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Words from GOD – Words to GOD

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How to know GOD´s will- by Uwe Rosenkranz

No. 4

Reformation Trust

Can I Know God’s Will?

© 1984, 1999, 2009 by R. C. Sproul

Previously published as God’s Will and the Christian (1984) and as part of Following Christ (1991) by Tyndale House Publishers, and as Can I Know God’s Will? by Ligonier Ministries (1999).

Published by Reformation Trust
a division of Ligonier Ministries
400 Technology Park, Lake Mary, FL 32746

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the publisher, Reformation Trust. The only exception is brief quotations in published reviews.

Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked RSV are taken from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1952 (2nd edition, 1971) by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked KJV are from The Holy Bible, King James Version.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Sproul, R. C. (Robert Charles), 1939–
[God’s will and the Christian]
Can I know God’s will? / R. C. Sproul.
p. cm.–(The crucial questions series)
First published as: God’s will and the Christian. 1984. Following Christ. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, c1991. Can I know God’s Will? Ligonier Ministries, 1999.
ISBN 978-1-56769-179-5
1. Providence and government of God–Christianity. 2. God (Christianity)–Will. I. Sproul, R. C. (Robert Charles), 1939– Following Christ. II. Title.
BT135.S745 2009





Chapter One

Lost in Wonderland, Alice came to a fork in the road. Icy panic stung her as she stood frozen by indecision. She lifted her eyes toward heaven, looking for guidance. Her eyes did not find God, only the Cheshire cat leering at her from his perch in the tree above.

“Which way should I go?” Alice blurted.
“That depends,” said the cat, fixing a sardonic smile on the confused girl.
“On what?” Alice managed to reply.
“It depends on your destination. Where are you going?” the cat asked.
“I don’t know,” Alice stammered.
“Then,” said the cat, his grin spreading wider, “it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

The destination matters to the Christian. We are a pilgrim people. Though we do not wander in a wilderness in route to the Promised Land, we seek a better country, an eternal city whose builder and maker is God. Someday He will take us home to His kingdom.
So the ultimate destination is clear. We are certain that there is a glorious future for the people of God. However, what of tomorrow? We feel anxious about the immediate future, just as unbelievers do. The specifics of our personal futures are unknown to us. Like children we ask: “Will I be happy? Will I be rich? What will happen to me?” We must walk by faith rather than by sight.
As long as there have been people, there have been soothsayers and wizards exploiting our anxieties. If prostitution is the world’s oldest profession, surely fortune-telling is the second oldest. “Tell me of tomorrow” is the plea of the stock market speculator, the competitive businessman, the sports forecaster, and the young couple in love. The student asks, “Will I graduate?” The manager muses, “Will I be promoted?” The person in the doctor’s waiting room clenches his hands and asks, “Is it cancer or indigestion?” People have examined lizard entrails, snakeskins, the bones of owls, the Ouija board, the daily horoscope, and the predictions of sports handicappers—all to gain a small margin of insurance against an unknown future.
The Christian feels the same curiosity, but frames the question differently. He asks: “What is the will of God for my life?” To search for the will of God can be an exercise in piety or impiety, an act of humble submission or outrageous arrogance—depending on what will of God we seek. To try to look behind the veil at what God has not been pleased to reveal is to tamper with holy things that are out of bounds. John Calvin said that when God “closes his holy mouth,” we should desist from inquiry (Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, trans. and ed. John Owen [reprint, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House. 2003], 354).
On the other hand, God delights to hear the prayers of His people when they individually ask, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” The Christian pursues God, looking for His marching orders, seeking to know what course of action is pleasing to Him. This search for the will of God is a holy quest—a pursuit that is to be undertaken with vigor by the godly person.
The Biblical Meaning of the Will of God

We yearn for simple answers to difficult questions. We want clarity. We desire to cut through the entanglements to the heart of the question. Sometimes the answers are simple enough in themselves, but the process of finding them is laborious and confusing. Sometimes the answers are simplistic, giving us temporary relief from the pressures and the burdens of confusing questions.
However, there is a profound difference between the simple answer and the simplistic answer. The simple answer is correct; it accounts for all the data found in the complex problem. It is clear and can be easily grasped in its fullness. It abides, being able to stand the test of rigorous questioning. The simplistic answer is a counterfeit. On the surface it appears to be the genuine article, but under closer scrutiny it yields its bogus flaws. The simplistic answer may account for some of the data but not all of it. It remains fuzzy. Worst of all, it does not abide; it fails the test of deeper questioning. It does not satisfy in the long haul.
One of the most excruciating questions in theology is, “Why did Adam fall?” The simplistic answer, commonly heard, is that Adam fell by his own free will. Such an answer is satisfying until we probe the question more deeply. Suppose we ask: “How could a righteous creature made by a perfect Creator sin? How could Adam make an evil choice while possessing no prior inclination or disposition to evil? Was he simply deceived or coerced by Satan? If so, why would Adam then be blameworthy?” If he was merely deceived, then the fault is all Satan’s. If he was coerced, then it was not a free choice. If he sinned because he had a prior desire or inclination to sin, then we must ask: “What was the source of his evil desire? Did God put it there?” If so, then we cast a shadow on the integrity of the Creator.
Perhaps the simplest way to expose the weak character of the simplistic answer that Adam fell by his own free will is to ask our question another way: “Why did Adam exercise his own free will to sin?” It simply won’t do to answer, “Because he chose to.” This answer is a mere repetition of the question in a declarative form.
I would like to offer a simple answer to the difficult question of Adam’s fall, but I simply can’t. The only response I can give to the question is that I don’t know the answer.
Some readers will surely chasten me at this point by saying to themselves: “I know the answer! Adam fell because it was the will of God.”
I immediately ask: “In what sense was Adam’s fall the will of God? Did God force Adam to fall and then punish him for doing what he had no power to avoid?” To ask such an impious question is to answer it. Certainly the fall must have been the “will of God” in some sense, but the crucial question remains, “In what sense?”
So here we are, pressed squarely against a biting question that involves the matter of the will of God. We want to know how the will of God worked in Adam’s life; but more personally, we want to know how the will of God works in our own lives.
When questions are difficult and complex, it is a good rule to collect as much data about them as possible. The more clues the detective has to work with, the easier it usually is to solve the crime (note the word usually). Sometimes the detective suffers from too many clues, which only serve to compound the difficulty of the solution. The corporate executive faced with major decision-making responsibilities knows the importance of sufficient data- and record-keeping. His maxim may be: “If you have enough data, the decisions jump out at you.” Again we must add the qualifier usually. Sometimes the data are so complex that they jump out like screaming banshees, defying our ability to sort through them all.
I emphasize the point of data, complexity, and simplicity because the biblical meaning of the will of God is a very complicated matter. To approach it simplistically is to invite disaster. At times, wrestling with the complexities of the biblical concept of the will of God can give us an Excedrin headache. Yet ours is a holy quest, a pursuit that is worth a few headaches along the way. But we must guard against proceeding in a simplistic way, lest we change the holy quest into an unholy presumption.
We note at the outset that the Bible speaks of the “will of God” in more than one way. This is the key problem that complicates our quest and serves as a warning against simplistic solutions. In the New Testament, there are two Greek words that can be and have been translated by the English word will. It would seem that all we need is to identify precisely the meanings of the two words and check out the Greek text every time we see the word will, and our problems will be solved. Alas, it doesn’t work that way. The plot thickens when we discover that each of the two Greek words has several nuances of meaning. Simply checking the Greek text for word usage is not enough to solve our difficulty.
However, finding the meanings of the Greek words is a helpful starting place. Let’s examine the two words briefly to see whether they shed any light on our quest. The words are boule and thelema.
The term boule has its roots in an ancient verb that means a “rational and conscious desire,” as opposed to thelema, meaning “an impulsive or unconscious desire.” The ancient subtle distinction was between rational desire and impulsive desire. As the Greek language developed, however, this distinction was softened, and eventually the words became used at times as synonyms, with authors switching from one to the other for purposes of stylistic change.
In the New Testament, boule usually refers to a plan based on careful deliberation; it is used most often with respect to the counsel of God. Boule frequently indicates God’s providential plan, which is predetermined and inflexible. Luke is fond of using it this way, as we read in the book of Acts: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan [boule] and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23).
Here the resolute decree of God is in view, which no human action can set aside. God’s plan is impregnable; His “will” is unalterable.
The word thelema is rich in its diversity of meanings. It refers to what is agreeable, what is desired, what is intended, what is chosen, or what is commanded. Here we have the notions of consent, desire, purpose, resolution, and command. The force of the various meanings is determined by the context in which thelema appears.
The Decretive Will of God

Theologians describe as the “decretive will of God” that will by which God decrees things to come to pass according to His supreme sovereignty. This is also sometimes called “God’s sovereign efficacious will”; by it, God brings to pass whatsoever He wills. When God sovereignly decrees something in this sense, nothing can prevent it from coming to pass.
When God commanded the light to shine, the darkness had no power to resist the command. The “lights” came on. God did not persuade the light to shine. He did not negotiate with elemental powers to form a universe. He did not achieve a plan of redemption by trial and error; the cross was not a cosmic accident exploited by the Deity. These things were decreed absolutely. Their effects were efficacious (producing the desired result) because their causes were sovereignly decreed.
A serious danger faces those who restrict the meaning of the will of God to the sovereign will. We hear the Muslim cry, “It is the will of Allah.” We slip at times into a deterministic view of life that says, “Que será, sera,” or “What will be, will be.” In so doing, we embrace a sub-Christian form of fatalism, as if God willed everything that happened in such a way as to eliminate human choices.
Classical theologians insist on the reality of man’s will in acting, choosing, and responding. God works His plan through means, via the real choices of willing and acting creatures. There are secondary as well as primary causes. To deny this is to embrace a kind of determinism that eliminates human freedom and dignity.
Yet there is a God who is sovereign, whose will is greater than ours. His will restricts my will. My will cannot restrict His will. When He decrees something sovereignly, it will come to pass—whether I like it or not, whether I choose it or not. He is sovereign. I am subordinate.
The Preceptive Will of God

When the Bible speaks of the will of God, it does not always mean the decretive will of God. The decretive will of God cannot be broken or disobeyed. It will come to pass. On the other hand, there is a will that can be broken: “the preceptive will of God.” It can be disobeyed. Indeed, it is broken and disobeyed every day by each one of us.
The preceptive will of God is found in His law. The precepts, statutes, and commandments that He delivers to His people make up the preceptive will. They express and reveal to us what is right and proper for us to do. The preceptive will is God’s rule of righteousness for our lives. By this rule we are governed.
It is the will of God that we not sin. It is the will of God that we have no other gods before Him; that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves; that we refrain from stealing, coveting, and committing adultery. Yet the world is filled with idolatry, hatred, thievery, covetousness, and adultery. The will of God is violated whenever His law is broken.
One of the great tragedies of contemporary Christendom is the preoccupation of so many Christians with the secret decretive will of God to the exclusion and neglect of the preceptive will. We want to peek behind the veil, to catch a glimpse of our personal future. We seem more concerned with our horoscope than with our obedience, more concerned with what the stars in their courses are doing than with what we are doing.
With respect to God’s sovereign will, we assume we are passive. With respect to His preceptive will, we know that we are active and therefore responsible and accountable. It is easier to engage in ungodly prying into the secret counsel of God than to apply ourselves to the practice of godliness. We can flee to the safety of the sovereign will and try to pass off our sin to God, laying the burden and responsibility of it on His unchanging will. Such characterizes the spirit of antichrist, the spirit of lawlessness or antinomianism, that despises God’s law and ignores His precepts.
Protestants are particularly vulnerable to this distortion. We seek refuge in our precious doctrine of justification by faith alone, forgetting that the very doctrine is to be a catalyst for the pursuit of righteousness and obedience to the preceptive will of God.
Biblical Righteousness

Habakkuk’s famous statement, “the just shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4, KJV), is found three times in the New Testament. It has become a slogan of evangelical Protestantism, whose emphasis has been on the doctrine of justification by faith alone. This slogan, containing a hint of the essence of the Christian life, has its focal point in the biblical concept of righteousness.
One of Jesus’ most disturbing comments was the statement, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). It is easy for us to assume that Jesus meant that our righteousness must be of a higher sort than that characterized by men who were hypocrites. The image that we have of scribes and Pharisees from the New Testament period is that of unscrupulous, ruthless practitioners of religious deceit. We must bear in mind, however, that the Pharisees as a group were men historically committed to a very lofty level of righteous living. Yet Jesus tells us that our righteousness must exceed theirs. What did He mean?
When we consider the biblical notion of righteousness, we are dealing with a matter that touches virtually every plane of theology. In the first place, there is the righteousness of God, by which all standards of rightness and wrongness are to be measured. God’s character is the ultimate foundation and model of righteousness. In the Old Testament, righteousness becomes defined in terms of obedience to the commandments delivered by God, who Himself is altogether righteous. Those commands include not only precepts of human behavior with respect to our fellow human beings, but also matters of a liturgical and ceremonial nature.
In Old Testament Israel and among the New Testament Pharisees, liturgical righteousness was substituted for authentic righteousness. That is to say, men became satisfied with obeying the rituals of the religious community rather than fulfilling the broader implications of the law. For example, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for tithing their mint and cumin while omitting the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy. Jesus indicated that the Pharisees were correct in giving their tithes, but were incorrect in assuming that the liturgical exercises had completed the requirements of the law. Here, liturgical righteousness had become a substitute for true and full obedience.
Within the evangelical world, righteousness is a rare word indeed. We speak of morality, spirituality, and piety. Seldom, however, do we speak of righteousness. Yet the goal of our redemption is not piety or spirituality but righteousness. Spirituality in the New Testament sense is a means to the end of righteousness. Being spiritual means that we are exercising the spiritual graces given by God to mold us after the image of His Son. The disciplines of prayer, Bible study, church fellowship, witnessing, and the like are not ends in themselves, but are designed to assist us in living righteously. We are stunted in our growth if we assume that the end of the Christian life is spirituality.
Spiritual concerns are but the beginning of our walk with God. We must beware of the subtle danger of thinking that spirituality completes the requirements of Christ. To fall into such a trap—the trap of the Pharisees—is to substitute liturgical or ritualistic practices for authentic righteousness. By all means we are to pray and to study the Bible, and to bear witness in evangelism. However, we must never, at any point in our lives, rest from our pursuit of righteousness.
In justification we become righteous in the sight of God by means of the cloak of Christ’s righteousness. However, as soon as we are justified, our lives must give evidence of the personal righteousness that flows out of our justification. It is interesting to me that the whole biblical concept of righteousness is contained in one Greek word, dikaios. That same Greek word is used to refer, in the first instance, to the righteousness of God; in the second instance, to what we call justification; and in the third instance, to the righteousness of life. Thus, from beginning to end—from the nature of God to the destiny of man—our human duty remains the same—a call to righteousness.
True righteousness must never be confused with self-righteousness. Since our righteousness proceeds from our justification, which is based on the righteousness of Christ alone, we must never be deluded into thinking that our works of righteousness have any merit of their own. Yet as Protestants, zealously maintaining our doctrine of justification by faith alone, we must be ever mindful that the justification that is by faith alone is never by a faith that is alone. True faith manifests itself in righteousness exceeding that of the Pharisees and the scribes, for it is concerned with the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy.
We are called to bear witness to the righteousness of God in every area of life—from our prayer closets to our courtrooms, from our pews to our marketplaces. The top priority of Jesus is that we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. All other things will be added to that.
An Allergy to Restraint

“Everybody do your own thing.” This cliché from the sixties characterizes the spirit of our age. Increasingly freedom is being equated with the inalienable right to do whatever you please. It carries with it a built-in allergy to laws that restrain, whether they be the laws of God or the laws of men.
This pervasive anti-law, or antinomian, attitude is reminiscent of the biblical epoch that provoked God’s judgment because “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 17:6). The secular world reflects this attitude in the statement, “Government can’t legislate morality.” Morality is seen as a private matter, outside the domain of the state and even of the church.
A shift has occurred in word meaning so subtle that many have missed it. The original intent of the concept, “You cannot legislate morality,” was to convey the idea that passing a law prohibiting a particular kind of activity would not necessarily eliminate such activity. The point of the phrase was that laws do not ipso facto produce obedience to those laws. In fact, on some occasions, the legal prohibition of certain practices has incited only greater violation of established law. The prohibition of alcoholic beverages is an example.
The contemporary interpretation of legislating morality differs from the original intent. Instead of saying that government cannot legislate morality, it says government may not legislate morality. That means government should stay out of moral issues such as the regulation of abortion, deviant sexual practices, marriage and divorce, and so on, since morality is a matter of conscience in the private sector. For government to legislate in these areas is often viewed as an invasion of privacy by the state, representing a denial of basic freedoms for the individual.
If we take this kind of thinking to its logical conclusion, we leave the government with little to do. If government may not legislate morality, its activity will be restricted to determining the colors of the state flag, the state flower, and perhaps the state bird. (However, even questions of flowers and birds may be deemed “moral,” as they touch on ecological issues, which are ultimately moral in character.) The vast majority of matters that concern legislation are, in fact, of a decidedly moral character. The regulation of murder, theft, and civil rights is a moral matter. How a person operates his automobile on the highway is a moral issue since it touches on the well-being of fellow travelers.
Questions relating to the legalization of marijuana often focus on the fact that a majority of certain age groups are violating the law. The argument goes like this: Since disobedience is so widespread, doesn’t this indicate that the law is bad? Such a conclusion is a blatant non sequitur. Whether or not marijuana should be decriminalized should not be determined by levels of civil disobedience.
The point is that a vast number of Americans reflect an antinomian spirit regarding marijuana. Such disobedience is hardly motivated by noble aspirations to a higher ethic suppressed by a tyrannical government. Here the law is broken as a matter of convenience and physical appetite.
Within the church, the same spirit of antinomianism has prevailed too often. Pope Benedict XVI faces the embarrassing legacy of his predecessors as he tries to explain to the world why a majority of his American adherents tell the pollsters they practice artificial means of birth control when a papal encyclical explicitly forbids such methods. One must ask how people can confess their belief in an “infallible” leader of their church and at the same time obstinately refuse to submit to that leader.
Within the Protestant churches, individuals frequently become irate when called to moral accountability. They often declare that the church has no right to intrude into their private lives. They say this in spite of the fact that in their membership vows, they publicly committed themselves to submit to the moral oversight of the church.
Antinomianism should be more rare in the evangelical Christian community than anywhere else. Sadly, the facts do not fit the theory. So blasé is the typical “evangelical” toward the law of God that the prophecies of doom that Rome thundered at Martin Luther are beginning to come true. Some “evangelicals” are indeed using justification by faith alone as a license to sin; these can be deemed properly only as pseudo-evangelicals. Anyone who has the most rudimentary understanding of justification by faith knows that authentic faith always manifests itself in a zeal for obedience. No earnest Christian can ever have a cavalier attitude toward the law of God. Though obedience to such laws does not bring justification, the justified person will surely endeavor to obey them.
To be sure, there are times when the commandments of men are on a collision course with the laws of God. In those instances, Christians not only may disobey men, but must disobey men. I am not talking here of isolated moral issues but of attitudes. Christians must be particularly careful in this era of antinomianism not to get caught up in the spirit of the age. We are not free to do what is right in our own eyes. We are called to do what is right in His eyes.
Freedom should not be confused with autonomy. As long as evil exists in the world, the moral restraint of law is necessary. It is an act of grace by which God institutes government, which exists to restrain the evildoer. It exists to protect the innocent and the righteous. The righteous are called to support it as much as they possibly can without compromising their obedience to God.
God’s Will of Disposition

While we understand that the decretive will and the preceptive will of God are part of His overall will, other aspects of the mystery of His sovereignty remain. One such aspect is “the will of disposition.” It is tied up with the ability of man to disobey God’s preceptive will.
This aspect of the will of God refers to what is pleasing and agreeable to God. It expresses something of the attitude of God to His creatures. Some things are “well pleasing in his sight,” while other things are said to grieve Him. He may allow (but not via moral permission) wicked things to transpire, but He is by no means pleased by them.
To illustrate how these differing aspects of the will of God come into play in biblical interpretation, let us examine the verse that says the Lord is “not willing that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9, KJV). Which of the above-mentioned meanings of will fits this text? How is the meaning of the text changed by the application of the nuances?
Try first the decretive will. The verse would then mean, “God is not willing in a sovereign decretive sense that any should perish.” The implication would then be that nobody perishes. This verse would be a proof text for universalism, with its view that hell is utterly vacant of people.
The second option is that God is not willing in a preceptive way that any should perish. This would mean that God does not allow people to perish in the sense that He grants His moral permission. This obviously does not fit the context of the passage.
The third option makes sense. God is not willing in the sense that He is not inwardly disposed to, or delighted by, people’s perishing. Elsewhere, Scripture teaches that God takes no delight in the death of the wicked. He may decree what He does not enjoy; that is, He may distribute justice to wicked offenders. He is pleased when justice is maintained and righteousness is honored, even though He takes no personal pleasure in the application of such punishment.
A human analogy may be seen in our law courts. A judge, in the interest of justice, may sentence a criminal to prison and at the same time inwardly grieve for the guilty man. His disposition may be for the man but against the crime.
However, God is not merely a human judge, working under the constraints of the criminal justice system. God is sovereign—He can do what He pleases. If He is not pleased or willing that any should perish, why then does He not exercise His decretive will accordingly? How can there be a hiatus between God’s decretive will and His will of disposition?
All things being equal, God does desire that no one should perish. But all things are not equal. Sin is real. Sin violates God’s holiness and righteousness. God also is not willing that sin should go unpunished. He desires as well that His holiness should be vindicated. It is dangerous to speak of a conflict of interests or of a clash of desires within God. Yet, in a certain sense, we must. He wills the obedience of His creatures. He wills the well-being of His creatures. There is a symmetry of relationship ultimately between obedience and well-being. The obedient child will never perish. Those who obey God’s preceptive will enjoy the benefits of His will of disposition. When the preceptive will is violated, things are no longer equal. Now God requires punishment while not particularly enjoying the application of it.
Yet does this not beg the ultimate question? Where does the decretive will fit in? Could not God originally have decreed that no one ever would be able to sin, thus ensuring an eternal harmony among all elements of His will: decretive, preceptive, and dispositional?
Often the answer to this question is superficial. Appeals are made to the free will of man, as if by magic man’s free will could explain the dilemma. We are told that the only way God could have created a universe guaranteed to be free from sin would have been to make creatures without free will. It is then argued that these creatures would have been nothing more than puppets and would have lacked humanity, being devoid of the power or ability to sin. If that is the case, then what does it suggest about the state of our existence in heaven? We are promised that when our redemption is complete, sin will be no more. We will still have an ability to choose, but our disposition will be so inclined toward righteousness that we will, in fact, never choose evil. If this will be possible in heaven after redemption, why could it not have been possible before the fall?
The Bible gives no clear answer to this thorny question. We are told that God created people who, for better or for worse, have the ability to sin. We also know from Scripture that there is no shadow of turning in the character of God, and that all of His works are clothed in righteousness. That He chose to create man the way He did is mysterious, but we must assume, given the knowledge we have, that God’s plan was good. Any conflict that arises between His commandments to us, His desire that we should obey Him, and our failure to comply does not destroy His sovereignty.
God’s Secret and Revealed Will

We have already distinguished among the three types of the will of God: His decretive will, His preceptive will, and His will of disposition. Another distinction must be established between what is called God’s secret, or hidden, will and His revealed will. This secret will of God is subsumed under the decretive will because, for the most part, it remains undisclosed to us. There is a limit to the revelation God has made of Himself. We know certain things about God’s decretive will that He has been pleased to set forth for our information in Holy Scripture. But because we are finite creatures, we do not comprehend the total dimension of divine knowledge or the divine plan. As the Scriptures teach, the secret things belong to the Lord, but that which He has revealed belongs to us and to our children forever (Deut. 29:29).
Protestant theologians have made use of the distinction between the hidden God (Deus obsconditus) and the revealed God (Deus revelatus). This distinction is valuable and indeed necessary when we realize that not all that can be known of God has been revealed to us. There is a sense in which God remains hidden from us, insofar as He has not been pleased to reveal all there is to know about Him. However, this distinction is fraught with peril since some have found within it a conflict between two kinds of gods. A god who reveals his character to be one thing, but who is secretly contrary to that revealed character, would be a supreme hypocrite.
If we say that God has no secret will and proposes to do only what He commands and nothing more, then we would perceive God as one whose desires and plans are constantly thwarted by the harassment of human beings. Such a god would be impotent, and no god at all.
If we distinguish between the secret aspect of God and the revealed aspect of God, we must hold these as parts of the whole, not as contradictions. That is to say, what God has revealed about Himself is trustworthy. Our knowledge is partial, but it is true as far as it goes. What belongs to the secret counsel of God does not contradict the character of God that has been revealed to us.
The distinction of God’s revealed will and hidden will raises a practical problem: the question of whether or not it is possible for a Christian to act in harmony with God’s decretive (hidden) will and at the same time work against His preceptive will.
We must admit that such a possibility exists—in a sense. For example, it was in God’s decretive will and by His determinate counsel that Jesus Christ was condemned to die on the cross. The divine purpose, of course, was to secure the redemption of God’s people. However, that purpose was hidden from the view of men who sat in judgment over Jesus. When Pontius Pilate delivered Jesus to be crucified, Pilate acted against the preceptive will of God but in harmony with the decretive will of God. Does this make nonsense of God’s preceptive will? God forbid. What it does is bear witness to the transcendent power of God to work His purposes sovereignly in spite of, and by means of, the evil acts of men.
Consider the story of Joseph, whose brothers, out of jealousy and greed, sold their innocent brother into slavery in Egypt. At their reunion years later, and upon the brothers’ confession of sin, Joseph replied, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). Here is the inscrutable majesty of God’s providence. God made use of human evil in bringing to pass His purposes for Joseph and for the Jewish nation. Joseph’s brothers were guilty of willful and malicious sin. By directly violating the preceptive will of God, they sinned against their brother and against God. Yet in their sin, God’s secret counsel was brought to pass, and God brought redemption through it.
What if Joseph’s brothers had been obedient? Joseph would not have been sold into slavery; he would not have been taken to Egypt; he would not have been sent to prison, from which he was called to interpret a dream. What if Joseph had not become prime minister? What would have become the historical reason for the brothers’ settling in Egypt? There would have been no Jewish settlement in Egypt, no Moses, no exodus from Egypt, no law, no prophets, no Christ, no salvation.
Can we, therefore, conclude that the sins of Joseph’s brothers were, in fact, virtues in disguise? Not at all. Their sin was sin, a clear violation of the preceptive will of God, for which they were held responsible and judged to be guilty. But God brought good out of evil. This reflects neither a contradiction in God’s character nor a contradiction between His precepts and His decrees. Rather it calls attention to the transcendent power of His sovereignty.
Is it possible for us in this day and age to obey the preceptive will of God and yet be in conflict with the secret will of God? Of course this is possible. It may be the will of God, for example, that He use a foreign nation to chastise the United States for sinning against God. It may be in the plan of God to have the people of the United States brought under judgment through the aggressive invasion of Russia. In terms of God’s inscrutable will, He could be, for purposes of judgment, “on the side of the Russians.” Yet at the same time, it would remain the duty of the civil magistrate of the American nation to resist the transgression of our borders by a conquering nation.
We have a parallel in the history of Israel, where God used the Babylonians as a rod to chastise His people Israel. In that situation, it would have been perfectly proper for the civil magistrate of Israel to have resisted the wicked invasion of the Babylonians. In so doing, the Israelites would have been, in effect, resisting the decretive will of God. The book of Habakkuk wrestles with the severe problem of God’s use of the evil inclinations of men to bring judgment on His people. This is not to suggest that God favored the Babylonians. He made it clear that judgment would fall on them also, but He first made use of their evil inclinations in order to bring a corrective discipline to His own people.
Knowing the Will of God for Our Lives

Pursuing knowledge of the will of God is not an abstract science designed to titillate the intellect or to convey the kind of knowledge that “puffs up” but fails to edify. An understanding of the will of God is desperately important for every Christian seeking to live a life that is pleasing to his or her Creator. It is a very practical thing for us to know what God wants for our lives. A Christian asks: “What are my marching orders? What should my role be in contributing to the establishment of the kingdom of God? What does God want me to do with my life?” It is inconceivable that a Christian could live for very long without coming face-to-face with these gripping questions.
Having been a Christian for some fifty years, with the study of theology my main vocational pursuit, I find the practical question of the will of God pressing on my mind quite frequently. I doubt a fortnight passes that I am not seriously engaged by the question of whether I am doing what God wants me to do at this point in my life. The question haunts and beckons all of us. It demands resolution, and so we must ask ourselves, “How do we know the will of God for our lives?”
The practical question of how we know the will of God for our lives cannot be solved with any degree of accuracy unless we have some prior understanding of the will of God in general. Without the distinctions that we have made, our pursuit of the will of God can plunge us into hopeless confusion and consternation. When we seek the will of God, we must first ask ourselves which will we are seeking to discover.
If our quest is to penetrate the hidden aspects of His will, then we have embarked on a fool’s errand. We are trying the impossible and chasing the untouchable. Such a quest is not only an act of foolishness, but also an act of presumption. There is a very real sense in which the secret will of the secret counsel of God is none of our business and is off limits to our speculative investigations.
Untold evils have been perpetrated on God’s people by unscrupulous theologians who have sought to correct or to supplant the clear and plain teaching of sacred Scripture by doctrines and theories based on speculation alone. The business of searching out the mind of God where God has remained silent is dangerous business indeed. Luther put it this way: “We must keep in view his word and leave alone his inscrutable will; for it is by his word and not by his inscrutable will that we must be guided.”
Christians are permitted, in a sense, to attempt to discern the will of God by means of illumination by the Holy Spirit and by confirmation through circumstances that we are doing the right thing. However, as we will discover, the search for providential guidance must always be subordinate to our study of the revealed will of God. In our search, we must also come to terms with the dynamic tensions created by the concept of man’s will versus predestination. Before our inquiry can lead us into such practical avenues as occupation and marriage, we must face the thorny issues involved in the free will/predestination issue. We have seen what the will of God entails. What about the will of man? How do the two relate? How free is man, after all?

Chapter Two

The term free will as applied to man is often glibly declared with little or no understanding of its meaning. There is actually no unified theory of man’s free will, but a variety of competing and often conflicting views about it.
The question of man’s free will is made more complicated by the fact that we must examine it in terms of how the will functioned before and after the fall of Adam. Most important is how the fall affected man’s moral choices.
Augustine gave the church a close analysis of the state of freedom that Adam enjoyed before the fall. His classic concept of freedom distinguished four possibilities. In Latin, they are:

1. posse pecarre—able to sin
2. posse non pecarre—able not to sin (or to remain free from sin)
3. non posse pecarre—unable to sin
4. non posse, non pecarre—unable not to sin

Augustine argued that before the fall, Adam possessed both the ability to sin (posse pecarre) and the ability to not sin (posse non pecarre). However, Adam lacked the exalted state of the inability to sin that God enjoys (non posse pecarre). God’s inability to sin is based not on an inner powerlessness to do what He wants, but rather on the fact that God has no inner desire to sin. Since the desire for sin is utterly absent from God, there is no reason for God to choose sin.
Before the fall, Adam did not have the moral perfection of God, but neither did he have the inability to refrain from sin (non posse, non pecarre). During his time of “probation” in the garden, he had the ability to sin and the ability not to sin. He chose to exercise the ability to sin and thus plunged the human race into ruin.
As a result, Adam’s first sin was passed on to all his descendants. Original sin refers not to the first sin but to God’s punishment of that first transgression. Because of the first sin, human nature fell into a morally corrupt state, itself partly a judgment of God. When we speak of original sin, we refer to the fallen human condition that reflects the judgment of God on the race.
The Fallenness of Man

Christians differ in their views concerning the extent and seriousness of the fall. However, it is almost universally conceded that in dealing with mankind, we are dealing with a fallen race. Augustine located the depths of man’s fallenness in his loss of original powers of righteousness. No longer does man have the ability to not sin. In man’s fallen state, his plight is found in his inability to keep from sinning (non posse, non pecarre). In the fall, something profoundly vital to moral freedom was lost.
Augustine declared that in his prefallen state, man enjoyed both a free will (liberium arbitrium) and moral liberty (libertas). Since the fall, man has continued to have a free will, but has lost the moral liberty he once enjoyed.
Perhaps the most insightful study of the question of fallen man’s free will is the epic work of Jonathan Edwards, On the Freedom of the Will. Edwards and Augustine differ in terminology, but their meaning is essentially the same. Edwards distinguished between the natural ability of freedom and the moral ability of freedom. Natural ability deals with the powers of action and choice that we possess by nature. Man’s natural abilities include the power to think, to walk, to speak, to eat, and so on. Man lacks the natural ability to fly, to live beneath the sea as a fish, or to hibernate for months without food. We may desire to fly, but we lack the natural equipment necessary to live out our desire. Our freedom has a certain built-in restriction related to the limitations of our natural faculties.
With respect to the making of choices, fallen man still has the natural ability and the natural faculties necessary to make moral choices. Man can still think, feel, and desire. All of the equipment necessary for the making of choices remains. What fallen man lacks is the moral disposition, the desire, or the inclination for righteousness.
Stated simply, man still has the ability to choose what he wants, but lacks the desire for true righteousness. He is naturally free, but he is morally enslaved to his own corrupt and wicked desires. Both Edwards and Augustine said man is still free to choose, but if left to himself, man will never choose righteousness, precisely because he does not desire it.
Edwards took the question a step further. He said man still has not only the ability but the built-in necessity to choose according to his desires. Not only can we choose what we want, we must choose what we want. It is at this point that the protest is sounded: Is free choice an illusion? If we must choose what we choose, how can such a choice be called free? If we are free to choose what we want but want only what is evil, how can we still speak of free will? This is precisely why Augustine distinguished between free will and liberty, saying that fallen man still has free will but has lost his liberty. It is why Edwards said that we still have natural freedom but have lost moral freedom.
Why talk of freedom at all, if we can choose only sin? The crux of the matter lies in the relationship between choice and desire, or disposition. Edwards’s thesis is that we always choose according to the strongest inclination, or disposition, of the moment. Again, not only can we choose according to our strongest desires, we must choose according to our strongest desires of the moment. Such is the essence of freedom—that I am able to choose what I want when I want it.
If I must do something, then in a sense my actions are determined. But if my actions are determined, how can I be free? The classic answer to this difficult question is that the determination of my choices comes from within me. The essence of freedom is self-determination. It is when my choices are forced on me by external coercion that my freedom is lost. To be able to choose what I want by virtue of self-determination does not destroy free will but establishes it.
Choices Flow from Desires

To choose according to the strongest desire or inclination of the moment simply means that there is a reason for the choices I make. At one point, Edwards defined the will as “the mind choosing.” The actual choice is an effect or result that requires an antecedent cause. The cause is located in the disposition or desire. If all effects have causes, then all choices likewise have causes. If the cause is apart from me, then I am a victim of coercion. If the cause is from within me, then my choices are self-determined or free.
Think about Edwards’s thesis that we always choose according to the strongest inclination or desire of the moment. Think, if you will, of the most harmless choice that you might make in the course of a day. Perhaps you attend a meeting of a group and choose to sit on the left side in the third seat from the end of the fourth row at the front of the room. Why did you choose to sit there? In all probability, when you entered the room, you did not engage in a thorough analysis of your seating preferences. You probably did not make a chart to determine which seat was best. Your decision probably was made quickly, with little or no conscious evaluation and with a sense of apparent spontaneity. Does that mean, however, that there was no reason for your choice? Perhaps you sat where you did because you are comfortable sitting on the left side of the room in such meetings. Perhaps you were attracted to that seat because of its proximity to a friend or its access to the exit. In situations like this, the mind weighs a host of contributing factors so quickly that we tend to think our responses are spontaneous. The truth is that something in you triggered a desire to sit in a certain seat, or else your choice was an effect without a cause.
Perhaps your seat selection was governed by forces outside your control. Perhaps the seat you chose was the only seat left in the room, so that you had no choice in the matter at all. Is that completely true? The option to stand at the back of the room was still there. Or the option to leave the meeting altogether was still there. You chose to sit in the only seat available because your desire to sit was stronger than your desire to stand and your desire to stay was stronger than your desire to leave.
Consider a more bizarre illustration. Suppose on the way home from the meeting you encounter a robber who points a gun to your head and says, “Your money or your life.” What do you do? If you accede to his demand and turn over your wallet, you will become a victim of coercion, and yet in some measure you will have exercised free choice. Coercion enters by virtue of the fact that the gunman is severely restricting your options to two. The element of freedom that is preserved stems from the fact that you still have two options and that you choose the one for which you have the strongest desire at the moment.
All things being equal, you have no desire to donate your money to an unworthy thief. You have even less desire, however, to have your brain poured out on the sidewalk by the gunman’s bullet. Given the small number of options, you still choose according to the strongest inclination at the moment. We always do what we really want to do.
The Bible teaches, some will say, that we do not always do what we want to do. The apostle Paul lamented in Romans 7 that the good he wanted to do he did not do, and the thing he did not want to do was the very thing he did. Paul’s frustration over the wretchedness of his condition would seem totally to refute Edwards’s thesis of the relationship of choice to desire. Paul, however, was not giving expression to an analysis of the causal relationship between desire and choice. He was expressing a profound frustration that centers on the complex of desires that assault the human will.
We are creatures with a multitude of desires, many of which are in violent conflict with each other. Again, consider the “all things being equal” dimension of our moral choices. As a Christian I have a profound desire to please Christ with my life and to attain righteousness. That good desire for obedience to God is neither perfect nor pure, as it struggles daily with other desires in my sinful personality. If I had no conflicting desires, I would never be disobedient. If the only desire I had, or if the strongest desire I had, was to obey God continuously, I would never willfully sin against Him. However, there are times when my desire to sin is greater than my desire to obey; when that happens, I sin. When my desire to obey is greater than my desire to sin, at that moment I refrain from sinning. My choices reveal more clearly and more certainly than anything else the level of my desire.
Desire, like appetite, is not constant. Our levels of desire fluctuate from day to day, from hour to hour, and from minute to minute. Desire moves in an ebb-and-flow pattern like the waves of the sea. The person who goes on a diet experiences intensifying pangs of hunger at various times of the day. It is easy to make a resolution to diet when one is satiated. Likewise, it is easy to resolve to be righteous in the midst of a moving spiritual experience of prayer. Yet we are creatures of changing moods and fleeting desires who have not yet achieved a constancy of will based on a consistency of godly desires. As long as conflict of desire exists and an appetite for sin remains in the heart, man is not totally free in the moral sense of which Edwards spoke, and neither does he experience the fullness of liberty described by Augustine.
Choice as a Spontaneous Act

Over against the Augustinian view of free will is the classical notion that describes the action or activity of choice in purely spontaneous terms. In this concept, the will chooses and is free from not only external forces of coercion but from any internal rule of disposition or desire. The choice of the moment proceeds freely in the sense that no inclination or prior disposition controls, directs, or affects the choice that is made. It is safe to say that this is the dominant view of free will in Western culture and is the view Calvin had in mind when he stated, “Free will is far too grandiose a term to apply to man.” At bottom it implies that man can make choices that are effects without any causes. Here it is suggested that the power of man to produce an effect without a cause exceeds even the creative power of God Almighty. Moreover, the cardinal rule of causality—ex nihilo, nihil fit (“out of nothing, nothing comes”)—is broken. Such a view of freedom is repugnant not only to Scripture but to reason.
To understand freedom as purely spontaneous choice with no prior disposition controlling it is to rob freedom of any moral significance. That is, if I act with no prior motive or no previous inclination toward or away from righteousness, how can it be said that my act is moral at all? Such activity would be without reason or motive behind it; it would be a purely random action, with no moral virtue attached to it.
However, a deeper question remains: Is such a spontaneous action possible at all? If the will is inclined neither to the right nor to the left, how could it choose at all? If there is no disposition toward, or away from, the action, then the will suffers from complete paralysis. It is like the donkey that had set before him a bale of hay and a bucket of oats. The donkey’s inclination with respect to the hay and the oats was exactly equal, with not the slightest degree of preference toward one or the other. The story is told that the donkey in such circumstances starves to death with a banquet feast in front of him because he has no way to choose between the two.
The practical problem that remains with the classical view of freedom is one raised by behavioristic psychology. If man is indeed self-determined or free, does that not imply that if his desires were completely known, man’s action in every given circumstance would be completely predictable? There is a sense in which we must agree that such a predictability would be implied. However, there is no way that any genius short of God and His omniscience could possibly know all the complex factors present in the human mind weighing a choice.
We recognize with psychologists that preferences and inclinations are shaped in many respects by experience and environment, but we cannot predict with certainty what any human being will do. Hidden variables within the complex of human personality make for this unpredictability. It nevertheless remains a fact that there is always a reason for our actions, a cause for our choices. That cause stems partly from ourselves and partly from the forces operating around and over against us.
The Definition of Freedom

The safest course to steer is to define freedom as did the church fathers, such as Augustine: “the ability to choose what we want.” God’s sovereignty does not extinguish that dimension of human personality, but certainly rules over it.
Out of rigid forms of determinism comes the cry of despair: “If the complex factors that make up personality completely determine my choices, then what value is self-improvement or the search for righteousness? If my will is enslaved by my dispositions and desires, what hope do I have of ever breaking out of the patterns of sin that are so destructive to my present mode of behavior?”
In a real sense, the process of sanctification involves a radical reprogramming of the inner self. We are not the victims of blind mechanical forces that control our destiny. As intelligent beings, we can do something to change the dispositions of our hearts and the inclinations of our minds.
It is important to remember that desire is not a fixed and constant power that beats within our souls. Our desires change and fluctuate from moment to moment. When the Bible calls us to feed the new man and starve the old man, we can apply this injunction by taking advantage of the ebb and flow of moods to strengthen the new man when our desire for Christ is inflamed and to kill the old man’s desires by starving him in times of satiation. The simplest way to state the mechanism of sin is to understand that at the moment I sin, I desire the sin more than I desire to please God. Stated another way, my love for the sin is greater at the moment of its intense desire than is my love for obedience to God. Therefore, the simple conclusion is that to overcome the power of sin within us, we need either to decrease our desire for the sin or to increase our desire to obey God.
What can we do to effect such changes? We can submit ourselves to the discipline of a class or a teacher and devote ourselves to a rigorous study of the law of God. Such disciplined study can help renew our minds, equipping us with a new understanding of what pleases and displeases God. The development of a renewed mind is the biblical definition of spiritual transformation.
The mind and the will are linked, as Edwards noted. Understanding more deeply how abhorrent our sin is to God can change or reprogram our attitudes toward sin. We are to follow the biblical injunction to concentrate on whatever things are pure and good. It may be too much to expect that a man in the midst of an attack of profound lust will switch to pure thoughts. It would be difficult for him to push a button and change the inclination of his desire at that moment. However, in a more sober mood, he may have the opportunity to reprogram his mind by filling it with high and holy thoughts of the things of God. The end result is that he may well strengthen the disposition of his heart toward God and weaken the disposition of his fallen nature toward sin.
We need not surrender to a superficial form of rigid determinism or behaviorism that would cause us to despair of any hope of change. Scripture encourages us to work out our salvation “with fear and trembling,” knowing that not only are we applying the means of grace by our own effort, but that God Himself is working within us to bring about the necessary changes to conform us to the image of His Son (Phil. 2:12–13; 1:6).
Sovereignty of God and Freedom of Man

What about man’s will with respect to the sovereignty of God? Perhaps the oldest dilemma of the Christian faith is the apparent contradiction between the sovereignty of God and the freedom of man. If we define human freedom as autonomy (meaning that man is free to do whatever he pleases, without constraint, without accountability to the will of God), then of course we must say that free will is contradictory to divine sovereignty. We cannot soft-pedal this dilemma by calling it a mystery; we must face up to the full import of the concept. If free will means autonomy, then God cannot be sovereign. If man is utterly and completely free to do as he pleases, there can be no sovereign God. However, if God is utterly sovereign to do as He pleases, no creature can be autonomous.
It is possible to have a multitude of beings, all of whom are free to various degrees but none of whom are sovereign. The degree of freedom is determined by the level of power, authority, and responsibility held by each being. However, we do not live in this type of universe. There is a God who is sovereign—which is to say, He is absolutely free. My freedom is always within limits. My freedom is always constrained by the sovereignty of God. I have freedom to do things as I please, but if my freedom conflicts with the decretive will of God, there is no question as to the outcome—God’s decree will prevail over my choice.
It is stated so often that it has become almost an uncritically accepted axiom within Christian circles that the sovereignty of God may never violate human freedom in the sense that God’s sovereign will may never overrule human freedom. The thought verges on, if not trespasses, the border of blasphemy because it contains the idea that God’s sovereignty is constrained by human freedom. If that were true, man, not God, would be sovereign, and God would be restrained and constrained by the power of human freedom. As I say, the implication here is blasphemous because it raises the creature to the stature of the Creator. God’s glory, majesty, and honor are denigrated since He is reduced to the status of a secondary, impotent creature. Biblically speaking, man is free, but his freedom can never violate or overrule God’s sovereignty.
I and my son are free moral agents; he has a will and I have a will. However, when he was a teen living in my home, his will was more often constrained by my will than was my will constrained by His. I carried more authority and more power in the relationship and hence I had a wider expanse of freedom than he had. So it is with our relationship to God; God’s power and authority are infinite, and His freedom is never hindered by human volition.
There is no contradiction between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. Those who see a contradiction, or even point to the problem as an unsolvable mystery, have misunderstood the mystery. The real mystery regarding free will is how it was exercised by Adam before the fall.
Options for Considering Adam’s Sin

