. I proceed, therefore, on the assumption that the earliest recoverable version had five petitions. Like the later Matthean version, it is also formally compact. The brief address, “Father,” is followed by the two short “you” petitions that are introduced with an aorist imperative and end with a possessive suffix. The three “we” petitions are not as symmetrically formulated, but the connecting “and” (καί) shows that they belong together.
Original Language
We assume that the original language is Aramaic. Some have suggested that the original language was Hebrew. However, there is no indication that this was the case except for the indisputable fact that most of the prayers in contemporary Judaism that we still have were written in Hebrew. In addition to אַבָּא, which may stand behind the Lukan πάτερ, there is a second indication that the original language was Aramaic: in Greek ὀφείλημα means only “monetary debt”; the metaphorical usage in v. 12* is understandable only on the basis of the Aramaic חֹובָא which can mean both “monetary debt” and “sin.” In addition, the Jewish Kaddish prayer, which the Lord’s Prayer follows in its first part, is also formulated in Aramaic.
For the translation of the prayer back into Aramaic there is a widespread consensus for about half of the text. It is highly probable that the Aramaic Lord’s Prayer was formulated rhythmically. As in later Jewish prayers, there are traces of rhyming, which as a rule is formed by the suffixes of the second person singular or the first person plural.24 It is not possible, however, to produce a form of the Lord’s Prayer that rhymes throughout the entire prayer, because with the retranslation of the bread petition we are completely in the dark. The Aramaic equivalent of the Greek ἐπιούσιος is as obscure as the Greek word.
Yet this unclear ἐπιούσιος (“daily” or “for tomorrow”) provides important information. Since this very rare word appears in all Greek variants of the Lord’s Prayer, we may not assume that there were different translations from the Aramaic existing side by side. More probable is the assumption of a single Greek translation on the basis of which the variants can be explained.
It is very uncertain whether the special Matthean petitions ever existed in Aramaic. “As … also” (ὡς … καί, v. 12*) is a common expression in Koine.25 Whether it can be translated literally into Aramaic is debated.
The Lord’s Prayer comes from Jesus, an assumption shared by most scholars.
History of Interpretation

Tertullian sees in the Lord’s Prayer a summary of all of the teaching of faith and morals, an “abridgement of the entire Gospel.” For him the new covenant requires a new form of prayer; it is the new wineskin in which the new wine is kept. It is thus understandable that the Lord’s Prayer becomes not only the central Christian prayer but also one of the most central dogmatic texts. As Cyprian already stated,30 it is a “compendium of heavenly doctrine.” In the ancient church it was solemnly “delivered” to the persons about to be baptized, and it was the first prayer they offered after their baptism. For a while, beginning in the third century, it was even part of the secret arcane discipline.32
This basic understanding and the constant use of the Lord’s Prayer meant that there is scarcely a Christian text that had such a strong effect (a) in piety, (b) in worship, (c) in instruction, and (d) in dogmatics.
a. Worship. We can no longer determine with certainty when the Lord’s Prayer became an established part of the liturgy. For Cyril of Jerusalem it comes after the intercessory prayer and before communion. Around 400 it has its place in the liturgy of the African church after the “fractio” and directly before the kiss of peace.34 With the reform of the mass by Gregory the Great it is attached immediately to the canon and receives an introduction. Presumably Gregory inserted the Lord’s Prayer at its present place so that it would be spoken “over the body and blood of the redeemer.” Thus Gregory regarded the Lord’s Prayer as part of the epiclesis of the canon and together with it as the table grace offered in the Eucharist.36 In the sixteenth-century reforms of the mass in the Protestant churches it takes on a fourfold meaning: it can be the conclusion of the intercessory prayer, the conclusion of the substitute for the canon,38 the confession of sin, or simply the conclusion of the worship service.
b. Instruction. From the earliest times the Lord’s Prayer has had an important place in the catechism. It was understood on the one hand as an excerpt and compendium of Christian doctrine, but on the other hand as guidance for prayer, in the words of Peter Chrysologus as the “shortest instruction” for “understanding supplication.” Since the time of the ancient church it is opinio communis that the Lord’s Prayer is the standard for prayer and that Christian prayer must follow it. Thus it is not surprising that it is an indispensable content in the catechisms of all confessions. For Luther, in whose catechisms it occupies an especially large area, there is no better prayer than the Lord’s Prayer, this “prayer for children and simple people.”41 In the Catholic catechisms of this period the Lord’s Prayer is also one of the main parts of Christian teaching. The Bern Synod of 1532 states impressively: “The Lord’s Prayer is the true Christian prayer and the water jug or pail with which such great grace is drawn from the fountain of Jesus Christ and poured into the heart.”43
c. Piety. As early as the time of the Didache, thus shortly after the composition of the Gospel of Matthew, praying the Lord’s Prayer three times a day is proposed (8.3). To the traditional three times of prayer Cyprian adds two others: at sunrise and sunset. Augustine is of the opinion that no day should go by on which Christians do not perform this prayer. In the Middle Ages the Lord’s Prayer played an important role in monastic horary prayer,45 even as laypersons were becoming less familiar with it. For that very reason the Lord’s Prayer was used in those days as a formula for magic and conjuring.47 Since the late Middle Ages, the Reformation, and Counter-Reformation, its significance for lay piety has again risen. Catechetical instruction and the practice of the rosary (since the Crusades) were contributing factors. For Luther the Lord’s Prayer is not only a central text for instruction; it is a constant source of his piety. Not until Pietism was there a new attitude toward the Lord’s Prayer. While it remains decisive in instruction, free prayer is a more mature expression of devotion.49
Interpretation: Basic Questions

