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Matthew 5:21-48
A Midrash on Torah Observance
Last Updated 9/5/01

CHAPTER 5:21-48 TEXT:

Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery. Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

5:21 You have heard it said ...

One of the teachings of Judaism regarding Messiah (to this day), is that He will come and teach His people the deeper points of the Torah. Yeshua does just this in the remaining verses of chapter five. He begins with the expression, "You have heard it said." This He does both to draw his audience's attention to a specific point, as well as to make a distinction between His opinion on a matter of Torah and any other(s) of His time. He is offering His authoritative interpretations on how to follow the commandments. In the Judaism of Yeshua, these are called halachtic (hah-LAHK-tik) rulings. Later in this Gospel we will see Yeshua extending this authority to His apostles. We also see Paul issuing such halchtic rulings in several of his epistles.

It is important to realize that Yeshua did not come to, "correct all the misguided teachings of the Pharisees." (This thought is commonly expressed in religions that have little understanding of the Judaism of Yeshua's time.) First, it should be noted that there was no dominating concensus among the Pharisees and other religious groups at that time. A brief look at the Pharasaic writings in the Talmud, show a diversity of opinion, including many that argue against each other. This is called arguing for the sake of HaShem (God). Secondly, Yeshua actually supported most Pharasaic opinion on the Torah that eventually were captured in the text of the Talmud. Yeshua not only quoted and supported Pharisaic teaching, as seen in the chart above, He also upheld the religious authority of the Pharisees. He told the people to obey the Pharisees, as they "sat in Moses' seat," meaning their authority came from God. (Matthew 23:1-3)

There were two majority schools of Rabbinic thought at that time, the school of Rabbi Hillel and the school of Rabbi Shammai (both of whom had died prior to Yeshua's ministry). Hillel was the grandfather of Gamliel, who was the leader of the Sanhedrin and who taught the apostle Paul. Hillel's teachings were thought to be more liberal than those of Shammai, which were considered more strict. As we will see, throughout the Gospels, Yeshua is often agreeing with an already existing Pharasaic interpretation of Scripture.

The main point is that Yeshua's comments are within the framework of Pharasaic discussion. Unfortunately, the term "Pharisee" has a totally negative meaning today, even though many Pharisees were Godly men and some followed Yeshua - (i.e., Paul, Nicodemus, and the factions mentioned in Acts 15 and Luke 13:31). As uncomfortable as many would find hearing this -- Yeshua Himself would have been regarded as a Pharisee. When the Pharisees went out to question John the Baptist about who John was, he said that one among THEM (the Pharisees) was the Messiah to come (John 1:26-27).

The Pharisees themselves were highly critical of one another, saying there were "seven kinds of Pharisees," and not all were good. (1) The disciples of Hillel went so far as calling those of Shammai, "sons of Satan," in a similar fashion to what Yeshua called some of them. (2) When we see Yeshua rebuking the Pharisees, it is very much a "family argument," and needs to be understood as such.

In verses 21-48, Yeshua brings up a number of issues surrounding actual commandments. As we will see, he often quotes directly from the Talmudic writings of the Pharisees. He is addressing the "fences" (safeguards) placed around the Torah -- in some case supporting the ones the Pharisees put in place -- in other places he offers His own "fences."

5:21 Thou shall not kill ...

This is a direct commentary on the sixth commandment (which is actually against "murder," and not "killing"). Note that when He says, But I say unto you, He is not cancelling the commandment, as murder is still sin and will bring judgment. Rather, He is showing that in addition to following the letter of the commandments, one should go beyond the minimum requirements as we grow in our relationship with God.

5:22 ... But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother ...

This comment is on the heels of 5:13-21 where Yeshua says he is teaching Torah "correctly" (in its fulness) to His Jewish audience, so that they can take this Torah out to the world.

Yeshua makes a connection between murder in verse 21, and "speaking evil" of someone in verse 22. This was not a "new teaching," but had been greatly overlooked by that time. Such "evil speaking" is called speaking "Lashon Hara" (Evil Tongue) against a person, and is equated with murder throughout Jewish literature. The book of "James" (Ya'acov is his real name), it also speaks of the subject of "the tongue" to great length.

Yeshua is reminding the people that "character assassination" is as bad a "physical assassination" in God's sight. This is the higher level of Torah that He taught -- All part of His greater command to "Love one another."

This is also the first of many examples we will show of Yeshua supporting Pharasaic Talmud:

Babylonian Talmud, Bava Mezia 58b - One who shames the face of his fellow, it is as if he has murdered him.

