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Acta Theologica

On-line version ISSN 2309-9089
Print version ISSN 1015-8758

Acta theol. vol.33  suppl.17 Bloemfontein Nov. 2013


A hermeneutic of justice. Justice as discernment in Matthew



Huub Welzen

Dr H Welzen, Research assistant Titus Brandsma Institute Nijmegen (The Netherlands) and Research fellow Departments Old and New Testament, University of the Free State, South Africa. E-mail:




In some important dictionaries for the study of the New Testament, δικαιοσύνη has two meanings: justice in the sense of distributive justice and righteousness as a relational notion. In Matthew, we discover that the word concerns a threefold loyalty: loyalty to the law, loyalty to fellow people, and loyalty to the will of God. In the Sermon of the Mount, the word is used in a polemical context. Δικαιοσύνη is the congruency of the explanation of the law and doing the law. It is the opposite of ύπόκρισις which is the incongruence of explanation and doing. Δικαιοσύνη is an eschatological reality. This means that it is a result of the coming of the kingdom of God in history. This coming is thought to occur at the end of time, but it is also a reality in the present. One can observe it at work in the conduct of people. It is a criterion in the discernment of the correct explanation of the law, and it is a criterion in the discernment of the correct doing.

Keywords: Biblical spirituality, Spiritual hermeneutics, Discernment, The Gospel of Matthew, The Sermon of the Mount, Justice

Trefwoorde: Bybelse spiritualiteit Spirituele hermeneutiek Onderskeiding Die Evangelie van Matteus Die Bergpredikasie Geregtigheid



1. TWO MEANINGS OF δικαιοσύνη

According to some important dictionaries for the study of the New Testament, the Greek word δικαιοσύνη has at least two meanings (Quell & Schrenk 1935; Kertelge 1980).1 The first meaning is justice in the sense of iustitia distributive. This is the behaviour to oneself or to another which is strictly in accordance with currently accepted ethical law or as decreed by legal authority. This is the kind of justice whereby everyone gets what one deserves. This notion of justice is forensic and often even legalistic. A judge will note whether conflicting parties stand by the agreements they made, and whether they have done justice to each other in fairness and reasonableness. A judge will give penalties for doing injustice in this sense. This meaning of justice stems from the Greek notion of virtue, in which the idea of iustitia distributive was very important (Kertelge 1980:785).

There is another sense of the word δικαιοσύνη: we do not notice whether our behaviour corresponds to the law or to accepted ethics. This second notion of justice is more pragmatic. The criterion for the justice of our acts is the impact on other people. The important questions are whether people appear to full advantage; whether people are rated in their true value; whether they may exist in the full sense of the word, and whether they are recognised in their own identity. In the Septuagint, the Greek word δικαιοσύνη is used as the translation of קדצ (Koch 1979:511). In the meaning of קדצ the notion of grace is more important than the idea of correctness. The notion of pis is a more relational one than a forensic one (Tigcheler s.a.:63-64). It plays an important role in Jewish spirituality.2 It concerns the relationship of a lord and his servant, a king and his subjects. In this kind of relationships, it means mutual help, loyalty and kindness rising above obligation. The word is also used in the relationship of an individual and the community. In this relationship, it means the individual's attitude of loyalty and dedication. However, it is also the benevolent and wholesome atmosphere of the kind of relationships within a community, which are so graceful for the individual. The same is said of the relationship of God and his people. Deeds of loyalty and justice are asked from the people of the Lord. But there is also a loyalty and overflowing goodness from God.


2. A THIRD MEANING OF δικαιοσύνη

Δικαιοσύνη is a keyword in the Gospel of Matthew. This was pointed out in one of the earliest redactional critical studies dedicated to this Gospel (Strecker 19713:149-159). The word δικαιοσύνη appears seven times in this Gospel. It appears five times in the Sermon of the Mount (5:6, 10, 20; 6:1, 33). Some scholars call righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees the proper theme of the Sermon of the Mount (Tigcheler s.a.:58, 109). In addition, the adjective δίκαιος, which appears sixteen times in Matthew,3 is important for the interpretation. The verb δικαιόω appears twice (11:19; 12:37) and the verb άδικέω only once (20:13).

That the two meanings of the word δικαιοσύνη, are present in the Gospel of Matthew is clear from the parable of the labourers in the vineyard (Mt 20:1-16). The landowner arranges with the labourers of the third hour that he will pay what is right (καὶ ὃ ἐὰν ᾖ δίκαιον δώσω ὑµῖν) (20:4). In 20:13, the landowner answers one of the labourers of the first hour's unspoken presupposition that he is doing an injustice: "Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denary?" (ἑταῖρε, οὐκ ἀδικῶ σε οὐχὶ δηναρίου συνεφώνησάς µοι;). It is striking that one and the same conduct is called right, on the one hand, and considered an injustice, on the other. The landowner defends himself to the presupposed accusation of injustice by saying that he is doing exactly as agreed. In this instance, we note the meaning of justice as distributive justice. However, we wonder whether in 20:4 another meaning of justice and righteousness is at work. No exact agreement and no amount are mentioned. There is only the promise to pay what is right (καὶ ὃ ἐὰν ᾖ δίκαιον δώσω ὑµῖν). For the workers of the third hour, this promise is enough to trust the landowner and to go and work in his vineyard. What is right is called δίκαιος.

