Greek Reading: Matthew 5:13-20

13Ὑμεῖς ἐστε τὸ ἅλας τῆς γῆς: ἐὰν δὲ τὸ ἅλας μωρανθῇ, ἐν τίνι ἁλισθήσεται; εἰς οὐδὲν ἰσχύει ἔτι εἰ μὴ βληθὲν ἔξω καταπατεῖσθαι ὑπὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων. 14Ὑμεῖς ἐστε τὸ φῶς τοῦ κόσμου. οὐ δύναται πόλις κρυβῆναι ἐπάνω ὄρους κειμένη: 15οὐδὲ καίουσιν λύχνον καὶ τιθέασιν αὐτὸν ὑπὸ τὸν μόδιον ἀλλ’ ἐπὶ τὴν λυχνίαν, καὶ λάμπει πᾶσιν τοῖς ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ. 16οὕτως λαμψάτω τὸ φῶς ὑμῶν ἔμπροσθεν τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ὅπως ἴδωσιν ὑμῶν τὰ καλὰ ἔργα καὶ δοξάσωσιν τὸν πατέρα ὑμῶν τὸν ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς. 17Μὴ νομίσητε ὅτι ἦλθον καταλῦσαι τὸν νόμον ἢ τοὺς προφήτας: οὐκ ἦλθον καταλῦσαι ἀλλὰ πληρῶσαι. 18ἀμὴν γὰρ λέγω ὑμῖν, ἕως ἂν παρέλθῃ ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ, ἰῶτα ἓν ἢ μία κεραία οὐ μὴ παρέλθῃ ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου ἕως ἂν πάντα γένηται. 19ὃς ἐὰν οὖν λύσῃ μίαν τῶν ἐντολῶν τούτων τῶν ἐλαχίστων καὶ διδάξῃ οὕτως τοὺς ἀνθρώπους, ἐλάχιστος κληθήσεται ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν: ὃς δ’ ἂν ποιήσῃ καὶ διδάξῃ, οὗτος μέγας κληθήσεται ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν. 20λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν ὅτι ἐὰν μὴ περισσεύσῃ ὑμῶν ἡ δικαιοσύνη πλεῖον τῶν γραμματέων καὶ Φαρισαίων, οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθητε εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν.

There is so much possible commentary here. For now, I just want to focus on one thing, the metaphors in vv. 13-16. First, who is the “you” (υμεις) in vv. 13-14? I think we could interpret this as the Jewish community, which was appointed by God to be a light to the Gentile nations. In this way we could interpret v. 13 not only as a question but as a hint that Israel is about to lose its privileged status as God’s instrument of revelation. Through their rejection of Jesus, they “lose their taste” and as a result are trampled under man’s feet in the destruction of Jerusalem, AD 70. The other metaphor, “light of the world” (τὸ φῶς τοῦ κόσμου), is instructive in that it is applied to numerous groups in the Bible. Here, it is addressed to Jews, or perhaps more narrowly to the Messianic community among the Jews. In John 8 Jesus applies it to himself, and in John 9 Jesus makes the telling statement: ὅταν ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ ὦ, φῶς εἰμι τοῦ κόσμου (v. 5). The temporal indicator is the key. Jesus is the light of the world while he is in the world. In Philippians 2, Paul tells the Christians φαίνεσθε ὡς φωστῆρες ἐν κόσμῳ. Admittedly, there is a change in wording, but I think it’s more semantic variation than a conceptual difference. The complete picture seems to be that Jesus is the preeminent light in the world (John 1), but that whatever group (Israel, messianic community, church) is currently occupying the role of God’s primary vehicle of revelation to the world is the “light of the world.” It is that which makes God’s truth known in the midst of darkness. So, this designation points us both to our union with our Savior and to our mission in the world.

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Published in: on February 25, 2010 at 11:03 am  Comments (4)  

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  1. Oops…didn’t know this had started (jumping in).

  2. Thanks for getting this started. Sorry I missed the first one.

    So are you saying that Ὑμεῖς in 13-14 is referring to Israel rather than the church? I’m not sure that I see the connection between the you in those verses to the Destruction of Jerusalem per se.

    Rather (and my guess is we’re really saying the same thing), those who are united to the true Israel (Christ) are the ones identified by Ὑμεῖς in 13-14? Thus while Israel was in covenant relationship to God, they prefigured that ultimate “light of the world” status. Ultimately, though, the “you” refers to the true children of Abraham, the church, which is built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets (Eph 2:19-21). What do you think?

    • I could have been clearer. The people to whom Jesus is speaking are Israelites. Presumably, many of them are also a part of the burgeoning messianic community. I think that the “you” refers to Israel, particularly the Messianic community. There is a good amount of OT Scripture to the effect that Israel was commissioned to be a priestly nation, a testimony to the Gentiles (Isaiah 55:4 comes to mind). That is how they are “salt” and “light.” Now, in general Israel had not done so well fulfilling that commission. So, in the salt metaphor, Jesus reminds them that salt that is of no use for salting food will be thrown out and trampled underfoot. Surely this has a reference to any covenant breaker, but I understand this to refer particularly to national Israel. By their rejection of Jesus, they have irredeemably lost their ability to act as salt, so God will destroy them (AD 70). Of course, a remnant (the messianic community) does persevere to carry out that commission as the Church. Or, Jesus fulfills the commission through his own work and then through the Church. Both NT Wright, The Climax of the Covenant and Gregory Beale The Temple and the Church’s Mission have info about this.

      The rejection of national Israel because of their rejection of Jesus is a major theme of Matthew. It starts with a Jewish king trying to kill Jesus and Gentile magi worshiping him. This thread continues throughout the book and is most explicit in places like 22:1-14 and 23:13-39. So, I agree that the only people who truly fulfill the “light of the world” and “salt of the earth” status are the elect ones, the true Israel. Nevertheless, all national Israelites were under covenant obligation to fulfill that commission and their failure, as a nation, to do so brought severe consequences. It’s still applicable today. All baptized church members are under covenant obligation and those who break covenant (because they were never truly believers at all) will face more severe consequences than those who were never in the covenant at all.

  3. On a different note, I want to draw some attention to τα καλα εργα in v. 16. What are these good works? Well, obviously that’s an intentionally broad phrase, so I don’t want to press things too far, but it’s worth looking at a few possibilities. One possibility might be that Jesus is referring back to the character traits in the beatitudes, but I don’t think so. Notice that these works are done publicly (so not being poor in spirit or mourning) and are recognized as good even by those on the outside (I’m interpreting “men” in v. 16 as including those outside the covenant community).

    Several other texts in which some variation of this phrase are used indicate that a work of service, charity or mercy is in view: Mary Magdalene anointing Jesus (Matt. 26:10); Jesus’ miracles (John 10:23); the office of a bishop (1 Tim 3:1); charitable acts toward the brethren (1 Tim 5:10); generosity (1 Tim 6:18); helping cases of urgent need (Titus 3:14).

    I wouldn’t want to limit good works exclusively to these actions, but I think it’s worth noting that Christian activity, and even evangelism, includes more than just religious activities. It necessitates acts of love, service, and compassion that any person on earth can look at and realize are good. These things are evidence of the work of Christ in us.


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