You have heard that it was said… But I say to you – Part 1

Torah Scroll

Over the last few posts, I have been dealing with topics addressed in Oskar Skarsaune’s book, In The Shadow of the Temple. In this post I would like to address another such topic. In order to do so we must first look at the teachings of Jesus which are relevant to this discussion. They are as follows:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 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. (Matthew 5:21-22, ESV)

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28, ESV)

It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:31-32, ESV)

Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. (Matthew 5:33-37, ESV)

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5:38-39, ESV)

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:43-45, ESV)

In each of these teachings from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, Jesus makes a contrast between what was said previously (or “to those of old”) and his “new” instruction. There are different thoughts as to what he means by these contrasts, but I should like to address one in particular which has been offered by Skarsaune. He begins by commenting,

Jesus, obviously, never authenticated his teaching the way the rabbis did. He never said “I have received as a tradition”. “He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Mk 1:22). Nor did he speak like a prophet. He never made himself a representative of God by using the prophetic messenger formula.

He spoke God’s word, he said God’s Law, in his own name. “You have heard that it was said [by God] to those of ancient times [at Sinai], … but I say to you” (Mt 5:21–22, 27, 31, 33, 38, etc.). For Jewish ears, this must have been shocking. They must have asked, “who are you, to set your own authority above that of the Law?” 1

In Skarsaune’s first statement, he is correct in his observation that Jesus did not validate his teachings as other rabbis. He had no previous authority from which he received his teaching, other than God alone. He taught by his own authority, not in the authority of another.

In Skarsaune’s next observation, however, we hear him speaking aloud the subconscious heart of modern Christian theology. Skarsaune interprets the phrase, “You have heard…” to mean, “You have heard that it was said [by God] to those of ancient times [at Sinai].” Here Jesus states what was spoken in the Law of Moses, and begins to change and to correct these antiquated laws which have become burdensome to the Jewish nation. According to Skarsaune, Jesus is said to set his “own authority above that of the Law.”  He later notes that, Jesus “…can deepen, radicalize, even correct the Torah2

With these statements, Skarsaune reveals an unconscious bias towards the supposed deficiency of the Torah, the Word of God previously given to His people. He sees it as needing correction, change, alteration in order to adapt God’s commandments to a new, Christian era. He doesn’t see the Word of the God being as immutable as God Himself. He assumes that the Torah can somehow be modified.

Theology Today

When asked if Jesus abrogated, repealed, overturned, or annulled the Law, most Christians will chime in with an emphatic, “No!” However, in our teaching, preaching and our daily lives, we state just the opposite. We play word games to try to uphold the Scriptures, while at the same time negating them. Skarsaune does this very thing. He attempts to justify his statements by saying Jesus can “correct the Torah; not by abrogating it, not by doing it away, but by making it complete” (p. 333). But this, along with all other similar attempts, is just a word game.

Although there is no malicious intent, this is the same theology that our pulpits and theological seminaries are producing. Through both our bias and our misunderstanding of the Jewish nature of our Master’s teaching we have unintentionally (and sometimes intentionally) interpreted the words of Jesus in a way which contradicts the words of his Father. We translate Jesus’s “fulfill” of Matthew 5:17 to really mean “abolish,” even though we deny such a definition. Yet, when we reduce the meaning down to the practical, it has the same result. Our “fulfilling” really means “abolishing.”

More to come…

  1. In the shadow of the temple : Jewish influences on early Christianity. 2002 (331). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.
  2. Ibid. (p. 333).

Yeshua’s Use of “Good Eye”

Fellow blogger Derek Leman has a short post on his Yeshua in Context blog site about Yeshua’s teaching on the eye as the “lamp of the body” in Matthew 6:22-23. Although I commented on his post & gave some of this information, I thought it would be good to post a more complete version of my thoughts here.

Good Eye, Bad Eye, Lamp of the Body

Matthew 6:19-24 is one of the first passages I point out to people who want to know why it’s important to understand Yeshua’s teachings from its original context, particularly the Hebrew idioms & terminology behind his words. Let’s look at this entire passage. I’ve used the NKJV, and left the headers from the translators to show the misunderstanding even at the level of scholarly translation.

