Chapter 17 | Table
of Contents | Chapter 19
The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
THE ASCENT: FROM THE RIVER JORDAN TO THE MOUNT OF
THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT
THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST AND RABBINIC TEACHING.1
(St. Matthew 5-7.)
1. As it was impossible to quote separately the different verses in the Sermon on the Mount, the reader is requested to have the Bible before him, so as to compare the verses referred to with their commentation in this chapter.
It was probably on one of those mountain-ranges, which stretch
to the north of Capernaum, that Jesus had spent the night of lonely prayer,
which preceded the designation of the twelve to the Apostolate. As the soft
spring morning broke, He called up those who had learned to follow Him, and
from among them chose the twelve, who were to be His Ambassadors and
But already the early light had guided the eager multitude which, from all
parts, had come to the broad level plateau beneath to bring to Him their need
of soul or body. To them He now descended with words of comfort and power of
healing. But better yet had He to say, and to do for them, and for us all. As
they pressed around Him for that touch which brought virtue of healing to all,
He retired again to the mountain-height,4
and through the clear air of the bright spring day spake, what has ever since
been known as the 'Sermon on the Mount,' from the place where He sat, or as
that 'in the plain' (St. Luke vi. 17), from the place where He had first met
the multitude, and which so many must have continued to occupy while He taught.
2. St. Luke vi. 13.
3. It is so that we group together St. Luke vi. 12, 13, 17-19, compared with St. Mark iii. 13-15 and St. Matthew v. 1, 2.
4. According to traditional view this mountain was the so-called 'Karn Hattin' (Horns of Hattin) on the road from Tiberias to Nazareth, about 1½ hours to the north-west of Tiberias. But the tradition dates only from late Crusading times, and the locality is, for many reasons, unsuitable.
The first and most obvious, perhaps, also, most superficial
thought, is that which brings this teaching of Christ into comparison, we shall
not say with that of His contemporaries - since scarcely any who lived in the
time of Jesus said aught that can be compared with it - but with the best of
the wisdom and piety of the Jewish sages, as preserved in Rabbinic writings.
Its essential difference, or rather contrariety, in spirit and substance, not
only when viewed as a whole, but in almost each of its individual parts, will
be briefly shown in the sequel. For the present we only express this as deepest
conviction, that it were difficult to say which brings greater astonishment
(though of opposite kind): a first reading of the 'Sermon on the Mount,' or
that of any section of the Talmud. The general reader is here at a double
disadvantage. From his upbringing in an atmosphere which Christ's Words have
filled with heaven's music, he knows not, and cannot know, the nameless feeling
which steals over a receptive soul when, in the silence of our moral
wilderness, those voices first break on the ear, that had never before been
wakened to them. How they hold the soul entranced, calling up echoes of inmost
yet unrealised aspiration, itself the outcome of the God-born and God-tending
within us, and which renders us capable of new birth into the Kingdom; call up,
also, visions and longings of that world of heavenly song, so far away and yet
so near us; and fill the soul with subduedness, expectancy, and ecstasy! So the
travel-stained wanderer flings him down on the nearest height, to feast his
eyes with the first sight of home in the still valley beneath; so the far-of
exile sees in his dreams visions of his child-life, all transfigured; so the
weary prodigal leans his head in silent musing of mingled longing and rest on a
mother's knee. So, and much more; for, it is the Voice of God Which speaks to
us in the cool of the evening, amidst the trees of the lost Garden; to us who,
in very shame and sorrow, hide, and yet even so hear, not words of judgment but
of mercy, not concerning an irrevocable, and impossible past, but concerning a
real and to us possible future, which is that past, only better, nearer, dearer
- for, that it is not the human which has now to rise to the Divine, but the
Divine which has come down to the human.
Or else, turn from this to a first reading of the wisdom of the
Jewish Fathers in their Talmud. It little matters, what part be chosen for the
purpose. Here, also, the reader is at disadvantage, since his instructors
present to him too frequently broken sentences, extracts torn from their
connection, words often mistranslated as regards their real meaning, or
misapplied as regards their bearing and spirit; at best, only isolated sentences.
Take these in their connection and real meaning, and what a terrible awakening!
Who, that has read half-a-dozen pages successively of any part of the Talmud,
can feel otherwise than by turns shocked, pained, amused, or astounded? There
is here wit and logic, quickness and readiness, earnestness and zeal, but by
the side of it terrible profanity, uncleanness, superstition and folly. Taken
as a whole, it is not only utterly unspiritual, but anti-spiritual. Not that
the Talmud is worse than might be expected of such writings in such times and
circumstances, perhaps in many respects much better - always bearing in mind
the particular standpoint of narrow nationalism, without which Talmudism itself
could not have existed, and which therefore is not an accretion, but an
essential part of it. But, taken not in abrupt sentences and quotations, but as
a whole, it is so utterly and immeasurably unlike the New Testament, that it is
not easy to determine which, as the case may be, is greater, the ignorance or
the presumption of those who put them side by side. Even where spiritual life
pulsates, it seems propelled through valves that are diseased, and to send the
life-blood gurgling back upon the heart, or along ossified arteries that quiver
not with life at its touch. And to the reader of such disjointed Rabbinic
quotations there is this further source of misunderstanding, that the form
and sound of words is so often the same as that of the sayings of Jesus,
however different their spirit. For, necessarily, the wine - be it new or old -
made in Judæa, comes to us in Palestinian vessels. The new teaching, to be
historically true, must have employed the old forms and spoken the old
language. But the ideas underlying terms equally employed by Jesus and the
teachers of Israel are, in everything that concerns the relation of souls to
God, so absolutely different as not to bear comparison. Whence otherwise the
enmity and opposition to Jesus from the first, and not only after His Divine
claim had been pronounced? These two, starting from principles alien and
hostile, follow opposite directions, and lead to other goals. He who has
thirsted and quenched his thirst at the living fount of Christ's Teaching, can
never again stoop to seek drink at the broken cisterns of Rabbinism.