5:23-24... first be reconciled to thy brother

The concept of "reconciliation" can be a difficult one for believers to understand properly. One may ask, If all my sins are forgiven by my faith, why do I have to ask forgiveness from anyone? A different but related question might be, If God can't stand sin, why is it each time a person breaks a commandment, a lightning bolt doesn't descend from heaven and strike him?

Reconciliation has a place in the answer to both questions.

  1. As believers we have salvation from God, but we are still called to forgive others and ask forgiveness when we've wronged them. Concepts such as "eternal security" have no place in a Hebraic discussion of "faith." Not one person in the Bible, took their salvation for granted, before or after Yeshua. The Messiah makes it clear that if we don't forgive, we won't be forgiven.
  2. The sacrificial system of the Tenakh played a major role in reconciliation and was the reason more "lightning bolts" didn't come down from the heavenlies to smite people. Yeshua is presently fulfilling this role for us, in the heavenlies (1 John 2:2), hence at this time there is no need for the day to day sacrifices of reconciliation. (More advanced teachings on the sacrificial system are found in our Revelation study.)

This teaching also parallels that found in the Talmud:

Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 85b - Yom Kippur atones for all sins, but first you must reconcile your conflict with others.

5:27-28 Thou shalt not commit adultery

In a similar fashion to his teaching on murder, Yeshua says lusting in the heart is as much a sin as committing the act of adultery. The ensuing verses on "plucking out" your own eye, are obviously not to be carried out literally. Yeshua is however, teaching that we have a responsibility to deal with our "evil inclination" (Hebrew = yetzer ha'ra).

Here Yeshua is supporting two existing teachings of the Pharisees:

Babylonian Talmud, Kallah, Ch. 1 - One who gazes lustfully upon the small finger of a married woman, it is as if he has committed adultery with her.

Babylonian Talmud, Niddah 13b - Better that one's belly burst than one should go down to the pit of destruction.

5:31-32 whosoever shall put away his wife ...

Here is a rare case where Yeshua sides with the school of Shammai rather than Hillel. Shammai taught exactly as Yeshua did regarding this matter, interpreting "uncleanness" in the Torah commendment solely as sexual immorality. The school of Hillel offered a broader interpretation, allowing for a man to divorce his wife for many things that "did not find favor in his sight." Yeshua holds "to the letter of the law" in this case.

5:33 Thou shalt not forswear thyself

This has nothing to do with the Torah-based practice of making an oath to God. Rather it is dealing with the practice of invoking God's name, or any part of God's creation, into common oaths (i.e., taking the Lord's name in vain).

This is yet another Talmudic teaching reinforced by Yeshua:

Babylonian Talmud, Bava Batra 49b - A righteous yes is a Yes; a righteous no is No.

It should also be noted that the Essenes also made it a point not to take oaths other than the one someone took to enter into their brotherhood. Here we have a case where the Pharisees and Essenes may be in agreement.

5:38 Eye for an eye ...

This is one of the most commonly misunderstood concepts in Judaism. Ask most people and they will say that this has something to do with "retaliation in the Old Testament" versus "love and forgiveness in the New Testament." This is incorrect - Judaism has never interpreted the verse in this fashion. The Torah command regarding "eye for eye" had to do with providing for limited liability in matters of legal compensation. Here Yeshua is teaching to go beyond the minimum required of you, especially when you have wronged someone.

5:43 Love thine neighbor and hate thine enemy

This is not a new concept, as the Torah taught love for one's enemy too (i.e., Leviticus 19:18). Yeshua is giving the rationale behind the command.

This idea is found several places in Talmud:

Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 23a, Gitin 36b, Shabbat 88b - They who are insulted but insult not back; who hear themselves reproached but answer not; who serve out of love and rejoice in their affliction--of them it is written in Scripture: They that love God are as the going forth of the sun in its might.

5:45 ... sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

There are times when it seems though "the wicked prosper" and "the righteous suffer." As such, and in light of all the previous comments on the Torah, Yeshua reminds His audience that our reward is not on this earth but in heaven.

This teaching is also found in Talmud:

Babylonian Talmud, Taanit 7a - God causes it to rain for the wicked as well as for the righteous.

5:48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

The Greek word for perfect (teleios) means to be complete. This teaching mirrors the following:

Sifri, Ekev No. 49 - As God is, so shall you be: As God is merciful, so shall you too, be merciful.


1. Babylonian Talmud, tractate Sotah 22b.
2. Babylonian Talmud, tractate Yevamot, footnote #14 to 16a: "Literally 'the first-born of Satan.'"

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