2 Aug 2017

“But I Say Do Not Be Angry!”: Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount & the Old Testament, Part 2

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Church, Contemporary Ethics, Discipleship, Forgiveness, Jesus, Jewish Backgrounds, Matthew

I’m always angry


“You have heard it said, do not murder, but I say do not be angry!

I recently went through Jesus’s epic Sermon on the Mount with the band of disciples in Gunnison, Colorado.  I have long been a fan of the Sermon and agree with David Lipscomb that the Sermon is the essence of Christian teaching. The Sermon has been misused by many however to try to do exactly what Jesus said he was not doing, driving a wedge between his teaching ministry and the Hebrew Bible (Mt 5.17-20).

So in this second installment we will continue to explore how Jesus is not only in fundamental harmony with the Hebrew Bible but is preaching it. It is amazing to me the zeal many have for promoting caricatures of the Scriptures that comes from the same Holy Spirit that was poured out on Jesus in his baptism. But they are just that, caricatures rooted in failure to come within “understanding distance” (Alexander Campbell’s phrase).

I pray you will be challenged but blessed even more. May we ever study God’s word and worship him who loves us so.

We who are Messiah followers worship, serve, pray to, and love the same God the Messiah also worshiped, served, prayed to, and loved. God has did not change. He did not become a Christian between Malachi 4 and Matthew 1 (the division in the Protestant Bible).

But disciples of the Nazarene have centuries, in fact millennium!, of anti-Jewish prejudice that is so deeply rooted, it is nearly in our DNA. So as one brother (and he is very supportive) noted, “I have a hard time imagining Jesus/Paul looking like a Jew, with tassels and things on his forehead [phylacteries] and the like.” And if we cannot imagine Jesus looking Jewish, then it becomes nearly impossible to imagine him sounding Jewish and teaching Jewish stuff.

So since Marcion, believers have battled this ghost of the caricature of the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus is against the “legalism of the Old Testament.” Jesus brought a faith focused upon love and grace that is alien to the Hebrew Bible and Jewish religion. Ironically the Sermon on the Mount is, as we stated yesterday, the best place in the world to go to watch Jesus himself deconstruct such nonsense.

Jesus preached the same God that he prayed to. That is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Miriam, Deborah, Samuel, David, Huldah, Mary, Anna, Martha, John the Baptist. The God of the “Old Testament” is the Christian God.

You Shall Not Murder … But I Say Don’t Get Angry

Many older Protestant scholars openly declared that in Matthew 5.21-26, Jesus explicitly contradicts Moses, that Jesus is unsatisfied with the “Old Testament.” Scholars as A.M. Hunter, and virtually any commentator from the 19th and thru much of the 20th century promoted this view. It is a view that both Catholic and Protestants found common ground in.  It is a view that has been repeated in pulpits across the land. They also had a problem imagining Jesus as a real Jew.  See my article Picturing Jesus, the Jew: Images Project and Shape Theology.

But they are wrong. And most contemporary scholarship admits the blind prejudice of the past. The primary reason they are wrong is the “Old Testament” itself and then Jewish writings from the time of Jesus like Sirach (which is in the canon of most Christian traditions but not recognized as canon among Protestants).

As we saw in our previous article, the notion that the Hebrew Bible sanctions “hate” is simply absurd and ignorant in the extreme. So here in Mt 5.21ff Jesus is not saying “well Moses forbade murder but allowed anger to go unbridled.” See Part 1 on “hate” here: Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount & the Old Testament: You Shall Hate Your Enemy.

Jesus is not merely anti-anger btw. In fact Jesus himself gets fairly upset more than once (Mk 3.5; Mk 11.15-18; Mt 21.12-13; Jn 2.13ff; etc). Jesus is dealing with destructive, unbridled, anger. The old scribe made sure people understood by adding the textual variant “without cause” to the passage.  So lets explore the teaching of the Hebrew Bible.

Uncontrolled Anger in the Hebrew Bible

The Torah does forbid murder. But people have a way of doing to people what murder does without taking their biological life. The Hebrew Bible repeatedly speaks to this matter. Proverbs especially devotes considerable space to the power of the tongue (speech, what comes out of our mouth) and the destructive power of anger. But I begin with a text from the Psalms that is quoted in the New Testament.

When you are angry, do not sin;
ponder it on your beds, and be silent
(Ps 4.4; cf Eph 4.26)

This text continues by relating how our anger is connected sacrifice. “Offer right sacrifices and put your trust in the LORD” (4.5). Anger hinders worship. Jesus says this. With this very text, we see that the New Testament has the same perspective as the “Old” on this matter since Paul quotes the “Old” to address anger.

