Monday, 29 April 2013

Notes on the Gospel according to Matthew, Chapter 5

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The fifth chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew contains the first portion of the Sermon on the Mount, which also takes up the next chapter and a half.  Portions of this chapter of Matthew are similar to the Sermon on the Plain in the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to Luke.  However, much of Jesus (a.s.) is reported to have said is found only in this chapter of Matthew.  As Muslims, our understanding of the teachings of Jesus (a.s.) are taken in the light of the Qur’an and the hadits and in many places, there are marked differences from how a Christian would understand it. 

This chapter is one of the most discussed and analysed of the New Testament.  No chapter was more often cited by the early scholars of the Church.  It still holds true today.  Like much of the rest of the Gospel, the source of the fifth chapter of Matthew is uncertain.  It contains only a handful of parallels with the Gospel according to Mark, from which it was thought to be copied from.  It does have a number of loose parallels with the Gospel according to Luke's Sermon on the Plain.  If the two source hypothesis is correct, it indicates that much of this text likely came from the Q document.  However, the parallels in the Gospel according to Luke tend to be very loose and far further away than most areas they overlap.  There are a considerable number of verses here that have no parallel in Luke.


The Sermon on the Mount itself is a collection of sayings and teachings of Jesus (a.s.), which emphasised his moral teaching of the need for balance in spirituality and the legal aspect of the religion.  It is echoed in Islam as the need for both taswawwuf and shari’ah in the journey to the Divine.  It is the first of the Five Discourses of Matthew and takes place early in the ministry of Jesus (a.s.).  The term Five Discourses of Matthew refers to five specific discourses by Jesus (a.s.) as recorded within the Gospel according to Matthew.  The other four discourses are the Missionary Discourse, the Parabolic Discourse, the Discourse on the Church and the Discourse on End Times.  They form the Christian understanding of the teachings of Jesus (a.s.).  Each of these discourses has a shorter parallel in the other synoptic gospels, the Gospel according to Mark and the Gospel according to Luke.

The Sermon itself is the longest piece of teaching directly attributed to Jesus (a.s.) in the New Testament and is one of the most widely quoted elements of the Canonical Gospels.  It includes two of the best known teachings of Jesus (a.s.), the Beatitudes, and the Lord's Prayer, the only du’a we know of from him.  To most Christians, the Sermon on the Mount contains the central tenets of Christian discipleship.

While the issue of the exact theological structure and composition of the Sermon on the Mount is subject to debate among scholars, specific components within it, each associated with particular teachings, can be identified.  The Gospel according to Matthew groups Jesus' (a.s.) teachings into sets of similar material but the same material is scattered when found in the Gospel according to Luke.  The Sermon on the Mount may be compared with the similar but more succinct Sermon on the Plain in the Gospel according to Luke, which also features Jesus (a.s.) heading up a mountain, but giving the sermon on the way down at a level spot.  Some scholars believe that they are the same sermon, but it is more that Jesus (a.s.) frequently preached similar themes in different places as all the prophets of old did and the shuyukh even now.

As mentioned above, this chapter contains the Beatitudes.  The Beatitudes are divided into two quartets.  The first group outlines the trials of the believers and the Rewards they will receive.  The second four lists their righteous behaviour which led to this persecution.  Most scholars feel the ninth Beatitude at is separate from the first eight, as demonstrated by its shift to the second person.  Four of the Beatitudes are found in a similar form in the Gospel according to Luke, the rest are only found here.

The English word used to show the positive nature of the Beatitudes is ‘blessed.’  This is not an ideal translation since in modern English, ‘blessed’ carried the connotation of being Blessed by God, a meaning not implied by the Greek.  It is difficult to find an accurate word but some scholars feel ‘fortunate’ is a better fit.  The New American Bible uses ‘happy’ because it directly translates the ‘beatus’ of the Vulgate, and it carries a similar meaning to that of the Classical Greek.  After the Beatitudes there are a series of metaphors, called Salt and Light, that are often seen as commentaries upon them.  From them originate many famous phrases of the English language.

