NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
When it comes to treating our neighbor as ourselves, one Jewish commentator adds this: “While on the subject of what may have caused ill feeling in the first place, the Torah outlaws not only that one reacts by committing similar acts by taking revenge, but forbids even holding a grudge against such a person, or pointing out to him how righteous one is by not acting as he has done. Not only must one not harbor negative feelings against one’s fellow, but (as a general rule) one must strive to love one’s peers in a manner that shows one considers his peer’s personal interests as just as dear to one as he does himself.”1
Yet, in the 613 positive and negative laws of the Old Testament that the Jews call their Mitzvot,2 we find number 26, which, based on this scripture, states: “To love all human beings who are of the covenant.” The great Jewish teacher Maimonides in his listing places it as number 206 with this qualifier: “To love every member of our people.” We know from the Bible and many Jewish writings, what the Jews thought of Gentiles and Samaritans, so it would only be natural that they took Jesus’ statement here to mean loving their fellow Jews. So all 613 laws are reduced to two. Then our Lord explains why:
Verse 40: “All of the law and the writings of the prophets take their meaning from these two commands.”
The Aramaic Version renders verse 40 this way: “On these two commandments hang the Torah and the prophets.” In other words, from these two commandments all other laws, rules, guidelines, principles, etc., expressed in the written and verbal law, draw their strength. After all, as one venerated Rabbi used to say: “By three things is the world sustained: By the Law, by the Temple-service; and by deeds of loving-kindness.”3 So a summation of the whole Law into two or three was not new. That’s why there was no immediate rejection from Jesus’ listeners. In this case, Jesus was saying that by keeping these two commandments, a person in effect keeps all others.
So as we can see, that all these opponents of Jesus were trying their luck at tripping Jesus with trick questions. Even today, believers are faced with the same issues, when confronted with what are called: “paradoxical questions.” The problem with such inquiries is that they contain a logical fallacy based on a false preposition fueled by a false presumption. One of the most famous was pointed out by the apostle Paul to Titus concerning the saying of the Greek poet, Epimenides who said: “All Cretans are liars.”1 Since Epimenides was himself a Cretan, therefore we could say that he was a liar, and what he said was untrue. However, if in fact, all Cretans were liars, then what Epimenides said was true. As you can see, there may be no way to find the answer to such questions.
While in the military, I was confronted in the hallway one day by a fellow soldier who was very critical of born-again Christians. He asked me quite loudly, so his fellow soldiers in a nearby room could hear him, “Do you believe there is nothing impossible with God?” I answered quickly, “Absolutely!” Then he said, “So, can God make a rock so big He can’t lift it?” I paused for a moment, and then the Holy Spirit gave me this to say. “Your question is limited to this earth. If God can lift this whole planet, then certainly He can lift any rock on this planet because there is no gravity out in space.” I heard laughter coming from inside the room. He smiled and said to me, “Seyda, you’re good!” and walked away.
These critics wanted Jesus to choose one law over another so that they could accuse Him of being narrow- minded. But Jesus turns the tables on them by giving them commandments from Deuteronomy,4 and Leviticus,5 in a way that forced them to agree that all other laws were covered by these two. This they had no interest in doing because both of these are commandments were from God Himself. Jesus knew that their attitude was similar to that of Ephraim in the Old Testament where God confessed: “Even if I wrote 10,000 laws for Ephraim, he would treat them as if they were for somebody else.”6 But this time, Jesus decided it was His turn. So our Lord poses a Messianic question for His detractors.
Verses 41-42: So while the Pharisees were standing there, Jesus asked them a question. He said, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose Son is He?” The Pharisees answered, “The Messiah is the Son of David.”
Chrysostom shares the following thought in a sermon on this text: “Remember how many miracles have preceded this dialogue—after how many signs, after how many questions, after how great a display of His union with the Father in deeds as well as in words—now Jesus asks His own question. After so many previous events, He is now quietly leading them to the point of confessing that He is God. He does this so that they may not be able to say that He is an adversary to the law and a foe to God, even though He has worked mighty miracles.”7 It seems clear that once these Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, and Herodians made up their minds to reject Jesus’ claim of being sent from God, they stubbornly closed their eyes, ears, and hearts to any truth that might be presented to them.
Chrysostom has more to say: “With His own disciples…He had asked first what the others say and only then what they themselves say. But in this case, He did not proceed in this way. For surely they would have said a deceiver and a wicked one, speaking all things without fear. So for this cause, He inquires directly for the opinion of these men themselves.”8 This was another way of our Lord saying to them: I’ve told you what I think, so now I want to let you tell me what you think.
