If we could read a commentary on the Old Testament from Jesus Christ how would that be? Well, we actually have that in the Sermon on the Mount.
Let’s see the intent of the law by its author, the One who is God with us.
Let’s examine Matthew 5:21-37, the laws on murder, adultery and bearing false witness and their real intent.
Matthew 5:21 “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ 22 But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell. 23 “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, 24 leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God. 25 “When you are on the way to court with your adversary, settle your differences quickly. Otherwise, your accuser may hand you over to the judge, who will hand you over to an officer, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 And if that happens, you surely won’t be free again until you have paid the last penny.
27 “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 31 “You have heard the law that says, ‘A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a written notice of divorce.’ 32 But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery.
33 “You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the Lord.’ 34 But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne. 35 And do not say, ‘By the earth!’ because the earth is his footstool. And do not say, ‘By Jerusalem!’ for Jerusalem is the city of the great King. 36 Do not even say, ‘By my head!’ for you can’t turn one hair white or black. 37 Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Matthew 5:21-26 Murder
Is all anger sin? Jesus was angry when he turned over the money-changers’ tables (Matthew 21:12-13) and he was angry with the Pharisees for their hard hearts (Mark 3:1-5). There is an anger without sin (Ephesians 4:26-27). The anger of mourning or for the injustice of the world is not necessarily sinful. We do need to be careful with our anger (Proverbs 15:18), because anger at people can cause us to sin. It is the root of murder. Jesus showed that although most of us may have never actually committed murder in the letter, we are guilty of breaking the spirit of the law in any unrighteous anger.
How do we tell the difference between righteous and unrighteous anger? - by what comes out of our mouths. Words of hate for others, that murder the reputation of another are not godly. Hate words are excuses for treating people with prejudice, paying so-called “little people” poorly, giving grossly excessive salaries to so-called “big people.” Jesus condemned this way of dealing with fellow human beings. It is such an offense that it could be charged in heaven’s court. Jesus is serious about this and those who use such words are in danger of hell. We are called to live the opposite of this kind of verbal abuse, by valuing human life.
What is the spirit of murder? Obeying just the letter of the law “thou shalt not murder” misses its purpose, love. We may have never killed in the letter. When calling others nobodies or stupid, we deceive ourselves that we are not criminals. Jesus explained that such insults put us in the same category as murderers. He encouraged us to operate in a totally opposite way. First, to reconcile with our enemies if possible. When that is not possible, we ought to at least find some kind of agreement quickly, lest the whole matter go to an unjust court and we lose everything. The opposite of murder is reconcile or settle.
Matthew 5:27-32 Adultery
What did Jesus teach about “thou shalt not commit adultery?” The problem with the letter of any law is that it gives excuse to use loopholes as long as the specific forbidden act is not done. Jesus addressed the principle using the example of a lustful look. As anger can lead to murder, lust can lead to adultery. Both begin in our hearts. Jesus challenged us to see the thought as essentially the same as the act. As with murder, there is a positive alternative. Jesus shocked everyone by suggesting self-mutilation. Such self-harm is sin. So, Jesus was exaggerating to make a point. We must take drastic steps to avoid adultery.
Is all divorce a sin? Jesus gave the exception as “porneia.” Louw-Nida defines that as sexual immorality of any kind. The Friberg Lexicon defines it as every kind of extramarital, unlawful, or unnatural sexual intercourse. Jesus’ position on divorce is stricter than western culture, but does provide freedom for the sexually-wronged marriage partner. His description was broad enough that the sin could be something either during or even before a marriage took place. In 1 Corinthians 7:14-15, Paul explained that if an unbelieving spouse walks out, the believing spouse is free from the marriage. There are arguably other exceptions, but the general principle is: easy divorce is not God’s way.
Matthew 5:33-37 Bearing False Witness
The Old Testament forbade bearing false witness, including making an oath and not fulfilling it. Jesus encouraged not to swear fake oaths, but to just say yes or no. Swearing by external things is artificial and does not guarantee fulfillment of an obligation. Using this form of leverage supposedly makes a person more believable. It emphasizes how we humans are too often unreliable and untruthful. By invoking heaven or earth, we delude ourselves that this veneer of honesty can change liars into truth-tellers and covenant breakers into contract keepers. We Christians do not need to engage in such self-deceptive swearing. We simply need to be truthful as best as we can.
Are pledges, covenants, vows or oaths in court Christian? God confirmed His promises by an oath (Hebrews 6:16-18), Jesus answered a question stated as an oath (Matthew 26:63-64), and Paul called upon God as his witness that he was telling the truth (2 Corinthians 1:23) and not a lie (Galatians 1:20). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus did not say “swear not at all” period. He preached against swearing an oath too lightly. People do not take oaths seriously. Jesus did not condemn sincere oaths, but frivolous and deceptive ones. Rather than making oaths to cover up perjury or insincerity, simply answer yes or no.
Jesus showed if we claim not to have murdered but were angry or insulting, we failed. If we claim to be faithful spouses, but have lusted at any time, we failed. If we claim to tell the truth, but have ever broken a promise, we failed. The Sermon on the Mount should teach us we have all failed. Only Jesus was faultless. That’s why we need a Savior.