We take here our standpoint on St. Matthew's account of the
'Sermon on the Mount,' to which we can scarcely doubt that by St. Luke5
is parallel. Not that it is easy, or perhaps even possible to determine,
whether all that is now grouped in the 'Sermon on the Mount' was really spoken
by Jesus on this one occasion. From the plan and structure of St. Matthew's
Gospel, the presumption seems rather to the contrary. For, isolated parts of it
are introduced by St. Luke in other connections, yet quite fitly.6
On the other hand, even in accordance with the traditional characterisation of
St. Matthew's narrative, we expect in it the fullest account of our Lord's
while we also notice that His Galilean Ministry forms the main subject of the
And there is one characteristic of the 'Sermon on the Mount' which, indeed,
throws light on the plan of St. Matthew's work in its apparent chronological
inversion of events, such as in its placing the 'Sermon on the Mount' before
the calling of the Apostles. We will not designate the 'Sermon on the Mount' as
the promulgation of the New Law, since that would be a far too narrow, if not
erroneous, view of it. But it certainly seems to correspond to the Divine
Revelation in the 'Ten Words' from Mount Sinai. Accordingly, it seems
appropriate that the Genesis-part of St. Matthew's Gospel should be immediately
followed by the Exodus-part, in which the new Revelation is placed in the
forefront, to the seeming breach of historical order, leaving it afterwards to
be followed by an appropriate grouping of miracles and events, which we know to
have really preceded the 'Sermon on the Mount.'
5. St. Luke vi.
6. The reader will find these parallelisms in Dean Plumptre's Notes on St. Matthew v. 1 (in Bishop Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers, vol. i. of the N.T. p. 20).
7. Comp. Euseb. H. Eccl. iii. 39.
8. Thus St. Matthew passes over those earlier events in the Gospel-history of which Judæa was the scene, and even over the visits of Jesus to Jerusalem previous to the last Passover, while he devotes not less than fourteen chapters and a half to the half-year's activity in Galilee. If St. John's is the Judæan, St. Matthew's is the Galilean Gospel.
Very many-sided is that 'Sermon on the Mount,' so that
different writers, each viewing it from his standpoint, have differently sketched
its general outline, and yet carried to our minds the feeling that thus far
they had correctly understood it. We also might attempt humble contribution
towards the same end. Viewing it in the light of the time, we might mark in it
alike advancement on the Old Testament (or rather, unfolding of its inmost, yet
hidden meaning), and contrast to contemporary Jewish teaching. And here we
would regard it as presenting the full delineation of the ideal man of God, of
prayer, and of righteousness - in short, of the inward and outward
manifestation of discipleship. Or else, keeping before us the different
standpoint of His hearers, we might in this 'Sermon' follow up this contrast to
its underlying ideas as regards: First, the right relationship between man and God,
or true righteousness - what inward graces characterise and what prospects
attach to it, in opposition to Jewish views of merit and of reward. Secondly,
we would mark the same contrast as regards sin (hamartology),
temptation, &c. Thirdly, we would note it, as regards salvation (soteriology);
and, lastly, as regards what may be termed moral theology: personal feelings,
married and other relations, discipleship, and the like. And in this great
contrast two points would prominently stand out: New Testament humility, as
opposed to Jewish (the latter being really pride, as only the consciousness of
failure, or rather, of inadequate perfectness, while New Testament humility is
really despair of self); and again, Jewish as opposed to New Testament
perfectness (the former being an attempt by means external or internal to
strive up to God: the latter a new life, springing from God, and in God). Or,
lastly, we might view it as upward teaching in regard to God: the King;
inward teaching in regard to man: the subjects of the King; and outward
teaching in regard to the Church and the world: the boundaries of the
This brings us to what alone we can here attempt: a general
outline of the 'Sermon on the Mount.' Its great subject is neither
righteousness, nor yet the New Law (if such designation be proper in regard to
what in no real sense is a Law), but that which was innermost and uppermost in
the Mind of Christ - the Kingdom of God. Notably, the Sermon on the Mount
contains not any detailed or systematic doctrinal,9
nor any ritual teaching, nor yet does it prescribe the form of any outward
observances. This marks, at least negatively, a difference in principle from
all other teaching. Christ came to found a Kingdom, not a School; to institute
a fellowship, not to propound a system. To the first disciples all doctrinal
teaching sprang out of fellowship with Him. They saw Him, and therefore
believed; they believed, and therefore learned the truths connected with Him,
and springing out of Him. So to speak, the seed of truth which fell on their
hearts was carried thither from the flower of His Person and Life.
9. On this point there seems to me some confusion of language on the part of controversialists. Those who maintain that the Sermon on the Mount contains no doctrinal elements at all must mean systematic teaching - what are commonly called dogmas - since, besides St. Matt. vii. 22, 23, as Professor Wace has so well urged, love to God and to our neighbour mark both the starting-point and the final outcome of all theology.