If Augustine was correct that pre-fall Adam possessed an ability to sin and an ability not to sin, and that he was created with no prior disposition or inclination toward sin, then the question we face is, “How was it possible for such a creature with no prior disposition toward evil actually to take the step into evil?” As we grapple with this mystery, let me present several options that have served as explanations in the past.
First, we can hypothesize that Adam fell because he was duped by the craftiness of Satan and simply did not know what he was doing. The inspiration for this hypothesis is the biblical emphasis on the craftiness of the Devil. Satan, in his guile, was able to seduce Adam and Eve by confusing their thought patterns. Thus, the weakness of our primordial parents was not moral in nature, but intellectual, inasmuch as they failed to perceive the chicanery of the serpent. What complicates the picture is the fact that the Scriptures in this instance do not describe Adam and Eve as having been completely duped by their adversary; rather, they had full knowledge of what God allowed and did not allow them to do. They could not plead ignorance of the command of God as an excuse for their transgression.
There are times when ignorance is excusable, namely when such ignorance cannot possibly be helped or overcome. Such ignorance is properly described by the Roman Catholic Church as “invincible ignorance”—ignorance that we lack the power to conquer. Invincible ignorance excuses and gives one a reprieve from any accusation of moral wrongdoing. However, the biblical record gainsays this option in the case of Adam and Eve, for God pronounces judgment on them. Unless that judgment was arbitrary or immoral on the part of God Himself, we can only conclude that what Adam and Eve did was inexcusable. A just God does not punish excusable transgressions. Indeed, excusable transgressions are not transgressions.
A second option is that Adam and Eve were coerced by Satan to disobey God. Here we see the original instance of the statement “The Devil made me do it.” If, however, Satan, in fact, fully and forcibly coerced Adam and Eve to transgress the law of God, then once again we would find an excuse for their actions. We would have to conclude that they did not act with a reasonable measure of freedom, a measure that would at least have delivered them from moral culpability. Such a theory violates the clear teaching of the biblical text, which hints at no coercive manipulation on the part of Satan.
Consistently, the Scriptures place the responsibility, the blame, and the full culpability on Adam and Eve themselves. They committed evil. Their choice was an evil one.
By what means did Adam and Eve make an evil choice? If we apply the analysis of choice common to Augustine and Edwards to pre-fall Adam, we face an insoluble dilemma. If Adam had been created with a purely neutral disposition (with no inclination toward righteousness or evil), we would still face the same rational impasse that Edwards notes for those who would impose it for post-fall man. A will with no predisposition would have no motivation to choose. Without motivation, there could be no choice. Even if such a choice were possible, it would have no moral import to it.
We must examine the other two alternatives—that Adam was created with a predisposition toward evil or with a singular predisposition toward good. Both of these options end at the stone wall of intellectual difficulty. If we assume that Adam was created with a predisposition toward evil, we cast a horrible shadow over the character of God, for this would mean that God created man with a predisposition toward evil and then punished man for exercising the disposition that God Himself had planted within his soul. In a real sense, this would make God the author of, and the one ultimately responsible for, human wickedness. Every page of Holy Scripture recoils from such a thesis, as it would transfer the blame from man to God Himself, who is altogether good. Still, many take this option, following in the footsteps of the implied criticism of the first man, Adam, who excused himself before the Creator by saying, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12, emphasis added). Men from Adam onward have manifested their fallenness by trying to transfer the blame for that fallenness to the Creator.
A third option is that God created man with a disposition toward only righteousness. If this were the case, then we have an effect without a sufficient cause. How is it possible for a creature created with the disposition toward only righteousness to have chosen a wicked act?
Other Inquiries into the Mystery of Adam’s Sin

I have a built-in antipathy to dialectical theology—theology that proclaims the beauty of contradictions and nonsense statements. Thus, I must swallow hard to agree with one neoorthodox theologian about the origin of Adam’s sin. Karl Barth calls the sin of Adam the “impossible possibility.” Barth, of course, is calling attention to the utterly inexplicable mystery of Adam’s transgression—what was rationally impossible and inconceivable happened, and remains a bona fide and impenetrable mystery to us.
Other attempts have been made to seek a complex and sophisticated answer to the mystery of iniquity. One suggestion is that the sin of Adam was like all sin, namely, a privation, a corruption, or a negation of something that was inherently and intrinsically good. In other words, Adam was created with a good moral disposition. His appetites and desires were continuously good, and as a result, one would expect his activities to have been equally good. However, it is suggested that in the complexity of moral choices, sometimes a good will (which has a desire that in itself is good) can be misused and abused toward an evil end. The supreme example of such a twisting occurred at the temptation of Jesus, the second and new Adam.
In Jesus’ temptation experience in the wilderness, Satan came to Him in the midst of a prolonged fast. It is probably safe to assume that at that point Jesus had a consuming passion for food. That natural human desire to eat carried no immoral overtones in and of itself. One expects a hungry man to have a disposition to eat. However, Jesus wanted to obey God through this act of self-deprivation. When Satan came to Jesus and suggested that He turn stones into bread, Satan was appealing to a perfectly normal appetite and desire within Jesus. However, Jesus’ desire to obey the Father was deeper than His desire to partake of food. Thus, filled with an altogether righteous desire, He was able to overcome the temptation of Satan.
Now the theory goes like this: Perhaps it was something good that caused Adam to fall—something that in and of itself was good, but which could have been misused and abused by the seductive influences of Satan. Such an explanation certainly helps make the fall more understandable, but it goes only so far before it fails. At its most vital point, the explanation does not account for how this good desire could have become distorted, overruling the prior obligation to obey God. At some point before the act of transgression took place, Adam must have had to desire disobedience to God more than obedience to God; therein the fall already had taken place because the very desire to act against God in disobedience is itself sinful.
I leave the question of explaining the fall of Adam by virtue of the exercise of his free will to the hands of more competent and insightful theologians. To blame it on man’s finite limitations is really putting blame on the God who made man finite. Biblically, the issue has been, and always will be, a moral one. Man was commanded by the Creator not to sin, but man chose to sin, though not because God or anyone else forced him. Man chose out of his own heart.
Consequently, to probe the answer to the how of man’s sin is to enter the realm of deepest mystery. Perhaps all we can do in the final analysis is to recognize the reality of our sin and our responsibility for it. Though we cannot explain it, certainly we know enough to confess it. We must never attribute the cause of our sin to God or adopt any position that would excuse us from the moral responsibility that Scripture clearly assigns to us.
Some have criticized the Christian faith for its inability to give a satisfying answer to the question of sin. The fact is that other religions must come to terms with this same question. Some respond simply by denying the reality of evil—a convenient but absurd way out. Christianity alone deals head-on with the reality of sin by providing an escape from its consequences.
The Christian solution to the problem of sin is a radical departure from what other religions provide, for it is centered in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Through His perfect sacrifice, which has the efficacy of blotting out believers’ sins, we have become righteous in God’s eyes. However, that righteousness does not give us the license to do as we please. We must still seek to do God’s preceptive will, especially as we swim through the perilous waters of the moral, ethical, and social dilemmas of our age.
While we have discussed the more theological aspects of man’s will and God’s will, two other topics now beckon us: God’s will for our jobs and for our marital status. These two practical concerns take center stage in the drama of our personal lives. What can we learn about God’s will and man’s will in relation to these vital aspects of living? The next chapters offer guidelines to facilitate our decision making in these all-important areas.

Chapter Three

When we are introduced to people, the following three questions are generally asked: “What is your name?” “Where are you from?” and “What do you do?” The third question is the one that concerns us in this chapter.
“What do you do?” is obviously a question about one’s occupation, career, or vocation. People want to know what task or service constitutes our livelihood or helps fulfill our personal aspirations.
We are all familiar with the aphorism, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” We understand that life is more than work. We devote periods of time to recreation, sleep, play, and other activities not directly part of our principal employment or labor. However, the portion of our lives that is taken up by work is so encompassing and time-consuming that we tend to understand our personal identity in the light of our work.
Whatever else we are, we are creatures involved in labor. This was the design of creation—God Himself is a working God. From the very moment of creation, He conferred on our original parents the responsibilities of work. Adam and Eve were called to dress, till, and keep the earth, to name the animals, and to have dominion by way of managerial responsibility over the earth. All of these activities involved the expenditure of time, energy, and resources—in short, work.
Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that work is a punishment that God gave us as a result of Adam’s fall in the Garden of Eden. We must remember that work was given before the fall. To be sure, our labor has additional burdens attached to it because of the fall. A mixture of thorns and thistles is found among the good plants we seek to cultivate. Our labor is accomplished by the sweat of our brow. These were some of the penalties of sinfulness, but work itself was part of the glorious privilege granted to men and women in creation. It is impossible to understand our own humanity without understanding the central importance of work.
Most of us spend the early years of our lives preparing and training for a lifelong activity of work. The sensitive Christian understands that in the labor of his occupation, he is responsible to make a contribution to the kingdom of God, to fulfill a divine mandate, to embark on a holy calling as a servant of the living God. Such a Christian is keenly interested to discover how best to serve God through his labor.
Vocation and Calling

The idea of vocation is based on the theological premise of a divine call. The word vocation comes from the Latin word meaning “calling.” In our secular society, the religious meaning of the term has lost its significance, having become merely a synonym for career. I will be using the term vocation in its original sense: a divine call, a holy summons to fulfill a task or a responsibility that God has laid on us. The question we as Christians wrestle with is, “Am I in the center of God’s will with respect to my vocation?” In other words, “Am I doing with my life what God wants me to do?” Here the question of the will of God becomes eminently practical, for it touches on that dimension of my life that fills most of my waking hours and has the greatest impact on the shaping of my personality.
If the Bible teaches anything, it teaches that God is a calling God. The world was created through the call of the omnipotent Creator: “ ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Gen. 1:1). God also calls His people to repentance, to conversion, and to membership in His family. In addition, He calls us to serve Him in His kingdom, making the best possible use of our gifts and talents. Still, the question faces us: “How do I know what is my particular vocational calling?”
One of the great tragedies of modern society is that, although the job market is vast and complex with an infinite number of possible careers, the educational systems that train us tend to guide and direct us to a very small number of occupational choices. When I was a high school graduate embarking on college, a great deal of discussion centered on one’s major and career aspirations. At that time, it seemed as if everyone was setting out to become an engineer. The mechanized culture of the 1950s was opening up thousands of lucrative positions in engineering. College campuses were flooded with young aspirants for degrees in the field of engineering.
I also remember the engineer glut on the market that occurred in the 1970s. Stories circulated about people with doctorates in engineering who were collecting unemployment or washing dishes in the local diner because there simply were not enough engineering jobs available. The same could be said for education majors. Positions in education became fewer and fewer while the number of applicants became greater and greater. The problem was heightened by misguided publicity and counseling that steered people into occupational roles that society already had filled.
In the early twentieth century, the choices were much less difficult since the vast majority of American children spent their time preparing for a life in agricultural labor. Today, roughly two percent of the population is employed in farming—a radical decrease in one occupation that has opened the door for a vast number of other occupations.
Finding Your Vocation

The question of vocation becomes a crisis at two major points in life. The first is in late adolescence, when a person is pressured into deciding what skills and knowledge he should acquire for future use. Some college freshmen feel pressured to declare a major in their first year, before knowing the available options and the limits of their ability.
The second period in life when vocation becomes critical is in midlife, when a person experiences a sense of frustration, failure, or lack of fulfillment in his current position. He may ask: “Have I wasted my life? Am I sentenced forever to a job that I’m finding meaningless, unfulfilling, and frustrating?” Such questions highlight the fact that vocational counseling is a major part of pastoral counseling in America, second only to marital counseling.
We must also consider the fact that vocational frustration is a major contributing cause of marital disharmony and family strife. Thus, it is important to approach the matter of vocation with great care, both in the early stages of adolescent development and in the latter stages, when the sense of frustration hits home.
The problem of discerning one’s calling focuses heavily on four important questions:

1. What can I do?
2. What do I like to do?
3. What would I like to be able to do?
4. What should I do?

The last question can plague the sensitive conscience. To begin to answer it, we need to take a look at the other three questions because they are closely linked to the ultimate question, “What should I do?”
What can I do? Reasonably assessing our abilities, skills, and aptitudes is a crucial and basic part of the decision-making process in choosing a vocation. We need to ask: “What are my abilities? What am I equipped to do?”
We may object that Moses and Jeremiah both protested against God’s call by saying that they were not equipped for the task. Moses protested that he had limited speaking ability, and Jeremiah reminded his Creator of his youthfulness. Both experienced God’s rebuke for seeking to evade a divine calling on the basis of the flimsy claim that they lacked the ability to do the job.
Neither Moses nor Jeremiah had a full understanding of what was needed to carry out the summons God gave him. Moses, for instance, protested that he lacked speaking skill, but God had prepared Aaron to help Moses with that part of the task. What God was looking for was obedient leadership from Moses; public speaking could be delegated to another. God certainly took into consideration Moses’ gifts, abilities, and aptitude before He called him.
We must remember that God is the perfect Manager. He is efficient in His selection, calling people according to the gifts and talents that He has given them. Satan’s strategy is to manipulate Christians into positions for which they have no ability or skill to perform well. Satan himself is very efficient in directing Christians to inefficiency and ineffectiveness.
What can I do? This question can be answered by proficiency examinations, analysis of our strengths and weaknesses, and a sober evaluation of our past performance. Abilities and performances can be, and are, measured in sophisticated ways in our society. We need to know the parameters of our abilities.
People often apply for positions for which they have no skill. This is particularly and sadly true within the church and in related Christian service. Some hunger and thirst to be in full-time Christian service but lack the ability and the gifts required for the particular job. For example, they may have the academic training and credentials for the pastorate, but lack the managerial skills or the people skills to be effective pastors.
Perhaps the most important principle in Scripture regarding abilities is found in Paul’s injunction that we ought to make a sober analysis of ourselves, not thinking too highly of ourselves (Rom. 12:3). Through sober analysis, we can make a serious, honest, and clear evaluation of what we can and cannot do, and we should act accordingly.
The young person has a different question: What would I like to be able to do? Such a person may have developed very few skills or have little educational background, but he realizes that he has enough time to acquire skills and talents through education or vocational training.
At this point, the concept of aptitude is relevant. Aptitude involves a person’s latent abilities as well as his acquired abilities. A person may have a certain aptitude for mechanical things and have no aptitude whatsoever for abstract things. This person may desire to be a philosopher but would make a far better investment of his time by learning to be an airplane mechanic. However, preferences are still important. Here we tread into that critical and frightening area of human experience called the realm of motivation.
Motivated Abilities

Research indicates that most people have more than one ability, and that their abilities can be divided into two basic types: motivated abilities and non-motivated abilities. A non-motivated ability is a skill or a strength that a person has but is not motivated to use. Some people are very good at doing certain things, but find no particular fulfillment or enjoyment in doing them. Performing them is sheer drudgery and pain. They may be proficient in what they do, but for one reason or another they find the task odious.
I know of one young woman who in her early teenage years attracted national attention because of her proficiency at the game of golf. While still a teenager, she won a national tournament. Yet when the time came for girls her age to turn professional, she chose a different vocation, not out of a higher calling to seek a more spiritual enterprise than professional athletics, but because she found golf to be very unpleasant. Her displeasure came as the result of fierce pressure her father had placed on her in pushing her to become a proficient golfer at a young age. When she became of age and was out from under parental authority, she decided to do something else. She had the ability to become a professional golfer, but she lacked the motivation.
We might ask, “How could she have become so proficient in the first place if she had not been motivated to perform well in golf?” We have to realize that she had been motivated to become proficient, but the motivation was largely based on fear of her father’s wrath. In order to please him, she disciplined herself to acquire a skill that she never would have pursued on her own. Once free from the driving force of his authority, she turned her vocational pursuits in another direction. The moral to the story is obvious. The person who gives his full measure of time and energy to a non-motivated ability is a walking pressure cooker of frustration.
It is true that, as Christians, we don’t always have the luxury of doing the things we want to do. God calls us to sacrifice and to be willing to participate in the humiliation of Christ. To be sure, we live in the midst of warfare, and as Christians we have signed up for the duration. We should never neglect our awesome responsibility to the kingdom of God. Called to be servants, we are also called to obedience. Sometimes we are called to do things that we don’t particularly enjoy doing. Nevertheless, the overriding consideration is to bring our motivation into conformity with our call and our call into conformity with our motivation.
All things being equal, Jesus did not want to go to the cross, as He expressed in His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yet at the same time, He had an overarching desire and motivation to do the will of His Father. That was His “meat and drink,” the focus of His zeal. When it was confirmed to Him that it was the Father’s will that He lay down His life, Jesus was, in a very real and vital sense, motivated to do it.
Let us extend the concept of service and obedience to the analogy of human warfare. A crisis besets a nation, and people are summoned to the cause of national defense. Leaving the security and comfort of their homes and jobs, they make sacrifices by enlisting in the armed services. Are not Christians called to do the same? Certainly there is a sense in which we are. Yet within the context of the earthly military, there are a vast number of jobs, some for which we would be suited and others for which we would not. Some military tasks would be in line with our motivated skills and patterns of behavior, while others would be completely at odds with our motivated skills and behavior. Even within the context of sacrificial service, a consideration of motivation is a vital ingredient in determining our vocation.
Some rugged individualists in our society are self-employed and find it totally unnecessary to fit into an organizational working structure that involves supervisors, bosses, and lines of authority. Most of us, however, carry out our working lives within the context of an organization. Here we face the problem of fitting. Do our jobs fit our gifts, talents, and aspirations? Do our motivated abilities fit our jobs? The degree to which our job requirements and our motivated abilities fit often determines the usefulness of our contribution and the extent of our personal satisfaction.
When personal motivations do not fit job descriptions, many people suffer. The first to suffer is the individual, because he is laboring in a job that does not fit his motivated abilities. Because he is in a job for which he is unsuited, he tends to be less efficient and less productive. He also creates problems for others in the organization because his frustration spills over and has a negative effect on the group.
Some of us are “sanctified” enough to perform assigned tasks for which we lack motivation, doing them as proficiently as we do tasks that are more enjoyable. However, people who are that sanctified make up an infinitesimal minority within the workforce. Research shows again and again that there is a strong tendency for people to do what they are motivated to do, regardless of what is called for in their job description. That is, they spend the majority of their time and effort doing what they want to do rather than what the job, in fact, calls them to do. Such an investment of time and energy can be quite costly to a company or an organization.
The following simple diagrams show the relationships between motivated ability patterns and job descriptions. They have been borrowed from People Management, a Connecticut-based organization. People Management helps people to discern their motivated ability patterns and helps organizations to coordinate people’s gifts and motivations with the needs and aims of the organizations. This kind of guidance works not only in secular industry but also within the structures of the church and sacred vocations.

Job Description
Unused Abilities
Tasks Not Performed
Motivated Abilities
Job Fit

In this diagram, the top left block represents the job description of the employee, including the tasks required for optimal organizational functioning.
The lower right block represents the motivated abilities of the employee. The shaded area represents the area of job fit. It is not in balance. A large portion of the employee’s motivated abilities are not being used. This produces frustration for the employee.
Also, a large portion of the organizational job description is either left unperformed or performed at a low degree of proficiency. The result is organizational frustration. This pattern spells problems for both the individual employee and the organization. Changes must be made.
The diagram below represents an ideal matchup between job description and motivated abilities. The result is fulfillment for both the employee and the organization.


Through the influence of the world-denying spirit of Manichaeism, early Christians got the idea that the only way they could possibly serve God would be by living their lives on a bed of nails. It was assumed that to embark on a pathway of service involved self-denial. Real virtue could be found only in being as miserable as possible in one’s job. However, if God indeed called us to devote ourselves to the most unpleasant tasks possible, He would be the cosmic Chief of Bad Managers.
The Scriptures describe God’s management style differently. God manages by building us into a body according to our abilities and our desires. He gives gifts to each one of His people. Every Christian is gifted of the Lord to fulfill a divine vocation. Along with the gift, God gives a desire or a motivation to make use of that gift.
What Should We Do?

This brings us to the final and paramount question: “What should I do?” The most practical advice I can give is for you to do what your motivated ability pattern indicates you can do with a high degree of motivation. If what you would like to do can be of service to God, then by all means you should be doing it.
One vital constraint is at work: the preceptive will of God. If a woman’s great ability and motivation were to be a prostitute and a man’s motivated ability were to be the world’s greatest bank robber, then obviously vocational goals would have to be adjusted. To fulfill such motivated abilities would bring individuals into direct conflict with the preceptive will of God.
If we carefully analyzed the root causes for the motivated ability of the bank robber and the motivated ability of the prostitute, we probably would find root abilities and motivations that could profitably and productively be channeled into godly enterprises. We must not only bring our motivated abilities into conformity with the law of God, but also make sure that the vocation we choose has the blessing of God.
There is certainly nothing wrong, for example, with devoting one’s life to the practice of medicine, for we see the good that medicine can do in terms of alleviating suffering. We also understand that the world needs bread to eat and that the vocation of baker for someone who is motivated and able to bake is a godly enterprise. Jesus Himself spent many of His years not in preaching and teaching but in being a carpenter, a craftsman in a legitimate trade. During those years, Jesus was in “the center of God’s will.”
Any vocation that meets the need of God’s world can be considered a divine calling. I underscore this because of the tendency in Christian circles to think that only those who go into “full-time Christian service” are being sensitive to divine vocation—as if preaching and teaching were the only legitimate tasks to which God calls us. A cursory reading of the Bible would reveal the flaw in such thinking. The temple was built in the Old Testament through not only the wise oversight of Solomon but also the craftsmanship of those who were divinely gifted in carving, sculpting, and so on.
David’s vocation as a shepherd, Abraham’s vocation as a caravan trader, Paul’s vocation as a tentmaker—all were seen as part of God’s plan to bring about the redemption of the world. When God made Adam and Eve, neither was called to be a full-time professional worker in the ecclesiastical structure; they were basically called to be farmers.
A vocation is something that we receive from God; He is the one who calls us. He may not call us in the way that He called Moses, by appearing in a burning bush and giving a specific set of marching orders. Instead, He usually calls us inwardly and by giving us certain gifts, talents, and aspirations. His invisible sovereign will is certainly working in the background to prepare us for useful tasks in His vineyard.
The External Call from People

In addition to the inner call of God, we recognize that there is such a thing as an external call to labor, a call that comes from people who request our services for their particular mission or purpose. We may be called by the church to be preachers or by a company to be foremen or shippers. Every time an organization places a want ad in a newspaper, a human call is going out for able workers to come and match their gifts and talents to a presented need.
Some Christians have argued that the need always constitutes the call. They say that there is a need for evangelists in the world and therefore everyone should be an evangelist. I agree that we must consider the needs of the kingdom of God as we make vocational decisions. However, the very fact that the world needs evangelists does not necessarily imply that everyone in the world is called to be an evangelist. Again, the New Testament makes it clear that not all are called to be preachers or administrators. The church is composed of people with a diversity of gifts, talents, and vocations. We must not make a simplistic, passive assumption that the need constitutes the call.
Certainly the presence of a need requires that the people of God strive to meet that need. However, it does not necessarily mean that people who are not equipped to meet the need are thereby forced into the gap. For example, it is every Christian’s responsibility to help carry out the mandate for evangelism. It is not every Christian’s responsibility to be an evangelist. I am not an evangelist, though I contribute to evangelism by teaching evangelists theology and by contributing money for the church’s task of evangelism. I do those things so that those who do have the gift and the motivation can be called out, trained, equipped, and sent into the world as evangelists. I participate in the responsibility of the body of Christ to see that the task is met, but I myself am not the one who delivers the goods as the practicing evangelist. I could say the same regarding a host of other vocations.
How do others affect our vocational calling? We do need to listen to the community of believers and friends. Sometimes our gifts and abilities are more evident to those around us than they are to us. The counsel of many and the evaluation of the group are important considerations in our search for our vocations. However, we must put up a red flag of warning. The group’s judgment is not always correct. The fact that a particular individual or group thinks we should be doing a certain task is not a guarantee that it is the will of God.
I went through a period in my life of being unemployed for six months. During that time, I had five different job offers in five different cities in the United States. Five different friends came to me and said out of sincerity and urgent zeal that they were sure God wanted me to take each of the particular jobs. This meant that if all five of them had a direct pipeline to the will of God, God wanted me to hold five full-time positions and live in five different cities in the United States at the same time. I explained to my friends that I knew I was iniquitous (full of sin), but had not yet discovered the gift of being ubiquitous (being everywhere at the same time). I simply could not possibly do all five jobs. Somebody was wrong in their estimation of the will of God for my life.
I find it very difficult to resist the pressures that come from people who are sure they know what God wants me to do with my life. We all experience that kind of pressure, so we must be careful to pay attention to those whose judgment we trust. We must be able to discern between sound judgment and the vested personal interests of other people.
As it turned out, I accepted a sixth position for which no one came to me in the middle of the night with a telegram from God. I was convinced that the sixth position was the one that matched my abilities with the job that needed to be done.
Considering Foreseeable Consequences

One last consideration that is often neglected but is of crucial importance is the foreseeable consequences of the job. To take a job simply for money or for geographical location is a tragic mistake. All things being equal, I would like to have a salary of a $1 million a year, to be a teacher of theology, and to live where the climate is mild twelve months of the year. At the present time I am a teacher of theology living in Florida, but I make far less than $1 million a year. Somewhere along the way, I had to make a decision about my priorities. Did I want to make a million dollars or did I want to heed my vocational calling? My residence was determined by the locale of my vocation.
Job decisions have both short-range and long-range consequences. Consider the case of Abraham and his nephew Lot, who lived and worked together in the Promised Land. Conflict between their hired hands made it necessary for them to divide the territory they were occupying. Abraham gave Lot the first choice, offering any half that he chose. Lot gazed toward the barren area of Transjordan and then looked toward the fertile valley near the city. He thought for a moment: “If I take the fertile valley, my cows can graze there and become fat. It’s a short distance to the city market. My profit will be great.” In consideration of his business, Lot opted for the fertile areas around the city and left Abraham the barren land. Lot’s choice was brilliant—from the perspective of raising cattle. He didn’t ask himself, “Where will my family go to school? Where will my family go to church?” The city he chose was Sodom—a great place to raise cows. The short-term consequences were fine, but long-term living in Sodom turned out to be a disaster in many ways.
How will our job decisions be conducive to fulfilling our other responsibilities? The person who chooses a vocation purely on the basis of money, location, or status is virtually guaranteeing his later frustration.
Much of the confusion we often experience in the job arena would be dispelled by asking ourselves one simple question: “What would I most like to do if I didn’t have to please anyone in my family or my circle of friends?” Another good question is, “What would I like to be doing ten years from now?” These questions are good to keep in mind even after one has settled into a particular job. Another thing to remember is the promise of God’s Word that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth. As His children, that includes the area of our work.
While God’s decretive will may not always be clear to us even in our occupational pursuits, His preceptive will is more easily discerned. Wherever we are, in whatever work we find ourselves, His preceptive will must be done.
Finally, what does God expect of us in relation to our work? As Christians, we have been called to be spiritual salt in a decaying world, to be spiritual light in the midst of darkness. We are to be wise stewards of God’s gifts and talents. That means striving to be the most honest, patient, hardworking, and committed workers we can be. It means settling for nothing less than excellence. God help us to live up to His high call for each of us.

Chapter Four

Besides our work, the other topic of perennial concern is our marital status. Should we marry or remain single?
It is possible that Christians expend more decision-making energy over the subject of marriage than any other area of human existence. No wonder, since the decisions relevant to the marital relationship have such far-reaching effects on our lives. How a person feels about his marital status determines, in large part, his sense of fulfillment, his productivity, and his self-image. The reality and the seriousness of the marital relationship are brought home when we realize that the one who knows us most intimately, the one before whom we are the most fragile and vulnerable, and the one who powerfully shapes and influences our lives is our marriage partner. That is why entering the marital relationship is not something anyone should undertake lightly.
Before we tackle the general question, “Is it God’s will for me to marry?” several specific questions need to be considered.
Should I Get Married?

The answer to this question has often been assumed by our culture, at least until recent years. Even today, most of us absorb the idea while growing up that marriage is a natural and integral part of normal life. In many ways—from the fairy-tale characters Snow White and Prince Charming, the romantic plays of Shakespeare, and some mass media heroes and heroines—we receive signals that society expects us to be numbered among the married. Among individuals who fail to fulfill this cultural expectation, those of a more traditional mindset are left with the nagging feeling that perhaps something is wrong with them, that they are abnormal.
In earlier generations, if a young man reached the age of thirty without getting married, he was suspected of having homosexual tendencies. If a woman was still single by thirty, it was often tacitly assumed that she had some defect that made her unattractive as a marriage partner or had lesbian preferences. Such assumptions are by no means found in the Scriptures.
From a biblical perspective, the pursuit of celibacy (as Scripture expects for the unmarried) is a legitimate option in some instances. Under other considerations, it is viewed as a definite preference. Though we have our Lord’s blessing on the sanctity of marriage, we also have His example of personal choice to remain celibate, obviously in submission to the will of God. Christ was celibate not because of a lack of the masculine traits necessary to make Him desirable as a life partner. Rather, His divine purpose obviated the destiny of marriage, making it crucial that He devote Himself entirely to the preparation of His bride, the church, for His future wedding.
The most important biblical instruction that we have regarding celibacy is given by the apostle Paul in a lengthy passage from 1 Corinthians:

Now concerning the unmarried, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress it is well for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a girl marries she does not sin. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. I mean, brethren, the appointed time has grown very short; from now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the form of this world is passing away.
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.
If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin. But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. So that he who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.
A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If the husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. But in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I have the Spirit of God. (1 Cor. 7:25–40, RSV)

Paul’s teaching in this matter of marriage has been subjected to serious distortions. Some observe in this text that Paul is setting forth a contrasting view of marriage that says celibacy is good and marriage is bad, particularly for Christians called to service in the interim period between the first advent of Christ and His return. However, even a cursory glance at the text indicates that Paul is not contrasting the good and the bad, but rival goods. He points out that it is good to opt for celibacy under certain circumstances. Moreover, it is also good and quite permissible to opt for marriage under other circumstances. Paul sets forth the pitfalls that a Christian faces when contemplating marriage. Of prime consideration is the pressure of the kingdom of God on the marriage relationship.
Nowhere has the question of celibacy been more controversial than in the Roman Catholic Church. Historically, Protestants have objected that the Roman Catholic Church, by imposing on its clergy a mandate beyond the requirements of Scripture itself, has slipped into a form of legalism. Though we believe that Scripture permits the marriage of clergy, it indicates, at the same time, that one who is married and serving God in a special vocation does face the nagging problems created by a divided set of loyalties—his family on one hand, the church on the other. Unfortunately, the dispute between Protestants and Catholics over mandatory celibacy has become so heated at times that Protestants have often reacted to the other extreme, dismissing celibacy as a viable option. Let us return to the focus of Paul’s word, which sets forth a distinction between rival goods. His distinction, in the final analysis, allows the individual to decide what best suits him or her.
Paul in no way denigrates the honorable “estate” of marriage, but rather affirms what was given in creation: the benediction of God over the marriage relationship. One does not sin by getting married. Marriage is a legitimate, noble, and honorable option set forth for Christians.
Just a Piece of Paper?

Another aspect of the question, “Should I get married?” moves beyond the issue of celibacy to whether a couple should enter into a formal marriage contract or sidestep this option by simply living together. In the past few decades, the option of living together, rather than moving into a formal marriage contract, has proliferated in our culture. Christians must be careful not to establish their precepts of marriage (or any other ethical dimension of life) on the basis of contemporary community standards. The Christian’s conscience is to be governed not merely by what is socially acceptable or even by what is legal according to the law of the land, but rather by what God sanctions.
Unfortunately, some Christians have rejected the legal and formal aspects of marriage, arguing that marriage is a matter of private and individual commitment between two people and has no legal or formal requirements. These view marriage as a matter of individual private decision apart from external ceremony. The question most frequently asked of clergymen on this matter reflects the so-called freedom in Christ: “Why do we have to sign a piece of paper to make it legal?”
The signing of a piece of paper is not a matter of affixing one’s signature in ink to a meaningless document. The signing of a marriage certificate is an integral part of what the Bible calls a covenant. A covenant is made publicly before witnesses and with formal legal commitments that are taken seriously by the community. The protection of both partners is at stake; there is legal recourse should one of the partners act in a way that is destructive to the other.
Contracts are signed out of the necessity spawned by the presence of sin in our fallen nature. Because we have an enormous capacity to wound each other, sanctions have to be imposed by legal contracts. Contracts not only restrain sin, but also protect the innocent in the case of legal and moral violation. With every commitment I make to another human being, there is a sense in which a part of me becomes vulnerable, exposed to the response of the other person. No human enterprise renders a person more vulnerable to hurt than does the estate of marriage.
God ordained certain rules regulating marriage in order to protect people. His law was born of love, concern, and compassion for His fallen creatures. The sanctions God imposed on sexual activity outside marriage do not mean that God is a spoilsport or a prude. Sex is an enjoyment He Himself created and gave to the human race. God, in His infinite wisdom, understands that there is no time that human beings are more vulnerable than when they are engaged in this most intimate activity. Thus, He cloaks this special act of intimacy with certain safeguards. He is saying to both the man and the woman that it is safe to give oneself to the other only when there is a certain knowledge of a lifelong commitment behind it. There is a vast difference between a commitment sealed with a formal document and declared in the presence of witnesses, including family, friends, and authorities of church and state, and a whispered, hollow promise breathed in the back seat of a car.
Do I Want to Get Married?

Paul states in 1 Corinthians 7:8–9: “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” The distinction is between the good and the better. Here Paul introduces the idea of burning, not of the punitive fires of hell, but of the passions of the biological nature, which God has given us. Paul is speaking very candidly when he points out that some people are not made for celibacy. Marriage is a perfectly honorable and legitimate option even for those who are most strongly motivated by sexual fulfillment and relief from sexual temptation and passion.
The question, “Do I want to get married?” is an obvious but very important one. The Bible does not prohibit marriage. Indeed, it encourages it except in certain cases where one may be brought into conflict with vocation, but even in that dimension, provisions are left for marriage. So to desire marriage is a very good thing. A person needs to be in touch with his own desires and conscience.
If I have a strong desire to marry, then the next step is to do something about fulfilling that desire. If a person wants a job, he must seriously pursue employment opportunities. When we decide to attend a college or a university, we have to follow the formal routine of making applications and evaluating various campuses. Marriage is no different; no magic recipe has come from heaven that will determine for us the perfect will of God for a life partner. Here, unfortunately, is where Christians have succumbed to the fairy-tale syndrome of our society. It is a particular problem for young, single women. Many a young woman feels that if God wants her to be married, He will drop a marriage partner out of heaven on a parachute or will bring some Prince Charming riding up to her doorstep on a great white horse.
One excruciating problem faced by single women—more so in past generations than today—is caused by the unwritten rule of our society that allows men the freedom actively to pursue a marriage partner while women are considered loose if they actively pursue a prospective husband. No biblical rule says that a woman eager to be married should be passive. There is nothing that prohibits her from actively seeking a suitable mate.
On numerous occasions, I’ve had the task of counseling single women who insisted at the beginning of the interview that they had no desire to be married but simply wanted to work out the dimensions of the celibacy they believed God had imposed on them. After a few questions and answers, the scenario usually repeats itself: the young woman begins to weep and blurts out, “But I really want to get married.” When I suggest that there are wise steps that she can take to find a husband, her eyes light up in astonishment as if I had just given her permission to do the forbidden. I have broken a taboo.
Wisdom requires that the search be done with discretion and determination. Those seeking a life partner need to do certain obvious things, such as going where other single people congregate. They need to be involved in activities that will bring them in close communication with other single Christians.
In the Old Testament, Jacob made an arduous journey to his homeland to find a suitable marriage partner. He did not wait for God to deliver him a life partner. He went where the opportunity presented itself to find a marriage partner. But the fact that he was a man does not imply that such a procedure is limited to males. Women in our society have exactly the same freedom to pursue a mate by diligent search.
What Do I Want in a Marriage Partner?

A myth has arisen within the Christian community that marriage is to be a union between two people committed to the principle of selfless love. Selfless love is viewed as being crucial for the success of a marriage. This myth is based on the valid concept that selfishness is often at the root of disharmony and disintegration in marriage relationships. The biblical concept of love says no to acts of selfishness within marital and other human relationships. However, the remedy for selfishness is nowhere to be found in selflessness.
The concept of selflessness emerged from Asian and Greek thinking, where the ideal goal of humanity is the loss of self-identity by becoming one with the universe. The goal of man in this schema is to lose any individual characteristic, becoming one drop in the great ocean. Another aspect of absorption is the notion of the individual becoming merged with the great Oversoul and becoming spiritually diffused throughout the universe. But from a biblical perspective, the goal of the individual is not the annihilation or the disintegration of the self, but the redemption of the self. To seek selflessness in marriage is an exercise in futility. The self is very active in building a good marriage, and marriage involves the commitment of the self with another self based on reciprocal sharing and sensitivity between two actively involved selves.
If I were committed to a selfless marriage, it would mean that in my search for a marriage partner I should survey the scene to find a person for whom I was willing to throw myself away. This is the opposite of what is involved in the quest for a marriage partner. When someone seeks a mate, he should be seeking someone who will enrich his life, who will add to his own self-fulfillment, and who at the same time will be enriched by that relationship.
What are the priority qualities to seek in a marriage partner? One little exercise that many couples have found helpful is based on freewheeling imagination. While finding a marriage partner is not like shopping for an automobile, one can use the new car metaphor. When one purchases a new car, he has many models from which to choose. With those models, there is an almost endless list of optional equipment that can be tacked onto the standard model.
By analogy, suppose one could request a made-to-order mate with all the options. The person engaged in such an exercise could list as many as a hundred qualities or characteristics that he would like to find in the perfect mate. Compatibility with work and with play, attitudes toward parenting, and certain skills and physical characteristics could be included. After completing the list, the person must acknowledge the futility of such a process. No human being will ever perfectly fit all the possible characteristics that one desires in a mate.
This exercise is particularly helpful for people who have delayed marrying into their late twenties or early thirties, or even later. Such a person sometimes settles into a pattern of focusing on tiny flaws that disqualify virtually every person he or she meets. After doing the made-to-order mate exercise, he can take the next step: reduce the list to the main priorities. The person involved in this exercise reduces the number of qualifications to twenty, then to ten, and finally to five. Such a reduction forces him to set in ordered priority the things he is most urgently seeking in a marriage partner.
It is extremely important that individuals clearly understand what they want out of the dating and eventually the marital relationship. They should also find out whether their desires in a marriage relationship are healthy or unhealthy. This leads us to the next question, regarding counseling.
From Whom Should I Seek Counsel?

Many people resent the suggestion that they seek counsel in their selection of a marriage partner. After all, isn’t such a selection an intensely personal and private matter? However personal and private the decision might be, it is one of grave importance to the future of the couple and their potential offspring, their families, and their friends. Marriage is never ultimately a private matter, because how the marriage works affects a multitude of people. Therefore, counsel can and should be sought from trusted friends, pastors, and particularly from parents.
In earlier periods of Western history, marriages were arranged either by families or by matchmakers. Today, the idea of arranged marriages seems primitive and crass. It is totally foreign in the American culture. We have come to the place where we think that it is our inalienable right to choose one whom we love.
Some things need to be said in defense of the past custom of arranged marriages. One is that happy marriages can be achieved even when one has not chosen his own partner. It may sound outrageous, but I am convinced that if biblical precepts are applied consistently, virtually any two people in the world can build a happy marriage and honor the will of God in the relationship. That may not be what we prefer, but it can be accomplished if we are willing to work in the marital relationship. The second thing that needs to be said in defense of arranged marriages is that in some circumstances, marriages have been arranged on the objective evaluation of matching people together and of avoiding destructive parasitic matchups. For example, when left to themselves, people with significant personal weaknesses, such as a man with a profound need to be mothered and a woman with a profound need to mother, can be attracted to each other in a mutually destructive way. Such negative mergings happen daily in our society.
It is not my intention to lobby for matched or arranged marriages. I am only hailing the wisdom of seeking parental counsel in the decision-making process. Parents often object to the choice of a marriage partner. Sometimes their objections are based on the firm conviction that “no one is good enough for my daughter [or son].” Objections of this sort are based on unrealistic expectations at best and on petty jealousy at worst. However, not all parents are afflicted with such destructive prejudices regarding the potential marriage partners of their children. Sometimes the parents have keen insight into the personalities of their children, seeing blind spots that the offspring themselves are unable to perceive. In the earlier example of a person with an inordinate need to be mothered attracting someone with an inordinate need to mother, a discerning parent might spot the mismatch and caution against it. If a parent is opposed to a marriage relationship, it is extremely important to know why.
When Am I Ready to Get Married?

After seeking counsel, having a clear understanding of what we are hoping for, and having examined our expectations of marriage, the final decision is left to us. At this point, some face paralysis as the day of decision draws near. How does one know when he or she is ready to get married? Wisdom dictates that we enter into serious premarital study, evaluation, and counseling with competent counselors so that we may be warned of the pitfalls that come in this new and vital human relationship. With the breakdown of so many marriages in our culture, increasing numbers of young people fear entering into a marriage contract lest they become “statistics.” Sometimes we need the gentle nudge of a trusted counselor to tell us when it is time to take the step.
What things need to be faced before taking the actual step toward marriage? Economic considerations are, of course, important. Financial pressures imposed on a relationship that is already besieged with emotional pressures of other kinds can be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back. That is why parents often advise young people to wait until they finish their schooling or until they are gainfully employed so that they can assume the responsibility of a family.
It is not by accident that the creation ordinance of marriage mentions that a man shall leave his father and mother and “hold fast to” his wife, and the two shall become “one flesh.” The “leaving and cleaving” dimensions are rooted in the concept of being able to establish a new family unit. Here, economic realities often govern the preparedness for marriage.
Entering into marriage involves far more than embarking on new financial responsibilities. The marriage commitment is the most serious one that two human beings can make to each other. A person is ready to get married when he or she is prepared to commit to a particular person for the rest of his or her life, regardless of the human circumstances that befall them.
In order for us to understand the will of God for marriage, it is imperative that we pay attention to God’s preceptive will. The New Testament clearly shows that God not only ordained marriage and sanctified it, He regulates it. His commandments cover a multitude of situations regarding the nitty-gritty aspects of marriage. The greatest textbook on marriage is sacred Scripture, which reveals God’s wisdom and His rule governing the marriage relationship. If someone earnestly wants to do the will of God in marriage, his first task is to master what Scripture says that God requires in such a relationship.
What does God expect of His children who are married or thinking about getting married? God expects, among other things, faithfulness to the marriage partner, provision of mutual needs, and mutual respect under the lordship of Christ. Certainly the couple should enhance each other’s effectiveness as Christians. If not, something is wrong.
While celibacy is certainly no less blessed and honorable a state than marriage, we have to recognize Adam and Eve as our models. God’s plan involved the vital union of these two individuals who would make it possible for the earth to be filled with their “kind.”
Basically, I cannot dictate God’s will for anyone in this area any more than I can or would in the area of occupation. I will say that good marriages require hard work and individuals willing to make their marriages work.
What happens in our lives is cloaked ultimately in the mystery of God’s will. The joy for us as His children is that the mystery holds no terror—only waiting, appropriate acting on His principles and direction, and the promise that He is with us forever.
Sproul, R. C. (2009). Can I Know God’s Will? (Bd. 4, S. i–102). Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing.

Die Kreativitäts-Matrix- von Uwe Rosenkranz

Workflow for Flagged Revisions

Workflow for Flagged Revisions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)






von SE. Archbishop Dr. Uwe AE.Rosenkranz, MA,D.D



Wenn wir im Fünffachen Dienst stehen,

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Der Workflow ergibt sich dann

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der Mittel, Ziele und Methoden.

Nachfolgend erklärt in seinem Video:

Kreativitäts-Matrix, Workflow

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, wie das geht.