Proverbs …

Wisdom is at home in the mind of one who has understanding,
but it is not known in the heart of fools
” (14.33)

Here, as Jesus notes, speech will make clear what is in the heart and mind of the one talking (cf. Mt 15.18-19). Uncontrolled anger is the domain of fools as we will see in Proverbs.

Fools show their anger at once,
but the prudent ignore an insult” (12.16)

Stone is heavy and sand a burden,
but a fool’s wrath is heavier than both of them
Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming,
but who is able to stand before jealousy” (27.3-4)

One given to anger stirs up strife,
and the hot tempered man commits many sins” (29.22)

For as pressing milk produces curds,
and pressing the nose produces blood,
so pressing anger produces strife” (30.33)

These passages in Proverbs about the destructive nature of foolish anger is why the Sages say these following words as well … the one who refrains from foolish anger is actually wise.

Who is slow to anger has great understanding
but one who has a hasty temper exalts folly” (14.29)

Those who are hot-tempered stir up strife,
but those who are slow to anger calm contention” (15.18)

One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
and one whose temper is controlled than one who captures a city” (16.32)

Those of good sense are slow to anger,
and it is their glory to overlook an offense” (19.11)

In these texts anger produces strife.  Anger destroys relationships. Anger reaps a world of sin. That Jesus’s teaching about unbridled anger is also about the destruction relationships, as well as their restoration is clear from Matthew 5.23-26. Jesus had absorbed the Spiritual wisdom of the Psalms and the Sages in Proverbs in the Hebrew Bible. The wise can avert the horror of dissension as the Sage taught,

A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise dispenses knowledge,
but the mouth of fools pour out folly
” (15.1-2).

A Look At Ben Sira

Before turning to the sacrifice Jesus envisions and the Torah, I want to call attention to the book of Sirach. Jesus is quite familiar with the teaching of Jesus the son of Sirach. Ben Sira’s book was popular and known in Hebrew and Greek in Jesus’s day. He makes it clear that destructive anger will lead to the judgement of God against that person.

Unjust anger cannot be justified,
for anger tips the scale to one’s ruin” (Sirach 1.22)

Do not get angry with your neighbor for every injury,
and do not resort to acts of insolence.” (Sirach 10.6)

Anger and wrath, these also are abominations,
yet a sinner holds on to them.
The vengeful will face the Lord’s vengeance,
for he keeps a strict account of their sin …
Refrain from strife and your sins will be fewer;
for the hot-tempered kindle strife,
and the sinner disrupts friendships
and sows discord among those who
are at peace. In proportion to the fuel,
so will the fire burn, and in proportion to
the obstinacy so will strife increase;
in proportion to a person’s strength will
be his anger
(Sirach 27.30-28.10, the whole of chapter 28 could be quoted)

In his “Hall of Fame” of faith, Sirach features the destructive nature of anger and how it unleashed God’s judgement upon hot heads. In relating the story of the hero, Aaron, Ben Sira tells the story in Numbers 16. But he does not just tell it, he interprets it. Yes Dathan, Abiram and Korah all rebelled against God, but why? They let unbridled anger warp their judgement. So the culmination of Sirach’s teaching on anger, is that unjustified anger against a brother brought the judgement of God. The text reads,

Outsiders conspired against him [Aaron],
and envied him in the wilderness,
Dathan and Abiram and their followers
and the company of Korah,
IN WRATH AND ANGER. The Lord saw it
and was not pleased, and in the heat of HIS
ANGER, they were destroyed” (Sirach 44.18-19)

Unbridled, unjustified, foolish anger leads to the judgement of God because anger destroys relationships, breads sin, leads to actual assault on God’s people. The Hebrew Bible is not merely against murder it aims at the heart and calls us to love. Jesus said, “Amen.”

Sacrifice and Reconciliation

Those who imagine that Jesus is against the Hebrew Bible in this text never seem to deal with the fact, that if true, why did Jesus expect there to be a sacrifice made in the Temple? This fact is simply ignored by most. Yet in 5.23-24, our Lord talks about the “gift” and the “altar.” This is temple stuff. The gift is a sacrifice. The altar is the place of sacrifice in the temple. Jesus is pointing his listeners to Leviticus 6, to the Torah!

