THE JEWISH LAW AND MODERN DISTINCTIONS
In the time of Christ the Jewish Law was the distinguishing badge and chief interest of His nation. Whether it date, in its completed form, from the age of Moses or from that of Ezra, it embodied in Christ's time, as it has ever since done, all the essential features in the faith and life of the children of Abraham. A good Jew accepted the Law; one who broke it, or carried men beyond it, must be more or less than a good Jew. The narrowing of national intereststhe loss of freedom, and the sleep or apparent death of prophecyhad only made the nation turn with intenser earnestness to the study and observance of its law. Even the Sadducees, who accepted no other part of the Old Testament, allowed the authority of the Pentateuch. Its ritual dominated the life, the hopes, the theological thought of the nation.
To contemporary minds, who had grown up in such an atmosphere, the Law doubtless seemed a homogeneous unity. One fact might already have suggested a different view, the fact that the Pharisaic party supplemented the written law by a growing mass of authoritative traditions, while the Sadducees refused to accept more than the canonical code. Yet these added traditions, in their lower sort, were similar to the Levitical code: they were of the Law, legal. Modern students, however, cannot understand the characteristics of the Law, or the attitude of Jesus Christ towards it, unless they dissect the Law into its constituent groups.
1. The kernel of the Jewish Law is that Decalogue which has passed among theologians by the name of the Moral Law. And, unquestionably, moral teaching, or a religious teaching which is also moral, is central to the whole Law. In all its kinds of literature, and through all its ages, the Old Testament religion bore witness for righteousness. We, of course, from a Christian standpoint, notice limitations and defects in the ethics of Old Testament revelation, and endeavour in various ways to account for them; but there is no question that, within the community of Israel, God's teaching was truly ethical. This ethical character appears both in the Law and elsewhere, both within and outside the Pentateuch. It is not peculiar to that Book of the Covenant to witness for righteousness, nor can we say, apart from special study, what juridical stamp the moral teaching of the Law may bear, as contrasted with that of the Prophets, the Psalms, or the Wisdom literature. In the days of Jesus, however, the Law distinctively was the accepted pattern of moral life. His teaching developed Old Testament morality; but it certainly did not involve a breach with the moral law.
2. The morality of the Pentateuch was religious; it taught not only right conduct among men, but a right relation between man and God. Now religion in all communities, and especially in early societies, expresses itself in outward ceremonial acts. The religion of Israel formed no exception to this rule: it had a large number of ceremonies, which, naturally, were specially adapted for a legal code. In point of fact, this code, at what ever time it may have arisen, made these ceremonies its own. One might reverence the Prophets and think little of ritual; one could not reject ritual, or be indifferent to it, without breaking with the Law. On the other hand, indifference to ritualadvance beyond the Lawwas not necessarily an advance beyond the teaching of the Prophets.
3. The Law had thus at least two elements. It was in part morally religious, in part ceremonially religious. But, since the code was intended to guide the whole life of the nation, it could not but contain another element, partly separate from both. The Law was a statute law. It forbade not vice only, but crime. And, although, being a unity, the Law might treat every vice as a crime, it is important for us, who are accustomed to other ideas, to observe that some of the sins this Law denounced were merely civil offences; some of its duties mere civil obligations; one of its purposes to regulate national institutions. In this character, the Law certainly was not singular in Hebrew history. So long as salvation "was of the Jews," every religious teacher was concerned to regulate national life. Isaiah was a statesman. Jeremiah himself, the prophet of national self-effacement, was a king's councillor. The "judges" of the troubled early times, while they possessed spiritual authority, were, as a matter of course, reformers and rulers. To break with this element in the Law, to claim obedience in religious matters, while declining to regulate civil polity, was not only to break with the code of the Pentateuch, but to burst the spiritual limits of the Old Testament.
4. We have now seen three separate elements which were united in the Jewish Law. In modern language, it governed society, the Church, and the State. But we have yet to consider, if not a fourth part, a fourth aspect of the Law, most important perhaps of all. The Law was the monument of the religion of Revelation; and its observance secured religious fellowship with God. This is most usually expressed by calling the Law God's covenant, a term familiar to theology, and used in its Latin dress by everyone in speaking of the Old Testament. No particular commandments can be brought under this head. All commandments required either moralities, or ceremonies, or non-religious civil observances and civil sanctions of morality. But religion in Israel was concerned with all three classes of laws. The covenant was kept only when the State was well ordered, when the national worship was well carried out, and when righteousness prevailed and triumphed.
We have now ended the analysis of the Jewish Law; but it is important to add some remarks about the Law as a whole.
1. We must remember that the Law was a unity. The three classes of laws which we have discovered were never separated in the minds of any who were under that Law. Something of the character of each tinctured both of the others, while the sanctity of religion rested upon all. Morality, tested by law and developed in a multitude of rules, seemed to be sufficiently safeguarded by the tests of external action, if indeed statutes did not exhaust it. Ceremony, commanded by God, claimed no second place in men's respect. The law of the land was not based professedly on Utility or on abstract Justice, but on God's will, and on principles of morality beyond which that age could discern none higher. All ceremonies were parts of this law. All laws were means of grace. We shall not understand Jesus' intellectual environment, or the opinions of those He dealt with, if we do not bear in mind thisto usbewildering interchange of qualities, this chameleon colour which seems, under our very eyes, to alter every popular observance or sacred rite into something different, if not opposite in its nature.
2. It throws much light on the Jewish Law, when we remember that the covenant was binding not upon individuals, but upon Israel as a whole. Because the nation was in covenant with Jehovah, the individual Jew felt himself under obligation to serve Jehovah; it was as a member of the chosen race that he enjoyed access to God in the national or in private acts of worship. "Thou shalt," in the Ten Commandments, is addressed to the whole community. Prophecy, as well as law, builds upon the solidarity of the race. Hosea's final appeal is, "O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity" (14:1). Isaiah placed the beginning of religious amendment in social and political reform;the two were then identical. Indeed, the prophet was not a pastor with a cure of souls; he had a public mission. And, throughout Old Testament theology, Jehovah and Israel are as inseparable correlates as God and the Kingdom of God in the Synoptic teaching of Jesus. Even in Isaiah 40-46, where we are carried beyond Israel the nation, beyond the religious "remnant," to the subtler and deeper conception of the servant of Jehovah, this servant is still addressed as "Jacob my servant, and Israel whom I have chosen" (44:1). Only in the Wisdom literature, the least exclusively or directly religious of the literatures of the Old Testament, and perhaps in prophecy for a little time after the days of Jeremiah, do we find appeals to the individual as such, or an endeavour to start from individual salvation as the basis of religious hope.(2)
Jeremiah lived in the downfall of the state. When the state was reconstituted as a city and as a Church, after the Exile, there was no doubt, whatever failed to be restored, that the covenant character of religion was fully restored, and the individual's welfare again regarded as dependent on the faithfulness of the community.
2. The Psalms, which are the religious response to the nation's God, necessarily breathe a personal religion; but even in them personal piety is generally set in the framework of covenant blessings.
From this archaic principle almost all the peculiarities of the Jewish Law may be deduced. In other words, Christ's change of the Old Testament religion is in almost all points an advance not only beyond the Law, but beyond the Dispensation. It is not a mere retrogression to the period before the Law, whether, with the old tradition, we call that period the patriarchal, or whether, with the newer criticism, we call it the prophetic age. Christianity was a new spirit that transcended both the Law and the Prophetsa fulfilment not of the commandment only, but of the promise. Hence it matters little to Christian theology, so far as the present writer can see, at what time the Old Covenant passed into the form of the Levitical code. Nothing would be lost if the advanced critical hypothesis were proved, and little or nothing gained.
It would be a different thing if we were forced to adopt the naturalistic assumption of the origin of the Old Covenant by development from ethnic superstitions. But that assumption stands on quite a different footing from the higher criticism's analysis of the Law. It is only natural that the new methods of historical science should trace a living development within the Old Testament religion. "When God made the stones," said the quarryman to young David Livingstone, "He put the shells in them." So tradition treated the Pentateuch; God had "put the shells" into it; code upon code were supposed to have been hurled on the top of each other at the time of the Exodus. Geology has had its way; why may not history demand an equal liberty? From science to materialism, however, is a leap of blind faith; and from tracing development within the Old Covenant to infer a development of the Old Covenant out of dead paganism, needs the blind faith of infidel dogmatism. Whenever the New Testament speaks of Israel's past, it has to do with the religion of the Old Testament. Whenever the Old Testament itself speaks, it moves within the sphere of assured faith; Jehovah has chosen Israel; Israel is to be loyal to Jehovah; and these certainties appear bound up with the keen antique national self-consciousness. The beginnings of Christianity in the Old Testament depended upon the identifying of a moral and religious consciousness, and therefore, of an at least potentially spiritual doctrine of God, with the race consciousness of Israel. No doubt there was indefinite room for development in the conception of what constituted moral loyalty to God; and no doubt history betrays signs of conduct which in our view is hard to conciliate with such a faith. But without the Covenant (whether so named or not), and without the ascription of moral character to Jehovah, it is hard to see how development was possible. That the prophets spontaneously invented Jehovahism, and palmed it off upon the people, will certainly not be the solution of the Old Testament problem. We must protest against identifying such religious radicalism with critical views on the structure of the Pentateuch. Unhistorical rationalism of this sort is the worst master in history. The New Testament is, indeed, in Hegelian language, the "truth" of the Old. But to go outside of the Covenant, in order to explain it by other things, is to try to explain light by darkness.
Even apart from such theological error, we are easily tempted to exaggerate the importance of the change "from status to" covenant. If religion, being the affair of the nation, were codified in a law, thenwe might saymorality must be enforced as statute-law, and piety as an outward institution, while a man's omission of any religious duty must be punished by the State, in order to avoid complicity in his offence. But codification was hardly needed to bring about these results. Code or no code, it was as much matter of course with ancient nations that religion was an affair of public life, as it is with us that religion concerns primarily the personal life. That ancient belief, when a certain limit of heterodoxy was passed, made persecution a necessary thing even where there was no covenant-code to direct the nation. Similarly, code or no code, custom enforced with a religious sanction many institutions that were not statutory, or that were not so as yet. The growth of the caste system of Hindustan illustrates this beyond the religion of Revelation. But much that is similar is seen in Israel. "According to Isaiah 28:23, seq., the rules of good husbandry are a judgment taught to the ploughman by Jehovah, part of Jehovah's Torah (ver. 26),(3)
"and Hebrew philosophy regarded politics not as an "inductive" science, or as the means of securing the greatest happiness of the greatest number, but as a department of Divine wisdom (Prov 8:15). Living as we do in an age of rationalism, when every traditional usage, is challenged equally with every inherited belief, and has to prove its usefulness in order to live, we find it hard to imagine a state of mind, in which progress, or reform of custom, would have seemed not so much wrong as ridiculous, impossible, inconceivable. There are still survivals of this temper; but the vain modern world is wilfully blind in presence of the tyranny of custom. We see, then, that the religious value of statute law, and the enforcement by penalty of religion and of ethic, owed little of their stingency to codification. The Law may have fixed and hardened these features of every ancient society; it did not create them. But the Law is what is important for us, as the form in which the Old Covenant met the eyes of Jesus. Finally, we should err if we thought that the Law, which enforced morality and statute-law with even-handed justice, in doing so reduced the demands of ethic to external propriety. It may in many instances have tended to do this, but neither Old nor New Testament will allow that it actually or designedly did so. And rightly; for this blending of the outward and inner life was not due to a wish to measure the inner by the outer, but to the fact that conscience and personal religion had never yet been disentangled from good citizenship and loyal patriotic piety. Both prophecy and law, in their characteristic manners, wielded the social ideal of the Old Covenant for religious ends.