Again, as from this point of view the Sermon on the Mount
differs from all contemporary Jewish teaching, so also is it impossible to
compare it with any other system of morality. The difference here is one not of
degree, nor even of kind, but of standpoint. It is indeed true, that the Words
of Jesus, properly understood, marks the utmost limit of all possible moral
conception. But this point does not come in question. Every moral system is a
road by which, through self-denial, discipline, and effort, men seek to reach
the goal. Christ begins with this goal, and places His disciples at once in the
position to which all other teachers point as the end. They work up to the goal
of becoming the 'children of the Kingdom;' He makes men such, freely, and of
His grace: and this is the Kingdom. What the others labour for, He
gives. They begin by demanding, He by bestowing: because he brings good tidings
of forgiveness and mercy. Accordingly, in the real sense, there is neither new
law nor moral system here, but entrance into a new life: 'Be ye therefore
perfect, as your Father Which is in heaven is perfect.'
But if the Sermon on the Mount contains not a new, nor, indeed,
any system of morality, and addresses itself to a new condition of things, it
follows that the promises attaching, for example, to the so-called 'Beatitudes'
must not be regarded as the reward of the spiritual state with which
they are respectively connected, nor yet as their result. It is not because
a man is poor in spirit that his is the Kingdom of Heaven, in the sense that
the one state will grow into the other, or be its result; still less is the one
the reward of the other.10
The connecting link - so to speak, the theological copula between the 'state'
and the promise - is in each case Christ Himself: because He stands between our
present and our future, and 'has opened the Kingdom of Heaven to all
believers.' Thus the promise represents the gift of grace by Christ in the new
Kingdom, as adapted to each case.
10. To adopt the language of St. Thomas Aquinas - it is neither meritum ex congruo, nor yet is it ex condigno. The Reformers fully showed not only the error of Romanism in this respect, but the untenableness of the theological distinction.
It is Christ, then, as the King, Who is here flinging open the gates
of His Kingdom. To study it more closely: in the three chapters, under which
the Sermon on the Mount is grouped in the first Gospel,11
the Kingdom of God is presented successively, progressively, and extensively.
Let us trace this with the help of the text itself.
11. chs. v.-vii.
In the first part of the Sermon on the Mount12
the Kingdom of God is delineated generally, first positively, and then negatively,
marking especially how its righteousness goes deeper than the mere letter of
even the Old Testament Law. It opens with ten Beatitudes, which are the New
Testament counterpart to the Ten Commandments. These present to us, not the
observance of the Law written on stone, but the realisation of that Law which,
by the Spirit, is written on the fleshly tables of the heart.13
12. St. Matt. v.
13. St. Matt. v. 3-12.
These Ten Commandments in the Old Covenant were preceded by a
Prologue.14 The ten
Beatitudes have, characteristically, not a Prologue but an Epilogue,15
which corresponds to the Old Testament Prologue. This closes the first section,
of which the object was to present the Kingdom of God in its characteristic
features. But here it was necessary, in order to mark the real continuity of the
New Testament with the Old, to show the relation of the one to the other. And
this is the object of verses 17 to 20, the last-mentioned verse forming at the
same time a grand climax and transition to the criticism of the Old
Testament-Law in its merely literal application, such as the Scribes and
For, taking even the letter of the Law, there is not only progression, but
almost contrast, between the righteousness of the Kingdom and that set forth by
the teachers of Israel. Accordingly, a detailed criticism of the Law now
follows - and that not as interpreted and applied by 'tradition,' but in its
barely literal meaning. In this part of the 'Sermon on the Mount' the careful
reader will mark an analogy to Exod. xxi. and xxii.
14. Ex. xix. 3-6.
15. St. Matt. v. 13-16.
16. vv. 21 to end of ch. v.
This closes the first part of the 'Sermon on the Mount.' The
second part is contained in St. Matt. vi. In this the criticism of the Law is
carried deeper. The question now is not as concerns the Law in its literality,
but as to what constituted more than a mere observance of the outward
commandments: piety, spirituality, sanctity. Three points here stood out
specially - nay, stand out still, and in all ages. Hence this criticism was not
only of special application to the Jews, but is universal, we might almost say,
prophetic. These three high points are alms, prayer, and fasting
- or, to put the latter more generally, the relation of the physical to the
spiritual. These three are successively presented, negatively and positively.17
But even so, this would have been but the external aspect of them. The Kingdom
of God carries all back to the grand underlying ideas. What were this or that
mode of giving alms, unless the right idea be apprehended, of what constitutes
riches, and where they should be sought? This is indicated in verses 19 to 21.
Again, as to prayer: what matters it if we avoid the externalism of the
Pharisees, or even catch the right form as set forth in the 'Lord's Prayer,'
unless we realise what underlies prayer? It is to lay our inner man wholly open
to the light of God in genuine, earnest simplicity, to be quite shone through
by Him.18 It is,
moreover, absolute and undivided self-dedication to God.19
And in this lies its connection, alike with the spirit that prompts almsgiving,
and with that which prompts real fasting. That which underlies all such
fasting is a right view of the relation in which the body with its wants stands
to God - the temporal to the spiritual.20
It is the spirit of prayer which must rule alike alms and fasting, and pervade
them: the upward look and self-dedication to God, the seeking first after the
Kingdom of God and His Righteousness, that man, and self, and life may be
baptized in it. Such are the real alms, the real prayers, the real fasts of the
Kingdom of God.
