Think not that I am come to destroy the law – Do not imagine that I am come to violate the law καταλυσαι, from κατα, and λυω, I loose, violate, or dissolve – I am not come to make the law of none effect – to dissolve the connection which subsists between its several parts, or the obligation men are under to have their lives regulated by its moral precepts; nor am I come to dissolve the connecting reference it has to the good things promised. But I am come, πληρωσαι, to complete – to perfect its connection and reference, to accomplish every thing shadowed forth in the Mosaic ritual, to fill up its great design; and to give grace to all my followers, πληρωσαι, to fill up, or complete, every moral duty. In a word, Christ completed the law:
1st. In itself, it was only the shadow, the typical representation, of good things to come; and he added to it that which was necessary to make it perfect, His Own Sacrifice, without which it could neither satisfy God, nor sanctify men.
2dly. He completed it in himself by submitting to its types with an exact obedience, and verifying them by his death upon the cross.
3dly. He completes this law, and the sayings of his prophets, in his members, by giving them grace to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and their neighbor as themselves; for this is all the law and the prophets.
It is worthy of observation, that the word גמר gamar, among the rabbins, signifies not only to fulfill, but also to teach; and, consequently, we may infer that our Lord intimated, that the law and the prophets were still to be taught or inculcated by him and his disciples; and this he and they have done in the most pointed manner. See the Gospels and epistles; and see especially this sermon on the mount, the Epistle of James, and the Epistle to the Hebrews. And this meaning of the word gives the clear sense of the apostle’s words, Col_1:25. Whereof I am made a minister, πληρωσαι τον λογον του Θεου, to fulfill the word of God, i.e. to teach the doctrine of God.
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven – In the very commencement of his ministry, Jesus Christ teaches the instability of all visible things. “The heaven which you see, and which is so glorious, and the earth which you inhabit and love, shall pass away; for the things which are seen are temporal, προσκαιρα, are for a time; but the things which are not seen are eternal αιωνια, ever-during,” 2Co_4:18. And the Word of the Lord endureth for ever.
One jot or one tittle – One yod, (י), the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet. One tittle or point, κεραια, either meaning those points which serve for vowels in this language, if they then existed; or the seraphs, or points of certain letters, such as ר resh, or ד daleth, ה he, or ח cheth (as the change of any of these into the other would make a most essential alteration in the sense, or, as the rabbins say, destroy the world). Or our Lord may refer to the little ornaments which certain letters assume on their tops, which cause them to appear like small branches. The following letters only can assume coronal apices, ץ tsaddi – ג gimel – ז zain – נ nun – ט teth – ע ayin – ש shin. These, with the coronal apices, often appear in MSS.
That this saying, one jot or one tittle, is a proverbial mode of expression among the Jews, and that it expressed the meaning given to it above, is amply proved by the extracts in Lightfoot and Schoettgen. The reader will not be displeased to find a few of them here, if he can bear with the allegorical and strongly figurative language of the rabbins.
“The book of Deuteronomy came and prostrated itself before the Lord, and said: ‘O Lord of the world, thou hast written in me thy law; but now, a Testament defective in some parts is defective in all. Behold, Solomon endeavors to root the letter yod out of me.’ (In this text, Deu_17:5. לא ירבה נשים lo yirbeh, nashim, he shall not multiply wives). The holy blessed God answered, ‘Solomon and a thousand such as he shall perish, but the least word shall not perish out of thee.’”
In Shir Hashirim Rabba, are these words:
“Should all the inhabitants of the earth gather together, in order to whiten one feather of a crow, they could not succeed: so, if all the inhabitants of the earth should unite to abolish one י yod, which is the smallest letter in the whole law, they should not be able to effect it.”
In Vayikra Rabba, s. 19, it is said:
“Should any person in the words of Deu_6:4, Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is אחד achad, One Lord, change the ד daleth into a ר resh, he would ruin the world.” [Because, in that case, the word אחר achar, would signify a strange or false God].
“Should any one, in the words of Exo_34:14, Thou shalt worship no Other, אחר achar, God, change ר resh into ד daleth, he would ruin the world.” [Because the command would then run, Thou shalt not worship the Only or true God].
“Should any one in the words of Lev_22:32, Neither shall ye Profane תחללו techelelu, my holy name, change ח cheth into ה he, he would ruin the world.” [Because the sense of the commandment would then be, Neither shall ye Praise my holy name].