In this parable, one and the same action is regarded as righteousness and as injustice. The parable explains how this is possible. It concerns the way in which people view things. Do they have an evil eye or not? (ὀφθαλµός σου πονηρός ἐστιν ὅτι ἐγὼ ἀγαθός εἰµι;) (20:15).4 Are they envious because of that way of viewing things? Or do they enjoy observing that the landowner is generous to other people, without seeking advantage for themselves?

The theme of justice and righteousness appears already in the first story of the Gospel of Matthew. After the genealogy (1:1-17), the story of the birth of the Messiah is told (1:18-25). When Mary was found pregnant, her husband Joseph, unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. Verse 19 mentions that he is a righteous man (δίκαιος ὢν). It is somewhat surprising that Schneider (1980:782) considers this phrase a concessive one: "although he was righteous". In my opinion, the righteousness of Joseph is explained in the next phrase. It deals with the opposition between δειγµατίσαι (to shame her) and λάθρᾳ ἀπολῦσαι αὐτήν (to dismiss her quietly). Therefore, the phrase is not concessive. It has the connotation: because he was righteous. To dismiss Mary quietly is an act of righteousness in Joseph's opinion.

For a correct understanding, it is important to know the juridical position of betrothal, which is the time prior to living together (verse 18). The reader is supposed to know what the juridical implications of betrothal are (Weren 1994:25). It is a juridical act preceding marriage. At betrothal, the dowry is paid. From this moment, the alliance is a juridical one. Not until marriage does the woman leave her parental home. At that moment, she is moved into her husband's house. Sexual intercourse was not usual before marriage. Some interpreters mention that the prohibition of sexual intercourse did not apply in Judea, only in Galilee, because in Judea the separation of wife and husband before bringing in the bride was not known (Grundmann 19723:68). However this may be, the construction of the sentence in verse 19 makes clear what δίκαιος means in this instance. The parallelism in the participle phrases ών and µή θέλων and in the infinitive phrases αὐτὴν δειγµατίσαι and ἀπολῦσαι αὐτήν is striking (Gundry 1982: 21).

Joseph is not only righteous in his care to do the right thing; he is also merciful in his will not to disgrace Mary. His righteousness is both doing the right thing according to the law and being graceful towards men (Grundmann 19723 68; Gundry 1982:21). Normally, it is understood that Joseph planned to spare Mary public disgrace by avoiding a public procedure, according to Deut 22:23-24, and to hand her a bill of divorce in the presence of only two or three witnesses.

Gundry (1982:21-22) gives an alternative interpretation. He relates the hesitation of Joseph to the words of the angel in verse 20: µὴ φοβηθῇς παραλαβεῖν Μαρίαν τὴν γυναῖκά σου (do not fear to take Mary as your wife). According to Gundry, Joseph does not fear to break the law, but he fears to do wrong by taking Mary as his wife when she is pregnant by divine causation. In this instance, the statement in verse 18 that Mary is pregnant through the Holy Spirit is not only information for the reader (for instance, Gnilka 1986:18), but also bears its more natural sense that Joseph found out the reason for Mary's pregnancy.5 His decision to divorce Mary is in deference to the Holy Spirit.

Gundry's interpretation assumes that Joseph knew, prior to the Angel's dream appearance, that Mary's pregnancy was caused by God. The message of the angel is not aimed at making Joseph aware of the cause of Mary's pregnancy, but at letting him know how to act. Gundry's interpretation is unusual, but not impossible. If it is true, there is room for a third meaning of δίκαιος: a respectful attitude to the initiative of God. The way in which Matthew tells about the origin of Jesus leaves much room for this initiative of God. This can be noted in the genealogy of Jesus for the first time. In the forty-two generations from Abraham to Jesus, the active form έγέννησεν (begat) always appears, except in the last generation where the passive form έγεννήθη (was born) is used. There is thus a gap in the text. It is unclear who Jesus's father is. The reader may suppose that something special is happening in the case of Jesus. He is not born in the same way as the people mentioned before. The reader may fill in the gap with the initiative of God.

A second indication for this initiative of God is Joseph's dreams. In his dreams Joseph resembles his Old Testament namesake, in whom the seed of liberation from slavery was present before Israel came to Egypt.

The righteousness of Joseph becomes visible in his conduct. This is especially evident in his attitude towards Mary, which is an attitude of grace. But this is also apparent in his attitude towards Jesus. At the end of the story, Joseph calls the name of the child. By doing so, the child has a father and becomes a descendant of David. In this attitude of grace, there is a threefold loyalty: a loyalty to the law; a loyalty to Mary and Jesus, and a loyalty to the initiative of God. The latter becomes very explicit in the two names of the child. The name Jesus is explained by the narrator as "the Lord saves his people". The second name of the child is Emmanuel, meaning "God is with us".