17. Alms, vi. 1-4; Prayer, vv. 5-15; Fasting, 16-18.
18. vv. 22, 23.
19. vv. 22-24.
20. vv. 25 to end of ch. vi.
If we have rightly apprehended the meaning of the two first parts of
the 'Sermon on the Mount,' we cannot be at a loss to understand its third
part, as set forth in the seventh chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel. Briefly, it
is this, as addressed to His contemporaries, nay, with wider application to the
men of all times: First, the Kingdom of God cannot be circumscribed,
as you would do it.21
Secondly, it cannot be extended, as you would do it, by external
cometh to us from God,23
and is entered by personal determination and separation.24
Thirdly, it is not preached, as too often is attempted, when
thoughts of it are merely of the external.25
Lastly, it is not manifested in life in the manner too common
among religionists, but is very real, and true, and good in its effects.26
And this Kingdom, as received by each of us, is like a solid house on a solid
foundation, which nothing from without can shake or destroy.27
21. vii. 1-5.
22. ver. 6.
23. vv. 7-12.
24. vv. 13, 14.
25. vv. 15, 16.
26. vv. 17-20.
27. vv. 24-27.
The infinite contrast, just set forth, between the Kingdom as
presented by the Christ and Jewish contemporary teaching is the more striking,
that it was expressed in a form, and clothed in words with which all His
hearers were familiar; indeed, in modes of expression current at the time. It
is this which has misled so many in their quotations of Rabbinic parallels to the
'Sermon on the Mount.' They perceive outward similarity, and they straightway
set it down to identity of spirit, not understanding that often those things
are most unlike in the spirit of them, which are most like in their form. No
part of the New Testament has had a larger array of Rabbinic parallels adduced
than the 'Sermon on the Mount;' and this, as we might expect, because, in
teaching addressed to His contemporaries, Jesus would naturally use the forms
with which they were familiar. Many of these Rabbinic quotations are, however,
entirely inapt, the similarity lying in an expression or turn of words.28
Occasionally, the misleading error goes even further, and that is quoted in
illustration of Jesus' sayings which, either by itself or in the context, implies
quite the opposite. A detailed analysis would lead too far, but a few specimens
will sufficiently illustrate our meaning.
28. So in the quotations of many writers on the subject, notably those of Wünsche.
To begin with the first Beatitude, to the poor in spirit, since
theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven, this early Jewish saying29
is its very counterpart, marking not the optimism, but the pessimism of life:
'Ever be more and more lowly in spirit, since the expectancy of man is to
become the food of worms.' Another contrast to Christ's promise of grace to the
'poor in spirit' is presented in this utterance of self-righteousness30
on the part of Rabbi Joshua, who compares the reward (rk#) formerly given
to him who brought one or another offering to the Temple with that of him who
is of a lowly mind (lp# wt(r#h), to whom it is reckoned as if he had brought all
the sacrifices. To this the saying of the great Hillel31
seems exactly parallel: 'My humility is my greatness, and my greatness my
humility,' which, be it observed, is elicited by a Rabbinic accommodation of
Ps. cxiii., 5, 6: 'Who is exalted to sit, who humbleth himself to behold.' It
is the omission on the part of modern writers of this explanatory addition,
which has given the saying of Hillel even the faintest likeness to the first
29. Ab. iv. 4.
30. Sanh. 43 b.
31. Vayyik. R. 1, ed. Warsh. p. 2 b.
But even so, what of the promise of 'the Kingdom of Heaven?'
What is the meaning which Rabbinism attaches to that phrase, and would it have
entered the mind of a Rabbi to promise what he understood as the Kingdom to all
men, Gentiles as well as Jews, who were poor in spirit? We recall here the fate
of the Gentiles in Messianic days, and, to prevent misstatements, summarise the
opening pages of the Talmudic tractate on Idolatry.32
At the beginning of the coming era of the Kingdom, God is represented as
opening the Torah, and inviting all who had busied themselves with it to come
for their reward. On this, nation by nation appears - first, the Romans,
insisting that all the great things they had done were only done for the sake
of Israel, in order that they might the better busy themselves with the Torah.
Being harshly repulsed, the Persians next come forward with similar claims,
encouraged by the fact that, unlike the Romans, they had not destroyed the
Temple. But they also are in turn repelled. Then all the Gentile nations urge
that the Law had not been offered to them, which is proved to be a vain
contention, since God had actually offered it to them, but only Israel had
accepted it. On this the nations reply by a peculiar Rabbinic explanation of
Exod. xix. 17, according to which God is actually represented as having lifted
Mount Sinai like a cask, and threatened to put it over Israel unless they
accepted the Law. Israel's obedience, therefore, was not willing, but enforced.
On this the Almighty proposes to judge the Gentiles by the Noachic commandments,
although it is added, that, even had they observed them, these would have
carried no reward. And, although it is a principle that even a heathen, if he
studied the Law, was to be esteemed like the High-Priest, yet it is argued,
with the most perverse logic, that the reward of heathens who observed the Law
must be less than that of those who did so because the Law was given them,
since the former acted from impulse, and not from obedience!
32. Abhodah Zarah.
Even thus far the contrast to the teaching of Jesus is tremendous.