“Should any one, in the words of Psa_150:6, Let every thing that hath breath Praise, תהלל tehalel, the Lord, change ה, he into ח cheth, he would ruin the world.” [Because the command would then run, Let every thing that hath breath Profane the Lord].
“Should any one, in the words of Jer_5:10, They lied Against the Lord, ביהוה beihovah, change ב beth into כ caph, he would ruin the world.” [For then the words would run, They lied Like the Lord].
“Should any one, in the words of Hosea, Hos_5:7, They have dealt treacherously, ביהוה beihovah, Against the Lord, change ב beth into כ caph, he would ruin the world.” [For then the words would run, They have dealt treacherously Like the Lord].
“Should any one, in the words of 1Sa_2:2, There is none holy As the Lord, change כ caph into ב beth, he would ruin the world.” [For then the words would mean, There is no holiness In the Lord].
These examples fully prove that the μια κεραια of our Lord, refers to the apices, points, or corners, that distinguish ב beth from כ caph; ח cheth from ה he; and ר resh from ד daleth. For the reader will at once perceive, how easily a כ caph may be turned into a ב beth; a ה he into a ח cheth; and a ר resh into a ד daleth: and he will also see of what infinite consequence it is to write and print such letters correctly.
Till all be fulfilled – Or, accomplished. Though all earth and hell should join together to hinder the accomplishment of the great designs of the Most High, yet it shall all be in vain – even the sense of a single letter shall not be lost. The words of God, which point out his designs, are as unchangeable as his nature itself. Every sinner, who perseveres in his iniquity, shall surely be punished with separation from God and the glory of his power; and every soul that turns to God, through Christ, shall as surely be saved, as that Jesus himself hath died.
Matthew only. As Christ honoured the Law (verse 17) so are his disciples to honour it.
Whosoever therefore. Seeing that every part of the Law is of permanent value. In this verse our Lord once for all declares his opposition to antinomianism. Every one of the commands in the Law is, in its true and ideal meaning, still binding.
Shall break (λύσῃ). Not merely in contrast to “do” (ποιήσῃ vide infra) in the sense of “transgress” (Fritzsche), but “abrogate” (cf. Bishop Westcott, on Joh_5:18, “Not the violation of the sanctity of the day in a special case, but the abrogation of the duty of observance;” cf. also Mat_16:19; Mat_18:18; 1Jn_3:8). It expresses, indeed, a less complete abrogation than καταλῦσαι (verse 17), because, while speaking of himself, the Lord could use the strongest word possible, and that with reference to the whole Law or the Prophets; but here his expression is limited by the inability of any individual disciple to carry out an abrogation even of one command. One of these least commandments. Not necessarily such as the Pharisees reckoned least, in their enumeration of small and great, but such as our Lord himself symbolized by “jot” or “tittle;” those precepts which in reality are the least important (Meyer). Chrysostom strangely says that our Lord here refers, not to old laws, but to those which he was about to lay down; similarly Bengel thinks of verses 22-28, etc. While the Jews distinguished carefully between small and great precepts, they insisted on the importance of keeping even the smallest; cf. ‘Ab.,’ 4.5 (Taylor), “Hasten to a slight precept.., for the reward of precept is precept.”
And shall teach men so. Doing his best to abrogate it, not only in his own person by neglect or violation, but also for others by teaching them to disregard it. He shall be called the least. The Revised Version omits “he, .. the.” He is not cast out of the kingdom, but his want of moral insight (did he consider it “breadth of thought”?) leads to his being called least in the kingdom. It is the converse of the parable in Luk_19:17, etc. There faithfulness in a very little (ἐλαχίστῳ) wins much; here disregard of a very little causes a person to be reckoned (Luk_19:9, note) as very little—the principle of judgment being that of Luk_16:10, “He that is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and he that is unrighteous in a very little is unrighteous also in much.”
In the kingdom of heaven; i.e. probably in its full and final establishment. The doctrine of grades of blessedness and of punishment hereafter is clearly taught in Scripture (e.g. Luk_12:47, Luk_12:48).
But whosoever shall do and teach them. Similarly the Revised Version; but rather supply “it,” i.e. “that which is required in the smallest commandment” (Meyer). The personal performance and conscious spreading of one of the least commandments will be found to involve so much that it gains for the person a high position.
