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§ 155. Fulfilling of the Law in the Higher Sense.—Particular Examples, viz., (1.) Murder; (2.) Adultery; (3.) Divorce; (4.) Perjury; (5.) Revenge; (6.) National Exclusiveness.


The law condemns the murderer to death. But the Gospel sentences even him who is angry401401   I must agree with those who reject εἰκῆ (v. 22). Thus to lessen the force of the law certainly does not harmonize with the connexion. with his brother. The passion which, when full-blown, causes murder, is punished in the bud of revengeful feeling, whether concealed in the heart or shown in abusive words402402   It seems to me that the words “ὃς δ᾽ ἂν εἴπῃ τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ· ῥακά, ἔνοχος ἔσται τῷ συνεδρίῳ·” should be taken away from this passage. Apart from these, the connexion is perfect and obvious. Κρίσις = judgment, condemnation, its common meaning in the New Testament, and so γέεννα, with another word. Degrees of violation of the Theocratic law nowhere appear in this connexion; on the contrary, it teaches that the smallest violation, as well as the greatest, involves a disposition of heart opposed to the kingdom of God, which demands holiness of heart. Reviling is purposely put side by side with murder, bemuse the disposition that inspires the former leads, when further expanded, to the latter; the reviler is a murderer before that bar which looks only at the heart. A gradation between ῥακά and μωρός violates both the aim and connexion of the discourse, and seems entirely unbecoming its dignity. Moreover, we should then have to look for a gradation in the punishment, which, again, is inconsistent with the connexion. The “Sanhedrim” brings us before the Jewish civil jurisdiction—the politico-Theocratical stand-point—the very thing to which Christ opposes himself throughout the discourse. And how is γέεννα, in that case, to be distinguished from κρίσις? In what relation does the mention of the Sanhedrim stand to κρίσις and γέεννα? Things entirely incompatible are here brought together. All attempts to solve the difficulty lead to forced and untenable interpretation. The fact that ῥακά means just the same thing as μωρέ, confirms the supposition that the clause in question was introduced by the Greek translator as another version of the following, and original, clause in Matthew’s Hebrew. (v. 22).


(2.) The law of the particular Theocracy condemns the adulterer. But the law of Christ condemns the germ of evil passion in the husband, as the source of adultery403403   Verses 23-26 are among those expressions of Christ which we suppose to have been uttered elsewhere, and transferred to this connexion from their affinity of subject. (Cf. v. 25, 26, with Luke, xii., 58, 59.) So of v. 29, 30; Christ is treating of the mere legislation, not of the element of self-discipline as such. (v. 27).

(3.) As Christ thus already considers marriage as the union, in part, of two persons of different sexes, he takes occasion to develope still further his opposition to the stand-point of the Mosaic law in regard to this relation.404404   Polygamy was not yet wholly forbidden among the Jews, as appears from Josephus. Speaking in reference to the polygamy of Herod, he says: πάτριον γὰρ ἐν ταὐτῷ πλείοσιν ἡμῖν συνοικεῖν (Archaeol., xviii., 1, 2). And Justin casts up to the Jewish doctors that, even in his time, “οἵτινες καὶ μέχρε νῦν καὶ τεσσόρας καὶ πέντε ἔχειν ὑμᾶς γυναῖκας ἕκαστων συγχωροῦσι” (Dial., c. Tryph. Jud., ed. Colon., 363, E). Still we may infer that the Jewish schools in Christ’s time recognized monogamy as the only lawful marriage, from his saying nothing expressly on the subject, while the precepts that he delivers presuppose it.