A few further extracts will finally point the difference between the largeness
of Christ's World-Kingdom, and the narrowness of Judaism. Most painful as the
exhibition of profanity and national conceit is, it is needful in order to
refute what we must call the daring assertion, that the teaching of Jesus, or
the Sermon on the Mount, had been derived from Jewish sources. At the same time
it must carry to the mind, with almost irresistible force, the question whence,
if not from God, Jesus had derived His teaching, or how else it came so to
differ, not in detail, but in principle and direction, from that of all His
In the Talmudic passages from which quotation has already been
made, we further read that the Gentiles would enter into controversy with the
Almighty about Israel. They would urge, that Israel had not observed the Law.
On this the Almighty would propose Himself to bear witness for them. But the
Gentiles would object, that a father could not give testimony for his son.
Similarly, they would object to the proposed testimony of heaven and earth,
since self-interest might compel them to be partial. For, according to Ps.
1xxvi. 8, 'the earth was afraid,' because, if Israel had not accepted the Law,
it would have been destroyed, but it 'became still' when at Sinai they
consented to it. On this the heathen would be silenced out of the mouth of
their own witnesses, such as Nimrod, Laban, Potiphar, Nebuchadnezzar, &c.
They would then ask, that the Law might be given them, and promise to observe
it. Although this was now impossible, yet God would, in His mercy, try them by
giving them the Feast of Tabernacles, as perhaps the easiest of all
observances. But as they were in their tabernacles, God would cause the sun to
shine forth in his strength, when they would forsake their tabernacles in great
indignation, according to Ps. ii. 3. And it is in this manner that Rabbinism
looked for the fulfilment of those words in Ps. ii. 4: 'He that sitteth in the
heavens shall laugh, the Lord shall have them in derision,' this being the only
occasion on which God laughed! And if it were urged, that at the time of the
Messiah all nations would become Jews, this was indeed true; but although they
would adopt Jewish practices, they would apostatise in the war of Gog and
Magog, when again Ps. ii. 4 would be realised: 'The Lord shall laugh at them.'
And this is the teaching which some writers would compare with that of Christ!
In view of such statements, we can only ask with astonishment: What fellowship
of spirit can there be between Jewish teaching and the first Beatitude?
It is the same sad self-righteousness and utter carnalness of
view which underlies the other Rabbinic parallels to the Beatitudes, pointing
to contrast rather than likeness. Thus the Rabbinic blessedness of mourning
consists in this, that much misery here makes up for punishment hereafter.33
We scarcely wonder that no Rabbinic parallel can be found to the third
Beatitude, unless we recall the contrast which assigns in Messianic days the
possession of earth to Israel as a nation. Nor could we expect any parallel to
the fourth Beatitude, to those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.
Rabbinism would have quite a different idea of 'righteousness,' considered as
'good works,' and chiefly as almsgiving (designated as Tsedaqah, or
righteousness). To such the most special reward is promised, and that ex
Similarly, Rabbinism speaks of the perfectly righteous (rwmg qyd() and the
perfectly unrighteous, or else of the righteous and unrighteous (according as
the good or the evil might weigh heaviest in the scale); and, besides these, of
a kind of middle state. But such a conception as that of 'hunger' and 'thirst'
after righteousness would have no place in the system. And, that no doubt may
obtain, this sentence may be quoted: 'He that says, I give this "Sela" as alms,
in order that (lyb#b) my sons may live, and that I may merit the world to
come, behold, this is the perfectly righteous.'35
Along with such assertions of work-righteousness we have this principle often
repeated, that all such merit attaches only to Israel, while the good works and
mercy of the Gentiles are actually reckoned to them as sin,36
though it is only fair to add that one voice (that of Jochanan ben Zakkai) is
raised in contradiction of such horrible teaching.
33. Erub. 41 b.
34. Baba B. 10 a.
35. Baba B. 10 b; comp. Pes. 8 a; Rosh haSh. 4 a.
36. B. Bath. u. s.
It seems almost needless to prosecute this subject; yet it may
be well to remark, that the same self-righteousness attaches to the quality of
mercy, so highly prized among the Jews, and which is supposed not only to bring
reward,37 but to
atone for sins.38
With regard to purity of heart, there is, indeed, a discussion between the
school of Shammai and that of Hillel - the former teaching that guilty thoughts
constitute sin, while the latter expressly confines it to guilty deeds.40
The Beatitude attaching to peace-making has many analogies in Rabbinism; but
the latter would never have connected the designation of 'children of God' with
any but Israel.41
A similar remark applies to the use of the expression 'Kingdom of Heaven' in
the next Beatitude.
37. B. Bath. 9 b.
38. Chag. 27 a.
39. In Jer. B. Kamma 6 c, we have this saying in the name of R. Gamaliel, and therefore near Christian times: 'Whensoever thou hast mercy, God will have mercy upon thee; if thou hast not mercy, neither will God have mercy upon thee;' to which, however, this saying of Rab must be put as a pendent, that if a man has in vain sought forgiveness from his neighbour, he is to get a whole
row of men to try to assuage his wrath, to which Job xxxiii. 28 applies; the exception, however, being, according to R. Jose, that if one had brought an evil name upon his neighbour, he would never obtain forgiveness. See also Shabb. 151 b.