Jesus (a.s.) then moves to a structured discussion of the halacha and explains the spirit of the Law as opposed to the letter of the Law.  This section is traditionally referred to as the Antitheses.  The antithesis form is from the Greek for "setting opposite."  This is used when two opposites are introduced at the same sentence, for contrasting effect.  A simple counting of the elements of dialectics is that of thesis; antithesis, and synthesis.  It is the juxtaposition of contrasting ideas in a balanced way.  It is at the core of the argument about the relationship between the views attributed to Jesus (a.s.), which is more spiritual and those attributed to Moses (a.s.), the Mosaic Law which is more legalistic.  It is taken as a microcosm between the relationship between the New Testament and Old Testament.  The Pauline interpretation of this led to the abrogation of Old Covenant laws.  Form a Muslim point of view, this is a great injustice to both prophets.  The message is the same since God Almighty doe not contradict Himself.  It is only that Moses (a.s.) was Sent to bring forth the Law, the Decalogue and the basis for the halacha.  Unfortunately, the Jews had forgotten the spirit of the Law and the nature of Gd.  They ceased worshipping God and viewing the halacha as a means to a relationship with the Divine.  Instead, they began to worship the Law and thought they were serving God, when in reality, they only served their desires.  Jesus (a.s.) was Sent to bring back the spirit of the Law.

Matthew 5:1-16
1Jesus, when he saw how great was their number, went up on to the mountain-side; there he sat down, and his disciples came about him.  2And he began speaking to them; this was the teaching he gave.  “3Blessed are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of heaven is theirs.  4Blessed are the patient; they shall inherit the land.  5Blessed are those who mourn; they shall be comforted.  6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for holiness; they shall have their fill.  7Blessed are the merciful; they shall obtain mercy.  8Blessed are the clean of heart; they shall see God.  9Blessed are the peace-makers; they shall be Counted the children of God.  10Blessed are those who suffer persecution in the cause of right; the kingdom of heaven is theirs.  11Blessed are you, when men revile you, and persecute you, and speak all manner of evil against you falsely, because of me.  12Be glad and light-hearted, for a rich reward awaits you in heaven; so it was they persecuted the prophets who went before you.  13You are the salt of the earth; if salt loses its taste, what is there left to give taste to it?  There is no more to be done with it, but throw it out of doors for men to tread it under foot.  14You are the light of the world; a city cannot be hidden if it is built on a mountain-top.  15A lamp is not lighted to be put away under a bushel measure; it is put on the lamp-stand, to give light to all the people of the house; 16and your light must shine so brightly before men that they can see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

The reference in the beginning of this section to Jesus (a.s.) ascending the mountain prior to preaching is considered by many to be a reference to Moses (a.s.) on Mount Sinai.  

Deuteronomy 9:9
9I went up to the mountain where I was to receive the two stone tablets that recorded the Covenant the Lord was Making with you and on the mountain, without food and drink, I spent forty days and forty nights.

There are no actual mountains in Galilee, only several large hills in the region to the west of the Sea of Galilee.  A number of hills there have traditionally been claimed as the site of the sermon but the best known is the Mount of Beatitudes.  The introduction to the Sermon on the Plain also has Jesus (a.s.) going up into a mountain but he goes there to pray and descends before beginning his sermon.  Some scholars have tried to reconcile the two accounts, saying the sermon was delivered on a flat plain part-way up a mountain.  It is irrelevant since the nature of prophethood is such that the same lessons were likely said many times to different groups of people.

This verse is the first place where the word ‘disciples’ appears in the Gospel according to Matthew.  Its exact meaning here is unclear.  Some feel that it refers only to the small group of Jesus' (a.s.) followers, and that the sermon was only directed to them.  This is the prevailing view in the Catholic Church.  Martin Luther and the Protestant movement in general believe otherwise.  As how we understand it, the sermon itself was primarily meant for the disciples, the muridun of the shaykh, but was also for general consumption.  The spiritual blessing of such an association, swuhbah, is that each would take to his own spiritual level and those closest would reap the most benefit.