Im anschliessenden Schaubild

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MOVE ON!- Take the next step of Your personal and professional developement!- by Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz


Take the next step of Your personal and professional developement!-

by Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz

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Matthew 1-7, The Life of Jesus, part 10, by Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz


Gospel of Mary

3.2 Warning against False Prophets (7:15–23*)



Barth, “Understanding,” 74–75, 159–64.
Hans Dieter Betz, “Eine Episode im Jüngsten Gericht (Mt 7,21–23),” ZThK 78 (1981) 1–30.
Otto Böcher, “Wölfe in Schafspelzen: Zum religionsgeschichtlichen Hintergrund von Matth 7:15,” ThZ 24 (1968) 405–26.
E. Cothenet, “Les prophètes chrétiens dans l’Évangile selon saint Matthieu,” in Didier, Évangile, 281–308.
James E. Davison, “Anomia and the Question of an Antinomian Polemic in Matthew,” JBL 104 (1985) 617–35.
Von Gemünden, Vegetationsmetaphorik, 141–51.
David Hill, “False Prophets and Charismatics: Structure and Interpretation in Matthew 7,15–23,” Bib 57 (1976) 327–48.
Paul Hoffmann, “Πάντες ἐργάται ἀδικίας: Redaktion und Tradition in Lk 13,22–30,” ZNW 58 (1967) 188–214.
Simon Légasse, “Les faux prophètes: Matth. 7,15–20,” Études franciscaines 18 (1968) 205–18.
Marguerat, Jugement, 183–203.
Michael Mees, “Ausserkanonische Parallelstellen zu den Gerichtsworten Mt 7,21–23; Lk 6,46; 13,26–28 und ihre Bedeutung für die Formung der Jesusworte,” VetChr 10 (1973) 79–102.
Paul Minear, “False Prophecy and Hypocrisy in the Gospel of Matthew,” in Joachim Gnilka, ed., Neues Testament und Kirche: Für Rudolf Schnackenburg (Freiburg: Herder, 1974) 76–93.
Giorgio Otranto, “Matteo 7,15–16a egli ψευδοπροφῆται nell’ esegesi patristica,” VetChr 6 (1969) 34–45.
Gerhard Schneider, “Christusbekenntnis und christliches Handeln,” in Rudolf Schnackenburg, Josef Ernst, and Joachim Wanke, eds., Die Kirche des Anfangs: Festschrift für Heinz Schürmann zum 65. Geburtstag (Leipzig: St.-Benno, 1977) 9–24.
Eduard Schweizer, “Matthäus 7,15–23,” in Matthäus, 126–31.
Manlio Simonetti, “Matteo 7,17–18 (= Luca 6,43) dagli Gnostici ad Agostino,” Aug 16 (1976) 271–90.

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

15 “Beware of the false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but within are rapacious wolves. 16/ You will recognize them by their fruit. Or does one gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistle bushes?
17 Thus every good tree produces useful fruit,
but the bad tree produces evil fruit.
18 A good tree cannot produce evil fruit,
and a bad tree cannot produce useful fruit.
19 Every tree that does not produce useful fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20/ Thus: You will recognize them by their fruit.
21 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven but whoever does the will of my Father in heaven.
22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and cast out demons in your name and perform many mighty works in your name?’ 23/ And then I will confess to them: ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you who do what is contrary to the law.’ ”
The most important issue for our interpretation is the question of the relationship between the two subsections, vv. 15–20* and vv. 21–23*.1 Formally, they appear to be loosely connected. Verses 16–20* are a self-contained unit, while vv. 21–23* differ in both form and content.
Verse 15* has only a loose connection with the following composition. Prophets are not mentioned again until vv. 22–23*.
Verses 16–20* are tightly composed. Verse 16a* is repeated in v. 20* (inclusion). At the center is the saying about the tree in v. 17* with its negative variation in v. 18*, each in neat parallelism. Between the center and the frame are brief clauses: the rhetorical question of v. 16b* and the threat in v. 19* that every bad tree will be thrown into the fire. In vv. 16–20* we have a ring composition. The introductory v. 15* is not part of it.
The direct addresses in the second person plural that characterize vv. 15–16*, 20* disappear in vv. 21–23*. Verse 21* is an unexpected introduction of a theme, again with suggestions of parallelism. It is linked to vv. 16–20* and vv. 22–23* with “do” (ποιέω). It contains the transition to the eschatological perspective that previously had only been alluded to figuratively in v. 19*. It is emphasized in vv. 22–23*. Unlike vv. 16–20*, the future tenses, reinforced by “in that day,” are eschatological. The parenesis becomes prophecy; Jesus becomes the judge.
Thus neither in form nor in their time perspective are vv. 15–23* a unified pericope. Nevertheless, the catchwords that connect its various parts are noteworthy: “do/produce” (ποιέω, vv. 17–19*, 21–22*), “Lord” repeated (κύριε, vv. 21–22*), and especially “prophet, prophesy” (προφετευ-, vv. 15*, 22*). All of these links were created by the evangelist in order to relate vv. 22–23* to vv. 15–21*. Matthew has brought together disparate fragments and thus created a unified pericope. Its structure may be described as follows: (1) The introductory v. 15* names the situation (false prophets). It is followed by (2) a “rule for testing the spirits”2 in vv. 16–20* and (3) a principle for entering the kingdom of heaven in v. 21*. (4) Verses 22–23* return to the prophets, develop the principle of v. 21* using them as an example, and create a bracket with v. 15*.
Redaction and Sources
Matthew brings together two Q pieces from the Sermon on the Plain (Q 6:43–45, 46) with another Q piece. His redaction is correspondingly intensive.
a. Verse 15* is completely Matthean, formulated in part in biblical language.3
b. Verses 16–20*: The framework created by vv. 16a* and 20* is a radically changed reformulation of Q 6:44a. Verses 16b–18* correspond only in part to the Q pericope of the tree with the fruit and its application to a person’s speech (Q 6:43–45), which in the Sermon on the Plain followed the saying about the beam and the splinter. Since the final verse, Q 6:45, did not fit in the Matthean concept, it was omitted. In 12:33–35* Matthew will use the Q pericope again in more complete form. Most of the other changes also come from him. He is responsible for putting v. 16* (= Q 6:44) first. Now the section begins appropriately with the principle of Q 6:44a so that the readers can apply “thorns” and “thistles” immediately to the false prophets. He is probably also responsible for partly replacing the adjectives “good”/“bad” (καλός/ σαπρός) with the ethical opposites “good”/“evil” (ἀγαθός/πονηρός). It may be that Matthew replaced “thornbush” (βάτος) with “thistle bush” (τρίβολος) and doubled Q 6:43 (= vv. 17–18*) so that it became an antithetical parallelism.7 Other changes may also have come from him. The rest of the various designations of plants and fruits in 7:16b* = Q 6:44b are difficult to explain. Here we will probably have to assume variant traditions or different Q recensions.9 Verse 19* is a passage Matthew repeated from the preaching of John the Baptist (Matt 3:10*).
c. The Matthean thematic statement of v. 21* is the result of a redactional reformulation of Q 6:46.
d. It is difficult to be certain about vv. 22–23*, since Luke has also greatly changed the Q text. The agreement in wording with Q 13:25–27 is so minimal that the sequence of the sayings in Matt 7:13–14*, 22–23*; 8:11–12* that corresponds to Luke 13:22–29* is almost the only thing that makes it possible to attribute Luke 13:22–29* to Q. Linguistically there are few clear Mattheanisms. It may be that in v. 22* Matthew wanted to create a reminder of Jer 34:15* LXX. In v. 23* he definitely strengthened the reminiscence of Ps 6:9*.13 It is difficult to decide whether in v. 22* the Matthean version (prophesy, cast out demons, perform mighty deeds) or the Lukan version (eating, drinking, teaching) is earlier. Since the Matthean text clearly reflects a community situation,14 it is probably not original. The sum total of the evidence shows that Matthew has edited the section quite purposefully and thoroughly, as he seldom does elsewhere.
Three different traditional fragments lie behind the Matthean composition. In the early Christian reception they were still transmitted in part separately. It is difficult to say something about the origin of the first traditional unit, Q 6:43–45, because it is so general. In the case of the second unit, Q 6:46, the difficulty lies in its brevity. With the third unit, Q 13:25–27, the difficulty lies in reconstructing its wording.

In my judgment the intensive Matthean redaction is understandable only if the struggle with false prophets is an actual problem in his community. Who were these people?
Excursus: False Prophets
In the second half of the first century and in the second century the problem of the ambiguity of prophecy surfaced with some frequency. One finds evidence of the problem in 1 John (2:18–27*; 4:1–6*), the Gospel of Mark (9:38–40*; 13:5–6*, 21–23*), the Pastoral Epistles (Titus 1:10–16*, esp. 12*), the Lukan writings (Acts 20:29–30*), Revelation (2:20*), 2 Peter (2:1*), the Didache (11.3 = 12.5), the Shepherd of Hermas (Man. 11), the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies (2.6–12), the Acts of Thomas (79), and the Montanists. The ambiguity of the Spirit seems to be a problem in every charismatic movement, especially in the second and third generations. That makes it difficult to determine historically who our false prophets were. There is thus a great diversity in the palette of suggestions: Zealots, Pharisees,19 Essenes, strict Jewish Christians,21 Paulinists. Thus far the suggestion of Gerhard Barth, who sees in the false prophets Hellenistic antinomians, has won the greatest agreement.23
The text gives little precise information. I assume that v. 15* and vv. 22–23* refer to the same people. Then the false prophets are Christians, not Jews.24 They are miracle workers and exorcists. Matthew does not charge the false prophets with any particular false teaching, even though there may have been such a thing; he accuses them only of bad fruits and in v. 23* of “lawlessness” (ἀνομία). One might conclude from this that they advocated libertine or antinomian slogans, thus some form of popular Paulinism. One cannot prove this conclusion, however, for it is just as conceivable that they simply did not live up to the strict standards of Matthew’s interpretation of God’s will—that they were, in other words, “imperfect.” In any case, Matthew does not accuse them of teaching ἀνομία. Thus one cannot prove from 7:21–23* that Matthew was dealing with opponents who where antinomian in their teaching.26
The Matthean community itself was strongly influenced by prophecy, and in Q it also had at its disposal a tradition strongly influenced by prophecy (cf. 5:12*; 23:34*, 37*). The Didache and Matt 10:40–42* show that Christian communities were visited by itinerant prophets. The simplest interpretation of “they come to you” (v. 15*) is that it also refers to such visits. It may also be helpful to remember the “foreign exorcist” of Mark 9:38–40*, because Matthew omits this small Markan story and repeats in exactly opposite form its scope that all who are not against Jesus are for him (12:30*, almost immediately before his second version of the text of the tree and the fruits in 12:33–35*). One sees here a reserve toward the free charismatics to whom Mark was more open. Are the false prophets in some way “Markanists”?27
Finally, we learn from 24:9–12* that the false prophets who will lead many astray to lawlessness and a lack of love are a phenomenon of the last days.28 In my judgment it is probable that for Matthew his own present, according to 24:14* the time of the Gentile mission, is this end time.29 For him the experience of false prophecy and the conviction of living in the end time just before the judgment belong together.

■ 15* The warning against the false prophets begins abruptly. The community obviously knows of whom the text is speaking. With them there is a wide disparity between the external and the internal. The sheep’s pelt in which they hide themselves is probably a metaphor rather than the typical garment of a prophet.31 Since the peaceful and defenseless sheep are the classic opposite of the ravenous wolves, their disguise in sheep’s clothing means that they appear to be peaceful and defenseless. The general idea is probably that the “predatory” wolves, which according to widespread early Christian conviction are the false teachers,33 will destroy the community. Naturally, in view of Ezek 22:27* and Did. 11.6, it is tempting to think that they are greedy for money. However, nothing in the text suggests that the danger that threatens the community from these people consists only in their greed.

■ 16a* Matthew gives the community a rule according to which it can recognize these prophets who only appear harmless: one recognizes them by their fruits. The principle that a tree is recognized by its fruit is also rooted in the tradition.35 “You will recognize” (ἐπιγνώσεσθε) is meant as an aphorism, as an imperative, or as a future, but in any case not eschatologically. The community is to seek to discern the spirits here and now. “Fruit” is common everywhere, but especially in the OT, as a metaphor that can mean on the one hand the consequences of deeds,37 but on the other hand the deed itself (as people’s “fruit”). What is meant in our passage is not the consequences of the activity of the false prophets in the communities but their deeds. Speaking for this view are the understanding the readers bring with them from 3:8* and 10*, the stereotypical connection with the leading word “do” (ποιέω), “evil” (πονηρός), and “good” (ἀγαθός) in vv. 17* and 18*, as well as the Matthean understanding of the word καρπός in general (cf. esp. 21:41*, 43*). Interpreting the fruits as words—that is, the teaching of the false prophets—is “read into” our context from 12:33–35*, and on the basis of 7:21* and 23* this is an impossible interpretation. Thus the signs by which the false prophets will be recognized are their works.40

■ 16b–18* A rhetorical question from Q makes the criterion obvious: one does not gather grapes and figs from thorn- and thistle bushes (which are widespread and sometimes tall in Israel). Again the opposites are traditional and preformed.42 In the context the question has the rhetorical function of depreciating the false prophets by putting them alongside thorns and thistles. In addition it prepares the way for v. 17* (“so/thus”: οὕτως). Matthew doubled the following images of good and the “bad/spoiled” tree in order to heighten the rhetorical effect. While it is a simple figure of speech in the Sayings Source, the Matthean text suggests a metaphorical understanding. “Good” and “evil” are clearly ethically colored expressions,44 so that speaking of “evil” fruit captures one’s attention and immediately makes one think of people’s deeds.

■ 19–20* In v. 19* the metaphor becomes eschatological. The trees that do not bear good fruit are burned. Here the readers remember the preaching of John the Baptist, who had announced the same thing (3:10*), and they notice that Jesus is speaking of the final annihilating judgment. Once again Jesus’ proclamation of judgment and that of John the Baptist are the same.46 With one more call to test the wolves in sheep’s clothing by their works the evangelist rounds off the first part of the text.

■ 21* Verse 21* marks a new beginning. The statement that all people will be judged on the basis of their works (v. 19*) leads to a polemical principle: Not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven. Since this principle applies not only to false prophets, in v. 21* the perspective is broadened.47 In particular, however, attention is now focused directly on the last judgment. Jesus speaks here as the judge of the world. The “Lord, Lord” is especially expressive and imploring. In Matthew “Lord” is the way the disciples, not outsiders, address Jesus, but especially as the World Judge-Son of Man. Thus Matthew is thinking of the community: not all of its members will enter the kingdom of heaven. Although addressing the World Judge as “Lord” is theologically correct, nothing will be decided only on the basis of addressing Jesus correctly. Of course, Matthew is not criticizing the disciples for calling Jesus “Lord.” However, he does polemicize sharply against the thesis that entering the kingdom of heaven is “simply a matter of faith” rather than along with faith also a matter of “doing.” Thus he criticizes every form of faith “alone” without works.50 As a redactional logion about “entering the kingdom of heaven,” v. 21* reminds the reader of 5:20*, where the community is confronted with the demand for better righteousness. Thus that is what Matthew is thinking of when he speaks of “doing the will of my Father” as a condition of salvation.
Is that works-righteousness? The question is more urgent than it was at 5:20*, because here it becomes clear that there is no certainty of salvation for the community. Although for Matthew the Sermon on the Mount as a whole is imperative and not a promise of salvation, he is aware of grace. It is suggested in our verse with the word “Father.” It is the Father of the World Judge to whom the community may say “our Father” (6:9*). Doing his will is not only something about which they must make an effort; it is also something for which they are permitted to pray (6:10*). Verse 21* also points back to the Lord’s Prayer. For Matthew here knowing about the Father’s will is a stimulus and help for doing, but it does not involve the certainty that one will enter the kingdom of heaven.

■ 22–23* The false prophets, who at the judgment will be burned like unfruitful trees, are a frightening, negative example designed to awaken the community from its slumber, much as later will be the case with the Pharisees and scribes, for whom there is also no relationship between their inner and outer lives.51 Verses 22–23* return to these false prophets. In retrospect it becomes significant that in vv. 15–20* Matthew had not spoken of an excommunication of the false prophets (cf. 7:1*). That corresponds to his understanding of the church. The community is not to anticipate the divine judgment and is not itself to separate weeds and wheat (13:36–43*; cf. 22:11–14*). Therefore Matthew restricts himself to giving his community a rule for recognizing false prophets, and he calls them to stay on the way of righteousness. The World Judge will himself carry out the judgment on the false prophets,52 and precisely this is what vv. 22–23* now portray. On that great judgment day “many”—the word reminds one of the broad way of 7:13*—will plead that they have prophesied in Jesus’ name.53 Many have performed miracles in Jesus’ name. We are familiar with the connection between prophecy and miracles not only from Jewish tradition; everywhere in early Christianity miracles are in the service of the proclamation and are signs of the arrival of the kingdom of God. Matthew, who understands the disciples in terms of the OT prophets (5:12*; 23:34*) and for whom miracles are part of the proclamation (10:1*, 7–8*; 11:20–24*; 17:19–20*), is not rejecting prophecy and miracles.55 The World Judge simply charges the charismatics with not satisfying the criterion of works. With the solemn words of Ps 6:9* he testifies to them that they do not belong to him. (“Testify/confess” [ὁμολογέω] comes from the language of the court and emphasizes the irrevocability of the testimony.) There is no rabbinic ban formula behind the expression “I never knew you.” Instead the World Judge denies fellowship with these charismatics57 and insists that he never chose them. Then in the last judgment only those will be saved with whom the Son of Man wants to have fellowship (10:32–33*; 25:11*), and it will be based on their works (cf. 25:31–46*).
Matthew designates the criterion that will be decisive in the judgment as “lawlessness” (ἀνομία). Since according to Jewish and Christian belief lawlessness will increase in the end time and because the false (pseudo-) prophets belong to the end time (24:10–12*), it may well be that the readers of the Gospel of Matthew thought that they themselves were living in the end time.60 Ἀνομία is a central word in the Bible. It frequently corresponds to Heb. עָוֹן, and it is almost identical with “unrighteousness” (ἀδικία). One must understand lawlessness here on the basis of Matthew’s understanding of the law. “Law” is the OT will of God that Jesus has established by deed and word. That is, it is the valid OT law that reaches its peak in the love command. Therefore in 24:12* Matthew interprets the fullness of lawlessness as love grown cold. At the same time he makes clear that God’s will is the OT will of God. Therefore the World Judge speaks with the words of Ps 6:9*, just as in the parallel text of Matt 13:41* he speaks with the words of Zeph 1:3*. At the same time the biblical word makes the verdict of the World Judge ultimately binding. A sentence of death is pronounced here on the false prophets as a warning to the community, which itself is summoned to practice the Torah as taught by Jesus.61 With this warning the brief excursus on the false prophets returns to the main theme that determines the entire direction of the Sermon on the Mount. It is a warning to the community, in view of the perspective of the judgment of the world, against going on the wrong way.

The criterion by which the truth of the prophets or the authenticity of charismatics will be decided in the judgment is their praxis. Not only the thoroughgoing redaction but also, indeed, especially v. 21*, which maintains that as the basic criterion, show how important this is for Matthew. For Christian faith he requires practical proof. God alone, not the person or the community, decides about faith’s validity.
Matthew only appears to be unique in early Christianity with this criterion. Time and again the history of interpretation has wrestled with the relationship between Matt 7:21–23* and 1 Cor 12:3*: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” In my judgment Paul is not establishing a criterion here for authentic pneumatics; instead, he wants to emphasize against the exclusiveness of the Corinthian pneumatics that everyone who confesses Jesus as Lord—and that is something every Corinthian Christian does—has the Holy Spirit. The actual Pauline criterion appears in 1 Corinthians 13: only love remains. Even the confession to the Jesus who has come in the flesh in 1 John 4:2* is only an alternative to Matt 7:21–23* when one separates the sections against the heretics from the texts about love (cf., e.g., 1 John 3:10*). Of course, Matthew stands in closest proximity to the Didache, which originated in his area of influence. Those who do not do the truth they teach are false prophets (Did. 11.10). Yet already in the Didache there are more tangible criteria. An itinerant prophet who stays more than two days in the community or asks for money is a false prophet (Did. 11.5). A prophet who does not go to church, who gossips too much, and who charges money for his prophecy is a false prophet (Hermas Man. 11.12–13). A true prophet is the one whose prophecy comes true (Ps.-Clem. Hom. 2.10) or the one whose prophecy agrees with that of James, the brother of the Lord (Ps.-Clem. Hom. 11.35). The idea that the criterion is true doctrine begins to become the dominant idea.
History of Interpretation

There are problems in the Matthean criterion of the “fruits.” It would appear on the surface that we have here an easy criterion of discrimination that everyone can apply, not only theologians and officials authorized to administer true doctrine. But the history of interpretation reveals that serious problems are hidden behind the “easy” criterion. Surprisingly, the text is one of the most frequently cited texts from the Sermon on the Mount. It was used so often because, among other reasons, it could be used by everybody and against everybody. In other words, the history of interpretation shows that the “simple” Matthean criterion failed as a criterion of discrimination.
a. The general view is that the Matthean statements about the false prophets are also to be applied to teachers and preachers. Thus the text refers to the heretics. But to which heretics? The palette of possibilities reaches from the Valentinians, Marcionites, Manicheans,65 through Lutherans, Calvinists, Catholics,67 Anabaptists, to the pastors with a “wolf’s heart” who perform their office not out of love to the people “but for the sake of earning a living.” They “recite to the people sermons that have been written out and memorized, baptize children, and distribute the sacrament” and proclaim grace to everybody without distinction.69 No one believes that he is a false prophet. Augustine describes the problem sharply. It is a matter of distinguishing between a sheep’s pelt and fruits: “For many regard as fruits various things that belong to sheep’s clothing.” One person’s sheep’s clothing—that is, the malevolent disguises of rapacious wolves—is another person’s fruit of faith. The list of items included in the sheep’s clothing is indeed impressive: abstinence, humility, simplicity, mercy, but also biblical words, the will to engage in reformation,72 Luther’s authority, and the correct installation in office by the civil authorities. So what is a mask, and what is the fruit of the gospel? Luther thinks that love is the fruit of the gospel; everything else even an ass could do.74 In his earlier writings he claims that the churches of the Reformation excel over all others by building alone on love and the word of God, while the papists rely on power. However, this principle could not be maintained for long.
Thus it is not surprising that, although not yet with Luther and Zwingli, but certainly with Calvin and the post-Reformation Protestant interpretation, the fruit was interpreted primarily in terms of doctrine. Not until the Enlightenment and Pietism was there a return to the interpretation of the fruits as works that was the prevailing interpretation in the ancient church and Catholicism.77 In that day the difference was regarded as typically confessional, and the Catholics rightly charged that to interpret the fruit as referring to doctrine was “to prove doctrine by doctrine.” One must say in all honesty, however, that even where the fruit was not interpreted in terms of doctrine the distinction between true and false prophecy was made according to the criterion of orthodoxy. The Matthean criterion consistently proved to be incapable of being objectified and to be deeply ambiguous. Here the history of interpretation leads to critical questions to Matthew himself.
b. It is necessary to raise questions at still another point. The history of interpretation dealt not only with the fruit but, perhaps even more intensely, with the trees. It seemed to many interpreters that something was wrong with the image of the tree. A fig tree can, of course, only produce figs, a vine can produce only grapes, and a thornbush can produce neither of them. Hence the issue is not the fruit at all but the tree that determines what the fruit will be. Thus the Gnostics interpreted the good and the rotten tree dualistically to refer to the person’s divine or material nature given by God. For the Gospel of Truth the “fruit” permits one to smell the Father’s pleasant odor that is at work in his children. From the contrast between the two trees Marcion, and after him Mani, concluded that there were two opposing gods that created them.81 The Manicheans concurred with the Gnostic interpretation. By contrast, the church’s interpretation struggled to reconcile Matt 7:16–20* with freedom of the will.83 Does the text not mean that a good person of necessity must produce good fruit automatically and that a bad person can never become good? The image of the tree appears to point in this direction. Paul’s conversion and David’s adultery were frequently used to contradict this thesis. The problem was finally solved with the explanation that to the extent that people have “good intentions” (bona voluntas) they are good trees.
Behind this difficulty with the image there is discomfort about the substance. The Matthean criterion of praxis appears to ignore the Christian presupposition of deeds (namely, grace), and it therefore has been regarded as theologically deficient. Hans Weder asks: “Can my works make God unnecessary? Can they negate his creation of my person?” He immediately answers: “No.” God is not the judging God; he is the giving God, whose love means that I am more than my deeds. “If you truly think of God as Father, then you can only think of him as one who knows that you are not your misdeeds just as you are not your deeds.”87 From this perspective it becomes understandable that Luther interprets the good tree as faith from which then all good works come, as it were, by themselves.
All of these questions call attention to a genuine and deep problem that, especially for Protestants, is connected with the Matthean theology of fruit and judgment. But if the Matthean text, as with Luther or again with Weder, is taken over into the Reformation’s doctrine of justification, and if the works are understood in the Pauline sense as the fruit of the justifying faith given by God, Catholics of necessity must suspect that the Reformation is but a new version of old heresies. Or from the other side, those who have problems with our text because of their Reformation theology may well wonder whether with their interpretation the ancient Gnostics and Manicheans did not sense something very important.
Meaning for Today

From the history of the influence of our text we need to address two questions to it:
1. Are all ethical criteria for the truth of Christian faith eventually ambiguous and thus useless?
2. Does emphasizing ethical criteria lead in the final analysis to the abolition of God’s grace?
Both are theologically fundamental questions, and they cannot simply be disposed of with a few sentences.
On the first question I would like, based on the text, to remind the reader that the ethical criterion is not simply a general criterion; it is the standard given by Jesus’ commandments (28:20*). This rule of measurement is a clear point of orientation for all Christians. However, “point of orientation” does not mean that the community, anticipating God’s judgment, now uses the standard of the fruit to make judgments that it is not permitted to make (cf. 7:1–5*). Thus what 7:15–23* offers is only a criterion of orientation, not a criterion of judgment. In particular, however, the context of 7:13–14* and 7:24–27* shows that the criterion of the fruit is primarily a guide for one’s own behavior. Thus the issue is not that with its criterion the community prematurely separates weeds from wheat but that the righteousness of the true disciples of Jesus is greater than that of the false prophets. The criterion of works is primarily a criterion of behavior, not a criterion of judgment. This is the only way to maintain the reality that Christian faith is praxis itself and not an ethical theory that permits us to make ecclesiastical or personal judgments about what is true practice.
On the second question we need to remember what for Matthew points to the primacy of grace: God’s will is the Father’s will. Jesus, who proclaims this will, is with his church until the end of the world. The proclamation of God’s will is embedded in a story of God with Jesus and thus with the community. Therefore, doing the will of God does not eliminate the confession of Jesus as Lord; it presupposes it. To be sure, it is interpreted in a special way. For Matthew it is impossible to separate person and works—the tree is not burned because it is rotten but because it produces bad fruit. In good Jewish terms, human freedom is not eliminated by God’s grace; it is led onto the right way. Thus God’s grace does not consist simply of helping the desperate and drowning person out of the water (cf. 14:28–31*) but also in a deeper sense of opening up the way on which the person can go. That is what the Sermon on the Mount is about. We must face the question whether Matthew does not take God’s grace seriously precisely by taking seriously the person called by God to act.
3.3 Conclusion: Two Builders (7:24–27*)
Jülicher, Gleichnisreden 2.259–68.
Marguerat, Jugement, 203–11.

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

24 “Everyone then who hears and does these my words,
will be like a prudent man
who built his house on the rock.
25 And the rain fell,
and the streams came,
and the wind blew,
and they fell against that house,
and it did not collapse,
because it was founded on the rock.
26 And everyone who hears these my words and does not do them
will be like a foolish man
who built his house on the sand.
27 And the rain fell,
and the streams came,
and the wind blew,
and they beat against that house,
and it collapsed,
and its fall was great.”
The opening “Everyone” (πᾶς, vv. 24*, 26*; cf. v. 21*, οὐ πᾶς) and the verb “does” (ποιέω) connect this text to the preceding material. Matthew composes the text symmetrically; the two halves are almost identical in their wording. The double parable is told artistically. After the title-like exposition the action begins with brief verbal clauses. Matthew mentions a threefold danger: rain, streams of water, and wind. The assault of the elements on the house, the result, and a conclusion are told with equal brevity. Only the final parts of vv. 25* and 27* are not parallel. These asymmetrical sentences contain the decisive material.
Redaction and Source
The double parable comes from Q. It is difficult to say how much Matthew strengthened the parallelism of the two halves of the parable or how much Luke in 6:47–49* has changed a previously existing Semitic parallelism.1 Redactional are: the insertion of “these” behind “words” (vv. 24*, 26*), the connecting “therefore” (v. 24*), the general relative clause with “who” (v. 24*), probably the characterization of the two builders as “prudent” and “foolish,” and the future formulation “will be likened” (ὁμοιωθήσεται). Lukan contributions may be: “who comes to me,” “I will show,” “he dug,” “laid a foundation” (cf. Luke 14:29*), “because … built” (= διά with an infinitive), “to be able” (ἰσχύω), and “shake.” However, there are still a number of unusual formulations in the Lukan text. Thus it is possible, but not provable, that Luke himself basically changed the Q text.
The differences between the two texts are interesting from local and social-historical perspectives. The text that comes to us by way of Matthew places the emphasis on the ground beneath the house. The floods that rush through Palestinian wadis after sudden downpours can easily wash away the sandy ground. The houses can be destroyed by cloudbursts and rain; the thought here is probably of mud houses. The Lukan text, on the other hand, speaks of the flooding (πλήμμυρα) of a river. A house with a good foundation that reaches down to bedrock withstands the flood. Since wind and rain are not mentioned as destructive powers, one most naturally thinks of a stone house over a cellar. Thus Luke may be writing about a city in a flood. By contrast, the Matthean text is not only linguistically closer to a Semitic narrative style,5 it is also in its imagery closer to the rural, Palestinian milieu.
The double parable is a unit and cannot be further deconstructed. It could come from Jesus. What is noteworthy in contrast to similar Jewish texts is that the issue here is not the study and the praxis of the Torah but hearing and doing the words of Jesus.8 The catastrophe of the storm is graphically described. In the original parable the issue was probably already not simply passing a test but survival in the catastrophe of the last judgment. Correspondingly, we have here a parable about a one-time event rather than a simile, as one has in most Jewish parallel texts. The original parable of Jesus is in substance quite close to the Jesus saying of Q 12:8–9, which is also formulated positively and negatively: whoever confesses me (= hears and does my words), the Son of Man will also confess before the angels of God (= his “building” will endure in the judgment).

■ 24–27* As the Sayings Source had already done with the Sermon on the Plain, Matthew concludes his Sermon on the Mount with a double parable. In a way similar to the ending of the Holiness Code (Lev 26), Deuteronomy (30:15–20*), the final redaction of the Book of Enoch (1 Enoch 108), and the Assumption of Moses (12.10–13), the readers are confronted once again with the great choice. As in the community discourse (Matt 18:23–35*) and in the eschatological discourse (24:45–25:46*), it is an eschatological parable that confronts the readers with the two possibilities. Verse 24* (and v. 26*) states what the parable is about: the one who hears Jesus’ words and does (not do) them. In the Matthean context “do” (ποιέω) has been a key word since 7:12* and is therefore given special emphasis in comparison with hearing. By adding “these” (τούτους) the evangelist makes clear that the reference is to the Sermon on the Mount.
The parable’s imagery speaks of two builders. The picture of the house along with the righteous person’s “enduring” or “survival” is an established motif from the wisdom tradition. “Prudent/wise” (φρόνιμος) corresponds to Heb. חָכָם. In the biblical wisdom tradition it has always had a theological dimension: the one who thinks in terms of God is “intelligent.” The intelligent man builds his house on solid rock, perhaps on the summit of a hill, while the foolish man builds his on sandy ground, perhaps on the slope. In our parable, however, the traditional wisdom motifs are used in an eschatological sense: the preceding context (vv. 20–23*) has already spoken about the last judgment. Instead of the “is like” given in Q, Matthew has the future “will be likened.” As in 25:1*, he is thinking of the last judgment in which the “likeness” envisioned by the parables will be seen.12 The parable’s form also suggests as much. It speaks not of a this-worldly deed-consequence connection that one repeatedly experiences but of one-time events. Therefore the evangelist tells a story about the success of the man who built his house on the rock and of the catastrophe of the other man whose dangerous construction led to a gigantic collapse. The image of the storm with cloudbursts, suddenly rushing streams through usually dry valleys, and strong winds also suggests judgment to the hearers.14 The survival of the one who built on the rock and the catastrophe for the one who built on sand will become clear in the last judgment that will reveal the truth of the parable.
The end of v. 27* alludes to the catastrophe: “Its fall was great.” Instead of the explanation of vv. 25–26* (“because it was founded on the rock”), the narrator here emphasizes the catastrophic result. The hearers notice this deviation from the parallelism of the two parts of the parable. The emphasis lies on the concluding warning.
History of Interpretation
In the church’s exegesis the parable’s reference to the last judgment was often minimized or even ignored. The storm was interpreted as referring to this-worldly experiences such as superstition, rumors, temptations of the flesh,16 flattery, the power of the devil, or demonic thoughts.18 It was also easier to interpret the text in terms of the present when the rock was interpreted as Christ (cf. 1 Cor 10:4*).19 Then the text was a call to hold fast to the “the rocky foundation of the eternal Word of God” (= Christ). The reformers in particular favored this interpretation.21 In the Reformation this text was also drawn into the tumult of the antithesis between faith and works: in contrast to building on one’s own piety and one’s own works, one can have certainty only by building solidly on the foundation, Christ. The important thing then is the hearing of the word—that is, the foundation that is provided—or trusting God. What the human being does is of secondary importance. The text is distorted in this way in Protestant exegesis down to the present day.24 Catholic exegesis objected to relating this text, of all texts, to faith without works where it clearly speaks of the “faith made firm by good works” (“fides bonis operibus solidata”). The objection is justified. “Hearing and doing” may not be separated in this parable. Indeed, right hearing leads to doing. It is not the case that hearing is compared with the foundation that is laid and doing with building on the rock. Instead, both of them, hearing and doing, correspond to building on the rock. Conversely, only hearing, without doing, corresponds to building on sand.

The text links up with 5:19*. Matt 5:17–20* had maintained that Jesus fulfilled God’s law and had summoned the community to the better righteousness. Everything depends on this praxis. That does not mean that christology is reduced to ethics, because Jesus is the one who in his mission fulfills law and prophets and who makes it possible for the community to go the way of righteousness. “My words” clearly maintains this christological basis (cf. 28:20*). But Christ does not make it possible to retreat. He is not someone who if necessary also saves without works, even if it is “as through fire” (1 Cor 3:15*). Instead, he makes it possible for those to enter life who do righteousness; he helps them, but only them. Christ gives his grace to the one who does the word. Every “right-attitude” ethic that is not prepared to be measured by its fruits will be frustrated at this conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount. Praxis alone is what matters. It is the “necessary condition … for salvation.”27 That is true for the community for which this parable elevates the principle of 7:21* to the level of an urgent appeal: being a Christian means the praxis of Jesus’ commands. In this praxis there is the experience of grace and prayer. That is the proclamation of the Sermon on the Mount from the Beatitudes to its conclusion. Whether one remains or falls in the judgment depends on this praxis.
3.4 Conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount (7:28–29*)

28 And it happened, when Jesus had concluded these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29/ for he taught them as one who has authority and not as their scribes.
As part of the ring-like composition around the Sermon on the Mount, the conclusion points back to 5:1–2* (“crowds,” “teaching”) as well as to 4:23*, 25*. At the same time it contains an important catchword, “authority” (ἐξουσία), that will play a significant role in the following main section (cf. 9:6*, 8*; 10:1*). Verse 28a* shows the first occurrence of a conclusion that, with minor variations,2 will appear at the end of all the discourses (11:1*; 13:53*; 19:1*; 26:1*). In this way the evangelist separates the five major discourses of his Gospel from other discourses of Jesus. This conclusion differs from other conclusions of the discourses by lingering with the discourse itself instead of returning immediately to the story of Jesus and its action. Verse 28a* emphasizes the basic significance of the Sermon on the Mount.3 Only in the next verse, 8:1*, which parallel to 5:1* mentions the descent from the mountain, is there a transition to the next section of the story of Jesus.
Matthew copies Mark 1:22* word for word; the Sermon on the Mount appears where the healing in the synagogue takes place (Mark 1:23–28*).4 Luke 7:1a* shows that it is likely that a similar conclusion also appeared here in the Sayings Source. However, we can no longer determine how much Matthew followed Q, since Luke 7:1a* is completely Lukan.5 This uncertainty is regrettable, for the question where Matthew got the inspiration for the formulaic conclusion of his discourses is of great importance. Did he follow the Q text relatively faithfully?6 If so, one can build no theological castles on 7:28a*. Or is he influenced by OT formulations? One thinks of such texts as Deut 31:1*, 24*; 32:45–46*, but also of Num 16:31* or Jer 33:8* LXX. Does he intentionally want to call attention to Deuteronomy in an effort to present the Sermon on the Mount as a new Law of Moses and his book as a new Pentateuch?8 We will have to be careful. There are no literal agreements, even though it would have been easy to create them. Only “to go up the mountain” (5:1*) and “to come down from the mountain” (8:1*) are designed to recall Exodus 19 and 34. Then it is perhaps (!) no accident that Matthew emphatically and repeatedly (7:24*, 26*, 28*) speaks of “these words” of Jesus. That is what the Decalogue was called in Exod 20:1*. Had he wanted to recall the conclusion of Deuteronomy, however, he would have had to come up with a clearer statement, especially since Moses’ situation before his death corresponds to that of Jesus at most in 26:1*.

Matthew brings Jesus’ discourse to a close. More clearly than in 5:1* he emphasizes that the crowds also heard the Sermon on the Mount. It is a disciples discourse in the sense that the lives of the disciples are to shine in the world (5:16*) as missionary witnesses and are to confront the nations with the commandments that are also valid for them (cf. 28:20*). The crowds are addressed as potential disciples. The Sermon on the Mount is not instruction for Christians after they have heard the preaching of grace; it is at one and the same time missionary preaching and Jesus’ saving command. The people are astonished, because Jesus teaches with ἐξουσία. This “power” is seen first in his teaching. It will be seen later in his deeds, and in 10:1* it will be transferred to the disciples. Based on 28:18* it is the anticipation of the universal authority that will be given to the one who is exalted over heaven and earth. Thus for the believer something of the glory and power of the heavenly Lord shines in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus’ ἐξουσία makes him different from the Jewish scribes. Matthew states here himself what we said earlier about the interpretation of the antitheses formulas: Jesus speaks in his own name. He does not hide his authority behind that of Moses nor does he legitimate it by appealing to tradition. Therefore, the church’s interpretation has correctly called attention to the sovereign “but I say to you” of the antitheses and to the christological tenet of the “fulfillment” of the law and prophets.10 With the possessive pronoun “their” Matthew indicates that the separation between the Jesus community and Judaism has already taken place. The Jewish scribes are on the “other” side. The people who are astonished stand in the middle between “their” scribes and Jesus.

Summary: The Basic Message of the Sermon on the Mount

See above, II A on the Sermon on the Mount (5:1–7:29).

The Sermon on the Mount is the fundamental and programmatic portrayal of the proclamation of Jesus, the teacher, Israel’s Messiah. It is thus the “words” that will be decisive in determining whether one stands in the judgment of the Son of Man, Jesus. That is why Matthew put it at the beginning of his Gospel. A great arc reaches from its conclusion (7:13–27*) to the final discourse about the judgment of the Son of Man (chaps. 24–25). At the same time, as “gospel” (εὐαγγέλιον) it is the content of the missionary preaching that the disciples someday will have to carry to all the nations (28:19–20*). For Matthew it is the most basic of the five discourses, the only one that he explicitly called “gospel of the kingdom.” In the following comments I summarize a few of its main declarations.
1. The goal of the Sermon on the Mount is Christian praxis. A Christian is anyone who acts according to Jesus’ commandments. Therefore Matthew emphasizes the unity of teaching (or hearing) and doing (5:19*; 7:21–23*, 24–27*). Thus the Sermon on the Mount is not teaching in the philosophical sense;1 it is “commandment of Jesus,” fulfilled law (5:17*). We must pose, therefore, not the isolated question about the true “understanding” of the Sermon on the Mount but only the more comprehensive question about the true praxis of the Sermon on the Mount.2
From time to time in the modern history of interpretation the question of the practicability of the Sermon on the Mount is raised.
For Matthew, as for the entire church until well after the Reformation, it was clear that the Sermon on the Mount is practicable. It not only must be done; it also can be done. To only a very small degree did Matthew in his redaction make the Sermon on the Mount “practicable” by adapting Jesus’ “ideal” and “absolute” demands to reality. It is true that there are such isolated accommodations (e.g., [pre-Matthean?] in 5:32*, 42*), but they appear alongside redactional additions such as 5:25–26*, 29–30* that underscore the radical nature of the demands all the more. Neither Matthew nor the community before him understood practicability in a way that established the “minimum” or the “more” (5:20*) of Jesus’ demands that must be kept in the community. Jesus’ commands in the Sermon on the Mount were not interpreted as Christian halakah.
2. The gospel of the deed is an expression of grace. The Sermon on the Mount is demand, “imperative.” Even the Beatitudes are a proclamation of grace that precedes the demands. For Matthew grace happens in the proclamation of Jesus’ demands, and it does so in a twofold way. First, the Sermon on the Mount is embedded in the story of God’s dealings with Jesus. Those who forget that the Sermon on the Mount comes only after Matthew 1–4 and in Matthew’s understanding cannot come earlier have misunderstood it. The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ preaching. The one who speaks in it is Jesus, Immanuel and Son of God, the one through whom God guarantees the truth of his claim and in whose form he accompanies his community of disciples. An interpretation that is not based on christology but wants to be true, plausible, or “rational” in and of itself is in Matthew’s sense a misunderstanding. Second, in its center (6:9–13*) the Sermon on the Mount wants to bring the acting person to prayer to the Father. An interpretation that overlooks the reality that in the Sermon on the Mount praxis is at its core prayer misunderstands the evangelist.4 Finally, the Sermon on the Mount does not separate the person into a dichotomy of hearing person and acting person (cf. 5:14–16; 7:21*, 24*, 26*). It is precisely as one who acts that a person stands under God’s grace by receiving from the heavenly Father something to do as a task.
3. The Sermon on the Mount combines the central love command with other exemplary demands of Jesus. Matthew has elaborated the love command as the central command by bracketing the other antitheses with the first and last antitheses and by gathering all of the main section of the Sermon on the Mount into the golden rule. The love of enemies is the essence and the summit of the “righteousness” God requires and of life in God-like “perfection.” For Matthew, however, the will of God is not reduced to love; the other commandments appear along with it. Matthew insists on the fruits (plural, 7:16*, 18*, 20*). Therefore it is not enough that the person does something out of love. The question is what the person does out of love.
For Matthew, the individual commands of Jesus and of the Bible, including every iota and stroke, are valid commands of God. But they are not laws that prescribe in detail what a Christian is to do in every situation. They are not sentences of law but exemplary requirements that illustrate how and how radically God demands obedience. A part of exemplarity is always the freedom to create new examples. Thus for Matthew there is neither an unequivocal definition of Christian action nor freedom in the sense of “love and do what you want” (“dilige et fac quod vis”). Christian living is best compared to a way whose goal is perfection (5:20*, 48*) and whose direction and radical nature is clearly marked by the individual commandments as if they were rays of light shining from the goal. The Sermon on the Mount does not define how the exact way is to be followed specifically in the situation of every community and of every church member and especially how far along this way everyone is to come. It merely says: as far as possible; at any rate, farther than the scribes and Pharisees (5:20*).
4. The Sermon on the Mount is an ethic for disciples. It presupposes the calling of the disciples (4:18–22*). Jesus teaches (5:1–2*) the disciples. The better righteousness of the Sermon on the Mount is the distinguishing attribute of the disciples that sets them apart from the Pharisees and scribes (5:20*). Individual demands presuppose the preaching of Christ (5:10–12*) or the existence of the community of disciples (5:13–16*, 20*, 31–32*; 6:7–8*, 14–15*; 7:15–20*). The praxis of the Sermon on the Mount helps people praise the Father in heaven (5:16*). Thus not only does the word of proclamation lead to deeds (28:20*), deeds in turn lead to proclamation. However, that means that for Matthew an ethic for disciples is not the special ethic of a circle of followers of Jesus living for themselves. It is rather the case that outsiders can appreciate and experience the ethic for disciples in the Sermon on the Mount as “good” and can therefore find it “attractive” (cf. 5:16*).
5. Through the preaching of the disciples the Sermon on the Mount is valid for the whole world. The multitudes as well as the disciples are addressed in the Sermon on the Mount (4:25–26*; 7:28–29*). In the proclamation in word and deed (5:16*) “all nations” (28:19*) are confronted with it. Many of Jesus’ demands clearly point beyond the boundaries of the community (cf. 5:25–26*, 39–41*, 44–45*; 6:24*; 7:1–2*). Because of the golden rule (7:12*) the Sermon on the Mount can become the content of missionary preaching. It points hermeneutically to the potential rationality of the central commandment to love one’s enemies, and in a theology of missions it points to its universal validity. As ethics for the community the Sermon on the Mount is at the same time God’s will for the whole world to which it is proclaimed (28:19–20*).
6. The Sermon on the Mount offers instruction in fulfilling the law and prophets. The Matthean Jesus appeals programmatically to the OT that he himself with his deeds and his proclamation “fulfills” as a permanently valid word of God (5:17*). Thus the OT remains the basis (7:12*; cf. 22:40*) of the will of God, and through Jesus’ proclamation of the will of God it is definitively validated and deepened, intensified and provided with a clear center. In the situation where the church and Israel’s synagogue have already gone separate ways this programmatic appeal back to the law and prophets is at the same time an implied no to that Israel for which Jesus is not the key to the Bible—the Israel that under the leadership of the Pharisees and scribes is entangled in half measures and hypocrisy on the road to righteousness. For the Matthean community, which as part of Israel must redefine its identity between the synagogue and the nations, Jesus’ unequivocal yes to the unabridged will of God and thus to Israel’s Torah is a clear confirmation of its Jewish identity, even if it is outside the synagogues influenced by the Pharisees.
7. The Sermon on the Mount states the requirements for entry into the kingdom of heaven. The view of the kingdom of heaven surrounds the Sermon on the Mount like brackets (5:3*, 10*; 7:21*). Matt 4:17* and 4:23* suggest that it is the “gospel of the kingdom.” The kingdom is obviously a future reality. If the community walks on the way of righteousness, it will enter it (5:20*). In the sermon’s center stands the petition of the Lord’s Prayer for its coming. For Matthew, the disciples’ praxis is not an “ethical” sign of the new world that is already dawning,8 but neither is it merely an “interim ethic,” understood as the special ethos of the last, brief time before the end. Rather, the Sermon on the Mount is the pure, undisguised expression of God’s will as it corresponds to the law and prophets—that is, as it had always been. In this sense it states the conditions for entering the kingdom of God.10 The special situation of the Christian community is that God, through his Son Jesus, is “with” the community and accompanies it, that is, God has given to the church an example, a teacher, and a helper. Through this Son a community of brothers and sisters has arisen that practices the will of the Father. Therefore Matthew, who tells the story of this Jesus, is far removed from any so-called works-righteousness.
One sees here different accents between Matthew and Jesus’ proclamation. The hidden presence of the kingdom of God is more strongly emphasized in the latter. Jesus understood his demands as an ethic of contrast, as a symbolic realization of the dawning kingdom of God in the midst of the old world. For Matthew the community is only moving toward the kingdom of heaven. The continuity with law and prophets was not programmatically developed by Jesus as it is in Matt 5:17–19* and 7:12*, even if it was obvious to him that he was God’s envoy to his people. The Matthean community, looking back to Easter, naturally emphasizes the priority of grace differently than Jesus himself does.
On the whole, however, what is significant for me is not the newness of the Matthean design but the continuity it maintains. To a great degree Matthew preserves the basic elements of Jesus’ proclamation, the unity of Jesus’ words and deeds, the connection between his proclamation and his message, the radical nature of his demands, and even Jesus’ language. Correspondingly, in the Sermon on the Mount we can reckon with a presumably high portion of authentic sayings of Jesus.
The differences are in large part new accents made necessary by the changed kerygmatic and historical situation. Jesus’ relationship to the kingdom that was dawning in his activity had to be reinterpreted after Easter. The more intense parenesis reflects the situation of the community, which after some fifty years of the Christian preaching of grace obviously is struggling with diminishing obedience and little faith. And it was necessary, both internally and externally, to emphasize the continuity with law and prophets when the Christian communities formed themselves no longer in but alongside Israel’s synagogue-based mainstream.