40. B. Mez. 43 b and 44 a; comp also Kidd. 42 b.
41. Ab. iii 14.
A more full comparison than has been made would almost require
a separate treatise. One by one, as we place the sayings of the Rabbis by the
side of those of Jesus in this Sermon on the Mount, we mark the same essential
contrariety of spirit, whether as regards righteousness, sin, repentance,
faith, the Kingdom, alms, prayer, or fasting. Only two points may be specially
selected, because they are so frequently brought forward by writers as proof,
that the sayings of Jesus did not rise above those of the chief Talmudic
authorities. The first of these refers to the well-known words of our Lord:42
'Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even
so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.' This is compared with the
following Rabbinic parallel,43
in which the gentleness of Hillel is contrasted with the opposite disposition
of Shammai. The latter is said to have harshly repelled an intending proselyte,
who wished to be taught the whole Law while standing on one foot, while Hillel
received him with this saying: 'What is hateful to thee, do not to another.
This is the whole Law, all else is only its explanation.' But it will be
noticed that the words in which the Law is thus summed up are really only a
quotation from Tob. iv. 15, although their presentation as the substance of the
Law is, of course, original. But apart from this, the merest beginner in logic
must perceive, that there is a vast difference between this negative
injunction, or the prohibition to do to others what is hateful to ourselves,
and the positive direction to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.44
The one does not rise above the standpoint of the Law, being as yet far from
that love which would lavish on others, the good we ourselves desire, while the
Christian saying embodies the nearest approach to absolute love of which human
nature is capable, making that the test of our conduct to others which we
ourselves desire to possess. And, be it observed, the Lord does not put
self-love as the principle of our conduct, but only as its ready test. Besides,
the further explanation in St. Luke vi. 38 should here be kept in view, as also
what may be regarded as the explanatory additions in St. Matt. v. 42-48.
42. St. Matt. vii. 12.
43. Shabb. 31 a.
44. As already stated, it occurs in this negative and unspiritual form in Tob. iv. 15, and is also so quoted in the lately published Didach twn dwdeka apostolwn (ed. Bryennios) ch. i. It occurs in the same form in Clem. Strom. ii. c. 23.
The second instance, to which it seems desirable to advert, is the
supposed similarity between petitions in the Lord's Prayer45
and Rabbinic prayers. Here, we may remark, at the outset, that both the spirit
and the manner of prayer are presented by the Rabbis so externally, and with
such details, as to make it quite different from prayer as our Lord taught His
disciples. This appears from the Talmudic tractate specially devoted to that
subject,46 where the
exact position, the degree of inclination, and other trivialities, never
referred to by Christ, are dwelt upon at length as of primary importance.47
Most painful, for example, is it48
to find this interpretation of Hezekiah's prayer,49
when the King is represented as appealing to the merit of his fathers,
detailing their greatness in contrast to Rahab or the Shunammite, who yet had
received a reward, and closing with this: 'Lord of the world, I have searched
the 248 members which Thou hast given me, and not found that I have provoked
Thee to anger with any one of them, how much more then shouldest Thou on
account of these prolong my life?' After this, it is scarcely necessary to
point to the self-righteousness which, in this as in other respects, is the
most painful characteristic of Rabbinism. That the warning against prayers at the
corner of streets was taken from life, appears from the well-known anecdote50
concerning one, Rabbi Jannai, who was observed saying his prayers in the public
streets of Sepphoris, and then advancing four cubits to make the so-called
supplementary prayer. Again, a perusal of some of the recorded prayers of the
show, how vastly different many of them were from the petitions which our Lord
taught. Without insisting on this, nor on the circumstance that all recorded
Talmudic prayers are of much later date than the time of Jesus, it may, at the
same time, be freely admitted that here also the form, and sometimes even the
spirit, approached closely to the words of our Lord. On the other hand, it
would be folly to deny that the Lord's Prayer, in its sublime spirit, tendency,
combination, and succession of petitions, is unique; and that such expressions
in it as 'Our Father,' 'the Kingdom,' 'forgiveness,' 'temptation,' and others,
represent in Rabbinism something entirely different from that which our Lord
had in view. But, even so, such petitions as 'forgive us our debts,' could, as
has been shown in a previous chapter, have no true parallel in Jewish theology.52
45. St. Matt. vi. 9-13.
47. Ber. 34 a b; 32 a; 58 b.
48. Jer. Ber. 8 b.
49. Is. xxxviii. 2. Beautiful prayers in Ber. 16 b, 17 a; but most painful instances very frequently occur in the Midrashim, such as in Shem. R. 43.
50. Jer. Ber. 8 c.
51. Ber. 29 b.
52. For some interesting Rabbinic parallels to the Lord's Prayer, see Dr. Taylor's learned edition of the 'Sayings of the Jewish Fathers,' Excursus V. (pp. 138-145). The reader will also find much to interest him in Excursus IV.
Further details would lead beyond our present scope. It must
suffice to indicate that such sayings as St. Matt. v. 6, 15, 17, 25, 29, 31,
46, 47; vi. 8, 12, 18, 22, 24, 32; vii. 8, 9, 10, 15, 17-19, 22, 23, have no
parallel, in any real sense, in Jewish writings, whose teaching, indeed, often
embodies opposite ideas. Here it may be interesting, by one instance, to show
what kind of Messianic teaching would have interested a Rabbi. In a passage53
which describes the great danger of intercourse with Jewish Christians, as
leading to heresy, a Rabbi is introduced, who, at Sepphoris, had met one of Jesus'
disciples, named Jacob, a 'man of Kefr Sekanya,' reputed as working miraculous
cures in the name of his Master.54
It is said, that at a later period the Rabbi suffered grievous persecution, in
punishment for the delight he had taken in a comment on a certain passage of
Scripture, which Jacob attributed to his Master. It need scarcely be said, that
the whole story is a fabrication; indeed, the supposed Christian interpretation
is not even fit to be reproduced; and we only mention the circumstance as indicating
the contrast between what Talmudism would have delighted in hearing from its
Messiah, and what Jesus spoke.
