Tag Archives: Sermon on the Mount

Why Should We Care about Good Interpretation?

Many of us might have heard many a time in the church claiming that “this is what the Bible says” and so and so. Some people take the biblical text that was written to address specific people group in the particular time and history literally and apply the text the same way that was applied to the original audience. On the other extreme, people try to find some relevance from the original text and make the verse and message of their own. After all, it is God’s Word that is relevant to all generation! For example, Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” On the other hand, there are people out there in the churches who preach that the Sermon on the Mount regarding the teachings of Jesus on divorce and his call to be perfect like the Father does not apply to us. Is this what the biblical interpretation all about?

Taking both these cases, we need to be careful of what we make up of the meaning of the biblical text and apply it in our time to make the message still relevant for us. Bad interpretation can crush people’s faith and shatter their hope. Biblical interpretation is a pivotal job to get across the true meaning of the text to the target group without squandering the meaning that was intended for its original readers. Only proper interpretation can determine the intended meaning in the text.

What then does good interpretation look like? It is necessary that we understand historical, literary, grammatical, and theological context well before we interpret the biblical text. Without having proper knowledge of one of the contexts, our interpretation can become misleading and obscure and, to the extreme, even heretic. Let’s outline them.


i. Original Audience: We need to know who were the intended audiences when the book was written.

ii. Social Situation: When was this written and how was their social situation, culture, lifestyle looked like? What was the purpose of this writing? What happened in the history?

iii. Purpose: In other words, what might have motivated the writer to write the book? If we have answer to these basic questions, we can move along and work on the literary and grammatical area.


Pay close attention to the specific genre of the text. We simply cannot interpret the poem as a narrative and prophecy as an epistle. Scriptural context is another area that demands our attention. Look for language issues like word-meaning. The meaning of the word changes over time. A certain word might have utterly different meaning in the past than we use and understand it in our time. Writing styles are also important, since the Bible is comprised of 66 different books that was written by about 40 different authors over period of 1600 years. So, it is obvious that the writing style and meaning also vary from the time of its writing to in our present day. One more important thing to look for is the word-repetition.  Repeating words should trigger us to look into the text deeper and carefully, as the author is saying something important that he wants his audience to know.


Once we move from the historical, literary and grammatical context, we need to work on the text in its theological context to determine the application of the text. We need to do biblical theology in its framework: (i) Creation (ii) Fall (iii) Redemption and (iv) Consummation. Biblical theology helps us to see the progressive history that how God has revealed himself to humanity and also teaches us about his redemptive work throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament. The biblical theology seeks to understand how epochs of the Old Testament have pointed toward the fulfillment of the promise in the life and work of Jesus Christ. The biblical theology thereby encourages us to know the intended meaning of the biblical text by understanding whether the biblical text points toward something in the New Testament or back to the Old Testament. For instance, Luke 24:27, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

From here on, we can see what the author’s message was for his audience back in the history. Today, our context is completely different than the time the book was authored. Next, we are not the original audience; however, we can now know the centrality of the message and apply it to our time without claiming or making the verses as our own.

Biblical Nuggets: Antitheses

Antitheses: In the New Testament studies, we find Jesus’ six contrasting teaching on the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:21-48 to the teachings of Moses in the Old Testament. Those six contrasting teachings of Jesus is called antitheses. It is also known as “six antitheses,” because Jesus quotes or paraphrases Moses’ command to Israelites but adding his own antithetical or oppositional statements to make it stronger. Each anthesis is set in motion with the distinctive formula, “You have heard that it was said,” immediately followed by the antithetical response, “But I [Jesus] say to you.”

Six Antitheses:

1. Murder/Anger (5:21-26)

Moses (OT): You have heard it was said… “You shall not kill”

Jesus (NT): But I say to you … that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

2. Adultery/Lust (5:27-30)

Moses (OT): You have heard it was said…”You shall not commit adultery”

Jesus (NT): But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

3. Divorce (5:31-32)

Moses (OT): “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’

Jesus (NT): But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

4. Oaths (5:33-37)

Moses (OT): “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’

Jesus (NT): But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

5. Retaliation/Revenge (5:38-42)

Moses (OT): “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 

Jesus (NT): But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…

6. Love your Enemies (5:43-48)

Moses (OT): “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 

Jesus (NT): But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, … For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.


The key verses are from English Standard Version (ESV), Zondervan.