Conclusion: Reflections on the Praxis of the Sermon on the Mount Today
One does not normally say something in a scholarly commentary about the meaning of the text for today. However, I do it often in this commentary, at the end of each of the five discourses but also in connection with a number of individual texts. I do it especially with the Sermon on the Mount for two reasons:
a. For Matthew the evangelist there is no such thing as understanding the Sermon on the Mount apart from praxis. For him the criterion by which one recognizes true and false prophecy—even true and false interpretation of the Jesus tradition—is praxis. An interpretation that establishes only what was meant at an earlier time would run counter to the entire claim of the Sermon on the Mount.
b. My observations about the history of the text’s influence have been designed to illustrate what has influenced my own dealings with the texts and which interpretive traditions have been repressed in my own tradition. One does not interpret the Sermon on the Mount in a vacuum where an interpreter can see the text with absolute clarity. Especially with the Sermon on the Mount, this text, so often discomforting and in the “mainstream” churches so frequently neutralized and repressed, it is obvious that where one stands influences one’s historical interpretation, not to mention one’s present praxis.
1. I begin by reflecting on a matter of principle. At every step my interpretation has called attention to the great disparity between the Matthean understanding of the Sermon on the Mount and especially the interpretive tradition influenced by the Reformation. I have tried repeatedly to make clear that the Matthean Sermon on the Mount is a corrective of, if not an actual program in opposition to, the attempts since the Reformation to domesticate it. Now I ask the opposite question: Is there such a thing as a “hermeneutical benefit” of the Reformation’s interpretive tradition for our modern understanding of the Sermon on the Mount?
In his impressive interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount, Hans Weder has repeatedly called attention to the fundamental distinction between “being” and “demand.” “How can something that comes to me as a demand express my new being? The demand can only express what I should be or could be (if I fulfilled it). Accordingly, the demand always aims toward a possibility of my activity; it never expresses my reality.” And: “This new being … is God’s business and is appropriated in faith, while human behavior corresponds to this new being. With faith people enter into a relationship with God, while with praxis they shape their relationship to the world.” Weder himself is not completely certain whether he may also assume for Matthew this distinction between being and praxis that is basic for Pauline theology. In my judgment this is not possible. But the fear of his “hermeneutic of suspicion,” nourished by Reformation theology, that Matthew might therefore become a theologian of works-righteousness is wrong.2 Not only the incorporation of the “ethical” Sermon on the Mount into the story of Jesus but also the view of the gracious “will of the Father” rooted in Jewish thought demonstrate that this fear is misguided. In a globalized world in which unemployment is one of the greatest scourges of humanity and in which work is understood by so many people not only as a source of material resources but also as giving purpose to one’s life, it should be understandable that it is “gospel” when Jesus calls people to “work” at love and at goodness and when his heavenly Father regards them—every one of them—as “qualified” for this “work.” And for a world of global “self-enrichment,” a binding “will of the Father” that places limits on this compulsion in the name of love is a major benefit.
Nevertheless, it seems to me that the Reformation’s basic approach for the interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount is of great significance today. By no means do I want to make this approach the standard for judging the substance of the Matthean approach. However, in the situation of the secular post-Christian and postindustrial societies of Western Europe and North America, I regard it as indispensable. It is important that we remember that life and the fundamentals of life cannot be manufactured; they can only be received as a gift. We must remember that a gift over which we have no control precedes all of our “acting”—a gift that can be neither caused nor planned nor produced. This has unforeseeable consequences for all human “acting,” planning, and producing but also for peace activities, righteousness, and the church. The modern people who have become independent even of God have inherited this insight as a legacy of the Reformation on their way to modernity, and they have also emancipated themselves from it, in my judgment to our common loss.
Moreover, this basic insight is by no means only an idea of the Reformation or only Pauline. Matthew is aware that prayer to the Father stands at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of all human deeds (6:1–18*), and here he is in full agreement with Paul.3 He also knows that the promise of entering a “kingdom of heaven” stands over all righteous human behavior. It is a kingdom that toto coelo is different from everything that human praxis can bring about (5:3*, 10*; 6:10*; 7:21–23*).
I am pleased that there is a basic convergence here between Hans Weder and me on the interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount for today. Thus this convergence does not include our exegetical judgment about the Sermon on the Mount, nor does it include the extent of this approach. In contrast to Weder I probably regard it as contextually and not merely universally valid. It seems to me that it is especially relevant for the power elite, for producers, for men, for intellectuals, but also for the large majority of those who are “only consumers.” But it cannot be the decisive approach for people in Third World countries, especially for the suffering, the poor, people without legal protections, the powerless, and women.
2. I would now like to call attention to two focal points that serve as examples of where in my judgment the Sermon on the Mount is relevant to today’s circumstances.
The Sermon on the Mount and the Shape of the Church

One can see the end of the national or state church in many formerly Protestant countries of Western Europe. The discrepancy among a still intact state church institution, a rapidly crumbling financial basis, and the experience that for all practical purposes the churches have largely become minority churches is obvious. Communities, house churches, and monastic-like societies confront the church with the Matthean question about a Christian way of life that is different from that of the world and that could be a light that helps people recognize and praise the heavenly Father (5:16*).4
I have been surmising that the two-kingdoms doctrine, which abandoned the idea that the Sermon on the Mount could be realized even in the church, in large measure reflects the (historically conditioned) decision of especially the followers of Luther that the time has not yet arrived for making real the church composed of people who seriously want to be Christians. What was historically understandable in the sixteenth century, what in the eighteenth century in Pietism led not only to a renewal of the church but was also a burden for the church, may for the sake of the church’s renewal be well overdue in the twenty-first century. In my judgment the churches of northern Europe must today intentionally move in the direction of reshaping themselves as minority churches, something that for all practical purposes they have already become without intending to do so. In the process Matthew could be a great help—the Matthew who is an exponent of a minority church that walks on the way to perfection and is different from the world in the way it lives (Matt 5–7), in its witness in poverty and suffering (Matt 10), and in its fellowship of forgiveness (Matt 18).
When a church such as the Catholic church of the Early and High Middle Ages, in a time when it had already become a state church (Volkskirche), preserves a perfectionistic interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount from the time when it had been a minority church, the process can operate as salt. The late medieval poor people’s movements testify to the power of this salt. If the distinction between perfect and “normal” Christians, between counsels and commandments, encourages the “normal” to start on the way of perfection and to seek their form of perfection, it could also become “productive” and helpful for a church that wants to begin to move.
When, however, a Protestant church that has long since de facto become a minority church takes its remaining members for granted, holds firmly to its own Protestant, state-church interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount, and refuses to make the Sermon on the Mount the vision and guide for a future form of its own church, it becomes tasteless and a salt unfit to demonstrate to the modern world an alternative kind of fellowship. It then gives people no reason to praise the Father in heaven (5:16*), and in the contradiction between its preaching and its own form it is in danger of losing the ability to preach credibly.
In my judgment the Sermon on the Mount not only calls into question the way Christians live their lives; it perhaps even more questions the form of the church. By that I am not merely raising a question about its praxis, as if according to Matthew the church were something other than what it lives and does. In its praxis the church is to be the light that it is (cf. 5:14–16*). According to the Sermon on the Mount that involves such things as an obligation to be engaged visibly on behalf of peace (5:38–48*), poverty as the form of the church (6:19–34*),8 abandoning legal rights (5:38–39*; 7:1–2*), as well as boldness in devotion and prayer (6:2–18*; 7:7–11*). The Matthean community was a tiny minority group in Israel and in the pagan society with many characteristics of a “sect,”9 and it had to struggle for its identity and for its compulsory praxis. In their numbers our state churches no longer differ very much from such a community, but in their self-understanding they are miles away from such a church. One wonders whether the Gospel of Matthew, especially the three discourses of chaps. 5–7, 10, and 18, could become a vision of what the church might be today.
The Sermon on the Mount and Politics

What is the significance of the Sermon on the Mount for political action? For some it is a “declaration of Jesus’ politics about government.” The Society for Protestant Theology (Gesellschaft für Evangelische Theologie) stated in 1981: “We reject … attitudes and teachings that limit the Sermon on the Mount to the private sphere in order to exclude from it political responsibility”; and: “Because God’s peace is all-encompassing, the instructions of the Sermon on the Mount include all areas of life.” On the other side the political relevance of the Sermon on the Mount has been energetically denied by such people as Helmut Schmidt, the former chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany.13 He has received exegetical support from distinguished scholars. It is claimed that the Sermon on the Mount is the end of all politics. The fourth and fifth antitheses mean “plainly and simply that one gives up all claim to government order; and the sixth …, the demand to love the enemy, can also only be realized by the individual or the small group,” for the Sermon on the Mount states “God’s conditions for entering” the kingdom of God—a kingdom that “means the end of a history ‘made’ by human beings and the end of all human politics.”
The opposing positions are irreconcilable. I therefore want to try to state some perspectives that I have derived from the Matthean Sermon on the Mount. First, a reminder of some exegetical conclusions.
1. Jesus’ ethics are ethics of contrast based on the dawning of the kingdom of God—a kingdom that is different from the world. To live a life based on these ethics is to establish in the world a sign of the (totally different) kingdom of God.
2. Jesus’ ethics of the kingdom of God do not mean that the world may be left to itself; they mean rather that the world is fundamentally called into question.
3. Since Matthew was aware of this horizon, he did not develop his Sermon on the Mount merely as the church’s “internal” ethics of discipleship about which outsiders did not need to be concerned; it is a primary content of the missionary proclamation that the church owes “all nations” (28:19*).
4. The individual commandments of the Sermon on the Mount do not merely deal with “internal questions” of the Christian community; they are directed—especially clearly in the fourth through the sixth antitheses and in 6:19–34*—toward an activity lived in the community’s relationship to the world.
5. Missionary preaching takes place in such a way that the community practices the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount so that people are convinced by their works and praise the heavenly Father for them (cf. 5:16*).
The history of the interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount in the churches of the Reformation and the Anabaptist churches showed two quite different models of how the community’s relationship to the world could be lived. They both had their weaknesses. The Anabaptist churches tended for the sake of the purity of the gospel to limit the Sermon on the Mount to the Christian’s inner life and to leave worldly responsibility to others. The Reformation’s distinction between being a Christian and being a human being in the world easily led people to internalize the contrast commandments of the Sermon on the Mount and to judge their political activity by other standards. However, Christian communities and churches are called on the basis of the Sermon on the Mount to exhibit obedience to the Father’s will in all worldly areas. Unlike the Anabaptist churches of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in most countries the state churches of Europe have the possibility of doing so today.
If in certain areas of the world such as politics the church were to choose not to realize the will of the Father and to practice the conditions for entering the kingdom of heaven, it would become unfaithful to its preaching task. It would no longer be the church. The question remains open how it can do that in the political arena. It is not alone in its task; only in a shared responsibility and in rational communication with non-Christians is it responsible. Churches, congregations, communities, and monastic orders are called to be signs of hope for the coming kingdom of God. That cannot be true in a direct sense of a politics shared by Christians and non-Christians. Both are needed, because the kingdom of God concerns the entire world. Political action in common with others will be more rational and will more indirectly correspond to the Father’s will than will be the direct obedience that the church can carry out and tolerate in its own body.
Without intending to do so, in the golden rule (7:12*) Matthew has given a noteworthy suggestion of how the Sermon on the Mount might be translated into rationally communicable action. On the basis of love he understands it as a first step, as a way of taking the initiative, in approaching one’s neighbors. Its premise is that one’s neighbors are not monsters but that they can respond to love. To that extent even the golden rule is not something that can be rationally proven; its presuppositions are of the nature of faith. Nevertheless, its widespread dissemination shows that it contains a large measure of rationality and a great potential for consensus. Thus it could serve as a guideline for the political action of Christians in communication with non-Christians.
In the 1980s the Sermon on the Mount was of great topical interest. The people of Europe lived in the midst of a life-threatening “balance of horror” between cruise missiles and SS-5 rockets. Churches and nations were equally challenged by the peace movement, which far exceeded the boundaries of the churches. One of their central texts was the Sermon on the Mount. It was a text of hope for a wide public. Associated with it was the hope for a different, a more human, politics oriented to peace. When I look back today on that “time of the Sermon on the Mount” it is not without a certain sadness.
Today the SS-5 rockets are scrapped, but the peace movement has disappeared and with it an important sign of hope. Even the Sermon on the Mount has disappeared from public view. The Pax Americana under which we all live defines what peace is to be. Most churches are little engaged politically, and when they are they often are looking out for their own interests.
Where today is the significance of the Sermon on the Mount for political action? It is still the task of the churches, congregations, and communities to be signs of the kingdom of God for the world. It is also their task, based on Jesus’ command to love one’s enemies, to take the initiative in working rationally with others for peace in the manner of the golden rule. Now that the immediate physical threat to humanity posed by the military balance of horror has somewhat diminished, we have the chance to remind ourselves that peace is multidimensional, that there is no peace without righteousness (Matt 5:6*) and that one cannot at the same time serve God and mammon (6:24*). In a time in which the human person is subordinated to the marketplace and the lives of the poorest people are pawns of globalization, it is essential to remember that in the center of all politics inspired by the Sermon on the Mount is the person of whom the love of enemies speaks. Hence it follows that a politics oriented to righteousness and the well-being of all people takes precedence over economics and the global marketplace that reduces people to instruments. The promise of the kingdom of God is only for the one who “hungers and thirsts for righteousness” (5:6*) and acts accordingly.
1. Passages
b / Old Testament Pseudepigrapha

Adam and Eve
19 245

Apoc. Abr.
title 69
12.1 151
13 148

As. Mos.
6.4 120
10.1 318
10.8 187

2 Baruch
11.6 187
14.12 332
52.5–7 199
52.6 285
53–74 86
77.13 207
77.16 207
83.3 300
85.13 371

1 Enoch
58.2 187
62.2 95
69.27–29 95
89.42 355
90.26–27 235
91.18–19 371
93; 91 86
94.1, 3, 10 228
94.7–10 332
95.7 199
97.8–10 332
99.10 187
99.13 228
102.9 228
105.2 121
108 386

2 Enoch
3–22 220
30:15 371
33.1–2 86
41.2–42.14 188
44.3 237
44.5 352
49.1 261, 265, 266
50:4 273
50:5 332
52.6–13 188
52.11–13 198
52.15 187
61.1 363
71.1–23 92
71.32–37 92

Ep. Arist.
188, 208–10 289
207 362, 363
227 285

Jos. Asen.
10.13 354
29.3–4 285

title 69
1.24–25 198, 287
1.28 196
17.16–18 148
18.9, 12 148
20.4 245
22.14 195
23.19–21 380
32.19 195
32.34 121
41.1–2 84

Lives of the prophets (Vitae prophetarum)
2.8 92

Mart. Isa.
5 148, 150

Sib. Or.
2.68 261
3.47 318
3.246 217

Syriac Menander
246–47 363

T. Abr.
2.6 261
7.5 380
8 370, 371
11 371

T. Jacob
1.9 301

T. Job
1.1 69
6–8 148
21.2 219
22.3 219
43.5–6 333

T. Sol.
22.8, 23.3 152

T. 12 Patr.

T. Benj.
4.2–3 285
4.2 333
5.3 208
6.4–7 334
8.2 245
9.1 228
11.1 375

T. Dan
1.7–8 233

T. Gad
5.7 333
6.3–7 285

T. Iss.
3.2–5.1 (3.4) 334
3.8, 4.2 334
6.1 380
7.2 245

T. Jud.
10.1 84
24.1 104, 141
24.3 198, 287

T. Levi
5.1 371
13.9 237
14.3 207
16.4 228
18.3 104, 107
18.9 95

T. Naph.
1.6 362
2.6 376
8.4 204, 207
8.7 217

T. Reub.
1.7, 4.5, 6.5 228
1.10 193
3.10 246

T. Sim.
2.11 233

T. Zeb.
4.11 233
c / Qumran and Related Texts

3.21, 4.13 127
4.21–5.6 252
7.18–21 104
15.3–4 263
15.4–5 263

20.15 255

6.3 191, 192

1.1 69
11.6–7 104
14.7 191

1.1 69
1.1–2 358
1.6 245
1.10 288
3.13–4.26 371
5.8–11 371
5.11 358
6.25–27, 7.2–5, 5.25–26 236
8.12–16 135
9.21–22 288
10.17–18 273
11.1 192

2.11 92

3.10–13 121
4Q119, 121 128

2.1–9 121

frg 2.2 323

1.16 316

frg 3 III 188

frg 2.3 323

394 354

11–13 104

7Q1, 2 128

1.4–5, 9, 19 187
2.6–8 95

24.11–12 322
27.2 207

2 231
54.6–7 231
57.17–19 252
61.12 275
66.4–5 94
d/ Other Jewish Literature

2 76
2.210–16 92
2.205, 206 104
4.214 241
4.244 251
4.280 275
7.131 251
9.3 300
12.387–88 120
14.21 120
14.374 120
15.42–49 120
16.232 241
18.116 134
18.261–88 273
20.18 97
20.167–72 377

1.18 59
1.31–35 82
2.201 252

1.656–58 122
2.1–13 122
2.135 263
2.169–74 273
2.350–51 273
2.479 57
3.520 358
4.468 135
6.312 113
7.46–47 57
7.410 120

3–6 82
11–12 134, 303

1–2 70
1 70

Aet. mund.
19 70

102–4 371
103 372

40–52 92

124–26 84

82–95 262
84 263
88 261
92 263
93 263
124 251
142 245
175 127

Deus imm.
137 84

131 213

139 196
149 84

Hypothetica 362

Leg. all.
1.48 289

Mut. nom.
121 91
136 84

Omn. prob. lib.
84 263
159 245

Op. mun.
53 335
152 245

Poster. C.
127 70
172 196

Spec. leg.
1.167 240
1.235 261
2.1–38 262
2.4–5 263
2.12 265
2.26–27, 224 261
3.30–31 255
3.72–78 94
4.73 289
4.84 245

79 195
116–18 285
221 84–85

Vit. cont.
25–27 301

Vit. Mos.
1.1–4 72
1.276 104

Lib. ant. bib.
9.10 92
11.10 362

16 261
52 245
e / Rabbinic Literature

Babylonian Talmud
ʿAbod. Zar.
9a 86
17a 123
20a 246

B. Batra
4a 207
10b 55, 301
15b 352
75a 344
120a 92

8b 206
15a 354

3a 143, 262
12a 318
16b–17a 324
16b 323
17a 55, 287
24a 246
28b 55
29a 306
29b 310, 316, 324
33a 263
34b 55
40b 317
60b 322, 323
61a 246

Beṣa (Yom Ṭob)
22a 204

B. Meṣ.
30b 237
38b 206
58b 236, 237
59b 352
85a 303

B. Qam.
83–84 275

18b 246

90b 255

15a 143

23b 84
24a 220

32a 273, 289

13b 246

29a, b 354
57b 247
66b 236
112a 251

28a 236
39b, 40a 245
40b 386
70a 246, 352

17b 303
58b 247
81a 220
89b 148
97a 86
97a–b 218
99a 220
100a 195, 344
100b 346
107b 120

31a 363
31b 363
88b 273
104b 120
108b 247
116ab 211, 215
127b 351
151b 196
153a 55
155b 355

36a 263, 265
38a 263

33a 324

12b 303
22a 198

63a 343
112b 380
121a 274

9b 236
29a 245
35b 273
66b 343

Jerusalem Talmud
4.4.8a 310, 323
4.8a.45 306
9.13b.7 359
13c 345

B. Qam.
8.6c.19 196

7.35.28 152

1.10.61d 220
1.59d.29 135
4.66b.38 345

6.37a.54 263

1.2 173
1.4 195
1.5 246
1.6 351
1.12, 18 198
2.1 219
2.4 351
2.9 55
2.9, 11 333
2.10 363
2.13 310
3.11 236
3.17 386
4.4, 10 191
4.5 300
4.19 273, 285
5.2 85

4.1 301
4.4 310, 324

B. Qam.
8.6 272
9.12 240

2.1 247

1.1 198

4.4–5 82
4.14 345

16.7 204

1.4 235
3.2 262, 265

3.1–9 263
3.7 263

5.6 301

5.1 255
7.1 324
12 104

1.2–7 303
1.3–7 303
2.1 303

8.1 303
8.9 240, 322

Tg. Cant.
on 2:12 143

Tg. Exod.
1.15 76

Tg. Isa.
11.4 323

Tg. Job
34.36 315

Tg. Jonathan
on Num 11:32 343

Tg. Mal.
2.10 315

Tg. Mic.
5.1 103

Tg. Obadiah
14 318

Tg. Onq.
on Gen 9:6 235
on Exod 20:13 250

Tg. Ps.
89.27 315

Tg. Yer. I
on Exod 1:15 104
on Lev 19:18 363, 365
on Lev 22:28 289

3.7 319

B. Qam.
9.29–30 274
9.30.366 196
9.31 236

3.1 240

16.22 301

11.11 121

Other Rabbinic Literature

ʾAbot R. Nat.
4 55
15 363
16.4 288
24 386, 387
B 26 363

Deut. Rab.
7.7 55

Exod. Rab.
1.13 92
1.18 104
1.22 76
6.1 218
15.26 86
21.3 306

Gen. Rab.
10.1 218
42 55
47 213
56 148
56.4 148
59 207
85.9 84
85.12 84

Lev. Rab.
23 245
34 359

Mek. Exod.
18.20 237
20.3 265
20.22 228
20.25 198
23.4 287
44b 204
on 15:20 92
55b 320, 343
20.22 228
20.23 359
81a 316

Midr. Ps.
4 359
15 220
41 273
67.6 204
148 104
on 105:3 85

Midr. Qoh.
1.3 207

Midr. Ruth
2.1 84
5.6 119

Num. Rab.
13.14 85
19.8 55

Pesiq. R.
9.167b 83
24 245
36 150, 157
40b 55

Pesiq. R. Kah.
49b 119
179b 371

Pirqe R. El.
15 371

Sepher ha-yashar
239 105

Shemoneh Esreh (Eighteen Benedictions)
6 322
7 323
11 318
12 122–23

Shir Rab.
on Song 7:3 139
5.11 213

Sipra Lev.
18.6 317
19.2 289
19.14 237
24.19–20 276

Sipre Deut.
6.4–5 §31 228

Sipre Num.
6.26 §42 198
on 15.31 §112 220
11.21–22 §95 228

Tanna debe Eliyyahu
21 317

Yalkut Shimoni
on Exod. 2:15 105
g/ Early Christian Literature and the Ancient Church

Act. Petri
31–32 152

Act. Thom.
20.89, 96 112
79 376

2.6–7 219

De Abraham
1.4.25 257

Cain et Abel
1.9.37 312

In Luc.
2.90 142
4.16 154
5.49–82 188
5.53 192
5.54 194

1.11 291

Apoc. Abr.
12.1 151
13 148

Apoc. Adam
NHC 5.78.18–20 92

Apoc. Pet.
NHC 7.75–76
(= NHL, 375) 382

Apollinaris of Laodicea
frg. 20 239

Apophthegmata Patrum
Ammon 11 373
Poimen 112 373

Arabic Infancy Gospel
24.25 124

15.5 285

Contra Gentes
2 197

3 347

11 285
11.1 284
33 256

Cons. ev.
2.17 (37, 41) 163

Adult. conj.
2.4 256

Civ. D.
14.8 366
19 278
19.7 278
21.27 313

15 383
19 291
30 309
49 142

136.2 278
138 278

Ep. ad Macedonium (no. 153)
4.9 94

De gratia Christi
18–19 383

In Joh. Ev. Tract.
15.4 145

15 266
28 266

Nupt. concup.
1.10 256

De ordine
2.25 362

3 304
57.7 320
105.6–7 360
200.1 108
202.1 108
203.1 116

Sermone Domini
1.1 171, 178
1.6 205
1.8 218
1.9 235
1.10 240
1.12 243, 244
1.13 247
1.16 254
17 266, 267
1.20 279, 280
2.7 320
2.13 335
2.15 342
2.17 347
2.18 350
2.24 381
2.25 387

10.3–4 355
18.1–20.2 371
19.4 194

188 257
199 266

8.6–7 238

Regulae brevius
51 235
164 351
205 193

Sanct. Christi gener.
4 94

Regula Benedicti
13 313

Caesarius of Arles
139 111

1.1 87
6.2 220
12.1.2 144
12.1.5 145
27.2.2–3 306
202 316
332 193

1 Clem.
12.1 83
13.2 196, 350, 363
13.4 194
17.1 377
21.7 194
30.8 194
60.1 186

2 Clem.
4.2, 5 376
5.2–3 377
8.5 169
11.1 187
13.1 208
13.4 271, 284, 285
16.4 298

Clement of Alexandria
Ecl. proph.
7 145

Exc. Theod.
74 107

2.63.4 107
3.12 366
3.70.1–2 243
3.70.4 333

10 373

Quis Div. Salv.
17.5 192

Strom. 154
1.15 115
1.24.163, 1–2 114
2.20 197
2.23 256
3.6 214
4.5.1 358
4.30.4 335
4.93.3 293
4.138.2 300
5.11–12 361
5.99.1 261
7.50.1 266
7.67.5 261
7.86.1 285, 293

1.6.4 166
2.6–12 376
2.10 381
3.51.1–3 215
3.52.2 373
3.55.1 261
3.56.2 360
3.67.1 207
7.7.3 370
11.35 381
13.5.1 141
13.11.2 141
15.5.5 272
15.10.1 192
19.2.4 261

1.48 145
1.64 51
2.9.3 152
2.20.2 344
2.28.3 193
2.3.4–5 356
3.1.4–7 356
3.47.2 152
7.37.3–7 247

Const. ap.
5.12.6 261
7.45 312

Bon. pat.
3 285

Dom. Or.
9 312, 315, 324
18 320
25 323
35 313

9 347

58.6 122

Hab. Virg.
16 265

De mort.
4 266

3.12 266

De aleatoribus
2 209

Cyril of Alexandria
15 124
37 166
41 205
61 257
66 280
77 335

Commentariorum in Matthaeum
380–81 266

Comm in Luc.
4 153

Cyril of Jerusalem
Cat. myst.
3.7 136
3.11 142
5.11–18 312

1.1 371
1.2–5.2 373
1.2–2.5 371
1.2 363, 365, 366
1.3–5 271
1.3 273, 284
1.3b–2.1 174
1.5–5.2 371
2.2 112
2.3 261
3.2 233
3.7–8 194
3.7 195
3.8 186
5.1 112
6.2 290
7.1–2 44
7.1 373
8.1–2 299, 302, 310
8.2–3 309
8.2 169, 323
9.5 356
10.5 323
11.3 169
11.5 381
11.6 377
11.10 381
16.3–4 377
16.3 377

9 235, 239, 350
11 240
14.1–2 240
21 159
26 51, 219

Ephraem (Ephrem) Syrus
6.7 247

3.19 145

Carmina Sogyata
5 143


19.6.2 261
28.5 51
29.6 122
30.3, 7 46
30.13.2–3 59
30.13.7–8 143
18.5 145
33.3.4 215
33.6.1 228, 266
59.4.9 257

24.5.2 356

Ep. Petr. ad Jac.
2.3–7 215

Epistle of Peter
NHC 8 48

Ep. Apostolorum
18 366

Dem. ev.
6.20 124
7.2 (5) 123
9.2 124
9.5 134

Hist. eccl.
1.7 86
1.7.1 87
2.15.1 13
3.12, 19 82
3.24.6 46, 48
3.39.15 13
3.39.16 13
4.26.14 70, 126
5.10.3 46
5.21 124
6.25.4 46, 48
20.1–6 82
32.3–4 82

Praep. ev.
8.7.6 362

Quaest. ad Steph.
1 86
1.3 94
16.2 116
16.3 106

Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew
18–21 124

Gos. Thom.
1.9–10 338
6 298, 363
32–33 209
36 340
37 340
45 376, 382
47 336
54 186
62 298
76 331
93 354, 356
94 354

Gos. Truth
2.33.37ff. 382

Gregory of Nazianzus
2.79 357
4 266
4.72 273
4.97, 99 280
40 209
53.8 267

Poem. Mor.
2 154

Gregory of Nyssa

1.4 193
2.3 194
4.5 195
4.7 195
6.3 197
6.6 201
8.6 201

Orat. Cat. M.
26.1 154

Or. Dom.
1.5 305
4.1 320
5.1–2 322
5.3 313

21 243

4.1.5 255
4.1.9 254
4.6 256
4.7–8, 10–11 255
11 376
11.12–13 381
12.6.5 196

9.29.3 186

1.4.1, 3 102
2.2.7 186
3.9.8 187, 196

In Evangelium Matthaei Commentarius
109, 138, 154, 188, 240, 247, 255, 302, 356, 372, 387

In Matthaeum 24
on Matt 24:22* 124

Dem. Christ. Antichr.
45 134

5.7.28 209
7.35–36 145
7.35 142
9.17.1 356

Commentarius in Evangelium S. Matthaei Apostoli & Evangelistae

7.1 355
7.2 99
10.1 292
10.2 194
13.2 145
14.2 378
19.3 106

6.1 235
9.1 51

2.2 377
3.1 58
5.1 169
6.1 51
8.1 235
8.2 51, 169
9.2 169

2.1 271

5.1 274

1.1–2 144
1.1 58, 99
7.2 169

3.1 235

1.6.1 205
1.26.1 144
1.26.2 51
1.30.12 144
2.32.1 266
3.1.1 46, 59
3.9.2 107
3.11.3 144
3.11.7 51
3.11.8 88
4.13.1 215
4.13.2 229
4.20.6 197
4.30.3 350
5.21 154
29.6.1 123

Isaac of Antioch
36 247

Isidore of Pelusium
1.83 247

Commentariorum in Matthaeum libri IV
81, 83, 86, 87, 94, 119, 121, 136, 163, 193, 195, 209, 238, 244, 266, 279, 280, 318, 335, 336, 347, 372

1.1 87

22.5 243
55.4 256
57.7 118, 123
77.3 257

4–7 98

In Jes.
11.1 123

In Tit.
3.12 320

1.6–9, 10, 23 180
1.30 291
3.2 141

Vir. ill.
3.3 46

John Chrysostom
Commentarius in sanctum Matthaeum Evangelistam
83, 86, 94, 108, 109, 111, 121, 122, 136, 138, 142, 145, 154, 157, 159, 178, 195, 215, 217, 219, 220, 229, 235, 238, 240, 243, 247, 254, 266, 273, 299, 300, 305, 316, 319, 320, 333, 335, 347, 360, 387, 390

Hom. in Col.
6.4 312


1.14.3 285
1.15 256
1.15.9–13 271
1.15.9 284, 285
1.15.10–17 331
1.15.11–12 331
1.15.16 335
1.16.1–2 271
1.16.5 260, 266
1.16.13 376
1.31, 48, 54 166
1.66.3 13
1.67.3 13
2.2 255, 257
2.10.6 358

10.2 179
20.1 70
43.1 86
43.5–8 97
47.2–3 51
49.1 145
76.5 376
78.3 94
78.5 106
78.8 121
78.9 106
84.1–4 97
88.1 143
93.2–3 366
96.3 271, 284
100.3 86
106.3 13
106.4 104

De resurrectione 99

1.250–51 107

De ira Dei
17 238

Leo the Great
28 99

37.4 122
39.3 151
90.2 372, 373
95.1 182
95.2 192

26.25 373

Martyrdom of Apollonius
6 268

Maximus of Turin
21 107

Maximus Confessor
Expositio orationis Dominicae
(PG 90.872–909) 325

1.28, 38 120
1.34–35 97
1.48 143
1.51 106
1.60 104, 107
1.66 120
2.32 82
7.33 197
7.51 209
7.68, 70 336
8.2, 5, 8, 15 336
8.68 281
8.70 209

Comm. in Ps.
37.7 193

Commentary on Matthew
13.24 on Matt 18:8–9 247
on Matt 14:23 257

frg. (GCS Origenes 12)
18 94
29 108
70 159
83 195
97 215
98 215
116 302
118 305
138 I 360
138 II 361
142 364
145 381
153 387

Hom. in Cant.
2.8 290

Hom. in Ezek.
1:11 139
1:13 138
16:4 205

Hom. in Jer.
2.3 138

Hom. in Lev.
6.3 243

Hom. in Luc.
28 87
29 153
30 155
38 201

Hom 14
on Gen 26:23ff. 116

2.27.1 319
2.27.7 319
18.2–3 310
20.1 302
21.1 305, 306
27.13 321
29.2 322
29.1.4, 9 323

1.8.2 383

In Rom.
8.11 382

5.15 13
5.16 13

Peter Chrysologus
70 312
158 109

Photius of Constantinople
(Reuss, 272) 121
29 364

2.3 58, 196, 350
6.2 310
7.2 58, 310
12.3 271, 287

Protoevangelium of James
22–23 78

Adv. Iud.
8 145

De anima
21.4 382

46.9 358
46.11 247

10 136
20 150

De carne Christi
20–22 86

9 243

Cult. fem.
2.6 265

13 277

9 107
9.5.7 109

1.2.2 382
3.13 115
4.8 124
4.16 276
4.34.7 255
5.14.14 215

7 215
8 136
9 256

1 215, 312
8 323

6 285, 290

Praescr. haer.
4 381
8–14 361

2 350
6 215

1 285

26 336

Ad uxorem
2.3 336

Theodore of Heraclea
18 138
21 142
25 208
27 239
34 257
40 290
45 335

Theodore of Mopsuestia
16 145
22 155
24 209

Fragm. Dogm.
8 145
13 154

In Joh.
1.32 143

Thomas, Infancy Story of
5 361
h/ Greek and Latin Authors

Achilles Tatius

8.10.10 299

De natura animalium
12.21 77

Var. Hist.
14.22 196

3.74 261

51P 377

B. civ.
1.31 §138 241

11.2 305

1725 186

1206 186
1468 265

1275 186

119 358
715 186

2.12 195

Eth. Eud.
7.15 197
1235a 247

Eth. M.
1.20 320

Eth. Nic.
4.11 194, 238

De partibus animalium
1.1 320
5.1 320

6 11

3.14.5–6 72
1384b 364

De sensu
437a 22–26 333

1.17 335

1.23.47 112

Epistulae ad Diversos
16.21.2 299

Ep. ad Quint.
3.5 196

1.118 148

36.5 263

2.26 301

19.318 261
25.90 299

Dio Cassius
37.17–18 105
45.1–2 77
52.34, 39 363
63.1–7 105

Dio Chrysostom
1.66–84 148
8.2 299

Diodorus Siculus
10.9.1–2 262
14.5.1–2 241
16.66.3 114
17.80.2 236
19.2.2–7 78
19.94.10 135

Diogenes Laertius
3.2 93, 97
4.49 372
6.62 273
8.22 262
8.40 151

1.28.20 358
2.18.15 245
3.12.10 273
3.22.54 273, 286
4.1.51 358
4.1.79 271
4.5.9 273
4.8.17 301
4.9.3 245

33.5 262, 263
42 273

Etymologicum magnum
173 305

frg. 446 186

2.16.1 247

1.107–22 77
1.199 217
1.200 203
4.117 217
5.92 76

138, 152, 213, 305, 344

1.3.182 186
1.524–25 262

1.2.26 305

1.2.26 355
1.18.23 196
2.2.75 355
2.2.187 104

1.2.5 352
1.5.91 358

29 97


Vit. Pyth.
9.47 262

Ad Nicocleam
49 363
61–62 364

1.4 77
1.37.2 76, 104

14.152 299

11 305

Marcus Aurelius Antonius
2.1 286
3.5 263
5.7 305
9.11 286
9.27 273

7.60.3 305

592 262

Ex Pont.
4.14.17–18 247

2.26.5 104


25.1 265

Vit. Ap.
1.11 305
6.19 262

22A 262

469c 273

71E 288

562c 196
7.533D 197

205e 247
211D-E 197

28c 358
41E 104

1.2.203 305

Hist. nat.
2.28 104
11.15.41 135
30.11 112
30.16 105
31.45 206
31.82 206

2.275C 262
2.521D 247
2.4–5 97
Comparatio Aristophanis et Menandri
2.854C 205
De Iside et Osiride
13 78
515D 352
Quaest. conv.
2.668F 206
8.1 97
8 114

1.89–90 152
2.80, 85 152
5.29 152
9.23 372

Vit. Pyth.
57 151

Inst. Orat.
9.2.98 262

2.7.1 358
4.26.1 286

31.5 305
37.25 378
47.11 364
51.13 247
75.7 387

De ira
2.10.6 378
2.33.2 273
3.23.2 273

89, 90 365

523 286

Oed. Col.
650 262

Oed. Tyr.
781 320

94.3 77

13 105
36 77, 104

3.27.1 262

1.462 305

1–3 72

14.22 104
15.24 105

5.4 105

5.1.6–7 305

23.285b 151

2.692–97 114
4.510 305

1.3.2 306
2.1.21–34 148, 371
2. Greek Words

(In some cases only the English translation appears in the text.)

See Disciples, Discipleship

193, 204–5, 274–75, 318, 345, 372
—τῶν οὐρανῶν
135, 160

See Women



142–43, 195, 199, 221–22, 299, 304, 344, 392

ἔθνος, ἔθνη
84–85, 158–159

230–31, 389–90

14–15, 160, 168–69, 391


160, 168–69

See Judgment


95, 113, 137

See Disciples



208, 290, 295, 314–316, 359, 379

120, 126–27, 130, 142–43, 214, 217

142, 194–95

114, 115, 149

142, 194



3. Subjects

Abbreviating Mark and Q
22, 182, 284

Anabaptists and Matthew
179, 216, 268

in the history of interpretation
97–98, 109, 137, 302, 306
in Matthew
114, 158, 288

Baptism, 145

Canon (Matthew as a protocanonical book)

Catholic Christianity and Matthew
98, 178–79, 228–29, 256–59, 387

7, 165, 172

Christology (see also Jesus, Jesus’ exaltation)
as central concern
Christological dimensions of texts
130, 144
high Christology
96, 224, 231

Church (see also Disciples, Discipleship)
163, 209, 396
as contrarian society
280–82, 398–99
as corpus permixtum
139, 287, 373
ethical orientation

Community (Matthew’s)
44, 49–50, 52–56, 106, 126, 377
44, 49, 129
social makeup
17, 126

Disciples (see also Discipleship)
as figures with whom the readers identify
17, 162

Discipleship [Nachfolge] (see also Disciples)
208, 393

Discourses (of Jesus)
12–13, 172–77, 391–92, 398–99

95, 115

56, 169, 398
in the eschatological horizon
372, 393–94
ethical dimensions of the texts
200, 364–66, 378–79, 393–94
grace and demand
56, 169, 201–2, 208, 345, 373, 379, 383, 388, 392
180, 199–200, 336–37
keeping Jesus’ commandments
380–81, 383–84, 388, 391
two-level ethic
178, 182, 267, 290

False prophets
56, 376–77

Father (see πατήρ)

Forgiveness of sins

Fulfillment Quotations (see πληρόω)


Gentile mission
50–52, 108

Gentiles (see ἔθνος, ἔθνη)

Gospel of John and Matthew
11, 144

Gospel of Luke and Matthew (see also Minor Agreements)
75, 309–10, 385

Gospel of Mark and Matthew
11, 15, 41–43, 49–50, 141, 165

allegorical interpretation
Christological hermeneutics
131, 145–46
content criticism (Sachkritik)
65, 258–59, 381
limits of the possibilities of interpretation
new meaning accents
197, 394
openness of the meaning of the text
18, 190, 248, 313
political dimension
111, 397–99
potential meanings
reading in terms of the entire Bible
146, 373
situationally conditioned
65–66, 258–59, 393, 395

7, 71, 96, 132, 144, 165, 172–73, 210–11, 362, 373

Israel in Matthew
17–18, 136, 166

as a biblical righteous man (see δίκαιος)
as Immanuel
96–97, 391
as Messiah
as new Moses
151, 182, 389
as obedient one
144, 150
as son of Abraham
69–70, 82–83, 85
as Son of David
69–70, 82–83
as Son of God
120–21, 144, 152, 154
as Son of Man
42, 138
as teacher

Jesus’ exaltation

Johanan ben Zakkai

John the Baptist
134–36, 160, 378

41–42, 137, 235, 241, 369, 380

Kingdom of God (see βασιλεία)

Jesus’ understanding
Matthew’s understanding
42–43, 48, 51, 202, 221–22, 232, 251, 265, 276, 380, 392
and Prophets
213–14, 232, 366

Little faith

Lord’s Supper

274–75, 277, 286, 366–68, 392

Matthew (the author)
24, 47
his knowledge of the Bible
as a Jewish Christian
45–47, 56–57, 223

Minor Agreements


273–75, 277, 281

97, 122

Orthodox Christianity and Matthew

23, 102, 161

Parting of the Ways (between the synagogues and the Christian communities)
52–55, 131, 166, 222, 393

People/nation (see λαός)


301–4, 325–26, 360, 396
of Jesus

Protestant Christianity and Matthew
179, 229, 257–259, 267, 387, 395–96

Reading (sequential) of the Gospel of Matthew
4–5, 7, 11–12, 71

6–7, 22, 130, 174

Righteousness (see δικαιοσύνη)

Sayings Source (Q) and Matthew
19, 41, 49, 174–75

23, 174, 311

Septuagint and Matthew
22, 44, 128–29

8, 18, 148

Special Material (Matthew’s)
21, 175

Transparency of the Gospel of Matthew
11–12, 15–16, 18, 42

Two-Gospel Hypothesis

Two-Source Hypothesis

Wirkungsgeschichte (history of the influence of the text)

Women in Matthew
16–17, 83–85, 251–52

Worship (liturgy)
4. Authors

(Index includes all medieval commentators cited and modern authors who receive some significant discussion.)