Do and teach. For many will perform a command without taking any conscious part in spreading it. The same; Revised Version, he (οὗτος). Why inserted here and not in the previous clause? Partly because of the awkwardness of inserting οὗτος there so soon after οὕτως; partly because our Lord wished to lay stress there on the recompense, here on the person (“he and no other”) who receives recompense. On the thought, cf. ‘Test. XII. Parr.’ (Levi., § 13), “If he teach these things and practise them, he shall share the throne of the king, as also Joseph our brother.” It is worth adding Tyndale’s remark in his ‘Exposition,’ “Whosoever shall first fulfil them [these least commandments following] himself, and then teach other, and set all his study to the furtherance and maintaining of them, that doctor shall all they of the kingdom of heaven have in price, and follow him and seek him out, as doth an eagle her prey, and cleave to him as burrs.”
Except your righteousness shall exceed – περισσευση, Unless your righteousness abound more – unless it take in, not only the letter, but the spirit and design of the moral and ritual precept; the one directing you how to walk so as to please God; the other pointing out Christ, the great Atonement, through and by which a sinner is enabled to do so – more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, who only attend to the letter of the law, and had indeed made even that of no effect by their traditions – ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. This fully explains the meaning of the preceding verse. The old English word is right-wiseness, i.e. complete, thorough, excellent Wisdom. For a full explanation of this verse, see Luk_18:10, etc.
Ye have heard (ἠκούσατε, frequentative aorist). Our Lord does not say, “ye have read” (cf. Mat_21:42), for he was not now speaking to the learned classes, but to a large audience many of whom were probably unable to read. “Ye have heard,” i.e. from your teachers whose teaching claims to be the substance of the Law. So, probably, even in Joh_12:34, where the multitude say that they “have heard out of the Law that the Christ abideth for ever,” which, since this is hardly expressed in so many words in the Old Testament, must mean that the instructions they have received on this subject truly represent the substance of its teaching. So here our Lord says, “You have heard from your teachers (cf. Rom_2:18) that the substance of the sixth commandment is so-and-so.” It is thus quite intelligible that in some of these utterances there should be found added to (Joh_12:21, Joh_12:43) or intermingled with (Joh_12:33) the words of a passage of Scripture, other words which are either taken from Scripture, but from another place in it (perhaps Joh_12:33), or do not occur in Scripture at all, but merely help to form a compendious statement of a definite interpretation (here and Joh_12:43). It must remain doubtful whether our Lord himself formulated these statements of the popular teaching, or quoted them verbally as current. If the latter, as is perhaps more likely, there remains the at present still more insoluble question whether they were only oral or (cf. the case of the ‘Didaehe’) had already been committed to writing.
That it was said by them of old time (ὅτι ἐῤῥέθη τοῖς ἀρχαίοις). By; Revised Version, to. Similarly Joh_12:33. Although “by” may be defended, “to” (Wickliffe and Tyndale downwards) is certainly right, because
(a) it is the common usage with a passive verb;
(b) it is the constant usage with ἐῤῥέθη in the New Testament (e.g. Rom_9:12, Rom_9:26);
(c) the parallelism with ἐγὼ δέ κ.τ.λ., is more exact;
(d) the popular teaching claimed to be, even in its strictest esoteric form of oral tradition, derived ultimately, not from the words of any human teachers, however primitive, but from the words of God spoken by him to them.
In the case before us our Lord accepts the popular teaching of the time as truly representing the Divine utterance in the giving of the Law, so far as that utterance was then intended to be understood.
Them of old time. This can hardly be limited to “the original founders of the Jewish Commonwealth,” to use Trench’s curiously unbiblical expression (‘Syn.,’ § 67.). It probably includes all who lived a generation or more before our Lord’s time (cf. Weiss).
Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment. The substance, according to the popular teaching, of the sixth commandment (Exo_20:13; Deu_5:17). This the current form of it (based partly on Le 24:21; Num_35:1-34.; Deu_19:12) was that murder was not to be committed, and that if it was committed the murderer was to be brought up for trial. Shall be in danger of (ἔνοχος ἔσται); i.e. in legal danger—legally guilty of a charge which involves the judgment (cf. Mat_26:66).
