The Sermon on the Mount Few Want to Hear
Yeshua the Messiah made two addresses to the nation of Israel during His ministry. In his first address to the nation, “The Sermon on the Mount” [of Galilee], Yeshua the Messiah laid down the rules before the people for entering the Kingdom of Heaven. This sermon consists of three parts: chapters 5, 6, and 7 of the Gospel of Matthew. The first part of the Sermon on the Mount is seen by the majority of Christian commentators as an antithesis, Jesus made by the juxtaposition of contrasting words to give a feeling of replacement of what was “old” with what is now “new” or to contrast exact opposite of what is said in the Law of “the Old Testament“.
In his last address to the nation on the Temple mount (Matthew 23), the Messiah exposed the burden of the Pharisaic religious system just before the end of His ministry. And He finished His final address with the words, “For I say to you, from now on you shall by no means see Me, until you say, ‘Blessed is He who is coming in the Name of YHVH!'” thus fulfilling Psa 118:26 aka the Messiah Psalm.
Why did He have to do that and what was the need of the Sermon on the Mount in the first place?
The Controversial four verses in the Sermon on the Mount
As we studied in the article “Has the Messiah abolished the Law of God?“, Yeshua’s mission was not to destroy, annul, abolish nor was it to set aside the Torah of YHVH, but to fulfill it by giving its proper understanding, as He said, “I have not come to abolish the Law and the prophets, but to fulfill.”
And when He used the terms “the Law and the Prophets” in the Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua included the entire Word of YHVH known as the Tanak and more particularly the Torah (the Law) of His Father. See also Luk 24:44 and Act 13:15.
Not only in the Sermon on the Mount but also in all His speeches and teachings, nothing could exceed Yeshua’s reverence for the Word of YHVH as He repeatedly refers to them as the Father’s authority. His words and teachings are the endorsement of the Torah of YHVH with further instructions how to live a righteous life here on the earth. Or as Apostle has said it, “We do not nullify the Law, but we establish it”. See Rom 3:31 and also Rom 8:4 where he has stated that the righteousness of the Law of God should be completed in us.
This and much more we studied in the article “‘You are not under the Law of God’ exposed” but also elsewhere.
In this article, we will study the controversy set in the Sermon on the Mount, as many Christian theologians see it, that the Messiah contrasted His teachings against the laws of YHVH.
The “antitheses” in the Sermon on the Mount
We have heard in the Church that Jesus had come to abolish the Law of God, rejected the Jews, and established a new religion and a new religious body called “the Church”. But, in the Sermon on the Mount Yeshua said something quite different, the Sermon few want to hear.
First, let us read from the Sermon on the Mount and more particularly the verses most commonly quoted to convince the people that the Christ had come to do what He otherwise said He had not come to do.
You heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder” and whoever murders shall be liable to judgment. But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be liable to judgment. … (Mat 5:21-22)
This is how this appears in most of the English translations. This statement consists of two parts. In the first part, Jesus is quoting the Law, in this case from Exo 20:13 and Deu 5:17, the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai and their renewal before the new generation at Mount Nebo, respectively.
By quoting the law of the so-called Old Testament, Christ is saying what had already been said to “those of old”, i.e., the people of the old time of the Exodus, “You shall not murder”, the Sixth Commandment of the Covenant. But then He without delay is saying, But I say to you …
The English word “but” as a conjunction that introduces something in contrast or something unexpected; “but” also has the meaning of “however” or “on the contrary” and “except for, excluding”. As an adverb it means “and nothing more”, and as a noun it means “an objection”.
By reading the words of Yeshua thus translated in English a reader comes with the perception that the Messiah is contrasting or juxtaposing two different and even excluding each other statements: “It was said, but I am telling you …”
We keep on reading further,
You heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not commit adultery”. But I say to you that everyone looking at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Mat 5:27-28)
Here, Jesus is saying what had been told long time ago by quoting the Seventh Commandment, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exo 20:14, Deu 5:18). But I say to you …
And it has been said, “Whoever puts away his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.” But I say to you that whoever puts away his wife, except for the matter of whoring, makes her commit adultery. And whoever marries a woman who has been put away commits adultery. (Mat 5:31-32) See Deu 24:1.
Again, you heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not swear falsely”, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord. But I say to you, do not swear at all, neither by the heaven, because it is God’s throne … (Mat 5:33-37)
Here again, Jesus is quoting the Third Commandment in “the Old Testament”, “You shall not take the Name of the LORD in vain”, but more literally, “You shall not swear falsely in the Name of the LORD”. See also Lev 19:12, Num 30:2, and Deu 23:21. But I say to you, do not swear at all.
