Matthew 5:21-37

Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine

This section of the Sermon on the Mount addresses a series of specific issues in the interpretation of the Mosaic Law, specifically rulings about murder, adultery, divorce,and oaths. Jesus is addressing the reinterpretation of the spirit of these laws and making specific judgments about liability under the law in relation to each of these specific matters of the law.

The four rulings have a similar formulaic introduction: “You have heard that it was said. .. But I say to you.” At the end of the statements about murder and adultery, Jesus names the consequences of disobedience to the law eschatologically. The first is the prediction that you will be thrown into prison and will never get out and the second is that your body will be thrown into hell.

The general principle that underlies these four rulings is that true obedience to the law requires observing the spirit of the law rather than simply the letter of the law. One way of understanding this principle in a rabbinic context is what was called the fence around the Torah. In order to avoid a transgression of the law, one would not only observe the letter of the law but also the things that might lead to a transgression of the law. Thus, in the contemporary context of the possibility of sexual intercourse before marriage, a frequent teaching of parents in the ‘40’s and ‘50’s was not only no intercourse but also no petting and no kissing. Holding hands was sometimes OK. In relation to the observance of Sabbath law, in order to avoid a violation of the prohibition of work, one would not rub grain in your hands or perform an act of healing. One way of understanding Jesus’ rulings is that he is advocating attention to the spiritual attitude or expression that leads to the violation of the law.

To read the rest of this commentary, please visit 

Other resources available on

Audio telling of the story, Soundmap, Audio commentary, Original Image - 

Get in touch

Network of Biblical Storytellers International
Indiana Interchurch Center, 1100 W. 42nd St., Suite 160, Indianapolis, IN 46208

TF 1 (800) 355-6627 | PH 1 (317) 931-2352 |

Find out more about us:

Join Our Mail List