The brief survey of the history of interpretation raises questions for our interpretation.
1. The Lord’s Prayer was presented to baptized persons as the essence of the new truth in which they live. Zinzendorf has stated expressively that the Lord’s Prayer is the prayer of the born again—of those who are begotten “anew from the Holy Spirit.”50 We ask: To what extent is Christian faith the presupposition and content of the Lord’s Prayer? In view of the fact that today it has largely become a Christian relic in a post-Christian world, this question leads directly to the question of how we deal with it.
2. As the prayer of the new covenant, the Lord’s Prayer has been regarded as un-Jewish. Not until the Enlightenment, when a new knowledge of Judaism became possible, was there the beginning of an opposing trend. Now one discovered the Lord’s Prayer as a Jewish—indeed, as a primitive Jewish—prayer. We ask: How is the Lord’s Prayer related to Jewish prayers? Is it “new,” and, if so, how is it new? Since it is a text from Jesus, this question leads immediately into today’s attempts to define the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, both in controversy and in the common sharing of Jesus the Jew.
3. The Lord’s Prayer was a multifunctional text, useful as a model prayer, as a dogmatic compendium, as a catechetical synthesis, as a private and ecclesiastical prayer, and so on. We ask: What does it mean for our understanding of the Lord’s Prayer that it is a prayer text? Can this prayer text be used in other ways?
There are essentially three basic types of interpretations in various combinations. Two of them are already laid out in Tertullian. Since his day the Lord’s Prayer has been understood as a sum total of the sermo Domini, that is, as a summary of the Christian message, and as a commemoratio disciplinae, that is, as a basic ethical text. In the history of interpretation this corresponds to (a) the dogmatic interpretation and (b) the ethical interpretation. The ethical interpretation, whose most significant advocate in the ancient church was probably Gregory of Nyssa, understood the Lord’s Prayer not only as a guide to prayer but even more generally as a “guidance to the sublime life.” To these by no means mutually exclusive interpretations there has been added since the history-of-religions school (c) the eschatological interpretation, which relates the individual petitions more or less consistently to the eschaton and interprets the Lord’s Prayer from the situation of Jesus’ eschatological proclamation without regard for its relevance.
In what follows we will ask about the legitimacy of these three basic patterns of interpretation. Immediately a difficulty surfaces here: the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer are so short and open that seldom is one able to establish their meaning unambiguously. I understand this openness of the text not as something regrettable that the exegetes now have to correct with their sagacity. Rather, it is the openness of the Lord’s Prayer that is its real strength. Countless human beings have been able to find a home in the Lord’s Prayer for their own hopes and petitions and to enter into that home. At the same time, however, the Lord’s Prayer guided their praying. Thus I proceed on the assumption that the openness of this prayer is intentional. In our exegesis we are not to constrict it but to mark out the horizon of associations of Jews in that day and to ask what this prayer could have meant for them.
The openness of the Lord’s Prayer makes personally formed prayer paraphrases a good way to appropriate and repeat it and thus to understand it. Historically, the most influential and best known paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer is Luther’s Lord’s Prayer hymn, “Our Father, Who from Heaven Above” (Aufdemberge, 423). Ludolf von Saxony’s rhymed paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer inserted into the Vita Christi was very well known in the late Middle Ages. There are modern paraphrases of the Lord’s Prayer by, for example, Dorothee Sölle and Kurt Marti.57