Probably, this is the most categorical rejection of what has been said to those of old, because Jesus allegedly is saying, “Do not swear at all”. To this controversy we will return later in this study.
You heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. But I say to you, do not resist the wicked. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. (Mat 5:38-39) See Exo 21:24.
The way this “law of Christ” is understood is quite meaningless: “If someone has hurt you, do not defend yourself. Let him hurt you again.”, because we were told not to resist.
You heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy”. But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those cursing you, do good to those hating you, and pray for those insulting you and persecuting you, (Mat 5:43-44)
Here, Jesus correctly is quoting the law to love our neighbor, but more properly our countryman, from Lev 19:18, but (notice how we use the word “but” to introduce contradiction) … and hate your enemy … has no Scriptural reference. So, is Yeshua the Messiah misquoting the Scripture?
The Hebrew “vav” vs. the Greek “de”
There is an old saying that teaches, “A little rock can turn over the wagon”. Such “a little rock” is the Greek word δέ de, adversatively used to express antithesis or opposition, translated as “but”. De can be also used as a continuative to conjoin words, phrases, clauses or sentences, translated as “and”, “moreover”. This dubious Greek word that opens to doubt or suspicion in the interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount is found behind the English “but”.
There is another Greek word with the meaning of and, also, even, so, then, too. This is the word καί kai, as seen in verse 30: “and if your right hand …”
What is the difference between de and kai? Kai connects words or phrases smoothly and strictly coordinated while de is a conjunction of antitheses and interrupts thoughts by joining them. In the Greek “New Testament” de is found more often than kai, while in Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Tanak, kai outnumbers de.
In other studies, we discussed the primacy of Hebrew over Greek in the Apostolic Writings, as the proof text is the Hebrew manuscript of the Gospel of Matthew, Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, by George Howard, Mercer University Press, 1995, aka Shem-Tov Hebrew Matthew. Although this is not the only manuscript of Matthew, we will use it in this study.
The Hebrew word “vav”, which is also a letter in the Hebrew alephbet, is the word that appears in Hebrew Gospel of Matthew in the verses in question above.
“Vav” is used throughout the Hebrew Scripture (the Tanak) to mean “and” and in the phrase “And I say to you …”, it appears as “And I ואָנִי say to you.
Therefore, when we re-read the statements of Yeshua in the Sermon on the Mount, we do not have the perception of antithesis or opposition to the Torah of YHVH, but on the contrary: of assertion of His Father’s laws.
However, “vav” has one more meaning, that makes Yeshua’s statements even more assertive. We read,
And Solomon loved many foreign wives and (vav) the daughter of Pharaoh. 1Ki 11:1
Did King Solomon not have 1,000 wives and concubines? Was the daughter of Pharaoh his one thousand and first wife, so that it was necessary to say “and”? No, Solomon had 1,000 wives and concubines and the Egyptian was one of them.
So, how can we understand the other meaning of “vav”, but to translate it as “moreover”, “especially”. Solomon loved all his women, but he especially, moreover, loved the daughter of Pharaoh; she was his beloved wife.
How do JPS (Jewish Publication Society) and KJV (King James’ version of the Bible) translate this verse? JPS says “besides” and KJV: “together with”, but more properly we need to translate “vav” here as “and moreover”.
And George Howard has rendered ואָנִי as “And I say to you…” which is the correct translation.
The Sermon on the Mount read anew
Now, if we return to our “The Sermon on the Mount” study and re-read Yeshua’s words this time from the ancient Hebrew text of Matthew, then You heard that it was said … Moreover, I say to you … will lead to a quite different conclusion. Namely, that the Messiah has not changed, abolished, contrasted, or opposed the Torah of YHVH, but He simply emphasized the meaning of His Father’s laws by giving them more weight when He was saying “Moreover, I say to you”.
While reading, we may notice other differences between the Hebrew and Greek texts. In other studies, we also noted that as far as there are any differences, they are not on behalf of the Greek text.