3. W. R. Smith, The Old Testament in the Jewish Church, p. 335.
3. This social organisation had suffered loss in one important respect. The nation had lost its independence finally, hopelessly. But the Romans, who wished to rule an empire and happened to spread a uniform civilisation, allowed their dominions to be as multiform as they pleased, provided they were obedient. The Jews accordingly retained their law, and, with the one damaging flaw, laboured assiduously to please God by organising their community as the Law required. And, if the scribes added tradition to the written code, their tradition claimed to be the necessary completion of the Law in the Law's own spirit.
Perhaps it may seem that we have been perverse in stating the Jewish Law first in detail, as it appears to us; then synthetically, as it appeared to the Jews themselves in the age of Christ. Really, this was unavoidable. The divisions of the Law, its parts and aspects, are not arbitrary; they are not random generalisations; they represent the distinctions which we are forced to make in studying the attitude of Jesus to the Law, and His teaching regarding it. Christianity compels us to speak of "moral" and "ceremonial" laws, with an implied disparagement of the latter in comparison with the former; Christianity shows us that the sphere of statutory institutions is not the religious sphere; Christianity suggests that "the Covenant" of Moses and of Micah is not necessarily the only dispensation of God's grace. In a word, by virtue of Christianity and of modern civilisation, we read the Bible with all these distinctions ready-made in our minds; we should only make bad worse by ignoring the fact; we should make the difficulties of historical study not lighter, but greater. It is impossible to think ourselves back into the position from which the Law seemed a unity, Israel the only people of God, and ceremony a Divine thing equally with deeds of righteousness; if we could succeed in doing so, we must strip our minds bare of what eighteen centuries of Christian life have gained for mankind.
The Law, then, appears to Christian readers ethical, ceremonial, statutory, and, throughout, religious. In studying Christ's position in regard to it, we must begin by asking, What was Jesus' own conception of the Jewish Law?
CHRIST'S CONCEPTION OF THE LAW
In the Synoptic Gospels we find, occasionally, at rare intervals, plain records of Christ's own declarations as to the purpose of His life. In Matthew 5:17-20 we have such a passage; a classical though solitary declaration by our Lord of the bearing of His work and teaching upon the Jewish Law. "I came not," He said, "to destroy the law or(4)
the prophets"; not to destroy, but to fulfil. It is plain what Jesus means when He says that He is not come to destroy the Law, but in what sense is He to fulfil it? To fulfil it as a type or prediction is fulfilled by the antitype, or to fulfil it as a loyal subject fulfils the command of his king? The following verses give the answer: "Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished. Whosoever, therefore, shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." If the Law is to continue "till heaven and earth pass away," if commandments issuing from it are to be taught in the kingdom of God, it cannot be thought of as a temporary dispensation foreshadowing that kingdom, but as a decree, or revelation of righteousness, to which Jesus Himself is to be subject. Yet, on the other hand, this interpretation does not seem to do justice to all that is said in the passage. Jesus, who treats as a natural question the doubt whether He is to destroy or to fulfil the Law, cannot regard Himself merely as one of its subjects, among others; He implies that the attitude which He sustains towards the Law is of unique importance for it. And, similarly, the last clause of ver. 18, "till all things be accomplished," seems to imply, that the Law is not only the revealed norm of relations between God and men, but also something which, though its precepts cannot pass or be lessened, yet looks for a time fulfilment as types and predictions do. In other words, "the law and the prophets" seem to be regarded by Jesus not only as declaring God's eternal will, but as looking for a peculiar satisfaction to Himself and His kingdom. Let us verify or correct this impression, by studying, in other passages, Christ's conception of the Law.
4. Grammatically equivalent, in a negation, to "the law and the prophets." Ritschl, note in Alt-Kath. Kirche, p. 36; Weiss, in loc.; Bassermann, ib., and the authorities he cites.
There are three other passages in which Jesus speaks explicitly of the nature of the Law: Matthew 7:12, 11:13 (Luke 16:16), 22:35, 36 (Mark 12:28; cf. Luke 10:25). It is remarkable that in all of them we find the same combination of "the law and the prophets," as if they formed one idea in the mind of Jesus. Even when He is asked, " Which is the great commandment in the Law?" He adds to His answer the remark, "On these two commandments hangeth the whole law, and the prophets." There are other passages which illustrate this phraseology, though they contain nothing that need detain us. In the parable of Dives and Lazarus we find the equivalent, "Moses and the prophets" (Luke 16:29); in a narrative passage of the same Gospel (24:27) we find "Moses and all the prophets," and, in the same chapter (ver. 44), in a saying of the risen Christ, "the law of Moses and the prophets, and the psalms."(5)
All of these(6)
5. Cf. also John 1:45; Acts 13:15 and 24:14; Romans 3:21, see p. 32.
the last, with most probabilityare, perhaps, to be viewed as names(7)
6. Denied by W. R. Smith, Old Testament in the Jewish Church, p. 165.
for the Old Testament according to its accepted divisions, Law, Prophets, and Hagiographa. We may derive some instruction from reading "Old Testament" for "the law and the prophets" in each of our passages. Still, the question recurs, why are the law and the prophets the divisions chosen for habitual mention? His contemporaries called the Old Testament "the law" because they regarded it as fundamentally a law; why does Christ prefer to remind us that the old revelation was given by law and by prophets? For three reasons: to extol the prophets; to bring the law into its right place; to give it its true interpretation. Jesus' language shows us His thought going behind the Law to the revelation; it indicates that, just as prophecy awaited fulfilment, so the Law must yield to a higher dispensation; for our Lord knew Himself to be the final revelation of God. His reverence for the prophets expressed itself, as did that of all the deeper piety of His age, in finding foreshadowings of the Christ, not in isolated passages, but. every where in the Old Testament (see Matt 12:39 and Luke 11:29; Matt 17:12 and Mark 9:12; Luke 18:31, also 24:25, 44, etc.; John 1:45, 5:39, 46). But, by associating the prophets with "the law," as well as by the definitions He gives of their joint contents, Jesus shows that He regarded such foreshadowing or fore-telling as itself consisting fundamentally in the Law. The Law had required love and perfect devotion to God's glory; it was revealed in the Old Testament as an ideal, but realised only in Christ Himself. In other words, Christ affirms that He is come to fulfil the ideal of the Old Covenant, as published in the Law and promised by the Prophets.
7. In the Fourth Gospel, and in other passages of the Synoptics, "the law," or "Moses," is often referred to; but we learn nothing from any of these instances. In them, "the law" is either the name of the Pentateuch, or of the Old Testament sacred writings generally, or else it is used for the outward system under which the people lived.
Jesus gives two definitions of the contents of the Law. In one it is said to command love to God and men; the other, more briefly expressed, speaks only of unselfishness among men (Matt 7:12); we know it as the Golden Rule. It is characteristic(8)
of Jesus' teaching to treat this as practically equivalent to the fuller statement. He did not think that love to God was of less consequence than love to men; He knew that kindness toward men was a more definite and a sufficiently full test of character among His servants. Of separating the two He could never dream. These two passages tell us what Jesus thought of the Law: since He saw in it the revelation of a rule of love, it is easy to understand how He should have affirmed, that, while heaven and earth lasted, one jot or tittle should in no wise pass away from it. We feel by instinct that that statement cannot have been affirmed of the ceremonial details of the Law; now we see how superfluous it is to bring it into any connection with them. If Jesus habitually thought of the whole Law and Prophets as commanding what He says they commanded, ceremony was as good as non-existent for Him. It is plain, too, in what sense Jesus was come to fulfil every jot and tittle of the Law. He was come to live a life of love, perfect in the patience of its detailed obedience, faithful in that which was least as well as in what was great,a life of love with all the heart and soul and mind towards the Father,a life of absolute self-surrender for the good of men. And, evidently, if this be Christ's fulfilment of the Law, there is no reason why such a fulfilment should end the Law. As a Divine example, and as a constraining moral power, Christ's fulfilment is fitted to reproduce itself till heaven and earth pass away.
8. See chapter 8.
The third passage is given in two distinct forms. According to Luke's version, which is the simpler, it does not state the contents of the Law and the Prophets, but gives a new view of their formal function. They were in force, we gather, till the ministry of John the Baptist; but the teaching of John and Jesus has put them out of date; now "the kingdom of God is preached, and every man entereth violently into it," while the Head of the members of that kingdom is greater than the greatest of the Prophets. This recalls us to that view of the early revelations of God, in which they rank as temporary dispensations, because unfulfilled except in a better time of clearer revelation. The verse would thus form the complement to the summaries of the Law; together they would make up the teaching of Matthew 5:17-20.If Luke's version is clearer, the version in Matthew is more generally accepted; and by analogy it has the stronger claim to acceptance. It need cause us no difficulty, for we have learned that the predictive aspect is essentially involved in Jesus' view of the Law and the Prophets. Indeed, our account of the phrase enables us particularly well to explain why the "Law" as well as the "Prophets" should be said to "prophesy until John": If this is the more correct record of Jesus words, He speaks here of the Johannine and post-Johannine period as a fulfilment of prophecy, and as a fulfilment, in the same sense, of the ideal sketched in the Law. On this view, Christ and His kingdom are represented as the perfecting of former ages, but the displacement of former standards is not explicitly affirmed by our Lord.
A confirmation of our view of the phrase "law and prophets" in Christ's teaching is found in His use of a correlative phrase, "prophets and righteous men." This occurs twice. In one passage (Matt 10:41), all that is indicated, so far as our study is concerned, is that Jesus is greater than either prophets or saints of old,a truth strongly expressed in the almost Johannine ver. 40. Another quasi parallel is Matthew 23:34, where Jesus declares that He is to send "prophets and wise men and scribes" to the people,a grouping which may, perhaps, recall to us "the law and the prophets and the psalms." But the passage of value for us is Matthew 13:17, where Christ is expounding the parable of the sower. He tells the disciples they are happy beyond all men, since "many prophets and righteous men"a phrase evidently more original than the common place "prophets and kings" of Luke 10:24 "have desired to see the things which" the disciples saw, "and saw them not, and to hear the things which" the disciples heard, "and heard them not." The parallel here is manifest. The prophets are those who declared God's will and pointed men to the Fulfiller. The "righteous men" are those who, all too inadequately, kept God's commandments, and who yearned to see a better fulfilment, to hear a clearer and fuller message from God. What both of these classes vainly longed for, the disciples of Christ possess. Righteousness is fulfilled in a life before their eyes; it lives, as well as speaks, in words that they hear. The kingdom of God is no longer hoped for; it has come to them.