Abrahams, I.
206, 237, 289, 303, 307, 310, 322, 324

Aland, K.
46, 124, 141, 143, 356

Allison, D. C.
1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 19, 21, 23, 46, 53, 56, 60, 69, 70, 83, 85, 89, 92, 95, 97, 98, 103, 114, 119, 123, 128, 137, 140, 141, 143, 148, 150, 151, 152, 158, 163, 170, 172, 174, 176, 182, 183, 187, 196, 205, 210, 214, 218, 230, 245, 247, 250, 271, 275, 276, 298, 301, 314, 328, 330, 331, 332, 333, 334, 335, 345, 349, 351, 355, 358, 375, 387, 389, 390

Aretius, B.
217, 303, 345

Bacher, W.
6, 126, 127, 228, 229, 230

Bacon, B. W.
1, 3, 13, 22, 45, 57, 127, 182, 227, 376

Barth, G.
170, 171, 177, 188, 210, 218, 228, 290, 374, 376

Barth, K.
64, 100, 145, 172, 188, 243, 253, 303, 373, 383, 393

Bauer, D. R.
3, 74, 79, 83, 96

Bauer, W.
47, 100, 126, 143, 283, 284, 290

Beare, F. W.
234, 341

108, 142, 193, 209,

Bengel, J. A.
110, 134, 195, 196, 247, 267, 302, 329, 341, 350, 379, 387

Berger, K.
33, 212, 226, 227, 228, 233, 237, 242, 245, 246, 249, 264, 342, 363, 380

Betz, H. D.
170, 174, 176, 184, 185, 187, 191, 194, 198, 199, 207, 210, 211, 214, 220, 231, 237, 247, 262, 264, 265, 273, 275, 284, 286, 288, 289, 296, 298, 300, 303, 323, 330, 331, 332, 334, 342, 358, 363, 374, 376, 379, 380, 382, 391

Beyschlag, K.
62, 171, 177, 179, 196, 197, 285, 292, 350

Beza, T.
243, 262, 266, 344

Black, M.
46, 123, 203, 204, 307, 232, 370, 385

Bloch, R.
74, 79, 84, 92, 104, 119

Bonhoeffer, D.
172, 181, 189, 201, 209, 243, 289, 293, 300, 304, 346, 352, 396

Bonnard, P.
69, 195, 254, 353

Bornhäuser, K. B.
170, 188, 196, 254, 302, 342, 372, 388, 392

Bornkamm, G.
53, 141, 152, 168, 170, 172, 174, 210, 218, 237, 328, 369, 375

Bovon, F.
91, 331, 332, 349, 358, 361

Brenz, J.
97, 98, 136, 151, 154, 180, 209, 335, 360, 373, 382

Broer, I.
89, 90, 94, 101, 184, 186, 187, 210, 211, 212, 218, 220, 226, 227, 270

Brooks, S. H.
18, 21, 175, 186

Brown, R. E.
69, 74, 82, 84, 89, 90, 91, 95, 104, 113, 115, 118, 307, 314, 321

Bucer, M.
98, 123, 197, 216, 333, 366, 382

Bullinger, H.
182, 195, 209, 229, 255, 350, 382, 387

Bultmann, R.
90, 92, 143, 149, 200, 204, 227, 234, 291, 305, 331, 338, 340, 342, 343, 363, 392

Burchard, C.
170, 189, 193, 203, 226, 228, 249

Calixtus, G.

Calovius, A.
195, 209, 229, 243, 244, 382

Calvin, J.
69, 86, 97, 98, 111, 113, 116, 121, 123, 136, 144, 145, 151, 154, 159, 160, 163, 172, 174, 179, 192, 216, 219, 224, 225, 229, 237, 244, 254, 255, 258, 262, 266, 269, 279, 300, 302, 303, 320, 334, 339, 347, 350, 355, 373, 379, 381, 382, 387

Carter, W.
9, 15, 161, 307, 325

Christian of Stavelot

Dalman, G.
34, 39, 122, 123, 161, 212, 213, 228, 231, 233, 235, 307, 311, 314, 317, 318, 319, 322, 323, 343, 378

Daube, D.
119, 185, 226, 228, 270, 272, 276

Dautzenberg, G.
203, 260, 262, 268, 283, 288

Davies, W. D.
3, 5, 6, 19, 21, 23, 44, 45, 46, 53, 55, 56, 60, 69, 70, 83, 85, 95, 98, 103, 114, 123, 128, 137, 140, 141, 143, 148, 150, 152, 158, 163, 170, 172, 185, 187, 196, 205, 210, 214, 218, 219, 227, 245, 247, 250, 271, 275, 276, 288, 298, 299, 301, 307, 314, 328, 329, 332, 334, 335, 345, 349, 351, 355, 358, 375, 387, 389, 390

Degenhardt, H. J.
283, 330, 332, 338, 339

Delling, G.
5, 249, 252, 289, 305

Dibelius, M.
74, 90, 118, 169, 170, 188, 214, 291, 393

Didier, M.
20, 74, 125, 165, 374

Dietzfelbinger, C.
226, 228, 235, 252, 271, 276, 298, 300

Dihle, A.
13, 14, 270, 275, 285, 288, 362, 363, 364, 366

Dionysius bar Salibi
94, 99, 116, 135, 142, 266, 335

Dobschütz, F. von
45, 55, 60, 126

Donaldson, T. L.
147, 148, 182, 207

Drewermann, E.
149, 241, 243, 245, 248, 281, 353

Dupont, J.
140, 142, 147, 150, 170, 172, 184, 186, 188, 189, 191, 192, 195, 199, 214, 249, 253, 256, 257, 283, 290, 296, 297, 307, 338, 344

Edwards, R. A.
9, 11, 13, 17, 161, 163

Eichholz, G.
170, 189, 195, 227

Erasmus, D.
179, 194, 229, 243, 257, 268, 277, 335, 344

Euthymius Zigabenus
109, 110, 145, 243, 302, 387

Faber Stapulensis

Fiebig, P.
170, 205, 245, 262, 265, 270, 272, 276, 285, 287, 291, 307, 317, 358

Fitzmyer, J. A.
91, 99, 100, 249, 252, 254, 256, 307, 314

Flusser, D.
20, 54, 55, 184, 190, 226, 230, 285

France, R. T.
74, 101, 103, 117, 120

Frankemölle, H.
1, 2, 3, 13, 14, 45, 49, 53, 69, 70, 79, 81, 84, 89, 90, 95, 96, 103, 131, 134, 143, 184, 186, 230, 310, 372, 389

Gadamer, H. G.

Gaechter, P.
1, 3, 7, 13, 19, 69, 101, 106, 155, 163, 194

Gerhardsson, B.
6, 7, 22, 147, 149, 152, 153, 296, 299, 307, 319

Gnilka, J.
3, 44, 57, 61, 69, 81, 84, 85, 92, 122, 135, 141, 214, 265, 314, 356,

Goulder, M. D.
5, 13, 14, 20, 25, 53

Grotius, H.
69, 98, 109, 110, 142, 209, 238, 243, 267, 268, 313, 380, 383

Grundmann, W.
6, 69, 85, 247, 339, 389

Guelich, R. A.
14, 170, 186, 190, 195, 211, 214, 226, 227, 232, 233, 234, 236, 254, 261, 262, 265, 272, 275, 328, 332, 333, 334, 342, 353, 370, 376, 378

Gundry, R. H.
4, 17, 25, 26, 29, 30, 31, 32, 36, 37, 38, 59, 103, 125, 127, 128, 141, 195, 205, 213, 214, 297, 370

Hagner, D. A.
45, 53, 54, 56, 59, 69, 84, 107, 122, 214, 218, 335, 356, 380

Hahn, F.
103, 144, 168, 193, 203, 204, 205, 210, 214, 308, 330, 375

Harnack, A.
144, 181, 184, 194, 210, 215, 222, 277, 307, 311, 322, 323, 397

Hengel, M.
59, 69, 101, 112, 115, 123, 170, 186, 187, 188, 206, 316, 380, 398

Hoffmann, P.
138, 147, 149, 156, 170, 176, 186, 236, 249, 250, 252, 253, 265, 275, 283, 297, 338, 339, 340, 343, 357, 367, 370, 374, 375

Hummel, R.
45, 53, 228, 253, 376

Ishodad of Merv

Jansen, C.
69, 243, 382

Jeremias, J.
24, 47, 79, 82, 121, 147, 152, 170, 182, 203, 204, 205, 214, 226, 227, 233, 235, 236, 240, 246, 249, 271, 272, 288, 296, 307, 309, 311, 314, 315, 316, 317, 321, 323, 325, 342, 354, 358, 363, 365, 370, 371, 392

Jülicher, A.
206, 330, 333, 334, 359, 385

Kierkegaard, S.
206, 347, 348

Kilpatrick, G. D.
6, 14, 21, 43, 45, 53, 57, 58, 126, 127, 136, 227, 297, 310

Kingsbury, J. D.
1, 3, 5, 9, 11, 56, 69, 120, 134, 156, 160, 169

Klostermann, E.
69, 191, 214, 235, 245, 296, 305, 340, 341, 370

Knabenbauer, J.
116, 136, 335

Köhler, W.-D.
47, 58, 86, 260, 271, 310, 312, 376

Krämer, M.
89, 92, 94, 170, 176, 203, 205

Krauss, S.
161, 166, 206, 252, 301, 303, 343, 358

Kürzinger, J.
1, 5, 45, 46, 47, 170, 172, 173

Lagrange, M. J.
7, 23, 40, 69, 81, 105, 381

Lapide, C.
193, 219, 229, 243, 302, 347, 350, 360, 381, 382, 387

Lapide, P.
170, 198, 211, 212, 215, 263, 274, 276, 285, 292

Légasse, S.
210, 215, 226, 374

Léon-Dufour, X.
1, 3, 9, 19, 89, 91, 94

Ljungman, H.
140, 142, 210, 218, 253

Lohfink, G.
165, 167, 170, 182, 249, 252, 258, 276, 307, 319,

Lohmeyer, E.
3, 69, 71, 135, 137, 157, 191, 195, 217, 234, 245, 253, 307, 310, 311, 314, 319, 323

Luomanen, P.
1, 45, 54, 210, 212, 223

Luther, M.
84, 86, 87, 93, 94, 98, 99, 109, 110, 111, 115, 122, 123, 145, 151, 154, 160, 164, 172, 179, 180, 181, 189, 192, 194, 195, 197, 202, 208, 209, 216, 220, 229, 238, 239, 240, 243, 244, 254, 255, 257, 258, 267, 269, 279, 291, 292, 306, 309, 312, 313, 314, 315, 316, 317, 318, 320, 321, 323, 335, 342, 347, 365, 366, 373, 378, 381, 382, 383, 387

Luz, U.
1, 11, 12, 15, 17, 19, 21, 41, 43, 50, 64, 65, 69, 70, 135, 143, 146, 162, 171, 180, 210, 211, 212, 213, 214, 217, 218, 221, 222, 283

McConnell, R. S.
125, 128, 157, 210

Maldonat, J.
86, 87, 94, 99, 111, 136, 155, 193, 209, 229, 254, 266, 272, 280, 290, 302, 342, 370, 381, 383, 387

Manson, T. W.
21, 96, 213, 220, 262, 307

Marguerat, D.
139, 210, 212, 213, 218, 233, 234, 236, 370, 373, 374, 375, 377, 380, 385, 388

Mayordomo-Marín, M.
15, 61, 69, 70, 72, 74, 81, 85, 92, 96, 105, 112, 113

Meier, J. P.
45, 46, 50, 56, 58, 143, 141, 210, 211, 212, 214, 219, 226, 254, 264

Melanchthon, P.
97, 121, 195, 267, 363, 365, 387

Merklein, H.
214, 226, 228, 231, 234, 245, 249, 262, 270, 271, 275, 283, 287, 338, 340, 345, 362

Michaelis, W.
189, 197, 333, 370, 371, 372

Montefiore, C. G.
101, 105, 194, 196, 220, 237, 245, 263, 292, 314, 341, 359, 396

Neirynck, F.
1, 4, 5, 18, 20, 23, 24, 25, 26, 31, 39, 40, 133, 134, 156, 165

Nissen, A.
220, 273, 275, 276, 283, 285, 286, 362, 363

Nolan, B. M.
74, 84, 94, 119

Ogawa, A.
113, 158, 168, 182, 261, 389

Olshausen, H.
195, 229, 267, 387

Paulus, H. E. G.
100, 155, 244, 254, 302, 306

Pesch, R.
26, 74, 83, 89, 90, 91, 96, 101, 120, 249, 252, 253, 254, 327

Peter of Laodicea
194, 239, 302

Powell, M. A.
1, 3, 11, 101, 107, 111, 112, 184, 193, 194

Rabanus Maurus
95, 122, 136, 139, 145, 159, 199, 336

Ragaz, L.
172, 181, 194, 206, 238, 239

Reiser, M.
133, 137, 138, 139, 349

Reuter, H.-R.
170, 283, 286, 348, 364, 365, 397

Robinson, J. M.
4, 18, 41, 50, 147, 156, 338, 339, 340

Rothfuchs, W.
103, 125, 127, 128, 157

Saldarini, A. J.
45, 53, 54

Sand, A.
19, 49, 69, 195, 226, 227, 249, 254

Sato, M.
19, 89, 184, 187, 189, 228, 340, 351

Schlatter, A.
22, 23, 24, 25, 29, 30, 31, 34, 35, 43, 94, 95, 97, 113, 137, 191, 195, 213, 214, 228, 230, 235, 264, 306, 335, 352, 376, 380, 386

Schleiermacher, F.
87, 100, 197, 202, 279, 341, 346

Schnackenburg, R.
170, 172, 177, 184, 198, 203, 205, 254, 283, 290, 374, 397

Schneider, G.
171, 203, 204, 205, 308, 374, 375

Schniewind, J.
165, 168, 169, 195, 291

Schottroff L.
149, 192, 270, 273, 277, 285, 338, 341

Schulz, S.
149, 221, 255, 270, 283, 308, 314, 340, 342, 370, 375

Schürmann, H.
148, 186, 210, 212, 271, 308, 314, 330, 349, 353, 375

Schweizer, E.
21, 41, 45, 47, 49, 50, 51, 53, 84, 117, 126, 130, 141, 157, 168, 171, 182, 184, 187, 190, 195, 198, 210, 212, 214, 219, 220, 234, 235, 246, 252, 265, 271, 296, 297, 298, 300, 303, 331, 332, 344, 349, 370, 374, 377, 380

Sheret, B. S.
22, 24, 26, 29, 30

Soares-Prabhu, G. M.
24, 74, 104, 117, 118, 119, 125, 128, 129, 156, 157

Socinus, F.
172, 229

Soiron, T.
171, 177, 191, 205, 297

Stanton, G. N.
1, 2, 8, 13, 14, 15, 45, 47, 53, 54, 55, 69, 125, 129, 169, 171, 176

Stauffer, E.
105, 227, 242, 245, 288, 265

Stendahl, K.
14, 43, 53, 74, 75, 84, 93, 121, 127, 128, 156, 156, 261

Strabo, W.
94, 108, 119, 124, 134, 137, 138, 208, 240, 244, 266, 267, 280, 302, 303, 335, 383

Strecker, G.
11, 20, 31, 34, 45, 47, 51, 53, 75, 96, 113, 121, 125, 127, 130, 134, 138, 140, 141, 157, 163, 168, 169, 171, 184, 186, 191, 195, 199, 202, 207, 210, 213, 214, 215, 218, 221, 226, 227, 228, 234, 235, 236, 241, 242, 245, 261, 265, 270, 271, 290, 308, 309, 315, 344, 351, 356, 369, 376, 379, 392

Suggs, M. J.
226, 227, 371

Syreeni, K.
15, 171, 175, 296, 299, 301

Tannehill, R. C.
270, 274, 296, 301, 303, 338

Theissen, G.
56, 57, 75, 115, 147, 149, 270, 287, 345, 352

Theodore of Beza
243, 262, 266, 344

121, 135, 93, 266, 302

Tholuck, A.
171, 172, 247, 316, 325, 344

Thomas Aquinas
99, 110, 136, 145, 159, 178, 179, 192, 201, 215, 217, 229, 235, 238, 239, 244, 255, 266, 267, 268, 279, 280, 291, 302, 304, 306, 316, 335, 336, 353, 360, 364, 383

Tilborg, S. van
31, 45, 56, 171, 241, 296, 297, 308

Tolstoy, L.
172, 181, 243, 268, 277, 278, 287, 291, 351,

Trilling, W.
45, 49, 53, 55, 89, 90, 136, 163, 167, 184, 188, 189, 208, 210, 213, 233, 236, 249, 252, 258, 341

Valdés, J. de

Vögtle, A.
69, 74, 75, 79, 81, 89, 90, 97, 98, 101, 119, 140, 141, 218, 270, 271, 274, 308

Walker, R.
45, 53, 137, 223

Walpot, P.
193, 216, 278, 351

Weder, H.
171, 188, 189, 194, 200, 210, 214, 221, 226, 231, 241, 264, 279, 286, 294, 334, 335, 336, 348, 350, 352, 353, 379, 383, 387, 395, 396

Weiss, J.
177, 191, 214, 220, 222, 293, 328, 341, 376, 393

Wesley, J.
172, 178, 192, 304, 335, 346

Wettstein, J. J.
107, 218, 262, 265, 272, 313, 335, 358, 364, 380, 386

Windisch, H.
171, 177, 184, 188, 189, 198, 222, 288, 393

Wolzogen, J. L.
95, 99, 107, 182, 209, 229, 266, 267, 382

Wrege, H. T.
18, 21, 171, 175, 227, 235, 250, 261, 265, 271, 284

Zahn, T.
59, 69, 167, 189, 191, 203, 228, 253, 254, 314, 365

Zeller, D.
89, 91, 147, 148, 149, 233, 234, 260, 263, 264, 270, 283, 296, 198, 305, 308, 315, 330, 331, 332, 338, 340, 341, 342, 349, 351, 357, 359, 370

Zinzendorf, N. L. Graf von
189, 200, 266, 313

Zwingli, H.
98, 99, 107, 121, 179, 192, 194, 195, 198, 206, 209, 239, 249, 255, 266, 267, 320, 336, 355, 366, 381, 382, 387
Luz, U. (2007). Matthew 1–7: a commentary on Matthew 1–7. (H. Koester, Hrsg.) (Rev. ed., S. 374–430). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

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.

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

Madonna, Mary, Mother of the KING

Seated to the right side of the KING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Holy Kings

1.3 “You are the salt of the earth …” (5:13–16*)
Johannes Beutler, “Ihr seid das Salz des Landes (Mt 5,13),” in Cornelius Mayer, Karlheinz Müller, and Gerhard Schmalenberg, eds., Nach den Anfängen fragen: Herrn Prof. Dr. theol. Gerhard Dautzenberg zum 60 Geburtstag (Giessen: Selbstverlag des Fachbereichs, 1994) 85–94.
Oscar Cullmann, “Das Gleichnis vom Salz,” in Vorträge und Aufsätze, 1952–1962 (Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1966) 192–201.
Hahn, “Worte.”
Roman Heiligenthal, Werke als Zeichen: Untersuchungen zur Bedeutung der menschlichen Taten im Frühjudentum, Neuen Testament und Frühchristentum (WUNT 2/9; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1983) 115–23.
Joachim Jeremias, “Die Lampe unter dem Scheffel,” in Abba, 99–102.
Michael Krämer, “Ihr seid das Salz der Erde … Ihr seid das Licht der Welt,” MThZ 28 (1977) 133–57.
Wolfgang Nauck, “Salt as a Metaphor in Instructions for Discipleship,” StTh 6 (1953) 165–78.
Johann Rauscher, Das Bildwort von der Öllampe in der synoptischen Tradition: Eine Auslegung von Mk 4,21f par Lk 8,16f; Mt 5,15; Lk 11,33 (Desselbrunn: self-published, 1994).
Rudolf Schnackenburg, “Ihr seid das Salz der Erde, das Licht der Welt,” in Schriften zum Neuen Testament: Exegese in Fortschritt und Wandel (Munich: Kösel, 1971) 177–200.
Gerhard Schneider, “Das Bildwort von der Lampe: Zur Traditionsgeschichte eines Jesuswortes,” ZNW 61 (1970) 183–209.
Josef Bohumil Soucek, “Salz der Erde und Licht der Welt,” ThZ 19 (1963) 169–79.

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

13 “You are the salt of the earth.
But when the salt becomes dumb, with what will (it) be salted?
It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and to be trampled underfoot by people.
14 You are the light of the world.
A city lying on a mountain cannot remain hidden.
15 Nor does one light a lamp
and put it under a bushel
but on the lamp stand,
thus it gives light to all in the house.
16 Let your light thus shine before people so that they see your good works and praise your father in heaven.”
This section is linked to vv. 11–12* with an emphatic “you” (ὑμεῖς). Thus again the subject is especially the disciples. Often, and correctly, the concluding verse 16* is regarded as a title of sorts for vv. 17–48*:3 there it is explained what “good works” are. In addition, in 6:1* Matthew refers back to 5:16* (“before men, your Father in heaven”) in order to prevent a misunderstanding of v. 16*.
The section is structured clearly. Both a shorter negative statement that ends with a threat of judgment and a longer positive statement that focuses on the missionary dimension of the community are introduced with “you are the …” (ὑμεῖς ἐστε τὸ …) plus the genitive in the final position (vv. 13*, 14–16*). Between the two parts there is a chiastic correspondence characterized by the catchwords “shine/give light” (λάμπω: vv. 15d*, 16a*), “light” (φῶς: vv. 14a*, 16a*), and “men” (vv. 13c*, 16a*). The conclusion, v. 16b*, c*, with the “upward glance” to the Father in heaven, is structurally surplus material, which therefore has special importance.
The structure of the second sequence, vv. 14–16*, is complicated. The introductory sentence, v. 14a*, is followed by two images. The first image, that of a city on a mountain, appears to be poorly suited for the context. The second, that of a lamp on the lamp stand, is a parable whose application is introduced appropriately in v. 16* with “thus/so” (οὕτως). It draws on only the parable’s conclusion in v. 15d* (“give light to all”).
Redaction and Sources
It is commonly held that vv. 13a*, 14a*, and 16* are redaction.4 The logia of the salt (v. 13b*, c*) and the lamp (v. 15*) come from Q. Here Matthew leaves the Sermon on the Plain, and between this point and v. 39* inserts other material from Q and his special material. He omits the Markan variants of these logia (Mark 9:50*; 4:21*) and, at least with the saying about the lamp, probably preserves the Q text more faithfully than does Luke. Luke uses it twice (Luke 8:16*; 11:33*) and is more aggressively redactional. He assimilates the two texts to one another and reworks them after the model of a city house with a cellar and entryway. The saying about the city (v. 14b*) comes from Matthew’s special material.
This thesis requires only a few corrections. It is hardly the case that Matthew inserted the saying about the city in v. 14b*, because it fits neither the introduction in v. 14a* (light) nor the application in v. 16*, which speaks of a behavior rather than of a condition. Q was probably expanded before Matthew (QMt?). It is difficult to determine to what extent there were other preredactional changes in the Q logia. That we must again assume the existence of QMt is naturally a difficulty for the Q hypothesis. We can neither exclude with certainty that vv. 13* and 14–16* were connected prior to Matthew nor that they were already linked to the Beatitudes before Matthew.
In my judgment the close parallels between 1 Pet 2:12* and v. 16* are not derived from basic common Jewish ideas;8 they are rather to be explained by the fact that 1 Peter presupposes the Gospel of Matthew.
One can, of course, scarcely say anything with certainty about the origin of the logia of salt and of light. In my judgment, there is no reason to say that both of them do not go back to Jesus. In the final analysis, however, the decision depends on their interpretation; therefore, we can only conjecture.
We can no longer determine with certainty the original meaning of these wisdom logia. In what on the whole was probably the older Q version, based on its conclusion the salt saying is to be understood as a threat, while Mark 9:50b* interprets it secondarily in a parenetic sense. Luke 14:34–35* also relates it to the disciples. It may originally have been a threat of Jesus directed against Israel. Nothing can be discovered about the origin and original meaning of the saying about the city.10 Similarly difficult is the saying about light. Between Matthew and Mark 4:21* it is not possible to decide which is clearly the oldest form.11 The meaning is also uncertain: Jeremias interprets καίω as “to kindle, ignite,” and putting the light under a bushel as “to extinguish,” so that the saying means: “One does not light a lamp in order to extinguish it right away.” However, one cannot really claim that a bushel is a useful and common instrument for extinguishing an oil lamp.13 Yet it makes no more sense to hide a light under a bushel. Why does one not extinguish it when one no longer needs it? In short, the image speaks of a senseless activity without being able to connect it to an everyday practice. It is therefore difficult to say to what it originally referred. Suggestions are: Jesus speaks of his own activity, which is not permitted to remain hidden.15 He is thinking of the kingdom of God that is dawning in him. He is opposing the Jewish leaders who are keeping the kingdom of God from people (cf. Matt 23:13*).17
These considerations show where the difficulty lies in interpreting the text. The images are general. Salt, city, and light can be used for almost anything, and the history of interpretation shows that this indeed is what has happened.

■ 13* In his redactional introduction Matthew places “you” (ὑμεῖς) emphatically first. As in vv. 11–12*, it is the entire community that is addressed here, not merely the apostles or the proclaimers.19 The emphatic “you” picks up on vv. 11–12*: it is precisely you who are persecuted and reviled who are the salt of the earth.20 Verses 13–16* direct the persecuted community to its missionary task. “Salt of the earth” is a strange-sounding metaphor. Since it is not immediately clear what is meant, one is anxious to find out.21 At the very latest, after the parallel “world” (κόσμος) in v. 14*, if not already because of 5:5*, the reader who is wondering about the meaning will understand “earth” (γῆ) as referring to the world and not to soil. As is the case with v. 14*, the logion is to be understood in terms of Matthean universalism.22 It is unclear how the evangelist has understood (a) the metaphor “salt” and (b) the parable of the salt’s “becoming dumb.”
a. Following especially the Jewish metaphorical use of salt, in ancient times and more recently a variety of allegories have been suggested. Based on the function, some have reminded us that salt seasons, purifies, and preserves. The reality to which the salt refers is the disciples’ wisdom,24 their proclamation, their willingness to sacrifice,26 and the way they conduct their lives. In a radical way Jülicher wanted to make an end to the allegorical interpretations, claiming that the tertium comparationis is only the difference between the salt’s good nature and its uselessness. Jülicher himself makes the absurd claim, however, that the metaphor “salt” could be replaced by any other. One cannot say, as he suggests, “you are the coal of the earth,” nor can one, as Ragaz correctly points out, replace salt with sugar.28 Thus the choice of the metaphor is not arbitrary; it must be interpreted. But how? Probably most natural is the everyday use of salt as seasoning. With “to season” (ἀρτύω) this meaning is assured for Mark 9:49* and Luke 14:34*. It cannot be proved for Matthew, but since seasoning is the most common use of salt, it is probable. With salt as seasoning its necessity and irreplaceability are both established.29
b. There are two possibilities for interpreting the parable of the salt “becoming dumb.” According to one, the evangelist simply understood it as a figurative way of referring to an impossible situation, since chemically salt cannot lose its quality. Speaking in favor of this interpretation may be the much-discussed Jewish parallel b. Bek. 8b, also vv. 14b* and 15*, both of which emphasize something impossible. Speaking against this interpretation, however, is the consideration that if salt can never become saltless, then it cannot be thrown out and trampled underfoot. The hearer’s agreement with the image that is essential for understanding it would not be assured if in reality there were no situation in which salt would not have to be thrown out. The only other possibility is that Matthew must be thinking of a real situation. Perhaps he is thinking of the physical disintegration of salt by moisture that takes place when salt (e.g., with the dealer) is stored in the open. Since only about one-third of the salt from the Dead Sea consists of kitchen salt and even in commerce was not sold without admixtures,32 the moisture can affect the more easily dissolved parts of the salt mixture and detract from its taste.
The logion’s importance is in its threat. “To be thrown out” and “to be trampled underfoot”35 evoke associations with judgment terminology. What is required is first indirectly suggested by the metaphor “salt of the earth.” Salt is not salt for itself; it is seasoning for food. In the same way the disciples are there not for themselves but for the earth. In v. 16*, which also summarizes v. 13*, Matthew will say what he specifically means.

■ 14* Verse 14* again begins with a metaphor, the hyperbolic character of which is even clearer than in v. 13*. You—that is, the persecuted, small group of disciples—are the light of the world. The metaphor is not explained until vv. 15–16*; first the evangelist offers the image of the city on the mountain that is not completely appropriate for the idea of works. The absence of the article shows that the thought is hardly of the city of God, Jerusalem on Mount Zion, but simply of a city located on a mountain. All metaphorical or allegorical interpretations of the city are to be avoided; the issue is only that the city is visible from a distance.

■ 15* In that regard it corresponds to an oil lamp placed on a stand, which nobody will put under a bushel37 because it is there to give light. The image of v. 15* probably presupposes a Palestinian one-room house. The essentially superfluous “all” (πᾶσιν) corresponds to the universal expressions “earth” (γῆ: v. 13*), “world” (κόσμος: v. 14*), and “people” (lit. “men,” τῶν ἀνθρώπων: v. 16*).38 Here the meaning of the metaphor “light of the world” is already beginning to be clear; Matthew is thinking of the brilliance that the light sends out into the world.
“Light” is an “open” metaphor whose meaning only the context illuminates. We encounter it in Judaism in different applications: Israel, righteous individuals and teachers,40 the Torah, the servant of God,42 or Jerusalem can be designated as light (of the world). Such a manifold use does not permit us to interpret the statement “you are the light of the world” as a polemic against a particular Jewish self-understanding of Israel as the light of the world.
The readers of the Gospel of Matthew will think back to 4:16*, where Isaiah spoke of the light that the people sitting in darkness see. Thus the task given the disciples corresponds to the mission of Christ himself. As for the rest, the meaning of the parable remains hidden. Not until the imperative in v. 16* does it become clear what it means. The community, which is the light of the world, is to let this light shine; otherwise it is as absurd as the oil lamp under the bushel. Only v. 16* makes clear why Matthew, in contrast to Q, even in the image introduces a universal element: the light on the stand lightens all who are in the house.

■ 16* Verse 16* is the summarizing key of the pericope. The perspective changes from the persons addressed to their works. The linguistic sign for the change is the transition from “lighten/give light” (λάμπει) to “let shine” (λαμψάτω, vv. 15*/16*). For Matthew, however, that does not mean the introduction of a new category, because for him people are made up of their deeds, and they live in them. The disciples—that is, the Christians—are the light of the world by letting their works shine44 just as salt is only salt when it salts. Thus the indicative “you are the light of the world” is at the same time a claim that must be made real in deeds.
“Good works” is a fixed expression that can be understood in two ways. If one understands it as a translation of the Jewish מַעֲשִׂים טֹובִים, the thought is of those demands of God that are not legally prescribed by the Torah, such as especially works of charity and almsgiving. On the other hand, in later early Christian writings (Pastorals, Hebrews, 1–2 Peter, 2 Clement) the term is related to Christian ethics in general. In my judgment Matthew refers here to a Jewish topos of proving oneself before others through good works, a topos that is not specifically rabbinic and suggests rather good deeds in a general sense. This is also a central idea in 1 Peter. It is interesting that Matthew and 1 Peter (influenced by Matthew?) are in agreement that mission and proving one’s works in living a life of integrity are decisive precisely when one is persecuted (Matt 5:11–12*).
The contents of the good works are to be determined in terms of the preceding beatitudes and the following antitheses. If the first eight beatitudes were a general reflection of Christian virtues, one could understand the section vv. 11–16* as, so to speak, a concrete challenge to the persecuted community to take them seriously in its situation. Verse 16b* states the goal of the conduct: the works of the Christians have a missionary function. Here the Matthean priority of deed over word is clear. Just as discipleship means fulfilling Jesus’ commands, so also in preaching the life of the Christians receives a, if not to say the, decisive place. In such a conception of a “Christianity of the deed” a special preaching office cannot force its way into the foreground. Bearing witness with one’s life remains the task of the entire community.
Unlike Paul, Matthew thinks of indicative and imperative together. The condition of being saved, granted by God (“salt,” “light”), is at the same time a call to act. Matthew speaks openly about good works without meaning self-justification by works. In only a few NT texts is honoring God so clearly the goal of all Christian activity. At the same time, for the first time in the Gospel of Matthew, God is referred to as “your Father in heaven.” Presumably this expression did not surprise the readers; in that day it was common in the synagogue,48 and it was the designation of God with which the community was familiar from its own worship. Still, it deserves our attention, because the designation of God as “Father” plays an exceptionally important role precisely in the Sermon on the Mount. It defines the sermon’s center, that is, the part where Matthew develops the relationship to the Father as the “inner side” of the Christian way leading to perfection (6:8–9*, 14–15*; cf. 6:1*, 4*, 6*, 18*). Thus our passage looks ahead to this central midpoint, especially to the dimension of prayer. Matt 6:1–18* will then develop this first reference to the designation of God that is central for the practice of the Sermon on the Mount.
History of Interpretation

Two misunderstandings in the history of the interpretation of this text call attention to aspects that are also important in our situation.
1. Because of his opposition to works-righteousness, Luther was not able to do justice to the text. For him the text is “in accordance with St. Matthew’s way of speaking; he usually talks this way about works” and does not speak of faith in Christ as do Paul and John. Luther tries to vindicate the text by claiming that it speaks not so much of works of charity, as in Matt 25:31–46*, but rather “principally about the distinctly Christian work of teaching correctly, of stressing faith, and of showing how to strengthen and preserve it.”50 The text could not be more fundamentally misunderstood. In my opinion, in the interpretive tradition of the ancient church and the Middle Ages the text was never interpreted in such a way that there was a danger of anything like a works-righteousness. On the contrary! Theodore of Heraclea, for example, says that the text leads away from one’s own passion for glory. The Glossa ordinaria establishes as the purpose of v. 16* “that you not think that the aim of good works is people’s praise” (“ut non finem boni operis in laudibus hominum constituatis”).52 Trilling, a modern Catholic interpreter, writes: “The good works are simply the light that has penetrated life and been realized there. They are truth become tangible, faith become life. They are not something apart from faith.… The whole of our good works are Christian life in action, active precisely in work, always discharging like an active volcano.”53
2. Another reinterpretation of the text also had serious consequences in the entire history of interpretation. The text was applied to the apostles’ inner circle as disciples and by extension to officeholders. Salt (occasionally)55 and light (usually) were understood as preaching. Again, this interpretive tradition was especially influential on Protestant soil. According to Luther, the text speaks of the apostolic or preaching office whereby salt is to be understood as the harsh preaching of judgment and light as “the other part of the office,” the enlightenment to eternal life. According to Zwingli, it refers “in primis” to apostles and pastors whose concern is public preaching. Understandably, the anticlergy criticism of the church was also able to make use of this text. Wycliffe’s Opus evangelicum is especially impressive on this text, and it comes to a climax by demanding poverty for the proclaimers of the word who hide their light under the bushel of a worldly interest about money.

Matthew’s goal is that the life of Christians should operate to the glory of God as faith’s witness. When considering Protestant theology, it is noteworthy that there is for the evangelist no hiddenness of the Christian life sub contrario, no tendency toward an ecclesiological variant of the two-kingdoms doctrine. Instead, the light of the world takes shape in the works of Christians. Among them he understands primarily love as he interprets it in the Beatitudes and the antitheses. The demand “to keep everything I have commanded you” (28:20*) that is to be carried into the entire world encounters people as light through the works of Christians. In this way Matthew has made clear in his entire theology the open images of salt and light with their ability to be applied in various ways. At the same time, in contrast to Catholic and Protestant interpretation, it is noteworthy how it is obvious for Matthew that the community consists of all of its members and how inconceivable it is for him to reserve Jesus’ promise and claim for a specific circle of special members of the community. “Salt of the earth” and “light of the world” are, so to speak, the “Christian foot soldiers,” for there simply are no other Christians than these people who together are moving on the way of righteousness made possible by Jesus.

2 The Main Part (5:17–7:12*)
2.1 Preface (5:17–20*)

Matthew 5:17–20* introduces the main part of the Sermon on the Mount. With the catchwords “law” (νόμος) and “prophets” (προφῆται), 5:17* and 7:12* form an inclusion. The main part consists of the sections 5:21–48* and 6:19–7:11*, which are of exactly equal length, and the shorter central section 6:1–18*.
Allison, New Moses, 182–90.
David L. Balch, “The Greek Political Topos περὶ νόμων and Matthew 5:17, 19 and 16:19,” in History, 68–84.
Banks, Jesus, 204–26.
Barth, “Understanding,” 65–73.
Hans Dieter Betz, “Die Hermeneutischen Prinzipien in der Bergpredigt (Mt 5,17–20),” in Gesammelte Aufsätze, vol. 2: Synoptische Studien (Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1992) 111–26.
Günther Bornkamm, “Wandlungen im alt- und neutestamentlichen Gesetzesverständnis,” in Gesammelte Aufsätze, vol. 4: Geschichte und Glaube, part 2 (BEvTh 53; Munich: Kaiser, 1971) 73–80.
Broer, Freiheit, 11–74.
W. D. Davies, “Matthew 5:17–20,” in Mélanges bibliques rédigés en l’honneur de André Robert (Paris: Bloud & Gay, 1957) 428–56.
Marlis Gielen, Der Konflikt Jesu mit den religiösen und politischen Autoritäten seines Volkes im Spiegel der matthäischen Jesusgeschichte (BBB 115; Bodenheim: Philo, 1998) 61–86.
Giesen, Handeln, 122–46.
Ferdinand Hahn, “Mt 5,17—Anmerkungen zum Erfüllungsgedanken bei Matthäus,” in Ulrich Luz and Hans Weder, eds., Die Mitte des Neuen Testaments: Einheit und Vielfalt neutestamentlicher Theologie; Festschrift für Eduard Schweizer zum siebzigsten Geburtstag (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1983) 42–54.
Robert G. Hamerton-Kelly, “Attitudes to the Law in Matthew’s Gospel: A Discussion of Matthew 5:18,” BR 17 (1972) 19–32.
Adolf von Harnack, “Geschichte eines programmatischen Worts Jesu (Matth 5,17) in der ältesten Kirche: Eine Skizze,” SPAW (1912) 184–207.
Christine Heubült, “Mt 5,17–20: Ein Beitrag zur Theologie des Evangelisten Matthäus,” ZNW 71 (1980) 143–49.
Heinrich Julius Holtzmann, Lehrbuch der neutestamentlichen Theologie (2d ed.; 2 vols.; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1911) 1.502–8.
Rudolf Hoppe, Der theologische Hintergrund des Jakobusbriefes (FzB 28; Würzburg: Echter Verlag, 1977) 123–30.
Hübner, Gesetz, 15–39.
Simon Légasse, “Mt 5,17 et la prétendue tradition paracanonique,” in Josef Zmijewski and Ernst Nellessen, eds., Begegnung mit dem Wort: Festschrift für Heinrich Zimmermann (BBB 53; Bonn: Hanstein, 1980) 11–21.
Henrik Ljungman, Das Gesetz erfüllen (Lunds Universitets Årsskrift NF Adv. 1/50/6; Lund: Gleerup, 1954) 7–76.
William R. G. Loader, Jesus’ Attitude towards the Law: A Study of the Gospels (WUNT 2/97; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1997) 165–82.
Luomanen, Entering, 69–92.
Ulrich Luz, “The Fulfillment of the Law in Matthew (Matt. 5:17–20),” in Studies, 185–218.
McConnell, Law, 6–41.
Marguerat, Jugement, 110–41.
Meier, Law, 41–124.
Russell Pregeant, Christology beyond Dogma: Matthew’s Christ in Process Hermeneutic (SemSup 7; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978) 63–83.
Dieter Schellong, “Christus fidus interpres Legis: Zur Auslegung von Mt 5,17–20,” in Christof Landmesser, Hans-Joachim Eckstein, and Hermann Lichtenberger, eds., Jesus Christus als die Mitte der Schrift: Studien zur Hermeneutik des Evangeliums (BZNW 86; Berlin: de Gruyter, 1997) 659–87.
Heinz Schürmann, “ ‘Wer daher eines dieser geringsten Gebote auflöst …’ Wo fand Matthäus das Logion Mt 5,19?” in Untersuchungen, 126–36.
Eduard Schweizer, “Matthäus 5,17–20: Anmerkungen zum Gesetzesverständnis des Matthäus,” in Neotestamentica (Zurich: Zwingli, 1963) 399–406.
Idem, “Noch einmal Mt 5,17–20,” in Matthäus und seine Gemeinde, 78–85.
Klyne Snodgrass, “Matthew and the Law,” in Bauer-Powell, Treasures, 99–127.
Strecker, Weg, 143–52.
Trilling, Israel, 167–86.

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

17 “Think not that I have come to annul the law or the prophets; I have come not to annul but to fulfill.
18 Amen, for I say to you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not a single iota or not a single stroke will pass away from the law until everything takes place.
19 Whoever then loosens one of these least commandments and teaches people so
will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.
But whoever does and teaches them,
this one will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
20 For I say to you: If your righteousness does not far exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
The section is uneven in theme and form. It consists of four individual logia. The last of them, v. 20*, is clearly the title, the summary2 of the antitheses that, according to the rabbinic model, precedes them. With “I say to you” (λέγω ὑμῖν) it is linked to vv. 22*, 28*, 32*, 34*, 39*, 44*, and with “exceed/excess” (περισσεύσῃ/ περισσόν) to v. 47* (inclusion). In addition, v. 20* refers back to 4:10* and ahead to 6:1*, 33* (“righteousness”) and 7:13*, 21* (“enter the kingdom of heaven”). Thus v. 20* has a key position as the statement of the theme for the antitheses. Verses 17–19*, on the other hand, are not directly connected to the antitheses. Their theme is also different, since they deal with the validity of the law rather than with the disciples’ righteousness. Thus one might ask whether we should interpret vv. 17–19* separately and should understand v. 20* as a new beginning.3 That would have consequences for the interpretation of v. 17*. Then the ties between the contents of vv. 17–19* and those of the antitheses would be considerably looser. However, v. 20* does not begin a new section; with “for” (γάρ) it connects directly to v. 19*. Verse 19* already speaks of the disciples’ behavior and only indirectly of the law. With the emphatic “I say to you” v. 20* is linked closely to v. 18*, with “kingdom of heaven” to v. 19*. At the same time, “I say to you” (v. 18*) forms a small bridge between the beginning section on the law (vv. 17–19*) and the antitheses. Again one sees that Matthew composes not by sharply demarcating sections but by connecting them with transitions.4 Thus vv. 17–19* are not clearly to be separated from v. 20* and the antitheses, although thematically v. 20* constitutes a new beginning. That makes the interpretation of vv. 17–19* difficult.
A second problem is the question of the inner relationship of the four logia to one another. Hans Dieter Betz (“Prinzipien”) interprets them as four equally important logia alongside one another, which he views as four programmatic “hermeneutical principles” at the beginning of the pre-Matthean Sermon on the Mount. Now, however, they do not stand side by side as equals, because the substantiating “for” (γάρ) requires that we read v. 18* initially more as a continuation of v. 17*. With “therefore” (οὖν) v. 19* is connected to vv. 17–18* and draws an inference from them. To be sure, v. 20* also is loosely connected with γάρ, although here there is certainly no substantiation of the preceding statements. The Matthean use of γάρ is so loose that we can make a decision about the logical relationship of the logia to one another only after we have interpreted them.
The individual logia are varied in form. Verse 19* contains an antithetical parallelism, but the second part is abbreviated. Verse 17* also contains an antithesis. It, however, is even farther removed from a clear parallelism. With its two conflicting “until” (ἕως ἄν) clauses, v. 18* is “misshapen.” The amen saying of v. 18* is a prophetic prediction; v. 19* is formulated as a legal axiom. Verse 20* is a saying about “entering the kingdom of God” that, as in 18:3*, is formulated negatively.
Sources and Origin
The prehistory of the individual sayings varies. Matthew was heavily engaged in forming this section.
Verse 17*: Much is redactional: “fulfill” (πληρόω), law/prophets (νόμος/προφῆται), their linkage with “or” (ἤ). It is a matter of controversy how to judge the formal relationship to 10:34*6 and whether the evangelist has edited a traditional saying. However, we can scarcely say any longer how it might have sounded. That has two consequences.
1. It is risky to attribute this saying to Jesus and to make it the central point for interpreting Jesus’ understanding of the law.
2. It is risky to (re)construct an Aramaic original of this saying and to make such a (re)construction the basis for interpreting the difficult word “fulfill” (πληρόω). That would be to explain a difficulty with something completely hypothetical.
b. Verse 18*: The traditional relationships are hopelessly opaque. Does the verse come from Q (cf. Luke 16:17*)?9 However, in Luke 16:17* there is no recognizable Lukan redaction, and in Matt 5:18* there is only uncertain Matthean redaction. There is, furthermore, no basic common syntactic pattern,10 nor is there a convincing place in the Sayings Source for this isolated saying. Verse 18* may come from Q; it may also come from a Jewish Christian special tradition. However, then it is no longer certain which of the two conflicting “until” clauses is redactional. Word statistics are of no help. Klaus Berger has discovered a NT schematic form of sentences structured according to the pattern “amen, I say to you—by no means” (ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν—οὐ μή) + prophetic future + temporal clause with “until” (ἕως or μέχρις). If Matthew used such a sentence, the first “until” clause would have to be a Matthean addition.14 However, an isolated logion with the temporal clause “until everything takes place” would not be understandable. On the other hand, a traditional logion that contained the first “until” clause in v. 18b* would be understandable by itself.16 In addition, v. 18b* would be difficult to interpret as Matthean redaction. Furthermore, the traditional logion of Luke 16:17*, even if it was not directly used by Matthew as a source, naturally speaks for the view that the first “until” clause is already traditional. In conclusion, along with most exegetes, I assume that the second “until” clause was added by Matthew.17
Whence does the logion come? The usual thesis that the logion has a Semitic origin because the yodh is the smallest of the Hebrew consonants is not completely certain. In that day the Hebrew and Aramaic yodh was a small letter, but it was not clearly the smallest letter. In Greek the ἰῶτα, of course, was not smaller than other letters, but it only consisted of a single stroke and was therefore regarded as a basic element (στοιχεῖον). In Greek the “stroke” (κεραία) for a small mark is well documented. Thus the possibility that the logion was originally composed in Greek is not to be excluded. Verse 18* is hardly a saying of Jesus.21 The usual assumption is that it comes from a law-observant Jewish Christian prophet.
c. Verse 19*: Linguistically much is Matthean.22 Many interpreters often judge the verse to be completely traditional, because they are reluctant to attribute such a legalistic logion to the evangelist. On the other hand, it is not likely that the logion is completely redactional. A number of indications suggest that the second part of the parallelism—that is, the positive formulation in v. 19c*, d*—comes from the evangelist.24 According to a rather strong consensus, v. 19* also comes from strict Jewish Christian law-observant circles, perhaps from debates and internal Christian polemics about the validity of the Mosaic Law. Whether v. 19* is an originally independent logion or whether from the very beginning it originated as a commentary on v. 18* is debated.25 It is conceivable that the two sayings were transmitted together before Matthew. If v. 18* was in Q, we may have here QMt.
d. There is widespread agreement that v. 20* is redactional;26 it is one of the evangelist’s favorite sayings about entering the kingdom of heaven.