■ 9b* The address. The original Lukan πάτερ may have corresponded to the Aramaic form of address אַבָּא. It is used by small and adult children when speaking to their fathers and also as a respectful way of addressing old men. In Jesus’ day it suppressed the form of address אָבִי (my father); there is no difference in written texts between the customary emphatic state אַבָּא and אָבִי. There is evidence in Jewish prayers of many ways of addressing God as Father, but not as אַבָּא. Thus the choice of this address for God is unusual.61
Joachim Jeremias saw in it a central characteristic of Jesus’ ipsissima vox and an expression of the unique relationship to God of Jesus the Son. Even if his thesis is not tenable in its exclusive application to Jesus,63 one must nevertheless ask whether Jesus’ אַבָּא is not an expression of a special relationship Jesus had with God—a relationship shaped by God’s nearness and love but that is valid for everyone. Since few written Jewish prayers in Aramaic remain from that day, the absence of Jewish parallels has less significance. However, Jeremias’s thesis may well be right in this general form: the Aramaic mode of addressing God preserved in Greek NT texts as ἀββά (Rom 8:15*; Gal 4:6*, in what are obviously liturgically influenced texts; Mark 14:36*) shows that the Christian communities have seen something important in this way Jesus addressed God. The continuing use of abba as an address for God in the Diatessaron and in the Old Syriac translations also points in this direction.
In the Lord’s Prayer itself the break in the rhythm—since אַבָּא stands alone and is not part of the double rhythm, it should be followed by a pause—shows the importance attached to this form of address. Of course, addressing God as Father could have quite different connotations in the Judaism of that day. One could associate the idea with the creator and begetter, the preserver, the highest ruler of the world. The Lord’s Prayer probably suggests more than anything else God’s nearness and his love. In keeping with such a view are the simplicity of the address, which avoids all other epithets; the content of Jesus’ proclamation of the God who with his love is close to the poor, the sinners, the outcasts; his father parables (Q 11:11–13; Luke 15:11–32*); and, in Matthew, the immediately preceding logion of 6:7–8*. It is one of those texts that express the certainty Jesus emphasized that people who pray will be heard (cf. also Luke 11:5–13* [Father]; 18:1–8*). Thus by addressing God as πάτερ the Lord’s Prayer begins with a promise of salvation. It is a prayer of God’s children. God wants to “encourage us to believe that he is truly our Father and we are truly his children in order that we may approach him boldly and confidently in prayer, even as beloved children approach their dear father.”65
The address abba in prayer does not betray an exclusive christological son consciousness through which Jesus wants to distinguish himself from other Jews by calling God abba. Indeed, the opposite is true: what Jesus says here is thoroughly Jewish. With abba he speaks to the God who for Judaism has always (also!) been Father. That Jesus speaks to the God of Israel in everyday language and with great simplicity and directness as “Father” demonstrates his closeness and familiarity with him, but it does not demonstrate an un-Jewish understanding of God. One may—indeed, one must—say that Jesus had a special understanding of God, but one should not confuse this with an un-Jewish understanding of God.
This is also the way the Matthean community thinks—a community that calls Jesus’ Father “our Father in heaven” and in so doing instead of distancing itself from a Jewish terminology that was becoming important in that day in the synagogue, it makes use of it. In the controversy with Israel in his day this designation of God means for Matthew that Jesus’ “Father” is none other than the God of Israel to whom one prayed in the synagogue. Matthew dissociates himself from the synagogue, not from its God. “In heaven” designates the difference from the earthly father; there is no reflection about God’s transcendence associated with this expression. “Our” connects the praying individual with the community; that is also the custom in Jewish prayers.68

■ 9c*, 10* The Lord’s Prayer begins with three petitions for God himself. They—and not requests that human desires be fulfilled—come first. In what follows it immediately becomes apparent that these three requests for God do not at all exclude the human beings who are praying; they include what is the foundation of their life. God is never without human beings; he is, rather, always their creator, the foundation of their life, their partner, and their loving opposite. Therefore, like many Jewish prayers, Jesus’ Lord’s Prayer proceeds from the basic conviction that it is precisely the petitions for God that help people ask in the right way for themselves. That here the petition for hallowing the name and for the coming of the kingdom appear first corresponds not only to the Kaddish prayer69 but to Jewish prayer tradition in general.

■ 9c* How the praying person is included in the petition for God becomes clear in an exemplary way in the interpretation of the first petition, “let your name be hallowed.” If one were to interpret it eschatologically, the passive would be a divine passive. One would be asking that God would do something for his name in eschatological self-manifestation. The meanings of the first and second petitions would be almost identical. However, one may not press the sense of the aorist imperative ἁγιασθήτω as if the request were for a one-time intervention of God on behalf of his name. The aorist imperative corresponds to the Greek style of prayer; no corresponding conclusions can be drawn from the Aramaic imperfect. Thus it is linguistically just as possible that God is being asked to hallow his name here and now, in history, rather than in the eschaton. Finally, one must ask whether the passive is actually a divine passive or whether human beings could not also be the subject of hallowing the name. Then one would be asking God that people hallow his name.
This suggestion corresponds to the interpretive tradition that was dominant before the rise of the eschatological interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer. God is “holy in himself”; we do not ask “that the manifestation of his glory grows for him but for us.” John Chrysostom explains this parenetically: “God possesses … in himself the fullness of all glory …; nevertheless, he commands … that we ask that he also be glorified by our lives.”73 Ludolf von Saxony finds a mystical accent: “Thy name be hallowed so that it may become honey in our mouth, a zither to our ear, devotion in our heart.” For the reformers the word of God and doctrine are important along with the hallowing of life: “Your name be hallowed. Help us, Lord, / In purity to keep your Word, / That to the glory of your name / We walk before you free from blame. / Let no false doctrine us pervert.”75
We must make a decision with the help of the Jewish parallels that shed light on the “encyclopedia” (as, e.g., Umberto Eco uses the term) of the hearers in that day.
a. Based on the OT texts one can think both of the hallowing of the name by God himself (cf. Lev 10:3*; Ezek 36:22–23*; 38:23*; 39:7*) and of the hallowing of God’s name by human beings (Exod 20:7*; Lev 22:32*; Isa 29:23*). In some places both aspects appear.
b. In Jewish texts most of the prayers are those in which people are the subject of hallowing the name. However, many passages do not have an unambiguous meaning: hallowing the name by God and by people belong together.
c. Probably the most important parallel to the Lord’s Prayer is the Aramaic Kaddish prayer that was spoken at the end of the preaching part of the synagogue worship service. It is not clear when it originated, but because of its similarity to the temple liturgy and the absence of any reference to the destruction of the temple, many scholars place it in the period before 70 C.E. Its beginning parallels the first two petitions of the Lord’s Prayer:

Magnified and sanctified
may his great name be
in the world that he created,
as he wills,
and may his kingdom come
in your life and in your days
and in the lives of all the house of Israel,
swiftly and soon.

According to Fiebig and Jeremias, the first part of the Lord’s Prayer can be understood almost as a summary of the Kaddish. Then in the three “we” petitions Jesus would have added what is actual and new. The Lord’s Prayer would be a kind of alienation of the Kaddish by Jesus. Since the petitions about the name and the reign often appear together in other prayers79 and since private Jewish prayers often borrow in a positive way from synagogue prayers, a polemical alienation of the Kaddish by Jesus is improbable. It is probable, however, that Jesus’ contemporaries felt reminded of the Kaddish by the Lord’s Prayer and that they had to be aware of it right away, especially since in their brevity the first two petitions contain no further indications of their meaning.
With the first Kaddish petition the idea is probable that the name is hallowed by the person who is praying: (1) The appearance together of Hithpael (יִתְקַדַּשׁ) and Peal (בְּרָא) does not suggest a divine passive. (2) The derivation of the Kaddish from the doxology (see Dan 2:20*) is more suggestive of a hallowing by the person. However, the first Kaddish petition is so open that it does not exclude the idea of the hallowing of the name by God himself.
d. “Hallowing the name” is a widespread expression that means obedience to God’s commandments, especially saying the prayers and keeping the second (third in Judaism) commandment of the Decalogue. For Jews its highest expression is martyrdom.
In conclusion, all of that speaks for an open interpretation. The wording of the petition is so general and brief that it permits one to think both of the person’s action and of God’s action. To be sure, most of the parallels point in the direction of the former meaning so that an ethical element can in no way be excluded. Nevertheless, the petition is not a disguised challenge to oneself (“Let us hallow the name of God”); it is still a request: human knowledge, human action, and human experience are made possible, encouraged, and supported by God. Only for an exclusively eschatological interpretation of the petition are there no arguments. That means that in the sense of the interpretive tradition dominant from the ancient church until the nineteenth century we reject the eschatological interpretation that is dominant today.

■ 10a* With the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Let your kingdom come,” the eschatological interpretation of the prayer has its strongest pillar. In Jewish prayers one frequently praises and prays for God’s reign.82 Indeed, it is amazing how often God’s future reign is the object of petitions by the rabbis, for whom ordinarily the present aspect of God’s rule is more likely to be in the foreground. When compared with the Jewish parallels, Jesus’ manner of speaking of the coming of the kingdom of God is unusual. He understands it as something dynamic, powerful.84 Also noteworthy is the lapidary shortness of the petition. In the Eighteen Benedictions (Shemoneh Esreh) the subject of the eleventh and twelfth berakot is the return of the judges and the destruction of Rome. The Kaddish prayer asks for God’s rule quickly. Such tones are missing from the Lord’s Prayer. That is in keeping with Jesus’ way of speaking. Elsewhere he does not describe the coming of the kingdom of God in detail or establish the time of its arrival, and he puts its political and national dimensions into the background. The open formulation may also be typical of Jesus: it does not prescribe a particular understanding of God’s rule for the persons who pray. There can be no doubt about the eschatological character of this petition, even though the church’s traditional interpretation has usually gone in other directions.
Dominant especially in the Greek interpretive tradition was the interpretation in terms of the “reign of grace” (regnum gratiae), which manifested itself in the proclamation of the word, in sacraments, in prayer, in mission, and in Christian living. The awareness of the eschatological meaning of the petition for the kingdom is preserved better in the Latin tradition—the Vulgate translates “adveniat.” The Western interpreters and the reformers usually interpret it in terms of the double advent of the kingdom by combining the two possible interpretations: “He prays either in general for the kingdom in the whole world that the devil no longer rule or that God rule in every individual.” “Your kingdom come now at this time and later there in eternity.”87 The Catechismus Romanus offers a classical Catholic interpretation: “We pray … that Christ’s kingdom—that is, the church, be enlarged … that the schismatics and heretics return to soundness of health.”