Loyalty to the law and prophets and to the initiative of God (which is not a contrast) is clearly at work the first time the word δικαιοσύνη appears in Matthew. In the story of the baptism of Jesus (3:13-17), John tries to prevent the baptism of Jesus, suggesting that he needs to be baptised by Jesus instead of Jesus by him. Jesus's answer is a reference to his obligation to fulfil all righteousness: ἄφες ἄρτι, οὕτως γὰρ πρέπον ἐστὶν ἡµῖν πληρῶσαι πᾶσαν δικαιοσύνην (Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness) (3:15). In this instance, the word δικαιοσύνη refers to the programme of Jesus.6 In his meeting with John the Baptist, he communicates that this is the only thing he has to do. The remainder is of lesser meaning. Righteousness is the obedient and unconditional surrender to the will of God. Because of the surrender of Jesus to this will, the people will receive God's salvation. Justice, grace, righteousness, mercy and charity are related to this surrender.7 Jesus's surrender to the will of God in being baptised by John is an expression of his loyalty to the initiative of God.8 At the same time, it is loyalty to the law and the prophets. Scholars have recognised, in the baptismal voice from heaven (verse 17), an allusion to a passage from Isaiah concerning the Servant of the Lord (Isa 42:1) (Grundmann 1972:98; Gnilka 1986:78; Sand 1986:71; Turner, 2008:120). Since Matthew interjects quotations of two such passages (cf. 8:17 with Isa 53:4; 12:17-21 with Isa 42:1-4), and since 27:57 is an allusion to Isa 53:9, the description of the Lord's servant as righteous influences Matthew, in this instance (Sand 1986:50). Therefore, the loyalty to the law and prophets can also be observed in the allusions to Isaiah. "To fulfil all righteousness" means to do the will of God and to do what is stated in the law and prophets.

In 21:32, Jesus mentions that John the Baptist came in the way of righteousness. This expression refers both to the preaching of John and to his practice. In Matthew, the preaching of John is exactly the same as that of Jesus: µετανοεῖτε ἤγγικεν γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν (Repent, for the kingdom of heavens has come near) (cf. 3:2 and 4:17). In this preaching, we discover the eschatological tense of "already ... and not yet".9 The preachings of John and Jesus are about a promised future that has now come near by the initiative of God, but that is already present in the conduct of those who repent. Righteousness is also the conduct of John in doing the will of God. The fact that he baptises Jesus, in spite of his initial hesitation, is a clear expression of this loyalty to the will of God.

It is important to note that Jesus uses the word ὁδός (way) to indicate the preaching and the conduct of John. This word sets the expression ἐν ὁδῷ δικαιοσύνης (in the way of righteousness) in a context of wisdom spirituality. In wisdom spirituality, the appropriation of the law is a central theme. Sand (1986:423) indicates that the expression "the way of righteousness" appears, for instance, in Prov 8:20, 12:28, 16:31. This spirituality plays a role if we recognise that, in the same chapter, in 21:41. Jesus's saying about the vineyard, leased to other tenants who will give the fruits to the owner at the right time, is an allusion to Ps 1:3. In this psalm, the way of the righteous is the central theme (Sand 1986:423).

In Mt 6:33, the word δικαιοσύνη is an explicit indication of the righteousness of God. In the context of exhortations as to not worry about life and body, Jesus gives the advice to strive for the kingdom of God and the righteousness of God. In this context, δικαιοσύνη indicates God's gift of the salvation of men. This righteousness comes together with the kingdom of God and is part thereof. We also note the eschatological tense in this verse, because this righteousness is not only a future gift of God. God also provides in our present needs: καὶ ταῦτα πάντα προστεθήσεται ὑµῖν (and all these things will be given to you as well).


4. δικαιοσύνη IN THE BEATITUDES

The place of the word δικαιοσύνη in the structure of the beatitudes shows the importance of justice and righteousness as a leading notion in the Sermon of the Mount. As Schmidt (2009:49-55) very explicitly pointed out, the structure of the Sermon of the Mount is a concentric one. The Sermon itself is surrounded by sentences which give information about the auditors and the speaker of the Sermon. Mt 4:25-5:1 corresponds to Mt 8:1. The information in these verses is organised in a chiastic manner:

A great crowds followed him

B he went up to the mountain

B' when Jesus had come down from the mountain

A' great crowds followed him.

Within this outer framework, there is a kind of inner framework. Mt 5:1-2 corresponds to Mt 7:28-29. In 5:1-2, it is said: "... and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying ...". The closing of the Sermon in 7:28-29 corresponds to this: "Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes." Within the Sermon there are also concentric structures. In 5:17, Jesus mentions: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets, I have not come to abolish but to fulfil." This corresponds to 7:12: "In everything do to others as you would have them do to you: for this is the law and the prophets." The structure of the Sermon of the Mount is very clear. There are three parts within a framework:

Frame 4:25-5:2

Introduction 5:3-16

Main part 5:17-7:12

Conclusion 7:13-27

Frame 7:28-8, 1.

As the main part is divided into three parts (A. 5:17-48; B. 6:1-18; C. 6:19-7:12), it becomes clear that the Lord's Prayer is the exact centre of the Sermon of the Mount (Schmidt 20092:52-55). Some interpreters use rhetorical instruments for analysing the structure of the Sermon (Weren 1994:64-65). The introduction or exordium is 5:3-16; the central part or corpus is 5:17-7:12; the conclusion or peroration is 7:13-27. The analyses from both the literary perspective and the rhetoric perspective do not differ. Brooks discusses the unity of the Sermon from the perspectives of theme and structure. The Sermon is a description of the virtues which would characterise those who belong to the kingdom of heaven. This theme constitutes part of its unity. Brooks considers the study of Dale C. Allison to be the most important study on the subject of the structure of the Sermon. An introduction and a conclusion are found in 4:23-5:2 and 7:28-8:1. The Sermon itself has an opening and a concluding section in 5:3-12 and 7:13-27. The core of the Sermon consists of 5:13-7:12 and has a heading in 5:13-16 (Brooks 1992:25-27; Allison 1987; Davies & Allison 1988:1 61-64).