In Leviticus 6.1-7, we read of the sacrifice made by the guilty/offending party when they become aware they have wronged another human being. Just as in Matthew 5, the person becomes aware there is an issue between him/herself and another. Since many are unfamiliar with Leviticus I will quote the text.

The LORD said to Moses: ‘If anyone sins and is unfaithful TO THE LORD by deceiving his neighbor about something entrusted to him or left in his care or stolen, or if he cheats him, or if he finds lost property and lies about it, or if he swears falsely, or if he commits any such sin that people may do [these are EXAMPLES of sin against other humans and not limited to these specifics]–when he thus sins and becomes guilty, he must return what he has stolen or taken by extortion … or whatever he has sworn falsely about. He must make restitution in full, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the owner ON THE DAY HE PRESENTS HIS GUILT OFFERING. And as a penalty he must bring the priest, that is, the LORD, his guilt offering, … In this way the priest will make atonement for him before the LORD, and he will be forgiven for any of these things he did that made him guilty.”

In Matthew, Jesus assumes the guilty party is on the way to the temple to do what Leviticus 6 prescribes. But the relationship has been breached by anger. Jesus’s words follow the outline of Leviticus 6. Be reconciled then offer your gift. In Leviticus restoration of property or undoing the damage is done on the same day as the sacrifice and it is done “when you realize your guilt” (Lev 6.4-5).

As is the case today (this is not a Jewish problem) so many want to just go back to church but we do not want to be reconciled. But the Torah said, before we can go worship Jesus’s God and Father, we have to go to our brother or sister and make things right and then offer our sacrifice, together.  In fact we would eat together on this day (sacrifices are eaten).

Jesus says the same thing. If we are on our way to church (worship) and we become aware that we have done wrong against a brother or sister … stop the worship! Leave the sacrifice. It is meaningless. Go make reconciliation and then come offer the sacrifice at the altar of God. Jesus fully anticipates a real sacrifice in the Temple in Matthew 5.24. He is not correcting Moses. He is preaching Moses.

The Lord’s Supper is the table of the reconciled not only with God but with one another. It is the table of fellowship, communion, the table of grace and love where we discern the body … which is sisters and brothers.


Jesus preached the God revealed in the burning bush, in the Exodus, and the God who invited them into a covenant of love at Mt Sinai.

God expected his people to be a place where justice, mercy and faithfulness were planted in this fallen world. Israel was supposed to be the place where God’s will was done on Earth as in heaven. Murder was banished. But so was unbridled, unjustified, foolish anger. Such anger is contrary to human flourishing and shalom. The Hebrew Bible and Sirach teach this often and clearly. They teach that such anger will unleash the judgment of God.

But Jesus, in the wake of the wrathful outburst that lead to the assault upon a person in 5.22, saw that this could not simply be winked at. The breach brought about by our foolish anger had to be healed. The guilty party thought they could just go to the Temple as if nothing had happened. Jesus said No! God’s Torah requires not a wink, but a restoration of justice, mercy and faithfulness between the parties. The sacrifice was intended to do just that. But the sacrifice required going to the person we have wronged!

So Jesus states clearly GO find the person you, in your anger, wronged. Do the hard work of looking that person in the eye and make amends. THEN complete the actual sacrifice in the Temple. The sacrifice is about atonement … reconciliation! How can we do that if we do not actually practice reconciliation. When we are reconciled we eat together … this is what the Lord’s Supper is all about.

Jesus does not circumvent the Old Testament. He is preaching obedience to the reconciling Torah in Matthew 5.21-26.


2 Responses to ““But I Say Do Not Be Angry!”: Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount & the Old Testament, Part 2”

  1. Michael Arena Says:

    God never dispensed 3 religions; i.e., Patriarchal, Mosaic and Christian. He cullimated it all at the Cross.

  2. Dwight Says:

    I agree, The Sermon on the Mount points are not ceremonial in nature, but ethics and moral bound. This is what God was concerned with in Isa.1:14-17 and Amos 5, when he condemned their feast because they condemned each other and showed no mercy, but disdain for each other. God was more concerned about their worshipping heart in following him, than what they were doing in worship ceremonies.
    One of the things I noticed some time ago is that Jesus never contradict the OT Law, even restating the law in relation to adultery, from a different angle. The Law states “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house,…”, while Jesus says, “But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.” So basically Jesus is agreeing with the Law in regards to divorce for uncleanliness-fornication, which allowed remarriage, but anything short of that resulted in adultery. The abridged version of the “get” was “she is free to remarry”, but it had to be based on uncleanliness according to the Law and Jesus.

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