Chrysostom concludes: “For since, He was now about to go on to His Passion, He sets forth the prophecy that plainly proclaims Him to be Lord. It is not as if the call to confession has emerged without any precipitating occasion, or from no reasonable cause or as if he had this as His prior aim. For He had already brought the issue to their attention, and they had answered that He was a mere man, in opposition to the truth. Now He is overthrowing their mistaken opinion. This is why He introduces David into the discussion, that His true identity and divinity might be more clearly recognized. For they had supposed that He was a mere man, yet they also say that the Christ is ‘the Son of David.’ Hence He now brings in the prophetic testimony to His being Lord, and to the genuineness of His sonship and His equality in honor with His Father.9”10
Verse 43-45: Jesus said to them, “Then why did David call Him ‘Lord’? David was speaking by the power of the Spirit when he said, ‘The LORD God said to my Lord: Sit next to me on my right side, and I will put your enemies under your control.’ David calls the Messiah ‘Lord,’ so how can he be David’s son?”
One Medieval Rabbi answers the question this way: “Our Rabbis interpreted it as referring to Abraham our father, and I shall explain it according to their words: ‘The word of the Lord to Abraham, whom the world called “my master,” as it is written11: “Hearken to us, my master.’”12 A German polemic Jewish writer adds his view: “The truth is that David said this passage about himself. Its meaning, then, is as follows: The Lord said unto me concerning my lord Saul who was pursuing me, ‘Sit at my right hand and I shall make your enemy Saul your footstool.’”13
In fact, one Jewish Targum (paraphrase) of this verse is as follows: “The Lord said in His decree to make me lord of all Israel, but He said to me, ‘Wait still for Saul of the tribe of Benjamin to die, for one reign must not encroach on another; and afterwards I will make your enemies a prop for your feet.’” Another Targum: “The Lord spoke by His decree to give me the dominion in exchange for sitting in study of Torah. ‘Wait at my right hand until I make your enemies a prop for your feet.’” Another Targum has: “The Lord said in his decree to appoint me ruler over Israel, but the Lord said to me, ‘Wait for Saul of the tribe of Benjamin to pass away from the world; and afterwards you will inherit the kingship, and I will make your enemies a prop for your feet.’”
But Jesus was interested in what they thought of David talking to the Messiah who is supposed to be his future son, and telling his future son to sit next to him. Now this is what they said, not what Jesus said. So He is trying to clarify their words. So what did they have to say?
Verse 46: None of the Pharisees could answer Jesus’ question. And after that day, no one was brave enough to ask Him any more questions.
But, our anonymous German polemic writer was not about to let Christians think that Jesus could be considered for the role of the Messiah that David was referring to. He tells of a Rabbi Solomon son of Abun who used to answer Christians who made that argument using this verse. Rabbi Solomon stated: “The [heavenly] Father told His Son [Jesus], ‘Sit at my right hand in heaven and don’t descend among your enemies the Jews until I destroy them, subdue them and make them a footstool for you.’ But the Son, i.e., the hanged one, was a wayward and defiant Son who did not obey His Father and descended in defiance of His will. The father, then, in His anger, caused the Jews to judge Him as a wayward and defiant son should be judged, indeed, the Jews are sons of prophets and knew that this is what He actually was, and so they killed Him for violating His Father’s command. When, however, they were unable to carry out the precise sentence of a wayward and defiant Son because of His sorcery, they carried out the sentence mentioned in an adjoining verse: ‘If a man is guilty of a capital offense and is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, [his body is not to remain all night on the tree, but you must bury him the same day, because a person who has been hanged has been cursed by God]14. . .”15
What this skeptic fails to see is that Jesus did not die as punishment for His defiance of God, but He died on the cross to save all those who are defiant before God. He was not sacrificed on the cross as part of His death sentence, but to remove the death sentence of sin of all who believe. And in so doing, He was not going against His Father’s will, but doing the will of His Father. There are several other factors behind the question Jesus submits to the Pharisees.
1 See Titus 1:10-14
2 Tzror Hamor, op. cit., Leviticus 9:17-18: Kedoshim, p. 1394
3 Mitzvot is a term for “good deeds” that are performed or abstained from in the list of 613 laws
4 Rabbi Simeon the Just Ibid., Fourth Division, Nezikin, Tractate Aboth, Ch. 1:2
5 Deuteronomy 6:5
6 Leviticus 19:18 (cf. Deuteronomy 10:12; 30:6)
7 Hosea 8:12
8 Chrysostom: Matthew, Homily 71.2
10 Psalm 110:1
11 Chrysostom, Ibid.
12 Genesis 23:6
13 Rashi’s Commentary on the Complete Jewish Bible, Tehillim (Psalms), Ch. 110:1
14 Naẓẓaḥon Vetus, p. 164
15 Deuteronomy 21:22
15 Naẓẓaḥon Vetus, op. cit. p.77