You heard what was said to those of old, “You shall not murder” and whoever murders is guilty of judgment of death. Moreover, I say to you that whoever angers his companion is guilty of judgement … (Mat 5:21-22)
You heard what was said to those of old, “You shall not commit adultery”. Moreover, I say to you that everyone who sees a woman and covets her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eyes seduce you, put it out and cast it from you. Also, if your hand seduces you, cut it off … (Mat 5:27-28)
And again, Yeshua said to his disciples: You heard what was said to those of long ago that everyone who leaves his wife and divorces her is to give her a certificate of divorce. Moreover, I say to you that that everyone who leaves his wife and divorces her is to give her a certificate of divorce. But concerning adultery, he is the one who commits adultery and he who takes her commits adultery. (Mat 5:31-32)
Again, you heard what was said to those of old, “You shall not swear by My Name falsely” and shall return your oath to Yehovah. Moreover, I say to you, do not swear falsely at all, neither by the heaven, because it is Elohim’s throne … (Mat 5:33-37)
Let us pause for a moment here. In this example, it is very difficult to ignore the difference between Hebrew and Greek. In Greek, Jesus is saying, “Those of old were prohibited to swear falsely in the [explicit] Name of the Father, but you are prohibited to swear at all.” The Greek text has omitted the word “falsely”.
According to the Hebrew text of Matthew, however, Yeshua is reiterating the Third Commandment by emphasizing with “Moreover, do not swear falsely in the Name of My Father at all.” “Falsely” is in the Hebrew text and the prohibition is in full force, while Greek is inconsistent and dubious as to why the Messiah would have made such a change in the Covenant.
Why would Yeshua have made such an explicit prohibition against swearing falsely in the Name of YHVH? He did it because at that time the Pharisees had interpreted the Third Commandment of the Covenant thus: “One cannot swear falsely in the explicit Name of the Creator, but he can as long as the Name is not explicitly mentioned.” What it means is that one can swear falsely in the heaven, by the earth, even by Jerusalem, as long as the Name is not in the oath. But Yeshua has said, “Do not swear falsely at all! Neither by the heavens, etc.”
You heard what was said in the Torah, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. Moreover, I say to you, do not repay evil for evil. But he who smites your right cheek provide for him the left. (Mat 5:38-39)
To understand what Yeshua is saying here, we need first to understand what the Torah is saying, because this law is extremely misunderstood. What do “life for life” and “eye for an eye” mean, as JPS and KJV translate Exo 21:23-25?
“Fife for life” and “eye for an eye” imply that if one hurts someone else, he is is to be hurt respectively: if a person’s life is taken, the perpetrator’s life is to be taken, too.
The Hebrew, however, literally reads “life under life” as seen in Gen 1:7, when the Creator placed the waters under the expanse, and figuratively, “life in the place of life” as seen in Gen 22:13, when the ram replaced the life of Yitschak. meaning that if you take a life, such as that of a servant (Exo 21:20-22) or a beast, then you must replace that life.
By quoting the law concerning bodily injuries of a servant who is entitled for compensation, Yeshua is teaching that one should repay evil for evil, that is to seek vengeance with evil, but he should seek justice from the judges (see Exo 21:22). And if he is further mistreated (but he who smites your right cheek provide for him the left), he is to wait for justice from the Supreme Judge.
You heard that it was said, “You shall love the one who loves you and hate the one who hates you. Moreover, I say to you, love your enemies and do good to the one who hates you … (Mat 5:43-44)
To understand what Yeshua is saying here, we need first to define what “enemy” means. The Hebrew word for “enemy” is אֹיֵב or אוֹיֵב oyev. It come from the verb אָיַב ayav, to hate. Hence, “oyev” is the one who hates or an adversary or an opponent, which is not equivalent to what we call today “enemy”.
The first part of the statement of what was said to those of old was a reference to the Psalms: Psa 139:21-22 and Psa 26:5.
O Yehovah, do I not hate them, who hate You? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You? With a complete hatred I hate them; They have become my enemies. (Psa 139:21-22) and I have hated the assembly of evildoers, And I do not sit with the wrong. (Psa 26:5)
It is commonly understood that God is loving and hates no one; He hates sin but loves the sinner. Although it is true, it may sound shockingly for many that Elohim hates and even despises certain category of people — the evil-doers — the ones who love evil and hate Him.
It will also sound shockingly for many that we can hate the evildoers, as the psalmist says here.