Two conclusions are important for our purpose. The first one concerns the theme of the Sermon of the Mount. This theme is the law and its interpretation. The central part starts and finishes with utterances about law and prophets. In 5:17, it is said that Jesus has come to fulfil the law, not to abolish it. In 7:12, the so-called golden rule is called law and prophets: Πάντα οὖν ὅσα ἐὰν θέλητε ἵνα ποιῶσιν ὑµῖν οἱ ἄνθρωποι, οὕτως καὶ ὑµεῖς ποιεῖτε αὐτοῖς· οὗτος γάρ ἐστιν ὁ νόµος καὶ οἱ προφῆται. These prominent places of the law and the prophets make it clear that the proper theme of the Sermon is the interpretation of the law. That is the reason why some interpreters speak about the halacha of Jesus (Schmidt 2009:53; Van Tilborg 1986:47-79).

Our second conclusion is about the place and the importance of the beatitudes (5:3-12). Together with the sayings about salt and light (5:1316), they are the introduction of the Sermon. The term "blessed", repeated nine times, is a kind of salutation to the crowds which assembled to hear Jesus. This salutation presents not only the general theme, but also the direction and tone that will be worked out in the central part of the Sermon. The word µακάριος makes it clear that this direction and tone are full of grace and benevolence. The nearness of the kingdom of heavens implies comfort for those who mourn; satiation for those who hunger and thirst; mercy for the merciful, and so on. In this context, the word δικαιοσύνη appears twice. Together with the phrase ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν, it has a function in the literary structure of the beatitudes. The word µακάριος appears nine times. The ninth beatitude is formulated in the second person, whereas the preceding eight beatitudes are formulated in the third person. These eight beatitudes are organised in two strophes of four beatitudes each (Lambrecht 1983:53). The phrase ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν appears in both the first and the eighth beatitude. The wording is exactly similar: ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν (for theirs is the kingdom of heaven). The kingdom of heaven is presented as an eschatological reality. This means that the kingdom of heaven is a future reality, given by God. However, in the present, this future is already at work in the conduct of men. The conduct of men is a realisation of the kingdom of heaven and of the blessing of God. The word δικαιοσύνη appears in both the fourth and the eighth beatitude. This word closes the first and the second strophes. The eschatological and future meanings of the word are stressed by the expressions "hunger and thirst" (οἱ πεινῶντες καὶ διψῶντες τὴν δικαιοσύνην) and "persecuted for righteousness' sake" (οἱ δεδιωγµένοι ἕνεκεν δικαιοσύνης). By these expressions, the absence of justice is stressed, but the word µακάριος reveals a kind of presence of righteousness. The same eschatological tense of "already . but not yet" is at work in the word δικαιοσύνη and in the phrase ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.

The structure of each singular beatitude in the two strophes should be mentioned, in this instance. Each beatitude consists of two sentences. In each beatitude, after the word µακάριοι, the first sentence describes the actual situation of Jesus's audience. The present tense is predominant. The verbs used are in the active form: πενθοῦντες, πεινῶντες, διψῶντες.. A passive form is used only in the case of δεδιωγµένοι. In each beatitude, the second sentence of the two strophes is a promise. The future tense is predominant. It is also striking that some of the verbs are formulated in passive forms (παρακληθήσονται, χορτασθήσονται, έλεηθήσονται, κληθήσονται). These and other verbs do not mention by whom the promise is fulfilled. In my opinion, this functions in the same way as the already discussed έγεννήθη in 1:16. By not mentioning who has taken the initiative for fulfilling the promise, there is room for the hearers and readers for the notion that God is at work in some way; not only in the future, but also in the way this future is already present.

In concluding this part of our inquiry, we may mention that, as the interpretation of the law is a main theme of the Sermon of the Mount, the meaning of δικαιοσύνη as conduct in accordance with the law is absent in the beatitudes. The meaning of grace and benevolence is stressed. This is evident in the parallelism of descriptions such as οἱ πραεῖς, οἱ ἐλεήµονες, οἱ καθαροὶ τῇ καρδία and οἱ εἰρηνοποιοι. In addition, the fact that the word µακάριος appears nine times in this context is an indication of this emphasis of the meaning. There is also an eschatological tense in the word δικαιοσύνη. It is about a divine future, given by the initiative of God. But this future is already at work in the present, in the conduct of the people described in the first sentence of each makarism.



In Mt 5:20, the word δικαιοσύνη is used to describe the righteousness of Jesus's audience in comparison with the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees. This comparison makes it clear that the text is a polemical one. The context is a discussion of the attitudes of Jesus and his audience towards the law and the prophets. One and the same conduct is evaluated differently. For some, it is an abolishment of the law. For Jesus himself, it is the fulfilment of the law. This leads us to the theme of our inquiry: What is the right criterion for the correct interpretation of the law? Our thesis is that the criterion to discern between abolishment and fulfilment is δικαιοσύνη. In addition, this criterion is a practical and a pragmatic one. The discernment is not made in a good and theoretical explanation of the text of the law and the prophets, but in a conduct and behaviour that do justice to the relational aspects of δικαιοσύνη. The character of this conduct and behaviour is eschatological: they testify to the future gift of God in his kingdom, but they also realise this future kingdom in present times. This conduct and behaviour already reveal the meaning of the kingdom of heaven, although it is not here in its full sense. This conduct also realises the loyalties mentioned earlier: loyalty to fellow people; loyalty to the law, and loyalty to the initiative of God.