Lay Up Treasures in Heaven
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
The Lamp of the Body
22 “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
You Cannot Serve God and Riches
24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

I begin by having the person read verses 19-21 and then interpret Yeshua’s message. Then I do the same with verses 22-23, which often results in a confession of not knowing what he is talking about. Then I have them read verse 24, and they are able to interpret this just as easily as verses 19-21. Then I point out the theme of the three sections of this passage as such:

  • Verses 19-21: Money, things & stuff
  • Verses 22-23: Unclear
  • Verse 24: Money, things & stuff

From there, they usually see a pattern, and that verses 22-23 “should” fit back into the context.

They are then able to realize why it is so important is that we know the intended meaning of his teachings. It is easy for them to see how we will totally miss the point of what he is trying to convey if we don’t understand the original sense of the message, which hinges upon a Hebraic . And without this information, we will invariably make up a meaning that has absolutely nothing to do with his original teaching. For generations, Yeshua’s teaching in Matthew 6:22-23 has been interpreted in ways that are completely unrelated to the context of his subject, and stripped of its context (even at the pashat level).

Often this text is used as a prooftext for moral purity and guarding the eyes. Although this is indeed a principle that Yeshua advocates (cf. Matthew 5:28), it is not at all what he is talking about here. However, this passage, if understood as being Hebraic in nature, fits completely within the context of the surrounding verses (19-24). And, unlike many instances of passages found within the Apostolic Scriptures, we do not have to turn to an outside source (such as non-canonical or rabbinic works), Scripture actually illuminates this passage itself.

Put it back in Hebrew

First, we need to put this passage back into Hebrew. From there we can begin comparing it to other Scriptures in the Hebrew Bible, the Tanach (or the “Old Testament”). The Bible Society in Israel translates the phrase “your eye is good” in Matthew 6:22 as “עֵינְךָ טוֹבָה”, (ein’ka tovah) literally corresponding to our English (some texts translated the eye as being “single” or “clear” verses “good”). When we focus on the phrase “your eye is good” and we come across a passage in Proverbs.

In Proverbs 22:9, we have almost this exact phrase in the form of, “טֹֽוב־עַיִן” (tov eiyn) or “good eye.” Since this passage is being translated by Hebrew linguists, all dynamic English translations understand the meaning of this quite easily. Why? Because it is obvious in the Hebrew. However, when we are presented with a Greek text, such as the Apostolic Scriptures (the “New Testament”), translators try to impose a Greek understanding of the text, since it has been delivered to us in the Greek language. But this approach fails, as we will clearly see in this passage. But back to our correlation in Proverbs. The NASB translates this verse as follows:

He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor.” (Proverbs 22:9)

From here we can see it is obvious that the one with a “good eye” is a generous person. Now, let’s put this new terminology & understanding back into Yeshua’s teaching in Matthew and remove the last two inserted headers (modifications in bold italics):

Lay Up Treasures in Heaven
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22 “The lamp of the body is generosity. If therefore you are generous, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if you are miserly, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

With our new understanding in place, it completely changes our understanding of the words of our Master. Rather than three separate teachings, we see a cohesive unit of teaching by which he warns against being attached to wealth and the “things” of this world and encourages us to create spiritual “wealth” in its place. This reading completely fits the context of verses Matthew 6:19-24, telling us this is indeed the intended meaning of Yeshua’s words.

Look for my upcoming post, “Yeshua’s Use of ‘Righteousness’” which will give another example of insights gained from looking at the Hebrew beneath the Greek skin of the NT. It will elucidate more of Yeshua’s teachings, and expound upon many of the things discussed in this post.

Upcoming Resource

Do you want a resource to help you see these things in the Apostolic Scriptures?

One is on its way. Have you heard of the new, DHE (Delitzsch Hebrew English) translation of the Apostolic Scriptures from Vine of David (First Fruits of Zion)? Vine of David is in the process of taking Delitzsch’s Hebrew text of the Apostolic Scriptures and putting them into English for the first time. Here is some brief info on the project. I will be posting more thoroughly on this project soon:

Franz Delitzsch (1813 – 1890) was known as a “Christian Hebraist” he was a pioneer in the area of Jewish studies of the New Testament. Delizsch was a prolific writer, translator, and biblical commentator. His greatest and most noted work was is his New Testament translation into Hebrew. Deliztzsch re-contextualized the Gospels back into their Hebraic foundations. He understood and revealed the Hebrew / Jewish underpinnings of the Gospels. He devoted his entire life to restoring Yeshua back his people. The primary goal of this translation was to create “an edition of the Gospels that is sensitive to and reveals the Jewish essence of the teachings of the New Testament is vital to helping God’s people connect with the Jewish foundations of the Christian faith.”