We are thus able to explain why Jesus should have spoken with unqualified endorsement of the Law. We explain it on the ground that He ignored ceremony, or took the Law in its absolute religious value, giving it the meaning which it had as a revelation of God, and in which, of course, it had permanent worth, piercing through externals to the ethical content of the Old Dispensation. This explanation we give not capriciously or arbitrarily, but on the ground of parallel passages, which show us how Jesus habitually thought of the Law and Prophets; as well as on the ground of the whole context, which, throughout this chapter, betrays no reference to ceremonies. The eye sees what it brings with it capacity to see. And thus, while scribes and Pharisees, in all honesty and earnestness, could find in the Law only a manual of religious etiquette, we should scarcely learn from the words of Jesus that a Book of Leviticus existed in the Old Testament. He found, in the Law, love to God and men. He did not rest upon ceremonial details; He was able to forget them, and to speak only of the permanent kernel of the old lawgiving. And thus He was able to take up the attitude of one, who, though He might reform, was no revolutionary,who was more loyal to the heart of the Law and of prophecy than the most slavishly pedantic of the scribes,who was a more authentic interpreter than they of the Old Covenant, because He stood in the line of revelation, and carried on the prophetic work, which had been checked by the Pharisee spirit, with its vulgar externalising misinterpretations. We must not for a moment forget that Jesus appealed from present degeneracy to former messengers of God. He laboured within the community of those who enjoyed Divine fellowship.
What, then, is the meaning of destroying "the Law and the Prophets," as thus understood? The reference can only be to an antinomian movement. And in what connection could such a movement insinuate itself into the life of the Christian society? A suggestion is offered to us by ver. 20, where we find Jesus teaching His hearers that, unless their righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, they cannot enter His kingdom. From ver. 21, sq.(10)
it appears that this "righteousness of the Pharisees" means the righteousness required in their teaching; and, as the questions discussed in these verses are all moral questions, the moral aspect of Pharisee teaching must be in view. Nowto anticipate a littlewe know(11)
10. Infra, ch. 3, p. 50.
that Jesus refused the authority of Pharisee tradition. And, from what precedes the Sermon on the Mount in Luke, as well as from the parallels in Mark, in whose Gospel the gap left by the Sermon may perhaps be detected,(12)
11.Infra, ch. 3, p. 42, sq.
we see that the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees was already raging. The question of fasting had indeed been thrust on Jesus' notice, and a decision required of Him.(13)
12. Viz., at Mark 3:19, 20. So Ewald, who is followed by Holtzmann, Bassermann.
Now it is plain on a moment's reflection, that grave moral danger must have attended the overthrow of the ruling moral authority of the day. Such a change is always difficult. The Christian Church itself had to fight in the early centuries against Gnosticism; the Reformation suffered from Anabaptist excesses; and imperfect honesty is a favourite charge against mission converts even on the part of comparatively good-natured critics. This consideration leads us to hear in our Lord's "think not" much more than a rhetorical exordium; and the severe gravity of the whole subsequent exposition confirms us in thinking that He had detected a real moral danger. Certainly the most effective safeguard against such a danger, in the case of true disciples, was the assurance that Christ had come to keep the Law. That this keeping was the true "fulfilment," or bringing to currency, of the Law, would be in nothing inconsistent with such a lesson.
13. Infra, ch. 3, p. 43; ch. 6, p. 121.
A different sense was given to ver. 17. by the favourite interpretation "perfect" for πληρωσαι, (De Wette, Meyer, Ritschl). But this view, as Bassermann well shows, is inconsistent with the verses that follow. It need not be, could we hold with Ritschl that Jesus in ver. 18 speaks of jots and tittles of the νομος πληρωθεις; but such an assumption is an exegetical device of the kind by which anything can be made to mean anything. The signification "perfect" for πληρωσαι, has, however, lately been revived (Holtzmann,(14)
Bassermann, Dr. Paul Feinez(15)
14. See papers in the Jahrb. fur Prot. Theol., 1878.
) in connection with a careful critical analysis of the Sermon on the Mount, which proposes to strike out as spurious vers. 18 and 19 (after "Gfrorer, Kostlin, Strauss, Hilgenfeld, Baur, Hase," according to Bassermann). Now we can have little objection to the doctrine thus put in Jesus' mouth. If, in the cardinal passage dealing with the Old Testament, He teaches that He is come to "perfect" the Law and the Prophets, we need seek no further for information on the subject of Jesus' view of the Law; and many dangers are averted. But the criticism involved is a different matter. We shall frankly do our best to avoid admitting that the Gospels have been subjected to Judaising interpolations, though we must yield to proof if proof were forthcoming. Here, however, it is proposed to omit ver. 18, precisely, the one verse in the passage for which a second evidence, the witness of Luke (16:17), can be quoted. It is rejoined that this saying is Rabbinical, that it could not be borrowed by the Rabbis from Jesus, that it must therefore be spurious in the Gospels. On this point we shall speak immediately. But, indeed, the "perfecting" of the Law, in conjunction whether with the exegesis of Ritschl or with the criticism of Bassermann, appears to the present writer by no means the category under which Christ would have summed up the grave and stern teaching which follows. It is surely not a correct account of historical Christianity, nor yet of the purpose of Christ, to say that the New Dispensation is a heavier law than the imperfect law of the preceding, age. On the other hand, if He is guarding against antinomianism, it is natural that Christ should use all available means to emphasise the unchallengeable purity of His kingdom.
15. In the Jahrb. fur Prot. Theol., Jan. 1885.
Another once favourite interpretation of πληρωσαι, was that which made it include both obedience to Law and fulfilment of predictions.(16)
It is hardly necessary to refute this view. Neither logic nor grammar will support it. A practised dogmatist might use words in such a double-barrelled sense; an orator, never. Besides, whatever force the view .might derive from the last clause of ver. 18 is covered by our own view, recognising as it does that Christ finds a prediction embodied in the very existence of the Old Testament moral law.
16. So Tholuck, Bleek, even Haupt, Alttest. Citaten in den vier Ev.
We now turn to ver. 18; and we may be asked in regard to it, How could one, who did not wish to stereotype existing ceremonial, express such unambiguous endorsement of the whole Law? Hence Holtzmann supposes, that at least the last clause, and perhaps the whole verse, is an echo of
Matthew 24:34, 35; while Bassermann at most admits an original saying of Jesus on a different occasion, and with a different turn of thought. But we may counter with the question, Did Jesus habitually use measured words? Is it not among the saddest things to see how the strong pure words of Jesus have been made the excuse for unspiritual and pernicious errors? Yet Jesus undoubtedly reckoned the cost, and preferred sometimes to overshoot the mark rather than never reach it. Useless impotence, among what we count venial sins, was the sin which found Him merciless.But a further difficulty is raised, to the effect that sayings similar to this verse occur with the Rabbis, who could not have borrowed from Jesus. But may not this give us the clue we need? Let us suppose that some such saying had already been current; and let us suppose that the would-be Antinomian among Jesus' disciples had commented, or thought in his heart, to this effect, a propos to the abrogation of tradition: "We are done then with jots and tittles; and a very good thing too. Precise moral scrupulosity is a great mistake. It never makes men good. Such minute moral observances can simply never be, while heaven and earth last. Good-bye to the little commandments!" It may be thought, that we are guilty of very bold construction, in putting so many of Jesus expressions into the mouth, as may be said, of an imaginary heretic; but it is certain that Jesus' sayings exactly suit such a state of mind; and, if the Rabbinical currency of the expressions supports us in thinking that Jesus must have had special occasion to adopt them, we are supported in thinking that Jesus refers (in ver. 19) to the small details of moral duty, not to ceremony, by the remark of Haupt,(17)
that to a Jew such ceremonial commandments as those connected with sacrifice would by no means appear to rank with the least commandments. In his papers on the Talmud,(18)
17. As above.
Farrar even quotes Rashi, and a certain Rabbi Joseph Ben Rabba, as having laid down that "the great commandment of the law was the law about fringes." Jesus would think very differently; on the other hand, we know what a fatal thing impatience of small moralities appeared in His eyes.It will be noticed that, in consistency with what we regard as the true meaning of "law and prophets," we have found a reason for the two clauses in εως. Morality is not impracticable. All its details must be realised. Till heaven and earth pass away,a phrase which may be taken as broadly as is liked,no moral duty shall ever be curtailed.
18. Expositor for 1877, p. 221.
We pass now to ver. 19. Dr. Bruce(19)
bases upon this verse his view of the passage under discussion. He regards it as a warning against violent and over-hasty measures of practical reform, and as a testimony to the superiority of positive over negative work in morality. It is thus an endorsement beforehand of Paul's career, and a condemnation of more extreme leaders. Curiously enough, Holtzmann and his followers, Bassermann and Feine, take a similar view of the verse; but they regard it as a Jewish-Christian insertion, aimed directly at Paul himself. And, indeed, the view which attributes such a warning to Jesus, or which supposes it aimed at unknown ultra-Pauline reformers, hangs in the air; nor is it consistent with exact exegesis. If one looks forward to reform, but desires to guard against premature and violent movements, one does not express oneself to the effect, that no jot or tittle of the existing constitution of things can possibly pass away. We may be asked, how could Jesus admit to the kingdom of God, even as lowest in rank, those who set aside moral precepts? The answer is, partly that His language is chosen for antithetic effect, partly that our Lord is thinking of the possibility of honest error. It is by no means inconceivable that a good man should rashly catch at the prospect of a general loosening of obligations, supposing that he is doing what is merciful. This gives a somewhat new turn to the thought, but one not inconsistent with the previous verses.
19. Interpreter in Dec. 1884.
And thus we are prepared for the transition to ver. 20. He who, touched with the spirit of revolt against Law, sets aside the least commandment, is least in the Kingdom, honest though his error may have been; he only who, like Jesus Himself, does and teaches the Law, is great in the Kingdom; but he who, at a period of moral and spiritual transition, falls below the standard of the age that is passing away, cannot so much as enter the Kingdom. We have got rid, be it observed, of a remark of Bleek's, of which much has been made by those who dissect this passage,viz., that δε would be expected here instead of γαρ. The particle refers back neither to ver. 17 nor to ver. 19, but to ver. 18. And there is distinct progress and continuity of thought throughout the passage, if we have rightly deciphered its meaning.
Some general remarks may now be added on the passage.
1. Jesus claims to realize the moral ideal of the Old Covenant. He claims to be what it required and signified; He claims to bring others within the circle of blessing. If we say that He claims to fulfil the Law considered as a prediction of Himself, we define His meaning as exactly as possible. By such a use of the word fulfil, both the conservative and the reforming elements of His life-work (if I may so speak) are implied. On this view Jesus merely asserts of Himself what He required of His followers,that He not only "did" the commandments of God, but taught them and gave them fresh currency. Only, it is implied in the nature of the case, it is involved in Jesus' language here, and it is confirmed by all His utterances elsewhere, that His observance of the Law is an event of unique importance, constituting an epoch in itself. Because He has been perfectly righteous, we are not therefore free from obligation to be righteous. Because of His righteousness, we are enabled to be righteous; we are made greater than kings and prophets. Because He has been righteous, we must be righteous. The Kingdom of God has come in Christ; hence we are daily to offer the prayer "Thy Kingdom come," and are commanded to "seek His Kingdom first." It has come in Christ; therefore it must come in all mankind.