According to Trilling (1964:174), there are two ways to explore the meaning of the fulfilment of the law and the prophets: the contrast between abolishment and fulfilment and the way in which πληρόω is used in Matthew.10 Scholars agree, to a large extent, that καταλύω means, in this instance, that the law is put out of action, that the law is abolished (Trilling 1964:175). The word πληρόω appears fifteen times in Matthew. It appears eleven times in the typical Matthean formula of the fulfilment of scriptures. Nine times it is a very concrete word of scripture that is fulfilled in a very concrete event in the life of Jesus. These are the so-called formula quotations (1:22; 2:15; 2:17; 2:23; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; 27:9). The concreteness of the word from scripture is indicated by the phrase τὸ ῥηθὲν and by the concrete verse that is quoted. The concreteness of the event is also formulated in the Matthean formula. Each time the formula is used, there is a deixis to the event that was the reason for the quotation of a verse from Scripture. Several wordings are used for this deixis: τοῦτο δὲ (ὅλον) γέγονεν (1:22; 2:14); ὅπως (2:23; 8:17; 13:35); τότε (2:17; 27:9); ἐκεῖ and ἕως (2:15); καὶ ἐπετίµησεν αὐτοῖς (12:17).

The word πληρόω is used twice in the sense of the fulfilment of the scriptures as a whole. In 26:54, the phrase αί γραφαί is used to indicate the Bible as such; in 26:56 αἱ γραφαὶ τῶν προφητῶν. In these two instances, the scriptures are also connected with concrete events in the life of Jesus: the betrayal and his arrest. The concreteness of the fulfilment is indicated by the words οὕτως (26:54) and τοῦτο δὲ ὅλον (26:56). In 26:56, the word δει is also used. Perhaps this word has the same function in Matthew as in the Gospel of Luke. Besides, in 26:54, δει appears in 16:21; 17:10 and 24:6. As in Mark and Luke, one may understand this word as "according to scripture". In this interpretation, δει indicates the will of God as expressed in Scripture. As I pointed out with reference to the Gospel of Luke (Welzen 2011:147148), the other side of this δει is the appropriation of this will in the life of Jesus.11 The word δει is also the expression of the mystical12 surrender to the will of God, as expressed in scripture.

The exploration of the saying of Jesus that he has not come to abolish either the law or the prophets, but to fulfil has as a result that the fulfilment of the law is always a fulfilment in a concrete event and in concrete behaviour. From the viewpoint of spirituality, the element of the mystical surrender to the will of God is its most inner kernel. As noted in the case of Joseph, this surrender to the will and the initiative of God is an important element of δικαιοσύνη.

As mentioned earlier, the word δικαιοσύνη in 5:20 is used in a polemical context in which the righteousness of Jesus is compared with that of the scribes and the Pharisees: ἐὰν µὴ περισσεύσῃ ὑµῶν ἡ δικαιοσύνη πλεῖον τῶν γραµµατέων καὶ Φαρισαίων. This polemical context requires of us to answer two questions. First, what is the δικαιοσύνη of the scribes and the Pharisees? Secondly, in what sense does the δικαιοσύνη that Jesus asks exceed this righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees?

Jesus addresses the scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites several times in Matthew. The word ύπόκρισις is rooted in the world of dramatic art. Play acting has also the negative meaning of hypocrisy. In LXX, it indicates the behaviour of people whose conduct is not determined by God. In this sense, they are impious (Giesen 1983a:963-965). This is precisely the reproach of Jesus to the scribes and Pharisees. Matthew illustrates their hypocrisy with examples from the religious field: alms-giving (6:2); prayer (6:5), and fasting (6:16). In the first chapter of his thesis about the Jewish leaders in Matthew, Sjef van Tilborg (1972:8-26) pays attention to the reproach of hypocrisy. The ὑποκριτής is the godless person who despises and violates the law of God. He has a beautiful appearance, but he is full of rottenness and decay. He presents himself as better than he really is. He is an actor on the stage that shows off his good works in order to be seen and honoured. The reward given to him by men will be withheld by God.13 According to Van Tilborg (1986:89), the word has two meanings. The Hellenistic meaning indicates the actor who wants to curry favour with the public. Against the background of the Hebrew meaning, Mathew was thinking of "transgressors of the law". The ὑποκριταὶ showed themselves as people who thought they kept the law, but they did not really. Van Tilborg remarks that one should not choose between the two meanings.

In their behaviour, the hypocrites do not seek the praise of God, but they wish to be praised by other people (6:1). In Mt 23, Jesus is calling the scribes and the Pharisees ύποκριταί (23:13,[14], 15, 23, 25, 27, 29) (Giesen 1983b:966). The beginning of the speech in Mt 23 makes it clear that ύπόκρισις means the incongruence between what the scribes and the Pharisees say in their teaching of the law and what they do: πάντα οὖν ὅσα ἐὰν εἴπωσιν ὑµῖν ποιήσατε καὶ τηρεῖτε, κατὰ δὲ τὰ ἔργα αὐτῶν µὴ ποιεῖτε λέγουσιν γὰρ καὶ οὐ ποιοῦσιν (therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practise what they teach) (Mt 23:3). In some verses later, it becomes clear that behaviour that corresponds exactly to the prescripts of the law is not always without hypocrisy. Not the corresponding conduct, as it is done in tithing mint, dill and cumin, is the criterion for doing the right thing according to the law, but not neglecting the weightier matters of the law is: justice, mercy and faith (ἀφήκατε τὰ βαρύτερα τοῦ νόµου, τὴν κρίσιν καὶ τὸ ἔλεος καὶ τὴν πίστιν) (23:23). Aphoristically, the question as to whether our acts are really according to the law is not a matter of the adequateness of the prescriptions of the law, but it is a matter of the righteousness of human behaviour. In Matthew, the correspondence between what is said and what is done is important. Doing the will of God, not doing what is said, is the real criterion: "Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heavens, but only the one who does the will of my father in heaven" (7:21).

