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Words from GOD – Words to GOD

Matthew 1-7, The Life of Jesus, part 9, by Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz

Happy are YOU


2.3.4 On the Forgiveness of Sins (6:14–15*)

14 “For if you forgive people their trespasses,
your heavenly Father will also forgive you yours.
15 But if you do not forgive people their trespasses,
neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
The logion has the form of a two-part mashal with excellent parallelism. In Mark 11:25* it has an independent variant that Matthew omits. In its content it corresponds to the forgiveness petition in the Lord’s Prayer and, like it, may well go back to Jesus.1
With this logion Matthew repeats the forgiveness petition of the Lord’s Prayer and puts it in parenetic form. Both the conditional wording and the “negative” v. 15*, missing from Mark 11:25*, make clear that human forgiving is a condition for divine forgiving. Thus with this statement the evangelist emphasizes precisely the part of the Lord’s Prayer where human activity was most directly involved. In contrast to the logion leading into the Lord’s Prayer (vv. 7–8*), which emphasizes God’s nearness, this logion that brings the Lord’s Prayer to a close is designed to secure the relationship between prayer and action. Matthew makes clear that prayer is also part of Christian practice, and practice will again be the subject in 6:19–7:27*. The forgiveness commandment corresponds in substance to the heart of his ethics, the love commandment.
2.4 Guidance for the Community (6:19–7:11*)
Giovanni Giavini, “Abbiamo forse in Mt 6,19–7,11 il primo commento al ‘Pater Noster’?” RivB 13 (1965) 171–77.

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

The next main part is the same length as the antitheses. That was obviously Matthew’s intention, and he saw it as a unit. It is not easy to give it a title that covers its contents. It deals more with questions of community life than do the antitheses. There are two obvious main parts: 6:19–34* deals with questions about possessions, while no thematic unity is discernible in 7:1–11*. It is difficult to say how the section fits in with the Sermon on the Mount as a whole. Matt 6:19–7:11* has always given the impression of being an “ill-assorted pile of addenda.”1 The section is formally structured by introducing a new section with “not” (μή) and a prohibition (6:19*, 25*; 7:1*, 6*). The catchword “make invisible, unrecognizable” (ἀφανίζω) forms a bridge between 6:16* and 19*, “eye” (ὀφθαλμός) a bridge between 6:22–23* and 7:3–5*. In various ways people have emphasized how the section is related to the Lord’s Prayer: 6:31–33* and 7:7–11* go back to 6:7–8*, 9*, 11*. In my judgment, however, efforts to interpret the entire section as a running commentary on the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer have not been successful.2 I also think that other, more extensive suggestions about the structure are artificial.
a. Matt 6:19–34 consists of one longer and three short sections that Matthew himself brought together. Two of the four units were already together in Q, but in reverse order (6:25–33*, 19–21* = Q 12:22–31, 33–34). The third unit (vv. 22–23*) comes from a Q context that Matthew had already used and that therefore was familiar to him (= Q 11:34–36; cf. Matt 5:15* = Luke 11:33*). Verse 24* probably comes from Q 16:13. The detailed analysis will show that Matthew closely followed the source not only in the arrangement of the material but also in its wording; he is a conservative redactor. The theme, which is emphasized by the Matthean composition, is the disciples’ relationship to possessions. When in his programmatic Sermon on the Mount Matthew follows the central section of 6:1–18* with a section not totally based on the Lord’s Prayer—a section with the new theme of the disciples’ relationship to possessions—he shows that this question is basic for him as well, not only for Luke.
b. Matt 7:1–11 has no clear redactional cohesion. Once again, an interpretation based on the last two petitions of the Lord’s Prayer is, in my judgment, not successful. Between the forgiveness petition and vv. 1–5* there is only a general similarity, and the attempt to see in the warning against apostasy the common denominator between 6:13* and 7:6* limits both texts too much. Not until 7:7–11* does the text speak again of prayer and thus remind the reader of the Lord’s Prayer, especially of 6:8*.
After 6:19–34*, a section that he himself composed, Matthew again takes up the thread of the Sermon on the Plain. He follows it until 7:5*. The two sections about judging and the beam, 7:1–2* and 3–5*, are thematically close. Verse 6* appears abruptly in the context. The only link to vv. 3–5* is the common root βαλ-. Since in this section the Q recension available to Matthew was also somewhat different from that used by Luke, one may conjecture whether v. 6* was already attached to vv. 3–5* in Q because of the word “cast, throw” (βάλλω). Verses 7–11* come from a different place in Q and were intentionally put here by Matthew. By placing the Lord’s Prayer in the center of the Sermon on the Mount he showed how important prayer is for him. Now he rounds off the parenesis of the Sermon with another reference to prayer.
2.4.1 Do Not Accumulate Earthly Treasures (6:19–24*)
Dale C. Allison, “The Eye Is the Lamp of the Body (Matthew 6.22–23 = Luke 11.34–36),” NTS 33 (1987) 61–83.
Joseph Amstutz, ΑΠΛΟΤΗΣ: Eine begriffsgeschichtliche Studie zum jüdisch-christlichen Griechisch (Theophaneia 19; Bonn: Hanstein, 1968) 96–103.
Hans Dieter Betz, “Matthew vi.22f and Ancient Greek Theories of Vision,” in Ernest Best and R. McL. Wilson, eds., Text and Interpretation: Studies in the New Testament Presented to Matthew Black (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979) 43–56.
Hans Christof Brennecke, “ ‘Niemand kann zwei Herren dienen,’ ” ZNW 88 (1997) 158–69.
Degenhardt, Lukas, 88–93, 127–31.
Conny Edlund, Das Auge der Einfalt: Eine Untersuchung zu Matth. 6,22–23 und Luk. 11,34–35 (ASNU 19; Kopenhagen: Munksgaard, 1952).
John H. Elliott, “The Evil Eye and the Sermon on the Mount,” BI 2 (1994) 51–84.
Hahn, “Worte.”
Jülicher, Gleichnisreden 2.98–115.
Michael Mees, “Das Sprichwort Mt 6,21; Lk 12,24 und seine ausserkanonischen Parallelen,” Aug 14 (1974) 67–89.
Wilhelm Pesch, “Zur Exegese von Mt 6,19–21 und Lk 12,33–34,” Bib 40 (1960) 356–78.
Hans Peter Rüger, “Μαμωνᾶς,” ZNW 64 (1973) 127–31.
Erik Sjöberg, “Das Licht in dir: Zur Deutung von Mt 6:22–23 par.,” StTh 5 (1952) 89–105.
Zeller, Mahnsprüche, 77–82.

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

19 “Do not gather for yourselves treasures on earth,
where moth and grub destroys them
and where thieves break in and steal;
20 but gather for yourselves treasures in heaven,
where neither moth nor grub destroy them
and where thieves do not break in and steal.
21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
22 The lamp of the body is the eye.
Now if your eye is single,
your whole body will be full of light.
23 But if your eye is evil,
your whole body will be full of darkness.
Now if the light in you is dark,
how great is the darkness!
24 No one can serve two lords.
Either he will hate the one and love the other,
or he will hold to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and mammon.”
One can trace three originally independent logia (vv. 19–21*, 22–23*, 24*). All of them are filled with parallelism, and they repeat whole sentence fragments. The first logion contains two antithetic imperatives in the second person plural that are amplified by means of parallel additions. Verse 21* speaks in the second person singular; the address is sharpened. Since this concluding part destroys the symmetry, that is where the emphasis is. The second logion begins with a maxim that has become a proverb (v. 22a*), contains then an antithetical parallelism (vv. 22b*, c*/23a*, b*), and ends with a rhetorically exaggerated paradoxical oxymoron (v. 23c*, d*) designed to confront the hearers drastically with the abyss that threatens them. The third logion is similarly structured: a parable-like maxim, which again has become a proverb, is developed in two parallel sentences (v. 24a*, b* + c*). The final sentence in v. 24d* contains the conclusion, the movement to the comparison. The numerous parallelisms reveal a high degree of Semitic feeling for form.
a. One might say that in vv. 19–21* Q 12:33–34 has been taken over verbatim; Luke has redactionally formed the entire introduction with his admonition on selling possessions and giving alms (v. 33*). The only place where Matthew might have changed the Q wording is v. 20*; Q used the plural “in the heavens.”
b. In vv. 22–23* the reconstruction of the Q text is difficult. The beginning of the logion is well preserved; presumed Mattheanisms are ἐὰν οὖν, (ἐὰν) δέ, ὅλος, οὖν, and perhaps σκότος (“if therefore,” “but [if],” “whole,” “therefore,” “darkness”). However, the ending in Matt 6:23c*, d*//Luke 11:35–36* is difficult. Is another part of an early antithetic parallelism visible behind Matt 6:23c* and Luke 11:36*? Then Matthew would have shortened and rhetorically sharpened this parallelism in v. 23c*, d*, while Luke parenetically reworded his first part in v. 35a*.2 Those who regard this hypothesis as unable to be proven and as complicated must assume the existence of a pre-Lukan expansion in Luke 11:36* (Q?).3
c. Matt 6:24* is in almost verbatim agreement with Q 16:13. Matthew may have merely omitted “household servant” (οἰκέτης) and thus understood a metaphorical text as a direct parenesis, as he did in 5:25–26* and also in 6:22–23*.4
Tradition History
a. Verses 19–21*: The suggestion is often made that one see in v. 21* a secondary addition to an original, stylistically pure wisdom admonition.5 However, one should not make the postulate of the original pure genre the basis for attempts to deconstruct the text. Verse 21* is not a wisdom aphorism;6 it is a rhetorical heightening. The change to the singular in v. 21* is intentional, sharpens the address, and points the warning toward its inner dimension. Thus v. 21* was not attached to vv. 19–20* as a familiar saying; it became a familiar saying in the history of the interpretation of 6:19–21* because it could be applied in so many ways.7 Justin Apol. 1.15.11–12 and Gos. Thom. 76 offer nothing for a tradition-history reconstruction, since both of them offer newly formed collections of logia. Justin clearly presupposes the Gospel of Matthew.
b. Verses 22–23*: The change from “lamp” (λύχνος) in v. 22a* to “the light in you” (τὸ φῶς τὸ ἐν σοί) in v. 23c* is remarkable. Did “lamp” instead of “light” come into the text when the saying (in Q?) was attached as a “commentary” to the logion about the candle under the bushel (Q 11:33)? That can by no means be proven. This saying can also not be deconstructed. From the very beginning v. 22a* was probably part of the saying and served as its introduction. The opening sentence has an important rhetorical function for the entire word: it directs the hearers’ attention first to a false, superficial level, that of physiological seeing. Verses 22b–23d* startle the hearers: they suddenly notice that the speaker wants to speak of a different function of the “eye.”
c. Verse 24*: The problem is similar to that of vv. 19–21*. Was an original “vulgare proverbium”10 given a different function by adding to it a secondary parenetic conclusion? Once again, the postulate of the pure genre (in this case of the mashal without an address) should not become the basis of a tradition-history deconstruction. If for no other reason than the symmetry of the parts, the address of v. 24d* belongs to the original logion.
None of these logia contains an explicit reference to the kingdom of God that could be characteristic of Jesus. On the other hand, our tradition-history reflection has undermined the popular line of reasoning that first reduced these logia to a core of pure wisdom sayings without any personal address and then had to deny them to Jesus because they are so general. In their pointed opposition to riches vv. 19–21* and v. 24* differ from a positive view of wealth widespread in rabbinic Judaism, but that does not mean that they are un-Jewish. They fit Jesus’ social criticism, and they could come from him. However, it is difficult to say anything about vv. 22–23*.13

■ 19–21* Verses 19–20* appeal to healthy common sense: it does not pay to collect treasures. The moth—an animal that is almost a symbol of earthly destruction14—will eat the clothes one has collected. In the Near East clothes are a natural expression of wealth for a woman; one can think of the rich trousseau of textiles. Unfortunately, the meaning of βρῶσις (the process of eating; food) is not clear. It may be that we have here an erroneous translation of a Semitic word that means the “glutton” or “devourer,” that is, a particular devouring insect such as a wood beetle. Then one would be thinking of the destruction of wooden chests in which all sorts of things are preserved.16 With the “digging” that the thieves do one need not necessarily think of the money that is often buried in Palestine, of the illegal digging of underground tunnels,18 or of breaking into houses with mud walls. The word διορύσσω had long since become a term for “breaking in.” On the positive side, one is challenged to gather heavenly treasures. The contrast between v. 19* and v. 20* suggests here primarily acts of charity and almsgiving.21 The idea of reward is taken over without reservation. The text eschatologically moves beyond the wisdom criticism of perishable wealth in Prov 23:4–5* and Sir 29:9–13*, but one cannot say that judgment is especially emphasized as it is, for example, in 1 Enoch 94.7–10.
The admonition is sharpened in v. 21*. Although there are no direct Jewish parallels to this sentence, its thinking is Jewish. “Heart” (καρδία) is the person’s center. The “treasure” shows where people live in their center and what is most important to them. Thus v. 21* wants to intensify the admonition of vv. 19–20* radically. Verse 21* is not a general aphorism that then can be applied to the many different forms of a person’s earthly ties; it is an intensified strengthening of the warning against earthly treasures.22