2. In spite of Jesus' conscious affinity with the Old Testament, His view of the Law does not give a typological value to the ordinances of the Old Covenant. Such a view is common in the New Testament; it is given most fully, with power and deep insight, in the Epistle to the Hebrews. But Jesus does not speak of the Law as "a shadow of the good things to come," or justify its rites by showing their correspondence with religious needs, which His Gospel actually and in spirit satisfies.(20)
The Law is to Him a revelationthe revelation of righteousness. He finds religious value in it, because He finds permanent religious value in it,because He finds in it a message, which His life-work does not supersede but re-emphasises. The same Law, which He fulfils, is to be done and taught in His Kingdom.
20. There is, perhaps, the hint of a typology in the passages where Jesus speaks beforehand of His passion; Matt 20:28, 26:28, and their parallels. When the type is interpreted in the light of fulfilment, there is no inconsistency in thus varying the point of view.
3. We may refer for a moment to an interesting parallel in Paul's writings. Romans 3:21, 22 seems to refer to Christ's teaching in Matthew 5. It does what is unusual in Paul; it traces continuity between the Law, the work of Christ, and righteousness on the part of the redeemed. The Law and the Prophets "witness" to that "righteousness of God which is through faith in Jesus Christ unto all them that believe." On the other hand, it is peculiarly Pauline that this righteousness should be "apart from the law," which (8:3) was "weak through the flesh." Connected with this are the further features, also lying beyond the circle of thoughts in Matthew 5, that true righteousness of Christians is imputed to the guilty, and comes by faith, through Jesus' propitiatory death. With Paul, the three thoughts are closely bound together. In his view, the Law is the declaration of what the individual must do to attain salvation. On one side, it is the historical Covenant of the Exodus; on the other side, it is a statement of God's unchanging will. No man can keep it; it establishes the guilt of all (vers. 19, 20). Christ by His passion abolishes the Law, in atoning for sin, and introduces in its place a new dispensation, which imputes righteousness and admits to sonship, granting the Spirit of God. It may well be that this is the Pauline version or apprehension of what is taught in the Sermon on the Mount. It is a distinct version, but not a different teaching.
We have heard Paul speaking of a righteousness "apart from the law," and imputed. To complete our parallel, we must add to Romans 3:21 the complementary passage Romans 8:4. Paul, with his fixed view of the Law as a dispensation opposite to that of grace, and of its abrogation by Christs death, cannot speak of it as "fulfilled" by Christians. But, just as Christ looks to the "doing and teaching" of righteousness as a consequence of His righteous life, Paul recognises God's purpose, in exchanging the Law for a new dispensation by the sin-offering of Christ, to be "that the ordinance of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit."
4. We must avoid several modernisms in interpreting our passage. We must not allow ourselves to say that Jesus "destroyed by fulfilling" the Law, when Jesus says He came "not to destroy but to fulfil." It is true, the thought from a different point of view is validly Christian; it is a nearly Pauline thought, perhaps exactly the thought of the Epistle to the Hebrews. But it perplexes us, in studying the words of Jesus. He speaks of the inner side of the Law, as a revelation of righteousness; we are thinking of its outer side, as a body of ceremonial types or as a statutory code. Again there are many who make the Sermon on the Mount the lawgiving of the kingdom.(22)
Christ to them is a legislator, and they bluntly affirm that He did destroy the existing law. Some of them bring Matthew 5:17-20 under the suspicion(23)
22. As Ecce Homo.
of Ebionism. But Christ is not a lawgiver; He has no "method and secret" to promulgate. Or rather, while it is true that the Sermon on the Mount is Christ's lawgiving, it is lawgiving addressed to His kingdom; and in that kingdom He is so much more than lawgiver, that all His words, even in seeming legislation, come to us on a different plane. But we must not, with the traditional Protestant exegesis, say that Christ is removing the dross that had gathered about the Moral Law, and republishing its true meaning. What He really does is, first, to reaffirm the Law; secondly, to give a new teaching. That is, He reaffirms the Law as it must be understood in the Kingdom, and as it can only there be understood; and He is entitled to call this a reaffirmation of the Law, because the kingdom of God is the natural development of the Divine dispensation administered through Law and prophets. The traditional exegesis supposes that Christ is speaking to His hearers of the Moral Law, or the Decalogue. Really He is speaking of the "law and prophets" as a whole; and, though He moves in a purely ethical realm, His hearers could not explain this by referring His teaching to the moral apart from the ceremonial law; that distinction had yet to arise for them.
23. As Supernatural Religion, iii. 123; but more usually (Bassermann, etc.) at the expense of the Evangelist or his interpolator, rather than of Jesus.
The passage principally handled in this chapter is the only one in which Christ speaks explicitly of His relation to the Law. But much of His teaching, by word and by example, necessarily touches on the same topic, whether as a whole or in its details. We have seen what an idealised view of the Law Jesus held and taught; we must ask how He comported Himself towards the actual law in outward life. He valued the Law as God's revelation; we must ask how He judged of the oral tradition of the scribes. He regarded the Law as essentially ethical; we must ask how His teaching raised the details of duty to corresponding purity. He was apparently indifferent to ceremonial; none the less, occasion sometimes led Him to speak of ceremonies and their value; we must gather what His teaching was. His position seemed to make Him indifferent to institutions; yet He was loyal to Israel's past; we must ask how He comported Himself towards practical problems of statesmanship. Did He sanction the existing order? Did He wish it reformed? Did He let it stand for a time, till a better order should grow up? Similarly, Jesus advanced great personal claims, but did not act as the inventor or first founder of religions; how or how far did He compare the new with the old? These questions will be taken up, and if possible answered, in successive chapters.
CHRIST'S CRITICISM OF THE PHARISEES
The Jewish world was much divided into parties when our Lord and His great forerunner entered on their work. The Essenes, with whom half-educated scepticism used to connect John, or Jesus, or both, were a recluse secta religious order under the old covenantan anomaly, who died away, leaving no results, unless in Ebionism, and perhaps in monasticism. The Sadducees were wealthy and cultured temporisers. Degenerate descendants of the Maccabees, they had lost the spirit of their race, and, by a natural consequence, were rapidly losing the spirit of their religion. It existed in them only as a survival, or as a tradition, without capacity of development; they had no stake in the future, and perished in the storm which overwhelmed their unhappy country. The Zealots(25)
were the men of prophecy, and still more of the apocalyptic and pseudepigraphic books. We know how closely and painfully Jesus' Messianic claims touched on the hopes of the Zealots. At least one of their party was admitted to the inner circle of the disciples. But, with most of the party, a non-military Messiahship could only lead to fierce and bitter disappointment. EVery Jewish provincial was a potential Zealot, and looked, as the Zealots did, for a political millenarian catastrophe instead of a spiritual salvation. Hence, on the whole, the result of Jesus dealing with the people at large was, on both sides, bitter disappointment. Zealotism went its own way, and burnt itself out in the horrors of the siege, and of Bar Cochba's rebellion. The Pharisees were in a different position. They were the men of the Law. Their scheme for securing its observance, along with the observance of oral tradition, offered the nation the prospect of political deliverance and the hope of a millennium. By excluding every possible transgression, they hoped to secure, in the Levitical sense, a perfectly holy nation; that done, they looked for an immediate act of God's omnipotence to terminate Israel's sorrows and bring in the glory of the latter day. Thus, though the Pharisees did not use political means, they were entangled in obsolete ideas, and looked for a political deliverance as their great end. They were, therefore, certain to run counter to Jesus, whose ideas were ethical, not political. The very mission which Jesus claimed, to fulfil the Law and the Prophets, was an insult to the Law in the eyes of the legal party. The Law did not need, in their opinion, any such individual observance as that of Jesus, in order to come to religious currency and efficacy; their casuistic machinery would secure the desired result. The nation chose between Jesus and the Pharisees,between Jesus and the Talmud. Pharisaism alone among the rivals of Christ had any vitality; the Sadducees supported the Pharisee policy against Jesus only when things were far developed. Afterwards its rivals being dead, and the spiritual life of the people thrust out in the persons of the Christians, Pharisaism gathered together the wounded orphan children of the land, and dry-nursed them on traditions. The loss of the temple only gave a fresh impetus to legalism. It is marvellous that Judaism should have survived; but its survival is life-in-death rather than life.
25. According to Edersheim, in his somewhat thin and vague Warburton Lecture.
We must remember that, until the advent of Jesus, and until His creation of a new world, the Pharisees represented, on the whole, the more religious and earnest elements in the nation. Paul, even when a Christian, could say, "I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees" (Acts 23:6). They taught the Resurrection of the dead, and Jesus taught it; they taught the observance of the Law, and Jesus revered it; they acknowledged the prophets authority, and Jesus appealed to the prophets. Hence He taught, even at the last, while expressing Himself most decidedly against them, that "the scribes and Pharisees sat on Moses seat" (Matt 23:2). But their interest was externalism,His was spirituality; the Baptist, Jesus' forerunner, had already denounced them; and no compromise between such opposite tendencies was possible.
The first sign of the life-long conflict was Jesus' rejection of Pharisee tradition. His attitude is unquestionably significant, in more ways than one. He drew a deep trench between the Law and its customary developments. Respecting the first as Divine, He denied that the second had any binding force; often He rejected them as pernicious.
At the same time, it was impossible that Jesus should set Himself against all observance of tradition. For tradition was the body of social and religious custom observed by the majority of His nation; and, unless He was to anticipate the outre reforming spirit of Quakerism, He must for the most part acquiesce in what was expected of Him. And, assuredly, He followed every custom that was harmless. Thus, for example, the sequence of events at the Last Supper is explained by a reference to the form which tradition had impressed upon the Paschal rite. But, religious as it was, tradition, like the Law, had extended to the whole of life, and had given a religious value to one of alternative courses of action in things indifferent. Hence, without systematically attacking or rejecting it, Jesus might protest against its claims, on occasion of its abuses or extravagances being manifested. And that is the course which we find that He followed.
1. Christ set an example, in several respects, of opposition to tradition. He ate with publicans and sinners (Matt 9:11 and parallels; Luke 15:2), excusing Himself with tender humour, when blamed by the Pharisees. He was a physician of souls, He said; He must go where He could find His patients; His critics, in their self-conscious goodness, were healthy people who had no need of Him. He persisted in working cures on the Sabbath(26)
(Luke 4:33, 6:6, 13:11, 14:1; and some parallels; John 5:8, 9; 9:7, 14), although this caused the greatest scandal to the friends of tradition. Where a positive moral duty came in, Jesus' regard for peace, and His consideration for others, gave way to a higher claim.
