21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
Before we jump any farther there are a couple of things we need to address. First, we have to remember how we got to vs 21. 1.) We remember He gave us the essential nature of the Christian man in the beatitudes. 2.) He gave us the function and the purpose of the Christian in this life and the world (salt and light). 3.) He explains the relationship of such a person to the law (vs 17-20). 4.) He expounds on the relationship of the Christian to the law in 2 respects: positive exposition of the law and contrasts this with the false teaching of the scribes and Pharisees. Remember His context and to whom He is speaking they would have been checking everything He was saying against what they had been told the law said.
Jones brings up an interesting point as to why Jesus said “You have heard that it was said”. He maintains the context would be much like before the Reformation. The Catholic church read the word in Latin to people who did not know Latin and trusted the priests to get the interpretation right. For the nation of Israel during the Babylonian captivity had ceased to know the Hebrew language. Their language when they came back and at this time was Aramaic. “They were not familiar with Hebrew so they could not read the law of Moses as they had it in their own Hebrew Scriptures. The result was that they were dependent for any knowledge of the law upon the teaching of the Pharisees and the scribes.”1 The same corruption that had taken place in the Catholic church had taken place for the Pharisees and Scribes. Their interpretation was not questioned until Jesus set them straight.
The main thrust of what Jesus will be explaining must be understood in principle long before we can look at the details. If we only look to the list in the details, we will never understand that the principles must be applied daily and not checked off. This misses the spirit of the law and only satisfies the letter. This was what Jesus was correcting. Paul’s point to the Romans in chapter 2 vs 29 says it clearly, “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.” The first principle is just that, we must not miss the spirit of the law. This is not meant to be mechanical obedience but a living and active relationship. The second principle much like the first is this is not just meant to result in actions. If we miss that it is what comes out of our hearts is that what defiles us (Matt 15:18), we will miss the thrust of His teaching. The third principle is the fact that the law is not to be thought of negatively. We are not just known by what we don’t do, but more importantly by what we do. We are to love righteousness. This leads to our next principle that the commandments are not burdensome but they actually promote “free development of spiritual character”. Lastly the law is never thought of as an end in itself. The law was never meant to save, but be a tutor, a guardian (Gal 3:23-29).
The Scribes and Pharisees had developed an external regiment which missed the point. They were as Jesus rebuked them “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you :also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matt 23:27-28) What is the condition of my heart?
So before we look to the details, we want to look to the principle Jesus is laying down. If this does not drive us back to the beatitudes, perhaps we are not listening. Are we poor in spirit and hungering and thirsting for righteousness?