■ 22–23* The next two verses, the verses about the eye, are difficult. They begin with a general maxim. Λύχνος (lamp, lantern) makes the readers immediately think of the widely held ancient conviction that the human eye has its own light that shines on the dark surroundings and thus makes it possible for the person to see. That the human eye contains a fire is a widespread Greek and Jewish popular belief. Thus with v. 22a* the hearers will initially think of how an eye functions physiologically.25 When they hear what follows, however, they will notice that something completely different is meant. The text is not speaking of a healthy or a sick eye, or of the eye of a living person or a dead person whose “candle” has been extinguished; it speaks of an eye being “single, sincere,” or “evil.” Thus “eye” is a metaphor; one is speaking of something moral. The hearers are completely startled when they realize that the eye mentioned in vv. 22b–23b* shines not outwardly but inwardly, into the “body.” Then in v. 23c*, d* the subject is no longer the “lamp” that is the eye; now it is the “light in you.” In short, v. 22a* and the popular ancient explanation of human seeing it presupposes is not the key to understanding the entire text. It is, rather, only the rhetorical beginning point for that understanding. It sets the stage for the surprise in vv. 22b–23d* and lets the hearers know that in reality the text is speaking of something completely different from physiological seeing. What follows is neither a logically compelling continuation26 nor a parable.
Verses 22b–23d* now make clear that the text is not wanting to speak “of the physical eye.”28 In Judaism “eye” had always been given a metaphorical connotation. A person’s character and moral quality are reflected in the eyes. A hearer of that day would not have understood an “evil” eye to mean a “sick” eye,30 since the contrast between “evil” and “good” eye in the metaphorical sense is firmly anchored in Jewish tradition and since ἁπλοῦς cannot mean “healthy.” Instead, when the “evil” eye and the “good” eye are contrasted the issue in most texts is malice, greed, envy, and calculating behavior vs. kindness, generosity, and uprightness. The Jewish Christian readers of the Gospel of Matthew will also have thought of that, because they have just read 6:19–21*. There was a certain element of surprise for them when the text speaks of the “sincere, single” eye rather than the “good” eye. Greek ἁπλοῦς often carries negative freight (“ordinary,” “uneducated,” “uncomplicated,” “simpleminded,” “barbarian,” but also “direct,” “open”). It usually has a positive connotation in Jewish Greek, however, and means “whole,” “free of envy,” “genuine,” “obedient,” “perfect.” Lying behind it is Heb. תָּם or Aramaic שָׁלֵם. Ἁπλότης designates integrity, wholeness, uprightness and rectitude in obedience to God. In a direct sense ἁπλοῦς does not mean “generous,” although the word can take on this connotation from the context, and in our passage it also receives it from vv. 19–21* and v. 24*.34 Verses 22b–23d* then expand on vv. 19–21*, 24*. What is meant is not only external charity but the harmony between external and internal in human activity, especially regarding giving away earthly treasures.
The quality of the “eye” is decisive for the “entire body.” In plain words, the integrity and straightforwardness of human action, especially in dealing with possessions, determines what the person is as a whole. Here one cannot say that one’s person is more important than one’s actions, as if people were something different from what they do. The “light in you” in v. 23c* does not mean the soul,36 one’s share in the divine world of light, or any other core of one’s nature.38 It means emphatically “that which could and should be light in you.” Verse 23c*, d* is a rhetorically pointed “oxymoron.”40 Its meaning is: if your actions, your obedience, your generosity are not in order, the darkness is complete.
Thus vv. 22–23* do not intend to lead the reader away from human action to an inner dimension. Nor do they intend to move away from the question of possessions. In the contrast between the “evil” and the “single” eye the relationship to one’s possessions is still important. Much as was the case in v. 21*, however, they do intend to intensify and to state a principle. In one’s activity with money one’s humanity is completely at risk. At issue here are light and darkness, wholeness and perfection. Verse 24* then does not mean a return to a superficial level; it follows exactly from what has just been said.

■ 24* Again the verse links up with an experience. No one can serve two masters without experiencing conflicts. As a statement about experience, v. 24a* is only partially plausible, because in exceptional cases slaves can serve two masters.41 However, v. 24b*, c* makes clear that in this image the issue is not legal relationships but service and obedience to one master. As far as its application to God is concerned the image is quite plausible. “Service” to God is total and indivisible; Yahweh is one God—a God who suffers no other gods beside him (Deut 6:4*; Exod 20:3*). Based on its Jewish background, however, it is not necessarily obvious that serving God excludes the possibility of serving “mammon.” Indeed, wealth can be understood as a gift of God. Like Luke 16:11*, the text uses the Aramaic word מָמֹונָא. As is the case there, it has a negative connotation. מָמֹונָא actually means “stock, provision, supply,” and in Hebrew and Aramaic it is used neutrally for “wealth,” “fortune.” In our compactly formulated and seldom changed Greek saying the word is a rhetorically effective relic that emphasizes the strangeness of serving mammon and makes easier its personification. “Hate” (μισέω) and “love” (ἀγαπάω) could also have the weaker meanings “reject” and “prefer,” respectively. This assumption is not necessary for Matthew, however, since the readers probably automatically associate ἀγαπάω with the basic commandment of loving God. But that is not said explicitly until the conclusion: v. 24d* mentions God for the first and only time in this section. Here the climax is reached; after v. 21* and v. 23c*, d* had sharpened the focus, it is pointedly stated once again that people’s humanity is at stake in their relationship to their possessions. At issue is the right worship of God [Gottesdienst, lit. “service of God”].
History of Interpretation

Hans Weder states polemically: “In our age of social-historical observation many exegetes are of the opinion that the meaning of this section can be reduced to the postulate that the disciple of Jesus is to renounce material possessions.” He himself does not share this opinion. At least he has here the two main streams of the history of interpretation on his side. One can see two main tendencies: (a) The text is internalized and related to the correct attitude, the inner relationship to one’s possessions. (b) The text is expanded and then becomes the model for different basic human choices in life; it speaks of possessions only along with other matters.
a. The internalization of the text regularly begins with vv. 22–23*. Following the widespread ancient comparison of reason with the eye,46 the “light in you” has been interpreted as reason (νοῦς). Probably closer to Matthew’s sense is the likewise frequently found interpretation of the inner light as the person’s heart.48 However, this interpretation is associated with late antiquity’s dualism and hostility toward the body. Darkness becomes identical with the carnal senses, and the decisive question is then whether the human heart is a prisoner of the earth, which eo ipso is impure, or of heaven, which eo ipso is pure. One is asked whether one’s own heart has the “light of faith” (lumen fidei) or, stated volitionally, whether one does something “in a good spirit” (bono animo) or “with pure intention” (pura intentione). Later the idea of the conscience also appears in connection with this passage. Now the conclusion is that “a good conscience justifies every action.” Or, with reference to possessions: “The orientation of our life toward God” can be verified not only in renouncing but also in acquiring possessions.”53 If one thus begins with vv. 22–23* and internalizes the Matthean demand, an interpretation of v. 24* widely held throughout the entire history of the church becomes understandable: mammon means not money but attachment to money, covetousness, and greed.54 “It is one thing … to have riches, another … to serve riches.” The rich man who does not have his heart set on riches is happy to give his possessions away, but of course in moderation so that enough is left for his family.56 Thomas Aquinas and Zwingli agree on the practical consequences: it is a question of moderation. For us, however, the question is: Do the central verses 22–23* justify internalizing Jesus’ demand this way?
b. Parallel to this interpretation is a tendency to expand the text. It was often made possible with v. 24* by quoting only the “proverb” of v. 24a–c* and omitting the application to mammon in v. 24d*. It happened as early as Gos. Thom. 47, where it is preceded by two other images (no one can mount two horses; no one can bend two bows) and the saying about old and new wine is added (Mark 2:21–22* pars.). No explanation is given: the initiate applies the saying to the incompatibility of gnosis and the material world. Then in the second century the hostile Celsus indicates that the saying was applied to the Christian faith’s claim to exclusivity against heathen religions.58 Tertullian interprets it ascetically in terms of the incompatibility between God and theater or God and marriage. In a later period the allegorical interpretation opened up new areas of ethical application. At the same time, however, it removes the text so far from its literal meaning that the latter becomes only one possible interpretation among others. Rust, moth, and thieves can be interpreted allegorically, for example, to mean pride, envy, and false teachers.60 Allegorizing makes it possible to circumvent the precise meaning of the text. “One must understand that not only about money but about all passions.” The treasure on earth can be not only money but also the belly, feasting, the theater, sex. “Every individual is a slave where he is defeated.” Mammon is then not only gold but “every beautiful figure on earth.”62 Against such widespread tendencies it is amazing when Jacob of Sarug (ca. 500) quite sharply describes service to mammon as the form of idolatry with which the devil operates after the old gods no longer appealed to the masses that had become Christian.

There is something right about the suggestion of expanding the text. In any case, vv. 21* and 22–23* point out that the relation to possessions is not merely a question of one’s external behavior; it is also a matter of a fundamental attitude of the whole person. One misses the intention of the text, however, when one expands it to include whatever one wishes, say, to human passions or even “to every beautiful figure on earth.”64 Matthew is interested in the relation to possessions. That is the subject of the entire section of 6:19–30* that he locates in such an important place, immediately after the center of the Sermon on the Mount. He will return to this question again and again: in the discourse about discipleship in 10:9–10*, in 13:22*, in the double parable of the treasure and the pearl in 13:44–46*, in 16:26*, and, finally, in the important text about the rich young man in 19:16–30*, where he combines renouncing possessions, love, and perfection. Thus it is no accident that Matthew speaks here precisely of one’s relation to possessions. If the text is expanded, one must be careful that this is what is expanded and that this emphasis on possessions is not lost in the expansion. Thus one must read vv. 22–23* on the basis of vv. 19–21* and v. 24*. Matthew actually thinks that money is the place where a person’s heart is when it is not with God or with the “heavenly treasure.” A deviation from this fundamental alternative is less an expansion of the text than a flight from it.
What, however, did Matthew concretely demand of his community? Did gathering heavenly treasures simply mean renouncing possessions? Not all of the members of the Matthean community were itinerant radicals, although they serve somewhat as the model for the community. The issue in the antitheses was not so much the goal of perfection as the way to it, the “better righteousness.” The church’s interpretations that “internalize” the text and relate it to wealth in a new way reveal at least in their more radical versions something of the struggle in the church to find a practicable interpretation of these words of Jesus. They rightly see that the issue is a relation to riches. It is service to mammon that precludes service to God. When the deeds of love do not include one’s entire possessions, it is because one’s heart is not ready for love. On the other hand, the story in 19:16–22* shows that for Matthew it is obviously almost always the case that when earthly treasures are present, the person’s heart is also with them. The case so often evoked in the history of interpretation that wealth does not have to be associated with greed because the heart does not of necessity have to cling to wealth obviously does not reflect his experience. In that sense he is more radical than most of his interpreters. Serving God and serving mammon become visible for him in what is done with money.
2.4.2 Be Concerned with the Kingdom of God (6:25–34*)
Rudolf Bultmann, “μεριμνάω κτλ.,” TDNT 4 (1967) 589–93.
Degenhardt, Lukas, 80–85.
Richard J. Dillon, “Ravens, Lilies and the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:25–33/Luke 12:22–31),” CBQ 53 (1991) 605–27.
Dupont, Béatitudes 3.272–304.
Martin Ebner, Jesus—ein Weisheitslehrer? Synoptische Weisheitslogien im Traditionsprozess (Herders biblische Studien 15; Freiburg: Herder, 1998) 250–75.
Paul Hoffmann, “Der Q Text der Sprüche vom Sorgen Mt 6,25–33/Lk 12:22–31: Ein Rekonstruktionsversuch,” in Ludger Schenke, ed., Studien zum Matthäusevangelium: Festschrift für Wilhelm Pesch (Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1988) 127–55.
Idem, “Die Sprüche vom Sorgen (Mt 6,25–33/Lk 12,22–31) in der vorsynoptischen Überlieferung,” in Helmwart Hierdeis and Heinz S. Rosenbusch, eds., Artikulation der Wirklichkeit: Festschrift für Siegfried Oppolzer zum 60. Geburtstag (Frankfurt: P. Lang, 1989) 73–94.
Idem, “Jesu ‘Verbot des Sorgens’ und seine Nachgeschichte in der synoptischen Überlieferung,” in Dietrich-Alex Koch, Gerhard Sellin, and Andreas Lindemann, eds., Jesu Rede von Gott und ihre Nachgeschichte im frühen Christentum: Beiträge zur Verkündung Jesu und zum Kerygma der Kirche: Festschrift für Willi Marxsen zum 70. Geburtstag (Gütersloh: Mohn, 1989) 116–41.
Merklein, Gottesherrschaft, 174–83.
M. F. Olsthoorn, The Jewish Background and the Synoptic Setting of Mt 6,25–33 and Lk 12,22–31 (Studium Biblicum Franciscanum Analecta 10; Jerusalem: Franciscan Printing Press, 1975).
Ronald A. Piper, Wisdom in the Q-Tradition: The Aphoristic Teaching of Jesus (SNTSMS 61; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989) 24–36.
James M. Robinson, “The Pre-Q Text of the (Ravens and) Lilies: Q 12:22–31 and P. Oxy. 655 (Gos. Thom. 36),” in Stefan Maser and Egbert Schlarb, eds., Text und Geschichte: Facetten theologischen Arbeitens aus dem Freundes- und Schülerkreis: Dieter Lührmann zum 60. Geburtstag (MThSt 50; Marburg: Elwert, 1999) 143–80.
Idem and Christoph Heil, “Zeugnisse eines schriftlichen griechischen vorkanonischen Textes: Matt 6:28 א*, P. Oxy. 655.1/1–17 (EvTh 36) und Q 12.27,” ZNW 89 (1998) 30–44.
Schottroff-Stegemann, Hope, 38–47.
Jens Schröter, “Vorsynoptische Überlieferung auf P. Oxy. 655?” ZNW 90 (1998) 265–72.
Tannehill, Sword, 60–67.
Oda Wischmeyer, “Matthäus 6,25–34 par: Die Spruchreihe vom Sorgen,” ZNW 85 (1994) 1–22.
Zeller, Mahnsprüche, 82–94.