26. Christ's attitude towards the Sabbath is discussed in the next chapter.
2. Encouraged by Jesus' example, His disciples themselves disregarded the laws of tradition on some occasions. This did not fail to call forth the anger or the indignant surprise of the Pharisees and their followers. The disciples had omitted to fast (Matt 9:14, and parallels); they were challenged for this by men stirred up by Jesus' enemies, or jealous for the honour of the Baptist; and Jesus defended them.(27)
Walking through the cornfields on a Sabbath, the disciples (12:1, and parallels) plucked and ate the growing corn. For this the Pharisees attacked Jesus. "To reap and to thresh on the Sabbath were, of course, forbidden by one of the abhoth, or primary rules; but the Rabbis had decided that to pluck corn was to be construed as reaping, and to rub it as threshing; even to walk on grass was forbidden, because that, too, was a species of threshing; and not so much as a fruit must be plucked from a tree. All these latter acts were violations of the toldoth, or 'derivative rules.'"(28)
27. See ch. 6, p. 121.
Again, they "transgressed the tradition of the elders" (15:2, and Mark 7:2) by eating(29)
28. Farrar, Life of Christ, p. 207, popular edition.
with unwashen hands, and were accused in terms of the crime of violating tradition. In each case, Jesus defended the disciples. Whether their action were or were not seemly, it was not sinful; and, just as, in later history, Paul had to oppose the imposition on the Gentiles of Jewish law, while it was treated as needful to salvation, so here Jesus must resist the imposition of Jewish tradition, when it is treated as part of God's saving will. On the first occasion, He denied that His disciples were breaking the Sabbath,(30)
29. Luke 11:38, as it stands, represents Jesus as doing the same thing.
implicitly denying that the traditional safeguards of the Sabbath deserved respect. On the second occasion, when the only charge was one of breaking traditional ethic, He replied by a tremendous attack upon the system of tradition. This was the first time, apparently, in which Jesus had spoken in denunciation of tradition, though He had repeatedly acted in its defiance. He was so far roused as to enunciate the principle, which lay at the heart of His life and teaching, and which put a gulf between Himself and the Pharisees, "Not that which entereth into the mouth defileth the man; but that which proceedeth out of the mouth, this defileth(31)
30. Below, ch. 4.
31. See ch. 6.
3. Jesus' attack on tradition was not yet complete. His mission on earth was not one of controversy, but of life and goodness. Even the necessary negations of His life He allowed to come incidentally, as we have seen, and chiefly by way of example. But the guilt of the Pharisees forced on Him the duty of controversy. Theirs was not the blindness of mere ignorance, but a wilful blindness, which, when enlightened, hated His light. On neither side was the difference viewed as speculative. The Pharisees were enemies, spies, sneering critics, murderers, of Christ and His following. And Christ, in a passage which stands in Luke (11:37-52)
in the middle of the Great Insertion, but which is placed in Matt (23)
37 And as he spake, a certain Pharisee besought him to dine with him: and he went in, and sat down to meat. 38 And when the Pharisee saw it, he marvelled that he had not first washed before dinner. 39 And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness. 40 Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also? 41 But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you. 42 But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. 43 Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets. 44 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them. 45 Then answered one of the lawyers, and said unto him, Master, thus saying thou reproachest us also. 46 And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers. 47 Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. 48 Truly ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers: for they indeed killed them, and ye build their sepulchres. 49 Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute: 50 That the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation; 51 From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation. 52 Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.
as His last summing-up against His life-long enemies, recites the whole guilt of the Pharisees, practical and doctrinal, letting it culminate in this, "Ye shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for ye enter not in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering in to enter" (ver. 13).
1 Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, 2 Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: 3 All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. 4 For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. 5 But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, 6 And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. 8 But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. 9 And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. 10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. 11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. 14 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. 15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. 16 Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! 17 Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? 18 And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. 19 Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? 20 Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. 21 And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. 22 And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon. 23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. 24 Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. 25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. 26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. 27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. 28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. 29 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, 30 And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. 31 Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. 32 Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. 33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
34 Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: 35 That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. 36 Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. 37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! 38 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. 39 For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
Such are the conditions under which Christ disavowed unwritten tradition. Let us now examine the grounds He gives for doing so.
1. The repudiation of tradition might have many shades of meaning. As between two schools, it might be a small question. As a concession to human languor, tradition might be rejected by a soft philanthropy. But Jesus' rejection of it is profoundly significant. It is due, not only formally, to His reverence for God's sole revelation, but materially, to His unconquerable aversion to the spirit of externalism embodied in tradition. Christ's conduct points back to a rudimentary difference between Jesus and His rivals. The two views of the Law, which they represent, are at opposite poles. The Pharisees assert, Jesus denies, that it is possible by external maxims to secure goodness of heart and life. Merely to deny this would not involve Christian truth, as against every erroneous system; but, as against Pharisaism, which was a dead orthodoxy, it involved the whole of Christianity. Christ charged Pharisee tradition with externalism,(34)
that is, with shallowness and worldliness. "All their works," He says (Matt 23:5), "they do to be seen of men." And, in His address to His disciples, He lays down the general principle of life in the words (6:1), "Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men, to be seen of them; else ye have no reward with your Father which is in heaven." The introduction to each of Christ's rules of conduct is "be not as the hypocrites" or "actors"(35)
34. It is in this form that Jesus' aversion to mere legalism expresses itself.
(6:2, 5, 16). The last of the woes which Christ pronounces, declares that the "hypocrites" cleanse "the outside," and "outwardly appear righteous unto men," while inwardly they are "full from extortion and excess, full of hypocrisy and iniquity" (23:25-28). We cannot measure how far we are indebted to Christ for the perception, that ostentation is fatal to the life of the spirit. His own principle, which governs all the special maxims that He givesand they are fewis, "Out of the heart come forth . . . the things which defile the man" (15:19); "Cleanse first the inside of the cup and platter, that the outside may become clean also" (23:26).
35. Ecce Homo, ch. xi.
2. But the offence of the Pharisee casuistry could not stop short at its externalism. External it must be; it was doomed to fail of reaching the heart of any sin of duty. But the fate of casuistry drives it yet further, to a ridiculous and tedious distinction between things which are equally indifferent, and to a shameful confounding of things which are diverse. A breach of etiquette becomes a sin; a sin becomes a social lapse; it becomes moral to perform one trifle, immoral and wicked to perform as trifling an action. Nay, since casuistry moves among external things, and tries to give an explicit verbal rule for each duty, it ends by attaching more value to the outward correctness, which it can test, than to that inward purity, which it professes to serve, but which cannot be verified by its coarse method. This error, too, roused Jesus to bitter scorn. He could not condemn the scribes punctilious scrupulosity, but it wearied Him; the perpetual "Is it lawful?" which filled the life of a Pharisee sage was foreign to His spirit of insight, and calmness, and heavenly holiness; He hated an exaggeration of trifles which cast the realities of the moral life into the shade. "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye tithe mint and anise and cummin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the law, judgment and mercy and faith; but these ye ought to have done, and not to have left the other undone" (Matt 23:23). "Ye blind, guides, which strain out the gnat, and swallow the camel" (ver. 24).
3. Nor was this the worst of the Pharisee casuistry. It is impossible to write an encyclopaedia of conduct. On one hand, facts are too nice, too delicate, too varying, to be brought under even the most elaborate doctrinaire scheme; on the other hand, the moral doubts of daily life teach us that there is not always a single principle, which claims to regulate each action, but that many actions may be referred to different heads, and, according as they, are referred to one or other, judged lawful or unlawful. In other words, moral dilemmas are often really moral, not mere evasions of a bad conscience. To our bewilderment there seems to be a conflict of duties, all imperiously commanding us to follow them, but in different directions. From such difficult and exceptional cases it follows that every action may be a duty, or, at least, may be permissible, under certain circumstances; that every action under certain circumstances may prove to be wrong. The bad man's excuse is, that he thought his the exceptional position, in which his deed might be pardoned; he alleges that he meant well. But, what a dishonest conscience does for the individual, systematic casuistry in the end does for the community. It becomes a degrading force. The only safeguard of virtue is the healthy prompting of a nature accustomed to act rightly, and sincerely desirous of doing so. Ethical rules, at the best, are somewhat vague generalities; they can be no more than approximations. When one ceases to ask, "What should I do?" and begins to ask, "How far may I lawfully go?" one has fallen. Of course casuistry does not mean to serve the devil; but its temptation is native, and the inborn sin is irresistible. Moral truth is to be learned by practical intuition, not by cold calculation. Even the Jesuit casuistry, which Pascal scourged, may not have originated in a desire to pervert morality. The wish to furnish an encyclopaedia for the confessional constituted a standing moral danger. It involved the asking of impossible questions, and the choosing of answers as lenient as might be, in order to keep worldly men on terms with the Church. But, when such temptations came in the way of unscrupulous partisans like the Jesuits, then, with help from the spiritual deadness of a sacramentarian view of Christian life, there resulted the incredible degeneracy of which all the world heard, when stress was laid on the possible excuses for worldly sin, and on the possible evasions even of worldly honour, till the moral sense was altogether trifled away. It appears probable that the Pharisees, too, had fallen to the depth of a falsity, which ceases to be ashamed. Indeed, when one disregards the conditions of conduct which lie in personality,when one isolates an action alike from motive and from circumstances, and classifies actions like material things,when some of these "things" are artificially depreciated, others conventionally valuable, can we wonder if there is a tendency to forget what the whole inquiry is based on? The mineralogy of conduct, in its eagerness over conspicuous resemblances, may easily forget the distinction of right and wrong. It is so easy to be ceremonially pure and a swindler; it is so difficult to be inwardly stainless, when harassed by doubts or howled down by public opinion. If the Pharisee distinctions in regard to oaths (Matt 23:16-20) were meant to make some oaths binding, and others void, with a view to the evasion of oaths, one ceases to wonder that Jesus should have said to such a generation, "Swear not at all" (Matt 5:34). Oaths, indeed, spring in all cases "from evil"; every man's word ought to be as good as his bond; but it is an additional degradation when the solemn forms of asseveration are tampered with, and wheneither because of an equal measure of low cunning, or because his piety suggests fantastic scruples to the Jewthe God-enlightened Pharisee sinks to the level of the Arab or the Celt, who breaks every oath except one.
In another instance, there is no doubt that Jesus found sheer immorality in the Pharisee system. No casuistical principle more readily offers itself than the assumption, that duty to God outweighs duty to men. The Pharisees, accordingly (Matt 15:3, sq.), assumed, that the duty to support one's parents was annulled by declaring the dedication to God of the means that would have sufficed for household piety. This impudent evasion of one of the ten commandments Jesus stigmatised as "hypocrisy," and as "teaching the precepts of men." To ignore the need of being just before one can be generous was bad enough. But worse might lie underneath. Dedication to God might be only a pretext, not an honest resolve. The bizarre spirituality, which soars above the laws of common goodness, tends towards infinite degradation; and the son who dishonoured his parents might not lack a second pretext, or scruple to rob God.(37)
37. According to the article "Corban" in Smith's Bible Dictionary the maxim in question protected mere profane vows, "not to support one's father," etc., as sacredly as the Corban. I have not found this view in the commentaries.
Such, then, were the reasons which Jesus alleged against Pharisee tradition, and because of which He rejected it as a human fabrication. But His criticism of the Pharisees did not end here. Resting on principles, it reached to every part of their religious teaching. He did not quarrel more with their traditions, or with their habits, than with their view of the Law.
If "the scribes and the Pharisees sat on Moses seat" (Matt 23:1, 2), it was natural that one greater than Moses should express His opinion of these modern lawyers. Accordingly, in the classical passage (Matt 5:17, sq.), Jesus struck the keynote of His teaching in the words, "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven"; i.e., so far from introducing an easier mode of life than that which the lawyers taught, and which he abolished,so far from giving indulgence to the flesh, as might have seemed probable,Jesus introduced a yet severer purity. On one hand, there is the righteousness of the Kingdom; on the other hand, contrasted with it, there is the righteousness of scribes and Pharisees, which, since these men, however unworthily, represent Moses, is at the same time, I will not say the righteousness of the Old Covenant, but is at least the standard righteousness of all who remain outside the Kingdom.
