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The Antitheses
Matthew 5:21-48

 
The structure of the six “antitheses” is … “You have heard it said … but I say to you …” In the case of the first two Jesus quotes from the Ten Commandments and then offers his own instruction. The use of first person to offer an alternative approach to these ancient biblical teachings is a powerful and authoritative way to challenge the listeners.
 
Jesus’ antitheses are in no way a rejection of the older teachings, but a strengthening of them. The only thing they reject are wrongful interpretations of them. Amongst the most notable of the emphases of the antitheses is that not enough to go through the motions, obedience starts on the inside.
 
murder/anger
Read 5:21-26 and Exodus 20:13 and consider how getting right relations with others as a basis for worshipping God fits with the message of the prophets, for example, First Samuel 15:22-23; Amos 5:21-24; Isaiah 1:11-17; Micah 6:6-8; Jeremiah 6:20-21; 7:1-15.
 
adultery/lust
Read 5:27-30 and Exodus 20:14 and compare the other sorts of things Jesus uses this kind of language for, 18:6-9.
 
divorce
Read 5:31-32 and Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and compare it with the more detailed instruction in 19:3-12. (Notice how this fits with the old proto-rabbinic teaching of some of Jesus’ contemporaries.)
 
oaths
Read 5:33-37 and Lev 19:12; Num 30:2; Deut 23:21 and compare this with Jesus condemnation later in this gospel, 23:16-22.
 
eye for an eye
Read 5:38-42 and compare Exod 21:23-24; Lev 24:19-20; Deut 19:21.
 
love neighbors/enemies
Read 5:43-48 and Lev 19:18, 33-34; yet note Exod 23:4-5. The last chapter of Jonah presents a conversation between the prophet and God built an implicit comparison between Israel and the Nineveh. The prophet realized that the Lord would forgive Nineveh in the same way God forgave Israel and restored his relationship, compare the language of Jonah 3:10 with Exodus 32:10, 14, and Jonah 4:2 with Exodus 33:19; 34:5-7.
 
Implications
What are the implications about the scriptural law and the teachings of Jesus which can be drawn for the antitheses? What do the antitheses say about Jesus as a teacher? How do the antitheses offer instruction for Christian living?

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