The judgment; i.e. the local Sanhedrin (cf. Mat_10:17), of apparently seven men in a smaller, twenty-three in a larger, town. This answers to “the congregation,” or “the elders” of the town to which the murderer belonged, before whom he was to be tried (Num_35:12, Num_35:16, Num_35:24; Deu_19:12).
Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause – ὁ οργιζομενος – εικη, who is vainly incensed. “This translation is literal; and the very objectionable phrase, without a cause, is left out, εικη being more properly translated by that above.” What our Lord seems here to prohibit, is not merely that miserable facility which some have of being angry at every trifle, continually taking offense against their best friends; but that anger which leads a man to commit outrages against another, thereby subjecting himself to that punishment which was to be inflicted on those who break the peace.
Εικη, vainly, or, as in the common translation, without a cause, is wanting in the famous Vatican MS. and two others, the Ethiopic, latter Arabic, Saxon, Vulgate, two copies of the old Itala, J. Martyr, Ptolomeus, Origen, Tertullian, and by all the ancient copies quoted by St. Jerome. It was probably a marginal gloss originally, which in process of time crept into the text.
Shall be in danger of the judgment – ενοχος εϚται, shall be liable to the judgment. That is, to have the matter brought before a senate, composed of twenty-three magistrates, whose business it was to judge in cases of murder and other capital crimes. It punished criminals by strangling or beheading; but Dr. Lightfoot supposes the judgment of God to be intended. See at the end of this chapter.
Raca – ריקה from the Hebrew רק rak, to be empty. It signifies a vain, empty, worthless fellow, shallow brains, a term of great contempt. Such expressions were punished among the Gentoos by a heavy fine. See all the cases, Code of Gentoo Laws, chap. 15: sec. 2.
The council – Συνεδριον, the famous council, known among the Jews by the name of Sanhedrin. It was composed of seventy-two elders, six chosen out of each tribe. This grand Sanhedrin not only received appeals from the inferior Sanhedrins, or court of twenty-three mentioned above; but could alone take cognizance, in the first instance, of the highest crimes, and alone inflict the punishment of stoning.
Thou fool – Moreh, probably from מרה marah, to rebel, a rebel against God, apostate from all good. This term implied, among the Jews, the highest enormity, and most aggravated guilt. Among the Gentoos, such an expression was punished by cutting out the tongue, and thrusting a hot iron, of ten fingers breadth, into the mouth of the person who used it. Code of Gentoo Laws, chap. 15: sec. 2. p. 212.
Shall be in danger of hell fire – ενοχος εϚται εις την γεενναν του πυρος, shall be liable to the hell of fire. Our Lord here alludes to the valley of the son of Hinnom, גי הנם Ghi hinom. This place was near Jerusalem, and had been formerly used for those abominable sacrifices, in which the idolatrous Jews had caused their children to pass through the fire to Molech. A particular place in this valley was called Tophet, from תפת tophet, the fire stove, in which some supposed they burnt their children alive to the above idol. See 2Ki_23:10; 2Ch_28:3; Jer_7:31, Jer_7:32. From the circumstances of this valley having been the scene of those infernal sacrifices, the Jews, in our Savior’s time, used the word for hell, the place of the damned. See the word applied in this sense by the Targum, on Rth_2:12; Psa_140:12; Gen_3:24; Gen_15:17. It is very probable that our Lord means no more here than this: if a man charge another with apostasy from the Jewish religion, or rebellion against God, and cannot prove his charge, then he is exposed to that punishment (burning alive) which the other must have suffered, if the charge had been substantiated.
There are three kinds of offenses here, which exceed each other in their degrees of guilt.
1st. Anger against a man, accompanied with some injurious act.
2dly. Contempt, expressed by the opprobrious epithet raka, or shallow brains.
3dly. Hatred and mortal enmity, expressed by the term moreh, or apostate, where such apostasy could not be proved.
Now, proportioned to these three offenses were three different degrees of punishment, each exceeding the other in its severity, as the offenses exceeded each other in their different degrees of guilt.
1st. The judgment, the council of twenty-three, which could inflict the punishment of strangling.
2dly. The Sanhedrin, or great council, which could inflict the punishment of stoning. And
3dly. The being burnt alive in the valley of the son of Hinnom. This appears to be the meaning of our Lord.
