Below is a rough translation and some preliminary comments regarding Matthew 5:38-48, the Revised Common Lectionary reading for the 7th Sunday after Epiphany.
This pericope continues the readings from the “Sermon on the Mount” and contains the last two of the “six antitheses” which began in last week’s text. Your comments are both welcomed and appreciated.
38 Ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη, Ὀφθαλμὸν ἀντὶ ὀφθαλμοῦ καὶ ὀδόντα ἀντὶ ὀδόντος.
You have heard that it was said, “Eye against eye and tooth against tooth.”
Ἠκούσατε: AAI 2p, ἀκούω, 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf
ἐρρέθη: API 3s, εἶπον, to utter with the mouth, to say, speak
1. Since there is no indefinite article in ancient Greek, it is often added in English translations. So, this could be smoothed out to say, “An eye against an eye …”
2. ἀντὶ is often used to mean ‘over and against something.’ It will serve that role in the next verse as the prefix to ἀντι/στῆναι, to ‘stand against’ or ‘resist.’ It is usually translated “for” here, to mean “in return for.”
39 ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν μὴ ἀντιστῆναι τῷ πονηρῷ: ἀλλ' ὅστις σε ῥαπίζει εἰς τὴν
δεξιὰν σιαγόνα [σου], στρέψον αὐτῷ καὶ τὴν ἄλλην:
Yet I say to you not to resist in the evil; but whoever strikes you on the [your] right cheek/jaw, turn to him also the other;
λέγω: PAI 1s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἀντιστῆναι: AAInf, ἀνθίστημι, 1) to set one's self against, to withstand, resist, oppose 2) to set against
ῥαπίζει: PAI 3s, ῥαπίζω, 1) smite, to rap or strike with a stick, to beat with rods, scourge; then, to slap in the face, box on the ears, cuff
στρέψον: AAImpv 2s, ) to turn, turn around 2) to turn one's self
1. The verb “not to resist” (ἀντιστῆναι) is not an imperative, but an infinitive. It may take on the feeling of an imperative, but I think “do not resist” may be too strong. The imperative will come in the word “turn.”
2. The noun “evil” is in the dative case, hence the indirect “in the evil,” instead of the expected accusative, which would have made it a direct object of the verb. It could be a substantive noun, “in the evil one,” but that would seem to work better in the accusative case than in the dative.
3. The verb “turn” is the imperative in this verse.
40 καὶ τῷ θέλοντί σοι κριθῆναι καὶ τὸν χιτῶνά σου λαβεῖν, ἄφες αὐτῷ καὶ τὸ
and to the one wanting to sue you and to take your tunic, give up to him also the coat;
θέλοντί: PAPart dms, θέλω, 1) to will, have in mind, intend
κριθῆναι: APInf κρίνω, 1) to separate, put asunder, to pick out, select, choose 2) to approve, esteem, to prefer 3) to be of opinion, deem, think, to be of opinion 4) to determine, resolve, decree 5) to judge … to bring a law suit
λαβεῖν: AAInf, λαμβάνω, 1) to take 1a) to take with the hand, lay hold of, any person or thing in order to use it
ἄφες: AAImpv 2s, ἀφίημι, 1) to send away 1a) to bid going away or depart 1a1) of a husband divorcing his wife 1b) to send forth, yield up, … to give up
1. I have no insight to 1st century Mediterranean sartorial habits, so I’m just looking for words to indicate different layers of garments.
2. Exodus 22:6 already put some limits on taking a cloak as a pledge for a loan. It must be returned by sundown because the borrower will be cold and that cloak may be the only covering s/he has. In Exodus, the law pertains to the lender. Here, it would seem that the borrower has been unable to meet the terms of the loan, so the lender is using the power of the court to enforce the terms. By adding the extra garment, the borrower has taken power away from the lender.
41 καὶ ὅστις σε ἀγγαρεύσει μίλιον ἕν, ὕπαγε μετ'αὐτοῦ δύο.
And whoever will compel you one mile, go with him two.
ἀγγαρεύσει: FAI 3s, ἀγγαρεύω, 1) to employ a courier, dispatch a mounted messenger, press into public service, compel to go
ὕπαγε: PAImpv 2s, ὑπάγω, 1) to lead under, bring under 2) to withdraw one's self, to go away, depart
1. I suppose we’re obligated to pass along that a Roman soldier was entitled to compel someone from a vassal state in the Empire to carry a burden for up to a mile (like Simon of Cyrene carrying the cross when Jesus was too weak to do so). I have grown a little suspicious of some explanations (e.g. “the eye of the needle” thing) that seem to explain things like this quite so neatly. One reference for this practice of impressment, that looks reliable, is Stephen Mitchell’s, “Requisitioned Transport in the Roman Empire: A New Inscription from Pisidia” in The Journal of Roman Studies, 66, 106–131 (1976).