■ 10b*, c* The problems of the third petition, “let your will happen,” are similar to those of the first two. Is the petition’s aim human action: let your commanded will happen through people? Or does it mean something God does: you accomplish your resolve among people? The eschatological interpretation is a special example of the latter possibility: may God effect his will in the eschaton. Here the second clause probably presupposes that God’s will already occurs in heaven and prays that he may prevail on earth as he already does in heaven.90 Verse 33* offers a clue to Matthew’s understanding in that the evangelist adds “righteousness” to “God’s kingdom,” much in the same way he puts the third petition alongside the second. Strive for the kingdom by doing the righteousness appropriate to it.91 Even more important is the Gethsemane scene of 26:42*. When Jesus prays “let your will be done,” he is not only asking God to do whatever he wants to do; at the same time he is also asking for the power to associate himself actively with this will of God. Thus our petition includes something the praying person actively does.92 However, it is not simply a disguised imperative; it lays the person’s conduct at God’s feet in the form of a petition. In the area of OT-Jewish thought the will of an active God is always understood as a demand of an active partner. We do not have here the surrender to an unintelligible fate that must be accepted on faith. In my judgment an alternative between God’s action and the action of the person who is praying is impossible.94

■ 11* The petition for bread continues to be impossible to interpret with certainty. Origen regarded this unfamiliar saying as a creation of the evangelist and therefore suspected that it has a deep spiritual meaning.95 He was not the only person who could not find a parallel in a single Greek author; even today no source has surfaced apart from a single late and textually very uncertain example in a Hawara papyrus. Even the translation back into Aramaic is of no help in the decision, since a word whose meaning is uncertain can be translated in many different ways. Helping in the decision are: (a) the etymological derivation of the word, (b) possible conclusions from the sentence—that is, from the entire bread petition, and (c) the earliest interpretations. In the history of interpretation there are five competing interpretations.
1. Derived from ἐπί and οὐσία (substance), ἄρτος ἐπιούσιος is the bread that unites with our substance or surpasses all substances.98 On the basis of this meaning the church fathers and the medieval exegetes—aided by the liturgical use of the Lord’s Prayer before Communion—almost always interpreted the bread in terms of the Eucharist or christologically in the sense of John 6. Of course, especially influential here was the interpretation of Origen, who sharply rejected the literal interpretation, because it contradicts the teacher of the heavenly things, Jesus. His interpretation—not necessarily as his alone—was widely followed in the East and the West, there especially by Ambrose and Jerome. This led to a tendency to spiritualize the Lord’s Prayer, an example of which is especially evident in Jerome.101 The sacramental interpretation was taken so much for granted that one was able to draw concrete conclusions from it such as the demand for daily communion or the rejection of the cup for the laity. Later, under Augustine’s influence, a threefold interpretation came to dominate in the Western interpretation: the bread could mean the Eucharist as well as the Word of God and also the bread the body needs.103 The change to a literal interpretation was introduced by the reformers. Only with a great deal of reluctance was it accepted in the Catholic church.105 Thus on this point exegesis was divided along confessional lines for a long time.
This interpretation is impossible, since it presupposes the christology, the understanding of the Eucharist, and the thinking about substance of a later time. The etymology also speaks against it. The philological discussion, of which there has been a great deal, appears to have concluded that all connections of ἐπί with derivatives of the root εἶναι must result in the elision of the ι; thus ἐπούσιος would be correct. When the main stem begins with a vowel, the ι is preserved only when an aspirant or an original digamma is to be assumed before the beginning vowel.
2. If one understands οὐσία as “existence,” “livelihood,” ἐπιούσιος could be interpreted as “necessary for existence.” Since the Old Syriac translations numerous interpreters have followed this interpretation. In particular, Antiochian interpreters and Gregory of Nyssa interpreted the bread literally as a reference to the food necessary for life. We are “to seek only what the bread petition teaches us is sufficient to preserve our physical existence … not delicacies or riches … by which the soul is estranged from the thought of God and higher things; no—but only bread.” The weakness of this second type of interpretation is the above-mentioned difficulty of the etymological derivation of ἐπιούσιος from a combination of ἐπί with εἶναι or οὐσία. Another question would be why a more common Greek word such as ἐπιτήδειος or ἀναγκαῖος was not chosen.
3. A further interpretation begins with ἐπὶ τὴν οὖσαν (ἡμέραν) and understands ἐπιούσιος as “for today.” This interpretation is problematic for two reasons. There is no evidence for ἡ οὖσα without ἡμέρα as a term for today, and here also the word would have to be ἐπούσιος. Furthermore, ἐφήμερος would be the customary Greek word. The manna tradition of Exodus 16, in which, except for Fridays, the people of Israel are forbidden to gather bread for the next day, would be most fitting for this interpretation. However, there is no basis here for an interpretation in terms of Exodus 16.
4. Linguistically the only possibility is a derivation from ἐπιέναι (= to come to) or from ἡ ἐπιοῦσα (the coming day). There is a great deal of evidence for ἡ ἐπιοῦσα in the Hellenistic period, in particular in the NT world. Derived from it, the adjective ἐπιούσιος is a completely normal construction, all the more understandable since there is no other Greek adjective that means “tomorrow’s.” Furthermore, there is evidence from the first half of the second century in the Gospel of the Nazarenes for the understanding “our bread of tomorrow give us this day.” Even if the Gospel of the Nazarenes is a translation from Greek, the word מָחָר that appears there may correspond to the text of the church’s liturgy; thus it may be even older than the second century. There is somewhat later evidence for this interpretation in the Coptic translation and in Origen Or. 27.13. Many have cited Matt 6:34* against this interpretation but without good reason. Prayer and “worries” are two completely different things.
5. The final interpretation is also based on the derivation from ἐπιέναι, and it proceeds either from τὸ ἐπιόν (the future) or from the fact that in Hebrew and Aramaic מָחָר can also mean “future.” The requested bread is then the future heavenly bread, the bread of the eschatological banquet in the kingdom of God. This concept is widespread in the Jesus tradition (Mark 14:25* pars.; Matt 8:11–12* par.; Luke 22:30*). There is also evidence (Luke 14:15*) for connecting the heavenly banquet of glory with the bread of everyday nourishment—an association that from the perspective of the Jewish background is by no means obvious. It speaks against this interpretation that לחמן די למחר would initially be understood differently by every impartial hearer, especially with the possessive suffix: our bread. Speaking also against it, however, is the word “today,” which presupposes an extremely near expectation.
In sum, based on the etymology and in the context of the entire Lord’s Prayer, the fourth interpretation is the most probable. It is supported by the ancient witness of the Gospel of the Nazarenes, and in addition it goes best with “today” (σήμερον). Thus we should probably translate: Give us today our bread for tomorrow.
The fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer belongs to a situation of social need in which one cannot simply take for granted that there will be food for the next day. As the most important article of food “bread” can represent pars pro toto sustenance in general, but it may not be expanded to include all of life’s needs. One may think perhaps of the situation of a day laborer who has no way of knowing whether he will find work again tomorrow from which he and his family can live. At the same time “bread for tomorrow” contains a limitation. It is a question of survival, not of wealth. In this sense this interpretation is close to the second interpretation rejected above, which spoke of the minimum that is necessary for existence. “Today” is by no means superfluous; it makes one sense the urgency of the petition. There is a characteristic distinction between this petition and the ninth berakah of the Shemoneh Esreh, where from the perspective of the farmer one prays for the year’s produce.
With this interpretation one surmises that the bread petition does not reflect the special situation of the disciples of Jesus (i.e., of the itinerant radicals) who became poor for the sake of the proclamation of the kingdom of God. One can surmise that Q 10:4, 7–8 also shows that this is not the case. There Jesus’ itinerant messengers may carry nothing with them, not even provisions for the next day; they are solely dependent on hospitality. They can, of course, pray for food for the next day, but the petition is not formulated with their situation in mind. That is important for the question whether the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer for the disciples. Otherwise there are only arguments from silence—namely, no indications that the situation of Jesus-followers is particularly reflected in the petitions. It is much more likely that all the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer are worded openly so that many people can find themselves in the petitions. The bread petition seems to confirm this. We do not have here special concerns of Jesus’ circle of disciples.