By placing these verses at the beginning of the main part of the Sermon on the Mount before the antitheses, Matthew makes clear that they are fundamentally important for him. At issue here is his relationship to the Mosaic Law and thus to Judaism. At the same time, unfortunately our verses are among the most difficult in the Gospel. I begin by noting some of the most important questions for interpretation.
1. What is the significance of the two traditional verses 18–19* for the entire text?
2. What is the relationship of vv. 17–19* to the antitheses that begin in v. 21*, antitheses that Marcion already interpreted as opposed to the law?27 They constitute the strongest check against every interpretation of the antitheses as critical of the law.
3. What is the exact meaning of v. 17*? The wording of this verse appears to be so general that there is almost no possible interpretation that one can exclude with certainty.

■ 17* The introductory “do not think” (μὴ νομίσητε) speaks directly to the church. There is no evidence of a direct polemic, for example, against antinomians. Matthew argues on principle; it cannot be proven that he had concrete opponents in mind, whether antinomians or Jews who accused Jesus of annulling the law.29 What is the meaning of “law or prophets”? One can either think of the prophetic/predictive significance of the law and prophets—indeed, in Judaism Moses is also a great prophet (cf. Deut 18:15*), or one can think of their function of giving directions or instructions—for Matthew in particular the prophets were also important witnesses for the love commandment (cf. Hos 6:6* = Matt 9:13*; 12:7*). The meaning of “fulfill” will then also change depending on the choice one makes. Now it seems rather clear, in spite of important advocates of a salvation-history prophetic interpretation,31 that in this passage Matthew is not thinking of the predictions of the law and prophets. Too many things speak against such an understanding: the context of the antitheses, the immediate repetition of “law and prophets” with a simple “law” in v. 18*, and the fact that in 11:13*, the only place where Matthew wants to emphasize the prophetic function of law and prophets, he puts “prophets” first32 and adds the verb “prophesy” (προφητεύω). Furthermore, the opposing verb “annul/ destroy” (καταλύω) makes it difficult to interpret “fulfill” in terms of predictions. What this verse thus means is that Jesus “fulfills” the instructions or directions of the law and prophets. However, what do the two verbs “annul” (καταλύω) and “fulfill” (πληρόω) mean?
We can relate them either to Jesus’ teaching or to his life. In either case they are still ambiguous and permit various nuances of interpretation.
1. If we relate καταλύω and πληρόω to Jesus’ teaching, we can go further and ask whether Jesus’ teaching does or does not change something in the law. If Jesus makes no changes in the law, πληρόω may mean (a) “to emphasize it in its true meaning,” “to express it completely.” If, however, Jesus’ fulfilling changes the law itself, we could understand πληρόω either quantitatively in the sense of (b) “to add,” “to complement” (something that is missing) or qualitatively in the sense of (c) “to finish,” “to make perfect.”36
2. If we relate καταλύω and πληρόω to Jesus’ activity, πληρόω can mean either that Jesus (a) “fulfills” the requirements of the law and prophets in his life with his obedience, that is, that he keeps the law. Or we can also (b) think of Jesus’ death and resurrection: with his death and resurrection Jesus has “fulfilled” the law and thus brought it to its goal and end.
History of Interpretation
The alternatives gain their profile from the history of interpretation. There are two situations in the history of the church in which the interpretation of Matt 5:17* was the focal point: (a) the controversy with Marcion in the ancient church and (b) the controversy with the Anabaptists in the time of the Reformation.
a. Marcion wanted to eliminate this verse. He was opposed by the church’s interpretation in Irenaeus and the Christian Gnostic interpretation in the Valentinians. The two are closely related. For Ptolemy, the teacher of Flora, Matt 5:17* means the completion of the law that by nature is incomplete (ἀτελής) and in need of being perfected (ἐνδεὴς πληρωθῆναι) and only in a limited sense corresponds to the perfect God. Ptolemy develops this idea by making a distinction among the commands of God, of Moses, and of the leaders. In Haer. 4.13.1 Irenaeus understands the fulfilling of the law by Jesus as an expansion (extensio) whereby the “more” that Jesus brings is faith and the expansion of the area in which the law is valid from deeds to desires. He makes a distinction between the moral law and the ceremonial law that was fulfilled in a different way. Annulled as a literally understood commandment, it remains as a sign pointing to Christ (Matt 4:16*). Dominant from Irenaeus on is the interpretation of 5:17* centered on Jesus’ completion of an imperfect law.42 Origen compares the development from the old law to the new with the development of a child to an adult in which the child changes but is not destroyed. What is added to the law is grace.44 Since the High Middle Ages it is usually said that the consilia Evangelica are added to the law.
It is strange that scarcely any traces of a Jewish Christian legalistic interpretation have been preserved. Such an interpretation would have to emphasize that Jesus kept the law in his life and endorsed it in his teaching. Apart from b. Šabb. 116a–b, where the text is very uncertain, there are only general references to completely law-observant Jewish Christians, but scarcely any interpretations of Matt 5:17*. While it is true that Matt 5:17* with v. 18* is often quoted in the Pseudo-Clementines, their community does not keep the entire law, because there are forged pericopes. The Syriac Didascalia polemicizes in chap. 26 against those who still keep the ceremonial law: “In the gospel he [scil. Jesus] has renewed the law, fulfilled and confirmed it, and he has annulled and abolished the repetition of the law.” From the statement one can conclude indirectly that the Jewish Christians against whom the author polemicizes appealed to Matt 5:17*. This text plays a central role in the Jewish Christian writing preserved in ʿAbd al-Jabbar. One is not to take anything from the law. “Whoever diminishes anything in it shall be called ‘diminished.’ ” This interpretation of Matt 5:17* is no longer reflected in the church fathers in keeping with the fact that the law-observant Jewish Christians were a marginal group about which hardly anything was known.
b. Matt 5:17* again became a central text during the Reformation in the controversy with the Anabaptists. In the Protestant interpretation during and after the Reformation the accents shift. The center of attention is no longer the completion or perfection of the law as maintained in medieval exegesis; now it is its correct interpretation by Jesus. That is already intimated in Luther, who applied the perfectio, the central concept in the exegesis of Matt 5:17*, to Jesus’ interpretation of the law: “Christ not only recites the Law of Moses; he interprets it … perfectly (perfecte explicat).” The Wochenpredigten formulate emphatically: “I do not want to bring a different or new law but to take the scriptures as you have them and to fill them out and to act accordingly so that you will know how to keep it.” Calvin emphasizes the unity of the covenant or the “connection of Law and Gospel inviolable.”52 Similarly, according to the reformers, in the antitheses Jesus interprets the Decalogue in its true sense against the distortions by the Jews; Jesus no longer speaks his “but I say to you” in opposition to the OT itself. In Calvin it becomes especially clear in which situation this interpretation became relevant. It was not Christ’s will to abolish the old religion. For then only “triflers and trouble-makers would have laid hold on the Spirit’s opportunity, eagerly to attack and tear down the whole system of religion.”54 The application to Calvin’s day is obvious.
By contrast the Anabaptists maintained the thesis that there is a basic difference between the OT and NT. For them the Sermon on the Mount is more than an interpretation of the OT; instead, “there is a great difference between the office of the law and the office of Christ.” The concern of the Anabaptists was that the law renewed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount would be practiced in the churches. The Bavarian Anabaptist Hans Denck, who died as early as 1527, offers an interpretation of Matt 5:17* in this sense in his short main document Vom Gesetz Gottes (“On God’s Law”). Denck is deeply troubled by the thesis that depreciates Christian practice by claiming that “since Christ has fulfilled the Law, we, therefore, need not keep it.” For it is the Christians “by whose good works the heathen are to be moved to praise God the father in heaven.” He knows: “Not a single law that has ever been conceived or written is complete until it is perfect in the body of Christ.” He was concerned about the life of the church, and in that regard he is Matthew’s theological brother.
In the frequent disputations with the Anabaptists, Matt 5:17* played a major role in the reformers’ argument against the Anabaptists.57 The latter advocated nothing more than a sharpened version of the ancient church’s thesis of the perfectio legis. However, the reformers had basically returned to the Jewish Christian thesis that Christ had interpreted the Law of Moses, of course, now on the basis of the church’s basic conviction that the ceremonial law always had been meant only figuratively.
The other previously mentioned possible interpretations have complemented the history of interpretation as a kind of occasional or permanent accompanying music. I can find no special emphases here. Characteristic in any case is that at no time were different possible interpretations mutually exclusive; instead, they were always regarded as aspects. This is also the reason why the new accentuation of our text in the Reformation did not become a point of confessional controversy. I cite a few examples. John Chrysostom speaks of the threefold fulfillment of the law—in that Christ never transgressed it (according to 3:15*), by Christ’s atoning death (according to Rom 8:3–4*), and by its deeper application in the antitheses.60 John of Damascus says that Christ fulfilled the law by being circumcised, by keeping the Sabbath, and by effecting the salvation to which all the scriptures bear witness. Thomas Aquinas even speaks of a sevenfold fulfillment of the law by Jesus.62

The history of interpretation shows how difficult it is to find a precise meaning of v. 17* and in the interpretations how much from the very beginning the context of the antitheses, the total witness of the Bible, and one’s own situation played a role. Decisive for the interpretation are (a) the meaning of πληρόω and καταλύω and (b) the Matthean context.
a. On the meaning of the words. In connection with “law” (νόμος) and similar words, καταλύω is almost idiomatic in Greek and Hellenistic Jewish texts. The meaning varies between “to get rid of” in the sense of “to cancel,” “to abolish,” and “to get rid of” in the sense of “not to keep,” “to break.” Πληρόω is also documented in connection with “law” and similar words. Most texts speak here of “fulfilling” through obedience and practice. Based on the usage in the Hellenistic and Jewish parallels, the readers of that day would initially have more likely thought of Jesus’ practice rather than of his teaching.
b. On the context. Of course, πληρόω reminds the readers of the fulfillment quotations; however, this is, as it were, a diversion that leads to a dead end—an association that in the context cannot be correctly heard. Also important, however, is the reminiscence of 3:15*, where Jesus and John fulfill “all righteousness.” The concern here was their action. The immediate context of our passage also makes one think of Jesus’ action (5:16*, 20*).65 However, the antitheses suggest that 5:17* has something to do with Jesus’ teaching. Verse 19* is especially important. Here in a similar antithesis “loosen” is contrasted with “doing and teaching.” That in turn corresponds to the total image of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus, who teaches the will of the Father and the fulfilling of the law, is also the obedient Son of God (3:13–4:11*) whom Matthew presents to his community as a role model.
Based on the meaning of both verbs, we should thus most likely think that Jesus fulfilled the law through his obedience (interpretation 2a). However, the following context also permits us to think of his teaching. The idea is presumably a secondary idea in the text, because Matthew thinks about the unity of practice and teaching with Jesus. However, praxis takes precedence (cf. 7:15–23*).
Especially when one thinks of Jesus’ practice, it is noteworthy that Matthew uses “fulfill” (πληρόω) and not “keep” (τηρέω) or “do” (ποιέω). Unlike the profane sources and Paul, πληρόω is for him an exclusively christological verb. Only Jesus (and John the Baptist) “fulfills” the law. There resonates a singular element of completeness and fullness. Fittingly, v. 17* is an “I came” saying (ἦλθον): fulfilling the law and prophets fully and comprehensively is Jesus’ special mission. Verse 17* also contains a christological element,67 even if Matthew is not thinking of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is then continued in vv. 18* and 20* by the emphatic “I say to you” and especially in the “I” (ἐγώ) of the antitheses.

■ 18* The interpretation of v. 17* is defined more precisely by vv. 18* and 19*. The primary statement of v. 18* stands in the main clause, v. 18c*: no iota and stroke of the Torah will fall away. “Iota” is a mere line, the simplest letter of the Greek alphabet. “Stroke” (κεραία) is something proverbially small, like an accent or a breathing mark. The validity of the Torah is solemnly affirmed without any qualification. Is it however temporally limited by v. 18b*? How to interpret “until” is debated. “Until heaven and earth pass away” can be a way of saying “never,”68 or it can mean that the law is valid until the end of the world.
The decision is very difficult. Important for the interpretation is 24:34–35*. Verse 34* has much in common with our passage; in v. 35* it is expressly said that Jesus’ words will outlast heaven and earth. Does the evangelist thus mean—in contrast to Jesus’ words—that the law is to be valid only until the end of heaven and earth? Yet the readers of the Gospel of Matthew do not yet know this saying of Jesus, and only a few of them will be familiar with the Gospel of Mark in which it appears (13:30–31*). There is thus great significance attributed here to the readers’ “encyclopedia” (Umberto Eco). As Jewish Christians they will initially have started from the “common sentiment”70 of the abiding validity of what for Jews was the preexistent Torah. I am not aware of Jewish texts that unequivocally limit the Torah to the duration of the world. And above all, the temporal limitation of the Torah would not fit at all well in the context, where the subject is its unlimited validity. If the Matthean Jesus had temporally limited the validity of the Torah, that would have been a completely surprising message for the Jewish Christian readers of the Gospel. It would not at all have been in keeping with the one who wants to keep the same Torah down to its last iota. Thus I regard it as totally improbable that v. 18b* wants to place a time limit on the validity of the Torah.72 “Until heaven and earth pass away” focused rather on universal time. Thus the Torah will remain in force.74
Equally difficult is the last final or purpose clause, “until everything takes place.” Since people do not want to believe that the evangelist simply repeated the content of the first final clause—a repetition that furthermore would linguistically be very awkward—an ethical interpretation is widespread today. “Until everything takes place” then means: until everything commanded in the law is done. In Matthew γίνομαι can mean “be done” (cf. 6:10*; 26:42*), even if that is not the most obvious meaning. In that case, Matthew would be calling attention in this brief closing clause to the necessity of practical fulfillment of the law. Of course, the temporal “until” remains difficult.
However, all other interpretations are even more difficult. A salvation-history interpretation in terms of the fulfillment of the OT promises would be possible only if v. 17* were to be understood in the same way.77 That leaves the attempt to interpret v. 18d* christologically to mean that in Christ’s death and resurrection “everything” predicted in the OT has “happened.” However, that would require complicated eisegeses of the text,78 quite apart from the difficulty that then according to v. 18b* the law would be valid until the end of the world but according to v. 18d* only until Christ.

■ 19* In v. 19* “loosen” (λύω) picks up on “annul/destroy” (καταλύω) of v. 17* and can mean the transgression of a commandment as well as its annulment. What is meant by the “smallest commandments”? In a continuous reading of the text one can hardly understand “these79 least commandments” to refer to anything other than the “iota and stroke” of v. 18c*. It is thereby clear, however, that the thought is of the smallest commandments of the Jewish Torah. The rabbis made a distinction between “light” and “weighty” commandments. They were thinking on the one hand of the effort required of a person and on the other of the reward promised for keeping the commandment.80 Our logion agrees with them by emphasizing the keeping of even the least commandments, for in the final analysis one cannot know (thus the rabbis) how much reward every commandment brings. Thus the keeping of all commandments is expressly commanded, regardless of their content and their relation to the center of the Torah. Based on their knowledge of the Jesus tradition, the Christian readers of the Gospel of Matthew would have thought of the “least commandments” as those commandments that Jesus regarded as less weighty, for example, the tithing of herbs (23:23–24* or purity regulations (cf. 23:26–27*). Nothing at all in the text suggests that we are to think of the “short” commandments of the Decalogue82 or even of the antitheses.
The promise to be “great” or “the least” in the kingdom of heaven is strange. There are two possible interpretations.
a. Is the idea that there are different places in heaven? There were such ideas in Judaism; they correspond to the need for individual reward in eternity. Understood this way our logion possesses a “half-radical” attitude: those who transgress the small Torah commandments and teach others to do so will receive the smallest place in the kingdom of heaven; nevertheless, they will enter the kingdom. Käsemann surmises that although Jewish Christian prophets wanted to deny church fellowship here on earth to their opponents who had a more liberal attitude regarding the law, such as Pauline Christians,85 they did not want to deny the kingdom of heaven to them completely.
b. The other possibility is that the second clause, “will be called least,” was formulated parallel to the first clause only for reasons of rhetorical consonance and the correspondence of deed and consequence. For all practical purposes that would mean exclusion from the kingdom of heaven.88 This logion would then be a witness for an exclusive law-observant Jewish Christianity. It would be important to decide between these alternatives, because that would permit us to understand the place of the pre-Matthean Jewish Christianity in the history of the church.
In the latter case the traditional logion of v. 19* would have come from radical law-observant Jewish Christians, possibly from people like those who around the year 50 made life difficult for Paul because they were of the opinion that there could be salvation for the Gentile Christian Galatians only if they were obedient to the Torah. Indeed, the Jewish Christians of Matt 5:18–19* appear to be even more strict than the Galatian Jewish Christians whom Paul still has to remind that whoever demands circumcision must then keep the entire law in all its regulations (Gal 5:3*). Their position corresponds to the radical rabbinic statement: whoever says, “I accept the entire Torah except for this (one) word,” of him it is said that “he has despised the word of the Lord” (Num 15:31*).89 However, if the Jewish Christians of Matt 5:19* state that their more freethinking opponents can occupy only the last places in heaven, then according to Jewish categories we are confronting a special “half-liberal” type. It demonstrates an affinity with a number of rabbinic statements. Although in their teaching the rabbis strictly maintained that all of God’s commandments, even the smallest, were valid, in practice they (esp. the Hillelites) were realists who in many things depended on God’s grace and by no means demanded the keeping of all commandments as a condition for entering the kingdom of God. It was enough if one kept most of the commandments or exhibited true repentance.90 People who insisted that all commandments be kept or who said that “accursed is whoever does not continue in everything written in the book of the Law, in order to do it,” were exceptions in Judaism. The pre-Matthean Jewish Christians may have been such “exceptions”; however, maybe they were “half liberal.” A decision appears to be impossible.
A decision is also difficult for the Matthean level. Since Matthew is familiar with the concept of different positions in heaven (11:11*; 18:1*, 4*; 20:21*), and since he also knows the idea of degrees of reward (10:41*; cf. 5:12*), one may give the preference for him to the first interpretation and count him among the “half-liberal” law-observant Jewish Christians. Still, that is by no means certain.

■ 17–19* However, that does little to change the basic problem of 5:17–19*. Matthew has appropriated a Jewish Christian tradition that demands the keeping of all individual commandments of the Torah and excludes material criticism of Torah commandments. He not only appropriated it; he also intensively edited it and placed it at a prominent place in his Sermon on the Mount. That fits in well with the basic intention of the Matthean v. 17* that speaks primarily of the fulfillment of the law through Jesus’ obedience and life. The conclusion seems unavoidable that the “fulfilling of the law” in v. 17* must first of all be interpreted on the basis of vv. 18–19*. What is then meant is the faithfulness to every individual commandment of the Torah. This interpretation does not contradict the christological accent of vv. 17* and 18* (“Amen, I say to you”), because Jesus’ mission is to establish the Torah by his obedience down to the last and smallest commandment. Jesus is not the servant of the Torah; he is its Lord. However, he exercises his lordship by letting the Torah remain valid without any restrictions.
That is not compatible with an interpretation that sees only insignificant Jewish Christian tradition in vv. 18–19*.92 However, neither is this view consistent with a thesis that throughout centuries of Christian teaching and practice has become classic—the thesis that Matthew affirms the ethical law and ignores the ceremonial law. There are enough passages in Matthew that show that for him the ritual Torah commandments are also valid, for example, 23:23*, 26*, or 24:20*. These texts also show what the difference is between the Matthean community and Judaism: for Matthew it is, based on Jesus, in principle clear that justice, mercy, and faithfulness—for all practical purposes the love commandment—are the main commandment and that commandments such as to tithe (23:23*) or to clean the outside of the cup (23:26*) are iotas and strokes. The love commandment is at the heart of the Torah, while the ceremonial laws are secondary. However, they are all parts of the law that Jesus fulfills in its entirety. Verses 17–19* are a “Jewish Christian program”94 of great conciseness.

■ 20* Verse 20* is the Matthean heading for the antitheses. What has been said about vv. 17–19* has not made its interpretation easier. The continuation with “for” (γάρ) makes clear that v. 20* wants to develop further the preceding ideas. Thus the greater righteousness that is now the subject does not eliminate the law. What is meant, however, by the “greater righteousness”? This verse offers no explanation of the term. It functions more as an “empty text” that the readers will then fill with content as they go on to read the antitheses.95 Nevertheless, v. 20* offers them some guidance in filling the empty text. As in 3:15*, δικαιοσύνη is righteousness that a person does. The comparative “shall exceed … more” (περισσεύειν … πλεῖον) is strange; μᾶλλον would be a more common word. Πλεῖον suggests a quantitative interpretation: if your righteousness is not present in a measurably higher quantity than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew defines himself here over against the leaders of Israel’s majority that was hostile to Jesus, and he tendentiously makes a negative judgment about their “righteousness.”100 Thus there is in any case in the text a quantitative element in its comparison of the righteousness of the disciples with that of the Pharisees and scribes. It corresponds to the insistence in vv. 17–19* that the individual commandments of the law also be fulfilled. Based on vv. 17–19*, the better righteousness of the disciples thus at least means a quantitative “more” in their fulfillment of the law. Admittedly the text does not say of what this “more” consists.
That is clarified by the antitheses, at which we now take a brief advance look. The issue in them is not merely that individual OT commandments are radically intensified. It is equally important for Matthew that the love commandment becomes the center of these sharpened individual commandments. It is as if the first and last antitheses serve to frame all of the antitheses. On the basis of the antitheses the quantitatively greater righteousness of the disciples means at the same time that their lives, led by love, are qualitatively more intense before God. Verse 20* hovers as it were between these two ideas and faces one or the other depending on whether one reads it “from the front” or “from behind.” The verse has a transitional or hinge function not only in a literary sense but also in terms of content.101
Summary and History of Interpretation

Two of the questions for the interpretation with which we began remain unanswered.
1. What is the meaning of the Jewish Christian logia in vv. 18* and 19* for our entire text?
Modern interpreters have often struggled with them. In the liberal theology of the nineteenth century it was customary to interpret v. 17* and the antitheses to mean that Jesus makes the law perfect “by deepening it, going back to the intention, ultimately to love and inner truthfulness.”102 Verses 18–19* did not fit well in such an interpretation. While vv. 18–19* represent “rabbinic orthodoxy,” the antitheses sound almost Marcionite.103 Verses 18–19* had a “distinctive effect” on the “developed sense of the whole.”104 But from which sense of v. 17* are we to proceed?
Various possible solutions have been suggested. Ferdinand Christian Baur had understood the Gospel of Matthew as the representative of an ancient, not yet particularistic Jewish Christianity. The two-source theory dated its origin after 70 C.E. Now the unclarity of vv. 17–20* and 21–48* was understood as an expression of the evangelist’s difficulty of freeing himself from his Jewish legalistic shell105 or conversely of his difficulty of doing justice to the different groups in his strongly Jewish Christian community. So was 5:17–20* the expression of a not completely successful synthesis of Baur’s great polarity between Jewish and Hellenistic Christianity? It was easier to eliminate vv. 18–19* as an interpolation.107 The twentieth century offered additional possibilities for dealing with the problem. Verses 18–19* now widely became a piece of traditional Jewish Christian baggage that, although the evangelist transmitted it, actually had no meaning for him.108
By contrast, our interpretation has established that Matthew has also edited vv. 18* and 19* to a considerable degree and that their contents were important to him. Verse 17* is an “I came” saying, and vv. 18* and 20* are especially singled out by “I say to you.” Furthermore, the assumption is on principle doubtful that the evangelist simply passes on material with which basically he himself no longer agrees, and that he does it at such a prominent place. Thus we were looking for an interpretation that was able to take vv. 18–19* seriously. That led us to the simple thesis that Matthew really means what is there: according to Jesus’ opinion and in keeping with his example, the Torah and the Prophets are to be fulfilled—that is, kept completely, eliminating nothing. This interpretation makes it very difficult to answer the second leading question:
2. What is the relationship of this “preface” to the following antitheses? Anticipating my interpretation of the antitheses, I would like to offer a few preliminary reflections in the form of theses.
a. This preface to the antitheses has a clear thrust that the antitheses do not have in the same way. By putting it first Matthew wanted to point the interpretation of the antitheses in a clear direction or prevent them from being misunderstood. He wanted to ensure that in no case would they be interpreted in an antinomian way as a break with Israel’s heritage. The Matthean community had lived through the painful break with the synagogue. In this situation Matthew, the Jewish Christian who understood himself and his community as representatives of the true Israel called by Jesus, had to lay claim programmatically to Israel’s whole Bible for the sake of the identify of God, the Father of Jesus. The fulfillment quotations assert the programmatic claim to the predictions; our text, 5:17–19*, asserts the programmatic claim to the Torah.109
b. Today, as readers influenced by a Christian rather than a Jewish background, we tend to interpret this prelude to the antitheses as a correction. Matthew probably did not see it that way. He appears not to have sensed what for us is the tension between the programmatic fulfilling of the law by Jesus postulated in v. 17* and its partial annulment in the antitheses. Nor did he see a contradiction between the qualitative fulfillment of God’s will in the antitheses made infinitely more intensive by the love commandment and the obedience to all individual requirements of the Torah demanded in vv. 18–19*. The movement from vv. 17–19* by way of the transitional v. 20* to the antitheses takes place smoothly and inconspicuously, not in an adversarial manner but loosely with the connecting words “for” and “therefore.” In my judgment that is not a sign of unclear thinking but an indication of how Matthew thought. In practice his community probably subordinated the Torah’s many individual commandments to the love commandment as their center. In theory it was able to see no tension at all between the two. It did not have the impression that the iotas and strokes of the ritual law were unreasonable or incomprehensible, nor did it have the impression that the regulations of the law were associated with the idea of heteronomy and unfreedom. For Matthew, Jesus’ directions in the antitheses were binding commandments (ἐντολαί: 28:20*); thus they were the same as the OT commandments. The individual prescriptions and the intensifying of the law based on love are for him not opposites; they belong together, and they make concrete the offer of God’s will. In this understanding of God’s will as grace, Matthew is rooted in the Bible and in Judaism.
c. There is for Matthew a strong link between the preface and the antitheses—namely, the claim of Jesus of Nazareth, who has come as Immanuel (v. 17*). Jesus’ sovereign “I say to you” connects vv. 17–20* to the antitheses. That makes clear that the biblical law is not simply the Jewish Torah as it has always been accepted. Now there is a new authority behind it—Jesus, who has come in the name of God to “fulfill” it. Then with their sovereign “but I say to you” the antitheses may be said to develop the full significance of the “I came” of v. 17*. Jesus is not subject to the law; he is its Lord. The entire Matthean Sermon on the Mount, including the antitheses and their preface of 5:17–20*, are part of the story of Jesus the Son of God who transcends them.
Meaning for Today

Thus this text explains a basic principle designed to interpret and protect the antitheses. The history of interpretation showed that its basic significance for the most part was recognized only when the OT appeared to be threatened as a basic text of the church. It further showed that it has always been very difficult for a church that is no longer Jewish to recognize the real meaning of this text. Access to 5:17–20* was made almost impossible not only by the Pauline theme under which it was often read but especially by the fact that for the Gentile Christian Great Church the law was for all practical purposes reduced to the moral law, especially to the Decalogue.112 At the same time, however, that also means that for us who belong to this Gentile Christian Great Church the Jewish Christian program of 5:17–20* belongs to the past. Does the text nevertheless have a meaning for us?
When we visualize what the church was doing when it used 5:17* to argue against Marcion and what the concern of the reformers was who used Matt 5:17* in their struggle against what they regarded as the Anabaptist retreat into the conventicle,113 it becomes clear what its fundamental meaning could be even today: the OT commandments inculcate that Christian faith is a practice in the world. There is a valid will of the Father for this world. The concrete pillars on which it rests are the divine commandments as they are formulated in the OT with permanent validity and as Jesus has “fulfilled” them in his Sermon on the Mount. They cannot be circumvented by a principle of morality, no matter how “perfected” it may be, or by a flight from the world, in whatever form it might take.
I close with a summary reference to a major interpreter of this text. Of all the reformers, Calvin most clearly gave the law a central, positive position in his thought. More clearly than others he spoke of the similarity, indeed the unity, of the old and new covenants. The basic structure of Matthew’s theology and that of Calvin are analogous. It is a structure that led both of them to a practical piety that took seriously the existence of the community in the world. Admittedly, the manner of this existence is different in Calvin and in Matthew. Calvin was interested in shaping this world, while Matthew, like the Anabaptists during the Reformation, was interested in shaping the life of the church and its missionary task in the world. Related to this difference is the fact that “the reformer (abandons) … large parts of the Sermon on the Mount to the Anabaptists and … withdraws to the Old Testament.”
2.2 Better Righteousness, I: Antitheses (5:21–48*)
Banks, Jesus, 182–203.
Berger, “Gesetzesauslegung,” 149–82.
Ingo Broer, “Die Antithesen und der Evangelist Matthäus,” BZ NF 19 (1975) 50–63.
Idem, Freiheit, 75–113.
Daube, New Testament, 55–62.
A. Descamps, “Essai d’interprétation de Mt 5,17–48: ‘Formgeschichte’ ou ‘Redaktionsgeschichte’?” StEv 1 1959 (TU 73) 156–73.
Christian Dietzfelbinger, Die Antithesen der Bergpredigt (TEH 186; Munich: Kaiser, 1975).
Idem, “Die Antithesen der Bergpredigt im Verständnis des Matthäus,” ZNW 70 (1979) 1–15.
Wilhelm Egger, “Handlungsorientierte Auslegung der Antithesen Mt 5,21–48,” in Karl Kertelge, ed., Ethik im Neuen Testament (QD 102; Freiburg: Herder, 1984) 119–44.
David Flusser, “Die Tora in der Bergpredigt,” in Entdeckungen im Neuen Testament (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1987) 21–31.
Tord Fornberg, “Matthew and the School of Shammai: A Study in the Matthean Antithesis,” Theology & Life 7 (Lutheran Theological Seminary Hong Kong, 1984) 35–59.
Guelich, “Not to Annul,” 117–215.
Idem, “The Antitheses of Matthew 5:21–48: Traditional or Redactional?” NTS 22 (1975/76) 444–57.
Victor Hasler, “Das Herzstück der Bergpredigt,” ThZ 15 (1959) 90–106.
Hans Hübner, Das Gesetz in der synoptischen Tradition: Studien zur These einer progressiven Tradition (Witten: Luther-Verlag, 1973) 40–112.
Kuhn, “Liebesgebot.”
Simon Légasse, Les pauvres en esprit: Évangile et non-violence (LD 78; Paris: Cerf, 1974) 57–98.
Eduard Lohse, “Ich aber sage euch,” in idem, Christoph Burchard, and Berndt Schaller, eds., Der Ruf Jesu und die Antwort der Gemeinde: Exegetische Untersuchungen: Joachim Jeremias zum 70. Geburtstag gewidmet von seinen Schülern (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1970) 189–203; reprinted in idem, Die Einheit des Neuen Testaments (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1973) 73–87.
Meier, Law, 125–61.
Merklein, Gottesherrschaft, 253–93.
Percy, Botschaft, 123–65.
Sand, Gesetz, 46–56.
Jürgen Sauer, Rückkehr und Vollendung des Heils: Eine Untersuchung zu den ethischen Radikalismen Jesu (Regensburg: Roderer, 1991) 109–20, 220–33, 402–10.
Günther Schmahl, “Die Antithesen der Bergpredigt,” TThZ 83 (1974) 284–97.
Strecker, “Antithesen.”
M. Jack Suggs, “The Antitheses as Redactional Products,” in Georg Strecker, ed., Jesus Christus in Historie und Theologie: Neutestamentliche Festschrift für Hans Conzelmann zum 60. Geburtstag (Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1975) 433–44; reprinted in Luise Schottroff, et al., Essays on the Love Commandment (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978) 93–107.
Vouga, Jésus, 189–301.
Hans Weder, “Ich aber sage euch”: Zur Begründung der Gesetzesauslegung Jesu in der Bergpredigt, in Einblicke ins Evangelium: Exegetische Beiträge zur neutestamentlichen Hermeneutik: Gesammelte Aufsätze aus den Jahren 1980–1991 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1992) 201–17.

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

Only the first and the fourth antitheses contain the complete introductory formula “you have heard that it was said to the ancients” (ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη τοῖς ἀρχαίοις, vv. 21*, 33*). In addition, the new introduction in v. 33* is emphasized by “again” (πάλιν). Thus the antitheses are divided into two blocks of three (vv. 21–32*, 33–48*), and the two are of equal length.1 In the first two cases the antithesis is introduced with “all/every(one)” (πᾶς, vv. 22*, 28*). In the fourth and fifth it has the form of a prohibition (μή with the infinitive, vv. 34*, 39*). By dividing the antitheses into two blocks Matthew obscures the fact that the material comes from different sources. Finally, the special length of the first and last antitheses is not accidental; obviously the evangelist wanted to give them special emphasis. The third antithesis is the shortest, also in the introductory formula; in its theme it is closely connected to the second antithesis.
Source-Critical Questions

The first, second, and fourth (perhaps also the fifth, vv. 38–39*) antitheses are special Matthean material. Matthew has supplemented this special material with material from Q (vv. 25–26*, 29–30*? cf. vv. 31–32*). This corresponds to the general results: first come the antitheses from the special material (vv. 21–37*; the third antithesis was inserted here only because thematically it belongs to the second), then come the antitheses from Q. Thus Q was not the primary source but—as also in chaps. 13, 18, and 24 with Mark—a source of supplementary material. That speaks for the hypothesis that Matthew had a collection of antitheses in written form that contained the first two and the fourth and that may have been connected already with 6:2–18*. He then adds Q material. From this collection he also took the form of the antithesis.
Tradition History

The origin and originality of the antitheses are controversial issues. There are three competing theses:
a. The so-called normal hypothesis: The first, second, and fourth antitheses, which come from the special material, are “primary” antitheses, while the third, fifth, and sixth are “secondary.”
Only in the case of the primary antitheses does the possibility exist that they go back to Jesus as antitheses. In all probability the secondary antitheses were created by Matthew as antitheses. Sometimes a thesis about the content is also included, claiming that the primary antitheses radicalize the OT commandment while the secondary antitheses invalidate it.
b. The tradition hypothesis: All six antitheses were already available to the evangelist as antitheses.
The most important point at which to approach this hypothesis is the theological relation of the antitheses to 5:17*. If Matthew’s concern was that Jesus has fulfilled the law, he cannot himself have created antitheses that show that he puts himself above the law. The claim is sharpened by the (probably mistaken but widespread) assumption of many representatives of the “normal hypothesis” that it is precisely the secondary Matthean antitheses that invalidate the Torah. The “tradition hypothesis” has source-critical consequences, and this is where its weakness lies. Either it must claim that the Sayings Source did not exist (Jeremias, Wrege), or it must accept a far-reaching reworking of Q prior to Matthew, which then was responsible for all the antitheses. One must take seriously the question whether there is not already a pre-Matthean antithesis in vv. 38–39*.
c. Advocated more frequently today is the redaction hypothesis: All six antitheses come from the evangelist Matthew.
Only Broer has attempted to offer real proof. Of his arguments one need not take seriously his reference to other antithetic formulations in Matthew, the reference to 19:9*,8 or to the emphatic “I” (ἐγώ) that is frequently redactional in Matthew. Probably a more serious argument, however, is his reference to the parallel between 5:21–32* and the catalogue of vices in 15:19* (murders, adulteries, fornications). However, 15:19* shows only that Matthew repeated the sequence of the first three antitheses, which came from him anyway. In addition, this hypothesis faces a double difficulty: it must prove for all the antitheses that the connection between thesis and antithesis is secondary, and it must interpret 5:17–20* in such a way that all the antitheses fit the interpretation. Thus, in spite of the increasing number of advocates, this thesis is the least probable.
I can offer here only a brief suggestion of my own position. Along with the “normal hypothesis,” I regard the third, fifth, and sixth antitheses as redactional. In contrast to the “normal hypothesis,” however, it seems probable to me that the fourth antithesis is also secondary, even if the antithetic formulation there comes from the source used by the evangelist.

Apart from several redactional formulations and the reworking of the antitheses in vv. 31–32*, 38–39*, 43–44*, the evangelist’s most important accomplishment lies in the composition of the section. With his forming of the sixth antithesis and his rearrangement of the Q material from Luke 6:27–36*, he is able to frame the series of antitheses with the love commandment—more precisely, with the commandment to love one’s enemies (vv. 25*, 44*). In this way the final antithesis, with its culmination in the key word “perfect” (τέλειος), proves to be the “climax.” In addition, Matthew has paid homage to his “conservatism” not only in the wording but also in the composition of the antitheses. In spite of some rearranging, both the Q block (Luke 6:27–36*) and the block of special material (Matt 5:21–37*) remain intact. In his formulation of new antitheses Matthew has passed on the antitheses form that he found in his special material tradition.
The Antitheses Formula in the Framework of Jewish Language Forms

There are Jewish parallels to the antithesis formula.
a. Rabbis are able to contrast two possible interpretations of a biblical text, often a literal and a free interpretation, with the formula שֹׁומֵעַ אֲנִי … אָמַרְתָּ (I could understand … but you are to say).
b. Rabbis are able to contrast their own interpretation with that of other rabbis with an emphatic וַאֲנִי אֹומֵר. Here the rejected interpretation is not introduced with a fixed expression. With their use of the first person, these parallels are very close to Matthew.
c. “But I say to you” without an antithetic opposite has parallels in wisdom and apocalyptic15 Jewish writings. In the didactic epistle 4QMMT the author, speaking in the name of his fellowship, introduces each of his own halakot with an emphatic אנחנו אומרים without meaning the halakot of his opponents, which he rejects.
Thus, when compared with the Jewish parallels, the antitheses’ introductory phrase is in any case an independent new creation, even if there is a certain similarity to Jewish exegetical terminology.
The Meaning of the Antitheses Formula

The main question is whether the antithesis refers to the Jewish-Pharisaic interpretation of the OT, that is, to the halakah, or to the OT itself.17 That interpreters are divided on this question is not a recent phenomenon. At the very least since the Reformation there have been alternative interpretations that to a great extent divide along confessional lines.
After the Marcionites’ rejection of the OT law and its differentiated rejection by the Gnostics, an exegesis prevailed in the ancient and medieval churches that understands the antitheses as a contrast of old and new law. Here the positive relationship of the two laws is set forth in a nuanced way; the decisive concepts are those of completion and expansion.20 That Jesus eliminated individual commandments is said, if at all, discreetly. For the most part, this understanding of the antitheses continues in the post-Reformation Catholic exegesis.22 It is sharpened by interpreters from the free churches: the law of the OT, which, for example, permits the use of violence and oaths, is no longer valid for Christians. However, the NT law is valid without any qualifications.
There are new tones in the exegesis of the Reformation. Emphasized here without exception, in Luther, Calvin, and in the post-Reformation interpretation, is Jesus’ agreement with the OT and his opposition to contemporary Jewish-Pharisaic interpretation. The OT commandment is then interpreted on the basis of the NT, for example, the sixth (seventh in some traditions) commandment on the basis of Matt 5:21–22*.26 One sees a motive for this interpretation in, for example, Calovius’s attempt to see the superiority of the new covenant not in a new law but in the gospel.27 Calvin does not want to make of Christ a new lawgiver and to free the OT from responsibility for human sin toward God. Calvin does not exonerate the Jews, who have fundamentally misunderstood the meaning of the law, and he rebukes them accordingly.29 They must bear the burden of this theology.
Based on rabbinic terminology, “to hear” can be understood in the sense of “to receive as tradition.” An interpretation in terms of tradition rather than the OT is improbable, however, because the content of the second and fifth, but probably also the first, third, and fourth theses, is literally, or at least in its meaning, an OT statement and not a rabbinic interpretation. Furthermore, in the third thesis the “you have heard” (ἠκούσατε) is even missing. Correspondingly, the “I say” (λέγω) of the antithesis is contrasted not with the “you have heard” but with the “it was said” (ἐρρέθη) of the thesis. It is therefore in my judgment not possible that the antitheses are directed only against a particular Jewish practice of interpreting the Bible. Ἠκούσατε probably means in a completely untechnical sense: “You have heard” (e.g., in the synagogue or at home) that the following was said in the Bible. On the basis both of the rabbinic exegetical usage33 and of Matthean usage, however, ἐρρέθη is most likely to be understood as passivum divinum for God’s speaking in the scriptures. Because of the fulfillment formula this is as good as certain for Matthew. For earlier stages of the tradition it is probable both on the basis of rabbinic usage and because of the content of the theses. Then the “ancients” are probably to be understood in the sense of the rabbinic רִשֹׁונִים as the Sinai generation. Thus the antitheses formulas pit Jesus’ word against that of the Bible itself. They do not support the thesis that Jesus wanted to criticize only Jewish interpretation or even only certain directions in it, for example, the Sadducees.35 In interpreting the antitheses formula the ancient, Catholic, and free church interpretation is fundamentally right in contrast to the classical Protestant interpretation.
On the other hand, the Matthean introduction in 5:17* emphasizes that Jesus “fulfills” the Torah and the Prophets. This poses a decisive problem of interpretation: What is the relationship between Jesus’ antitheses and their Matthean interpretation? Is there a contradiction here so that the Jewish Christian Matthew perhaps tried to bind the “only teacher,” Jesus (Matt 23:8*), back to the Torah, possibly against his own intention? I do not think that we are on the right track with such a suspicion. It assumes that people already made a distinction in general between the written and the oral Torah, or between the Torah and its interpretation.36 In that day the will of God transmitted as Torah was a living reality. The Torah could not only be sharpened; it could also be reformulated in a different way. People expected from the Messiah a clear interpretation, a final confirmation, and also an adaptation of the Torah to his new, messianic age.38 Jesus’ antitheses formulas are part of the early Jewish basic conviction of a living Torah. Within it, however, they are very unusual for two reasons. For one thing, Jesus is the “only teacher” (cf. 23:8*) who teaches the will of God as “living Torah.” Jesus accuses his opponents, the Pharisees and scribes, of neglecting the will of God in favor of their own tradition (15:3*). For another, Jesus contrasts the will of God with the Torah itself, which had been said by God to the ancients on Sinai: “But I say to you.”39
The Antitheses Formula as an Expression of Jesus’ Authority

The chance that Jesus himself formulated antitheses is relatively great. That is probable on the one hand because of their similarity to the language of Jewish tradition, and on the other because of their difference from other Jewish statements. The antitheses do not interpret the Bible; they extend and surpass it. While an emphatic “but I say to you” is also found in Jewish texts, it is not found in an antithesis to the Bible. Even the understanding of the Torah in the Qumran Temple Scroll, formulated with the “I” of divine speech, is not directly comparable to the antitheses.41 I assume, therefore, that the antithetic formulation of the first and second antitheses goes back to Jesus. Then the antitheses formula is not simply a new variant of rabbinic interpretation formulas but something distinctive within Judaism.
In my judgment this formula is of great significance for determining Jesus’ self-understanding. Christian exegetes have the impression that Jesus appears here with a claim that “Jewish feeling regarded as an invasion of the divine prerogative.” Although this impression is not completely false, I would like to warn against putting the main emphasis on a formal or quantitative determination of Jesus’ authority. In my judgment, the decisive question is not how much more authority Jesus claims here than, for example, a rabbi or an apocalyptic teacher. Rather, how he claims his authority is decisive. He does not appeal to someone else’s authority, for example, to God’s authority, as did the biblical prophets in their messenger pronouncements, or to a revelation, as did the apocalyptic visionaries. Nor does he appeal to his own authoritative position, for example, that he is the coming Son of Man. Indeed, he does not even appeal to the coming of the kingdom of God.43 Instead, his authority resides in what he himself says. Behind his proclamation of God’s will is his total personal involvement. Behind the risk of his proclamation of God’s will there is no authority other than his own, but there is this unreservedly. This is why in no single antithesis are Jesus’ demands in any way justified. They are simply stated. Then they are trusted to have the power to be obvious to the hearers and to make new people of them.
Jesus, the “only teacher” (Matt 23:10*), formulates his demands in contrast to the Torah spoken by God on Sinai—that is, in contrast to the highest authority of that day. In so doing he does not want to abolish the commandments of the Bible, but he does abolish their formal authority, which is based simply on the fact that it is biblical (ἐρρέθη) and traditional. Thus the biblical commandments become living Torah, and in the coming kingdom of God they will become the conditionally valid, unconditionally binding will of God.
There is a remaining problem of interpretation for the individual antitheses. At least some of them contain nothing that could not also be found in Jewish tradition, especially in parenesis influenced by wisdom. Why are statements that in part are common in Jewish-wisdom parenesis and thus are by no means new identified in this way with Jesus’ authority? How are they changed in the process?
The Antitheses in the Framework of Matthean Theology

Why did Matthew even add to the number of antitheses when in vv. 17–19* he had to protect them against a misunderstanding?46 They underscore the christological dimension of Jesus’ commandments, and they clarify the “I have come” of v. 17* and the “I say to you” of vv. 18* and 20*. They show how the Son of God in perfect sovereignty fulfills the word of God in the law and prophets by contrasting his word with the word of the Bible. Matthew had already intimated this by locating Jesus’ first proclamation of the gospel “on the mountain.” However, 5:17–19* make clear that this does not mean that a second Moses abolished the Torah of the first Moses. Instead, for Matthew Jesus’ new proclamation of God’s will is also the doorway to the old Torah transmitted in the Tanak, which Jesus does not annul. Instead, he radicalizes it and thus fulfills it without eliminating a single stroke. In interpreting the individual antitheses one needs to ask how Matthew could have conceived this.
In anticipation of that interpretation I can say that by framing the antitheses with the first and sixth antitheses Matthew shows that he sees the center of the law and prophets in love. Love is the fulfillment, not the abolition, of the law and prophets (5:17*). The love commandment does not cancel the “smallest commandments” (5:18–19*) but relativizes them case by case. In this sense the law and prophets “hang” on the love commandment (22:40*).48
2.2.1 First Antithesis: On Killing (5:21–26*)
David Alan Black, “Jesus on Anger: The Text of Matt 5:22a Revisited,” NovT 30 (1988) 1–8.
Shawn Carruth, ed., Q 12:49–59: Children against Parents: Judging the Time: Settling out of Court (Documenta Q; Louvain: Peeters, 1997) 269–415.
Dalman, Jesus, 73–85.
Anton Fridrichsen, “Exegetisches zum Neuen Testament,” SO 13 (1934) 38–46.
Robert A. Guelich, “Mt 5:22: Its Meaning and Integrity,” ZNW 64 (1973) 39–52.
Joachim Jeremias, “ῥακά,” TDNT 6 (1968) 973–76.
Konrad Köhler, “Zu Mt 5,22,” ZNW 19 (1920) 91–95.
Marguerat, Jugement, 151–67.
C. F. D. Moule, “The Angry Word: Mt 5:21f,” ExpT 81 (1969) 10–13.
Trilling, Christusverkündigung, 86–107.
Manfred Weise, “Mt 5:21f—ein Zeugnis sakraler Rechtsprechung in der Urgemeinde,” ZNW 49 (1958) 116–23.
Zeller, Mahnsprüche, 62–67.

