Reader Appeal: Pastors, Bible teachers Genre: Commentary FBSN Rating: B+ It seems strange that asking a theologian to write a Bible commentary would be considered, well, strange. But in the “academic silo” world we live in, the fact is that theologians don’t typically write commentaries. Professors of biblical studies write commentaries, while theologians write, […]
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy…’”
This quote from Matthew 5:43 reveals—again—how religious leaders in Jesus time had unwittingly distorted the Mosaic Law they claimed to hold supreme. The distortion was not intentional or arbitrary—scribes and Pharisees were genuinely trying to discern and fulfill God’s Law. It was just that in their determination to understand truth, they sometimes reached false conclusions—with devastating results. Case in point was God’s sacred command to love our neighbors. In this case at least, Jesus decided to publicly correct that error.
In the first part of Matthew 5:43, when he said “Love your neighbor,” Jesus pulled a direct quote from Leviticus 19:18, which reads in full, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”
Notice anything missing?
Yep, it’s the second part of the common saying Jesus quoted: “…and hate your enemy.” Religious leaders over the centuries had added that little phrase, and taught it for generations until it eventually came to be accepted as truth on par with God’s Word.
Fact is, the Law didn’t command anyone to hate an enemy, and it specifically forbade hating any “enemy” who might also be a fellow Israelite (see Leviticus 19:17). What’s more, the wisdom of Solomon instructed kindness and generosity toward adversaries: “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you” (Proverbs 25:21-22).
Still, among Jewish thinkers in ancient times, it was a natural progression of thought to assume that the command to love your neighbor included the corollary command of hating an enemy. It was a well-intentioned application of simple logic. But it was simply, heartbreakingly, wrong.
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