Text: Matthew 5: 21-43
You have heard me say many times that we have to go beyond the literal content of a verse of scripture and get to the concept behind it. Recently, in our Prophecy class I realized that many of you do not fully understand what I mean about going to the foundational concept of a verse.
First, I will give you a dictionary definition of “concept,” then I will illustrate how it applies to a particular verse in the Bible by drawing on Yahshua’s own illustrations in His “Sermon on the Mount.”
The dictionary definition is as follows: a concept is 1. a general notion or idea; conception. 2. an idea of something formed by mentally combining all its characteristics or particulars; a construct. 3. a directly conceived or intuited object of thought. 4. a theme or image, esp. as embodied in the design or execution of something
In Matthew 5: 21-43 Yahshua says first in verse 21, “You have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shall not murder.” Next in verses 27 He says, “You have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery,” then in verse 31 we read: “It hath been said by them of old time, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement.” The next is in verse 33: “Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not foreswear thyself, but shall perform unto the L-rd thine oaths.” Then in verse 38 we read: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth.” And the last is in verse 43: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.”
Before we deal with these statements we must first consider them together as a whole, because as you look at them, you will see at once that there are certain principles (a fundamental law, axiom, or doctrine), which are common to all six. You will see that Yahshua was more concerned about the “concept” underlying the principles than about the particulars. In other words, in our scriptures we see that He cites the principles and then illustrates the concept underlying them, for after each statement he expounds on the concept behind the particular.
Now come with me, place yourself back into the time that Yahshua was addressing these statements to the people. You will see in the formula Yahshua uses that He does not say what you have read in the “Law of Moshe” or “It was written and you have read it,” but He says “You have heard it was said by them of old time.” It’s important to understand this because the same conditions exist today as then. We seem to leave the interpretation to others not understanding it ourselves, because we fail to ascertain the concept. In Yahshua’s time, the Jews had returned from Babylon where they mostly forgot their Hebrew and now spoke Aramaic. They depended upon the Rabbis to interpret scripture for them. Judaism then and now is like the Catholic Church when they had the Latin Mass and read the scriptures in Latin, a language most parishioners did not understand. The Protestant reformation did in a sense give the bible back to the people, but true to form most do not want to read the Scriptures for themselves and instead depend on professionals to interpret it for them.
In Yahshua’s time, the Pharisees and Scribes had added their own interpretations to Scripture and it was almost impossible to tell which was Torah and which was an interpretation. The reality is that these people thought the interpretation was the Law when in reality it was not the Law itself, but a representation of it given by the Scribes and Pharisees.
Yahshua in the Sermon on the Mount is saying I am interpreting the Law of Moshe and it is My interpretation that is true and not that of the Pharisees and Scribes or that of those today who misuse Scripture. In fact He is saying I who am speaking to you am the very One who was responsible for the Law of Moshe; it was I who gave it to Moshe and it is I alone, therefore who can truly interpret it for you.
It’s characteristic of human nature that we prefer always to have things cut and dried for us rather than have them in the form of concepts. That is why certain forms of religion are popular. The natural man likes to be given a list; then he feels as long as he conforms to the things stated in the list, all is well.
Yahshua does not present the Torah in this way, He presents it as a living well of thought, yet, we all tend to like our Torah in lists. It is very much easier to think of holiness in terms of a list of things to do than to apply a concept or principle to every situation that occurs and that has a demand upon us every day in every situation, instead of a set period of time or circumstances. The particular addresses one situation, but a concept addresses all the situations we may encounter. For example, if you take one of these six detailed statements and say, “As long as I do not commit adultery-and so on-I am all right,” then you have missed entirely, Yahshua’s point. As He points out, to look on a woman with lust is to have committed adultery already. Yet, if we are concerned only with the particular and do not understand the concept upon which it is based we fail to see Yahshua’s point. Yahshua is not giving a code of ethics here. He is out to delineate a certain order of life, a way of life, and He says in effect, “Look, I am illustrating this kind of life. It means this type of behavior in all aspects of living. So, we must hold to the concept instead of the particular, for we would go on sinning thinking we are safe because of holding to the particular instead of the concept or principle.
Let me explain it in another way. Those of us who are in the ministry spend a great deal of time answering questions of people who come and want a particular pronouncement upon a particular question. Since there are particular problems that face all of us there are certain people who always seem to want some kind of detailed statement so that when they are confronted with a particular problem they can get an automatic or formulated answer or find it in a text book. The Talmud is a book something like that, as are other books of religion, but Yahshua does not treat us as children who need day to day instruction on particulars, instead He gives us concepts and principles to live by, and allows us to apply these concepts and principles to the everyday situations we encounter.
If you apply the formula “Ye have heard” and “I say unto you” you will find that the principle or concept He uses is exactly the same in every case. In one, he is dealing with sex-morality, in the next with murder, and in the next with divorce. He gives six illustrations of the one truth. Ask your selves, what is the common principle or concept to be found in all six?
Let me answer that question, first, by saying that Yahshua’s chief desire is to show us the true meaning and intent of the Torah. To correct the erroneous conclusions, which had been drawn from it by the Pharisees, the scribes as well as today’s modern commentators, and to correct the false notions they have overlaid upon the Torah.
The first principle Yahshua is showing us is that the spirit of the Law (Torah) is more important than the letter only. The Law was not meant to be mechanical, but living. The trouble with the Pharisees and Scribes and their modern counterparts is that they concentrate only on the letter to the exclusion of the spirit. It is like the relationship between form and content. Spirit is something that must always be embodied in form, and that is where the difficulty arises. Man will ever concentrate on the form rather than on the content, upon the letter rather than upon the spirit. Sha’ul stresses this in 2 Corinthians where he says: “the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” The purpose of the letter is to give body to the spirit.
As long as the Pharisees believed that they did not actually kill a man they thought they had kept the law perfectly, but Yahshua showed they were missing the whole point. The concept if you will. The letter of the Law says we are not to literally commit murder but the spirit, the concept, warns us not to have a bad attitude against our fellow man. Not to engage in character assignation, even if true for that is akin to murder. He teaches that The spirit demands that we have a loving and right attitude toward others even our enemies. This is the concept behind the particular.
What we must realize is that the Law of G-d is concerned as much with what leads to the action as it is with the action itself. We cannot recognize this unless we recognize the concept. Again, it does not mean that the action does not matter; but it does mean very definitely, that it is not only the action that is important.
The next principle is that the Law (Torah) must not only be thought of in the negative form. The ultimate purpose of the Torah is not merely to prevent our doing certain things that are wrong; its real object is to lead us positively, not only to do that which is right, but also to love doing it. We should be hungering and thirsting for righteousness not merely avoiding negative evil things. So, I would ask you, in your study of the bible to look beyond the particular and ask YHVH that His Ruach HaKodesh reveal His concept behind the particular. Discover the richness of G-d’s word.