“You Have Heard It Was Said”, NOT “You Have Heard It Was Written” (What’s going on in the beatitudes?)

April 3, 2011

Many people assume that in Mat 5 when Jesus says “you have heard it was said” that this means “you have heard it was written“. Thus, it’s assumed that Jesus is trumping the OT law with his superior teaching. This isn’t what’s going on. Jesus is actually trumping false assumptions and abuses of the OT law and is giving the correction.

For example, on divorce he says, “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

He’s not saying the OT was wrong. He’s saying their interpretation of it lead to an abuse of the text. He gives them the proper understanding of that law. The Jews were getting divorced more casually since their religious attitude was that it’s OK with God to divorce as long as you have your slip of paper. Thus, they falsely assumed they were free from adultery. Jesus turns the tables that the correct interpretation is that when you divorce you’re creating a wake of adultery.

Or when Jesus mentions “you have heard that it was said, ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth'” etc., he balances an over-emphasis of this law with another aspect of the law, namely, Deut 15:8 which says, “but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.”

Jesus wasn’t teaching that the OT law was too abusive, nor was he changing it. They were abusing the law by over-emphasizing a part of it and by not being consistent with all of it. Thus, Jesus is again giving the fuller understanding and also destroying the traditional view.

Not only this but he also addresses an OT text which the Jews completely added to!

Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'” The second greatest commandment is in Lev 19:18 to love your neighbor as yourself. There is no where in the OT that teaches to “hate your enemy”! Again, this is why Jesus is specifically saying “you have heard that it was said“, NOT “you have heard it was written“.

He’s addressing either the Jew’s (1) abuse in interpretation of a text, (2) their inconsistency and mishandling of a text, or (3) them completely making up their own laws and adding it to a text.

In conclusion, Jesus wasn’t one-upping the Torah! He wasn’t overriding it as it is so often thought. He was agreeing with it, but interpreting it without the spin that the Jew’s traditions put on it. This is extremely obvious in light of the fact that one of the traditions is no where in the OT (saying “hate your enemy”) and that Jesus reiterates something the OT already teaches, namely to love others (Deut 15:8). He wasn’t necessarily saying anything new. He was saying things which the Jews should have already grasped from what was previously revealed but they didn’t care about what was previously revealed as much as they cared about getting their self-righteous hands on it and changing it.

Instead, they filtered God’s word though their own traditions. All of the quotations when Jesus said “you have heard that it was said” were probably common sayings or verses from Scripture that had been repeated over and over for years by the Pharisees. The problem was that they had probably been quoted and repeated so much out of context that the original teaching had been lost. Thus, Jesus did what any good Shepherd would do and corrected it all in the spirit of love. We’re stupid sheep running around getting lost in the woods trying to tweak his word and make it fit our idols. Jesus says, “no, let me have that.”

Jesus expected them to be faithful to his word and derive the correct teaching from it. He held them accountable to do so, without the addition of an ultimate interpretive authority. He held them accountable to properly handle what was revealed. Jesus hated the mishandling of his word. He hated it being abused, being read inconsistently, and it being added to. Thus, we should hate that to. Jesus hated traditions. We should hate them to. At least when they get in the way of his word.



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