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

25 “Therefore I say to you:
Do not be concerned about your life, what you eat or what you drink,
nor about your body, what you put on.
Is life not more than food
and the body more than clothing?
26 Look at the birds of heaven:
They do not sow and do not reap and do not gather in barns,
and your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are you not more valuable than they?
27 Who among you can add to his stature
a single cubit by being anxious?
28 And what are you anxious about clothing?
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow:
They do not toil and they do not spin.
29 But I say to you: In all his glory Solomon was not dressed as one of these.
30 But if God thus clothes the grass of the field that today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven,
then how much more you, people of little faith?
31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying: What shall we eat? What shall we drink? What shall we put on?
32 For the Gentiles seek all these things.
For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
33 Seek first the kingdom and his righteousness,
and all these things shall be added to you.
34 Thus do not be concerned about the morrow,
because the morrow will be concerned about itself.
It is enough that each day has its own trouble.”
Because of the numerous cross-connections with catchwords or word stems, the text is very compact. Chief among them are the imperatives or prohibitions: “be concerned/anxious” (μεριμνᾶτε, v. 25*; cf. vv. 31*, 34*), “look at” (ἐμβλέψατε), “consider” (καταμάθετε), “seek” (ζητεῖτε); the character of the text is imperative rather than didactic. A rough division of the material is: an introductory prohibition (v. 25*); a first argument from experience (v. 26*); a second, parallel argument from experience (vv. 28b–30*) with a short introduction (v. 28a*); the summarizing admonition that repeats the prohibition (vv. 31–33*). It is not possible to produce a strict formal symmetry among the individual parts; one should not speak of a “didactic poem” with several strophes.5 What stands out in this compact text are in particular vv. 27* and 34*, since they disrupt the pattern.
The text comes from Q. The reconstruction of a text that is clearly from Q is not always easy, and that is why people frequently have postulated two different Q recensions as a way of solving the difficulty. In any case, this may well be the most plausible suggestion for explaining the two different concluding verses, Matt 6:34* and Luke 12:32*, both of which are preredactional. Matthean redaction includes “the birds of heaven,” “heavenly Father,” and “them” (αὐτῶν) in v. 26*, “therefore” and “saying” in v. 31*, “heavenly” in v. 32*, “and righteousness” in v. 33*; perhaps “or what you shall drink” in v. 25*, “of the field” in v. 28*, “first” and “all” in v. 33*.7 The most important Lukan redactional insertions are the introduction of v. 22aα, the formulation “which have not …” (lit. “to which is not,” οἷ̃ οὐκ ἔστιν) in v. 24*, the generalizing “the other things” (the rest) in v. 26*, “instead” (πλήν) in v. 31*, the rearrangement for stylistic reasons in v. 28*, avoiding rhetorical questions, and possibly all of v. 26a*. It is also possible that “consider” (vv. 24*, 27*) and “be in suspense” (μετεωρίζομαι, v. 29*)8 are Lukan redaction.
Noteworthy about the Matthean redaction are: (a) It conservatively preserves the existing formal characteristics by strengthening the connecting catchwords within the text. (b) It is conservative by taking over the existing formulations and not changing the wording (in contrast to Luke): Matthew found “the birds” in his source (Q 12:24) as well as “Father,” a word that he emphasized by adding “heavenly” (Q 12:30). It is also important that Matthew finds his favorite word ὀλιγόπιστοι (of little faith) already present here in the tradition. From this point on he will include the word redactionally. (c) It borrows OT expressions: “birds of heaven,” “grass of the field.” (d) As far as the rest of the material is concerned, the few redactional changes are stylistic improvements. The insertion of “righteousness” in v. 33* is the only real content change. Since this is the only new element in the text, it is noteworthy.
Tradition History
How one interprets the original meaning of the text and also how one answers the question whether the text comes from Jesus depend on one’s tradition-history reconstruction. The most important question is whether v. 33* with the catchword “kingdom of God” belongs to the oldest text. I will indicate the state of the discussion and my own view.
a. Important observations are: In v. 25a* “therefore” (διὰ τοῦτο) makes the connection to what has preceded. In Q it referred to the preceding logion about being anxious (Q 12:11–12). Since v. 27* differs in tone and in linguistic form from the other verses, it has often been explained as a secondary interpretation influenced by wisdom. Verse 25d*, e* can easily be removed from the context. Do we also have an addition here? The additions repeat catchwords of the main text and are, therefore, not originally independent logia but interpretations ad textum.
b. The deconstruction of vv. 25b–26*, 28–33* is a matter of debate. The only points on which everyone agrees is that all the arguments are weak. The original core of the text is seen either
(1) in v. 25*;12 or
(2) in vv. 25–26*, 28–30*;13 or
(3) in vv. 26*, 28–32b* without 32a*.14 In this reconstruction v. 32b* is the original theological scope of the composition; the eschatological scope of v. 33*, along with v. 31b*, were added later.
(4) A completely different possible deconstruction arises if one may include the Greek Gos. Thom. 36 = P. Oxy. 655 1. Then the earliest version included elements from vv. 25*, 28–30*, 27*, 32*—thus neither the reference to the ravens (v. 26* = Q 12:24) nor that to the kingdom of God (v. 33* = Q 12:31). This possibility would permit one to include in the consideration the verse Q 12:25 = Matt 6:27*, which most people regard as secondary. However, I regard it as improbable. That the example of the ravens is omitted, even though the text earlier spoke of the concern about food, indicates that in its structure the version of the Gospel of Thomas is secondary. Important for it are only the “clothing” and thus the lilies. The continuation of the text in the Gnostic Gos. Thom. 37 shows why this is the case.
(5) A final possibility is to forego further deconstruction of vv. 25–26*, 28–33*, and to regard these verses, perhaps without v. 32a*, as the oldest text.17 I definitely favor this view. Speaking for it is the compact composition with the many catchwords and leading imperatives. In my judgment, one should not rigidly eliminate the eschatological element (v. 33* = Q 12:31) and reconstruct a text consisting only of wisdom material. Since in the Jewish tradition wisdom admonitions had long been associated in various ways with prophetic and apocalyptic-eschatological preaching, the concluding reference to the kingdom of God would not necessarily have introduced a new and strange theme for Jewish ears.
My conclusion: There are many possible tradition-history analyses of this text. However, except for eliminating the earlier mentioned verses 25d*, e*, and 27*, none of them has been convincingly demonstrated. When the uncertainties are so great and the choices for deconstructing the text are so widespread, I prefer a conservative hypothesis that stays close to the existing text.
Naturally one’s judgment about the origin of the text depends on the tradition-history reconstruction one chooses. This text is unusual not only in the reference to the kingdom of God but also in the consistent address in the second person plural—the second person singular is “normal” for wisdom words of exhortation—along with the designation of the addressees as “of little faith.” That suggests that concrete addressees may be (not: must be!) addressed in concrete situations. That is precisely what is also presupposed in v. 33*, which can be directed only to hearers who have already heard of Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God. These could be, for example, itinerant radicals after Jesus’ death. However, they may also have been people who accompanied Jesus during his lifetime. In my judgment, there are no decisive reasons not to regard the basic text of vv. 25b*, c*, 26*, 28–31*, 32b–33* as coming from Jesus.

Few Gospel texts have evoked such harsh criticism. It is said that every “starving sparrow” contradicts Jesus, not to mention every famine and every war; that the text gives the appearance of being extremely simpleminded; that it acts as if there were no economic problems, only ethical ones,21 and that it is a good symbol of the economic naïveté that has characterized Christianity in the course of its history; that it is applicable only in the special situation of the unmarried Jesus living with friends in sunny Galilee;23 that it is also ethically problematic, since it speaks of work “in the most disdainful terms” and appears to encourage laziness.25 The admonition not to be anxious about tomorrow appears to be naïve not only in the age of global nuclear threats and global unemployment; in the opinion of many interpreters Joseph’s preparations for the lean years in Egypt show that there are more reflective statements in the Bible on the theme of “concern” than Matt 6:25–34*. Correspondingly, for long stretches of its history the interpretation of this text reads like an attempt to defend it against attacks.
But what is there to defend? One main question for the interpretation is: What does the warning against “anxiety” actually mean? Is it a warning against anxiousness, against an inner lack of freedom, against being a prisoner of worry? Is it a warning against greed and covetousness? Or is the issue not only an inner attitude but also a specific behavior, such as the challenge to renounce possessions or refusing to work? The other main question is: Who are the persons addressed? Are they the disciples who are to proclaim the kingdom of God? Or do the wisdom elements show that the text addresses all pious people and not simply the apostles? Or is the text’s comfort offered only to the “poorest of the poor,” and is it an indirect expression of the material “anxieties of the ordinary people”?27 Earlier centuries were almost unanimous about the Christian duty to work, and they presupposed for this text the divine (Gen 3:17–19*) and apostolic commandment of work (2 Thess 3:10–12*).28 Therefore, the scope of this text was frequently reduced to the claim that one is to be concerned about the soul and not about food. A widespread uncertainty dominates the field today.

■ 25a–c* The introductory expression “Therefore I say to you” connects v. 25b* and the following verses with v. 24*. It is neither prophetic30 nor simply a strengthening of the authority of a wisdom speaker. It is, rather, intentional “Jesus language.” The authority of the Lord Jesus stands behind the following words. Ψυχή is not “soul,” since it eats and drinks, but (Semitically) “life.” What, however, does μεριμνάω mean?
In his brief but influential article Bultmann interprets the word as the expression of a fundamental structure of human existence to “secure” life in this world. Overcoming anxiety in faith means “eschatological existence.” Bornhäuser and Jeremias in particular have countered that based on the OT and the context it is activity, the person’s effort, that stands in the foreground.34 The history of the term brings no clear answer. In the parallels the emphasis is on fear and worry.36 The evidence of the Semitic sources is not essentially different from that of the Greek sources.38 The decisive point for the interpretation of this text is not the history of the term but the context. The two images in v. 26* and v. 28* speak for something a human being actively does: the birds do not sow and reap, the lilies do not toil and spin. The “active” opposite term “seek” in v. 33* also speaks for this interpretation.39 However, there are even more important indications that an essential element of this text is overcoming fear: the motif of little faith (v. 30*), the wording of the question “What shall we eat? What shall we drink? What shall we put on?” (v. 31*; cf. v. 25*), and the wisdom addition in v. 28*.
We may not separate the two impulses of “being concerned”: anxiety about one’s existence and actively making an effort. “Being concerned” is acting from anxiety, practiced anxiety about one’s existence. Those who are “concerned” “worry” about something. They act, but they do so with worry, fear, and pain.
■ 25d*, e* Verse 25d*, e gives a first reason why one is not to be concerned. The half-verse is disturbing in the context, because one is concerned about eating and drinking precisely because one is concerned about life (ψυχή), and one is concerned about clothing precisely because one is concerned about the body (σῶμα). What does it mean then that life, or the body, is more than food and clothing? One can interpret it theologically: Since it is God who cares for the “higher” things, life and the body, he will also care for the lesser things, food and clothing. However, this thought, which is familiar from 10:28–31*, would not be clear enough here, especially since the two images in vv. 26* and 28–30* that make a similar and much clearer statement do not appear until later. It is better, therefore, to interpret it in wisdom terms, as a warning against excessive concern: What do you have from life if you do nothing but sweat and worry?41 This idea has a certain parallel in Luke 12:16–21*. Be that as it may, both the first interpretation, which implicitly anticipates the idea of God’s care explicitly stated later, as well as the second interpretation, which with its slogan of a measured carpe diem does not really fit in its setting, are disturbing in the context. The half-verse is a secondary addition.

■ 26 The challenge is supported by a double image. Matthew speaks in biblical language of the birds of heaven for which the community’s heavenly Father cares. A central idea of biblical creation theology is introduced here (cf. Job 38:41*; Pss 104:10–15*; 147:7–9*; Ps. Sol. 5:8–11). However, the text makes a strange statement about the birds: they “do not sow and do not reap.” It is strange because what is denied is typical not of birds but of people. It speaks of two characteristic tasks of a human. What is the meaning of this rhetorically strange metaphorical insertion from the human world into the image of the birds? It makes sense only if here a connection is made to the people to whom the saying is addressed. Is the meaning: “unlike you, the birds do not sow and reap; how much more then will God care for you who do work?” However, God cares for people more than for birds and lilies not because people also contribute something to their own support but because he is their Father. Furthermore, human work is not even mentioned. On the other hand, the birds who do not work are “not … a model, but … witnesses of God’s care.”44 Thus the issue is not that the persons addressed are not to work. So why then is it even said that the birds do not sow and reap? It is probably because there is a connection here with the situation of those who are addressed, that is, they also do not sow and also do not gather into barns.

■ 28–30* The second image is somewhat more detailed and thus increases the effect of the first one. We do not know what kind of flowers are meant with “lilies”; κρίνον can also be used as a general term for “flower.” What is important is that they are field flowers (i.e., “weeds”) and not garden flowers. “Toil” and especially “spin” refer to a woman’s work.47 Solomon is a proverbially glorious king. Verse 30* strengthens the effect. The field flowers are perishable plants, that is, they belong to the things that grow wild that do not consist of wood and that poor people use in their baking ovens.48 We find ourselves here in the milieu of the poor country population of Galilee who have to burn straw in their ovens. However, it is not only poor people who are addressed here, and it is not only their concerns that are expressed. If the image is actually to be relevant, then women are addressed here who also “do not toil and spin.” The direct address ὀλιγόπιστοι (of little faith) reveals that specific persons are addressed. According to old rabbinic traditions, people with imperfect faith (מְחוּסְרֵי אֲמָנָה) are, for example, those Israelites who in the wilderness wanted to gather manna and quail on the Sabbath. This traditional expression has become important for Matthew; it characterizes the situation of the community that stands between unfaith and faith and that in its doubt may once again turn to Jesus’ power for help (8:26*; 14:31*).
■ 27* Between the two images there is an intervening idea that has the sound of a pessimistic wisdom idea. Its meaning has been controversial since ancient times. Ἡλικία initially means “age,” but it can also mean “height.” One has understood it to mean either that people cannot add even a little bit to the length of their life or that people cannot add a cubit to their height. The usual interpretation today is the former interpretation, since prolonging one’s life is a desirable goal and an object of concern, while increasing one’s height is not. In my judgment, however, the better interpretation is the second one,51 since “cubit” (πῆχυς) is not used figuratively of time and ἡλικία means one’s age rather than the length of one’s life. There is in Judaism the idea that because of the fall Adam lost some of his height.54 However, it is still conceivable that one might wish to be taller. In contrast to the two images, this intervening idea of v. 27* breathes an air of resignation. People cannot change the measure God has set for them.