The Mosaic law, intended for a rude people, who were to be cultivated by degrees, allowed divorce; seeking to place some restraints, at least, upon unlimited wilfulness. Political legislation must adapt itself to the material on which it has to act.405405   The σκληροκαρδία τοῦ λαοῦ. Matt., xix., 8. But the law of Christ sets forth the moral idea of marriage in its full strictness, and demands that its communion of life shall be indissoluble. Nothing but the actual adultery of one of the parties can dissolve the tie, and leave the innocent one at liberty to marry.406406   I cannot agree with those who would make this law an outward one by legislation, the discourse aims at the heart, and its precepts can be fulfilled in the life only from the heart. They hold good only for those who recognize Christ as their Lord from free conviction, and are led by his Spirit; and who, therefore, find in them only the outward expression of the inward Spirit. The state can no more realize these laws than it can make Christians or create holiness. Its laws must be adapted to the σκληροκαρδία τοῦ λαοῦ. The attempt to accomplish, by legislative sanction, what redemption alone can do, would create a sort of stunted, Chinese life, but nothing better. Precisely because the Sermon on the Mount is the Magna Charta of the kingdom of God, it is not fit for a state law. On the other hand, I differ from those who suppose that Christ alluded only to the then existing form of Jewish divorce, which did not require legal investigation and decision. The moral idea which Christ developed had a more than temporary bearing.


(4.) The Mosaic law prohibits perjury, and maintains the sanctity of oaths. But the law of Christ demands that yes and no shall take the place of all other confirmation. “Whatsoever is more than these407407   The formulas in v. 34, 35, 36 (not properly oaths, as they do not take God to witness) illustrate still more forcibly Christ’s purpose to banish from his kingdom every affirmation. but yes and no. Had he not mentioned them, his hearers might have thought that he referred only to the immediate invocation of Jehovah to witness, which all pious Jews sought to avoid, and instead of which these very formulas, which helped those that were disposed to gloss over a perjury, were, in fact, invented. This is enough to refute what Göschel says (über den Eid, Berlin, 1837, p. 118, 119), in order to prove that Christ’s precept was not directed against oaths in general. There was no necessity that he should define the proper sense of an oath; every body understood it; but it would have been by no means so obvious to his hearers that he condemned also the common formulas, invented out of reverence for the Divine name (Philo, De Special., § 1). He condemns them especially for the reason that it is inconsistent with the condition of dependent creatures to appeal to the creature in confirming an averment. There remained nothing but the true oath—the appeal to Almighty God—and this, also, he forbade; yes and no were to suffice. Göschel says (p. 116), “As Christ came not to abolish, but to fulfil the law, the law of the oath was not to be abolished, but fulfilled.” True; just as the law, “Thou shalt not kill,” is fulfilled by avoiding emotions of hatred; just as the law of the Sabbath is fulfilled in consecrating every day to God. So yes and no are bonds as sacred for the Christian as an oath to other men. cometh of evil,” i. e., testifies to a want of that disposition of heart which every member of his kingdom ought to possess; a want of that thorough truthfulness which makes every other affirmation superfluous, and of the mutual confidence that depends upon it.

(5.) The Mosaic law, moreover, corresponding to the civil law, admits of retaliation, like for like. But the law of Christ so completely shuts out the desire of revenge, that it creates in its subjects a disposition to suffer all injury rather than to return evil for evil (v. 39).

(6.) The old law enjoined the “love of one’s neighbour;” but none were regarded as “neighbours” but members of the Theocratic community, and, therefore, the law implied “hatred” of the enemies of that community as enemies of the kingdom of God. The law of Christ, on the contrary, enjoins love without limit;408408   The First Epistle to the Corinthians (as Rückert has remarked) contains many passages, the germs of which are to be found in the Sermon on the Mount. Cf. iv., 8-13; vi., 7; vii., 10. Paul may also have borrowed from it these words of Christ, which were preserved for us only by his means, Acts, xx., 35, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” This saying expresses the disposition which, in Matt., v., 40-42, is set forth in outward acts; the very nature of love, happy in communicating. How beautifully does this saying reveal the whole heart of Christ, whose whole aim was to impart to others from the fulness of his heavenly riches! a love that takes into its wide embrace enemies and persecutors, yea, even those who, as enemies of the kingdom of God, persecute its members; a love which not only impels us to do them good, but is so absolutely exclusive of even the germ of hatred, as to urge us to pray for them. The children of God are to be, like their heavenly Father, perfect in love (v. 45, 48). And the perfect love of God does not exclude His enemies. How perfect, indeed, must His love be, to seek the redemption even of His enemies!

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