■ 12* If there are few Jewish parallels to the bread petition, at least in its concreteness, with the forgiveness petition we again encounter a central theme of Jewish praying.116 With Jesus, as also in Judaism, sin is often understood not as failure but as “guilt.”118 The unusual thing about this petition is its subordinate clause. Although the idea that divine forgiveness is associated with human forgiveness is widespread in Judaism,120 in my opinion there is no case where human action is taken into a central prayer text in this way. What was already implicit in our interpretation thus far becomes clear here in an exemplary manner: prayer and human action are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, prayer is the active person’s speaking with God.
It is difficult to determine with precision the relationship of the subordinate clause to the main clause. In view of the Aramaic tenses, the aorist “we forgave” (ἀφήκαμεν) is not to be pressed, but in Matthew it probably does mean a condition in the sense of 5:23–24*; 6:14–15*; 7:1*. This relationship is obviously true in parenesis when one is speaking from the human perspective, in contrast to the parable of the unmerciful servant in 18:23–35*, where although the effectiveness of God’s action is also tied to human action, it precedes it. The paradoxical unity of prevenient grace and conditions imposed on human beings is destroyed only if people use their forgiving to justify making a claim on God so that they can hope that God will imitate the human example.122 It is also important that the community that prays the Lord’s Prayer understands that even as Christians its members still sin and need forgiveness.