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

21 “You have heard that it was said to the ancients:
‘You shall not kill.’
Whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.
22 But I say to you:
Everyone who is angry with his brother shall meet with judgment.
And whoever says to his brother ‘Raka!’ shall be liable to the Sanhedrin.
And whoever says ‘Fool!’ shall be liable to the Gehenna of fire.
23 Now if you bring your gift to the altar,
and there remember that your brother has something against you,
24 leave your gift there before the altar,
first go, be reconciled with your brother,
and then come and offer your gift.
25 Be well disposed to your opponent quickly while you are with him on the way, lest the opponent deliver you to the judge and the judge to the bailiff and you be thrown into prison. 26/ Amen, I say to you: You will not come out of there until you have repaid the last penny.”
The section is divided into three parts: vv. 21–22*, 23–24*, and 25–26*. “I say” (λέγω) loosely brackets the entire section (vv. 22*, 26*). The key word “brother” (ἀδελφός, 4 times) is central for the first two parts. Noteworthy is the change from the second person plural to the second person singular that first of all is to be explained source-critically. It strengthens the direct address (9 times “you” [σου], etc., in vv. 23–26*). Verses 21–22* are strictly structured. The thesis in v. 21* consists of a double sentence: the commandment from the Decalogue and a legal sentence that builds on it. The antithesis in v. 22* builds on the legal sentence from v. 21c* and contrasts it with three “counterstatements.”
Source Criticism
Verses 23–24* are an independent traditional unit; unlike vv. 21–22*, now the brother is the one who is angry. Verses 25–26* (with their parallel in Luke 12:57–59* = Q) are also an independent unit. It is not clear when these traditional pieces were brought together; Matthew is presumably responsible at least for the addition of vv. 25–26*, since he wanted to create a bracket with the last antithesis under the theme of the love of one’s enemy.
Tradition History and Origin: Verses 21–22*
With vv. 21–22* we face difficult problems in the history of the tradition: (a) Did the thesis and antithesis originally belong together? With “shall be liable to judgment” (ἔνοχος ἔσται τῇ κρίσει) v. 22a* is closely connected to v. 21b*.3 Already in Jewish wisdom tradition anger and (as its consequence) murder belong together. Thus there is no reason to separate v. 22* from the thesis.5 (b) Is v. 22* a unified piece? It is unusual that the antithesis of v. 22* is divided into three parallel statements. All three of them are linked to v. 21c*—the first with the reference to punishment, the second and third with “but whoever.” This observation has occasioned numerous attempts at tradition-history deconstructions. Most regard v. 22b*, c* as secondary additions.6 In my judgment, however, v. 22* is an original unit that cannot be further broken down.7 The change from “everyone who” to “but whoever” was stylistically necessary. In addition, v. 22b* and c* contain an extraordinarily effective rhetorical graduation of punishment. In my judgment the traditional piece, with its unity, comes from Jesus.
Tradition History and Origin: Verses 23–24*
The two verses are pre-Matthean, since they presuppose the existence of the cult. The relatively high number of Mattheanisms may indicate an oral tradition that the evangelist composed relatively freely. This text is not a simple variant of Mark 11:25*.10 Our interpretation will show that it comes from Jesus.
Source Criticism, Tradition History, and Origin: Verses 25–26*
Verses 25–26* come from Q. Matthew has taken the logion out of the compact Q section Q 12:49–59 and changed its construction. He is probably responsible for putting the imperative “be well disposed” (ἴσθι εὐνοῶν) first and reaccentuating the time structure with “quickly” (ταχύ) and “while” (ἕως ὅτου). By contrast, Luke 12:58–59* portrays realistically what takes place in a debtor’s trial.12 The text is not a crisis parable—presumably the redactional introduction of Luke 12:57* is responsible for this widely held but incorrect designation—but a wisdom exhortation.13 The curiously doubled reference to the law court is unusual. For that very reason it goes well together with Jesus’ proclamation.

■ 21* The double thesis in v. 21* consists of an OT quotation only in its first half (fifth [Jewish order: sixth] commandment). Its second half is a free rendering of the legal order as it is laid down in Exod 21:12*; Lev 24:17*; cf. Num 35:16–18*. Thus Jesus does not allude to a contemporary halakic regulation that differs from an OT command. Based on the OT, “judgment” (κρίσις) most likely means the legal punishment of the murderer. In Greek “liable” (ἔνοχος) is a legal term that means “to be subject.”

■ 22* The three-part antithesis of v. 22* poses several lexical problems. In all probability ῥακά is a transcription of Aramaic רָיקָא, a frequently used, quite harmless, condescending expression that meant something like “feather brain” and was often used in the family.16 “Fool” (μωρός) is a common Greek word of abuse with a nuance of disrespect, but it too has little importance. An Aramaic equivalent may be שָׁטְיָא (“insane,” “deranged”), also a common word of abuse. There is no essential difference in the meaning of the two words. Still, it is possible to assume that there is an increase in intensity from the first to the second.
On the punishments, in the NT συνέδριον almost always means the Jerusalem Sanhedrin of 71. In our passage, especially since it has the article, συνέδριον should not be understood any differently. “Gehenna”—Matthew probably added “of fire” in order to heighten the idea of judgment20—probably comes from Aramaic גֵּיהִנָּם and is a designation of hell as the eschatological place of punishment.
How are the three sentences (v. 21a*, b*, c*) related to one another?
Since the ancient church a type of interpretation has dominated that wants to see in the three offenses and punishments a progression in intensity. “To be angry” would then refer to the animosity hidden in one’s heart, while the two insults designate increasing levels of abuse. The punishment in hell would be a greater punishment than that given in the previous words “judgment” and “Sanhedrin.” People have often interpreted “judgment” (κρίσις) as the local court and “Sanhedrin” (συνέδριον) as the highest human court. Divine judgment is then added as the court of final appeal. However, this interpretation is difficult. Only very seldom does κρίσις designate a legal jurisdiction, and in any case it must have the same meaning in v. 22* as in v. 21*. Between “Sanhedrin” and “Gehenna of fire” there is not a gradation but a qualitative shift from human-earthly judgment to divine-eschatological judgment.
Thus we must abandon the thesis of a general progression in v. 22a*, b*, c*. A description of the relationship based on the preliminary clauses would be better: v. 22a* is a general statement, while v. 22b* and c sharpen it with concrete examples. They make clear how seriously v. 22a* is meant, and they let “anger” begin with the most banal abusive language. Examples are chosen in v. 22b* and c that are as radical and harsh as possible. How then are the expressions of anger related to the punishments in the concluding clauses? It becomes immediately clear that the three short sentences of v. 22* are only formally legal sentences; in reality the legal level is transcended. If a court had to deal with outbreaks of anger—indeed, if the Sanhedrin had to deal with simple abusive language—it would be hopelessly swamped. The sentences of v. 22* that appear to be sentences of law have the character of hyperbole.26 They want to say that what appears to be an insignificant expression of anger is the equivalent of murder that is subject to heavenly and earthly punishment. Between v. 22b* and v. 22c* there is an elevation into another dimension. If initially the punishment in v. 22a*, v. 22b* applied to the earthly realm, because the OT legal system in v. 21b* also judged on this level, the concluding v. 22c* makes clear that for Jesus anger is punishable not only on the earthly level. Behind the earthly judgment there is God’s judgment. Verse 22* is formulated from God’s perspective and with God’s seriousness. Because the root of human killing lies in the human heart, because every insignificant insult leveled at another person “dispatches” (i.e., kills) that person, there is also a judgment—namely, God’s judgment—for things that for human courts are too insignificant.
If that is true, then we must eliminate every thought of casuistry from the sequence of the three sentences. Verse 22b* and c are not the expression of the legal practice of the Matthean community, not practiced halakah,27 but the exemplary heightening of God’s unconditional demand. Matthew is not on the way to legalizing our antithesis, a way that by introducing a succession of offenses and punishments led to classifying most expressions of anger as venial sins. The punishment of hell is the perspective behind the earthly punishments and above all angry deeds.
Only a comparison of this heightened demand of Jesus with Jewish ethics makes clearer what the antithesis to the Torah might be.
Anger is a frequent subject in the OT and in early Jewish writings, especially in wisdom literature. The Community Rule of Qumran prescribes carefully defined punishments for outbreaks of anger against members of the sect that destroy the basis of fellowship (1QS 6.25–27; 7.2–5, 8–9; cf. 5.25–26). Jesus’ contemporary, Hillel, in contrast to the “angry” Shammai, embodied for many the ideal of the “mild,” patient, even-tempered Jew. Some statements in rabbinic texts understand anger as such a serious offense that there is no human punishment for it, only divine punishment.30 Public shaming of one’s neighbor is an offense for which one cannot make amends by good works. In anger a wise man’s wisdom abandons him so that even Moses forgot the halakah when he became angry.32 A baraita transmitted in b. Qidd. 28a in the style of a sentence of law threatens with the ban, forty lashes, and vengeance anyone who says to his neighbor “slave,” “bastard,” or “godless.”
Even more important are wisdom parallels that contain an interpretation of the fifth (sixth) commandment as broad as that of Jesus. From Eliezer ben Hyrcanus comes the sentence: “Whoever hates his brother, behold, he belongs to those who shed blood.” Sir 34:21–22* LXX already designated as a murderer the one who deprives a poor person of the necessities of life. 2 Enoch 44.3 also contains a series comparable to that of Matt 5:22*: “He who expresses anger to any person without provocation will reap anger in the great judgment. He who spits on any person’s face, insultingly, will reap the same at the Lord’s judgment.”
The parallels show that Jesus’ demand is nothing new in the framework of contemporary Jewish parenesis. They remind us that in Pharisaic Judaism Torah was not only the basis of a legal system, not merely “a matter of the civil sphere” or “external duty.” It comprised not only the realm of the measurable commandments (מִצְוֹת). It was God’s instruction for the whole person. In Pharisaic Judaism in particular it was not a new thing that the Torah must be read “within the legal line”—that is, in terms of the demand for mercy and the love commandment—and that it is “committed to the heart.”37 In Judaism Torah as demand and Torah as God’s will that lays claim to the whole person are not mutually exclusive; they are mutually inclusive. For their part Christians must not give in to the temptation to construct an image of Judaism that dismisses the entire area of wisdom-style parenesis as not legally binding and to marginalize it merely in order to save Jesus’ originality. Thus in its content the first antithesis is not at all original. Jesus simply formulates it more sharply and in a more attention-grabbing way by couching his admonition in the form of a legal sentence.39 In so doing he emphasizes that it is absolutely binding. However, that does not yet make it actually antithetical to Judaism and to the OT.
Does that mean that the only new element in Jesus’ admonition is its antithetical wording? Yet what does this mean if in his confrontation with the Torah by virtue of his special authority as the messenger of the kingdom of God Jesus proclaims something that basically everyone already knew? Then there is a gap between the pathos of the antitheses formula and its self-evident content.
In my judgment we must begin with the interrelatedness in Judaism between legal demand and parenesis. When Jesus antithetically contrasts parenesis (in the binding form of “sentences of law”) with the existing legal system, he does something special. While in Judaism the nation’s legal system given by God and the parenesis directed to the individual that goes beyond the law harmoniously supplement one another, Jesus sets them over against one another. The OT legal system is not radical enough, and it does not yet completely reflect God’s will; it is the radically formulated wisdom admonition that is actually his will. This view of the legal order as something of secondary importance is in keeping with Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God. Jesus had scarcely any interest in valid and practicable legal regulations for his people, probably because he was interested in gathering the eschatological people Israel in light of the dawning of the kingdom of God and in proclaiming the will of God that corresponded to the kingdom of God. Although it is not said in the text, I think that only in light of the kingdom of God that is breaking into the world can we understand the antithetic relationship between (traditional) divine justice and (traditional) parenesis that emerges for the first time in the antitheses.
History of Interpretation

The history of the interpretation of the first antithesis is to a large extent a history of tempering its strictness.
a. Primarily, but not only, Western witnesses since Irenaeus limit the extent of the antithesis to unjustified anger. Since the reading “without cause” (εἰκῇ) became the textus receptus, exegetes have asked what constitutes justified anger. Such tendencies were strengthened by Aristotelian philosophy, which, in contrast to Stoicism,43 did not completely condemn anger as long as it was for the right cause and to the right degree. Thus there is also a justifiable anger, indeed, even a useful and necessary anger.45
b. One included here religiously motivated anger, the “holy hate.” Thus one tried to understand why in spite of his antithesis Jesus calls his Jewish opponents “fools and blind” (Matt 23:17*) and Paul scolds the Galatians as “unintelligent” (Gal 3:1*). A distinction must be made between anger against sin and that against the sinner.47 It is true that the first antithesis does not consider this side of the problem. Still, the generalization that the insult “fool” is not a sin if it comes “out of a kindly and motherly heart” can prove to be a way of circumventing its demand.
c. Above all, however, an exception was made for the “anger” of the government official. The problem was seen long before the Reformation when, for example, the Opus Imperfectum with convincing simplicity argues that without anger there would be “neither doctrine … nor legal sentencing” nor a check on crime. As a result, “rage that is for a purpose is not rage but judgment” (“Iracundia quae cum cause est, non iracundia est, sed iudicium”).49 Of course, the reformers also emphasize this in distinguishing between the two kingdoms. “If father and mother, judge, and preacher held back their mouths and their fists and did nothing to curb or punish evil, the wickedness of the world would destroy the government and the church and everything. So the command here it to ‘hate the deed, but love the doer.’ ”
d. The interpretation of the three sentences of v. 22* as stages of offense and punishment led to another kind of tempering. Anger that remains hidden in the heart or that comes out spontaneously with no insidious intention is not as serious and is not punished as severely. The distinction between venial and mortal sins was able to come into play with these sages and to limit the mortal sin to the more aggravating cases of anger described in v. 22c*.51 Or with Zwingli’s interpretation: because Jesus knew that complete freedom from anger is impossible, he added v. 22b* and c to ensure that, even if people cannot banish it from their hearts, at least they will not give vent to it.52 In substance that is no longer far removed from Luther’s bitingly compact “to forgive but not to forget.”
It is easy to respond exegetically to the interpretations. One will have to reject every interpretation that no longer can understand v. 22* as a demand that means what it says and is valid for everyone. One also misses its exemplary character when it is tempered or moderated. There is certainly no suggestion of a distinction between justified and unjustified anger, as Matthew indicates with the examples in vv. 23–24* and 25–26*, where such a distinction is completely absent. At most one might ask whether on the basis of the wisdom background of parenesis one can justify limiting the freedom from anger to the area of interpersonal relationships. One will also have to be skeptical here, however, since what is new with Jesus is precisely that this parenesis influenced by wisdom is directed antithetically against God’s existing legal system in the old eon. Even theses such as the claim that this antithesis fundamentally implies a rejection of the death penalty and of war54 cannot simply be rejected if they are based on the kingdom of God.
It is much more difficult to take a systematic position. How does it change things that the kingdom of God in the light of which Jesus formulated the antithesis and in anticipation of which he demanded absolute humanity from his hearers did not happen? Since that day its anticipation has faded away.
Are not the attempts to temper the antithesis in the history of interpretation a quite human reaction in this world? “Not only are you not to kill; you are not to want to kill. You are not to permit that impulse to be in you that, if you were to follow it, would kill.” Taken by itself, this demand of the first antithesis means that one’s superego exerts absolute control, extending even to a person’s most private feelings. Is it possible and helpful, or is it simply asking too much? Could it be that grace consists of doing what was attempted in the history of interpretation, namely, not demanding so much? Zwingli repeatedly interrupted his interpretation of the antitheses, which he understood as an expression of divine righteousness, with the lapidary sentence “as we do not keep it (for we are briefly not free of temptation).”56 He then added the minimal commandment of the “school master” that although with its “death for death, life for life, eye for eye … wound for wound” it does not correspond to God’s righteousness, at least it prevents the worst from happening. Is it then the much more human righteousness of the OT that is an expression of grace?
The question is: What then for Matthew—and also for us—has taken the place of the anticipation of the kingdom of God that supports a person? The Matthean answer is twofold. It is the story of the Son of God, Jesus, who has gone the way of obedience to the resurrection accompanied by his Father. And it is the community that follows him on this way and that learns that the story of the Son of God is a story of God with it. Only in the experience of the presence of the living Lord is his radical demand helpful. Thus the Matthean antitheses presuppose that he who makes their demands is the one who is with his church until the end of the world.
That is the basis for a way of tempering the demand that we have not yet mentioned and that is closer to Matthew than all the others. It limits the demand to the church. The prohibition of anger is related to the Christian brother “in whom Christ dwells.” Indeed, anger toward a fellow Christian can be declared to be nothing short of the sin against the Holy Spirit.
To be sure, for Matthew the reference to the community does not mean that the area in which it applies is limited. However, the key word “brother” does show that he is thinking of the community. It is for him the place that makes obedience to the Father’s will possible. But for him the obedience itself extends beyond the boundaries of the community. Matthew has already suggested that in 5:16*, where he spoke of the missionary dimension of Christian obedience. He will then go beyond the boundaries of the community especially in the last antithesis, which repeats the theme of the first one.

■ 23–24* The following two verses interpret and further develop this antithesis. They formulate positively what the antithesis itself formulated negatively. The issue is no longer avoiding deadly words; now it is in a positive sense reconciliation, that is, love for one’s brother. People have wanted to understand these verses as an example of how Matthew realistically made concrete the demands of the first antithesis. The opposite is true. A comparison with Jewish parallels shows that our example is not at all realistic.
For the nearest Jewish background one should not look primarily to the rabbinic regulations about interrupting the guilt offering in cases where the stolen property has not yet been returned (m. B. Qam. 9.12; t. Pesaḥ. 3.1), because there the issue is the correct performance of the sacrifice. Nor do Philo’s statements about examining oneself before the sacrifice (Spec. leg. 1.167) offer substantive parallels. Important rather are the statements primarily in the wisdom tradition about the unity of ethic and cult: sacrifices by godless persons are an abomination to God; whoever shows mercy performs a sacrifice (Prov 15:8*; 21:3*, 27*; Sir 31[34]:21–24*; 35:1–3*, etc.).61 In these texts as well the cult is secondary to ethics without in any way being abrogated. Such thinking found a place in rabbinic Judaism in the well-known principle that the only things for which the Day of Atonement does not atone are offenses against one’s fellow human beings (m. Yoma 8.9). Probably important for Matthew are prophetic traditions that he himself formulates with Hos 6:6*.
Against such a background these verses are understandable and, at the same time, strange. What is strange is their sharpness: whether the brother’s anger is justified is irrelevant. It may have sounded especially harsh to Galileans, for whom the commandment to be reconciled with the brother before offering sacrifice as a rule meant a journey of several days back to Galilee. As is often the case with Jesus, we also have here a categorical, hyperbolically exaggerated, exemplary demand whose goal is a new basic attitude to one’s fellow human being. It thus is a demand that requires more than its literal fulfillment. It says: reconciliation, and that means love, is to take the place of every feeling of anger, the root of human murder. For Jesus, as for Matthew, the cultic law is not abrogated by the commandment of reconciliation, but the reconciliation comes “first” (πρῶτον), a term that is repeated in 23:26*.
The church’s interpretation offers possible applications. Concern for one’s neighbor is the criterion and presupposition for the prayer of thanksgiving and for the Eucharist.64 Luther extends it to politics: sacrifice without reconciliation is “the same as bringing on war, murder, and bloodshed—and then paying a thousand guldens to have Masses said for the souls of those who were killed.” Augustine’s formulation is comprehensive: “Everything that we think and strive for must agree with what we confess with our mouth.”66

■ 25–26* The final traditional piece, about reconciliation with one’s opponent before the trial, lets an admonition that begins with a situation from everyday life take a sudden turn at the end so that the last judgment appears behind the trial situation. On the surface this text is pragmatic and has its parallels in similar advice in the wisdom tradition. For a debtor who is on his way to a debtor’s trial it is good advice to come to an understanding with his creditor before he is imprisoned for the debt. The creditor may also have an interest in such an understanding, since he does not know whether the family or the friends of the imprisoned debtor will actually pay for him.68 Since imprisonment for debt was unknown in Jewish law, we are dealing here with the terror of a Gentile trial where the poor debtor is imprisoned until the last penny is paid. Matthew’s community in Syria was as familiar with court officials (as torturers?)70 and imprisonment for debt as they were with the common Greek word “liable” (εὐνοέω).
However, the text’s depth dimension is decisive. On the one hand, it is focused on reconciliation with the opponent. The readers are to understand “be well disposed” in terms of “be reconciled” (v. 24b*). The opponent (ἀντίδικος) is to become a brother. Something of the love of one’s enemy that is developed later in the sixth antithesis is already visible here. Thus the negatively formulated antithesis of v. 22* is continued positively in vv. 23–26*: anger and harsh words are replaced by reconciliation and love. The “way”—in the original commonsense advice merely the way to where the court is located—becomes the time granted people before God’s final judgment.72 Thus beneath the surface of the commonsense advice the perspective of the last judgment becomes visible. Matthew signals it with his favorite word, “amen,” which almost always introduces an eschatological, last-judgment statement, and with “I say,” which is used similarly in many places.74 In the last judgment there will be no more grace. Here our text looks ahead to the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, which is influenced by this judgment perspective (7:13–28*).75 Thus here the call to love is—at least also—sharpened with the threat of judgment. About this perspective, which is difficult for many modern people, here I can only briefly point out that Matthew is in no way thinking of the this-worldly “hell” of a life determined by formal justice and not by love—a life where the only rule is that all get what they deserve; he is thinking of God’s final judgment. He is thinking not only of the time granted in the present for love;77 he is thinking also of the end of this time. I am not concerned here to solve the theological problems this raises, only to point out that the text presents us with them.
2.2.2 Second Antithesis: On Adultery (5:27–30*)
Will Deming, “Mark 9.42–10.12; Matt 5.27–32 and B. Nid. 13b: A First Century Discussion on Male Sexuality,” NTS 36 (1990) 130–41.
Klaus Haacker, “Der Rechtssatz Jesu zum Thema Ehebruch (Mt 5,28),” BZ NF 21 (1977) 113–16.
Hildebrecht Hommel, “Herrenworte im Lichte sokratischer Überlieferung,” ZNW 57 (1966) 1–23.
Kurt Niederwimmer, Askese und Mysterium: Über Ehe, Ehescheidung und Eheverzicht in den Anfängen des christlichen Glaubens (FRLANT 113; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1975) 24–33.
Johannes Schattenmann, “Jesus und Pythagoras,” Kairos 21 (1979) 215–20.
Stauffer, Botschaft, 82–85.

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

27 “You have heard that it was said:
‘You shall not commit adultery.’
28 But I say to you:
Everyone who looks at a woman with desire
has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
29 If your right eye leads you astray,
tear it out and throw it away;
for it is better for you for one of your members to perish
and your whole body not be cast into hell.
30 And if your right hand leads you astray,
cut it off and throw it away;
for it is better for you for one of your members to perish
and your whole body not go to hell.”
The structure of the second antithesis is similar to that of the first. The actual antithesis (vv. 27–28*) is followed by an attachment (vv. 29–30*) with a repeated direct address in the second person singular (12 times σου, etc., in vv. 29–30*). The introductory phrase and the thesis itself are shorter than those in v. 21*. Again the thesis and antithesis are closely related linguistically. This time the connection is helped with the existence of the punishable act of adultery (μοιχεύω, vv. 27b*, 28b*). This term also connects the following, third antithesis with the second.
Source and Prehistory: Verses 27–28*
One can discern scarcely any Matthean additions. As was the case with vv. 21–22*, this antithesis is presumably not subject to tradition-history deconstruction. In addition to the close relationship between thesis and antithesis established by μοιχεύω, in Judaism the seventh (sixth in other traditions) commandment and the commandment not to covet the neighbor’s wife (tenth commandment) have already been connected. The antithesis builds on an already existing tradition and makes use of it antithetically. It is in keeping with Jesus’ prohibition of divorce and therefore may well come from him.
Source and Prehistory: Verses 29–30*
These verses have parallels in Mark 9:43*, 45*, 47* (par. Matt 18:8–9*), which more clearly reveal the underlying form of the biblical “tov saying.” Thus they are transmitted twice in Matthew. This and certain characteristics of the two Matthean versions show that the evangelist presumably took over our version of the sayings not from Mark but from elsewhere, perhaps from Q or QMt. Thus in 5:27–30* Matthew has also chosen his special source as the basic text and expanded it with Q material. Here the bridge between the antithesis and the added material is the “eye” in v. 28* that is understood as the instrument of seduction. The reconstruction of the word of Q is very difficult. Luke has completely omitted the logion; perhaps it was too radical for him. Among the material peculiar to Q that was not in Mark are probably the imperatives “tear” (ἔξελε) and “throw away” (βάλε ἀπό σου), the introduction with εἰ, and the construction with “it is better for you that … and not” (συμφέρει … σοι ἵνα … καὶ μή). About redactional additions we can at most make conjectures.7 Its Semitic background, the double tradition, and the fact that Jesus often exaggerates in a similar way all speak for the conclusion that the logion originated with Jesus.
History of Interpretation

The history of interpretation shows a strange ambivalence between a tendency to expand and to sharpen the text in a dualistic aversion to sexuality and a different tendency to weaken this antithesis also in order to be able to live with it.
a. The intensification and broadening may start in different places.
1. We understand γυνή not as a married woman but simply as any woman. The Vulgate translates it as mulier rather than as uxor. Correspondingly, the prohibition of the lustful look was applied not only to the wives of other men but also to other women, virgins, even to one’s own wife.9 Μοιχεία takes on a broader meaning and refers to unchastity in general, de facto even to sexual relations. The influence of 5:27–30* on a sexual morality of the church that is hostile to sexual relations is clear. Eugen Drewermann asks with justification: “How is married life to be possible when a man may not look at a woman without being a lecher?”
2. The interpretation focuses on the verb “desire” (ἐπιθυμέω), which is understood in the sense of concupiscence as the root of all sin. Thus the antithesis can point to further connections: it ultimately forbids any “dissolute” desire. The medieval interpretation sometimes approaches dualism. Thus the Opus Imperfectum distinguishes between the concupiscentiae carnis and the concupiscentiae animae; the former are fundamentally reprehensible. A broad and ancient tradition introduces the word “pleasure [or lust]” (ἡδονή) instead of “desire” (ἐπιθυμία), so that what Jesus actually objects to is lust. Thus the antithesis is drawn into the wake of tendencies hostile to pleasure and marriage.15 For all practical purposes it can lead to avoiding any dealings with women whenever possible. Here also the connection between the interpretation of 5:27–30* and a sexual morality of the church hostile to pleasure is obvious.
3. It is a different kind of expansion when especially in the interpretive tradition coming from John Chrysostom the antithesis was regarded as directed not only to men but obviously also to women. It is perhaps not right to say here that it was sharpened, since the greater freedom of women in large cities in late antiquity in comparison with rural Jewish Palestine involved a new situation.
b. The opposing tendencies are not adequately described with the catchword “weakening.” For them it is important that according to ancient, medieval, and Catholic tradition sin has not completely destroyed the human nature God created. In the Reformation’s interpretation the high regard for marriage along with the antipathy to monastic and priestly asceticism plays a major role.
1. The effort to determine the meaning of “to desire her” (πρὸς τὸ ἐπιθυμῆσαι αὐτήν) has played an essential role in the interpretation. As a rule πρός was understood in a final (purposive) rather than a consecutive sense. If looking at a woman is to be sin it thus must be connected with an evil intention. Jerome and the medieval tradition distinguish between “anticipation” (προπάθεια) and “passion” (πάθος), whereby the former is an “animi subitus affectus … amoris” and the latter “deliberatio ex consensu.” Thus terms such as finis, deliberatio, and consensus play a major role in interpretation. After the Council of Trent concupiscence, against which the baptized person struggles with God’s help, is not a mortal sin, and Luther also is “willing to let it stand: ‘If an evil thought is involuntary, it is not a mortal sin.’ ”21
2. The reformers are concerned to protect marriage. Married love is the best way to obey Jesus’ demand: “It would be a real art and a very strong safeguard against all this if everyone learned to look at his spouse correctly, according to God’s Word, which is the dearest treasure and the loveliest ornament you can find in a man or a woman.” Luther is fighting on two fronts. On the one hand he emphasizes that we are not to flee from one another but are to live together, and marriage is part of this living together.23 He resists monastic perfection. On the other hand he resists the corruption of morals, especially “in Italy.” The emphasis on marriage has been maintained in post-Reformation exegesis, and today it can also be seen in influential Catholic statements.25
The history of interpretation makes us aware how and how strongly we are influenced here by our tradition—and sometimes also by our effort to be emancipated from it. It makes clear what the exegetical questions are: What does γυνή mean? How is πρός with the infinitive to be interpreted? It confronts modern interpreters with the question whether Matt 5:27–30* really justifies the church’s traditional sexual morality that is hostile to the body and to pleasure. And above all: What was the speaker of this antithesis really trying to say?

■ 27–28* Γυνή probably means “wife” and not simply any woman. That follows from the area encompassed by the sixth (seventh in Judaism) commandment and the meaning of μοιχεύω, which is “to commit adultery” and not simply “to act unchastely.” In the Jewish context μοιχεύειν is used exclusively of the man; when speaking of women it would have to be stated passively (cf. v. 32a*). This—and the following—antithesis is directed only to men.26 According to Matthean usage (6:1*; 23:5*; 26:12* redaction; 13:30* tradition), πρός with the infinitive designates the intention and not the consequence. Therefore reservations are in order toward all interpretations that sharpen and expand the meaning. At issue is intentional looking with the purpose of violating someone else’s marriage.
The meaning of πρὸς τὸ ἐπιθυμῆσαι αὐτήν is difficult, because in reality desire can only be the result of an (appraising) look but not its intention. For this reason Haacker (“Rechtssatz”) suggests a different translation: “so that she [scil. the woman = αὐτήν] desires,” that is, “in order to kindle desire in her.” Speaking against such a reading are the Matthean use of πρός with the infinitive (never accusative with the infinitive) and the already existing Jewish association of the seventh (sixth in other traditions) with the tenth commandment. Matthew probably did not intend to speak of an unintentional “seeing” but of an intentional “looking at,” that is, of a human act. For that reason he adds to βλέπων the explicit final (purposive) definition.
What is the sense of the antithetical contrast? In that day by shifting the burden of proof in favor of the accused, the Jewish judiciary had made it more difficult to condemn someone to death as an adulterer. The wording of the antithesis puts the emphasis on the verb “to commit adultery”: at issue is a sharpened definition of adultery—that is, the sanctity of marriage. In that regard the antithesis fits Jesus’ prohibition of divorce. Only indirectly, based on all of Jesus’ activity, can one add that he was not interested in establishing a different judiciary. Therefore, the material with which the antithesis is to be compared is first of all the parenetic interpretation from Jewish tradition of the seventh (sixth) commandment. The result here is that with his interpretation Jesus has expressed a conviction that would have found agreement not only in the entire ancient world32 but also especially in the Judaism of that day. Adultery begins in the heart; sin begins in one’s thoughts.
Especially in Hellenistic Judaism, under the influence of the list of the four Stoic “passions” (πάθη), desire often became the basis of all sin. Likewise, the connection of the eyes with desire and unchastity in antiquity35 and in Judaism—especially under the influence of wisdom—is self-evident. There is evidence in rabbinic Judaism for the idea that sin is worse in thought than when it is committed.37 Similar to our antithesis, for example, are statements such as T. Benj. 8.2: “He who has a pure mind in love, does not look after a woman for the purpose of adultery.” B. Ḥallah 1: “He who looks at a woman with a (covetous) intention is as one who cohabits with her”; Lev. Rab. 23 (122b): “He who commits adultery with his eyes is also called an adulterer.” Such parallels are not isolated; indeed, they are more frequent than are the parallels to the first antithesis.
Christian interpretation should not try to defend the originality of Jesus’ demand at all cost. Taken by itself it is not original. It also does not preserve the woman’s rights; at most it protects the rights of the other husband, whose marriage is already violated by the lustful look.41 It fits in well with the sharpened interpretation of the seventh (sixth) commandment that we can observe in the context of Judaism’s purity idea in that day. Does that mean that the second antithesis is a basis of the church’s later sexual morality that is hostile to sexuality? Drewermann states that “the church’s sexual morality … begins … with Matthew,” and in opposing it he demands that we restore “to Jesus’ words their original humanity.”42 Yet based on the exegesis that is not all that easy.
It is true that Jesus’ attitude toward women is different from that reported about many rabbis. According to them one must avoid unnecessary contact with women, an idea resulting from the more strict interpretation of the seventh (sixth) commandment. One is not to speak unnecessarily with a woman, not even with one’s own wife (m. ʾAbot 1.5). One is not to walk behind a woman on the street, not to greet her, not to be served by a woman, not to be alone with another woman,44 because even a woman’s voice and hair are lewd. Naturally one should not look at a woman, not even at an unmarried woman,46 because by doing so one is in danger. These Jewish statements are part of an increasing tendency in that day to exclude women from public life, including religious life. Jesus is not to be included in these tendencies, in spite of ascetic inclinations. Jesus did not avoid dealing with women; instead, he affirmed them as persons who were the victims of discrimination. Therefore we may not simply put his second antithesis in the context of increased masculine fear of unchastity and impurity.
However, the difficulty is that this is not explicitly said in the text. He defines adultery, but he does not speak of the love that should characterize the relationship of a husband and a wife. He sharpens the Torah by limiting the man’s sexual freedom somewhat, but he speaks of the woman only as the potential object of masculine desire. What, therefore, is the context of this antithesis with Jesus? Unfortunately, that remains uncertain. Was Jesus concerned to protect the disadvantaged woman? Did he want to liberate her and to integrate her by means of an open life together—a life characterized neither by sexual desire nor by fear of it? Against such a claim is the thesis that Jesus was primarily interested in the sanctity of marriage. In my judgment the prohibition of divorce that Matthew immediately adds points in this direction, as does the formulation of the text as an antithesis to the seventh (sixth) commandment of the Decalogue. Also supporting this thesis are the logia added in vv. 29–30* in which the issue is the “causing to stumble” (σκανδαλίζειν), the seduction to sexual desire, and not the possibility of a new way of living together for husband and wife.
The antithetical form is to be interpreted in much the same way as in vv. 21–22*. Based on the kingdom of God, the sanctity of marriage ordained by God is so important for Jesus that even a man’s covetous look at a married woman is an act of adultery. That means on the one hand that the legal fact of adultery in the sense of OT-Jewish law moves to the background. That is not what interests Jesus in light of the kingdom of God. If the sanctity of a marriage is already destroyed by a covetous look, the “normal” acts of adultery are not debatable anyway. On the other hand, it means an endless intensifying of the seventh (sixth) commandment. Not only legal facts but the inner feelings of the human (masculine!) heart are affected by it. The Torah lays such a total demand on the whole person that its function as the basis of Israel’s legal system becomes completely irrelevant.

■ 29–30* The addition of vv. 29–30* confirms that Matthew understands v. 28* as a radical demand of obedience. At issue is not simply a mirror of the soul that reveals one’s own sin. There is no tendency apparent here to moderate the demands on a practical level. Matthew speaks—perhaps unlike his source—first of being led astray by the “eye,” because that immediately follows vv. 27–28*. In rabbinic texts, however, the hand is also regarded as an instrument of adultery and of unchastity.50
Are the logia meant realistically or symbolically? A “realistic” interpretation is possible to the degree that occasionally cutting off the hands is demanded in rabbinic texts precisely in the case of sexual offenses. Admittedly, there is little evidence that it was actually carried out. In the history of interpretation the literal interpretation was for all practical purposes unanimously rejected.52 An interpretation of “tear out” and “cut off” as hyperboles was more likely. The sense then was that one is no longer to use the eye and the hand for sinful purposes. As the interpretation of the ancient church already recognized, however, the problem with such an interpretation was the addition of “right” (δεξιός) to the eye. Why should the right eye play a special role in the seduction to sin? “Right” symbolically represents “good,” “costly,” “important.” The double saying may be a warning against sin attached to established expressions:55 in order to avoid sin one is to give up everything, even what is most important and most treasured. The perspective is one of judgment that makes even physical integrity a matter of secondary importance. The original saying was probably not limited to sexual offenses; such sayings can be applied to many areas.
With these logia Matthew wants to introduce his readers to a radical way of living free of compromise. Probably of special importance for him was the reference to the concluding condemnation in judgment (cf. vv. 25–26*). It is no accident that the word “Gehenna” (γέεννα) appears in the first and second antitheses and that both of them end with the prospect of possible condemnation in the last judgment.
History of Interpretation
The church’s tradition has interpreted the sayings allegorically and in so doing has been especially interested in the meaning of “eye” and “hand.” The church’s interpreters have discovered fields of application for these verses beyond the area of sexuality. Here they were influenced in part by 18:8–9*. The most common interpretation refers to the covetous spirit, evil thoughts, and false objectives of the will, all of which one must abandon.56 Under the influence of John Chrysostom the interpretation frequently refers to false friends, perhaps even family members and other relations from whom one should keep apart for the sake of the gospel, even if one has special affection for them.58 Finally, we must mention the interpretation in terms of the body of Christ, the church, which in certain circumstances must abandon some of its members for the sake of the life of the whole body. Of course, based on the literal meaning of 5:29–30*, these areas of application discovered with the aid of allegorical interpretation miss the mark. They are important, however, because they call attention to the openness of the two logia. In addition, they are hermeneutically interesting, because they show that the ancient church has fundamentally understood biblical texts as open texts and has worked out their various possible applications with the help of allegorical methods of interpretation.

We look back over the entire text. Our interpretation has left us with the impression that Jesus was more interested in marriage here than in love. We have not really been able to free this text from its ambivalent history of interpretation, especially in a sexual ethic of the church that was hostile to sexuality. We have not been able to interpret it in a convincing way based on the new openness that Jesus elsewhere shows in his relationships to women. We have also not been able, following Drewermann’s wish, convincingly to separate Matthew from Jesus and to declare that Matthew alone was the originator of the church’s mistaken developments. The text remains ambivalent. We should not let our horror about the shadows it has cast on the history of the church cause us to overlook its positive potential meaning. Among these positive elements is its holistic understanding of the person that does not permit a separation between inner and outer, between what is legally punishable and mere thoughts. It is also a positive thing that precisely the “privileged” men are admonished that total obedience of the heart is also demanded of them. It also may be part of the text’s positive potential that Jesus unmistakably calls attention to the sanctity of marriage, an institution that for him to a special degree corresponds to God’s will. I say “may be,” because it is precisely on this point that there are many critical questions.
2.2.3 Third Antithesis: On Divorce (5:31–32*)
Heinrich Baltensweiler, Die Ehe im Neuen Testament: Exegetische Untersuchungen über Ehe, Ehelosigkeit und Ehescheidung (Zurich: Zwingli, 1967) 82–119.
Johannes B. Bauer, “Bemerkungen zu den matthäischen Unzuchtsklauseln (Mt 5,32; 19,9),” in Josef Zmijewski and Ernst Nellessen, eds., Begegnung mit dem Wort: Festschrift für Heinrich Zimmermann (BBB 53; Bonn: Hanstein, 1980) 23–33.
Berger, Gesetzesauslegung 1.508–75.
Markus Bockmuehl, “Matt 5.32; 19.9 in the Light of Prerabbinic Halakhah,” NTS 35 (1989) 291–95.
Joseph Bonsirven, Le divorce dans le Nouveau Testament (Paris: Desclée, 1948).
Henri Crouzel, L’Église primitive face au divorce: Du premier au cinquième siècle (ThH 13; Paris: Beauchesne, 1971).
Gerhard Delling, “Ehescheidung,” RAC 4 (1959) 707–19.
Max Denner, Die Ehescheidung im Neuen Testament (Würzburg: Schöningh, 1910).
Hartwig Dieterich, Das protestantische Eherecht in Deutschland bis zur Mitte des 17. Jahrhunderts (Jus Ecclesiasticum 10; Munich: Claudius, 1970).
Hans Dombois, Unscheidbarkeit und Ehescheidung in den Traditionen der Kirche: Ist die Unauflöslichkeit der Ehe absolut? (TEH 190; Munich: Kaiser, 1976).
David L. Dungan, The Sayings of Jesus in the Churches of Paul: The Use of the Synoptic Tradition in the Regulation of Early Church Life (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971) 102–31.
Jacques Dupont, Mariage et divorce dans L’Évangile (Bruges: Desclée de Brouwer, 1959).
Eheverständnis und Ehescheidung: Empfehlungen des Interkonfessionellen Arbeitskreises für Ehe- und Familienfragen (Mainz: Matthias-Grünewald, 1971).
Joseph A. Fitzmyer, “The Matthean Divorce-Texts and Some New Palestinian Evidence,” in To Advance the Gospel: New Testament Studies (New York: Crossroad, 1981) 79–111.
Heinrich Greeven, “Ehe nach dem Neuen Testament,” NTS 15 (1968/69) 365–88.
Paul Hoffmann, “Jesu Wort von der Ehescheidung und seine Auslegung in der neutestamentlichen Überlieferung,” Conc 6 (1970) 326–32.
Hoffmann-Eid, Jesus, 109–46.
Abel Isaksson, Marriage and Ministry in the New Temple: A Study with Special Reference to Mt. 19.1–12 and 1. Cor. 11.3–16 (ASNU 24; Lund: Gleerup, 1965).
Gerhard Lohfink, “Jesus und die Ehescheidung: Zur Gattung und Sprachintention von Mt 5,32,” in Helmut Merklein and Joachim Lange, eds., Biblische Randbemerkungen: Schülerfestschrift für Rudolf Schnackenburg zum 60. Geburtstag (2d ed.; Würzburg: Echter Verlag, 1974) 207–17.
Evald Lövestam, “Divorce and Remarriage in the New Testament,” Jewish Law Annual 11 (1981) 47–65.
William F. Luck, Divorce and Remarriage: Recovering the Biblical View (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987) 86–129.
Corrado Marucci, Parole di Gesù sul divorzio: Ricerche scritturistische previe ad un ripensamento teologico canonistico e astorle della dottrina cattolica dell’indissolubilità del matrimonio (Aloisiana 16; Brescia: Morcelliana, 1982) 191–221, 333–406.
Joseph Moingt, “Le divorce ‘pour motif d’impudicité’ (Mt 5,32; 19:9),” RSR 56 (1968) 337–84.
Pierre Nautin, “Divorce et remariage dans la tradition de L’Église latine,” RSR 62 (1974) 7–54.
Niederwimmer, Askese, 12–41.
V. Norskov Olsen, The New Testament Logia on Divorce: A Study of Their Interpretation from Erasmus to Milton (BGBE 10; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1971).
Anton Ott, Die Auslegung der neutestamentlichen Texte über die Ehescheidung (NTAbh 3.1–3; Münster: Aschendorff, 1911).
Rudolf Pesch, Freie Treue: Die Christen und die Ehescheidung (Freiburg: Herder, 1971).
Ilona Riedel-Spangenberger, Die Trennung von Tisch, Bett und Wohnung (cc 1128–1132 CIC) und das Herrenwort Mk 10,9: Eine Untersuchung zur Theologie und Geschichte des kirchlichen Ehetrennungsrechts (EHS.T 102; Frankfurt: Lang, 1978).
Alexander Sand, “Die Unzuchtsklausel in Mt 5,31, 32 und 19,3–9,” MThZ 20 (1969) 118–29.
Berndt Schaller, “Die Sprüche über Ehescheidung und Wiederheirat in der synoptischen Überlieferung,” in Eduard Lohse, Christoph Burchard, and Berndt Schaller, eds., Der Ruf Jesu und die Antwort der Gemeinde: Exegetische Untersuchungen: Joachim Jeremias zum 70. Geburtstag gewidmet von seinen Schülern (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1970) 226–46.
Phillip Sigal, The Halakah of Jesus of Nazareth according to the Gospel of Matthew (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1986).
Wolfgang Trilling, “Zum Thema: Ehe und Ehescheidung im Neuen Testament,” ThV 16 (1986) 73–84.
Fritz Vogt, Das Ehegesetz Jesu (Freiburg: Herder, 1910).
Ben Witherington, “Matt 5.32 and 19.9—Exception or Exceptional Situation?” NTS 31 (1985) 571–81.