■ 31–33* Verses 31–32* summarize the admonition. Of special importance for Matthew is the link back to his framing of the Lord’s Prayer in 6:7–8*.56 The following verses are to be understood in light of the faith of the praying community whose heavenly Father knows his children and cares for them. As is usually the case in Matthew, in v. 33* “kingdom” means God’s coming rule into which the community hopes to enter by passing through judgment.57 “Righteousness” probably means, as in 3:15*; 5:6*, 10*, 20*; 6:1*, the righteousness required of people, that is, the activity that God desires and that corresponds to his kingdom.58 By inserting “righteousness” Matthew wanted to make clear that seeking the kingdom is not a passive waiting; it is the concrete practice of righteousness as the Sermon on the Mount develops it. The relationship between righteousness and the kingdom of God is, in the sense of 5:20*, that between human practice and promised reward: “His righteousness is that we are taught to act rightly; his kingdom that we know what the reward is that is established for work and patience.”59 Nevertheless, a works-righteousness is not what is meant here, because the action demanded of the community is directed to that heavenly Father who knows their needs and listens to them before they ask. Thus the relationship between “kingdom” and “righteousness” here is the same as the relationship between the second and third petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. The only difference is that here the person’s task is in the foreground, while there it is God’s asked-for acting for and through the person. Human action includes God’s action: God will create his kingdom, and already, as if it were something extra, he will give his disciples food and clothing (cf. Mark 10:30*; 1 Tim 4:8*).
Summary, Verses 25–33*: Jesus

Verses 31–33* make quite clear that Jesus is not interested here in the general question of what it means to be human but that he is addressing certain people in particular. They are men and women who know about the kingdom of God and are touched by it.61 The entire text stands under the signature of the coming kingdom of God. God’s care of his creature becomes encouragement for the disciples at the kingdom’s arrival. Wisdom sayings are taken over into the service of a concrete message about the kingdom of God. Jesus probably spoke these words as comfort and demand to those who in order to join him in proclaiming the kingdom of God no longer practiced their profession. The sayings are bound to Jesus and to his message of the kingdom of God and are far from being an expression of general theological wisdom. The double “I say to you” (vv. 25*, 29*) retains the connection to Jesus and is appropriate.
In the Sayings Source the text was presumably related primarily to the itinerant radicals. One sees that in the connection with Q 12:2–12, especially with Q 12:11–12. Nevertheless, an opening is suggested here. The wisdom additions of vv. 25d*, e*, 27* (and 34*) show that one was able to understand Jesus’ promise also as an expression of a generally valid truth. Correspondingly, in my judgment there was in primitive Christianity no separation in principle between itinerant radicals who gave up their profession and family life and settled disciples of Jesus. Instead, all of Jesus’ adherents were potentially itinerant radicals and called to follow him, just as the radicals understood that they were responsible for the communities.
Summary, Verses 25–33*: Matthew

As such words as “little faith” and “righteousness” imply, Matthew’s understanding was that the text spoke to the entire community. Thus he saw more in it than comfort and challenge only for those who, like Jesus, live as do the birds and lilies without a trade, relying only on God’s care and living for his kingdom. However, he still knew that this text had its roots in early Christian itinerant radicalism. One can see that in the way he combined the text with 6:19–24* and thus with the demand that the radicals give away their possessions. In the process the imperative character is strengthened for the settled community. The text expands v. 24* and shows what it means to serve God and not mammon.64 While for Jesus and the Sayings Source abandoning the practice of a trade and (the use of one’s) possessions was the presupposition of this text, within the composition of 6:19–34* it at least indirectly becomes the demand that is associated with the promise of God’s help. The history of interpretation will show then how the Matthean question about Jesus’ followers’ renunciation of possessions remained linked to this text and how it was repeatedly subjected to new discussion, not least of all because the mammon saying of v. 24* and 6:25–34* were combined as a single pericope for preaching.65

■ 34* Verse 34* is one of the secondary interpretations of our text in wisdom style. It is linguistically difficult. In a Semitic milieu αὔριον can mean not only tomorrow but pars pro toto the future in general. While the neutral predicate “sufficient” (ἀρκετόν) at the beginning of a clause is possible in Greek, the genitive formulation “will be anxious of itself” (μεριμνήσει ἑαυτῆς) is very unusual. “Evil” (κακία) does not have the usual meaning of moral wickedness; it has the more general meaning of hardship or trouble. The content is equally difficult. One can choose between a more optimistic and a more pessimistic interpretation. (a) Understood optimistically, this verse can speak of the possibility of living fully in the present. (b) The pessimistic interpretation is more probable, however, because with v. 34c* the verse ends on a pessimistic note: all planning is futile; it is enough for a person to bear the burden of each day.70 This verse is unusual because the text has just spoken about seeking the kingdom of God. The appearance of the two verses side by side shows how in early Christianity the hope for the kingdom of God did not completely determine life; eschatological hope and pessimistic realism could coexist. Human reality is also more complex here than a theological theory.
History of Interpretation

We can roughly distinguish between (a) interpretations that, similar to the Sayings Source or to Jesus himself, understand this text as a word of comfort for those disciples of Jesus who know that they are responsible for the gospel in a special way; and (b) interpretations that by taking up, but at the same time changing, Matthean concerns relate this text to all Christians. Everywhere in both camps the question of renouncing possessions is at the center of interest, but it is answered in different ways. Quite frequently the question of work is raised.
a. One of the principal differences between early Christian itinerant radicalism and monasticism is that in the latter there was from early on a positive regard for work; indeed, it became the basic element of monastic life. Influential here are Gen 3:17–19*, 2 Thess 3:10–12*, and Paul’s apostolic example. We find a renunciation of work among the earliest Egyptian hermits, who depended exclusively on God to feed them, and somewhat later among the Euchites or Messalians, who required constant prayer. In the Syriac Liber Graduum the way of the perfect is contrasted with the “side road” that leads away from perfection. One of the characteristics of perfection is that in the sense of Matt 6:25–34* one does not care. However, the apostolic slogan of 2 Thess 3:10–12* is a “side road”: Work and eat your own bread!72 Here the eschatological perspective is translated into a strongly ascetic basic concept. In a real sense those who are perfect already have left the earth; when they care neither for their own lives nor the lives of their brothers, they are like the angels. Augustine’s writing against the Messalians, the tractate De opere monachorum, reveals that Matt 6:25–34* must have been a central text for the Messalian monks, who as “birds of the heaven” did no work with their hands. Augustine’s work is essentially an interpretation of Matt 6:25–34*. It was not an easy task for him, since with all of his polemic against the monks who avoided work he also wanted to defend the right of priests not to have to work.75 Similar tones emerge from time to time in the Middle Ages. The Waldensians appealed to Matt 6:25–34* in rejecting all work for their preachers. Along with Gen 3:17–19*, Matt 6:25–34* contributed a great deal in the Middle Ages to the negative view of work.77
However, a positive view of work is characteristic of monasticism in general. Antony hears this text in church, gives away his possessions, and becomes an ascetic. In the same chapter of his influential biography, however, the manual labor of the young ascetic appears in connection with 2 Thess 3:10*.78 In keeping with Matt 6:34* Pachomius and his brother distribute the surplus of their manual labor to the poor.79 An emphasis on work becomes an established part of all monastic regulations from Basil to Francis of Assisi. Then in Rupert of Deutz the interpretation of our text is connected for the first time with a reference to Matt 19:16–22* and is put under the sign of a “counsel of perfection” (consilium … perfectionis). He calls out pathetically: “These sparrows,” who have abandoned everything and who desire only to follow the Lord, “are to build nests among you”; “build monasteries; establish churches” (construite coenobia, fundate ecclesias). The church’s domestication of these radical birds under the sign of the counsel of the gospel (consilium Evangelicum) is obvious here.
b. The interpretation of our text in terms of all Christians reveals the discomfort it has caused in the churches. What the text does not say is repeatedly emphasized, and in the process its teeth become increasingly dull. It is claimed that of course our text permits work; indeed, it requires it. Jerome expresses it in a short, often repeated formula: “work is to be done, anxiety to be abolished” (labor exercendus est, sollicitudo tollenda). Even possessions are permitted; the issue is simply how they are used. Therefore, our text is used parenetically in support of the call to charity and almsgiving.82 Above all, however, worry is not something that can simply be forbidden. It is permissible to distinguish between care that is allowed, even commanded, and unevangelical and forbidden care. A great help here is v. 34*, a verse that becomes so important that it often dominates the interpretation of our text. Examples: Worry about the present, and only about it, is permitted.83 There is such a thing as “tomorrow” only in time. Temporal, earthly cares are forbidden; we are to think of eternity. Care as an expression of love is commanded.85 God forbids exaggerated worry. One must distinguish between active zeal (σπουδή) and anxious worry. In the context of the two-kingdoms doctrine a distinction is made between the necessary concern of official persons and the forbidden worry about oneself: kings, fathers of families, subjects must care in the context of their office, and they must do so for tomorrow as well as for today.88
Both types of interpretation briefly introduced here are adaptations, even domestications, of our text. The first type, which firmly, even positively, places Christian radicals, monks, and priests alongside and for the Christian populace, is specifically Catholic; the second basic type, which is much more widespread, is found in both Catholicism and Protestantism. The domestication becomes all the more visible the more the opposition between the kingdom of God, which determined the carefree existence of the followers, and the world gave way to a peaceful coexistence between them. The second type of interpretation is especially able to make the text almost completely devoid of meaning. It is able to connect it with a Protestant work ethic, an affirmation of possessions and rational planning for the future that serves the general interest. All that remains is the warning against “despondent worry” and a “despairing heart” that no longer express Christian trust in God.
Meaning for Today

The text, which was increasingly emptied of meaning during the history of its interpretation, appears to be gaining new fascination today. For people whose lives are overly planned and everywhere institutionally cared for it appears to open up the possibility of “carefree vitality” and “free spontaneity.” For the contemporary person who has grown tired of the constant Christian justification of possessions and who is suspicious about the emphasis on the supreme value of work, the text offers a glimpse of an alternative way of life. What is left here for the exegete is simply in the name of the text to warn against being too quickly fascinated. The alternative life of which this text indeed speaks is service to the kingdom of God, not merely an alternative lifestyle in the manner of a “return to nature”91 or simply a renunciation of a middle-class job. According to Matthew, part of this service is trust in God’s care while working on behalf of God’s righteousness. For Matthew this trust is the basis and the inner side of abandoning one’s own security about which 6:19–24* spoke and which is also in the background in our own text. The life of the early Christian itinerant radicals is the model for this attitude of trusting God alone. Without making laws, Matthew confronts the entire community with this exorbitant expectation. Now the task facing the modern church is to ask what poverty, renouncing a profession, or renouncing work might mean in one’s service on behalf of the kingdom of God. The text does not prescribe anything here, but it does point to directions and open up alternative possibilities that we then must actualize ourselves.
Hardly anyone has understood that better than Søren Kierkegaard, for whom Matt 6:25–34* was a favorite text.93 In “The Instant, No. VII” he tells a story that senses how much the text demands as well as how far one’s own situation is removed from the text. It is the story of the ministerial candidate Ludvig From, who “first” (cf. Matt 6:33*) seeks a royal appointment as a pastor, therefore “first” must pass his exams, then “first” complete the church’s exams and graduate from seminary, then “first” get engaged, and finally, after “first” he “had” to negotiate his salary, he stands in the pulpit and preaches his first sermon on the text “Seek ‘first’ the kingdom of God.” The bishop is impressed by the “sound, unadulterated doctrine” proclaimed here, especially by “ ‘the way he stressed this word first.’ ‘But does it not seem to your Lordship that in this instance a correspondence between speech and life would be desirable?’ ”
2.4.3 Do Not Judge (7:1–5*)
J. Duncan M. Derrett, “Christ and Reproof (Matthew 7.1–5/Luke 6.37–42),” NTS 34 (1988) 271–81.
Bernd Kollmann, “Jesu Verbot des Richtens und die Gemeindedisziplin,” ZNW 88 (1997) 170–86.
Reiser, Judgment, 263–66.
Zeller, Mahnsprüche, 113–17.

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

7:1 “Do not judge, then you will not be judged.
2 For with the judgment with which you judge you will be judged,
and with the measure you measure it will be measured to you.
3 And why do you look at the splinter in your brother’s eye,
but you do not notice the beam in your eye?
4 Or how will you say to your brother: ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye’?
and behold, the beam is in your own eye.
5 Hypocrite, first take the beam out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly so that you can take the splinter out of your brother’s eye.”
The piece consists of two parts: vv. 1–2* and vv. 3–5*. In the present arrangement the plural prohibition formulated, as in 6:19*, 25*, and 7:6*, with “not” (μή) serves as a covering title, and the wisdom admonition in vv. 3–5*, formulated in the singular, is pointedly focused on the individual (cf. the similar change in 5:21–26*, 27–30*, 38–42*). Verses 3–5* are skillfully constructed. The verses consist of two questions and a concluding admonition that is sharpened with the direct address “hypocrite.” The observation added to the admonition increases its length so that it breaks the pattern. Thus we have a composition consisting of three parts, each of which has two members. No consistent parallelism is apparent. With its frequent repetition of “splinter” (κάρφος), “beam” (δοκός), “eye” (ὀφθαλμός), “throw, take” (βάλλω), and “brother” (ἀδελφός) the text makes a compact and unified impression. The three appearances of “brother” make clear that the text is speaking about the community.
Redaction and Tradition History
a. Verses 1–2*. Verse 2a* is missing from the parallel Luke 6:37–38*, which has in its place an extensive expansion in vv. 37b*, c*, and 38b*. Neither addition can be shown linguistically to be redaction.2 Once again the assumption of two different Q recensions, Q and Q, remains the least unlikely explanation. The Lukan logia in vv. 39* and 40* appear elsewhere in Matthew; in my judgment there is no certain basis for saying that Matthew has read them in his copy of Q. Matt 7:2b* is a roving logion that also appears in Mark 4:24*; it may have been a secondary addition in the process of transmission. Thus Matt 7:1*/Luke 6:37a* is the core of the tradition.
b. Verses 3–5* are in almost verbatim agreement with Luke 6:41–42*. Except for “behold” in v. 4*, nothing can be said with any probability to be redactional. The traditional unit is compact and originally independent,4 and in my judgment it cannot be further deconstructed.
Because of its radical nature v. 1* is almost universally attributed to Jesus, while v. 2a*, b* are regarded as secondary arguments. In my judgment vv. 3–5* illustrate how uncertain judgments about authenticity can be. They agree with Jesus’ proclamation that speaks of love and forgiveness. With their hyperbolically pointed formulation and with their direct address they are also linguistically in accord with Jesus.6 They appear not to have been influenced by the problems of the later community such as the questions about church discipline. On the other hand, they reveal no direct trace of Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God, and they are in no way original in comparison with a number of Jewish statements. We have here one of the numerous instances in which the criterion of dissimilarity is no help at all. Verses 3–5* constitute a Jewish text that is in harmony with Jesus and therefore may come from him.
History of Interpretation