53. Abhod. Zar. 17 a and 27 b.
54. Comp. the more full account of this Jacob's proposal to heal Eleazar ben Dama when bitten of a serpent in Jer. Shabb. xiv. end. Kefr Sekanya seems to have been the same as Kefr Simai, between Sepphoris and Acco (comp. Neubauer, Geogr. p. 234.)
But there are points of view which may be gained from Rabbinic
writings, helpful to the understanding of the 'Sermon on the Mount,' although not
of its spirit. Some of these may here be mentioned. Thus, when55
we read that not one jot or title shall pass from the Law, it is painfully
interesting to find in the Talmud the following quotation and mistranslation of
St. Matt. v. 17: 'I have come not to diminish from the Law of Moses, nor yet
have I come to add to the Law of Moses.'56
But the Talmud here significantly omits the addition made by Christ, on which
all depends: 'till all be fulfilled.' Jewish tradition mentions this very
letter Yod as irremovable,58
adding, that if all men in the world were gathered together to abolish the
least letter in the Law, they would not succeed.59
Not a letter could be removed from the Law60
- a saying illustrated by this curious conceit, that the Yod which was
taken by God out of the name of Sarah (Sarai), was added to that of Hoshea,
making him Joshua (Jehoshua).61
Similarly,62 the guilt
of changing those little hooks ('titles') which make the distinction between
such Hebrew letters as d and r, h and x, b
and k, is declared so great, that, if such were done, the world would be
destroyed.63 Again the
thought about the danger of those who broke the least commandment is so
frequently expressed in Jewish writings, as scarcely to need special quotation.
Only, there it is put on the ground, that we know not what reward may attach to
one or another commandment. The expression 'they of old,'64
quite corresponds to the Rabbinic appeal to those that had preceded, the Zeqenim
or Rishonim. In regard to St. Matt. v. 22, we remember that the term
'brother' applied only to Jews, while the Rabbis used to designate the ignorant65
- or those who did not believe such exaggerations, as that in the future God
would build up the gates of Jerusalem with gems thirty cubits high and broad -
with this additional remark, that on one such occasion the look of a Rabbi had
immediately turned the unbeliever into a heap of bones!
55. In St. Matt. v. 18.
56. Shabb. 116 b.
57. Delitzsch accepts a different reading, which furnishes this meaning, 'but I am come to add.' The passage occurs in a very curious connection, and for the purpose of showing the utter dishonesty of Christians - a Christian philosopher first
arguing from interested motives, that since the dispersion of the Jews the Law of Moses was abrogated, and a new Law given; and the next day, having received a larger bribe, reversing his decision, and appealing to this rendering of St. Matt. v. 17.
58. Jer. Sanh. p. 20 c.
59. Shir. haSh. R. on ch. v. 11, ed. Warsh. p. 27 a.
60. Shem. R. 6.
61. Sanh. 107 a, and other passages.
62. In Vayyik. R. 19.
63. The following are mentioned as instances: the change of d into r in
Deut. vi. 4; of r into d in Exod. xxxiv. 14; of x into
h Lev. xxii. 32; of h into x first verse of Ps. cl.; of
b into k in Jer. v. 12; k into b 1 Sam. ii. 2. It
ought to be marked, that Wünsche's quotations of these passages (Bibl. Rabb. on Shir haSh. R. v. 11) are not always correct.
64. St. Matt. v. 21.
65. B. Kamma 50 b.
66. Sanh. 100 a.
Again, the opprobrious term 'fool' was by no means of uncommon
occurrence among the sages;67
and yet they themselves state, that to give an opprobrious by-name, or to put
another openly to shame, was one of the three things which deserved Gehenna.68
To verse 26 the following is an instructive parallel: 'To one who had defrauded
the custom-house, it was said: "Pay the duty." He said to them: "Take all that
I have with me." But the tax-gatherer answered him, "Thinkest thou, we ask only
this one payment of duty? Nay, rather, that duty be paid for all the times in
which according to thy wont, thou hast defrauded the custom-house."'69
The mode of swearing mentioned in verse 35 was very frequently adopted, in
order to avoid pronouncing the Divine Name. Accordingly, they swore by the
Covenant, by the Service of the Temple, or by the Temple. But perhaps the usual
mode of swearing, which is attributed even to the Almighty, is 'By thy life'
(K:yyx). Lastly, as regards our Lord's admonition, it is mentioned70
as characteristic of the pious, that their 'yea is yea,' and their 'nay nay.'
67. Sotah iii. 4; Shabb. 13 b.
68. Bab. Mez. 58 b, at bottom.
69. Pesiqt. ed. Bub. 164 a.
70. In the Midrash on Ruth iii. 18.
Passing to St. Matt. vi., we remember, in regard to verse 2,
that the boxes for charitable contributions in the Temple were trumpet-shaped,
and we can understand the figurative allusion of Christ to demonstrative piety.71
The parallelisms in the language of the Lord's Prayer - at least so far as the
wording, not the spirit, is concerned - have been frequently shown. If the
closing doxology, 'Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory,'72
were genuine, it would correspond to the common Jewish ascription, from which,
in all probability, it has been derived. In regard to verses 14 and 15,
although there are many Jewish parallels concerning the need of forgiving those
that have offended us, or else asking forgiveness, we know what meaning
Rabbinism attached to the forgiveness of sins. Similarly, it is scarcely
necessary to discuss the Jewish views concerning fasting. In regard to verses
25 and 34, we may remark this exact parallel:73
'Every one who has a loaf in his basket, and says, What shall I eat to-morrow?
is one of little faith.' But Christianity goes further than this. While the
Rabbinic saying only forbids care when there is bread in the basket, our Lord
would banish anxious care even if there were no bread in the basket. The
expression in verse 34 seems to be a Rabbinic proverb. Thus,74
we read: 'Care not for the morrow, for ye know not what a day may bring forth.