The occasion of these words is significant. Jesus, as we learn from Luke (6:12, 13, sq.; compare Mark 3:13, 14), had just chosen the twelve; the Sermon on the Mount, so called after Matthew, is, in point of fact, the document or charter of the kingdom of God at its foundation as a distinct society. Jesus had not been sent on a random mission. He worked within the Church (I can use no other word) which God had already founded; He lived among those who had been chosen to a Divine education; and He scrupulously confined His labours to that politically conditioned sphere, though His own ministry was to put it out of date. He sought "the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But the leaders of that people were evil shepherds. In them,guardians of orthodoxy, expounders of Moses,He ought naturally to have found His allies and disciples. There would have been no need to found the Christian Church by abrupt separation from the Jewish Church, if the authorities of the latter had subjected themselves in faith to the gentle teaching of Jesus. But both the successors of Aaron and the successors of Ezra refused Him. The aim of that Judean ministry, which John alone records, seems to have been an appeal by Jesus to the nation as a nation. The continuance of baptism, the prolongation of the Forerunner's call to repentance, the beginning at Jerusalem, the cleansing of the temple (John 1-3), all combine to bear this witness. But the hatred of the Pharisees (Matt 4:12; John 4:1, 2)if we may dogmatise on a much disputed point of Gospel harmonydrove Jesus from the south to the north. In other words, the rulers of the nation had already rejected Him, as they had rejected John the Baptist (Matt 17:12, 13). And, when their emissaries and spies dogged Him to the synagogues of Galilee, and stirred up the simple villagers to hostility, and carping misconstruction, He felt that the time had come to strike a decisive blow; and He accordingly chose the twelve, as the true leaders of the tribes, and as trustees of the fulfilment of the promises. Thus Christ declared Himself creator of a new Israel. Already as a teacher possessing disciples, He now gave a fixed and statutory form to discipleship in the case of twelve chosen men. Jesus' condemnation of the Pharisees was not, it is true, equivalent to the Divine rejection of Israel, any more than the Pharisees' rejection of Jesus in the Judean ministry secured the external failure of Jesus' Galilean labours; yet the first event in each case was the significant prefigurement of the later. That election, by which Jesus implied His despair of the orthodox Jews, was a sufficient proof that His Gospel was independent of the political or social conditions of His nation. Thus it was a distinct prefigurement of the rise of a Church separate from the Jewish, and indifferent to Judaism; while, if Israel was to reject Him, the rise of such a Church meant Israel's rejection by God, and the turning of God's messengers to other lands.
If these were the circumstances which conditioned Jesus' choice of the apostles, and the delivery of His first great address to them, we can understand the antithetic emphasis with which Jesus separates Himself and His disciples from Pharisaism. The sermon was not only a royal statute and charter, among the documents of the Kingdom; it was a declaration of war against the false and cruel "sons of the kingdom" (Matt 8:12), who, once called to form the community, in which the kingdom of God should become a realised fact and a power over the world, had long ago fallen short of their calling, and now had become the Kingdom's enemies. Again, the Pharisees were as near Jesus in the letter as they were far from Him in spirit; for this reason it was necessary explicitly to distinguish His lawgiving from theirs. Jesus found their religion outward; He declares their morality to be forced and legal. The Pharisee saint was a just man, a hard-hearted man of business, who stuck to his rights. He loved his neighbour and hated his enemy. He was correct in outward deportment; he did not kill, or commit adultery, or break a solemn oath. He represented the dead letter of the Old Covenant. So, in speaking to men who knew the Law as it showed through Pharisee spectacles, Jesus did not stop to sift the pure gold of God from the dross of human error. "Ye have(38)
heard," He says,viz., from them(39)
38. Matt 5:21, 27, 33, 38, 43.
who sit on Moses' seat,"that it was said to them of old time," so and so; "but I say unto you," otherwise, thus. He does not stop to ask whether the declarations made to them of old were faithfully reproduced by the people's teachers; sometimes He represents those teachers as quoting the Decalogue or other words of Scripture; once they are represented as adding to a scripture ("Thou shalt love thy neighbour") a clause ("Thou shalt hate thine enemy") which can scarcely be construed as fairly reproducing the Old Testament spirit. No matter; the people's recognised teachers taught them so; whether they vulgarised the spirit of the Law or adulterated its letter, made little difference; Jesus had something new to teach. But, by criticising the lawyers and not the Law, our Lord preserves that reverent and religious attitude towards the Old Covenant, which we recognised in His treatment of "the law and the prophets." To criticise the Old Covenant, or even in a doctrinaire manner to develop it more perfectly, would need an attitude towards the Law, and a temper of mind, different from those of God's revealer. Jesus dwelt at home in the Old Testament; He left it to His Church to compare reflectively the stages of revelation. But no spiritual barrier kept Him from criticising the sacred currency, when it came to Him from the hands of Pharisees, redolent of contact with them. To do that was both a practical necessity and a part of His mission as the Revealer. Again, He does not stop to put in, "But I say unto you that so it was said"; this had been no better for Him than to say, "But so it was said." He is no reproducer; He is a creator, even while He uses the greatest reverence towards Law and Prophets. Although in one sense, and in the best sense of the phrase, a conservative reformer, He is much more, "teaching as one having authority" (Matt 7:29), speaking from the fountain of truth in His own heart. He is criticising the Pharisee view of the Law, it is true; but He is doing more than set up a better view; He is founding and enlightening the kingdom of God. The true light does not merely revive the half lights of earlier days; it shines as "the light of the world," it serves as "the light of life."
39. "In the Synagogues," Weiss, Matthausev; Lechler, Stud u. Krit. 1854.
A passage is still to be mentioned in which Jesus speaks neither in particular of the Pharisees' view of the Law, nor of their traditions, but rather of their whole spirit and mode of life. It is a gratifying sign of real progress that Matthew 11:28, sq., a passage which used to be mentioned only to be ruled out as interpolated by a Johannine author, is now adduced by writers of the critical school, as conveying the essential impression of Jesus' person, as well as the essence of His teaching (Holtzmann, who calls it "the kernel of the Gospel"). By general agreement, there is a reference to the yoke of the Rabbinical schools, a yoke which none "was able to bear." Jesus contrasts with it His yoke and burden, thus sentencing Pharisaism to death, and promising relief, not by deliverance from law, but by the power of His personality ("learn of me"). Such deliverance is His loving gift to the weary and sad, who toil but never are at an end of their toil. Though aimed directly at the Pharisees, the passage, from one point of view, forms an important counterpart to Matthew 5:17, in its teaching on the Law.
Another passage still to be mentioned is, on the other side, the counterpart to the teaching regarding the Pharisees of Matthew 11:28. But there seems to be a difficulty in it. I refer to Matthew 23:1, 2. If Christ not only recognised the Pharisees as Moses' representatives, but bade the people obey them, is it not inconceivable that He should have purposed to emancipate men from tradition, or have taken up the position of the founder of a religion? We must not, however, take these words too literally. The very discourse which follows shows, that Jesus took abundant exception to Pharisee teaching as well as to Pharisee example (vers. 16, 18). If not modified in tradition, the words are a rhetorical antithesis. The good elements in the Pharisees' teaching threw into more ominous prominence the sins of their lives.
We have seen, then, that our Lord, while He viewed the Law and Prophets as the revelation of God, found current a prosaic and unethical interpretation of them, which was at the opposite pole from His own, and with which He held no parley. In criticising it He, not formally, but virtually, passed criticism on the limits of Old Testament revelation, and indicated their removal. But the Pharisee reading of the Law was supplemented by a tradition, which sought to make any fulfilment by the Christ superfluous, which almost withdrew the Law from the religious sphere, and which was clogged with pedantry and tainted with license. This addition to the Law Jesus condemned in terms and set aside in practice; a fact, which, for us, has become matter of course, but which had a main part in hurrying inevitably on the tragedy of His passion.
CHRIST'S PERSONAL OBSERVANCE OF THE WRITTEN LAW
In our course of study we have now to face the question, How did Christ comport Himself in practice towards the Jewish Law? And we shall try to answer the question, by showing that Jesus regarded Himself as keeping the Law, even in its ceremonial part. Christ no doubt kept the moral Law; but His sinlessness cannot be proved by an induction of facts; He was not even brought to trial on the charge of breaking the statute law of the Old Covenant; and, as regards the religious or covenant side of the Law, Jesus claimed Messiahship in a sense which implied that His life was essentially too great for measurement by the Old Covenant.
We must keep this in mind throughout in considering the question, whether Christ's conduct squares with the Law. We never, indeed, find Him putting in force Messianic immunities or indulgences; but His Messianic functions are duties not to be trammelled. The heavenly Healer does not even set aside the Law by touching the polluted in order to restore them. How could the Law forbid, or even contemplate, such a case as that?
Our practical inquiry, therefore, is, whether Christ kept the ceremonial Law. We shall try to prove that He did, by showing that He meant to keep the Law. And we shall need all our powers, for, perhaps, a majority of those scholars, who are free from dogmatic prejudice, hold that He deliberately broke the Sabbath. On this question our inquiry will hinge.Whether we admit or deny the exhaustive accuracy of describing the Sabbath as a ceremony, those Christians who hold that Christ broke it, hold that it was a ceremony, and that our Lord regarded it as such.
I. In opening the discussion of Christ's behaviour in regard to ceremonies, I may refer first to two of our Lord's sayings, which throw light on the general principles of His conduct.
The palmary passage Matthew 5:17 tells us that our Lord came "not to destroy the law or the prophets, but to fulfil." It is true, we have found reason to conclude that, in these words, our Lord is thinking of the ethical side of the Law; but the very generality of the expression involves a disclaimer of opposition to the existing Law, and gives a broad pledge of obedience.
The other passage referred to is specially calculated to make good any lack of distinctness in the first. It occurs in Matthew's report of our Lord's baptism. Mysterious though the grounds of that transaction are, and uncertain as is the meaning of the words in which our Lord overrules the Baptist's hesitation, the words themselves are plain enough (Matt 3:15), "Thus it becometh us to fulfil all pious observance" (compare 6:1). Even if the letter were less distinct, the spirit of the transaction points out Christ as a keeper of the religious ordinances of His day. Is it not then evident, that Christ designed, at least, to keep the Law?
2. Next, it may be noticed that Christ's habits of life were not ascetic or sectarian, but were those of the people. An Essene or a Nazirite might vary the habits of his nation with popular approval, or at least without check; Christ could not do so. According to John's Gospel, He always endeavoured, while it was possible, to attend the Passover. The Synoptists (Matt 26:17; Mark 14:12) represent the disciples as taking for granted that Christ will keep the last Passover. In His teaching,(40)
He repeatedly acknowledged the currency of parts of the Law of ordinances.