2. If the practice of impressment is at work here, the act of going the extra mile might serve two purposes: It would disarm the soldier who is no longer empowered to coerce; and it would relieve the next person whom that soldier might conscript for more distance. It seems to me that the first effect is what is meant here, similar to turning the other cheek/jaw and disabling the striker to have the power over the moment.
3. As an aside, my son used to be an expert at the psychology of these verses. If we sent him to his room, he’d tell us how much he wanted to go to his room for a while. And when his timeout was over, he’d stay longer because he “wanted to.”
42 τῷ αἰτοῦντί σε δός, καὶ τὸν θέλοντα ἀπὸ σοῦ δανίσασθαι μὴ ἀποστραφῇς.
To the one who asks you give, and the one wanting to borrow from you you may not turn away.
αἰτοῦντί: PAPart dms, αἰτέω, 1) to ask, beg, call for, crave, desire, require
δός: AAImpv 2s, δίδωμι, 1) to give 2) to give something to someone 2a) of one's own accord to give one something, to his advantage
θέλοντα: PAPart ams, θέλω, 1) to will, have in mind, intend
δανίσασθαι: AMInf, δανείζω, 1) to lend money 2) to have money lent to one's self 3) to take a loan, borrow
ἀποστραφῇς: APSubj 2s, ἀποστρέφω, 1) to turn away 1a) to remove anything from anyone 1b) to turn him away from allegiance to any one
1. My last name is secretly hidden in this verse. That won’t preach, but it’s cool.
43 Ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη, Ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου καὶ μισήσεις τὸν
You have heard that is was said, “You will love your friend and will hate your enemy.
Ἠκούσατε: AAI 2p, ἀκούω, 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf
ἐρρέθη: API 3s, εἶπον to utter with the mouth, to say, speak
Ἀγαπήσεις: FAI 2s, ἀγαπάω, 1) of persons 1a) to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly 2) of things 2a) to be well pleased, to be contented at or with a thing
μισήσεις: FAI 2s, μισέω, 1) to hate, pursue with hatred, detest 2) to be hated, detested
1. This dictum is not a quote from the Hebrew Bible and I think it is a mistake to suggest that it is an allusion to Leviticus 19:18 (love your neighbor as yourself). As Luke’s parable of the Good Samaritan suggests, the teaching in Leviticus to love one’s neighbor is not necessarily confined to only loving one’s own kind, even if the original verse in Leviticus was addressing how the Israelites were to act toward one another. And that verse does not say anything about hating ones’ neighbor as a corollary to loving one’s friend.
2. Some of the older Christian commentaries try to attribute this dictum to Jewish rabbis or Greek philosophers. I do not know where, exactly, this dictum is written, except that it appears to be the most common code of ethics throughout time and space. And the Christian community has been/is just as adept at believing in it and practicing it as any other.
3. The fact that Jesus is using the phrase, “You have heard that it was said” to refer to something not explicitly in the Scriptures, but a popular thought generally, should make us re-think the mad scramble to try to piece together various fragments of Old Testament verses to fit each of the six antitheses in Matthew 5:21-48.
4. Like some of the other theses, the verbs here are future indicative, not imperatives: You will love … and will hate. I think “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy” or “You shall love … hate” imply otherwise.
5. The verbs here are also singular. That changes in the next verse.
44 ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀγαπᾶτε τοὺς ἐχθροὺς ὑμῶν καὶ προσεύχεσθε ὑπὲρ
τῶν διωκόντων ὑμᾶς,
Yet I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who mistreat you,
λέγω: PAI 1s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἀγαπᾶτε: PAImpv 2pl, , ἀγαπάω, 1) of persons 1a) to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly 2) of things 2a) to be well pleased, to be contented at or with a thing
προσεύχεσθε: PMImpv 2pl, προσεύχομαι, 1) to offer prayers, to pray
διωκόντων: PAPart gmpl, διώκω, 1) to make to run or flee, put to flight, drive away … 3) in any way whatever to harass, trouble, molest one 3a) to persecute
1. The dictum that Jesus cites in v.43 has ‘you’ in the singular, whereas his instruction in v.44 is addressed to plural ‘you.’
