Six Wrong Teachings Jesus Addressed Explicitly

In the previous two sections of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has first addressed His sermon to the intended audience- those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (v. 6) and those who will experience the trials that they will experience because of Christ (v. 11). He is talking particularly with His disciples. In the second part of His sermon, Jesus instructed those who follow Him to remain faithful to His word alone- neither tainting it nor hiding any part of it.

In this part of His sermon, Jesus is addressing several ways in which the Scriptures have been misrepresented, misused, and wrongfully taught. After exhorting His disciples to remain true to the Scriptures, He is now explaining how popular religion has butchered God’s word before delivering it to the people. This means much in our own culture, which uses almost every verse quoted from Scripture out of context in order to share a message or make application that is itself unbiblical. Let’s look closely at Jesus’ teaching together.

Matthew 5:21-48

“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.

It was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Old Testament use

In this passage, Jesus addresses six wrong teachings concerning the Law that were prevalent in Second Temple Judaism. He quotes each of these teachings from the Old Testament text and addresses the way in which they have been misinterpreted or twisted by the more popular religious teachers of the day. We take this principle seriously and always return to the sources (that’s the Scriptures). We use a Biblical hermeneutic to discern the correct interpretation of any text. We will see how even some of these corrections in Jesus’ sermon have been and are being misused, misinterpreted, and wrongly taught in popular religion today. People in this wretched condition always have a tendency to add what is not in the text or hide away part of the text. It is because we love the darkness and Jesus pointed this out in the previous passage. It is always important for us, like the reformers, the patristics, the apostles, and Christ Himself, to return to the primary source that both drives and informs true faith.

Jesus’ ad fontes

Let’s walk through this passage and see how Jesus corrected the wrong religious teaching of the day, teaching that used Scripture but did not teach Scripture.

You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.

This was part of the Ten Commandments and it can be found in Exodus 20:13, 21:12-13 and Deuteronomy 5:17. As we have already discovered in our current study of Matthew’s Gospel, the Law was given for the purpose of standing as a testimony against the people (Deut. 31:26-29). This means, explicitly, that the Law was given as a mirror and not a checklist. The purpose of the Law wasn’t to get people not to do this outward thing, but to, by the existence of the outward thing contrary to the Law, reveal that people need a new heart and a new character. As Jesus preaches, here, we continue to see this “root produces fruit” principle that we saw last week and will continue to see. So Jesus states that if we have anger in our hearts (this condition that leads to the outward action of murder), we are guilty under the Law. The Law reveals our hearts. Even if we call someone good-for-nothing or fool, we are guilty enough to go into a fiery hell. In order to be perfect, we cannot even harbor hatred or think ill of a single person. I think, if we are to be honest, we miss the mark. It is the point of the Law to reveal that we fall short of God’s glory, but religious people were using, and still do, the Law as a checklist, “I haven’t killed anyone so I think I’m okay.” Jesus’ point is, no we are not okay.

We have already seen that the Gospel is a Gospel calling people to repentance (4:17). Repentance is the proper response when the Law, like a mirror, reveals who we are deep down. We will see that unless we have good roots, we are unable to produce this good fruit (7:15-23).

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.

This is also one of the Ten Commandments and can be found in Exodus 20:14 and Deuteronomy 5:18, directly following the command not to commit murder. The context is the same as with the previous correction. People were using the Law as a checklist when, in actuality, the Law was given to reveal the human condition. If we even look at another woman with lust or desire to have her, we are guilty.

After saying that adultery is committed in the heart, Jesus states that if our eye or hand causes us to sin we should gouge it out or cut it off. Thus, He addresses another wrong teaching that comes from a wrong interpretation of the Law. We will hear from any number of sources that Jesus was using hyperbole in this story. In fact, almost every preacher/teacher will state that Jesus is using hyperbole. This is an easy conclusion to come to in a culture where we don’t know the historic Rabbinical teachings. If we don’t look at the historical context, it seems obvious that Jesus is exaggerating something in order to make a point. He is not. He is quoting from the oral, traditional teachings of the Rabbis. After the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70, these oral, traditional teachings were written in the Talmud, this one in particular is in Talmud-Mas. Nadah 13. The earliest current copy of this is dated to A.D. 1342. These oral teachings were developed in the first two century B.C. through A.D. 70 using a hermeneutic whereby details were found in the Torah (first five books of the Bible) and were extrapolated on in order to reveal some knowledge that wasn’t necessarily in the text. The Gnostics would do the same thing with the Gospels. Romanism would do the same thing by adding to the Scriptures. Now, we see the same thing happening with the “Word of Faith Movement,” or Prosperity Gospel and in majority evangelicalism.

This teaching was taken seriously in the works-based system of the popular religion of the time. To keep one’s self from breaking the Law, the teachers encouraged the people to go beyond the Law so that they would not break the Law and so be condemned. Jesus quotes from this oral teaching and, in so doing, reveals this extra-biblical teaching to be nonsense. If lust comes from the condition of the heart, it cannot possibly be stopped by doing this thing that the Rabbis are telling the people to do in order to avoid breaking the Law.