40. See ch. 6.
3. If details fail us, a further consideration may reconcile us to their absence. Christ was exposed all His life to the criticism of Pharisees,i.e., of fanatics, who were zealous for the Law, especially for its most trivial jots and external tittles. These men form for us the most efficient of all possible courts of inquiry. If they found nothing against Him in the matter of their Law,bitterly as they hated Him, stung as they were to the quick by His rejection of their tradition,there can have been no point in which His conduct differed from what the Law required. At His trial, they did their best; "Many bare false witness against Him, and their witness agreed not together" (Mark 14:56). If they could have convicted Him of Sabbath-breaking, or of any ritual transgression, they would gladly have done so; but they were helpless. We hear, indeed, of an attack upon His teaching; "There stood up certain, and bare false witness against Him, saying, We heard Him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands" (vers. 57, 58). In this evidence, possibly, we meet with a reminiscence of John 2:19; beyond a doubt it was based on some saying of our Lord regarding changes which His death should bring about. But this charge, too, came to nothing. He had not broken with the Law. He was indeed found guilty,but not of traversing the Jewish Law, only of claiming what was incredible and hateful to Pharisees. The claim itself condemned Him.
4. More will need to be said in regard to Jesus' treatment of the Sabbath. It may be argued that, in regard to it, the Pharisees were silenced but not convinced. Although, so far as we hear, they were too much ashamed of the charge to use it at His trial, although, at any rate, they did not use it with success, it may be alleged that the one justifiable charge against Jesus, from a Pharisee or legalist point of view, was that He broke the Sabbath. Many theologians think that He did so. A review of the facts, about which the question arises, will show us its importance in the history of our Lord's ministry.
The Synoptic Gospels record five cases in which Jesus broke the traditional rest(41)
of the Sabbath. Of these cases Matthew records two; Mark, repeating these, adds another; and Luke records all five. Four of them were cases of cure wrought in synagogues. Our Lord's ministry in Galilee began (Mark 1:21; Luke 4:31) with the cure of a demoniac in the synagogue at Capernaum. As yet, His conduct was not unfavourably criticised; astonishment, we may suppose, swallowed up every other feeling. Still, He must have known that He was offending the Pharisees; and soon there was a singular manifestation of the fact that the people's religious sympathy lagged equally behind Him. "At even, when the sun did set,"i.e., when Sabbath was over,they brought out their sick to get them cured. While they were willing to receive blessings from our Lord, they had not confidence enough in Him to believe that what He did on Sabbath, it could be no sin to do on the Sabbath. In two of the other cases of cure, it is recorded that our Lord felt Himself watched by Pharisees, and that He defended His conduct; in the remaining case of Sabbath cure (Luke 13:11) He wrought His miracle without apology; the ruler of the synagogue, doubtless with a deep consciousness of moderation, blamed the multitude for accepting or occasioning deeds of mercy on the holy day; and Jesus stigmatised him as a hypocrite for raising such objections in the name of religion.
41. Above, ch. 3, pp. 42, 43.
The fifth case in which Jesus disputed with the Pharisees concerning the Sabbath arose out of the disciples' conduct in plucking ears of corn on that day (Matt 12:1; Mark 2:23; Luke 6:1). It was remarkable for the arguments used by our Lord, and for the claim He put forth.
When we turn from the Synoptic Gospels to the fourth Gospel, with its different atmosphere and scenery, and with its fresh stock of reminiscences, we find no change in regard to the Sabbath. Jesus in Jerusalem is as much a scandal to the Pharisees, and an offence to their Sabbatarianism, as Jesus in Galilee. On His first return to the capital after the close of the Judean ministry, Jesus (v. 9) wrought a miracle on the Sabbath. He was quickly taken to task for doing so; but, with His reply, the conversation as recorded diverges from the interesting charge of Sabbath-breaking to the graver and still more exciting charge of blasphemy. On His return, however, a second time, Jesus, we are told, referred to this miracle and defended His conduct. Not content with this, He (9:1-7) wrought another cure on a Sabbath, the cure of a man born blind. This resulted in the conversion of the man cured, and drove the Pharisees to vehement anger. But no further discussion on the subject is on record.
We now proceed to consider our Lord's apologies, and to prove from them that He kept the Sabbath. But our right to argue thus may be challenged. We have already, it may be said, omitted the deeper religious questions as to the meaning of Christ's obedience, in order to confine ourselves in this chapter to an induction of facts. But would the fact that Christ meant to keep the Sabbath prove, as a fact, that He did keep it? Can we fairly take such things for granted? The objection is plausible. But I would ask the objector to reflect what the question to be settled is. It is not, did Christ perform such and such actions? It is this, were certain actions, admitted to have been done by Christ, consistent with the Sabbath law, or inconsistent with it? Certainly three-fourths of the answer to such a question are contained in the proof, that Christ meant to keep the Sabbath. Of course, if our critics appeal from the opinion of Christ to the opinion of the legalists, we give up the contest. If, however, they appeal to what the legalists could prove against Christ, we may still claim the verdict.
The simplest of our Lord's defences is found in an apology for healing on the Sabbath (Luke 6:9 and parallels 14:3), that "it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath day." Along with this we may take the quotation Matthew 12:7, "I desire mercy, and not sacrifice"; and we may also compare our Lord's summaries of the Law (7:12, 22:36-40). It was a leading principle of Christ's teaching, that charity is piety. But let us note the exact words of the defence we are studying. What does it affirm? "It is lawful" to do good on the Sabbath; the rest of Sabbath allows exceptions in the way of benevolent deeds. The very structure of our language reminds us that such a plea does not assert change of law, but implies its continuance. Christ, then, is arguing that He has not broken the Sabbath.
As the second of our Lord's apologies, we may adduce a group of passages, all of which defend miracles wrought in mercy on the Sabbath, Luke 13:15, 14:5; John 7:22, 23. These refer to precedents, set by the Law itself, or by Jesus' Pharisee censors themselves, which suggest that, out of kindness, one may vary the rest of Sabbath. These passages then continue to vindicate Christ's conduct as legal. At least, they can bear that interpretation; even if they admit of being explained as hinting at the abrogation of Sabbath, they do not require us to explain them in that sense.
In passing now to study the classical passage Matthew 12:1; Mark 2:23; Luke 6:1, we enter on a tedious and difficult investigation. These parallels record a discussion, not over a Sabbath cure, but over the diciples' plucking corn on Sabbath,i.e., over a breach of tradition. It is our Lord's mode of answering the objections raised, which takes the matter out of the category of His criticisms of the Pharisees, and makes it illustrative of His attitude towards the Law. It is certainly singular that His highest claims should be advanced, not in vindication of deeds of mercy, but in defence of conduct, which, though harmless, had no moral motive. Perhaps we might explain this by saying, that in the absence of moral raison d'etre our Lord felt it necessary to raise the discussion of the disciples' conduct above the exegesis of the fourth commandment, and on that account dignified the occasion by announcing His own claims. Still, one cannot feel certain that the mere repudiation of tradition (as in Matt 15:3) would have been either inconvenient or insufficient. Again, that part of Christ's defence which is common to all three Gospels,the story of David at Nob,while in many points it creates a very exact parallel to the circumstances of our Lord and His disciples, seems to fail at a crucial point. David was in need; the disciples were not. And the other defences recorded by Matthew,the example of the priests, and the quotation from Hosea,though in their case the difficulty may be got over, seem scarcely more apt. The priests had a sacred duty to performthe disciples had not; and what is the meaning of talking about mercy?
(i) In these circumstances, Dr. Weiss's criticism comes to our rescue. He regards the earliest Gospel, from which is derived the larger part of the first three Gospels, as having been a Hebrew Gospel by Matthewthe λογια of Papiascontaining our Lord's discourses, along with a certain amount of historical matter. This He calls the "Apostolic Source." A Greek translation of this was used by Mark, who altered it freely in accordance with the traditions which he had learned from Peter. Both the Apostolic Source (in Greek) and Mark's Gospel were used by the author of our Matthew; they were his chief though by no means his only sources. Luke wrote later, without knowledge of this predecessor, using the same principal sources, and supplementing them in a similar way.
In the present instance, Weiss regards Matthew 12:3-8 as being substantially reproduced from the "Apostolic Source," although Luke, perhaps under the influence of Mark, curtailed the passage. He thinks, however, that the present context did not originally belong to the passage, but is due to Mark, who wove a part of the passage into the record, which he had learned from Peter, of a controversy with the Pharisees about the disciples' conduct in plucking ears of corn on Sabbath. That controversy may have been settled, he thinks, by our Lord's remark (Mark 2:27), "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath,"i.e., the Sabbath was instituted for man's good, and must not be exaggerated so as to require his suffering or harm; that which is the end of the Law may be a reason for setting it aside. The interpretation of the passage from the "Apostolic Source" runs equally smoothly. It was properly introduced by the record of a challenge addressed to the twelve for curing on the Sabbath, David's action was excused by need; the disciples' miracles were excused by the need of the sick. The priests "profaned the Sabbath" by their temple duties, without guilt; the disciples broke the Sabbath in the furtherance of a still holier mission, and under the sanction of a still more august presence. The Pharisees had raised a doubt in the interests of ceremonialism; but God preferred mercy, and the disciples' acts had been deeds of mercy. On this interpretation, the passage in the "Apostolic Source" admitted at least of being taken as maintaining the Sabbath, while the Petrine sentence, Mark 2:27; favoured that view.(42)
The concluding sentence, practically identical in the three Gospels, proves that Christ maintained the Sabbath. Weiss takes it without introduction, as in Luke, "The Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath," i.e.,"The Head of the Kingdom of God is head of its preparatory dispensations, and will judge what keeps and breaks the Sabbath, supported by the Law (Matt 12:5) and the prophets" (ver. 7). The view of this scholar then upholds most strongly the belief, that Christ kept the Law and taught men to keep it, and that His treatment of Sabbath was not an abrogation but an interpretation. For the critical grounds of Dr. Weiss's treatment of the narrative which we have been discussing, I must refer experts to his commentaries.(43)
42. Although Dr. Weiss thinks it "removes the strictly legal" character of the Sabbath.
43. On Matthew and Mark. I need hardly add that such a textual theory must be judged as a whole.
It would be beyond my competence were I to express any personal judgment on Dr. Weiss's theory. In writing this book(44)
I have not desired a better historical basis than is furnished by the Gospel records as they stand. But no one can refuse to compare one record with another, or to weigh interpretations, so far at least as to form an opinion on their internal probability. Let us see, then, what is to be said of Dr. Weiss's solution under this aspect.
44. Cp. Preface.
Few readers will hesitate to regard it as an objection to the theory, that it involves so radical a dislocation of the text. There are differences between Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but all versions meet with sweeping condemnation. Nor is one's distrust lessened by the hypothesis, that the origin of the confusion was a deliberate act of mosaic-making on the part of Mark. A theory which cannot explain the origin of the Gospels, except by supposing that the evangelists capriciously carved and grouped the accounts supplied to them by oral tradition, is self-discredited, if not self-condemned. And, when we are told that the analogy between the disciples' conduct and David's is fortuitous, a pretty large strain is put on our power of belief. On the other hand, it cannot be denied that the passages, as separated by Dr. Weiss, explain themselves satisfactorily; and that an unprejudiced study of Matthew 12:1, sq. itself suggests the doubt, whether there was not a reference to miracles of mercy in the discussion; while I, at least, must hold it as evidence, so far as it goes, in favour of Dr. Weiss's view, that he can explain Christ's Lordship of the Sabbath consistently with the maintenance of the Law.