The most important question is: How far-reaching is Jesus’ prohibition of judging? Does it speak only to the way individuals deal with one another? The metaphorical admonition about the splinter and the beam in vv. 3–5* supports such a reading. Or is more involved here, such as a fundamental questioning of all judging, including judging in state and society? The general formulation of v. 1* could speak for that reading.
a. From an early date Matt 7:1–2* has been applied to church discipline and ecclesiastical judging. Is Jas 4:11–12* an early echo of this Jesus saying?7 Irenaeus has to defend himself against a false interpretation of this saying, arguing that the bishop is not prohibited from reproving those who err. Tertullian criticizes a bishop (Callistus) who justified his mildness in imposing penance by appealing to Matt 7:1*.9 It is claimed that Matt 7:1* does not apply to bishops, only to laity.10 Later interpreters point constantly to Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1–11*) or to the fornicator in Corinth (1 Cor 5:1–8*). Only in confessional polemics are critical questions raised about ecclesiastical legal activity.11 The large majority of interpreters also agree that our verses may not be used to call into question the state’s judicial system.
Thus our text is to be applied primarily to everyday life, to rash judgments about people, to “making disparaging comments, talking behind people’s backs, and condemning.” It is contrasted with love and forgiving one’s brothers and sisters. This understanding is old. The combination of the prohibition of judging and the command to forgive in 1 Clem. 13.2 and Polycarp 2.3 points in this direction. Here also the prohibition is not absolute, however, since love is the criterion for judging. When in doubt one is to give one’s neighbor the benefit of the doubt (to judge in meliorem partem) and not to drag hidden sin into the light of day. One repeatedly comes across the warning against hasty judging.15 Verse 5* is understood as a positive instruction: if you have reproved yourself and then you reprove others, you are not a “perverse judge” (iudex perversus); you are doing what the gospel commands.
All these examples show how this commandment of the Sermon on the Mount was “domesticated.” Judging is permitted as long as legitimate judges practice it in church and state. The saying was toned down to the level of advice to judge mildly or to a principle of personal Christian ethics.
b. In monasticism, among the Anabaptists and other nonconformists, the prohibition of judging was understood more radically. Although it was almost always applied to the individual Christian (and to a certain degree to the community), one can see here something of the contrast that exists between Christianity and secular structures. We must mention before all others the monasticism of Syria and Egypt. For the Anchorites our saying is absolutely central, the focal point of all Christian existence. It is “as if there were for these figures in the desert only this one word.” There are countless stories that tell how the fathers consistently rejected judging of any kind.19 Fairy von Lilienfeld states that “one is aware here that Jesus’ proclamation of God’s reign involves a reversal of the standards of the world and that one intentionally lives this reversal. If one lives it by practicing even only one word of Jesus, then one has stepped out of the world toward the βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ.” However, this existential existence of the monks in the desert at the margin of the world does not call the world into question; it merely leaves it alone. According to the Syriac Liber Graduum, the perfecti, to whom the absolute prohibition of judging applies, and the “children,” the “little ones,” live alongside and for one another. Institutionalized monasticism, by including the prohibition against judging in its regulations,22 is also a way of making the kingdom of God at home at the margin of the world. One sees something similar in the history of the Anabaptists. Under Menno Simons the Anabaptists were still not permitted to fill the office of a judge.
There were also cases of conflict in church history. The attempt of the radical nonconformists under Harrison to abolish the law courts failed because of resistance from Cromwell and the moderates. For philological reasons Tolstoy felt compelled to apply Matt 7:1* to secular courts, and he began to doubt the honesty of all interpreters since the ancient church who had asserted otherwise.25

■ 1* First of all v. 1* is to be interpreted separately, since it is the oldest part of the composition. “Judge” (κρίνω) has a wide range of meanings and is generally used in a neutral sense: “to decide,” “to regulate,” “to pronounce judgments.” However, the context makes clear that “to condemn” is meant here; only then does the final clause “so that you are not judged” make sense. Thus Luke correctly clarifies the general word κρίνω with the more specialized καταδικάζω (condemn). The final clause looks to the eschatological correlation: in his final judgment God will judge people who judge in the same way they have judged. That human action and God’s action correspond to one another is said in many, especially Western, texts.28
How extensive is this prohibition then? Wisdom admonitions such as this one are aimed first of all at the individual’s actions. They are not thinking of institutions such as law courts. Still, it is noteworthy that Jesus’ prohibition is stated as a principle; it is not focused on a particular, concrete situation. In the Sayings Source this statement immediately followed the section on loving enemies, which was meant as a universal principle, and it is to be understood on the basis of that text. With Jesus we find not only a completely nonjudgmental fellowship that included outcasts such as sinners and tax collectors but also a remarkable indifference to God’s law as it was known in Israel, an indifference one sees in the story of the adulteress (John 7:53–8:11*) or indirectly in Jesus’ almost total lack of interest in the halakah. Everything supports the idea that Jesus speaks here of something very basic that, like the love of one’s enemy and non-violence, may well be associated with the coming of the kingdom of God. Although the admonition is directed primarily to the individual, Jesus “does not make a distinction between private judgment and the activity of a judge.”30 The kingdom of God is coming; that means that people are no longer to condemn people. However, no thought is given to the consequences this principle might have for the secular legal order.

■ 2* To explain the subordinate clause, v. 2* makes use of a principle that was widespread in the world of business,32 in everyday life, in law, and also in language about the last judgment: measure for measure. Verse 2a* clarifies what that means for God’s judgment: Since all of us will appear before God’s judgment, the standard we apply to others will someday be applied to us. It is left up to the readers to decide how they are to understand these explanations. The simplest interpretation is that they heighten the warning: when you judge, remember God’s verdict. A deeper idea based on vv. 3–5* is also conceivable: all people are such “debtors” that they should not judge at all (cf. John 8:7*). A related story that portrays this idea and thus calls people to unlimited forgiveness is the Matthean story that Jesus tells about the unmerciful servant (18:23–35*).33 In contrast to that story, however, here one’s refusal to condemn people is not based on God’s love, which all people will experience in abundant measure when his kingdom comes. There is also no connection here with the idea of love for people that contradicts human condemning. Instead, vv. 1–2* show how much for Jesus and in early Christianity the idea of God’s judgment was taken for granted, and they show that it obviously did not sound a discordant note in the music of love.35

■ 3–4* Much like the exhortations to nonviolence in 5:39–41*, the admonition first to remove the beam from one’s own eye illustrates the principle of 7:1*. The purpose of the verses is to sharpen, not to weaken or restrict.36 Thus in addressing the individual the principle of not judging in no way means only that in dealing with the neighbor one should first see the beam in one’s own eye. The sharpness of the verses also is not that they posed a new or especially radical demand.38 It is, rather, that the ego of the one who judges is placed in a new light. The one who judges becomes one who is judged. The tangible power of the metaphor is impressive. The hyperboles of the splinter and the beam are “a blow struck at the heart of the man who knows good and evil.”40 The hearers are called into question; they are dismayed. The direct address in the singular “you” heightens this effect. From vv. 1–2* they know about God’s judgment that threatens their “beam.” The repeated expression “brother” increases the “impact” in the Christian community. The fellow human being whose fault one derives so much pleasure from exposing is a Christian brother (or sister). The metaphors heighten the grotesque. While it is quite possible that one could have a small splinter in the eye, the beam in one’s own eye exceeds all conceivable dimensions. Someone who has a beam in the eye is completely blind and thus can make no judgment at all about the splinter in the brother’s eye.

■ 5* Verse 5* shows that this has been carefully considered. Τότε διαβλέψεις means “then you will see clearly.” The appended infinitive must have a final (purposive) or consecutive meaning: only then will you be able to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye. Is v. 5* meant ironically in the sense that “if you then still want to mess around with finding fault with your brother, you may do so”?42 The image would speak for such a reading, since after a beam has been surgically removed from one’s own eye one does not see clearly; indeed, at first one does not see at all. Speaking against that understanding, however, is “first” (πρῶτον), which points to a clear sequence of two acts. Thus the text is speaking of a process in the context of the community in which even the splinter in the brother’s eye is simply not a private matter.44 However, vv. 3–5* are to be read in light of vv. 1–2*. When the brother whose beam has been removed shares in removing the splinter in the eye of the other brother, his participation can no longer have the character of judging.45 Since Matthew himself does not leave his own redactional accents in the section, we can only derive a sense of what may have been important for him from his whole Gospel. In his sense it is probably appropriate when both older and more recent interpreters think here of the forgiveness petition of the Lord’s Prayer (6:12*; cf. 6:14–15*).46 In a later chapter he will interpret his community’s practice of admonition and exhortation (18:15–20*) in terms of forgiveness, and perhaps he will even indirectly criticize it (18:12–14*, 21–35*).

These verses are to be read under the signatures of the radical love demand of the antitheses (5:43–48*) and the forgiveness petitions of the prayer section (6:12*, 14–15*). They summon people to a fundamental and radical attitude that corresponds to the divine judge’s love. It is quite likely that the evangelist would have reacted positively to the attempts of the monks to realize this love by moving to the world’s margin and establishing a life of brotherly love that was a countersign to the world. However, the impact of this command of Jesus has been limited in the history of interpretation when the concrete example of vv. 1–2* in vv. 3–5* has largely been replaced by its programmatic restriction to personal relationships among the members of the church. Matthew does not say how this radical sign of brotherliness can be realized in the world and how it can be mediated with the world’s legal institutions. Here one’s own creativity of love is required.
2.4.4 Do Not Give What Is Holy to the Dogs (7:6*)
Hermann von Lips, “Schweine füttert man, Hunde nicht—ein Versuch, das Rätsel von Mt 7,6 zu lösen,” ZNW 79 (1988) 65–86.
Neil J. McEleney, “The Unity and Theme of Matthew 7:1–12,” CBQ 56 (1994) 490–500.

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

6 “Do not give what is holy to the dogs,
and do not throw your pearls before the pigs,
so that they will not trample them with their feet
and turn and tear you to pieces.”

This logion is a puzzle. Even its symbolic meaning is uncertain; its application and its sense in the Matthean context are a complete mystery.
It therefore became a playground for Aramaists. As early as 1792 Johann Adrian Bolten surmised that a mistranslation of Aramaic קְדָשָׁא or קַדִּישָׁה (the ring) as “what is holy” lies behind τὸ ἅγιον. Since then his suggestion has been improved by means of a number of proposals. In the process the original text was reconstructed by assuming additional mistranslations and the help of the rhythm of the text.2 All of that may be nice, but our task is to interpret the Greek text.
Formally the logion is an admonition with four parts. Two parallel imperatives are followed by two final explanatory clauses. It is possible, but by no means certain, that the text has a chiastic structure: the pigs trample the pearls; the dogs tear “you” to pieces. The logion is preserved elsewhere only in the Gospel of Thomas (93), where it is also followed by the saying about seeking and finding (Matt 7:7* = Gos. Thom. 94). In Gos. Thom. 93 the chiasm is dissolved, and the prohibition against giving what is holy to the dogs is followed immediately by its justification: “so that it not be thrown on the dung-heap.” The wording of the Gospel of Thomas is hardly useful for reconstructing the original wording. The wording of Matt 7:6* is the oldest available wording. We can no longer say whether the saying appeared in Q and was omitted by Luke or whether Matthew found it in QMt. Nothing can be decided about its origin.

In antiquity dogs were not among the treasured house pets; they were often half-wild animals that roamed around and for the most part were despised. According to the teacher of 4QMMT they were not permitted in the “area of the sanctuary,” because they “eat the bones of the sanctuary when the flesh is still on them.” The prohibition against separating out sacrificial animals with flaws and giving them to the dogs to eat is well known in rabbinic texts.6 Thus “what is holy” is probably meat that has been sacrificed. Behind v. 6a* stands a well-known Jewish cultic regulation. However, the prohibition against casting pearls before the pigs is a poor match for that regulation. No Jew would keep pigs. The unclean pig, which is unmentionable in rabbinic texts, is the embodiment of what is detestable.8 By contrast, pearls are the most costly things imaginable. Putting the cultic prohibition in v. 6a* alongside the hyperbolic prohibition in v. 6b* against feeding pearls to, of all things, unclean pigs shows that the cultic command functions metaphorically and does not have its own meaning.9 The two final clauses of v. 6c* and v. 6d* are of little help for the interpretation. Verse 6c* looks at the pearls that are trampled in the muck by the pigs, while v. 6d* is a direct warning to those who do such things. Stray dogs often were not fed; their hunger was proverbial. Whoever feeds them—and with consecrated sacrificial flesh at that—acts both shamelessly and dangerously. The dogs will return with their ravenous hunger and attack their “benefactors.”10 In my judgment the images of the two final clauses are quite understandable, but they offer little that indicates how they are to be applied.
What do the two prohibitions represent? Dog and pig can be mentioned together in both Jewish and non-Jewish texts. “Dog” is a popular insult.13 In many texts “pig” appears as a metaphor for “Gentiles” or for “Rome.” “Dog” can also be a metaphor for Gentiles, but it is not as common.15 “Pearls” can designate metaphorically sayings of sages or successful interpretations of the Torah. Was the saying a warning against giving the proclamation or perhaps even the law and its “pearls”—that is, its interpretations—to the Gentiles? That may be the most plausible explanation of the original meaning, but what is the purpose of such a warning in the present Matthean context? Theologically it is not at all in keeping with Matthew.17 Or do we have here a more general warning such as “priceless words of wisdom are not for stupid people”? Much less probable is an interpretation of “dog” and “pig” in terms of Christian apostates.19 In both cases one still must ask: What is such a completely unmotivated warning doing in the context of Matt 7:1–5*? It is hardly the case that 7:6* is only a quotation contrary to Jesus’ admonition to broad-mindedness and openness that was inserted for rhetorical reasons. Jesus would then quote a proverb that probably came from Pharisaic circles.20 A better suggestion is that one is reacting here to the rejection of the Christian missionary message: one is not to proclaim the Christian message to just anybody. However, what readers could anticipate that in this context? The thesis that v. 6* is intended to limit vv. 3–5* enjoys some popularity. The point would be that there are limits to brotherliness.22 However, it would be surprising after vv. 3–5* if it now were said that there are indeed “beams” in the brother’s eye that one neither can nor should take out. And are we then to say that the Christian practice of reproving one another is “what is holy”?
I am going to permit myself not to interpret the logion in its Matthean context. Matthew was a conservative author; out of faithfulness to his tradition he included the saying simply because it appeared in his copy of Q.
History of Interpretation
Since the logion was never actually anchored in the Matthean context, in the history of its interpretation it experienced to a large degree what we can also observe elsewhere: the logia are again separated from their context, and they operate as isolated sayings. In German (and in English) the saying about the pearls became a proverb with many uses. There are a number of applications. Only baptized persons may participate in the Eucharist (Did. 9.5). Gnostic mysteries or the mysteries of the Bible are not to be revealed to everybody (Gos. Thom. 93). Divine doctrines are not to be preached to unholy ears and hearts.24 The dogs are allegorically the Gentiles, the pigs the heretics. Often in connection with 2 Pet 2:22* the pigs and dogs are the church’s opponents and false teachers. In short, the church applied the saying somewhat ad libitum, and it was regulated by the church’s tradition rather than by the biblical text. That reflects the erratic character of this logion, a logion that is not understandable in the Matthean context.
Meaning for Today