Verse 3 opens the first of nine statements of who is the fortunate one.  Each, except for the last, follows the same pattern of naming a group of people and the reward they will receive.  In Jesus' (a.s.) time, Greek word translated as blessed or fortunate here, was a common way of describing someone who is wealthy. This opening of the sermon was meant to shock the audience with a deliberate inversion of standard values.  The ‘poor’ translates more closely to faqir rather than miskin, the absolutely destitute.  In the New Testament, the term applies to those who require the charity of others in order to survive.  Within taswawwuf, the faqir can be understood to be a dervish, one who has given up dunya for akhirah in a physical as well as spiritual sense.  We understand it thus because whilst Luke 6:20 simply has "fortunate are the poor," that Matthew 6:3 adds "in spirit."  The phrase does not appear anywhere in the Old Testament, it occurs in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and it is an important notion to the ascetics of Qumran.  "Poor in spirit" does not mean lacking in spirit.  It is that poverty is not only a physical condition, but also a spiritual one.  Simply being poor is not a ticket into the Divine Presence, but rather only those who understand the nature of real poverty are blessed.  To this group blessing is promised without qualification.  The elect of the ummah of Muhammad (s.a.w.) understand it best since it is God who is Wealthy, al-Ghany and all Creation that is in poverty since we are the owners of nothing, whereas He is the Master of everything.  Those who recognise the Divine have a maqam of wilayat.

The fourth verse is the second verse of the Beatitudes.  This is often considered to be a version of Luke 6:21, part of the Sermon on the Plain, which has weepers being able to laugh.

Luke 6:21
21Blessed are you who are hungry now; you will have your fill.  Blessed are you who weep now; you will laugh for joy.

This is in reference to Isaiah 61:2.

Isaiah 61:2
2proclaiming the year of the Lord’s Pardon, the day when He, our God, will Give us Redress.  Comfort for every mourner;

The word mourn does not refer to mourning for the dead, the most common English use of the term.  Most scholars feel mourners should be read as ’the oppressed."’  The view that it refers to those mourning their sinfulness is incorrect since the theology of the period is that sins are to be hated, not mourned.

The fifth verse is the third verse of the Beatitudes.  This well known verse is perhaps the most famous of the Beatitudes but unlike the previous two, this one has no parallel in the Sermon on the Plain.  That Sermon contains four Beatitudes and four Woes.  There is considerable debate over whether this Beatitude was in Q, and authors of Luke left it out, or if it is an original addition by the authors of Matthew.  The meek should be understood as meaning powerless.

The phrase, ‘inherit the earth’ is also similar to ‘theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven’ in the third verse.  The two terms reflect the two different views of the eschatology prevalent when the authors of Matthew were writing.  One view was that the end of the world would see all the believers brought up to the Kingdom of Heaven.  The other view was that the end times would have God come down to directly rule Earth, and the chosen people would then be given dominion over the entire world.  The Muslim understanding, both views are inadequate.  ‘Meek’ in the Greek literature of the period most often meant ‘gentle’ or ‘soft.’  The phrase would better be reflected in the concept of the khalifah fi al-ardh, God’s vicegerent on earth.  That concept is explained in greater detail in other posts in this blog.

The sixth verse is the fourth verse of the Beatitudes.  Fasting was the sunnah f the prophets.  It was a means to subdue the nafs and recognise the Divine.  In a hadits, we are told that the reward for fasting is Known only to God Himself, so great it is a form of ‘ibadah.  That reward is portrayed as a spiritual and temporal feast at the end of the fast.

Isaiah 55:1
1So many athirst; who will not come to the water?  So many destitute; who will come and get him food, get wine and milk free, no price to be paid? 

Jeremiah 31:25
25faint hearts shall be refreshed, and hunger’s craving satisfied.

Psalm 107:9.
9poor souls that were thirsty, contented now, poor souls that were hungry, satisfied now with all good.

Like the first two Beatitudes, this one seems to similar to one in Luke, in this case with Luke 6:21.

Luke 6:21
21Blessed are you who are hungry now; you will have your fill.  Blessed are you who weep now; you will laugh for joy.

The Gospel according to Luke only has the blessed hunger, whereas the Gospel according to Matthew added thirst, a minor addition, but the addition of the word ‘righteousness’ is a major change.  Righteousness is one of the key concepts in the Gospel according to Matthew, though what exactly is meant by the term is not always clear to the Christians.  To Muslims, the example of the righteous would be Jesus (a.s.) himself.  There is no ambiguity in this. 

The seventh verse also has no parallel in the Sermon on the Plain.  This verse marks the beginning of the second quartet of Beatitudes.  The first four are all about the self.  The second four are about relations between people, the mu’amalah.  The eighth verse is the sixth Beatitude.  This verse is generally believed to have been taken from Psalm 24:3-5.