■ 13* An eschatological interpretation has also been suggested for the final petition of the original Lord’s Prayer, the temptation petition. Then “temptation” (πειρασμός) would refer to the eschatological tribulation. Almost everything speaks against this view. Neither in Jewish apocalypticism nor in the NT is πειρασμός an apocalyptic technical term. Furthermore, the definite article that one then would expect is missing, and the Jewish parallels lead one to think of the temptations one meets in everyday life.124 Here life is not totally negative, as it often is later in ascetically influenced interpretations of the ancient church. In certain conditions πειρασμός can also mean “affliction” or “suffering,” but here it is better to think of the customary meaning of “temptation” by evil.127 Both older and more recent interpreters have wrestled with the question whether it is God himself who leads into temptation. An Aramaic causative that may lie behind μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς can mean both active action as well as permissive consent. Thus it may be possible to shield an Aramaic original from the idea that God alone is responsible. However, the Greek translator, who appears to speak in his translation of something that God actively does, obviously does not worry about such things.130 In prayer God’s unlimited power is simply taken for granted. The petition does not presume to pass judgment on the question of who causes evil. Instead, what we have observed with the first petitions is true here also: people pray for something that they influence with their behavior.

■ 13b* The request “but preserve us from evil,” which makes the temptation petition as long as the other “we” petitions, appears only in Matthew. It forms a parallelism with the previous request and takes it further by emphasizing the reality of the evil that lies behind the temptation and by asking to be delivered from it. From ancient times it has been debated whether “evil” in this final petition is to be understood as masculine or neuter.132 Most Matthean and NT sources, the parallelism with the temptation petition, the presumably oldest interpretations of the petition in 2 Tim 4:18* and Did. 10.5, as well as the Jewish parallels—in Judaism there is scarcely any evidence for “the evil one” as a designation of Satan—speak for a neutral interpretation. For their part the Jewish texts suggest everyday experiences: sickness, affliction, bad people, evil desire.135 Thus the concluding Matthean petition intensifies and generalizes the temptation petition, and it brings the Lord’s Prayer to a close with a positive formulation.
The three-part doxology that is common in our worship services does not appear in the best manuscripts. In its basic type it is based on 1 Chr 29:11* and is documented in the NT in many variations.136 However, 2 Tim 4:18* and the two-part doxology of Did. 8.2, customary in the Didache (10.5), show that in the Greek church the Lord’s Prayer was prayed with a doxology from the very beginning. Jewish prayers are also inconceivable without a concluding doxology. There is a certain freedom with regard to the wording of private prayers, which makes it understandable why one did not need to write down the doxology. In the older witnesses that contain the doxology there is a great deal of variety in the shape of the text.

