3. Law and Grace, 5:1-7:29

v] True love defined


In this passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus continues to expound exceeding / "surpassing" righteousness as it applies to the laws of vengeance and love.


The righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and the Pharisees, with respect to vengeance and the love of one's enemies, is required of those who would participate in the blessings of the covenant. Such reveals the need for a covenant standing which is apart from law-obedience.


i] Context: See 5:1-10.


ii] Structure: Love for enemies:

Retaliation, v38-42:

OT instruction, v38;

Jesus' instructions, v39-42:

Instruction - "but I say not resist ...", v39a.

Paired illustration, v39b-40;

Second paired illustration, v41-42.

Love of enemies, v43-48:

OT instruction, 43;

Jesus' instructions, v44-48:

Instruction - "but I say love your enemies ....", v44;

Purpose, v45;

Explanation, v46-47;

Injunction - you must be perfect, v48.


iii] Interpretation:

Jesus teaches that the righteousness which exceeds that of the Scribes and the Pharisees rejects retaliation, does not resist evil, gives double what is demanded and has no selfish concern for personal property. It also rejects reciprocal love, does not discriminate, and is compassionate toward the unlovely and unlovable. The law may allow a measured retaliation, but for those who would access in full the promised blessings of the covenant, there can be no retaliation, only an act of good for evil. The law may allow discrimination in the apportioning of love, but for those who would access in full the promised blessings of the covenant, there can only be love where there is hate; even pagans love their own kind. "So, be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect." By exposing the impossible ideals which transcend the law, ideals which must be done for a person to participate in the promised blessings of the covenant, Jesus reveals the need for a covenant standing which is apart from law-obedience.

Although many commentators try to qualify Jesus' uncompromising demands to enable practical application, Jesus does not qualify his demands. In the end, this is the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, a righteousness that qualifies a person for covenant participation. Seeing that perfection is beyond us, we had better link up with the one righteous Jew who has qualified to gain access to kingdom blessings, hold tightly to the hem of his robe as he enters the heavenly city, and say "let us go with you, because we have heard that God is on your side", Zech.8:23.


As already noted, these studies proceed on the assumption that although Jesus' exposition of the law in this chapter does provide guidance for living the Christian life, its prime purpose is to expose sin, thus forcing disciples to rest on a righteousness which is apart from works of the law, a righteousness which is found in the faithfulness of Christ, appropriated through faith. In this sense, law in the Great Sermon aligns with the Law in the Sinai covenant, laws which forced the children of God to focus on the faith of Abraham for covenant standing rather than obedience. The attached narrative, 8:1-9:34, will establish that salvation is a gift of grace appropriated through faith in/of Christ, and this apart from works of the Law.


For notes on the Law see Introductory Notes, The Great Sermon, and Matthew 5:17-20.


iv] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 5:38

Exceeding righteousness continued: v] Personal sacrifice rather than revenge, v38-42. As already noted in these examples of exceeding righteousness (cf. 5:21-37), Jesus presents an ideal which is beyond us. The personal sacrifice that Jesus outlines for his disciples, of not resisting evil but of responding with kindness, of giving more than is asked, is beyond practical application in a sinful world.

a) OT instruction, v38. Jesus quotes the principle of proportionate retribution found in the Old Testament, Ex.21:25-25 etc., This principle is also found in ancient secular law codes eg. the Code of Hammurabi. This law served to restrain blood-feuding, ie., the punishment must not exceed the crime.

hkousate (akouw) aor. "you have head" - Formula introduction, cf. v27.

oJti "that [it was said]" - that [it was said]. Introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what they had heard.

anti + gen. "[eye] for [an eye]" - [an eye] instead of, in place of, in exchange for [an eye and a tooth] instead of [a tooth]. Expressing exchange / equivalence; cf. Ex.21:24, Lev.24:20, Deut.19:21. Like divorce, this law seeks to regulate a situation out of control by limiting revenge, but in the end pay-back does not reflect God's perfect intentions for his people.


b) Jesus provides the true sense of God's law and illustrates it, v39-40. Jesus' exposition on vengeance describes true perfection; "do not retaliate." It could be argued that Jesus is restricting retribution for personal insult while allowing justice to continue at the legal level. The trouble is this serves to reduce the law to the doable, cf. 5:19. In reality, this law cannot be obeyed. Jesus, with the illustration of a strike on the face, makes the point that perfection requires that we take the insult without retaliation. Of course, to not return evil for evil is to place ourselves under the subjection of those with evil intent. Jesus goes on to expound Exodus 22:25-27. Under the law, if we owe someone money they can take, as surety, everything except our upper garment; they can take this "cloak" during the day, but must return it in the evening. So, if we would be perfect, we cannot even claim the upper garment when there is a debt to repay. If we would be perfect we can't create a financial safety net.