The polemics to the righteousness of scribes and Pharisees14 brings us to the answer to the two questions. The δικαιοσύνη of the scribes and Pharisees is a hypocritical one because of the incongruence between their explanation of the law and their doing of the law. Their intention is not to do the will of God, but to be praised by other people. A righteousness that exceeds this is a δικαιοσύνη that is congruent in explanation and doing, and that is focused on the weightier things in the law: justice, mercy and faith.15 In doing the law, one may do injustice if these issues are not realised. The criterion for a good explanation is δικαιοσύνη, i.e. the will of God. The correct explanation is apparent not in what someone is saying (this may be correct), but in what someone is doing. The discernment of how to explain the law is always a practical and concrete exercise. What δικαιοσύνη means is a question that has been repeatedly raised.



Mt 5:21-48 gives six examples of the way in which Jesus interprets the law. These six examples are called "antitheses" because of the repetitive formula: Ήκούσατε ότι έρρέθη (τοίς άρχαίοις) ... έγώ δέ λέγω ύµίν (You have heard that it is said (to the ancients) . but I say to you) (5:21-22, 31-32, 33-34, 38-39, 43-44). These so-called antitheses are often understood in this way that Jesus as a new Moses gives a new law to the new people of God (for instance, Fenton 1974:87). This interpretation is in conflict with Mt 5:17, where Jesus states that he has come not to abolish the law but to fulfil the law. It is not understandable how the promulgation of a new law is the fulfilment of an earlier law. The typology of Jesus as the new Moses in Matthew does not mean that the law of Moses is dismissed now and replaced by a new law.17 Allison (1993:182) writes about this:

Jesus, according to Matthew, neither dismissed the Torah nor released his followers from its imperatives. The commandments given to Moses, so far from being drained of their ancient life, are still the living, active word of God.

Other scholars mention that the way in which Jesus speaks about the law in these antitheses is a radicalisation of the law. Peter Schmidt (2009:119-121), for instance, is of the opinion that Jesus does not oppose the law at any place, but that he agrees with the law in the full sense of the word. Instead of the word "antithesis", Schmidt proposes the term "radicalisation". He uses this word in the original sense of the Latin word radix. What Jesus does in these antitheses is going back to the roots of the Torah and describing a life that consequently comes from these roots. In an interpretation as "radicalisation", some elements in Mt 5:21-48 remain in conflict with 5:17. This becomes clear when one realises the far-reaching impact of the word έρρέθη. For me, it is clear that the word έρρέθη is a passivum divinum. It is the word of God that is spoken to the ancients. In the formula quotations, the passive form ρηθέν is the word of God (see 1:22; 2:15) spoken by the prophet. It is improbable that, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus disagrees with the word of God, or radicalises it, which is also a kind of disagreement.

In this context, it is important to observe that the second member of each antithesis is introduced by δέ and not by άλλά or by the formula µέν ... δέ. The meaning of άλλά and µέν ... δέ is adversative, the meaning of δέ is more conjunctive than adversative. J. Levison (1982:174-176) argues that the formula έγώ δέ λέγω ύµίν expresses affirmation and continuation. This formula should not be translated as "But (in contrast) I say to you", but rather as "And I say to you".18

Sand (1986:109) points out that the literary form of the antithesis corresponds to the rabbinic way of doing, in which a personal and independent position about meaning and interpretation of the law is brought forward. The literary form of the antithesis already shows that Jesus does not create a new law, but that he puts forward his own interpretation of the law as opposed to other interpretations.

Van de Sandt and Flusser's (2002:193-237) inquiry confirm Sand's statements. The framework of their inquiry is an investigation of the motive of the two ways in Didache. In their opinion, the formula "You have heard that it was said to the ancients" has emerged from a fusion of the wording "It was said" with the statement "You have heard from the ancients". In Matthew, there is a variation between a short formula "You have heard" and a long formula adding "to the ancients". The locution "You have heard" might be developed from an anterior rabbinic expression meaning "I might hear" or "I might understand". It introduces an inappropriate deduction from the verse at hand. Van de Sandt and Flusser conclude that the wording "You have heard" means "You have understood", assuming potential differing interpretations of the law. The formula discredits an interpretation of the biblical verse as inadequate or corrigible and suggests a contrary interpretation that is to be accepted as accurate. Van de Sandt and Flusser quote Daube (1956:55-56) who suggests that the misunderstanding of the biblical verse in the first member of the antithesis has to do with a literal understanding. Thus, Jesus is not contrasting his teaching against a commandment of the Torah, but against a literal interpretation thereof. In their opinion, "to the ancients" stands for the Pharisaic interpreters belonging to earlier generations, who developed the interpretation of the biblical verse at hand. Jesus opposes not the citation from scripture but the explanation and teaching of his opponents. The formula "but I say to you" counters the preceding interpretation as false. In Van de Sandt and Flusser's opinion, there is no discrepancy between the affirmation of the Torah in Mt 5:17-19 and the antitheses in Mt 5:21-48. Jesus's teaching does not contain a new law. It is a new interpretation of the law by contrast to current interpretations.

