Tonight, we are beginning our discussion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. This week we will be discussing those teachings found in Matthew 5:13-20. In verses 17-20, Jesus says that he came not to abolish the Law and not one part of the Law will pass away. At first reading, this teaching appears to contradict the writings of Paul. The entire theme of Galatians is that Christians are not bound by the Law (cf., Gal. 3:25, 5:4) and that anyone who teaches that Christians are bound by the law is teaching a perverted gospel (Gal 1:7). Paul tells us that Jesus abolished the Law. (Eph 1:15), and that the law brings death (2 Cor. 3:6). The Law simply doesn’t matter (Rom. 14). In comparing these verses, some modern biblical scholars (HERE), see Matthew as writing his gospel in response to and in opposition of Paul’s teachings. These specific verses appear to make the case the Law is still valid and that Christians are still bound by it.
For us in the Church, the question is how do we reconcile these two seemingly opposite teachings about the continued validity of the Old Testament? First, Paul and Jesus (according to Matthew) both teach that the love of God and the love of neighbor are the very foundation and fulfillment of the law and the prophets. (Gal. 5:14, Matt. 22:40). Like Paul, Matthew preserves those teachings of Jesus which denounce the outward obedience to the law, while neglecting the more basic matters of justice, mercy, and faith. (Matt. 23). And, as we will read over the next few weeks, the Sermon on the Mount itself, will repeatedly emphasize that the inward and spiritual is what truly matters, not the outward observances. (Rom. 2:29, Matt. 5:21-48). Therefore, within the full context of Matthew’s gospel, vv.17-20 do not speak about the letter of the law, but its underlying principles.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy, and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.Matthew. 23:23