Note: Here are the references to the statements in which Elohim says that He does hate evildoers and workers of wickedness. Take time to read them: Deu 7:10, Deu 32:41, Psa 5:5-6, Psa 11:5-6, Psa 21:8-11, Psa 34:16, Psa 73:20, Psa 78:59, Psa 107:40, Psa 139:21-22, Hos 9:15, Mal 1:3, Mal 4:3, Zec 11:8, Dan 12:2, Pro 16:5, Pro 6:16-19, Pro 12:8, Sir 12:6-7, Wis 12:4, Job 12:21, 2Ch 19:1-3, 1Pe 3:12, Rom 9:11-14.
And the verses that we can hate the evildoers: Psa 26:5, Psa 31:6, Ecc 3:8, Est 9:5, Neh 13:25.
In the second part of the statement, “Moreover, I say to you, love your enemies and do good to the one who hates you …”, Yeshua referred to Proverbs: Pro 24:17-18 and Pro 25:21-22,
Do not exult when your enemy falls and let not your heart rejoice when he stumbles; Lest Yehovah see and it be evil in His eyes, And He turn away His wrath from him. (Pro 24:17-18)
If your enemy is hungry give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty give him water to drink, for you are heaping coals of fire on his head, And Yehovah rewards you. (Pro 25:21-22)
What the proverbs are saying is this: you will bring on your adversary the greatest pain, and appease your vengeance, while at the same time YHVH will reward your generosity. And indeed, he who repay evil with good takes the noblest revenge, but if this doing of good proceed from a revengeful aim, and is intended to humiliate the adversary, then you lose all moral values and become selfish and malicious.
The burning of coals on the adversary’s head is a figure of self-accusing repentance. The proverb also requires one to be merciful towards a needy adversary as his injustice to us is brought to be judged by his conscience and, secondly, that thus YHVH is well-pleased in such practical love towards the adversary and will reward it.
The letter of the law and the intention of the heart
The legislation of the Torah explicitly takes a firm stand that no member of the commonwealth of Israel should ever commit idolatry, murder, adultery, and other forms of sexual immoralities, by enforcing severe penalties. See Deu 22:22-24.
The Torah prohibits “coveting”. This is the only prohibition mentioned twice in the entire Covenant, namely, in the Tenth Commandment. The coveting is the base of all iniquities, from which all actions of the heart flow consuming and destroying everything. Why else does one murder, commit adultery, steal, or bear false witness but to covet what the heart desires?
But coveting is not merely a desire; if it were, how can the Torah prohibit a desire? The coveting is not just the desire of the heart, but the impulse that urges to actions. Hence, the desire of the heart does not violate the law of coveting unless there is an action to obtain the coveted object. Hence, the coveting refers to the first step in the process of sinning and transgressing the Torah of YHVH. Thus, it is not the thought of coveting that is forbidden in the Tenth Commandment, but rather the plan and the action to actualize the sinful thought.
Therefore, we can identify three steps of sinning: (1) desiring something that someone else has, (2) coveting, which includes planning and scheming, and (3) the action to acquire what has been desired. That is what the letter of the Law says. The desire of coveting, as a beginning of action, can be suppressed, though. The One who reads the human mind and knows the intention of the heart, the Omniscient, goes beyond the letter of the Law to expose the coveting as the first step in sinning.
Yeshua’s emphasis on coveting as an action is reflected in His Sermon on the Mount. In it the Messiah goes on to give six interpretations of the laws in the Torah by using the pattern, “You heard what was said in the Torah. Moreover, I say to you”.
He argues that not only is murder a punishable sin, but even feeling anger toward someone or insulting them is a punishable sin. Another punishable with death sin is adultery. Yeshua goes even further than the letter of the law to warn that even looking at a woman with lust for her is already adultery with her in the heart. And on another occasion when asked by the Pharisees on the same issue, He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts, Mosheh allowed you to put away your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” (Mat 19:8)
The hardness of the heart is the focal point of Yeshua in the Sermon on the Mount.
Such a coveting of the heart leads to lust in the heart, active planning, and action in which the coveting becomes a sin. It is the coveting of the heart that Yeshua forbids in His Sermon, which is also forbidden in the Torah: “Do not covet your neighbor’s wife and anything the belongs to him”.
The first act in a righteous life is to detect right and wrong in the thought of the mind and in the intention of the heart. If the urge to sin in action is confronted right there in the mind and in the heart, the sin is powerless to hurt.
Therefore, in the Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua has not abolished the Torah of YHVH, nor has He contrasted the laws and His teachings, but He has given us the interpretation of the Torah that has been from the very beginning — the Torah in our hearts. Only when we have the Torah in our hearts, the sin will be prevented.
May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.