Van de Sandt and Flusser also pay some attention to the fact that Jesus does not justify his position by referring to Scripture passages. He uses his authority to expound the demands of Torah. Jesus's position is not merely a second opinion in legal matters. The way Jesus is positioned in the debate corresponds with the Christological viewpoints elsewhere in the gospel, emphasising Jesus's relationship with God, his high status and divine given knowledge. Van de Sandt and Flusser's observations regarding Mt 5:21-48 correspond with ours, given in the previous section that Jesus's teachings about the law are given in a polemical context. The statement in 5:20 that the righteousness of the auditors of Jesus has to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees is an indication of in what kind of polemics the antitheses of the Sermon of the Mount have to be understood. There is a similar kind of polemics where Matthew (7:28-29) closes the Sermon of the Mount in his characteristic way and narrates about the reaction of the crowd: "Now when Jesus has finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes."

In concluding this section of our inquiry, we may mention that Mt 5:21-48 is not about the abolishment of the law. In this sense, indications such as "antitheses" or even "radicalisations of the law" are not correct. They give the impression that Jesus is in discussion with the law itself. If we do justice to the polemical context, as indicated in Mt 5:20, we have to state that the next section of the Sermon of the Mount (5:21-48) is a discussion of the correct interpretation of the law. Jesus does not give a new law. He gives an interpretation of the law, and a criterion to discern whether this interpretation is correct. The criterion is δικαιοσύνη. The consequence of this criterion is that Jesus's critiques of the interpretation of the law by his opponents, the scribes and the Pharisees, also apply to his own interpretation. In addition, his interpretation must be righteous. Exceeding the righteousness of scribes or Pharisees means that Jesus's interpretation does not suffer the same critical points as those of the scribes and Pharisees.


7. Δικαιοσύνη AS DISCERNMENT

The findings of our inquiry will now be summarised. In Matthew, δικαιοσύνη implies a threefold loyalty: loyalty to the law; loyalty to fellow people, and loyalty to the will and initiative of God. As a background to the meaning of the word, the Hebrew pis is more appropriate than the Greek idea of iustitia distributiva.

Δικαιοσύνη is a pragmatic notion. It is about the interpretation of the law and the way in which the law impacts on its readers. Justice and righteousness are criteria to discern between interpretations.

Δικαιοσύνη is not only pragmatic in the sense that it helps to interpret the law. It is also a practical notion. It is about the appropriation of the law. One can observe δικαιοσύνη at work in people's conduct and behaviour. In this sense, δικαιοσύνη is a criterion for discernment for the correct action on the practical level.

Δικαιοσύνη is always concrete. It is always a decision on the concrete level of a concrete situation. Jesus's interpretation of the law in Mt 5:2148 should not be taken as a new law, but as an example of δικαιοσύνη in concrete situations. Consequently, the readers of the Gospel of Matthew have to undergo the process of discernment again in their own situation with δικαιοσύνη as a criterion.

Δικαιοσύνη is the congruence of saying and doing. This congruence is the opposite of ύπόκρισις, which is the incongruence of saying and doing. Jesus calls the δικαιοσύνη of the scribes and Pharisees hypocrite because of this incongruence. He, therefore, states: "Do whatever they teach and follow it, but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach." (23:3)

Δικαιοσύνη functions in the divine human relational process as transformation. Righteousness belongs to God. It is God's future gift in the kingdom of heaven. But righteousness is already present in the same way as the kingdom of heaven is already present. The future gift of God has already its influence in the righteous conduct and behaviour of people. The kingdom of heaven is already at work in people who are righteous. Δικαιοσύνη belongs to what is called spirituality.