For additional literature see Bo Reicke, “Ehe, Eherecht, Ehescheidung,” TRE 9 (1982) 324–25; also above, II A on the Sermon on the Mount (5:1–7:29) and II A 2.2 on the antitheses (5:21–48).

31 “But it was said:
‘Whoever dismisses his wife must give her a bill of divorce.’
32 But I say to you:
Everyone who dismisses his wife, except for a matter of unchastity, makes her commit adultery;
and whoever marries a dismissed woman commits adultery.”
The introductory phrase is formulated very briefly, not only because the symmetry of the antithesis required a brief formulation but primarily because this antithesis is closely connected to the preceding antithesis.2 Unlike the first two antitheses, it does not directly relate to the language of the thesis. Instead, with the double “to commit adultery” (active)/“adultery to be done” (passive) (μοιχεύω/μοιχάομαι) it relates directly to v. 27*; still at issue is the understanding of the sixth (seventh in Judaism) commandment of the Decalogue. Verse 32a* and b are formulated as a mashal with synthetic parallelism. It becomes even clearer if one omits “except for a matter of unchastity” (παρεκτὸς λόγου πορνείας), which is special material not found in Luke 16:18* and Mark 10:11*, and if one assumes that the formulation “makes her commit adultery” (ποιεῖ αὐτὴν μοιχευθῆναι) is based on a brief Aramaic Aphel form.
Sources and Redaction
We are indebted to Matthew for the wording of the thesis in v. 31*. The abbreviated introductory formula follows Mark 10:4* (cf. 19:7*). Here we again have an example of redaction that is completely based on tradition. Verse 32* had been transmitted to Matthew in two versions: in that of Mark 10:11* (= Matt 19:9*) and in one similar to Luke 16:18*. However, the hypothesis of a Q text is not certain. The wording cannot be reconstructed with any precision, nor can we find a meaningful context for the logion in Q. The unchastity exception was probably already available to Matthew. Its wording is different from that in 19:9*, where the evangelist presumably inserted it into the Markan text.4 Furthermore, 19:3–9* shows that the emphasis of Matthew’s reflection on the prohibition of divorce lies elsewhere. Presumably the possibility of a divorce in the case of unchastity reflects the practice of the Jewish Christian Matthean community. “Whoever” (ὃς ἐάν) in v. 32* comes from Matthew.5
Tradition History and Origin
The question of the original form of the logion v. 32*, Luke 16:18*, and Mark 10:11* is very controversial. Most improbable is, in my judgment, the suggestion that Mark 10:11* comes the closest to the original form.6 Luke 16:18* and Matt 5:32* have in common that they address only the man and that they forbid marriage with a divorced woman. Apart from the unchastity exception, which is certainly secondary, there are the following differences.
a. The passive formulation “makes her commit adultery” (ποιεῖ αὐτὴν μοιχευθῆναι) in Matt 5:32a* presupposes the basic Jewish conviction that the husband cannot violate his own marriage. Is that a Jewish Christian community’s later moderation and adaptation to its surroundings? If so, then the secret provocation of Jesus’ original saying in Luke 16:18* would be that it implies that the man can violate his own marriage.7 If the Lukan version were closer to the original, Jesus’ saying would have been more “revolutionary.” Or is the active “commit adultery” in Luke 16:18* a secondary adaptation to non-Jewish circumstances? That is more probable, because “secret” provocations are not rhetorically effective, since one does not notice them. In any case, the desire to find a saying of Jesus that is as un-Jewish as possible must not lead us to prefer the Lukan version.
b. Is “and marries another” (καὶ γαμῶν ἑτέραν) original in Luke 16:18a* and omitted in Matt 5:32a* when the unchastity exception was inserted, perhaps because of the length of the saying? Or is it an addition, based perhaps on Mark 10:11*, that softens the saying and at the same time makes it legally more practical in the sense that the divorce becomes final and thus adultery only when the man remarries? The symmetry of the two parts, Matt 5:32a*, b* and Luke 16:18a*, b* supports the conclusion that the saying did not speak originally of the husband’s remarriage.
That means that we can already make a decision about the main problem. Is the prohibition of the marriage of a divorced woman (Matt 5:32b*) part of the original logion that then from the very beginning would have contained a parallelism? Matthew and Luke pass this prohibition on. In, or perhaps prior to, Mark it was probably replaced by v. 12*. In my judgment there is no reason to regard Matt 5:32b* and Luke 16:18b* as secondary.8 The logion probably goes back to Jesus in this form, that is, with Semitic parallelism. If that is true, it has important consequences for our interpretation. If Jesus has prohibited the marriage of a divorced woman, it is difficult to understand his prohibition of divorce as siding with the disadvantaged woman.

A great many of the scholarly articles or books on this text that have appeared since the 1960s come from Catholic writers and have the primary or incidental purpose of demonstrating its agreement with Catholic marriage law. We thus enter a theologically sensitive and controversial area with this text. From the literature it is less clear that it could also call into question Protestant divorce practices.

■ 31* The third antithesis differs from the two previous antitheses. The thesis in v. 31* contains a very special OT regulation. It is a free paraphrase of the OT regulation of divorce in Deut 24:1*. Strictly speaking there is no command there; the regular divorce with a bill of divorce is mentioned only in connection with the prohibition to the man against remarrying his divorced ex-wife (Deut 24:4*). Matthew contrasts this regulation with an antithesis that only indirectly has something to do with it—namely, Jesus’ qualification of divorce as adultery except in the case of πορνεία. How can one speak of “fulfilling the law” in the sense of 5:17–19* with this antithesis that Matthew has created himself? On the surface an answer is implied by v. 31*. With the possibility of a divorce in the case of πορνεία there remains one case where one writes a bill of divorce in the sense of Deut 24:1*. The formulation of the antithesis offers a second clue. Its wording is related not to the thesis in v. 31* but back to v. 27*. Since Matthew is concerned that the sixth (seventh in Judaism) commandment of the Decalogue must be kept, divorce for him is tantamount to adultery. In 19:3–9* the evangelist will make clearer how he understands the relationship of Jesus’ will to the OT regulation about the bill of divorce. Jesus’ demand reflects God’s original will. Moses’ commandment about the bill of divorce is merely a concession whose continuing validity is limited. Moses’ concession (19:8* = ἐρρέθη [“it was said”], 5:31*) is coordinated with and subordinate to Jesus’ proclamation of the original will of God (“but I say to you,” 5:32* = 19:9*).

■ 32* With v. 32* Matthew inserts a traditional saying of Jesus as the antithesis.
For Jesus

Whoever dismisses his wife causes adultery to be done with her. As was the case with the preceding antithesis, this logion applies only to the man, because in Judaism only the man can dismiss his wife.10 No further thought is given to the situation of the women, who are essentially objects of marriage, of divorce, and even of adultery; they appear only “passively.” It is not easy to interpret the prohibition of divorce in the framework of Jesus’ proclamation. The most common tendency is to connect it to Jesus’ affirmation of women, who in that day were regarded as “in all things inferior.” It is said that by understanding marriage as “an undivided whole that cannot be abolished by the law” he frees the woman from her dependency as a legal object and possession of the husband and discloses “the reality of the interpersonal relationship” of marriage.12 Thus the prohibition of divorce would be an expression of the love of Jesus and God for the disadvantaged woman. However, a number of points advise caution. First of all, it is puzzling that the woman nowhere appears in this antithesis as an active subject. Then it is to be observed that the Jesus logion combines the prohibition of divorce with the prohibition against marrying a divorced woman. While that is consistent, since in Judaism the regular divorce was designed to make it possible for the woman to remarry, this prohibition could be devastating for the divorced woman. It is, to put it mildly, “out of touch with reality,”14 and it is understandable only if one assumes that Jesus did not consider that in spite of this will of God there were in Israel unmarried, divorced women living in very difficult circumstances. The prohibition against marrying a divorced woman is in no way in the interest of the disadvantaged woman. Yet the Jewish commandment to the man to repay the dowry if there is a divorce meant a practical and effective protection for her.16 Thus Jesus is thinking in terms of God’s pure, unconditional will—that is, in terms of marriage—rather than in terms of love for the disadvantaged woman. In that sense the controversy story of Mark 10:2–12* has correctly understood him. He stands here in a biblical and Jewish tradition that fundamentally rejected divorce: “I hate divorce, says the Lord” (Mal 2:16*). In Qumran then divorce was presumably completely eliminated.17 For Jesus also the issue was probably that marriage and thus God’s will was inviolate. There appears to be a Qumran-like element here.
We must also critically examine another thesis. Many say that Jesus’ prohibition of marriage is not a sentence of law but a principle, a provocation,19 parenesis in the form of a sentence of law, “alienated” legal language analogous to 5:22* and 28*21 designed to convey a fundamental, irrevocable ethical demand. The relevance of this thesis for the present debate on the divorce laws of the various churches is considerable. Formally, v. 32* is an apodictic sentence of law that ends with a statement of guilt rather than with an announcement of punishment.23 Verses 22* and 28* show that such sentences of law can be used parenetically; then the sentence of law strengthens the parenesis. However, v. 32* has a different character from that of vv. 22* and 28*. Unlike an insult or a seductive look, a prohibition of divorce can be legally enforced and checked. One can see that in the community regulations of Qumran. Therefore, all early Christian communities have drawn legal conclusions from Jesus’ prohibition of divorce. By adding “and marries another,” Mark 10:11* indicates when the divorce becomes final and actionable. With his “privilege,” in 1 Cor 7:12–17* Paul does not set aside the Lord’s prohibition; he issues an opinion at the point where the community, which stands under the Lord’s command, and the world intersect. In any case, with his stipulation Matthew clearly shows that he understands Jesus’ prohibition of divorce as a valid regulation in his community24 and that he therefore can formulate an exception. In the light of this unanimous evidence in early Christianity it would appear to be problematic to accuse him of turning an ethical demand of Jesus into a law. Of course, Jesus did not establish a fellowship with a legal structure. However, his demand is, as it were, a potential law for eschatological Israel in the dawning of the kingdom of God. Contrasting law and parenesis misses the point.
For Matthew

In Matthew’s community Jesus’ principle was practiced in such a way that divorce was permitted only in the case of πορνεία. The literature on this stipulation is vast. What has the discussion established?
1. Παρεκτός (“apart from,” “except”) can only be understood in the sense of an exception: in the case of πορνεία the prohibition of divorce is no longer in effect.
Because the philological evidence is unequivocal, other interpretations have largely disappeared, such as the “inclusive” interpretation (“whoever dismisses his wife commits adultery even in the case of unchastity”) and the “preterite” interpretation (“whoever dismisses his wife—ignoring for a moment the case of previous unchastity—commits adultery”).27 Jacques Dupont correctly observes that the true difficulty lies not in explaining the biblical text but in the fact that so many good authors did not understand it.
2. Πορνεία can refer only to sexual misbehavior, and in the case of a married woman this as a rule would be adultery.
Πορνεία is a general word for “every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse.” If a particular kind of unchastity is meant, that is always made clear by the context. Of course, in the OT tradition πορνεία can also figuratively mean “idolatry.”
a. In my judgment these observations include a decisive rejection of an older interpretation that has been renewed by Bonsirven and Baltensweiler31 and that today is especially popular in Catholic exegesis, namely, the interpretation that understands πορνεία in the sense of the prohibition of incest in Leviticus 18. In that case, perhaps similar to Acts 15:20* and 29*, Matthew would have declared illegitimate those marriages made between close relatives according to Gentile custom.33 However, this interpretation seems completely improbable to me, because: (1) Nothing in the context suggests that Matthew understands πορνεία with such a narrow meaning and intends to relate his exception only to former Gentiles. (2) Correspondingly, not a single church father and not a single interpreter before the modern period would have understood what his concern was. (3) The word πορνεία does not appear in Leviticus 18. (4) Since “except for a matter of unchastity” (παρεκτὸς λόγου πορνείας) is a clear reference to Deut 24:1*,34 the subject under discussion must be the reasons for the divorce of legitimate marriages and not the invalidity of illegitimate marriages. Thus this exegesis is a “sleight of hand.” The only thing it has going for it is that it prevents the emergence of a (in my opinion supposed) conflict between this passage and Catholic church law.
b. The general meaning of πορνεία makes it impossible to define “unchastity” more narrowly. It cannot be defined more precisely as unchastity during the betrothal, as premarital sexual relations,37 as the wife’s ongoing unrepented adultery or prostitution, as concubinage,39 as “wild libertinism,” or as flirtation with another man.41 The exegete’s sexual morals are almost always the progenitor of such attempts.
c. It may be that in this passage πορνεία means the wife’s sexual activity outside the marriage, that is, genuine adultery. That follows from the context, which clearly speaks of married women. Furthermore, this best fits the controversy in Judaism over the interpretation of the “disgraceful matter” presupposed in Matt 19:3–9*.43 At most one must explain why πορνεία is used instead of “adultery” (μοιχεία). There are three reasons. (1) In the tradition of biblical language the root μοιχ- is more likely used of men, the root πορν- more of women. (2) The two roots do not have different meanings; instead, μοιχεία is a specific form of πορνεία so that the two words can also appear as synonyms. (3) A double μοιχεία / μοιχεύω (adultery/commit adultery) would be awkward.
Thus Jesus’ prohibition of divorce was in effect in the Matthean community, unless there was a case of adultery. Here it accepts a basic Jewish conviction: unchastity is an abomination that pollutes the land of Israel. One did not even ask whether in the light of God’s love adultery might not also be forgiven.47 Instead, the community seems to think, similar to Judaism, in cultic ritual terms: adultery and unchastity are a defilement that destroys marriage. Since adultery already destroys the marriage, for Judaism divorce is mandatory when adultery happens. Thus according to the Jewish Christian Matthew, a marriage must be terminated in the case of πορνεία, because according to Jewish conviction continuing it would contradict God’s commandment. The earliest Christian history of the interpretation of the text also usually sees it this way. Thus the Matthean community did not understand this exception as the liberalizing of a commandment that was too severe but as God’s commandment that protected marriage from impurity. Thus the practice of the Matthean community is close to the Shammaites, while Jesus himself is more likely close to the Essenes.

■ 32b* The prohibition against marrying a divorced woman expands the OT prohibition against remarrying one’s own divorced wife (Deut 24:4*) to include all divorced women. Here there is no exception.50 This prohibition also has a cultic-ritual sound. Its catastrophic consequences for divorced women are tempered in the Matthean community, at least for the wives of Christians. Since divorce is possible only in the case of unchastity, it is tantamount to a prohibition against marrying an adulteress.
Thus the antithesis reflects the marriage regulations practiced in the Matthean community. It reflects the evangelist’s voice only to the degree that he explicitly contrasts this practice with the OT. Matt 19:3–9* will make clear how he does this. It remains noteworthy that here the evangelist does not subordinate the practice of his community to the basic idea of God’s forgiveness, as he does, for example, in 18:15–17* with the excommunication regulation. To that extent our text is not specifically Matthean. It is Matthean, however, that the evangelist stands behind the practice of his community.
History of Interpretation

The history of interpretation reflects the different legal regulations of divorce in the various confessions. The basic position of the major confessions is known; every pastor experiences its consequences. Here I would like merely to suggest some main lines, and I will limit myself to the positions of the major churches.
a. In my judgment, in practice the Catholic position, which provides the possibility of a separation of table, bed, and dwelling with a continuing vinculum of the marriage, comes especially close to the Matthean position. That may be surprising in view of the flood of Catholic literature, which is probably an expression of a great uncertainty. To be sure, there are differences. Matthew speaks of the “dismissal” (ἀπόλυσις) and makes no distinction between the possible separation and what, with a continuing marriage bond, is the impossible divorce. However, the decisive point in which Matthew and Catholic practice converge lies in the prohibition against marrying a divorced woman. Corresponding to it is the denial of the possibility of a second marriage, which the church fathers generally maintained with great decisiveness.55 Not until the fourth century is there the beginning of a change in the East. Also important since then is the tendency to treat the husband and wife equally in the eyes of church law.57 Matt 5:32* was directed only to the man. If related to the woman, it would follow from 5:32b* that no woman can marry a divorced man. That means that if the man and the woman are consistently treated equally, 5:32* leads to the demand that neither divorced men nor divorced women be married. That is, it leads to a form of divorce (only in the case of unchastity!) that fundamentally differs from Jewish divorce by containing no possibility of a second marriage. That is practically, although not terminologically, close to the separation of bed, table, and dwelling.58 In my judgment no ecclesiastical legal solution is as close to the Matthean solution as is the Catholic. That becomes clear as soon as one includes v. 32b* in the deliberations.59 The numerous, in the last analysis apologetically motivated, “evasions” with regard to 5:32*, precisely on the Catholic side, are in my judgment an unnecessary labor of love. The main distinction between the Matthean and the Catholic position is that for the Jew, Matthew, in the case of a divorce because of adultery it is presumably impossible for the wife to be accepted again.
b. In the Orthodox churches a divorced person who is repentant has the possibility of a second marriage. The second marriage is already cautiously affirmed by some of the Greek fathers. Always important in the Eastern tradition was the conviction that adultery in fact already destroyed a marriage.62 Thus the possibility of a second marriage for divorced persons was conceded, based not on divine law (τάξις) but on the pastoral principle of fairness (ἐπιείκεια, οἰκονομία). The grounds for divorce here are restrictive, but they are not completely limited to adultery. From Matt 5:32* πορνεία is taken seriously as a reason for divorce, but the prohibition against marrying divorced persons is, as a concession to human weakness (cf. 19:8*), ignored.64
c. The Orthodox position was renewed in the churches of the Reformation, perhaps due to the influence of Erasmus. The reformers also emphasize that adultery destroys a marriage and thus makes a divorce possible.66 A factor that was essential for the further development and new in comparison with the churches of the East is the reformers’ understanding of marriage as a “secular thing.” This understanding had various consequences. It led first of all to a great deal of uncertainty how the problem of divorce is to be solved as a problem of church law. The short-term result was that there were mixed ecclesiastical-secular courts during the time of the Reformation. Soon the jurisdiction over divorce became a secular matter alongside which there were only initial impulses in the direction of binding church regulations. Corresponding to this development theologically is the basic conviction that Jesus’ prohibition of divorce is not a law but an ethical demand, which doubtless must be distinguished from civil law.69 That made it possible to give pastoral care, led by love, and to take seriously the concrete situation of the marriage. At the same time, however, it meant that for all practical purposes the church conformed to secular marriage law or to the secular (sinful!) reality of marriage and that it proclaimed God’s grace in all situations without distinction.
Meaning for Today

The need is great in all confessions. The inflexible divorce law in Catholicism appears to many to be the opposite of God’s love and forgiveness. On the other hand, the absence of a practiced church divorce law in Protestantism means that the pastors are left to their own devices so that they are able to do little more than bless all who want to have their marriages blessed. They experience the reverse side of Luther’s grand principle that love does not at all need laws,72 and they may ask themselves whether laws might not also help love so that it does not accept everything and keep quiet about everything.
The history of Matt 5:32* in Catholic church law clearly shows that simply going back to the biblical text does not solve the problems. On the contrary, when Catholics look at the regulation of 5:32* in a merely biblicistic way, they can be quite satisfied with things continuing as they are in their own church. However, 5:32* and the modern Catholic church are worlds apart. Marriage is no longer what it was in Jesus’ day;73 people’s experiences in marriage, not least of all the experiences of women, are different; and above all the church itself is different from Matthew’s community. Both Matthew, with his insertion of the unchastity exception, and especially Paul, with his situationally conditioned instructions of 1 Cor 7:10–16*, show how flexible one could be in the NT even in adapting laws given by the Lord to the situation. Where is this biblical and humane flexibility of the law in the church?75
Protestants, on the other hand, who suffer under their church’s laxness, perceive Matthew’s clear ecclesiastical regulation and the absoluteness of Jesus’ requirement of life-long monogamy to be a positive challenge to engage in reflection. The immovable pillars of the divine order, which in the Catholic church become for many people a burden and coercion, keep alive in the Protestant churches, in which it appears that all cats are gray and any lifestyle is permitted, the essential question whether there are not guidelines established by God that Christians can disregard only with difficulty.
When I speak of “guidelines,” however, I have shifted the emphasis away from what it is in the biblical text. Jesus’ categorical prohibition of divorce, formulated as a sentence of law, was more than a guideline. I have shifted the emphasis because based on the center of the biblical message I myself have questions about such a categorical prohibition of divorce. My most important question is how God’s love for people—the center of the biblical message—and the unconditional requirement of the indissolubility of marriage are related to one another. The experiences of the history of interpretation and especially our modern experiences show that in this case an unconditional demand can also imprison love instead of serve as its guideline.
2.2.4 Fourth Antithesis: On Swearing (5:33–37*)
Otto Bauernfeind, “Der Eid in der Sicht des Neuen Testaments,” in Hildburg Bethke, ed., Eid, Gewissen, Treuepflicht (Frankfurt: Stimme-Verlag, 1965) 79–112.
Gerhard Dautzenberg, “Ist das Schwurverbot Mt 5,33–37; Jak 5,12 ein Beispiel für die Torakritik Jesu?” BZ NF 25 (1981) 47–66.
Dennis C. Duling, “ ‘[Do Not Swear …] by Jerusalem Because It Is the City of the Great King,’ (Matt 5:35),” JBL 110 (1991) 291–309.
Takaaki Haraguchi, “The Prohibition of Oath-Taking in the Gospel of Matthew” (diss., Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago, 1991).
Rudolf Hirzel, Der Eid: Ein Beitrag zu seiner Geschichte (Leipzig: Hirzel, 1902).
Martin Honecker, “Der Eid heute angesichts seiner reformatorischen Beurteilung und der abendländischen Eidestradition,” in Gottfried Niemeier, ed., Ich schwöre (Munich: Kaiser, 1968) 27–92.
Bernd Kollmann, “Das Schwurverbot Mt 5,33–37/Jak 5,12 im Spiegel antiker Eidkritik,” BZ 40 (1996) 179–93.
Ernst Kutsch, “ ‘Eure Rede aber sei ja ja, nein nein,’ ” EvTh 20 (1960) 206–18.
G. Stählin, “Zum Gebrauch von Beteuerungsformeln im Neuen Testament,” NovT 5 (1962) 115–43.
Zeller, Mahnsprüche, 124–26.

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

33 “Again you have heard that it was said to the ancients:
‘You shall not commit perjury,
but you shall repay your oaths to the Lord.’
34 But I say to you:
Do not swear at all,
neither by heaven
for it ‘is God’s throne’
35 nor by the earth
for it ‘is his footstool.’
nor toward Jerusalem,
for it ‘is the city of the great king’;
36 nor shall you swear by your head,
for you cannot make a single hair white or black.
37 Your word shall be: ‘Yes, yes,’ ‘no, no’;
Anything more than these is of evil.”
The thesis is reminiscent of v. 21*; as in the earlier case there are a complete introductory formula and two parts. It introduces the second half of the Matthean antitheses. The thesis (v. 33*) contains a direct quotation from a biblical text, in contrast to the other primary antitheses (vv. 21*, 27*) but similar to v. 31*. For the first time the antithesis is formulated as a prohibition (as in v. 39*). This prohibition contains no direct linguistic connection to v. 33*.2 The general prohibition (ὅλως: “at all”) is developed in four clauses introduced with “neither/nor” (μήτε). Three of them have parallel wording: “heaven,” “earth,” and “Jerusalem” are matching terms; each of the explanatory “because” clauses contains an OT allusion and ends with a reference to God, the last of which is especially full-toned. The fourth clause introduced with μήτε, v. 36*, differs from the others in its content, with the nontheological reason, and in its form, with the repeated “swear” (ὀμόσῃς), the second person singular address, and the absence of a biblical quotation. Verse 37* is a new main clause with the address in the second person plural, as in v. 34*.
Matthew appears to have taken over the entire traditional unit, vv. 33–37a*, from a source, probably from his written antitheses source.3 Linguistically, he might himself have provided only the final clause in v. 37b*.4
Tradition History
The antithesis was not produced in a single casting. Verses 34–35* and 37* have a variant in Jas 5:12* that is not in the form of an antithesis.5
1. The original traditional unit must be reconstructed with the help of Jas 5:12*.6 This verse contains a basic part of the specifications of Matt 5:34–35* but without the scriptural allusions and without v. 36*. Its second part corresponds to the positive exhortation of v. 37*. It does not speak of a double yes or no, however; it formulates with a predicate: “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” The conclusion is completely different from v. 37b*. Basically, two possible reconstructions are conceivable: (a) Verses 33–34a*, b*, and 37* are the core of the original antithesis. Verses 34c–36* are secondary ethicizing expansions. The nonantithetical form of Jas 5:12* is secondary and corresponds to the wisdom style of James.7 (b) The antithesis is not original. In its tradition history the double admonition (prohibition—command) in the second person plural is original in a form close to Jas 5:12*.
In my judgment the second thesis is correct. The antithetical formulation is presumably not original, because the thesis in v. 33* contains no clear OT reference and because there is no verbal correspondence between the thesis and antithesis. Thus vv. 33–34* differ from vv. 21–22* and 27–28*. In addition, the comparison with Jas 5:12* permits the following conclusions: (1) Matt 5:36* is a secondary addition. (2) An element of vv. 34–35* could have belonged to the original text.8 Especially the OT motivations are secondary in Matthew. If that is correct, the prohibition and the command of the admonition were originally approximately of equal length, as in Jas 5:12*.9 (3) The predicative wording of the double yes and no that we find in Jas 5:12* is original. This view is also supported by the fact that it is the prevailing reading in the ancient church’s tradition, even where the influence of Matt 5:37* is clear.10
2. Secondary parts of the text.
2.1. Verse 33*. “You shall not commit perjury” (οὐκ ἐπιορκήσεις, v. 33b*) does not appear in the OT, and it has no linguistic relationship to the Decalogue prohibition against misusing the name of God in Exod 20:7*, or to the prohibition of bearing false witness in Exod 20:16*, or to the prohibition of false swearing in Lev 19:12*. There is, however, a similarly worded prohibition in Hellenistic Jewish parenesis (Ps.-Phoc. 16 = Sib. Or. 2.68; cf. Zech 5:3* LXX; Wis 14:25*; T. Abr. 2.6; Philo Spec. leg. 1.235; 2.26–27, 224; Decal. 88; Did. 2.3). In its wording the second part (v. 33c*) is remotely reminiscent of Ps 49:14* LXX; however, there the reference is to vows (εὐχαί). The two parts of the thesis are unequally related to the antithesis. The prohibition of v. 33b* is sharpened, while the command of v. 33c* is eliminated. Ἀποδίδωμι ὅρκον (to repay an oath) is unusual in Jewish Greek, but it is a Greek expression. Verse 33* probably comes from a Greek-speaking Jewish Christian community that formulated the prohibition against swearing antithetically using the first and second antitheses as a model and recalling the third (second in non-Jewish enumerations) commandment of the Decalogue (Exod 20:7*)13 and similar ethical collections of prohibitions. That v. 33c* is secondary to v. 33b* is an unnecessary assumption.15
2.2. The OT expansions of the three substitute oath formulas in vv. 34–35* are secondary. Since they are nicely symmetrical, they were formulated together. We can no longer say whether they presuppose the Hebrew or the Greek text.
2.3. Verse 36*, which formally follows vv. 34–35*, is very late. It has numerous Hellenistic and Jewish parallels.16
Since the categorical prohibition of swearing is unique in Judaism, it probably comes from Jesus.

In v. 34* Jesus champions a fundamental and unconditional (ὅλως) prohibition of oaths. He is probably the first person to take the widespread critical attitude in antiquity to the logical conclusion of a fundamental prohibition.
There is a widespread criticism of oaths in Hellenism. People are to be trustworthy of themselves and not bound by heteronomous authority. Oaths are unworthy of a free person. It is difficult to determine how the Greek criticism of oaths is related to religion: one is hardly able to describe with any certainty the prohibition of oaths in the Praecepta Delphica. Socrates used the so-called oath of Rhadamanthys and swore “by the dog”; Apollonius of Tyana interprets this as a pious act and as an intentional avoiding of the divine name.21 The religious character of the criticism of oaths becomes clear in a different way in late Stoicism: the true wise man does not need an oath, because he carries God in himself. A much later text interprets oath taking as dragging God down into human affairs.23 However, the criticism of oaths can also take on an enlightened, antireligious note: calling on the gods is superfluous, because human trustworthiness alone is decisive. Religion as a support for the truth has become a decaying foundation.25
Many of these Hellenistic motifs appear again in Philo. The difference is that as a Jew he considers the oath question theologically in terms of the holiness of the name of God, that is, based on the third (second) commandment of the Decalogue. “It says that the simple word of a brave man shall be an oath” (Spec. leg. 2.2). To swear is to defile and to desecrate the divine name (Spec. leg. 4.40; Decal. 93). Even swearing truthfully is only the second best possibility (Decal. 84); the rational thing would be not to swear, because “in the eyes of sensible people much swearing is a proof … of faithlessness” (Spec. leg. 2.8). Philo recommends as an alternative solution the Greek so-called elliptical oath or calling on something other than the highest cause, such as the earth, the sun, or the heaven (Spec. leg. 2.4–5).
According to the reports of Josephus (Bell. 2.135) and Philo (Omn. prob. lib. 84), the Essenes reject oaths and had been released by Herod from the oath of allegiance required of subjects (Ant. 15.371). In reality, however, they are familiar not only with an oath upon entering the sect (1QS 5.8–11 and frequently) but also with oaths in court. Did they forbid private oaths (CD 15.3–4)? It is not an oath itself but violating an oath that for them profanes the name of God (CD 15.4–5).
Prophetic (e.g., Hos 4:2*) and wisdom (Sir 23:9–11*) criticism of much swearing had an effect on rabbinic Judaism. One built a “fence around the Torah” by trying by means of legal regulations and penalties to prevent the misuse of the divine name with false or superfluous oaths,28 but also by emphatically warning in parenesis against frivolous swearing. The third (second) commandment of the Decalogue is understood as a prohibition of false and unnecessary oaths.30 There are only isolated statements that draw the “fence” around the Torah so tightly that they completely reject swearing.

■ 34*, 37* Both the form of the admonition and the prohibition of substitute expressions in vv. 34–35* indicate that, like the rabbis and Philo, Jesus speaks against misusing oaths as verifying embellishments in everyday life.32 We know that in those days swearing was done on the most banal occasions, much more often than today. Thus Jesus is completely in the tendency of Jewish parenesis, but with his categorical (ὅλως) prohibition of swearing he goes beyond it. The examples “also not35 by heaven, by earth, or by Jerusalem” strengthen the prohibition. It is valid in all circumstances, even with substitute formulas. “By heaven” and “by earth” were favorite formulas in Judaism for avoiding the name of God when swearing. Thus the prohibition applies even to the “harmless” oaths. Jesus does not go the way of Philo, who in order to protect the name of God accepts the substitute formulas as a lesser evil.
On the positive side he demands that the human word be unreservedly truthful. “He eliminated the distinction between words that have to be true and those that do not need to be.” There are not to be two kinds of truth among people. In this regard Jesus is in agreement with ancient38 and modern philosophy and with humanism.40 In all of daily life, without any reservation, a person is bound to God. Therefore, one’s word alone is to be absolutely truthful.
Still, that does not cover all of Jesus’ demand. Jesus’ prohibition of oaths is more than a categorical no to lying. The concrete examples in vv. 34–35* show that the issue for him, as for Judaism, is the holiness of God’s name and God’s majesty.41 Expressed differently, Jesus is not only concerned about truthfulness as an ethical principle so that oaths serve as an example of what truthfulness is; he is concerned about oaths, because here one invokes the name of God. The anthropological level—the command to truthfulness—has its theological correlate in the demand to sanctify God’s name. For Jesus, “human truthfulness” originates and exists “only with reference to God,” and this relationship determines not only the special case of the oath but every human yes or no.
As is the case with other categorical demands of Jesus, there is also something unrealistic about this one. Jesus gives no more thought to what kind of problematic consequences would result from his absolute prohibition of oaths than he does with his demand to reject violence or with his prohibition of divorce. God’s will takes precedence over everything else. Although it is not explicitly said in the text, one may see in this radicality a sign of the eschatological kingdom of God to which Jesus knew he was bound.44
The Community

■ 33* The community interpreted Jesus’ prohibition of oaths in various ways. Verse 33* states its relationship to the OT. With the antitheses’ form the community here shows that God’s OT legal system is surpassed by Jesus’ proclamation. In this case it is surpassed not only by being deepened—namely, with a more comprehensive sanctification of the name of God—but also by being abrogated—namely, with the rejection of oaths. Verse 33b* and c* belong together as a subject’s negative and positive sides. False oaths are rejected because oaths are made in God’s presence and are valid because of him. Jesus’ opposing position is also fundamental: he rejects any and all oaths. This antithesis is ambivalent toward the biblical will of God. Although Jesus’ prohibition of oaths is the most consistent way of avoiding a false oath (v. 33b*), whoever obeys it will no longer perform any oaths and vows to the Lord (v. 33c*).
That v. 33b* speaks of oaths that assert and v. 33c* of vows is an idea that first appears in modern interpretations.45 In my judgment, in view of the similar sounding formulations (ἐπιορκέω/ὅρκοι [swear falsely/oaths]), readers in that day would hardly have thought of this idea. Furthermore, the distinction between oaths and vows is not sharp in Judaism.47

■ 34–35*, 36* The community’s additions to vv. 34–35* deepen but do not change the original meaning. Thinking of Isa 66:1* and Ps 48:3*, the community strengthens the idea of God’s majesty that stands behind the substitution formulas (cf. 23:22*). The designation of God as “great king” is a frequent biblical metaphor.48 The accents are not shifted until v. 36*. By taking up another assertion formula,49 the verse first shows that the prohibition of oaths is actually to be understood concretely and not merely in a Platonic general sense. However, the argument has shifted. The issue is not primarily God’s power; it is the human lack of power because of which people cannot even change the color of their hair. Much as in 6:27* and 34*, the tone of this verse is one of wisdom-like resignation.

■ 37* Verse 37* is newly formulated in the Matthean tradition. What is meant with the doubled yes or no? Since there are two Jewish sources that understand a double yes as a substitute for an oath,51 some have thought that v. 37* is an expression of a beginning tempering of the prohibition of oaths, claiming that although Matthew still adheres to the prohibition of oaths, he makes available to his community a special formula for asserting the truth.52 That is probably wrong. In Greek, as in Semitic languages,54 as a rule doubling the word serves to intensify it. “Yes, yes,” means nothing more than a real yes, a yes that is true and lasting. Thus even in the Matthean version one cannot speak of an avoidance of the prohibition of oaths.

We can scarcely say with certainty how Matthew himself has interpreted the text. With his concluding “anything more is of evil” he demonstrates that he intends to understand Jesus’ prohibition and command literally. He has Jesus keep his own command. When the high priest “adjures” Jesus to confess himself as the Son of God—presumably to be understood as a challenge to swear with an oath—Jesus does not respond with an oath. He says merely “you said it,” letting the high priest be responsible for his statement without contesting its truth (26:63–64*).
History of Interpretation

Once again the history of the text’s interpretation is characterized by attempting to remove the text’s sting and to soften it or to evade its demand. Admittedly, in the ancient church it was almost always interpreted literally,57 in the Greek-speaking church for a long time after John Chrysostom had thrown his entire weight behind it. In the Latin church the attempts to temper the text began quite early.59 Significantly, the earliest attempts are related to the Constantinian change, as a consequence of which there developed on the government level oaths of loyalty to Christian emperors. An urgent concern of the church is now to reject heathen oath formulas and to establish the “Christian” oath. There are numerous attempts to adapt 5:33–37* to the new reality.
a. For many interpreters the false oath is actually what Jesus’ prohibition is designed to prevent. In order to prevent it, he forbids oaths altogether. Or: Jesus is only interested in preventing frivolous oaths. He forbids oaths, because frivolous oaths become habitual, and habitual oaths lead to false oaths. “Therefore the Savior forbade swearing out of respect for oaths.”63 It was claimed that Paul is an example of the thoughtful use of oaths, since he swore in his letters—that is, in writing and with due thought—but never in his sermons. With this interpretation Jesus’ prohibition of oaths is again brought to the level of rabbinic parenesis and of the OT. Only a few representatives of this interpretation have advocated this, most clearly Calvin, who consciously affirmed the orientation to the Mosaic Law as the final criterion: Jesus forbids “only those oaths forbidden by the law.”
b. One frequently comes across the thesis that Jesus did not forbid oaths in the name of God, only the substitute formulas mentioned in vv. 34c–36*.66 The Christian rejection of substitute formulas is probably based initially on the aversion to “heathen” oath formulas, later in the Protestant area on the aversion to the veneration of saints.
c. The model of a two-level ethic was applied to the fourth antithesis. After Augustine, oaths are regarded as a necessity in view of the “evil of human nature.” By contrast, more is required of monks. A number of monastic rules—for example, the rule of Benedict (chap. 4)—forbid monks to make oaths. In the Middle Ages priests often were also freed from the obligation to perform oaths. It is interesting that into the modern period kings and the aristocracy also tried to claim the same privilege for themselves.
d. Decisive for the reformers’ interpretation is the distinction between the two kingdoms. The prohibition of oaths does not apply to the realm of the state. Luther is able to reduce the distinction to a simple formula, but one that had disastrous consequences, and that is that Jesus’ prohibition does not apply to oaths that are commanded. The necessity of oaths in the realm of the state increasingly moved to the center of the reformers’ statements, in particular in their controversy with the Anabaptists. To prohibit oaths is “a destruction of secular government and justice, for government and justice are based on oaths.”72 Thus the normal practice of Protestantism develops that regards oaths as permitted when one of the following conditions is met. Either an important matter must be involved, or God’s honor must be at stake, or the oath must serve the best interests of a fellow human being, or it must be commanded by someone in authority.
e. Closely related to this interpretation is another type, which understands the difference between the two kingdoms as the difference between this eon and the kingdom of God. Because of sin our antithesis is hardly usable now. One accepts oaths as an “emergency measure”75 and regrettably concludes that “infirmitas … cogit.” Oaths are as necessary as medicine is for sick people.77
f. Finally to be mentioned is a type of recent origin that limits forbidden oaths to promissory oaths—that is, to personal obligations, promises and vows—and that wants to exclude from the prohibition oaths that establish or bear witness to something.
g. References to other NT passages that allegedly could be harmonized with our antithesis play a major role in the total interpretation. In addition to the presumably exegetically false reference to Jesus’ own oath before the high priest in 26:63–64*79 and the reference to Heb 6:16*, Paul in particular plays a role here, since in various ways he calls on God as a witness, precisely in his efforts on behalf of the gospel (Rom 1:9*; 2 Cor 1:23*; Gal 1:20*; Phil 1:8*; 1 Thess 2:4*).80
Thus since the early Middle Ages the entire tradition of the major churches has almost uniformly disregarded Matt 5:33–37* and accepted oaths, even if it often did so with a bad conscience. A few nonconforming groups and individuals stand in opposition to this tradition.
In the Middle Ages it was especially the Cathari and the Waldensians who rejected oaths. After the Reformation the humanists were also able to give the text its due.82 The importance that our text and thus the prohibition of oaths received among the Anabaptists lies on a completely different level. The statement of the Schleitheim Confession is simple and worth heeding: “He says, your speech or your word shall be yes and no, so that no one might understand that he had permitted it. Christ is simply yea and nay, and all those who seek him simply will understand his Word.”84 Once one has clearly understood the commandment, only obedience can follow. With Menno Simons the emphasis shifts to a person’s subjective truthfulness. If the ancient humanistic tradition plays a role here, that is even more the case with the Quaker William Penn, whose influential book on oaths makes use of the entire ancient tradition. According to him, swearing is forbidden by Christ, damaging to human nature because it creates two kinds of truths, and unnecessary.86 It is not surprising that Tolstoy joins the chorus of nonconformists and rejects oaths among other reasons even as a basis of war (pledge of allegiance to the flag!).

The journey through the history of interpretation and its wrong turns is discouraging. It takes little power of persuasion to demonstrate that the interpretation of the nonconformists comes the closest to the text. Nevertheless, the fact that the major churches, obviously under the influence of external considerations, failed to grasp the text should not cause us to overlook the reality that the simple obedience of the nonconformists does not solve all the text’s hermeneutical problems.
a. Questions remain from the total evidence of the NT. Paul and Matt 23:16–22* demonstrate that even in early Christianity there was only limited obedience given to Jesus’ prohibition of oaths. In contrast to the issues of fasting (Mark 2:20*) and the rejection of force (Luke 22:35–36*), however, nowhere here is the question raised about the difference from Jesus’ command. Was Jesus’ prohibition of oaths not well known?89 In any case, Jesus’ prohibition of fasting (Mark 2:19–20*), the regulation about provisions, or even Jesus’ prohibition of divorce show that in early Christianity Jesus’ commandments were nuanced and, in a positive or negative sense, were accommodated.90 What might that mean for the prohibition of oaths?
b. Jesus’ rejection of oaths might come into conflict with the center of the gospel, with love. Therefore in Catholic tradition, following Jer 4:2*, truth, judgment, and justice became the criterion for oaths.91 Even clearer was the Reformation’s interpretation, which made love the standard for performing oaths: “Thus one may also swear out of a duty of love, namely, if one neighbor swears to the other if the other so desires, not … only in spiritual matters.” In the sense of the double commandment Calvin says that it is to “serve a just need—either to defend the Lord’s glory, or to further a brother’s education.”93 Here the reformers have arrived at the point where Matthew himself with his grouping of the antitheses placed the center of Christ’s individual commands (however, without justifying their abolition). Unfortunately, he reflects no more about the relation of the individual commandments to the love commandment than he does about that of the iota and stroke to it. Probably for him they are subordinated to the love commandment in individual cases, while in the major churches the tendency is for all practical purposes to abolish them.
Meaning for Today

To ask about a “true” interpretation of biblical texts today is to ask about our present situation. Truth is always situational. Therefore I may be permitted to make a brief observation about our present situation. It seems to me that in our largely secularized post-Christian and pluralistic countries of northern Europe as far as Jesus’ prohibition of oaths is concerned our situation is completely different from what it was earlier. To a great degree the name of God has disappeared from public life. In the opinion of many people, God is suitable neither as an explanation of historical events, nor as legitimation for an individual’s decisions and deeds, nor as the guarantor or foundation of legal systems or constitutions. It is difficult for many modern people to speak the name of God, because they are aware that with the name a basis of one’s personal life is expressed that should not even be publicly debated, or also because with the name a reality is expressed of which many people no longer have any experience. In contrast to the society in Jesus’ day, what we experience today is not the inflationary use of God’s name but its disappearance from society. Correspondingly, the public oath has lost much of its meaning as an instrument of proof and as a means of obligating oneself. In their maturity modern people know that they are ethically obligated to tell the truth without needing a religious sanction.95 In any case, in most European countries today it is easy to refuse to swear an oath. Indeed, those who do so find a great deal of understanding for and agreement with their action. Today it is much easier to obey the fourth antithesis than any of the others.
What does the intention that stands behind the fourth antithesis mean in the modern situation? That God obligates people to absolute truthfulness is as important and basic as ever. However, that it is God who obligates and empowers Christians to this truthfulness must be made explicit in this secular and godless world.
Luz, U. (2007). Matthew 1–7: a commentary on Matthew 1–7. (H. Koester, Hrsg.) (Rev. ed., S. 203–269). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

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