Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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MATTHEW - Chapter 7

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Matthew 7

Supplemental Commentary:

I.  THE PUBLIC MINISTRY OF JESUS  3-25 (continued)

3.  Second Period of the Ministry in Galilee and Across its Lake  5, 1 -- 15, 20 (continued)

7, 1-6:  Avoiding Judgments.  Here begins the last section of the Sermon on the Mount.  This section, the whole seventh chapter of Matthew, consists of the teachings of Christ on various topics which are arranged in such a way that they seem to lack all logical unity.  From this however we should not conclude that St. Matthew has gathered various sayings of Christ from several different occasions and strung them together at the end of this sermon.  For most of the sayings of our Lord occur also in Luke's Sermon on the Mount.  Various explanations may be offered for this seeming lack of logical unity.  (a) Some of these sayings of Christ belong in the previous parts of the Sermon where they would fit in very naturally.  This is probably true of those sayings which St. Luke does place in such a more logical order.  (b) St. Matthew has preserved for us in this section only fragments of the original Sermon, so that the connection of thought is often lost.  (c) At this part of the Sermon Jesus permitted His hearers to ask Him questions.  The Evangelist would then have preserved only the answers of these disconnected queries.  In their teaching the Rabbis followed such a method (cf. Luke 2, 46).

1-5.  Parallel in Luke's Sermon on the Mount (6, 37 f.41 f), where it occurs after his Rules of Charity; in Matthew therefore these words belong logically at the end of 5.    1.  Do not judge, etc.: to be understood in the sense of "Do not condemn, that you may not be condemned."  Christ forbids uncharitable criticism by private persons of their fellow-man.  He does not forbid those in authority to pass judgment or condemn, nor does He forbid the individual the use of discernment in spiritual matters (cf. 15-19).  What is here condemned is the hypocritical self-deceit of thinking oneself morally better than others.    2.  With what measure you measure, etc., is a Jewish proverb known also from the Talmud.  In Mark 4, 24b Christ uses this proverb in a somewhat different sense.    3.  The speck: literally in Greek, a particle of chaff, a splinter of wood; here figuratively for a small moral fault.  In hyperbolic contrast our Lord speaks of a beam of wood to signify a much greater sin.    6.  Only in Matthew and apparently in no connection with the context, unless this verse is considered with the preceding as part of a special instruction for the teachers of Christ's doctrine.  Probable sense: the teachings of Christ which are holy and as precious as pearls (cf. 13, 45 f) should not be rashly proclaimed to the unbelievers and scoffers, for such men will not only not appreciate them but will turn them as arguments against you to rend you. Dogs and swine, unclean animals to the Jews, were used as epithets for the Gentiles in Jewish literature.  Cf. Matt. 15, 26.  These words of Christ therefore form the basis for the early Christian practice, known as the disciplina arcani, of not revealing all the truths of the Faith to the unbaptized.  But even in the early Christian centuries (cf. the Didache) these words of Christ were applied in an extended sense to the prohibition of administering the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, to the unworthy.

7, 7-11:  Power of Prayer.  Parallel in Luke 11, 9-13, where this section follows the Lord's prayer and a little parable on perseverance in prayer.  In Matthew these verses have no connection with the immediate context but they would fit well after 6, 15.  These words on prayer consist of an affirmation in general terms of the efficacy of prayer (7 f) followed by an a fortiori argument in confirmation of the statement.    9 f.  For a loaf . . . a stone,  . . . for a fish . . . a serpent: the substitution would be suggested by the external resemblance.    11.  If you, evil as you are: even though you are selfish and unkind.

7, 12:  The Golden Rule.  Parallel in Luke 6, 31.  In Matthew this verse stands entirely apart from its context; it would fit in much better after "The New Law of Talion" (5, 42) as in the Third Gospel.  The Golden Rule states very wisely that true charity would never be violated if every one would treat others as he himself wishes to be treated.  The same thought is stated negatively in Tob. 4, 16.  Love of others should therefore be on a par with love of oneself: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Lev. 19, 18).  All the commandments of the Law and the Prophets, that is, of the whole Old Testament, are summed up in the law of charity.  Cf. Matt. 22, 39 f; Rom. 13, 8-10; Gal. 5, 14.