What is one to do with this biblical word in the church today? My advice is radical: one should not use it as a biblical word. The history of interpretation shows that such a saying whose context has become totally unrecognizable was able to be used only as a secondary biblical legitimation for ecclesiastical or theological divisions that for other reasons already existed. If people had already rejected something anyway, it was easy to justify their own conviction with the statement: “For this very reason the Lord said, ‘Do not give what is holy to the dogs’ ” (Did. 9.5). A biblical word is always too valuable to be used for such reinforcement functions.
2.4.5 Boldness in Prayer (7:7–11*)
Norbert Brox, “Suchen und Finden: Zur Nachgeschichte von Mt 7,7b; Lk 11,9b,” in Paul Hoffmann, ed., Orientierung an Jesus: Zur Theologie der Synoptiker: Für Josef Schmid (Freiburg: Herder, 1973) 17–36.
Dale Goldsmith, “ ‘Ask and it will be given …’: Towards Writing the History of a Logion,” NTS 35 (1989) 254–65.
Klaus Koschorke, “ ‘Suchen und Finden’ in der Auseinandersetzung zwischen gnostischem und kirchlichem Christentum,” WuD 14 (1977) 51–65.
Ronald A. Piper, “Matthew 7,7–11 par. Luke 11,9–13: Evidence of Design and Argument in the Collection of Jesus’ Sayings,” in Joël Delobel, ed., Logia: Les Paroles de Jésus: The Sayings of Jesus: Mémorial Joseph Coppens (BEThL 59; Louvain: Peeters; Louvain University Press, 1982) 411–18.
Michael G. Steinhauser, Doppelbildworte in den synoptischen Evangelien (FzB 44; Würzburg: Echter Verlag, 1981) 69–79.
Michael Theunissen, “ʽΟ αἰτῶν λαμβάνει: Der Gebetsglaube Jesu und die Zeitlichkeit des Christseins,” in Jesus: Ort der Erfahrung Gottes (2d ed.; Freiburg: Herder, 1976) 13–68.
Zeller, Mahnsprüche, 127–31.

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

7 “Ask, and it will be given to you.
Seek, and you will find.
Knock, and it will be opened to you.
8 For every one who asks receives,
and the one who seeks finds
and to the one who knocks it will be opened.
9 Or who among you is a person
whose son will ask for bread:
he certainly will not give him a stone?
10 Or he will ask him for a fish:
he certainly will not give him a serpent?
11 If then you who are evil know to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him?”
The pericope makes a compact impression. The threefold invitation (v. 7*) parallels the threefold explanation (v. 8*). It is further developed with a double parable whose symmetry is disturbed only in v. 10*, which is slightly shortened. The conclusion again has two parts with a conclusion a minore. The individual parts are closely linked by the catchword “ask” (αἰτέω, 5 times) and formations of the root “give” (δο-, 6 times). There is no strict rhythm.
The formulation “your (Father) in heaven” in v. 11* and perhaps “man” in v. 9* are redaction.2 Thus the Matthean redaction of this Q text is again very reserved. Matthew’s most important change is the placement of the text before the end of the main section of the Sermon on the Mount (see on 6:19–7:11). Luke’s most important change is the insertion of the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13b*). Only the second of the two parables in vv. 9–10* has a parallel in Luke. Instead of the first one, Luke has in v. 12* the opposites “egg”/“scorpion.” There is no plausible reason why Matthew or Luke should have created a new image here.3 The most probable hypothesis is that of two different Q recensions: Q and Q.
The section is probably a unit. In my judgment the only alternative would be to regard vv. 7–8* as an originally independent logion.4 However, I do not find such a tradition-history deconstruction compelling, since v. 8* does not actually substantiate v. 7*. The entire text may come from Jesus. There is ample evidence (6:7–8*; cf. 9*; Luke 11:5–8*; 18:1–8*) that one of his basic convictions is the confidence that prayer will be heard.

■ 7–8* The text begins with a call to ask. The three variations heighten the urgency. The context will immediately make clear that the text is about God and not about asking people for something.6 All three verbs, “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” (αἰτέω, ζητέω, κρούω), have a religious dimension in Jewish Christian usage. One asks or seeks God,9 one knocks on the “gates of mercy.” In the context of the entire section, which speaks of prayer, all three verbs are probably understood as synonyms, although the pair “seek”/“find” in particular more likely refers originally to knowledge.11 Verse 8* begins with “For,” but it is more a repetition of v. 7* than arguments in support of its contents. The accent shifts and now lies on the promise that God12 will hear the one who prays. For two of the three main verbs the Greek translator chose the present tense to make clear that the promise of answered prayer applies not only to the eschaton. The wording of the text is as open as possible: everyone who asks receives. Every restriction, such as limiting the promise to specific groups of people who pray, contradicts its tendency. Yet how does the speaker know that everyone who asks receives, that everyone who seeks finds, and that it is opened to everyone who knocks? The text merely postulates that without substantiating it. Is it “the experience of the beggar” that is expressed here? Yet it is well known that beggars also have very negative experiences. Or is it the general experience that if they insist enough, people always eventually get what they want?15 Luke 18:1–8* could support such a view, but absolutely nothing in our text suggests urgent asking or continuous knocking. Thus the reasons given in v. 8* themselves require reasons. That is why the text continues with a double parable.

■ 9–10* The promise that one’s request will be granted is illustrated with the two images. They are taken from everyday life. Bread and fish are among the staples of the Jews.16 Associating bread and stone is traditional. Furthermore, they also look similar. In a sense the same is true for snake and fish.18 The two images are probably thinking of the contrast “useless”/“useful” rather than, as in Luke 11:12–13*, of the contrast “dangerous”/“beneficial.” Jesus’ expression of absolute certainty that prayer will be answered is not unheard-of for the believing Jew of his day. Unlike the even more pointed formulation in 6:7–8*, there are numerous Jewish parallels to our text.19 Thus the function of the two parables is not to explain something new or to contradict peoples’ expectations. By sharpening a well-known Jewish belief they perform a rhetorical function. The introduction to the parable, “who among you,” is designed to draw the hearers into the parable, to engage them.21 The stylistic technique of using two images heightens the effect.

■ 11* The parables work with the principle of appealing to what is evident, and they point to the care of earthly fathers for their children. However, everyone knows that there are also bad fathers who do not give their children what they need. Therefore, the image is not simply transferred to the theological level; it is surpassed with a “how much more”: God’s love is much more sure than the earthly father’s love. Only faith can speak in this way; the “rational access” to the “certainty of faith”22 is surpassed by faith. The choice of the image of the father was made under the presupposition of Jesus’ faith in his heavenly Father. Thus one does not comprehend God merely by projecting a human experience of love with earthly fathers onto God. Instead, those who begin with faith in the heavenly Father are able to recognize helpful allusions to the heavenly Father in the (quite ambiguous) experience of the love of earthly fathers. However, the faith in the gracious Father-God stands at the beginning of these parables and is not their result. That is also true for the entire text: it is the certainty of faith that speaks through this text and makes its images clear.
The reference to human evil is a rhetorical means of strengthening the certainty of faith. Its purpose is not to develop an anthropological pessimism but to clarify the “how much more” by pointing out that earthly fathers are comparable to the heavenly Father only in a very limited sense. It also makes possible the powerful contrast between evil people and good gifts: How good will the gifts be of the heavenly Father who is really good? “Good gifts”24 is formulated so generally that any limitation placed on the promise (e.g., only good gifts) would contradict the direction of the text. As in 6:7–8*, the concern here is also to encourage people to “child-like” prayer.25 The certainty that prayer will be heard does not make it superfluous; it makes it possible.
Summary and History of Interpretation

Once again we see Jesus’ unconditional trust in the Father. Such faith evokes admiration but also criticism. In “the full,magnificence and simplicity of his faith”27 is Jesus not also naïve and blind to reality? Does he really think that every request will be answered?
One can understand the history of the interpretation of this text as a struggle over this question and also as an effort to relate it to life’s reality. Limitations are usually placed on the promise of this text. It is limited in three different ways.
a. Not every request is granted. God gives only good gifts. Bread, fish, and egg (= Luke 11:12*) are often interpreted allegorically to refer to love, faith, and hope.28 Thus the text refers to spiritual gifts. It is also said that God does not immediately grant what is asked for. The parenetic interpretation points in another direction: one is only to ask for “what one really needs.”30
b. The center of the text is shifted back to the imperative in v. 7*. The issue is that and how one prays. Thus the text is a summons to diligent, continuing, steadfast prayer. The author of James already asserts, presumably without thinking of our text: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask badly” (Jas 4:3*).32 If one’s prayer is not granted, the explanation is simply that one did not pray the right way. “He who does not find, did not seek.” Related to this parenetic use of the text is a popular interpretation of v. 8*: asking, seeking, and knocking are no longer interpreted as synonyms that strengthen one another; they are the stages in a way of prayer that, for example, can start with asking and lead finally to knocking on the heavenly “door,” Christ. Such limitations reflect the real experience of unanswered prayer. They are therefore to be taken seriously, even when they do not consistently preserve God’s unconditional promise that appears in our text.
c. A third way of limiting the promise of the text is rarer: God answers the prayers only of Christians, not of people like Jews and Turks. This is a clear contradiction of v. 8* (πᾶς). It is the expression of a theology that is no longer aware that in substance the promise of God’s love precedes the creation of a Christian community.
Exegesis can only partly answer the questions underscored by the history of interpretation. Jesus was certainly not thinking that all prayer wishes would be answered, even those that are foolish and needless. He was thinking of things necessary for life. That is clear from other passages as well as from the images in the parables (bread, fish). However, that is more an obvious presupposition of the text than its accent. Jesus’ confidence that prayer would be answered was probably part of his hope for the coming of the kingdom of God that remained unbroken until his death.37 In a superficial sense it came to naught in his passion. Was it blind to reality? In any case it was the power of this hope that enabled Jesus to face his death.
For Matthew the answer to prayer means the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ with his church until the end of the world (Matt 28:20*). He makes clear throughout his entire story of Jesus that God has led the Lord, the one who is present with his church, through suffering and death to the resurrection. Even for Matthew Christian confidence in prayer in no way means that the heavenly Father will spare his church its own journey to the cross38 and in a superficial sense fulfill all requests. However, that is nowhere explicitly stated. Instead, the evangelist shows at another point how much he has reflected on his theology of prayer. For him confidence in prayer is not a substitute for one’s own human action; rather, they belong together. Once again, as he has done in the center of the Sermon on the Mount (6:6–15*), at the conclusion of its main section he speaks quite intentionally of prayer to the Father. Later he will speak just as intentionally of the presence of the Lord Jesus with those who dare to believe and who keep the commandments (cf. 14:28–31*; 28:19–20*). Confidence in prayer means embedding an active Christian life in prayer to the loving Father.39 That shows how little the Matthean understanding of righteousness has in common with works-righteousness in the Pauline sense.
History of Interpretation: Verse 7a*
Verse 7a* has a special history that, largely independent of the whole text, builds on the traditional horizon of associations with the verbs “seek” and “find.”40 In Gnosticism seeking (and with it our logion) became the central description of Christian existence. The true Gnostic is the one who seeks the invisible Father. By contrast, the church’s interpretation emphasizes that Christians are those whose seeking has ended, because they have already found. They have found, namely, the regula fidei, the basis of faith. The Christian Gnostics Clement and Origen, who had to defend themselves against the implicit hostility to theology of the anti-Gnostic church people, tried to relate the seeking to the church’s faith. They did so not least of all by understanding it as searching the scriptures, as exegesis.43 In retrospect it occurs to the modern observer that if the Gnostics understood themselves as seekers, as people who even in their systems were still on the way and had not yet arrived at the Father beyond this world, then their relative tolerance toward the church’s believers becomes understandable. At the same time the diversity of their systems, as an expression of their seeking and probably also of their provisional nature, must be evaluated differently from the way the church fathers evaluated them.
2.5 The Golden Rule (7:12*)
Peder Borgen, “The Golden Rule,” in Paul Preaches Circumcision and Pleases Men (Trondheim: Tapir, 1983) 99–114.
Dihle, “Goldene Regel,” RAC 11.930–40.
Idem, Regel.
Erik H. Erikson, “The Golden Rule in the Light of New Insight,” in Insight and Responsibility: Lectures on the Ethical Implications of Psychoanalytic Insight (New York: Norton, 1964) 217–43.
Hans-Ulrich Hoche, “Die goldene Regel,” Zeitschrift für philosophische Forschung 32 (1978) 355–75 (literature).
Hans-Peter Mathys, Roman Heiligenthal, and Heinz-Horst Schrey, “Goldene Regel,” TRE 13 (1984) 570–84 (cited below as Mathys, “Judentum” [570–73]; Heiligenthal, “Neues Testament und frühes Christentum” [573–75]; Schrey, “Historisch und ethisch” [575–83]).
Merklein, Gottesherrschaft, 243–47.
Nissen, Gott, 390–99.
Hendrik van Oyen, “Die goldene Regel und die Situationsethik,” in Johannes Gründel and Hendrik van Oyen, Ethik ohne Normen? (Ökumenische Forschungen, Kleine ökumenische Schriften 4; Freiburg: Herder, 1970) 91–135.
Leonidas J. Philippidis, “Die ‘Goldene Regel’ religionsgeschichtlich untersucht” (diss., Leipzig, 1929).
Antti Raunio, “Summe des christlichen Lebens: Die ‘Goldene Regel’ als Gesetz der Liebe in der Theologie Martin Luthers von 1510–1527” (diss., Helsinki, 1993).
Idem, “The Golden Rule as the Summary of the Sermon on the Mount in the Reformed and Lutheran Tradition,” in Milan Opocensky, ed., Towards a Renewed Dialogue (Studies from the World Alliance of Reformed Churches 30; Geneva: World Alliance of Reformed Churches, 1996) 122–42.
Hans Reiner, “Die Goldene Regel: Die Bedeutung einer sittlichen Grundformel der Menschheit,” in Die Grundlagen der Sittlichkeit (2d ed.; Meisenheim: Hain, 1974) 348–79.
Paul Ricœur, Liebe und Gerechtigkeit = Amour et Justice (Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1990).
Idem, “The Golden Rule,” NTS 36 (1990) 392–97.
Enno Rudolph, “Eschatologischer Imperativ oder Klugheitsregel? Die Goldene Regel im Kontext des Matthäusevangeliums und im Streit der Deutungen,” in Theologie—diesseits des Dogmas (Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1994) 80–98.

