But I say to you

Published by DonDavidson on

Jesus Christ made claims about himself that no mere human has any right to make—such as that he was older than Abraham,[1] or that he knew what happens in heaven.[2] These were, in effect, claims that he was divine. (I discuss these and similar claims in Chapter 1 of my book, Beyond Blind Faith. You can see a list of the contents, and read some excerpts from the book, here.)

But Matthew 5:21-47 gives us a more subtle claim of divinity by Jesus. In that section of scripture, Jesus repeatedly uses the formula, “You have heard that it was said . . . but I say to you. . . .” For example, in Matthew 5:27-28 Jesus says:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery”; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

He does not cite scripture or any other source in support of his statement. It’s as if he believed that his word is sufficient to command obedience and that his authority is self-evident. That is not the way normal human beings act or talk.

And let’s be clear—Jesus is not merely interpreting the Old Testament, because he lays down some pretty tough rules that go well beyond what the Old Testament required. For example, he tells us that we are not merely to refrain from murder, but are also to avoid even insulting another person.[3] He says that we are not to divorce a spouse for any reason other than adultery, and that marrying someone who is divorced is tantamount to committing adultery.[4]

The people recognized the difference: “When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.”[5]

The Jewish leaders understood what Jesus was doing, and they reacted as we would expect—they demanded to see his credentials: “By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?”[6] Jesus didn’t tell them, cleverly answering their question with one of his own, which of course he knew they would decline to answer:

But Jesus responded and said to them, “I will also ask you one question, which, if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John was from what source: from heaven or from men?”[7]

Even if Jesus was unwilling to comply with the demands of the Jewish leaders on that occasion, he did disclose at other times where he believed his authority came from, for elsewhere he said:  

All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son determines to reveal Him.[8]

On another occasion, he was even more explicit:

For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me.[9]

By the way, Matthew 5:21-47 is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, in which he sets forth a standard of behavior that most of us would find very hard, if not impossible, to live up to. Some even argue that Jesus never intended us to adhere to such a high standard, but was merely illustrating how far short of God’s standards we really are. But Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor in Nazi Germany, had a different view. Maybe I’ll talk about that next week.

[1]. John 8:58: “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.’ ”

[2]. See, for example, Matthew 18:10: “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones; for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.”

[3]. Matthew 5:21-22

[4]. Matthew 5:31-32

[5]. Matthew 7:28-29

[6]. Matthew 21:23

[7]. Matthew 21:24-25

[8]. Matthew 11:27

[9]. John 12:49-50


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