Psalm 24:3-5
3Who dares climb the Mountain of the Lord, and appear in His Sanctuary?  4The guiltless in act, the pure in heart; one who never set his heart on lying tales, or swore treacherously to his neighbour.  5His to receive a Blessing from the Lord, Mercy from God, his Sure Defender;

Since Jesus (a.s.) was explaining the Law, he quoted from the corpus of the Old Testament.  The purity refers not to one who was ritually cleansed, but rather to spiritual purity as noted by the ‘in heart’ addition.  This is what we call tadzkiyyah an-nafs, the purification of the self and the result of it is the purified soul, nafs swafiyyah.  The Beatitudes are then the maqamat of wilayat.

The ninth verse is the seventh verse of the Beatitudes.  The word ‘peacemakers’ does not imply pacifism.  It does not refer to those who do not fight, but those who actively bring conflict to an end.  This is the same message as better expounded in the Qur’an.


And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression and there prevail justice and faith in Allah; but if they cease let there be no hostility except to those who practise oppression. (Surah al-Baqarah:193)

Martin Luther and other early Protestant translator's of the Bible preferred the translation ‘children of God,’ in this verse because they wanted to avoid any confusion as to whether Jesus (a.s.) was the only Son of God.  ‘Sons of God’ is, however, the more accurate translation and is used by most modern Bible translations.  However, Jesus (a.s.) has never called himself the Son of God.  The closest we have to the original Gospels has Jesus (a.s.) referring to himself as the Son of Man approximately twenty-five times.  Other than ‘blessed are the meek,’ this is perhaps the most famous of the Beatitudes.  

The tenth verse is the eighth verse of the Sermon on the Mount, the last of the Beatitudes.  As with Matthew 5:3, this verse cites the Kingdom of Heaven as the reward, also like that first verse, the reward is in the present tense whilst the other six have it in the future.  The ‘arifin understand this because of the hadits of the Prophet (s.a.w.) where for those who are close to the Divine, the muqarrabin, they have two heaven, one here and one in the hereafter.

The eleventh verse is an expansion on the eighth and final Beatitude in the previous verse.  While this verse begins with the same ‘blessed are’ opening of the previous eight Beatitudes, it quickly varies from them in structure, shifting from the third to the second person and abandons the simple virtue to reward format.  It is a commentary on the eighth Beatitude. The verses are this, are generally commentaries of the Beatitudes and an expansion of the teachings of Jesus (a.s.) and the theme of the spirit of the Law.

The thirteenth verse is the first of a series of metaphors expanding on the Beatitudes.  There are a wide number of references to salt in the Old Testament, presented as a sign of God's Covenant and as a purifying agent.  Salt had a wide number of uses in the ancient world.  Salt was so important in this period that it was sometimes even used as currency, from which the word salary originates.  A common Jewish expression at the time was to call the Laws, the ‘salt and the light’ of the world.  This makes this section an introduction to the discussion of Mosaic Law that commences after this.  In Rabbinic literature, salt was a metaphor for wisdom.  Salt was important as a preservative, and the most common interpretation of this verse is to see the duty of the apostles as preserving the purity of the faith, something the Christians have failed at spectacularly.  Salt also played role in ritual purity and all sacrifices had to contain salt.

The issue of salt losing its flavour is a metaphor for it losing its purity.  Salt itself, sodium chloride, is extremely stable and cannot lose its flavour.  This only happens when it is adulterated.  In the same vein, the pure monotheism of the prophets was adulterated and it took the coming of the final prophet, Muhammad (s.a.w.), to address it.  This is a very famous verse, and "salt of the earth" has become a common English expression.

The fourteenth verse has a fairly sudden shift of metaphor from ‘salt of the earth’ to ‘city on a hill.’  It is related to the expression, ‘salt and light’ which was used to describe the Law.  This verse is unparalleled elsewhere in the New Testament, but a version of it is found in the apocryphal Gospel according to Thomas.  In the Gospel according to Thomas, the focus of the verse is on the city's security and impregnability rather than its symbolism.  There are many interpretations for this phrase.

‘Father in Heaven’ is a favourite expression of the authors of the Gospel according to Matthew.  It occurs twenty times.  ‘Father’ has its roots in the Aramaic ‘Robb,’ which is etymologically related to the Arabic, ‘Rabb,’ which is one of the Names of Allah (s.w.t.).  In the Aramaic and Arabic, it has the connotation of The Nourisher, the Cherisher and the Sustainer.  The translation is thus inadequate.