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

12 “Everything then that you want people to do to you, do also to them, for this is the law and the prophets.”
Matthew put the golden rule at the end of the main part of the Sermon on the Mount and in so doing along with its closing reason he created an inclusion with 5:17*. The general relative clause “all things therefore whatever …” (Πάντα οὖν ὅσα …) and its repetition in the main clause with “thus” (οὕτως) do not parallel one another. Thus both the leading πάντα and the οὕτως attract attention.
The golden rule almost certainly appeared in Q in the section on the love of enemies.1 Matthew moved it here. The final clause “for this is the law and the prophets” comes from him. By adding it he points back to Jesus’ fulfillment of the law and the prophets in 5:17* and creates a bracket around the main section of the Sermon on the Mount. In addition, “everything” (πάντα), which heightens the impact of “whatever,” comes from him, as “thus also” (οὕτως καί) may also do.
The golden rule is universal. There are examples of it in Confucianism and in India as well as in Greece since Herodotus, especially in nonphilosophical works, among rhetoricians, in collections of maxims, but also in almost all other literary genres. In Judaism the golden rule was originally less widespread. The first examples appear in Hellenistic Jewish writings, for example, the Letter of Aristeas, Sirach (LXX), Tobit, Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and Philo. The non-Christian sources largely show the golden rule in its negative wording: “What you do not want others to do to you, do not inflict on them.” However, there are also positive formulations. Connecting the golden rule with the command to love one’s neighbor (Lev 19:18*) is already Jewish.7 This is important, because it is initially merely a formal parallel that must be filled with content and indeed can be filled with quite different content. An anecdote is already told about Hillel that understands the golden rule as the sum of the Torah.
Also in early Christianity its appearance is not limited to our passage. Acts 15:20* and 29* (Western text) are certainly independent of it, as are 1 Clem. 13.2; Did. 1.2; Gos. Thom. 6. Whether Jesus himself made use of the golden rule must remain an open question.10
Interpretation: Q 6:31

The classical principle of universal wisdom appears in the Sayings Source in connection with Jesus’ commandment to love one’s enemies. It has a somewhat surprising effect there, since Q 6:32–34 elucidates the problem of the principle of reciprocity: What is special “if you love those who love you”? Sinners and Gentiles also do that (cf. Matt 5:47*). But this principle of reciprocity that is rejected here is precisely the basis of the golden rule. “Is the golden rule not called into question with these harsh words?”11 However, the Q text implies no tension at all between v. 31 and vv. 32–34. Thus it is much more probable that the compiler of Q saw the reciprocity principle of the golden rule in Q 6:31 together with what surpasses it in 6:32–34 as a whole and interpreted both of them in terms of the love of one’s enemies.
Here on the level of Q we have already raised the decisive problem for our interpretation: What is the relation between the golden rule and the love of enemies? The golden rule appears to be much less radical, because it is based on the principle of reciprocity, which the love of enemies breaches. According to Ricœur it presupposes a “logic of equivalence,” while Jesus’ command to love one’s enemies presupposes a “logic of superabundance.”12 Can the two be combined? How did Matthew, who summarizes the Sermon on the Mount with the golden rule, relate them to one another?
The Golden Rule as a General Principle

First of all, the golden rule is to be interpreted by itself. It is a formal principle that can be interpreted in quite different ways. Bultmann understood it as giving “expression to a naïf egoism.” According to Dihle it comes from the ancient idea of recompense/retaliation in popular ethics that is overcome on the one hand by philosophy and on the other hand by Christianity. A classic expression of such a naïve idea of recompense is the tomb inscription of Apusulena Geria: “What each of you will wish for me shall happen to that person, while living and after death” (“Quod quisque vestrum optaverit mihi, illi semper eveniat vivo et mortuo”).15 However, the golden rule can also have a completely different function in rhetoric and in philosophy. In many ancient texts it regulates the relationship of a ruler to his subordinates on the basis of equality and reciprocity, for example, of a king to his subjects or of a master to his slaves.
The more recent ethical discussion has also shown clearly that the golden rule can have quite different functions. Gerfried Hunold distinguishes among three possible understandings: (a) the self-centered interpretation, the goal of which is to use one’s neighbor for one’s own purpose; (b) the interpretation that grants one’s neighbor equal rights, the goal of which is to come to an accommodation with the neighbor; (c) the “high demand” of love determined by a fundamental “yes.” Hans Reiner distinguishes among the golden rule as a “rule of empathy” with the other person, as a “rule of autonomy,” and as a rule of reciprocity or “reflexiveness.”18 In short, the many different ways the golden rule can be used shows that it can never directly be a normative ethical principle. While it is able to express “that our humanity always happens communicatively—that is, always as a mutual relationship, as an exchange with others,” it has of itself no normative character. Kant expressed it thusly: It “does not contain the principle of duties to oneself, nor of the duties of benevolence to others (for many a one would gladly consent that others should not benefit him, provided only that he might be excused from showing benevolence to them), nor finally that of duties of strict obligation to one another, for on this principle the criminal might argue against the judge who punishes him, and so on.”20 Thus the decisive question for the interpretation is: What meaning does the Matthean Sermon on the Mount give to the golden rule?
History of Interpretation

In the history of its reception there are three basic models for answering this question.
a. For the first type the golden rule is the hermeneutical key for interpreting the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon is to be read in terms of the golden rule, or one might say that it is to be adapted to the real world with the help of the golden rule.
It seems that the stream of Christian interpretation that associates the golden rule with natural law tends to point in this direction. One can observe this approach already in the ancient church: “It is the natural law to give and experience benefits; and when this is completed the Law of Moses is also fulfilled, for it consisted of this.” As part of the natural law the golden rule becomes a basis of ecclesiastical law.23 The golden rule and the love command are easily combined, especially when one thinks in terms of the Augustinian ordo caritatis and understands self-love as a stage of love. Thomas Aquinas puts the golden rule in the context of the ancient ethics of friendship.25 Melanchthon regards it as one of the eight core commandments of the natural law common to all people along with, for example, the command to honor God, the command to beget children, and the rule of justice of the suum cuique. This idea also is not foreign to Luther, even if in general he interprets the golden rule in terms of love. This tradition then becomes especially important in the English, French, and German philosophy of the Enlightenment.28 “Both Hobbes and Locke, and even Leibniz, describe [the golden rule] as the natural source of all virtues.” Kant rejected this approach by putting the golden rule under the signature of the categorical imperative. At the same time, however, he changed it from a principle of reciprocity to a principle of the individual ethics of the morally autonomous person.30 After Kant the theological discussion of the golden rule—unlike the philosophical—grew somewhat silent. For liberalism the golden rule documented how Jesus reconciled humanitas and christianitas. Jesus did not want “to say here something new but something ancient, not something original but something generally valid, not something surprising but something obvious, indisputable, and inescapable. Jesus is only the messenger of an eternal truth that is fundamentally recognized always and everywhere and by everyone, semper et ubique et ab omnibus.” Thus the golden rule shows the lack of distinctiveness or, stated positively, the universality of Christian faith. It expresses that the actions even of the Christian always “take place” communicatively “as mutual relation in intercourse with others.”32 It has a certain affinity with situation ethics. It is, for example, important for Hendrik van Oyen precisely because it is related to the situational and leaves the decisions “to the person who realizes selfhood in the meeting with the neighbor.” Here it is close to the modern principle of the autonomy of the moral person.
b. A second type of interpretation takes exactly the opposite approach: the golden rule is to be read exclusively on the basis of the Sermon on the Mount. In the Sermon on the Mount it is an “eschatological imperative” and it means the universal reach of uncompromising love that comes from the kingdom of God, lives by prayer to the Father (6:9–13*), and advances toward the final judgment (7:21–23*). The active person must give account not before the forum of the autonomous person’s reason but solely before the forum of Jesus the World Judge. This type of interpretation is rare. In the modern discussion I have found it almost only in the philosopher (!) Enno Rudolph, who somewhat alone in the entire field calls theology to return to the radical nature of its own subject matter.34
There is a certain—very relative—affinity to him in those exegetes who speak of Jesus’ uniqueness and who emphasize Jesus’ positive formulation of the golden rule as opposed to the negative formation by Hillel and in other Jewish texts.
However, the difference between the positive and the negative formulations of the golden rule is not all that great. In the ancient world the two can easily appear together. It is also instructive that in Jewish and Christian texts the love command is summarized precisely with the negative formulation of the golden rule. The meaning of the golden rule is almost always determined by its context and not by its positive or negative wording. Thus the positive formulation of the rule derives some significance from the Matthean context.38 In themselves, however, there is neither something Christian in the positive formulation nor something pre-Christian in the negative. Above all, the history of its reception in the ancient church shows that one could make use of both formulations somewhat at will. The ancient church did not see something special in the positive wording.
c. The third type of interpretation tries to mediate between the two extremes by relating dialectically to one another the “supra-ethical” command to love one’s enemy and the golden rule with its “logic of correspondence.” The love command “reinterprets” the golden rule “in the sense of liberality.” It preserves it from the utilitarian perversion of the “do ut des.” In the tension-filled interplay of love, which is “a kind of suspension of ethics,”42 and social justice it builds the bridge that makes possible the translation of the love command into a generalizing ethic.
This interpretation of Ricœur parallels a central stream of the interpretation of Matt 7:12*. The command to love one’s neighbor is repeatedly placed before the golden rule to show its intention. This happens for the first time in Did. 1.2: “First, you shall love the God who made you, secondly, your neighbor as yourself; but whatever you would not have done to yourself, do not to another.” Augustine reports that many translators had inserted the word bona into the golden rule so that the text read: “All the good things you have wanted people to do to you.” The purpose was to exclude dishonorable things such as gluttonous banquets from reciprocal actions. It is true that in his interpretation Luther emphasizes that the golden rule is plausible. It is in life as it is in the marketplace: everyone wants to buy good things at a reasonable price, and one should also hold to that rule when selling. According to him the golden rule is a matter of law and works, not of the gospel. At the same time, however, he emphasizes that it is a matter of good works with which you should “begin and be the first” rather than a matter of reciprocity. Christ himself is the model for the good works that are meant. According to Raunio all the reformers, most clearly Martin Bucer, understand the golden rule on the basis of love. Zwingli states with wonderful imagery: “Christ has sweetened nature’s commandment with love.”47