de "but" - but/and. Transitional, here to a contrastive statement; "but".

uJmin dat. pro. "[I tell] you" - [i say] to you. Dative of indirect object. Emphasizing the statement to follow; "but I say unto you", AV.

mh ..... all (alla) "[do] not ........ but ..." - Counterpoint construction; "do not resist the one who is evil, but ....."

antisthnai (anisthmi) aor. inf. + dat. "do not resist" - do [not] resist, oppose, set against. The infinitive serves to introduce a dependent statement of indirect speech, expressing what Jesus is telling his disciples. Obviously imperatival.

tw/ ponhrw/ dat. adj. "an evil person" - the evil, wicked one. The articular adjective serves as a substantive, "the one who is evil", dative of direct object after the anti prefix verb "to resist"; presumably "a wicked person" as NIV, but possibly just "evil". "One who does you evil", Cassirer.

oJstiV pro. "if someone" - whoever. A nominative pendens where this independent nominative indefinite relative pronoun is linked to the sentence by the dative pronoun autw/ "to him" (dative of indirect object / interest), introducing a conditional / indefinite relative clause asserting a general supposition, BDF 380.1, as NIV.

rJapizei (rJapizw) pres. "strikes you" - strikes [on the right cheek of you, turn to him the other also]. For Jews the word is used of striking a person with an open hand, so "slaps you." Morris notes that for a right handed person a slap to the right cheek would be done with the back of the hand, an act regarded as a far greater insult than a slap with the front of the hand.

autw/ dat. pro. "[turn] to him" - Dative of indirect object.

kai "[the other cheek] also" - Here adjunctive, as NIV.


kai "and" - Connective.

oJstiV "if someone / anyone" - Most translations pick up on oJstiV, "whoever / if anyone", of v39, serving to introduce a conditional / indefinite relative clause.

tw/ qelonti (qelw) dat. pres. part. "wants" - the one wanting, willing. The participle serves as a substantive. It is usually taken that the dative agrees with autw/, "[turn] to him [the other also]", v39, dative of indirect object / interest, although it should agree with oJstiV, "someone, anyone", which is nominative, ie., an anacoluthon (an irregular syntactical construction). Possibly the dative is intended as adverbial, reference / respect; "and with respect to this anyone, the one wishing to sue you." "Should anyone wish to go to law with you ...", Cassirer.

kriqhnai (krinw) aor. pas. inf. "to sue [you]" - to judge [you] = take to court. The infinitive, as with labein, "to take", is complementary, completing the verbal sense of the participle "willing".

ton citwna (wn wnoV) "tunic" - [and] the shirt [of you to take]. Accusative direct object of the verb "to take." The basic garment worn by everyone. To be sued for this garment indicates that its owner is poor.

afeV (afihmi) aor. imp. "let" - allow, permit, give. "Let him have your cloak as well", ESV.

autw/ "him" - to him [also]. The dative may simply be viewed as a dative of indirect object, but it may be intended to stand in agreement with the substantive participle "to the one wishing, willing / wants" in the opening substantival phrase, resumed by the dative "him", and thus forming a casus pendens construction; "the one wishing to sue you and the shirt of you to take, give him the coat also" = "if someone wants to obtain judgment against you for possession of your shirt, let him have your coat as well", Barclay.

to iJmation (on) "cloak" - the coat. Accusative direct object of the verb "to allow." This is the outer garment, an all-purpose coat to use as a blanket, to carry things and to wear. Exodus 22:25-27 requires that this garment must not be taken away from a poor person permanently.


c) Second paired illustration, v41-42. A Roman soldier had the right to commandeer civilians to carry their pack for 1,000 paces. If we would be perfect, a disciple should freely go the extra mile, even for a hated enemy. Not only go the extra mile, but give when someone asks. Of course, total generosity is self defeating; "there would soon be a class of saintly paupers, owing nothing, and another of prosperous idlers and thieves", Morris. So, we are reminded that a perfection of unselfish generosity toward others, apart from our personal rights, is not only beyond our capacity, it is not even possible in a sinful world. Such righteousness cannot be done.

oJstiV pro. "if someone" - whoever. See v39 on how this indefinite pronoun is being used to form a conditional / indefinite clause; "if someone ...... then ....."

aggareusei (aggareuw) fut. "forces [you]" - will compel, force [you to go one roman mile]. Used in the sense of "impress into service", following the military practice of a soldier's right to press a person into his service in order to carry his kit for one mile.

met (meta) + gen. "with" - [go] with [him two]. Expressing association.

milion (on) "[one] mile" - The accusative is adverbial, local, of extent. A Roman mile = 1,000 paces.