Matthew 5:17-19
17Do not think that I have come to set aside the Law and the prophets; I have not come to set them aside, but to bring them to perfection.  18Believe me, heaven and earth must disappear sooner than one jot, one flourish should disappear from the Law; it must all be accomplished.  19Whoever, then, sets aside one of these commandments, though it were the least, and teaches men to do the like, will be of least account in the kingdom of heaven; but the man who keeps them and teaches others to keep them will be accounted in the kingdom of heaven as the greatest.

The seventeenth verse I one of the most debated verses in the Gospels.   It begins a new section where Jesus (a.s.) discusses the Law and the prophets.  This verse is central to the debate over the relationship between the New Testament and the Old Testament first begun by Marcion of Sinope.  This issue would have been a central one to the Jewish Christians.  The main controversy over this verse is over the word ‘fulfill.’  From a Muslim point of view, there is no controversy since we understand the concept of naskh, abrogation, well.  In this case, Jesus (a.s.) was actually teaching them the spiritual and literal understanding of the Law.  The Christians eventually chose to abandon them in their entirety.  The antinomian viewpoint holds that because Jesus (a.s.) accomplished all that was required by the Law, thus fulfilling it, he made it unnecessary for anyone to do anything further.  The opposite of antinomianism holds that the entire Law is still entirely applicable to Christians; not for salvation, but rather for simple obedience.  Antinomianism eventually prevailed through the Pauline faction.  When Jesus (a.s.) spoke of the Law that must prevail, he was not speaking of the Law of Moses (a.s.).  Rather, he spoke of the Law of God, the Shari’ah of Allah (s.w.t.).  That is tied to His Divine Will and is always Manifest and Ever-Existing.

Matthew 5:20-26
20And I tell you that if your justice does not give fuller measure than the justice of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.  21You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘Thou shalt do no murder’; if a man commits murder, he must answer for it before the court of justice.  22But I tell you that any man who is angry with his brother must answer for it before the court of justice, and any man who says, ‘raca’ to his brother must answer for it before the Council; and any man who says to his brother, Thou fool, must answer for it in hell fire.  23If thou art bringing thy gift, then, before the altar, and rememberest there that thy brother has some ground of complaint against thee, 24leave thy gift lying there before the altar, and go home; be reconciled with thy brother first, and then come back to offer thy gift.  25If any man has a claim against thee, come to terms there and then, while thou art walking in the road with him; or else it may be that the claimant will hand thee over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and so thou wilt be cast into prison.26Believe me, thou shalt not be set at liberty until thou hast paid the last farthing.

The twentieth verse introduces the discussion where Jesus (a.s.) demonstrates how the Law as it was then followed was wrong and an oppression upon the soul.  The Pharisees were the leading faction within Judaism at the time of Jesus (a.s.), and are very poorly looked upon in the entire Gospel according to Matthew although technically, Jesus (a.s.) himself would have been considered a member of the sect, as a wandering rabbi.  He criticised their overly legalistic approach.  They could be likened in some sense to the Wahhabis of the time. 

The twenty-first verse opens the first of what have traditionally been known as the Antitheses in which Jesus (a.s.) compared the legalistic interpretation of a part of Mosaic Law with how it should actually be understood.  This verse begins the discussion of murder.  Like the original Hebrew version of the Ten Commandments, the Greek here, ‘phoneuo’ more accurately translates as murder or assassinate rather than kill.

The original commandment does not have ‘shall be in danger of the judgement,’ but this was commonly appended elsewhere, both in the Old Testament and also in the many commentaries on the Law.  In the next verse, Jesus (a.s.) compares the current interpretation of "You shall not murder" from the Ten Commandments with his interpretation.  This verse asserts that the intention to murder is as serious an affront to the Divine as murder itself.  The term, ‘raca’ is not from the Classical Greek but rather from the Aramaic, reka, which means fool.  The twenty-fifth verse is the Antitheses where Jesus (a.s.) attacks anger and advocates reconciliation.  In this verse he states that it is prudential to quickly reach agreement with one's adversary.