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1 It seems that the distinction of these two meanings is made from the presupposition that the Greek way of thinking is different from the Jewish way of thinking. This presupposition does not reckon with the more complex situation of the influence of Greek philosophy in Judaism in the three centuries before Christian era. The presupposition seems typical for the dictionaries in the tradition of Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament. The dictionary of Bauer gives four meanings: 1. Gerechtigkeit als Eigenschaft d. Richters; 2. in religiös-sittl. Sinne: Gerechtigkeit als d. durch Gott vom Menschen verlangte Eigenschaft; a. Gerechtigkeit als im Sinne d. göttl. Rechtsordnungen; b. Gerechtigkeit als Leitmotiv d. gesamten Lebensführung; 3. Die Bedeutungen in den spezif. Paulin. Gedankengängen; 4. Da Gerechtigkeit d. specifischen Streben d. Christen ausmacht, steht d. Wort fast = Christl. Glaube. (Bauer 1988: 395-396). Liddell-Scott-Jones gives among others the following meanings: righteousness, justice, fulfilment of the law, the business of a judge, a personified meaning (Liddel-Scott-Jones 1968:429).
2 Tigcheler uses the word spirituality in a broad sense. It is not exclusively the divine human relationship in the private sphere, but also in the public areas. Spirituality concerns the relations of human beings too. Spirituality is present also in economy and politics.
3 In some manuscripts the adjective appears also in Mt 27:24.
4 J.H. Elliott shows how the expression "evil eye" is embedded in the Mediterranean culture. It has its roots in societies in which people could improve their lot in life only at another's expense. The evil eye implies envy. Envy means the displeasure at the assets and the success of another, a resentful consciousness of inferiority to the person envied, a sense of impotence to acquire what is desired, and a malevolent wish to harm the envied one or to see him deprived of what he has. Elliott shows that the parable is constructed in such a way that envy is created by the comparison of the wages of the first and the last hired. The parable serves as a warning to the community against competition for favor and status and as an appeal for undivided loyalty and commitment, trust in God's unlimited care, and solidarity with the poor and the "undeserving". It is a condemnation of evil eye envy (Elliot 1992). For the expression "evil eye" see also Elliott (2011).
5 Weren argues that verse 18 does not mean that the Holy Spirit is the father of Jesus. The meaning of the whole episode is that Jesus is a very special child. His origin is in heaven. His task on earth is special, indicated by the name Joseph has to call him. By taking Mary as his wife Joseph becomes the father of Jesus in the juridical sense of the word, and in this way he recognizes Mary's child as his child too. So Jesus becomes part of the Davidic line. Via Joseph, who is a descendant of David (verse 16 and 20), Jesus becomes a descendant of David (Weren 1994:25).
6 Clarifying is the commentary of Sand. "Mt erwáhnt hier zum ersten Mal den für sein Ev. wichtigen theologischen Leitbegriff von der "Gerechtigkeit", der von ihm red. eingefuhrt worden ist: Der Weg Jesu is ein "Weg der Gerechtigkeit" (21,32), was von Johannes anerkannt wird. "Der 'Weg der Gerechtigkeit' wird so zum Ausdruck der Gerechtigkeitsforderung an die Menschen" (K. Kertelge, "dikaiosýnë", in: EWNT I 792). Die Gerechtigkeit, die es zu erfüllen gibt, wird zum programm Jesus, das Jesus schon bei seiner ersten Begegnung mit dem Táufer diesem als das allein Wichtige mitteilt, dem gegenüber alles andere von untergeordneter Bedeuting ist." (Sand 1986:70). Luz writes the following sentences: "Der Satz bekommt programmatischen Charakter" and "Unser Vers hat also "Signalcharakter" und weist auf 5,17 voraus." (Luz 1985:154-155).
7 Grundmann writes: "Die Gerechtigkeit is die vorbehaltloze und gehorzame Hingabe an den Willen Gottes ... so ist die Gerechtigkeit, die Gott vom Menschen will, die von ihm seinerseits geübte Bundestreue, die sich in der vollen Hingabe an Gott und in dem damit verbundenen Gehorsam gegenüber seinen geboten erweist ... Indem Jesus sich von Johannes taufen lásst, druckt er seine ganze Hingabe an den Willen Gottes aus, der ihm mit seinem Volke verbindet, es zu erretten von seinen Sünden (1,21); das ist die volle and ganze Gerechtigkeit. In ihr ist Recht und Gnade, Gerechtigkeit und Barmherzigkeit verbunden ..." (Grundmann 1972:97-98)
8 Talbert discusses the meaning of "us" in 3:15. According to him this "us" refers to Jesus and John. They both are not candidates for personal repentance. As a consequence "righteousness" in this text is part of the process by which the kingdom of God is to be inaugurated (Talbert 2010:54).
9 The word ἤγγικεν is a perfect tense referring to an event already happened in the past. The perfect tense means also that this event has its influence till the present. The meaning of ἤγγικεν is "has come near". Because of the nearness of the kingdom of heaven there is a futuristic aspect in the preaching of John and Jesus.
10 Luz follows this exactly (Luz 1985: 232-341). For France "fulfilment" is the central theological issue in the Gospel of Matthew (France 1985:41-44).
11 One may expect the same meaning is present in the Gospel of Mark. Mark 8:31 is the source for Matthew and Luke.
12 I use the terms "mysticism" and "mystical" as referring to the core and the heart of spirituality. Mysticism is related to spirituality as its fulfillment and vice versa mysticism is the source of spirituality. For a description of of the relation of mysticism and spirituality, see Steggink & Waaijman 1985:100-108 and Waaijman 2003.
13 Van Tilborg makes clear that Matthew did not want to write history. What he had in mind was a theological polemic in order to make it clear to his community what they should avoid doing (Van Tilborg 1972:25-26).
14 In the polemics to the righteousness of scribes and Pharisees one may recognize the polemic relation of the Christian community to the pharisaic oriented Jewish community in the times of Matthew (Frankemölle 1994:219).
15 Luz argues that, although the words ἐὰν µὴ περισσεύσῃ ὑµῶν ἡ δικαιοσύνη πλεῖον τῶν γραµµατέων καὶ Φαρισαίων have a quantitative meaning, the meaning of these words, viewed from the perspective of the antitheses, is a qualitative intensifying of the life before God, that is a life of love. (Luz 1985: 240-241). Mathew's position to the law has nothing to do with an opposition of law and grace. Luz summarizes this position as follows: "Mattháus ware nie auf den Gedanken gekommen dasz das Gesetz der Widerpart der Genade sei ... Einzelvorschriften und intensivierung des Gesetzes von der Liebe sind kein Gegensatz sondern gehören zueiander und konkretisieren das Angebot des Willen Gottes" (Luz 1985:241).
16 Turner gives an alternative formulation of this question: Is the contrast Jesus versus Moses or Jesus versus the Pharisees? (Turner 2008:166-167)
17 "A third group of scholars have argued that Jesus, as a new Moses, brought a new law that superseded the old law, but this errs on the side of excessive discontinuity." (Turner 2008:167).
18 Turner (2008:165) underlines the adversative meaning of δέ. For him it is important to see what the contrast is exactly. "The transcendent teaching of Jesus contrast not with that of Moses but with that of the traditional legal experts because it restores the original divine intention of the law."

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