"Jesus looks for generosity without condition", Morris.

doV (didwmi) aor. imp. "give" - give. The aorist, being punctiliar, possibly refers to a particular situation, so Turner.

tw/ aitounti (aitew) dat. pres. part. "to the one who asks [you]" - the one asking [you]. The participle serves as a substantive, dative of indirect object and emphatic by position.

mh apostrafh/V (apostrefw) aor. pas. subj. "do not turn away from" - [and the one wishing from you to borrow] do not turn away. Subjunctive of prohibition. "Do not refuse the borrower", Berkeley.

ton qelonta (qelw) pres. part. "the one who wants" - the one wishing. The participle serves as a substantive.

danisasqai (daneizw) aor. inf. "to borrow" - to borrow, lend. The infinitive is complementary, completing the verbal sense of the participle "willing / wanting".

apo + gen. "from [you]" - Expressing source / origin.


vi] Love you enemies - be perfect as you heavenly Father is perfect, v43-48. Again, Jesus expounds the exceeding righteousness expected of members of the kingdom of God and so leads us to a righteousness that is given rather than done.

a) OT instruction, v43. Jesus now expounds the perfect law of love. The Old Testament law demands love toward a fellow Jew, but on the other hand, although it doesn't encourage hate toward an outsider, a foreigner, it doesn't demand love; "you shall love your compatriot but you need not love your adversary", Jeremias. cf. Deut.23:3-6.

oJti "[you have heard] that" - [you have heard it was said] that. Introducing a dependent statement expressing what they had heard.

agaphseiV (agapaw) fut. "love" - you shall love [the neighbor of you]. Future as an imperative. "Love" in the sense of "compassion", Lev.19:18. The law, summed up in love, is simpler, and yet more demanding.

mishseiV (misew) fut. "hate" - [and] hate. In the sense of "hostile toward." Again, an imperatival future tense. Zerwick suggests the future here is possibly modal, "you may hate your enemies", but this is unlikely. As noted above, the Law certainly encourages love toward a neighbor, a fellow Jew, but doesn't encourage hatred toward an enemy. Nonetheless, such an inference can be drawn from references like: Deuteronomy 7:2, 30:7. Psalm 139:21-22, 26:5.

ton ecqron (oV) "enemy" - the enemy [of you]. As "neighbor" = "a fellow Jew", so "enemy" = "a Gentile", although possibly with the more general sense "someone who is hostile", Nolland.


b) Jesus' instruction, v44. For those who would be perfect, their love must be non-discriminatory. Not just sentimental love, but a total desire for the good of others, even persecutors.

de "but" - but/and. Transitional, here to a counter point / contrast, "but".

uJmin dat. "[I tell] you" - [i say] to you. Dative of indirect object.

agapate (agapaw) pres. imp. "love your enemies" - love [the enemies of you]. The present tense of "love" is durative expressing an ongoing loving, and touV ecqrouV, "enemies", is plural, as opposed to "enemy", v43, so widening the application and raising the bar.

uJper + gen. "[pray] for" - [and pray] for, on behalf of. Expressing representation, or better, benefit; "on behalf of, for the sake of."

twn diwkontwn (diwkw) pres. part. "those who persecute [you]" - the ones persecuting [you]. The participle serves as a substantive. "Persecutors are the most difficult enemies to love", Nixon.