Matthew 5:27-32
27You have heard that it was said, Thou shalt not commit adultery.  28But I tell you that he who casts his eyes on a woman so as to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  29If thy right eye is the occasion of thy falling into sin, pluck it out and cast it away from thee; better to lose one part of thy body than to have the whole cast into hell.  30And if thy right hand is an occasion of falling, cut it off and cast it away from thee; better to lose one of thy limbs than to have thy whole body cast into hell.  31It was said, too, Whoever will put away his wife must first give her a writ of separation.  32But I tell you that the man who puts away his wife (setting aside the matter of unfaithfulness) makes an adulteress of her, and whoever marries her after she has been put away, commits adultery.

These verses begin the second antithesis: while since Matthew 5:21 the discussion has been on the commandment:

Exodus 20:13
13Thou shalt do no murder.

It now moves to the commandment:

Exodus 20:13
14Thou shalt not commit adultery.

This follows immediately after the prohibition against murder, and the Sermon follows this same pattern.  The equation of lust with adultery is very similar to the earlier equation of anger and murder.  This is Jesus (a.s.) expanding on the requirements of the Mosaic Law.  The sin does not begin with adultery, but already when a man covets his neighbor's wife.  In the thirtieth verse, part of the section on adultery, it is very similar to the previous verse, but with the hand mentioned instead of the eye.  This is similar to what is in the Qur’an:


Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: and Allah is Well Acquainted with all that they do. (Surah an-Nur:30)

The thirty-first verse opens the brief, but much scrutinised, discussion of the issue of divorce.  Scholars are divided as to whether this is a separate Antithesis, or whether it is simply an addendum to the discussion of adultery.  Jesus (a.s.) refers to Deuteronomy that specifically condones divorce and also makes mention of a certificate that the husband gives to the wife to enact the separation.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4
1Does a man take a wife, and then, after making her his own, find some taint of defilement in her, so that he loves her no longer?  He must draw up a writ of separation and hand it to her before he sends her away from his house.  2Does she, after parting from him, marry a second husband, 3who also wearies of her and sends her away with a writ, or perhaps is lost to her by death?  4Her first husband may not take her back again, now that she is contaminated, a thing detestable in the Lord’s Eyes.  Do not bring guilt on the land which the Lord Gives thee for thy home.

Divorce was acceptable among the Jewish community of the time, however what was permissible grounds for divorce was debated.  Only a man could initiate a divorce, and there was no need to go to court.  He simply had to announce his intentions.  This is in contrast to Islam which gave women the right to divorce and remarry without social repercussion.

One of the most debated issues is over the exception to the ban on divorce, which the KJV translates as "saving for the cause of fornication."  At the time of first century, Iudaea Province, Pharisaic Judaism was divided between two major sects.  The dominant teaching was that of Rabbi Hillel (r.a.), who taught that divorce could be granted on a wide array of grounds, even because a wife burnt a dinner.  Rabbi Shammai (r.a.) took a more conservative opinion, arguing that only adultery was valid grounds for divorce.  Current mainstream theories of the Synoptic Gospels are that they are based upon a single writer whose original verse is that of Mark, with Matthew being the most intended to communicate with the Jewish community.  Some scholars feel that Matthew endorses the view of Rabbi Shammai (r.a.) over Rabbi Hillel (r.a.), and arguing for the adultery only rule. 

Following their reading of the verse, Protestant churches give prominence to the Gospel according Matthew over Mark and Luke and accepted adultery as a valid grounds for divorce.  They also often believe that an innocent divorcee can freely remarry afterwards.  For many centuries there was debate over this issue in the Roman Catholic Church, with major thinkers such as Augustine of Hippo supporting adultery as a valid reason for divorce.  However, at the Council of Trent in 1563, the indissolubility of marriage was added to the canon law.  Since that day Catholic doctrine has been that divorce is unacceptable, but the separation of spouses can be permitted.  The official Catholic position remains that there are no valid reasons for divorce.  The Eastern Orthodox churches have also accepted this verse as allowing for divorce for adultery and more reasons.  The Orthodox faith has also generally allowed remarriage after a divorce.

The verse is important in that it gives a clear argument against divorce.  At a time when only a man could initiate a divorce, Jesus (a.s.) makes it clear that while the divorce may not adversely affect him, it is forbidden because it forces his wife into sin.  In this era, a woman had few legal rights.  She was dependent on her husband for survival.  It was thus assumed that a divorced woman would always remarry.  It was thus meant as a mercy.  However, they had to wait until the time of Islam before women had full rights.