2. Here’s that imperative voice that we’ve been looking for: love, pray.
45 ὅπως γένησθε υἱοὶ τοῦ πατρὸς ὑμῶν τοῦ ἐν οὐρανοῖς, ὅτι τὸν ἥλιον αὐτοῦ
ἀνατέλλει ἐπὶ πονηροὺς καὶ ἀγαθοὺς καὶ βρέχει ἐπὶ δικαίους καὶ ἀδίκους.
That you may be children of your father in heaven, because he raises his sun on evil and good and rains on just and unjust.
γένησθε: AMSubj 2pl, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
ἀνατέλλει: PAI 3s, ἀνατέλλω, 1) rise 1a) to cause to rise 1a1) of the earth bring forth plants 1b) to rise, arise, to rise from, be descended from 1b1) of sun moon and stars)
βρέχει: PAI 3s, βρέχω, 1) to moisten, wet, water 2) to water with rain, to cause to rain, to pour the rain, to send down like rain
1. This strikes me as the key verse in this pericope. It is in the nature of God, as evident in nature itself, that the sun rises with no respect to whether one is good or evil; the rain falls with no respect to whether one is just or unjust. Not only does this go against the superstition (both ancient and present) that God sends weather events in order to punish or reward, but more importantly it goes against the dictum of v.43 by showing that God’s gifts (“his sun,” “[God] rains”) on all, regardless of good or evil.
2. I believe this indiscriminate rising of God’s sun and God’s raining is the basis for the following verses on which love should be meted out indiscriminately in v.46, welcome should be indiscriminate in v.47, and one should live fully in v.48. I also suspect it is the basis on which one can not retaliate (v.39), avoid a court trial by giving clothing (v.40), going the extra mile (v.41), and giving to the one who asks (v.42).
46 ἐὰν γὰρ ἀγαπήσητε τοὺς ἀγαπῶντας ὑμᾶς, τίνα μισθὸν ἔχετε; οὐχὶ καὶ οἱ
τελῶναι τὸ αὐτὸ ποιοῦσιν;
For if you love the ones who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
ἀγαπήσητε: AASubj 2pl, , ἀγαπάω, 1) of persons 1a) to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly
ἀγαπῶντας: PAPart ampl, ἀγαπάω, 1) of persons 1a) to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly
ἔχετε: PAI 2pl, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold
ποιοῦσιν: PAI 3pl, ποιέω, 1) to make 1a) to produce, construct, form, fashion
1. A tax collector, Gentiles, and anyone who follows the dictum of v.43 would send the sun to the good, but not the bad, and rain on the just, but not the unjust.
47 καὶ ἐὰν ἀσπάσησθε τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς ὑμῶν μόνον, τί περισσὸν ποιεῖτε; οὐχὶ
καὶ οἱ ἐθνικοὶ τὸ αὐτὸ ποιοῦσιν;
And if you welcome your brothers only, what advantage have you done? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
ἀσπάσησθε: AMSubj 2pl, ἀσπάζομαι, 1) to draw to one's self 1a) to salute one, greet, bid welcome, wish well to 1b) to receive joyfully, welcome
48 Ἔσεσθε οὖν ὑμεῖς τέλειοι ὡς ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ οὐράνιος τέλειός ἐστιν.
Therefore, you will be complete as your father in heaven is complete.
Ἔσεσθε: FMI 2pl, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. Back to describing God as the one “in heaven,” from which the sun shines and the rain falls indiscriminately.
2. The words τέλειοι (pl) and τέλειός (sg) have a much wider and a much narrower meaning than the word “perfect” in most translations suggests. It is wider in the sense that it takes the indiscriminate nature of God and implies that it is the way of being for all of God’s children. It is narrower in that “perfect” in our culture implies ‘absolutely without error’ and I don’t think that kind of impossibility is really what is implied here.
3. My own understanding of this text is really summed up well in an article by Robert H. Smith, “The End in Matthew (5:48 and 28:20): How to Preach It and How Not To”, (Word & World, Volume XIX, Number 3 Summer, 1999). Among other gems: “It means being children of God, sharing in the divine nature that is marked by stunning and indiscriminate acts of generosity to all.”
4. This quote is similar to Luke 6:36: Γίνεσθε οἰκτίρμονες καθὼς [καὶ] ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν οἰκτίρμων ἐστίν. Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful. Both are renditions of Leviticus 11:44-45: “For I am the Lord your God; sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming creature that moves on the earth. For I am the Lord who brought you up from the land of Egypt, to be your God; you shall be holy, for I am holy.”