c) The purpose, v45. The loving righteousness required of a son of God is one which imitates the divine. This verse is usually understood as a challenge to the disciples to be what they are: "a challenge to be like God", Nolland; "the goal of a disciple is to be like God", Argyle; Inevitably "our membership in that family will be so important to us that we pursue love avidly", Morris. So, as Carson puts it, "the point of the passage is not to state the means of becoming sons, but the necessity of pursuing a certain kind of sonship patterned after the Father's character." Yet, if Jesus is presenting the exceeding righteousness necessary for entry into the kingdom of heaven, then indeed he is outlining the type of divine love that is necessary o{pwV, "in order that", a person may become sons of the Father in heaven. Such love is required of a son of God and only one Son has truly loved his enemies and prayed for his persecutors. Who is there who could claim to wholeheartedly say "Father forgive them for they know not what they do"? A similar demand is made in v48, "be perfect ... as your heavenly Father is perfect." It is true that in these demands "the children of the kingdom are called to reflect the character of their heavenly Father", Hagner, but if we are honest with ourselves, the demands are more likely to expose the sad truth that our lives do not reflect the character of our heavenly Father. We need to look beyond the shifting sand of our life to find someone who has built his house on a rock of perfect love, knock on his door, enter and so find security from the impending flood.

o{pwV + subj. "that" - This construction usually introduces a final clause expressing purpose, or hypothetical result; "in order that / so that."

genhsqe (ginomai) aor. subj. "you may be" - you may become. "Show yourselves to be", Zerwick.

uiJoi (oV) "sons [of you Father]" - sons [of the father of you]. Predicate nominative. The children of God.

tou "-" - the one [in the heavens]. The genitive article serves as an adjectivizer, turning the prepositional phrase en ouranoiV, "in heaven", into an attributive modifier limiting tou patroV, "Father", and so indicating what "father" is in mind, namely, our heavenly Father = God.

oJti "he causes" - for [he makes the sun of him to rise]. More reason than cause, so probably introducing an epexegetic clause; "after all, he makes the sun rise ....", Cassirer.

epi acc. "on" - upon [evil and good and rains] upon [just and unjust]. Spacial; "upon"; "he makes the sun to rise on the bad and on the good alike, and he sends the rain on saint and sinner", Barclay.


d) Explanation, v46-47. The loving righteousness required of a son of God is not reciprocal, ie., it does not look for love in return. The point is, reciprocal love deserves no reward.

gar "-" - for. It is likely that v46-47 is an independent saying of Jesus that Matthew stitches to the subject matter with gar (Luke uses kai, 6:32), and so is best left untranslated as NIV.

ean + subj. "if" - if, as may be the case ........ then [what reward do you have]. Introducing a conditional clause 3rd. class where the condition has the possibility of coming true.

touV agapwntaV (agapaw) pres. part. "those who love [you]" - the ones loving [you]. The participle serves as a substantive.

ecete (ecw) pres. "will you get" - [then what reward] do you have. Best with the sense "what reward can you expect?", Barclay. The answer is "none". When it comes to receiving the promised blessings of the covenant "there is no reward for doing what is commonplace", Morris.

ouci "[are] not" - [do] not [even the tax collectors do the same]. Probably as a rhetorical question with this negation prompting a positive answer. May be expressed as a positive statement; "even tax collectors do that!", Phillips.


ean + subj. "if" - [and] if [you greet]. Conditional clause, 3rd. class, as in v46.

touV adelfouV (oV) "brothers" - the brothers [of you only]. "Brothers" in the sense of fellow Jews, fellow believers, so "greet with warmth and respect", eg., "peace be with you".

perisson adj. "[what are you doing] more than others?" - [what] excessive, extraordinary [are you doing?]. "What are you doing more than anyone else would do in the circumstance?

ouci "[do] not" - [do] not [even the gentiles do the same]. Question as in v46.

kai "even" - Ascensive, as NIV.


e) Injunction, v45. The loving righteousness of a son of God is a perfect righteousness. The language is similar to Lev.19:2. The righteousness of a son of God, as with holiness, exceeds that of the Scribes and the Pharisees because it is perfect. Christ's law "is not a set of detailed instructions, but is reducible to one word, love. The law of Jesus is therefore both simpler and more demanding than the Law of the Old Testament, and by it the disciples are made entirely dependent on the mercy of God, because they are put permanently into the position of sinners who [are not perfect and] must always say Forgive us our debts, 6:12", Fenton.

umeiV pro. "-" - [therefore] you. Emphatic by use, "you be perfect".

esesqe (eimi) fut. "be" - will be. The future tense is used here for an imperative.

teleioi (oV) "perfect" - complete, perfect. Predicate adjective. "There must be no limit to your goodness", REB.

oun "therefore" - Inferential; drawing a logical conclusion.

wJV "as" - This comparative conjunction introduces a comparative clause.

oJ ouranioV adj. "heavenly [Father]" - the heavenly one [the father of you, is perfect]. Nominative subject of the verb to-be.


Matthew Introduction



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