We asked: How new is the Lord’s Prayer in comparison with Jewish prayers? The question appears to bypass what is essential in the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer appears to be a Jewish prayer.
a. The Lord’s Prayer was Aramaic, while most extant Jewish prayers are Hebrew. Since it never wanted to be an official synagogue prayer, however, the Aramaic language is not very unusual. Numerous private Jewish prayers are formulated in Aramaic, quite apart from the private prayers of the simple people that were not transmitted. One can only say that Jesus used the language of the people rather than that of the synagogue prayer liturgy. He did not share the antipathy toward Aramaic of many learned men. On the other hand, the learned men expressly permitted the use of Aramaic for private prayers.139
b. The Lord’s Prayer is a very short and simple prayer. That is noteworthy, but it is not completely unusual in the Judaism of that day. With its avoidance of unnecessary words, divine epithets, and benedictions, the Lord’s Prayer belongs together with other Jewish “short prayers.” There were many such prayers, as summaries of longer prayers or as free formulations.
c. The Lord’s Prayer is an individual prayer. Individual prayers of many rabbis have been passed down to us. Appropriately, many of the topoi of Jewish community prayers are missing. There is no appeal to the patriarchs, no mention of Israel, no national cast to the petitions, no concrete depiction of the future hope. That is certainly characteristic of Jesus, but it is precisely these motifs that are also played down in Jewish private prayers.142
Although such distinctive characteristics are Jewish, they are an essential part of the Lord’s Prayer. In my judgment another thought is also helpful: the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer of Jesus. It bears the imprint of Jesus the man and messenger of God, and it does so both where it is characteristically Jewish as well as where it has distinctive features within Judaism. Both together make up the special character of the Lord’s Prayer.
The Aramaic language and the simple formulations come from Jesus. They correspond to a fundamental—not un-Jewish—primary feature of the proclamation and activity of Jesus, who was close to the people, spoke their language, and told stories about the kingdom of God from their everyday world. In the context of Jesus’ activity his simple language becomes an expression of the nearness of the Father whom Jesus proclaimed. Jesus’ special piety is seen in the address abba, which points to God’s nearness and love. The way Jesus put the poor person’s petition for tomorrow’s bread in the center of his prayer is a special expression of God’s nearness and corresponds to the first beatitude. Also characteristic of Jesus is the demand to forgive, which is incorporated into the prayer itself and which places a special accent in Jewish piety. Playing down national, salvation-historical, and political dimensions of prayer reflects a basic feature of Jesus’ proclamation, whose center is the kingdom of God and not Israel’s salvation history. Finally, the eschatology of the Lord’s Prayer is characteristic of Jesus. It corresponds to that of Jesus’ parables of the kingdom of God, parables that also do not speak of the kingdom of God but based on the kingdom try to influence everyday life. In short, one must incorporate the entirety of the Lord’s Prayer into Jesus’ proclamation and activity. Then one can see how what is typically Jewish and the special accents together make up what is characteristic of Jesus.
In view of Christian efforts to hasten to present it as a compendium of Christian doctrine, all of this is an invitation to stop and think. Thus the Lord’s Prayer has resisted attempts to understand it as a prayer of the born-again or as “a formula, a token of recognition” of the Christian community of salvation. In no way does it reflect the situation of the circle of disciples. Its wording is open. Many people can find themselves in its formulations, because it does not prescribe to praying people what wishes, hopes, or views they must have. To that degree, not only does it presuppose grace by addressing God as it does; it is itself an expression of God’s grace and nearness. By including many people in its words, it makes prayer possible. One might say, with some exaggeration, that it is not a sign by which the circle of disciples is to be recognized but an expression of the grace that precedes the circle of disciples.
Thus the Lord’s Prayer is an aid in praying and is designed to help the person who recites it to discover the Father’s loving presence. It wants to make prayer possible. If today the Lord’s Prayer is still a meaningful text even outside a consciously practiced churchly Christianity, that is a reflection of its own original power. For today’s church that means that it should use “its” Lord’s Prayer not as a concise expression of its own salvation but as a basic text that beyond its own borders can help people pray and discover God’s love.
History of Interpretation
A significant part of the history of the Christian interpretation and influence falls here into the shadows. Very often Christian interpretation alienated the Lord’s Prayer from itself by treating and interpreting it as a compendium of Christian doctrine. Interpretation then became the attempt to extract divine mysteries from the Lord’s Prayer with subtle methodologies. Understood as a basic dogmatic text, it mirrored, for example, the doctrine of the Trinity: the first and fourth petitions spoke of God the Father, the second and fifth of the Redeemer, the third and sixth of the Holy Spirit. Maximus the Confessor understood the Lord’s Prayer as a compendium of dogmatics, mysticism, and philosophy.146 In view of this interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer as a basic text of church doctrine, it is not surprising that the Enlightenment then turned the tables and made the Lord’s Prayer the basic text of Christian doctrine precisely because it did not contain the traditional objects of church dogmatics, such as the doctrine of the Trinity. In principle it is the same misunderstanding.
The Lord’s Prayer wants to make possible prayer, not theology, as Matthew knew well. After confronting the disciples in his Sermon on the Mount with the demand of the better righteousness and perfection, he has led them into the inner space of prayer to the loving Father. This inner space is at the same time the space of the church. The Lord’s Prayer is the community prayer that had its place in the community’s worship and that therefore was known to all the readers. What is important about the Lord’s Prayer, more than for all the other texts of the Gospel, is that it is an established text with which the entire community was familiar—a text that symbolizes not only the Father’s nearness to his church but also the abiding trustworthiness of this nearness. The center of the Sermon on the Mount is here. Thus Matthew takes a person through action to grace. The person who is on the way to perfection (5:20–48*) learns in this center to understand the demanding will of God as the will of the Father. And that means: not as a will that deadens or makes excessive demands but as a healing will of God. The way that Matthew goes in the course of the Sermon on the Mount, from the practice of perfection to prayer to the Father and then back to the fruits of good works, has great depth. Matthew knows about the deep relationship between practice and grace in prayer. He thereby takes up impulses found in the Lord’s Prayer of Jesus.
Meaning for Today

The Matthean combination of prayer and action has fundamental significance in view of the critical questions raised about prayer today. We may illustrate this with two examples from the prayer’s more recent history. For Kant, praying is a “superstitious delusion” and at most has “a sincere wish to please God in all our doings, i.e., the disposition accompanying all our actions, to pursue these as though they occurred in the service of God.” He thinks that the Lord’s Prayer is a formula “that at once renders prayer dispensable and by the same token itself as well.… One finds nothing in it but the resolution to good life-conduct.” According to him prayer becomes superfluous when it makes action possible and in so doing transcends superstition.
Bertolt Brecht stands, as it were, at the other end of the spectrum. In a remarkable scene toward the end of Mother Courage he contrasts the mute Kattrin with a farm family. When the enemies make a surprise night attack on the defenseless city of Halle, the farmers fall on their knees and pray the Lord’s Prayer, while Kattrin climbs on the roof in order to warn the sleeping people by beating her drum. Here prayer is understood and rejected as a false alternative to action, as a flight from action.
For Matthew, prayer is not a flight from, but the inner side of, practice. Prayer makes it possible for Jesus’ disciples to understand his demands as the Father’s will and to draw strength from that understanding. Prayer is not made superfluous by action; instead, action is constantly dependent on prayer. When compared with modern critics, Matthew shows a depth and a substance here about which we would do well to give serious thought.
Luz, U. (2007). Matthew 1–7: a commentary on Matthew 1–7. (H. Koester, Hrsg.) (Rev. ed., S. 270–326). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.


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