Matthew 5:33-42
33Again, you have heard that it was said to the men of old, thou shalt not perjure thyself; thou shalt perform what thou hast sworn in the sight of the Lord.  34But I tell you that you should not bind yourselves by any oath at all: not by heaven, for heaven is God’s throne; 35nor by earth, for earth is the footstool under his feet; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great king.  36And thou shalt not swear by thy own head, for thou hast no power to turn a single hair of it white or black.  37Let your word be ‘Yes’ for ‘Yes,’ and ‘No’ for ‘No;’ whatever goes beyond this, comes of evil. 38 You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  39But I tell you that you should not offer resistance to injury; if a man strikes thee on thy right cheek, turn the other cheek also towards him; 40if he is ready to go to Law with thee over thy coat, let him have it and thy cloak with it; 41if he compels thee to attend him on a mile’s journey, go two miles with him of thy own accord.  42Give to him who asks, and if a man would borrow from thee, do not turn away.

The thirty-third verse is the opening of the fourth Antithesis, beginning the discussion of oaths.  The discussion of oaths naturally follows the discussion of divorce as one of the major legal issues of the day was over marriage vows.  Unlike the previous antitheses this verse does not contain a direct quotation from the Old Testament, but similar sentiments are expressed in a number of places in the Scripture.  The Mosaic Law forbade false and irreverent oaths.  The Pharisees had the habit of lying in their oaths as long as it was not sworn upon the Name of God.

The thirty-eight verse begins the Antithesis on the commandment: "Eye for an eye", one of the most important parts of the New Testament.  This verse begins in the same style as the earlier Antitheses, with a reference to the Old Testament.

Exodus 21:24
24So it is to be; an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,

Leviticus 24:20
20making amends for broken limb with broken limb, for eye with eye, for tooth with tooth; the loss he inflicted, he must undergo.

Deuteronomy 19:21
21No pity must be shewn him; life must answer for the life he would have sworn away, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth is known as the principle of lex talionis.  It is an ancient statement of the principle of retributive punishment dating back to the Code of Hammurabi.  This was a moderate rule compared with the blood feuds described in Genesis

Genesis 4:23-24
24For Cain, sevenfold vengeance was to be taken; for Lamech, it shall be seventy times as much.

In one of the most famous verses in the New Testament, Jesus (a.s.) rejects revenge and retaliation, instead telling his followers to turn the other cheek.

Matthew 5:43-48
43You have heard that it was said, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thy enemy.’  44But I tell you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who persecute and insult you, 45that so you may be true sons of your Father in heaven, who makes his sun rise on the evil and equally on the good, his rain fall on the just and equally on the unjust.  46If you love those who love you, what title have you to a reward?  Will not the publicans do as much?  47If you greet none but your brethren, what are you doing more than others?  Will not the very heathen do as much?  48But you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

The forty-third verse is the opening of the final Antithesis, that on the commandment to "Love thy neighbour as thyself".  This verse begins like the other Antitheses with a reference to the Old Testament.

Leviticus 19:18
18Do not seek revenge, or bear a grudge for wrong done to thee by thy fellow-citizens; thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; thy Lord is his.

We must note that the Latin translation is incorrect, since the better translation instead of ‘neighbour’ would be ‘friend.’  In Jesus' (a.s.) time, neighbour was interpreted to mean fellow Israelites, and to exclude all others.  This was against the teachings of the prophets.  At the time, Jewish thinkers were divided as they have always been.  Some extolled universal love, others hatred of enemies.  Again, it was the Muslims, specifically the Ahl asw-Swafa’, the Sufis, who best demonstrated the meaning of this.  This proves once again, that if Jesus (a.s.) were not already amongst the greatest of the prophets, he would definitely be the greatest of the shuyukh.

The forty-eighth and final verse is a summary of Jesus' (a.s.) earlier teachings.  The formulation is this verse is known as the Imitatio Dei.  The Christians debate about the exact meaning of this verse.  Being as Perfect as God is an impossibility.  However, the perfected soul, is the very reason for our Creation.  Nafs swafiyyah, or nafs kamilah is the perfected soul, where one is Dressed with the Attributes of Insan al-Kamil.  It is at this stage that man is Khalifah fi al-‘Ardh.  This is the level of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) and those who follow him.  Creation was Created for him and as long as there is at least one Perfected Soul, Yawm al-Qiyamah will not come.  And when the last Perfected Soul has gone, the world ends and Judgement begins.

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