7, 13-23:  Obstacles to Virtue.  A general statement on the difficulty of salvation (13 f) followed by warnings against two dangers to salvation: (a) being deceived by false teachers, (b) deceiving oneself by a presumptuous self-confidence.  Largely paralleled in Luke's Sermon on the  Mount and therefore undoubtedly a part of the original discourse.    13 f.  The narrow gate and way.  Similar words in Luke 13, 24, where they form the answer to the question, "Are only a few saved?"  Under these common biblical figures of the gate and the road Christ teaches that His doctrine is not at first sight easy and attractive.    15.  By false prophets are here meant not erroneous forecasters of the future but teachers of false doctrine who pretend to speak in God's name.  They are ravenous wolves in sheep's clothing, that is, they deceive men by the pretense of teaching men an easy way to happiness but in reality they are ruining men's souls and destroying their true happiness.    16-18.  Parallel in Luke 6, 43-45.  Since a man's doctrine and philosophy of life affect his outward conduct, from the latter we can judge the former.  The nature of the plant determines the nature of its fruit.  Christ uses the same figure in 12, 33.  By a good tree and its good fruit are meant a cultivated tree and its edible fruit, while the bad tree with its bad fruit is the wild tree and its inedible fruit.    19.  The same figure of the destruction of the useless tree was used by the Baptist (cf. 3, 10).  Cf. also John 15, 2.6.    21-23.  Lip service is not enough; faith must be alive and effective.  The same doctrine is taught in the parable of the Two Sons (21, 28-31).    21.  Similar words in Luke 6, 46.    22 f.  Similar words in Luke 13, 26 f.  That day is a common biblical expression for the Last Day.  For His own special reasons God may sometimes grant the gifts of prophecy and miracles to unworthy persons (cf. 1 Cor. 13, 2).  I never knew you: cf. 25, 12.  Depart from me: cf. 25, 41.  The words used here occur also in Ps. 6, 9.

7, 24-27:  Conclusion of the Sermon.  Parallel in Luke 6, 47-49, but the description of the storm is much more vivid and powerful in the First Gospel.  In Palestine the torrential rains of the winter months, November to March or April, have largely denuded its soil and often destroy houses that are not solidly built.

7, 28-29:  Epilogue.  And it came to pass when Jesus had finished these words: substantially the same words are used at the end of the other four great discourses of Christ in the First Gospel (cf. 11, 1; 13, 53; 19, 1; 26, 1).  The crowds were astonished at his teaching, etc.: the same words in Mark 1, 22 and Luke 4, 32 in connection with our Lord's first teaching at Capharnaum.  Authority: literally, "power."  The words and Pharisees are not in the Greek.  The contrast between the teaching of Christ and that of the Scribes or Rabbis, the official teachers of Judaism, consisted principally in this: (a) the Scribes based their teaching on the opinions of their predecessors, "Rabbi So-and-so said this . . ."; Christ taught in His own name, I say to you . . .; (b) the teaching of the Scribes was largely confined to subtle points of casuistry; Christ taught the basic truths of religion and morality; (c) the teachings of the Rabbis as preserved in the Talmud make the driest and most uninteresting reading imaginable; the beauty of Christ's style and imagery thrilled His hearers and all succeeding generations with wonder and delight.

Confraternity Bible:

Avoiding Judgments  1 "Do not judge, that you may not be judged.  2 For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged; and with what measure you measure, it shall be measured to you.  3 But why dost thou see the speck in thy brother's eye, and yet dost not consider the beam in thy own eye?  4 Or how canst thou say to thy brother, 'Let me cast out the speck from thy eye'; and behold, there is a beam in thy own eye?  5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam from thy own eye, and then thou wilt see clearly to cast out the speck from thy brother's eye.

6 "Do not give to dogs what is holy, neither cast your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet and turn and tear you.

Power of Prayer  7 "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.  8 For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it shall be opened.  9 Or what man is there among you, who, if his son asks him for a loaf, will hand him a stone; 10 or if he asks for a fish, will hand him a serpent?  11 Therefore, if you, evil as you are, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

The Golden Rule  12 "Therefore all that you wish men to do to you, even so do you also to them; for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Obstacles to Virtue  13 "Enter by the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many there are who enter that way.  14 How narrow the gate and close the way that leads to life!  And few there are who find it.

15 "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  16 By their fruits you will know them.  Do men gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles?  17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.  18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.  19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  20 Therefore, by their fruits you will know them.

21 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of my Father in heaven shall enter the kingdom of heaven.  22 Many will say to me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in thy name, and cast out devils in thy name, and work many miracles in thy name?  23 And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you.  Depart from me, you workers of iniquity!'

Conclusion of the Sermon  24 "Everyone therefore who hears these my words and acts upon them, shall be likened to a wise man who built his house on rock.  25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, but it did not fall, because it was founded on rock.  26 And everyone who hears these my words and does not act upon them, shall be likened to a foolish man who built his house on sand.  27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and was utterly ruined."

28 And it came to pass when Jesus had finished these words, that the crowds were astonished at his teaching; 29 for he was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their Scribes and Pharisees.