It may be asked, however, whether we cannot retain Dr. Weiss's interpretation of the claim of Lordship, while refusing to accept his theory of the text. I cannot think so. He gives, indeed, an interpretation of the passage as arranged by Mark, somewhat to this effect: "The Sabbath was made for man; therefore the Messiah, who is the great friend of man, must take command of it as of everything else that helps men"; but there is no consecutiveness in these thoughts. The only ground of the inference stated is the nature of the Son of man, not what is stated as to the original and proper nature of the Sabbath. I must hold, then, that Weiss has not explained the text of Mark, and that, meritorious as his interpretation of Christ's claim of Lordship is in itself, it is inseparably connected with Dr. Weiss's critical dissection of Mark's text. And if, abandoning the question in regard to Mark 2:27, we seek to retain the interpretation, connecting it with the common text, or with Matthew's fuller version, we fail equally. As the passage stands, Jesus is defending not the duty but the rights of the disciples. It is easy to understand that He should advance His authority to shield His followers from attack in the discharge of His commission; it is hard to believe that He should have silenced a doubt as to the legitimacy of what seemed a breach of the Sabbatheven if that doubt proceeded from the lips of the Phariseesby the hard assertion, that He was entitled to judge on the subject, and not they. Recognizing, then, that we must accept either the whole of Dr. Weiss's theory or none of it, without pretending to close the question, either by deciding in favour of the theory, or by rejecting it, let us proceed to study other interpretations of the passage.
(2) The view of Ritschl, who is in substantial agreement with Meyer, deserves notice, because on this passage the first chapter of the A. K. Kirche pivots. On general grounds this interpretation is distasteful to the present writer, as it asserts the repeal of the "commandment of Sabbath rest" so far as concerns the disciples. Ritschl's view, like Weiss's, is connected with critical presuppositions; but they are of a simpler nature. Both scholars regard Mark as the earliest of our Gospels; but, while Weiss, on the whole and in this particular passage, regards our Lord's words as more literally reported by Matthew, in dependence on the Apostolic Source, Ritschl accepts Mark's peculiarities as of special authority, not only as regards Christ's history, but as regards His teaching. In explaining this passage, he builds on the connection of Mark 2:27 with ver. 28, and charges Matthew and Luke with omitting ver. 27. Jesus, on this view, distinguishes between two classes of commandmentsthose temporary ordinances which were "made for man," and those eternal laws for which "man was made." The first class Jesus, as Messiah, claims the right to repeal. And the Pharisees are left to assume that the disciples, who had acted under Jesus' sanction, had been encouraged to emancipate themselves from the fourth commandment. On this view, I suppose, the arguments in Matthew(45)
will have the following meaning: the temporary law of the Sabbath, and other like commands, showed their imperfection in the fact that they admitted of occasional breaches as, by David, and by the priests even during the Old Dispensation, as well as in the fact that prophets(46)
45. Not according to Meyer (on Mark). See his extraordinary statement of the grammatical necessities of the passage. One can only say, If this is a correct account of Mark's statement, that cannot have been a correct account of the historical state of the case.
announced those principles, which logically involve the abolition of the temporary laws. Ritschl tries to show that Christ treated all the laws of Moses according to the distinction here revealed, confirming them, or emancipating His disciples from them. But is such an interpretation natural? Surely Christ would not describe temporary laws as "made for man," in distinction from permanent laws! Even Meyer renders, The Sabbath has been made as a means for man's highest moral ends; and to this interpretation, following in the wake of most commentaries, we may heartily assent.
46. Ritschl (A. K. Kirche, 33) holds that this citation by our Lord nowhere appears in its proper context.
But the theory may remain, though one part be given up. It represents our Lord as habitually breaking the (physical and outward) rest of the Sabbath, and encouraging His disciples to do so. His Sabbath miracles, therefore, appear as breaches of the Law, revealing the spirit of a higher religion. It is true, this is guarded on two sides by Meyer and by Ritschl. The former declares that Christ's language in Mark 2:28 explicitly represents His breach of the Law as a higher fulfilment after the manner of Matthew 5:17, i.e., as a spiritual reformation of the day. Ritschl declares that the day was abolished, with other ordinances, only for the disciples, while the people at large were commanded to keep the Law, and even to respect the scribes (Mark 1:44; Matt 23:2). But these qualifications are trivial. They do not modify our difficulty in accepting the theory that Christ broke the Sabbath. The difficulty is this: why did He not say so? Meyer might reply, that Christ was fulfilling the Sabbath in the highest sense, instead of "absolutely abrogating" it; but plainly His fulfilment is supposed to be consistent with "absolute abrogation" of the Jewish rest; and, so long as His arguments remained ambiguous, our Lord must have led the Jews to believe, that He wished to appear as one who was no enemy to that rest. Ritschl might reply, that Christ was not bound to intimate a right of the citizens of the kingdom, such as this freedom, to those who, like the Pharisees, refused to enter the kingdom. But that answer would only raise the further question, Would it have been possible to abolish the Sabbath for the elect, without lessening its authority over the impenitent? Does it not appear, on this construction of His meaning, that our Lord's life, here as everywhere, manifested His gospel,that it declared the abrogation of the Sabbath?(47)
And how can He reveal the new life in His actions, and darken the knowledge of it by His words? Or how can He speak only to bewilder His enemies and leave them perplexed? We should have expected Him, as a man of honour, to say, The Sabbath was holy, but I have abolished it for My people. In this very passage, where He is alleged to have gone so far, we should have expected Him to go further; to say not only, I have power over the Law you idolize, but, I have power, and, in my power, I summon all men to a holier and more spiritual worship. We cannot then, by a strained interpretation of an isolated text, be compelled to adopt a view which conflicts with the general bearing of the Gospel records, and which insinuates a painful suspicion of our Lord's mode of action.
47. On this view, I should suppose that the question of Luke 6:9 must be a piece of irony, retorting on the Pharisees their favourite weapon of attack.
(3) It might be held that Christ claimed immunity from ceremonial law, at the least, as God, or as the lawgiver. Matthew 17:24-27 might be quoted as a parallel. But Christ declares the very contrary. And even the facts which this suggestion abuses for its support do not support it. In Matthew 17:26 Christ is not speaking of a special Divine immunity, but of an immunity shared by His disciples, and an immunity which in practice He surrenders. In this passage also He is claiming nothing for Himself, but is defending His disciples.
(4) We have therefore found no alternative theory to Dr. Weiss's. I would venture, however, with some diffidence, to suggest another not announcing a settled opinion, but offering a suggestion. Any theory to be considered with favour must satisfy several conditions. It must maintain the context as it is given in the Gospels. It must, in accordance with what we have learnt elsewhere, represent Christ as fulfilling and not as surreptitiously attacking the Law. It must give a tenable explanation of the connection in Mark 2:27, 28.
At this point I would begin, Ritschl, who counts this passage of the greatest importance, traces no connection between "man" in ver. 27 and "Son of man" in ver. 28, but may we not find a connection? We know that "Son of man" is taken from Daniel 7:13, and that its use was a designedly indirect claim of Messiahship. Are we not at liberty to infer more about it? Fastening our eyes on the logical connection of the verses, have we not a hint given us that, here at least, it may mean "representative man"? The verses will then signify, "The Sabbath was made for man's good, not man for its sake; and therefore the representative man may control the Sabbath with ideal freedom." On this view the last verse is not a claim of legislative right but a maxim of conduct. It claims Lordship for the Christ, indeed, not for Christians; but the claim is justified by the original destination of the day to man's good, and it is put forward on behalf of the disciples. The underlying thought is, With legalism, no Sabbath; without liberty, no Christian Sabbath. The various arguments will run as follows: If David and his followers out of need, the priests in the temple in furtherance of their duty, broke the Sabbath, may not the Son of David and His followers, in the enjoyment of the new life, and in the exercise of its privileges, ignore trivial forms for the sake of the spirit of the day?(48)
The vindication of Christian freedom (cf. Matt 17:24-27) is a sufficient motive for Jesus' allowing the disciples' conduct, and for His making Himself a partner in it after the event. If the concluding verse enunciates a principle of conduct, then, as it stands, our Lord's answer to the Pharisees is complete, without being helped out by the supply of a minor premise. They said, You are allowing the Sabbath to be broken. He said, I am keeping it in my own way, and that the highest possible way, which corresponds to the ideal of the day. The allusion to David itself, we may note, makes us expect a vindication of Christ's conduct.
48. Matthew 12:7 will mean, Your harsh suspicions are anything rather than honouring to God. Or, as Ritschl suggests, it may be inserted from a different context. The aim of the previous illustrations will be to suggest our Lord's Messiahship, as the ground of that Christian freedom shown in the boldness of the disciples, and expounded in Christ's words.
We have asked whether Christ kept the ceremonial law. Our answer has been that He did. We have based this answer on His own declarations about His life, on the known manner of His life, on the tacit admission of His enemies, and on the line of defence which He took when He was charged with Sabbath-breaking. Sometimes He spoke of His conduct as lawful; at other times He sheltered Himself behind precedent; He never admitted that He was leading a revolution. One passage, indeed, is contested; but, after examination, we have found only two views of the passage that are at all plausible; of which the first represents Christ as trustee of the Sabbath law; and the second, as the highest model of Sabbath observance. We have not spent any time over the theory which affirms that Christ kept the Sabbath and all the Law, only because it denies Christ to have been more than a legalist. Such criticism by scissors needs no skill and deserves no respect. In the present case, it is irreconcilable with that saying of Christ's which has occupied the greater part of our timea saying as well verified as anything in the Gospel history.
Although we have let the question stand unbalanced between an interpretation which rests on high authority, but which is obnoxious because of the violence it does to the text of the Gospels, and another interpretation, resting on no authority, which escapes that objection, there are other objections which may be brought against the latter view in order to procure its overthrow. It may be said that we have proved, not that Christ kept the Law, but that He broke it. It may be said that Lordship of the Sabbath, in our sense, would be not the beau-ideal observance of it, but the very opposite of its observance. It may be said, that our view charges Christ with that very disingenuousness to which we objected in Dr. Ritschl's view. I am not blind to the plausibleness and the gravity of these objections. But may I suggest, that only one kind of criticism, the criticism of learning, could be fatal to my tentative theory, though it, perhaps, very readily might be so? All these other objections, it will appear on reflection, attach no more to our theory than to the facts of our Lord's life. It is different with Dr. Ritschl's theory. That view implies that Christ concealed in His words a divergence from Judaism, which His actions daily widened. Our theory asserts that Christ was loyal to Judaism, and yet was the source of a new faith. All that it implies of reticence is, that He used the wise man's right of choosing what to tell and what not to tell. To the Pharisees He simply pled "not guilty"; they had no right to hear more, and they heard no more. Do my critics really suppose that Christ kept any of the Jewish Law in a Jewish spirit? Is He not an example to Christians throughout His life? It is merely one specimen of this, if, not breaking the Sabbath, and conceding nothing to His enemies' cavils, He so kept the day of rest as to Christianise it. Is it not true, that in all His life there was much to justify the Pharisees' suspicions,that in all His life He was inaugurating a new era, in which His disciples should be swept away from all that the Pharisees loved? Yet, none the less, He kept the Law.
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