The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 5:17-19

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 7, 2015

17 Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

Our Redeemer now guards against the imputation, to which the promulgation of loftier precepts than those to be met with in the old Dispensation might expose Him, viz., that He meant utterly to abolish the Old Law—by showing that, far from that, He came to accomplish and fulfil it. Others (Maldonatus, &c.), connect this with the preceding verse, thus: He wishes to impress upon those who “were the light of the world” HOW “their light should shine before men,” both in their conduct and teaching, viz., by a more careful and perfect observance of the law, following His own example, and by not imagining, that, as members of His household, they were released from strict observance.

“To destroy,” by violating the precepts and abolishing the teachings of the law By “the law,” which sometimes comprises the entire Old Testament, are meant here the five books of Moses, and by “the Prophets,” the rest of the books of the Old Testament. The books containing the law are put for the law itself. Our Redeemer fulfils the moral law, the chief portion of the law, which, as comprising the natural law, was unchangeable, by a more clear exposition of its precepts, and by incorporating it with His own law; by observing it Himself, and teaching others to do so; by giving grace, whereby it might be fully observed; by superadding counsels of perfection so useful to ensure its full observance. He fulfilled the ceremonial law, by substituting the reality for the figure; by bringing about the realities, which in their mystical signification these ceremonial precepts typified; (by executing a promise one rather fulfils than destroys it). He also fulfilled the ceremonial law, by inculcating the spiritual obligations it signified. Even when abolishing the ceremonial precepts in their literal acceptation, He fulfilled them; since it was predicted of them that they were to be abolished after a time. He fulfilled the Prophets, since He fully verified and accomplished the ancient prophecies. He fulfilled the judicial law, by commuting temporal sanction into threats and promises of a spiritual and eternal character.

18 For amen I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot, or one tittle shall not pass of the law, till all be fulfilled.

Far from coming to destroy and utterly abrogate the law; on the contrary, I solemnly assert, “Amen, I say to you,” that until the end of the world, when “heaven and earth,” that now are, shall pass away in their present corrupt form, and be changed into a “new heaven and a new earth” (Apoc. 21:1), the slightest point of what the law contains (and the same is true of the Prophets), shall not be left without its due fulfilment. The ceremonial law shall be fulfilled in the realities which it typified; the judicial, in the rewards of a higher and more exalted kind which it shall administer, the moral, in the unchangeableness of its preceptive binding moral force, at all times, under pain of sin, and in the sanction which its observance or violation, in the smallest degree, shall entail; although, indeed it is to the completion and exhibition of the promises of the law He here refers; He also refers to the addition of precepts completing and perfecting the law. “Amen,” if prefixed to a sentence, is assertive; if after it, it is confirmatory. Our Redeemer, in employing it, as He does frequently, conveys that peculiar significance should be attached to the subject which it precedes. In the Old Testament, it is never found at the beginning of a sentence; sometimes, however, it is found at the end of a sentence. In the New, it generally commences, but seldom ends a sentence. “Heaven and earth pass away,” i.e., till the end of the world, when the present heaven and earth shall change their form, and there shall be “a new heaven and a new earth.” Others interpret the words: Sooner shall heaven and earth pass away, and cease to be (a thing utterly impossible), than any part of the law be unaccomplished; just like the phrase, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle,” a thing utterly impossible.

“One jot,” (ιωτα ἓν), iota unum. The iota is supposed to have been placed here for the Hebrew jod, the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet. “One” “tittle” (κεραία), the very point of the smallest letter, the smallest mark distinguishing one letter from another, v.g., G from C (St. Jerome); κεραία, “tittle,” is the little top or distinguishing mark of a letter, which indicates the most trivial precepts or ordinances of the law. “Till all is fulfilled” (see above).

19 He therefore that shall break one of these least commandments, and shall so teach men shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. But he that shall do and teach, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

As, therefore, I am come to perfect and fulfil the law, whosoever shall violate even what may be regarded as one of the least of these commandments, which I am about to propose, either from the law, or superadded for perfection’ sake by myself. He calls them “least,” not in themselves; but as they may be regarded by men, and by the Pharisees, who regarded the external act, v.g., of homicide as sinful; but not the deliberate intention of perpetrating it.

“And shall teach men so.” The particle, “so,” is interpreted by some to mean: As I am just now teaching; so that it refers to the man who teaches well, but through frailty, violates the commandments, not practising what he teaches. In this interpretation, “least” means, shall be lowered in his grade, and not obtain the place he would otherwise be entitled to. For, the violation of the least commandment, such as to be angry from a sudden impulse, would hardly utterly exclude from heaven. Others, more probably, understand the words to refer to the man that violates the least precept, and shall teach others they may lawfully “do so,” and violate the commandments after his example. Such a man “shall be called,” that is, in the judgment of God, shall be pronounced to be, and shall be in reality, “least,” that is, utterly excluded from heaven; or if, by “the kingdom of heaven,” we mean the Church, such a man shall be excluded from the society of the faithful, as a propounder of erroneous doctrine, and ultimately from heaven, unless he repent. “Least” is used in preference to excluded, as containing an allusion to the least commandment.

Our Redeemer is manifestly alluding to the Pharisees, who not only violated the law in certain points relative to interior acts of the will; but also taught men that interior acts and intentions, v.g., of adultery or murder were not sinful, and should not be heeded; that they might be indulged in with impunity, and without moral guilt.

In the preceding verse, our Redeemer shows how He came to fulfil that portion of the law which pertained to promises, types, and judicial sanction for its observance. In this verse, He shows how He fulfilled the moral law—the chief and most important branch of the law—by giving an example of observing it Himself, and teaching others the duty of observing it; and by declaring that any man who, like the Pharisees, violates the law (in even what men would consider its least precepts, as the Pharisees regarded deliberate sins of thought), would merit everlasting exclusion from the Church and the kingdom of God’s glory.

“But he that shall do and teach;” he does not add, “the least commandment,” because it is required to observe all the commandments, and teach properly in regard to them.

“Shall be called,” shall be in reality, and pronounced so in the judgment of God, “great,” deserving of the highest place and dignity in that house where “there are many mansions,” in which “star differs from star” in brilliancy and glory, and in which, those who instruct many unto justice shall shine as stars for all eternity. “Great, and least” are antithetical. So are, “shall break, and so teach,” and “shall do and teach.”

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