Now, if the above offenses were to be so severely punished, which did not immediately affect the life of another, how much sorer must the punishment of murder be! Mat_5:21. And as there could not be a greater punishment inflicted than death, in the above terrific forms, and this was to be inflicted for minor crimes; then the punishment of murder must not only have death here, but a hell of fire in the eternal world, attached to it. It seems that these different degrees of guilt, and the punishment attached to each, had not been properly distinguished among the Jews. Our Lord here calls their attention back to them, and gives then to understand, that in the coming world there are different degrees of punishment prepared for different degrees of vice; and that not only the outward act of iniquity should be judged and punished by the Lord, but that injurious words, and evil passions, should all meet their just recompense and reward. Murder is the most punishable of all crimes, according to the written law, in respect both of our neighbors and civil society. But he who sees the heart, and judges it by the eternal law, punishes as much a word or a desire, if the hatred whence they proceed be complete and perfected. Dr. Lightfoot has some curious observations on this passage in the preface to his Harmony of the Evangelists. See his works, vol. ii., and the conclusion of this chapter.
Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy – Instead of πλησιον neighbor, the Codex Graevii, a MS. of the eleventh century, reads φιλον friend. Thou shalt love thy friend, and hate thine enemy. This was certainly the meaning which the Jews put on it: for neighbor, with them, implied those of the Jewish race, and all others were, considered by them as natural enemies. Besides, it is evident that πλησιον, among the Hellenistic Jews, meant friend merely: Christ uses it precisely in this sense in Luk_10:36, in answer to the question asked by a certain lawyer, Mat_5:29. Who of the three was neighbor (πλησιον friend) to him who fell among the thieves? He who showed him mercy; i.e. he who acted the friendly part. In Hebrew, רע reâ, signifies friend, which word is translated πλησιον by the Lxx. in more than one hundred places. Among the Greeks it was a very comprehensive term, and signified every man, not even an enemy excepted, as Raphelius, on this verse, has shown from Polybius. The Jews thought themselves authorized to kill any Jew who apostatized; and, though they could not do injury to the Gentiles, in whose country they sojourned, yet they were bound to suffer them to perish, if they saw them in danger of death. Hear their own words: “A Jew sees a Gentile fall into the sea, let him by no means lift him out; for it is written, Thou shalt not rise up against the blood of thy neighbor: – but this is not thy neighbor.” Maimon. This shows that by neighbor they understood a Jew; one who was of the same blood and religion with themselves.
Parallel passage: Luk_6:35, which is more full, but hardly so original in form. That ye may be the children (ὅπως γένησθε υἱοί); sons (Revised Version); cf. Luk_6:9, note. The meaning of the clause is not certain. It may be:
(1) Love to enemies is the means whereby you may become possessed of the full privileges involved in the nature of sons. These privileges are more than the mere participation in Messianic glory (Meyer), and are rather all the blessings present and future which belong to sonship.
(2) Love, in order that on each occasion you may become in fact (almost our “show yourselves”) sons of your Father, sons corresponding in ethical conduct to your position already received. Your Father. Not “the Father” (cf. Luk_6:16, note). Which is in heaven: for ὅτι The privileges generally, or the resemblance on each occasion, can only be obtained by behaviour similar to his, namely, kind treatment of those who injure you; for this is what he himself shows.
He maketh his sun to rise (ἀνατέλλει). If we may lay stress on the Greek, our Lord expresses the popular notion of the sun ascending. It must, however, be remembered that the word he himself probably used was חרז in hiph. (, Peshito), which contains no thought of motion, but rather of appearance. Sun … rain. The two great sources of maintenance. On the evil and on the good … on the just and on the unjust. The first pair connotes, as it seems, the extreme of evil (Mat_6:13, note) and good, in each ease manifesting itself according to its opportunities; the second, the life and character as tried by the standard, especially the human standard, of just dealing. Notice how, by chiasm, the emphasis is laid on the ungodly alike at the beginning and at the end. Our Lord here brings out God’s active love as seen in nature, nourishing and maintaining men, irrespective of the qualities of individuals and of their treatment of him and his laws. The thought is found elsewhere, e.g. in Seneca (vide Meyer), “Si deos imitaris, da et ingratis benelicia; ham et sceleratis sol oritur, et piratis patent maria”.