The Greek of the Gospel lection for Feb 9, 2014–Matthew 5:13-20

Matthew 5:13-20

Gospel lection for Feb. 9, 2014

Mt 5:13 Ὑμεῖς[A] ἐστε τὸ ἅλας τῆς γῆς· ἐὰν δὲ τὸ ἅλας μωρανθῇ[B], ἐν τίνι ἁλισθήσεται; εἰς οὐδὲν ἰσχύει[C] ἔτι[D] εἰ μὴ βληθὲν ἔξω καταπατεῖσθαι ὑπὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων. You are the salt of the earth.  If salt becomes tasteless, in what [way] will it be salted?  It is no longer good for anything except having been thrown out to be trampled underfoot by people.
Mt 5:14 Ὑμεῖς ἐστε τὸ φῶς τοῦ κόσμου[E]. οὐ δύναται πόλις κρυβῆναι ἐπάνω[F] ὄρους κειμένη· You are the light of the world.  A city cannot be hidden [when it is] lying above a mountain.
Mt 5:15 οὐδὲ καίουσιν λύχνον καὶ τιθέασιν αὐτὸν ὑπὸ τὸν μόδιον[G] ἀλλ’ ἐπὶ τὴν λυχνίαν, καὶ λάμπει πᾶσιν τοῖς ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ. Nor do [people] ignite a lamp and set it under the basket, but [they place it] on the lampstand, and it shines on all those in the house.
Mt 5:16 οὕτως λαμψάτω τὸ φῶς ὑμῶν ἔμπροσθεν τῶν ἀνθρώπων,[H] ὅπως ἴδωσιν ὑμῶν τὰ καλὰ ἔργα καὶ δοξάσωσιν τὸν πατέρα ὑμῶν τὸν ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς. In this way, let your light shine in the presence of people, so that they may see your good works and glorify your father who is in the heavens.
Mt 5:17 Μὴ νομίσητε ὅτι ἦλθον καταλῦσαι[I] τὸν νόμον ἢ τοὺς προφήτας· οὐκ ἦλθον καταλῦσαι ἀλλὰ πληρῶσαι[J]· Do not suppose that I came to destroy the law or the prophets.  I came not to destroy but to fulfill.
Mt 5:18 ἀμὴν γὰρ λέγω ὑμῖν, ἕως ἂν παρέλθῃ ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ, ἰῶτα ἓν ἢ μία κεραία[K] οὐ μὴ παρέλθῃ[L] ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου, ἕως ἂν πάντα[M] γένηται. For I solemnly tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one iota or one stroke [of a letter] will pass away from the law, until all things take place.
Mt 5:19 ὃς ἐὰν οὖν λύσῃ μίαν τῶν ἐντολῶν τούτων τῶν ἐλαχίστων[N] καὶ διδάξῃ οὕτως τοὺς ἀνθρώπους, ἐλάχιστος κληθήσεται ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν· ὃς δ’ ἂν ποιήσῃ[O] καὶ διδάξῃ, οὗτος μέγας κληθήσεται ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν. Therefore whoever loosens one of the least of these commandments and teaches people in this way will be called least in the kingdom of the heavens; but whoever does and teaches [them], this one will be called great in the kingdom of the heavens.
Mt 5:20 λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν ὅτι ἐὰν μὴ περισσεύσῃ ὑμῶν ἡ δικαιοσύνη πλεῖον τῶν γραμματέων καὶ Φαρισαίων,[P] οὐ μὴ[Q] εἰσέλθητε εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν. For I tell you that unless your righteousness abounds more than [that of] the scribes and the Pharisees, you will surely not enter into the kingdom of the heavens.

On the left is the SBL text (pretty close to the best Greek texts).  On the right is my translation–as literal as possible while maintaining at least roughly comprehensible English. (Words I’ve added that I think are implied in the text, but not actually present, are enclosed in [brackets].)  I’ve also added footnotes to the Greek text in places where I’ve offered brief comments.  The goal here is not to offer a complete commentary on the text, but simply to highlight some issues where looking at the original language may help to illumine what is going on overall here.  One of my purposes for this whole approach is to encourage those who are preaching and teaching the lectionary text to explore the original languages, and to give them a head start on what they might discover.


[A] The Ὑμεῖς (“you”)  is plural (y’all), but the salt (τὸ ἅλας)  is singular (presumably a collective noun.)

[B] Literally “becomes foolish,” though many suggest an Aramaic or Hebrew word tpl which lies behind the double meaning, and has the connotation of becoming either foolish or insipid / tasteless.  The double meaning is probably intentional.

[C] Literally “it is not strong for anything” or “it does not have capacity or usefulness for anything”

[D] Literally “It is still good for nothing,” though the negatives don’t work so well literally in English.

[E] Probably an objective genitive—light which shines on the world.

[F] Or just “on the top of a mountain,” though this particular form is a little surprising here—one would expect the simple επι.

[G] A small basket holding 8.75 liters (=2.3 US gallons)—almost a peck.

[H] It’s important, (and requires some subtlety) to differentiate this verse from texts such as Matthew 6:1, since in both texts, the explicit purpose for good works/righteousness is “to be seen by them,” though the underlying goal is different (honor for the individual, or glory to God). The Greek words are different in the two texts, but it’s hard to get the distinction just from the Greek text, and the line between these two purposes can get blurry!

[I] or “undo,” “tear down,” “demolish”

[J] It’s ambiguous whether the implied object of “destroy” and “fulfill” is the law and the prophets particularly, or whether a wider meaning is intended (i.e. all God’s purposes).  Probably the former option, given the parallel use of “I came” in both clauses.

[K] Some scholars think that this refers, not to normal strokes that are part of letters, but to scribal ornamentation, making this an ironic reference.

[L] The Greek construction expresses emphatic future denial.

[M] Presumably all things anticipated in the law?  Or is it a reference to all the messianic tasks to be completed?  And what happens after that to the law?

[N] Note the somewhat emphatic position of “least” here.

[O] Note, for Matthew, the many places where “doing” and “teaching” belong together.

[P] Because, according to Matthew 23:3, they teach, but don’t do.

[Q] οὐ μὴ + aorist subjunctive = emphatic future denial (as also in 5:18).

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