People do some atrocious things with this text because they don’t look at both the literary and historical context. Jesus is not telling us to throw out our computers or televisions if they cause us to sin. He is not telling us not to listen to bad music because it will cause us to say and do evil things. He is not telling us to stay away from the bar because we will fall into sin and our testimony will be ruined if we go. Jesus is quoting the extra-biblical teachings of the Rabbis and revealing it as nonsensical because root produces fruit. Fruit does not and cannot produce the root. Lust begins in the heart. The Gospel is a Gospel calling people to repentance (4:17). Repentance is the proper response when the Law, like a mirror, reveals who we are deep down. Again, we will see that unless we have good roots, we are unable to produce this good fruit (7:15-23). Jesus does not preach works-based righteousness as He is correcting the works-based use of the Law. If this was simply hyperbole, Jesus would be contradicting His own message. Matthew was a Jew writing to Jews.

It was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Here, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 24:1-4. Later, in Matthew 19, Jesus would teach that divorce was only granted because of the hardness of people’s hearts. We notice that Deuteronomy does not command divorce. It only allows for it under the Law. Jesus teaches, here, that everyone who divorces his wife makes her an adulterer with the exception of those who have made themselves adulterers. Whoever marries a divorced woman becomes an adulterer with her. Notice that the text does not say that it is acceptable to get a divorce on the grounds of unfaithfulness. Just as the religious teachers of the day used Deuteronomy to justify divorce, so people also use this text, claiming that there is an “exception clause.” This text explains that divorce is adultery and by divorcing, we cause others and ourselves to be adulterers under the Law.

We have already seen that the Gospel is a Gospel calling people to repentance (4:17). Repentance is the proper response when the Law, like a mirror, reveals who we are deep down. Again, again, we will see that unless we have good roots, we are unable to produce this good fruit (7:15-23).

Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.

In Leviticus 19:12, God instructs His people not to swear in His name with falsehood and so profane God’s name. Nowhere in Scripture are people instructed to make vows to the Lord, yet the religious teaching of the day seems to indicate that it is desirable for one to fulfill his or her vows to the Lord. Jesus calls this out as evil because God is the only one who reigns and the only one who can cause things to be one way or another. We have no power or say. We have all made vows or bargained with God.

We have already seen that the Gospel is a Gospel calling people to repentance (4:17). Repentance is the proper response when the Law, like a mirror, reveals who we are deep down. Again, again, again, we will see that unless we have good roots, we are unable to produce this good fruit (7:15-23).

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

The idea of Lex Talionis is present in several parts of the Law, including Exodus 21:12-36, Leviticus 24:10-13, and Deuteronomy 19:15-21. These were legal processes in the Law given as lawful, civil consequences for unlawful actions. It was the responsibility of the authorities to carry out these punishments according to the Law. The Law did not grant the individual person the freedom, right, or responsibility to retaliate against someone who offended him or her. This explicitly fell under the responsibility of the ‘state.’ We see how there could be an easy misrepresentation of these texts. As individuals, retribution is never acceptable because Christ is the only judge. He has delegated some authority to civil authorities so that there is some order on this earth, even in its wretched condition.

We have already seen that the Gospel is a Gospel calling people to repentance (4:17). Repentance is the proper response when the Law, like a mirror, reveals who we are deep down. Again, again, again, again, we will see that unless we have good roots, we are unable to produce this good fruit (7:15-23).

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

In Leviticus 19:18, the Law instructs the people of God to love their neighbors as themselves. Some popular teaching of the day seems to be that of loving those who love and hating those who hate, though the second part of this cannot be found anywhere in the Old Testament. Instead, in Leviticus 19:18, we read that the people of God are neither to seek vengeance nor repay evil for evil. Jesus is correcting this teaching according to the correct understanding of the Old Testament text. In agreement with Leviticus 19:18, Jesus teaches that we ought to love those who hate us and pray for those who persecute us.

This truth speaks to the entirety of the passage. The ability to love those who hate us speaks to the condition of our own hearts. It is some of the fruit that is consistent with repentance (3:8). If we could love like this, we would not have anger in our hearts or murder, we would not lust or commit adultery, we would not divorce and give others over to adultery, we would not feel it so necessary to make vows, and we would not seek retribution. The Law reveals that we are naturally unable to love those who hate us.

Jesus did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it (5:17). Jesus’ point is that we can’t meet this standard by any striving of our own. Yet, we are responsible, being a people created in God’s image for God’s own glory, to be perfect as God is perfect- according to His righteousness and not our own. We can’t please God by listening to the right music, throwing out a computer, or getting a certificate of divorce. We have failed to meet this standard because we love the darkness. Sin originates within our hearts. The Law reveals this and Jesus, who fulfills the Law, becomes our righteousness. This is the whole reason we need the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

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