Perhaps he may not be on the morrow, and so have cared for a world that does
not exist for him.' Only here, also, we mark that Christ significantly says not
as the Rabbis, but, 'the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.'
71. See 'The Temple. its Ministry and Services,' &c., pp. 26, 27.
72. ver. 13.
73. In Sot. 48 b.
74. Sanh. 100 b.
In chapter vii., verse 2, the saying about having it measured to us
with the same measure that we mete, occurs in precisely the same manner in the
Talmud,75 and, indeed,
seems to have been a proverbial expression. The illustration in verses 3 and 4,
about the mote and the beam, appears thus in Rabbinic literature:76
'I wonder if there is any one in this generation who would take reproof. If one
said, Take the mote out of thine eye, he would answer, Take the beam from out
thine own eye.' On which the additional question is raised, whether any one in
that generation were capable of reproving. As it also occurs with only trifling
variations in other passages,77
we conclude that this also was a proverbial expression. The same may be said of
gathering 'grapes of thorns.'78
Similarly, the designation of 'pearls' (verse 6) for the valuable sayings of
sages is common. To verse 11 there is a realistic parallel,79
when it is related, that at a certain fast, on account of drought, a Rabbi
admonished the people to good deeds, on which a man gave money to the woman
from whom he had been divorced, because she was in want. This deed was made a
plea in prayer by the Rabbi, that if such a man cared for his wife who no more
belonged to him, how much more should the Almighty care for the descendants of
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Upon this, it is added, the rain descended
plentifully. If difference, and even contrast of spirit, together with similarity
of form, were to be further pointed out, we should find it in connection with
verse 14, which speaks of the fewness of those saved, and also verse 26, which
refers to the absolute need of doing, as evidence of sonship. We compare with
this what the Talmud80
says of Rabbi Simeon ben Jochai, whose worthiness was so great, that during his
whole lifetime no rainbow was needed to ensure immunity from a flood, and whose
power was such that he could say to a valley: Be filled with gold dinars. The
same Rabbi was wont to say: 'I have seen the children of the world to come, and
they are few. If there are three, I and my son are of their number; if they are
two, I and my son are they.' After such expression of boastful
self-righteousness, so opposed to the passage in the Sermon on the Mount, of
which it is supposed to be the parallel, we scarcely wonder to read that, if
Abraham had redeemed all generations to that of Rabbi Simon, the latter claimed
to redeem by his own merits all that followed to the end of the world, nay,
that if Abraham were reluctant, he (Simon) would take Ahijah the Shilonite with
him, and reconcile the whole world!81
Yet we are asked by some to see in such Rabbinic passages parallels to the
sublime teaching of Christ!
75. Sot. i. 7.
76. Arach. 16 b.
77. B. Bath. 15 b; Bekhor. 38 b; Yalk. on Ruth.
78. Pes. 49 a.
79. In Ber. R 33.
80. Jer. Ber. 13 d, towards the end.
81. In Sukk. 45 b he proposes to conjoin with himself his son, instead of Abraham.
The 'Sermon on the Mount' closes with a parabolic illustration,
which in similar form occurs in Rabbinic writings. Thus,82
the man whose wisdom exceeds his works is compared to a tree whose branches are
many, but its roots few, and which is thus easily upturned by the wind; while he
whose works exceed his wisdom is likened to a tree, whose branches are few, and
its roots many, against which all the winds in the world would strive in vain.
A sill more close parallel is that83
in which the man who has good works, and learns much in the Law, is likened to
one, who in building his house lays stones first, and on them bricks, so that
when the flood cometh the house is not destroyed; while he who has not good
work, yet busies himself much with the Law, is like one who puts bricks below, and
stones above which are swept away by the waters. Or else the former is like one
who puts mortar between the bricks, fastening them one to the other; and the
other to one who merely puts mortar outside, which the rain dissolves and
82. In Ab. iii. 17.
83. Ab. de R. Nath. 24.
The above comparisons of Rabbinic sayings with those of our
Lord lay no claim to completeness. They will, however, suffice to explain and
amply to vindicate the account of the impression left on the hearers of Jesus.
But what, even more than all else, must have filled them with wonderment and
awe was, that He Who so taught also claimed to be the God-appointed final Judge
of all, whose fate would be decided not merely by professed discipleship, but
by their real relation to Him (St. Matt. vii. 21-23). And so we can understand
it, that, alike in regard to what He taught and what He claimed, 'The people
were astonished at His doctrine: for He taught them as One having authority - and
not as the Scribes.'84
84. I had collected a large number of supposed or real Rabbinic parallels to the 'Sermon on the Mount.' But as they would have occupied by far too large a space, I have been obliged to omit all but such as would illustrate the fundamental position taken in this chapter, and, indeed, in this book: the contrariety of spirit, by the side of similarity of form and expressions, between the teaching of Jesus and that of Rabbinism.
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