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Ye Have Heard

by Tim O'Hearn

To those of us raised in the 1960s, authority was often a bad word. “Trust nobody over 30.” Use disrespectful names for the police, the military, and parents. Call politicians by their last name without giving them their proper title (Obama or Bush—or Shrub—for President Obama or President Bush). People could identify more with Pontius Pilate (“What is truth?”—Jn 18:38) than with Jesus (“Thy word is truth.”—Jn 17:17). Maybe that is why that generation pictured Jesus as a long-haired, sandal-toting rebel. In a sense he was a rebel against the established religious authority (and did wear sandals, although we make assumptions about the long hair). His rebellion, though, was against false authority, and he alone had the right to rebel, being the source of true authority. Unlike many who post disrespectful diatribes on Facebook or Twitter, when they really don’t know what they are talking about, Jesus, being the Son of God, knew the mind of God more intimately than the scribes and Pharisees ever could.

One of the passages used to show his rebellion against authority is Matthew 5. In reality, though, this passage shows his loyalty to the ultimate authority figure, God. “And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he Murder is a symptom of anger, and anger is a symptom of “a failure to communicate.”taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (Matt 7:28-29)

This last passage proves that Jesus was more authoritative than rebellious. It also tells us something about the scribes. About 200 years after Jesus, the scribes compiled the Talmuds. (Plural because there is actually more than one.) A common phrasing in the Talmud (either one), which has come down to halachic scholars even today, is “Rabbi X said, in the name of Rabbi Y, …” That is, a rabbi would call upon the authority of an earlier scholar, most often his teacher, to give credence to the interpretation he was about to introduce. Considering that this formula was put in print within a couple of hundred years, it is entirely possible that it was in vogue when Jesus taught. Thus, when he compares “ye have heard it said” to “but I say,” it is no wonder that the people considered him to be the one speaking with authority. The scribes were always giving the authority to someone else, usually someone dead who could not debate whether he truly said something or not. Jesus was speaking in his own name. Let us look at some of these “revolutionary” statements.

Murder

Ye have heard that it was said by 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. (Matt 5:21-22)

A previous article in Minutes With Messiah (A Higher Court, September 2014) discussed in detail the various levels of punishment that Jesus mentions. Regardless of those legal distinctions, Jesus is pointing out the authoritative reason murder is wrong. Now, murder is wrong, but most of the time there is a more basic problem. Except, perhaps, in the cases of true psychopaths, murder is a symptom of anger, and anger is a symptom of “a failure to communicate” (to quote “the Captain” in Cool Hand Luke).

What Jesus says they had heard is no doubt true. One who commits murder is liable to punishment. The reason, though, is that by the time one commits murder, he has ignored a number of warnings that might have prevented it.

1,509. The number of women murdered by men they knew in 2011. Of the 1,509 women, 926 were killed by an intimate partner and 264 of those were killed by an intimate partner during an argument. (Huffingtonpost.com, 10/23/14, updated 2/13/15)

That same source says that between 2001 and 2012 the number of women murdered by current or ex male partners was almost double the number of American troops killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. Domestic abuse murders are only a portion of the total murders in the United States, but this shows a large percentage that likely were the end result of a long-standing anger issue. Granted there are other reasons for murder, such as drug-related violence. The point is that the sin of murder is usually not the root sin. To simply lay murder at the door of justice is like saying that a cancer death is only the result of the heart stopping beating.

Adultery

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. (Matt 5:27-28)

Again Jesus says that the old authority is simply insufficient to the problem. As shown by the case of the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8), some Jewish leaders held a double standard as regards this law. Prostitution was overlooked, because that was a choice by a man to commit adultery; but if a woman committed the same sin, she was prosecuted. Obviously they even ignored the law that said both participants were liable to the same punishment.

Today people ask, “Can I get a scriptural divorce based on ‘adultery in the heart’?” Besides showing the same legalistic double standard, this question shows a misunderstanding of what Jesus had to say about the sin. It is the same misunderstanding that was perpetrated by President Carter in his famous interview for Playboy magazine. While there may be other reasons pornography is wrong, the common statement based on this passage is probably inaccurate.

Jesus says adultery is wrong, just as they have heard. Looking on a woman “to lust after her” (which some Greek scholars say is equivalent to rape: desiring her to the point that one must consummate the desire) is wrong. Possibly even looking at pornography is wrong, but not directly addressed. The root problem, though, is that the thought is the master of the action. If one does not conceive of the possibility of adultery, one will never commit adultery. If one keeps control of one’s thoughts, the sins will not follow. Paul said the same thing in Philippians 4:8.

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

When Jesus said that the greatest command was to love God and the second was to love your neighbor, he was saying the same thing. On these two hang all the law and the prophets because the thought is master of the action. Love trumps legalism every time.

Divorce

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. (Matt 5:31-32)

There has been much debate in recent months about marriage, and some have pointed out the apparent hypocrisy of objecting to some marriages and yet remaining silent about divorce. Some even point out that with a broader view of marriage, it follows that there will be more divorces. It is a controversial topic. Nor is it one that Minutes With Messiah has shied away from. (See www.minuteswithmessiah.com/minutes/divorce.html; online version only.)

There is a famous debate between rabbis about divorce in which Rabbi Hillel took the position that the law, in saying “she does not please him because he has found something offensive in her,” allows divorce if she spoiled his dinner. Obviously Rabbi Shimei argued that this meant unseemly conduct. Even though Jesus often seems to have sided with Rabbi Hillel (who died about ten The thought is master of the action. If one does not conceive of the possibility of adultery, one will never commit adultery.years before he was born), in this case he clearly disagrees with the esteemed scholar.

Although here Jesus acknowledges the fact of divorce, in another place (Matt 19:8) he says that from the creation that was not God’s intent. What he does say here is that the concept of “no-fault” divorce is wrong. The modern excuse of “irreconcilable differences” is no different than spoiling the dinner. While there is debate what is meant by “fornications,” which in the original is in the plural—that is, whether it means before or after the marriage—he is clearly destroying the double standard applied to adultery.

Jesus goes on to talk about other things in the same way: tradition says one thing, my authority says another. Space does not allow a treatment of those in this issue. Whether it concerns the issues addressed in Matthew 5 or not, ultimately the point is that Jesus had authority. Even though what he said was less important than what he did, after the resurrection he began the commission to teach the gospel with the statement, “All authority has been given me, in heaven and in earth.” (Matt 28:18-19) It is on the basis of his authority that we must teach others that he died and rose again to reconcile man to God.