The Matthean text is concise and simple. It is more than questionable whether Matthew was thinking of any of the three alternative interpretations that emerged later in the history of its reception. He uses the golden rule, which he has taken over from the Sayings Source as a word of Jesus, to bring to a close the main part of the Sermon on the Mount without appearing to be aware of any tension between it and the command to love one’s enemies. Thus my exegetical comments will not be able—anachronistically—to choose among interpretations that only later became clear; I will simply make some suggestions about the direction in which the text itself points.
1. The addition of “for this is the law and the prophets” gives a first indication of what might be meant with the golden rule. “Law and prophets” have the same meaning here as in 5:17*.48 The subject is the will of God that is proclaimed in both of them and fulfilled by obedience. With fulfilling the law Matthew thinks first of all of love, for the law and prophets “hang” on the double command of love (22:40*). Thus the issue is not reciprocity; it is love.
2. “Therefore” (οὖν) is a loose connecting word that presents the golden rule as a summary of the preceding material. It makes clear that v. 12* is not to be read in isolation. Here οὖν cannot refer to the immediately preceding text (vv. 7–11*), for the subject there was the relationship of people to God. Instead, v. 12* gathers together in particular those texts that speak of human interpersonal relationships, that is, the antitheses framed by the love command and 7:1–5*. Much as was already the case in the Sayings Source, for Matthew the love command may be the golden rule’s most central “preamble.”50
3. “Everything” (πάντα), put first for emphasis, makes the golden rule a basic rule. One is to do to other people everything, without exception, that love and Jesus’ commandments require. Πάντα receives its meaning in the context of Matthean perfectionism. At issue is the better righteousness and the command of perfection (5:20*, 48*) of him who teaches his disciples to keep “everything I have commanded you” (28:20*).
4. Based on the Matthean “preamble” the positive formulation of the golden rule also becomes important. It maintains that Christian practice is to take the initiative rather than to be reactive. In keeping with Jesus’ commandments, for example, in 5:38–48*, Christians are to be the first to begin to love.
5. The positive formulation of the golden rule, but especially the “thus” (οὕτως) that begins the imperative so awkwardly, suggests that it functions for Matthew as an empathy rule rather than as a reciprocity rule. It gives no reason for doing good things, thus one does not do them so that one may expect something good in return. Rather, the only issue is how one is to act. One is to act as one would like to be treated. Thus for Matthew the golden rule is not primarily a basic ethical principle; it is an aid in helping love become concrete and find the right track.
6. As the conclusion of the large main section, however, the golden rule for its part also interprets the Sermon on the Mount. With its comprehensive wording it maintains that a summa of Christian righteousness is proclaimed that is designed to determine comprehensively the lives of Christians. It reminds us once again that the individual instructions of the Sermon on the Mount were concrete examples of perfection that are to be placed in a horizon that encompasses all of life. It excludes the possibility that the Sermon was interested only in the commandments mentioned there, and it maintains the impulse of people’s freedom to discover for themselves in the light of love what is meant in the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount is not a collection of rules that legally regulate the Christian.
7. Finally, the golden rule indicates that the horizon of Christian action is universal. Human beings are partners. Thus by no means do we have in the Sermon on the Mount an ethic that is to be practiced only in the protected inner sanctuary of the Christian community.
If one looks back to the above-mentioned three types of interpretation, one will locate Matthew’s tendency somewhere between the second and third types. He did not merely bring love and justice together in a dialectic relation to each other in Ricœur’s sense; he clearly made love superior to the golden rule. But neither does he understand it in Rudolph’s sense as an eschatological imperative as opposed to a worldly maxim. Rather, the golden rule gives love a certain potential rationality, because it makes one’s own needs the standard for acting toward others. Reckless love that exposes my vulnerability and is thus destructive is not what I want for myself. Good sense is obviously part of love, even the love of one’s enemy.
Meaning for Today

For our modern reading the golden rule has a different accent from Jesus’ command to love one’s enemies. I would like to leave open the question whether Matthew was aware of this. Jesus’ exemplary demand to love enemies, based on the contrast between kingdom of God and world, now becomes the general demand to take the initiative in actively loving every person. It makes sense to many people who do not automatically regard other people—in a Manichean, not a Christian sense—as unalterably evil and who have not automatically abandoned the hope that the world can be changed for the better. It interprets Jesus’ radical demands somewhat in the direction of Carl Friedrich von Weizäcker’s call for “intelligent love of the enemy” in political activity. Therefore, the Matthean golden rule is today an important guide for translating Jesus’ demands in the direction of rationally communicable action, even, for example, on the political level.54 At the same time, however, it becomes clear that this attempt at translation does not contain the entirety of Jesus’ demands to be different from the world. The golden rule is plausible within the world. It is an attempt to develop reasonable perspectives based on Jesus’ radical command of love. However, Jesus’ command to love one’s enemies corresponded to God’s radical love for the world and involved the summons to establish signs of contrast in the world. The rational-communicable active practice of rational love in the sense of the golden rule can be encouraged by such signs of contrast, but it is not identical with them.

3 Concluding Admonitions (7:13–29*)

The conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount divides most naturally into three sections: the two ways (7:13–14*), the warning against false prophets (7:15–23*), and the parable of building a house (7:24–27*).1 Formally the first and second pericopes are connected with the catchwords “enter” (εἰσέρχομαι: vv. 13* [twice], 21*) and “many” (πολλοί: vv. 13*, 22*), the second and third pericopes with the catchword “do” (ποιέω, 9 times in all). This already indicates essential tendencies of the text. It contains a concluding admonition to the community to engage in Christian practice, an admonition that has the character of a basic principle. All three sections are characterized by opposites (broad/narrow way or gate; good/evil fruit; doers of God’s will/doers of lawlessness; a house on a foundation of rock/sand). All of them are about the final judgment. Here the negative aspect, the warning against catastrophe, dominates. The conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount is like the conclusion of almost all Matthean discourses. They usually end by looking toward the judgment awaiting the community. Matthew has consistently maintained this structural principle, initial tendencies of which can also be found in Q and in the Didache.
Also from a source-critical perspective the section is a unit. It is based on two sections from the Sayings Source that the evangelist works together. One is the conclusion of the Sermon on the Plain (Q 6:46–49 = vv. 16–19*, 21*, 24–27*), the other is the eschatological parenesis in Q 13:23–29 (vv. 13–14*, 22–23*). The concluding logion of the latter (Q 13:28–29) the evangelist does not use here; he includes it at the next opportunity in Matt 8:11–12*.
3.1 The Narrow and the Wide Gate (7:13–14*)
Denaux, “Spruch.”
Paul Hoffmann, “Πάντες ἐργάται ἀδικίας: Redaktion und Tradition in Lc 13,22–30,” ZNW 58 (1967) 188–214.
Joachiam Jeremias, “πύλη κτλ.,” TDNT 6 (1968) 921–28.
Marguerat, Jugement, 175–82.
A. J. Mattill, “ ‘The Way of Tribulation,’ ” JBL 98 (1979) 531–46.
Wilhelm Michaelis, “ὁδός κτλ.,” TDNT 5 (1967) 42–114.
Zeller, Mahnsprüche, 139–42.

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

13 “Enter through the narrow gate,
for the gate is wide
and the way is easy
that leads to destruction,
and many are those who enter through it.
14 How narrow is the gate
and how difficult the way
that leads to life,
and few are those who find it.”
Apart from v. 13a*, the logion consists of two formally parallel parts. However, they have rough edges. The images of the gate and of the way appear together without any connection; the concluding clause of v. 13* refers to the gate, while it is not clear to what the concluding clause of v. 14* refers.3 It is uncertain how gate and way belong together. Is the gate an entry to a particular way? The order in which the images appear would suggest as much. Or does the gate stand at the end of the way as the gateway to life?5 The parallel motifs would speak for this possibility. Or are the gate and way synonyms?
Redaction and Source
Although this text and Luke 13:23–24* have only a few words in common, in my judgment it is very probable that Matthew has used Q. In 13:23–29* Luke has created a concise, secondary composition that deals with entering the heavenly chamber for a banquet with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Since he can use only the motif of the gate for this purpose, it is conceivable that he has shortened the logion.8 It is also conceivable, however, that the original Q logion spoke only of the narrow gate and said that many want to enter but only few can do so.9 Then Matthew would have added the way to the gate (vv. 13c* and 14b*). That cannot be proved linguistically,10 but other considerations speak for this second suggestion:
a. The motif of the two gates appears relatively infrequently in Jewish texts, but the contrast between the two ways is a documented parenetic topos in many Jewish texts. Matthew would have supplemented the saying about the narrow gate, which had been passed on to him, with a well-known parenetic topos. One finds precisely this same addition in the Testament of Abraham.
b. The best explanation for the remarkable interruption of the statements about the gate (7:13a*, b*, d*) with a statement about the way (7:13c*) is that “the way” statement was a later addition.
c. Theologically this addition corresponds to Matthew’s tendency. Elsewhere he also uses the metaphor of the way in an ethical sense (21:32* redactional; cf. 22:16* traditional). The idea of the way to perfection that the community is going is fundamental for him.
d. The semitizing parallelismus membrorum is an element of Matthean style. In 10:39* and 16:25* Matthew speaks redactionally of “finding” life (admittedly of ψυχή).
e. It is conceivable that the idea of the two ways was already known in the Matthean community. In Did. 1.1; 1.5–5.2 a two-ways parenesis is used that clearly is traditional and not yet influenced by Matthew. Since the Didache comes from a community influenced by Matthew, it is conceivable that in Matthew’s day the two-ways parenesis was already part of the parenetic material with which the community was familiar.
Nothing more can be said about the origin of the logion of the narrow gate.

■ 13* Πύλη is the gate of a city or of the temple in contrast to θύρα, a door. Here one should not think of the ancient city gate with the large main gate and the narrower side gates. The image of the gate suggests various possible associations: the gates of the heavenly city, the entry of the righteous through the temple gates,16 the gates of paradise, the gates of life. However, it was unusual in that day to speak of a narrow gate. Therefore, the imperative of v. 13a* must be justified. The explanation begins with the negative elements. The broad way that leads to destruction belongs to the wide gate. Although the idea that going on a broad way is pleasant is not far removed,18 it is not explicitly stated. Matthew is close here to Jewish usage, where frequently, under the influence of Deut 30:19* and Jer 21:8*, the way of death and the way of life are contrasted.19 Thus one must choose between two opposing ways of living.

■ 14* Opposite the broad way is the “difficult way” (ὁδὸς τεθλιμμένη). That does not mean, as is usually maintained, simply the narrow, small way. It is true that τεθλιμμένος can mean “made narrow,” but in the sense that the passage becomes crowded in, for example, a city or a house when there are too many people. That is not what it means here, however, because only a few people are on the way that leads to life. Thus it is better to understand τεθλιμμένος as a reference to the tribulations (θλίψεις) that Matthew mentions in several places for the time before the eschaton (24:9* [redactional], 21*, 29*; cf. 13:21*). Already 5:10–12*, 44* speak of the persecution the community experiences. Thus the way to life is full of hardships.21 If this interpretation is correct, one would do well not to overlook the possibility of a metaphorical meaning in “narrow” (στενός). The idea of the “straits” that people experience in suffering may resonate. Thus the way to life means suffering for the sake of faith, and this is what Matthew is thinking of, rather than the special asceticism the disciples take upon themselves.23 Like “destruction” (ἀπώλεια), “life” (ζωή) is an eschatological term. The evangelist uses the verb “to enter” (εἰσέρχομαι) as he does with the sayings about entering the kingdom of heaven.
On this basis we can decide how the door and the way are related. It is not the case that the gate is regarded as the entrance to the way; the metaphorical associations that the saying awakens speak against such an interpretation. “Door” and “way” are not two parallel, synonymous images; the way Matthew interweaves the two images speaks against this interpretation. Instead, the gate stands at the end of the way, for one enters life (i.e., the kingdom of God) by going through the gate. Thus when Matthew added the image of the way to the image of the gate he did something quite characteristic of him. He singled out the ethical aspect of the eschatology and thus as it were put righteousness next to the kingdom of God (cf. 6:33*; 24:42–25:46*). He reached back (cf. 21:32*) to his model of Christian faith as a way to be actively practiced by the community leading to perfection (5:20*, 48*) at the end of which entrance into the kingdom is promised. The difficult way, which under afflictions leads the few to the narrow gate, is the way of righteousness prescribed in the Sermon on the Mount.
Matthew has combined this call with the warning against false prophets. In 7:22* he points out that there will be “many” who, although they cast out demons and perform miracles in Jesus’ name, do not do God’s will. The many who go on the broad way are for him obviously not only the Jewish scribes,26 not only Israel’s majority that does not follow Jesus, not only the “others” from whom one has separated, or, as in the Didache, the unbaptized whose way one has abandoned by being baptized; the “many” are Christians, members of the community. Thus Matthew applies to the community a motif that had previously been used differently (Did. 1.2–5.2). The community is on the move; it is on the way that leads to life. It is constantly faced with the choice of the two ways. Being a Christian and being baptized does not mean that one has the comforting assurance of salvation; it means that one has the chance of being confronted daily with the choice between the broad way and the difficult ways of the Sermon on the Mount. That is why for Matthew many are called but few are chosen (20:16*; 22:14*). The way of the Sermon on the Mount is the way onto which all Christians are called, not only a minority of perfect people who have sought out for themselves an especially difficult way.31 Salvation depends on this way, not only on baptism and not only on responding to grace. That is the Matthean form of “synergism.” However, the Sermon on the Mount gives the impulse and the direction for action. That is why it is grace. Matthew has worked out this basic decision that repeatedly confronts the Christian community at the conclusion of almost every discourse (cf. 13:36–43*, 47–50*; 18:23–35*; 24:37–25:46*). It corresponds to his model of world and church as a corpus permixtum: not until the last judgment will it be shown who in God’s eyes has gone the way that leads to life (13:36–43*; 22:11–14*).
History of Interpretation
One emphasis of the history of interpretation is on the christological understanding of vv. 13–14*. They could be understood in a Johannine sense: Christ is “the gate of life: Whoever enters through me, enters into life.”32 Here there can be a play on the word “way.” The righteous are on the narrow way of suffering. However, Christ, who is the way, helps them on the “way,” gives them healing medicines and heals the wounded, even though he looks like one of the wounded. “In him … is the pattern of our patience.”34 Thus the way becomes the way of discipleship. Interpreted allegorically, Christ is the narrow gate, the devil is the broad gate.
Although in a direct sense such interpretations miss the text, in their own way they try to do what still today is the task of the interpreter and the preacher. They interpret the text in terms of the entirety of the biblical witness. In so doing they do nothing more than what Matthew did with the traditional logion of the gate. The question for all interpreters here is how their new interpretation is related to what the text says. When, for example, the few are “those who are chosen by God (Mt. 22:14*) and who are therefore enabled to find what the many do not find,”36 then this (Calvinistically influenced) integration of the individual text into the whole biblical witness contradicts the thrust of the biblical text. Whether this contradiction remains defensible is something all interpreters must decide based on their situation and their own theology. But they must be aware and make others aware that they may be changing the scope of the text, and they may not simply twist the text quietly or even regard their own interpretation as its scope. Thus the history of interpretation, which integrates the biblical text into the whole biblical witness, calls attention to the interpreters’ permanently important task to let the text speak today with its own voice. It gives them models on which, positively or negatively, they can orient themselves. However, the historical-critical exegesis invites them to engage in the necessary conversation with the individual text that makes it possible for all interpreters to call into question their own theological content.
Luz, U. (2007). Matthew 1–7: a commentary on Matthew 1–7. (H. Koester, Hrsg.) (Rev. ed., S. 327–373). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.


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