Examining how the author of Matthew constructed the Sermon on the Mount and recovering the sermon Jesus preached, which lies behind it.
In the modern Hebrew translation that was published by the Israeli Bible Society in 1976, and revised in 1991 and 1995, Matthew 5:19 was rendered “…ha-mitsvot ha-ketanot…katon yikare’…gadol yikare’…” (the small commandments…small [smaller, smallest] he will be called…big [bigger, biggest] he will be called). It is highly probable, however, that in this context Jesus was speaking about mitsvot kalot (light commandments) and not about mitsvot ketanot (little or small commandments).
Couched within Jesus’ teaching is an idiom which is difficult to translate, “If your eye is single, your whole body is full of light” (Matt. 6:22). The Hebraic expression, “good eye” to denote generosity is well known in the Bible (Deut. 15:9; Prov. 22:9; 23:6; 28:22; Eccl. 14:10) and the writings of Israel’s Sages (m. Avot 5:15). Nevertheless, in Matthew 6, where you would expect to find the idiom, “good eye,” the adjective used in our saying is not καλός (kalos, good, pleasant) but ἁπλοῦς (haplous, single, simple).
Jesus’ teaching on judging is one of his most frequently misunderstood sayings, sounding as if he is saying, “Have no discernment. Just ignore sin!” Often we struggle to find a way to sort out sin without actually calling it that so that we do not judge. While Jesus’ ethical demands are high, we often give up trying to follow them if they do not make sense to us.
The relationship between a sage and his disciple may be characterized both as that of a father to his son, and of a master to his servant. In effect, a disciple indentured himself to his teacher. Traveling with and attending to him, a disciple remained with his teacher twenty-four hours a day, three hundred sixty-five days a year. The etiquette governing the teacher-disciple relationship is a fascinating subject. In this article, Shmuel Safrai explores one aspect of that relationship: To what extent could an advanced disciple differ from the opinions of his teacher?
When a sage felt that a colleague had misinterpreted a passage of Scripture, he would say, “You are canceling (or, uprooting) the Torah!” In other words, “You are so misinterpreting Scripture that you are negating or canceling part of it.” Needless to say, in most cases, his colleague strongly disagreed. What was “canceling” the Torah for one teacher was “fulfilling” it for another.