Scripture and Christian Practice
Matthew 5.17–20 defends the teaching of Jesus against the charge of dissolving the Torah and the prophets. The Torah is identified with the ex‐actitude of the written Hebrew scrolls, and Mat‐thew affirms its divine authority in every partic‐ular. The Christian understanding represents the fulfillment of the Torah and prophets by estab‐lishing a righteousness superior to that taught by scribes and Pharisees. What principle underlies the adversative readings that follow in Mt 5.21–28 ? A common solution attributes to Jesus the authority of a messianic interpreter of the law. He can determine its intent with an author‐ity greater than that of those Jewish interpreters who appeal to the oral tradition that was pre‐sumed to have been given by Moses. Disputed points are to be resolved once and for all based on the “prophet like Moses” of Deut 18.15–18 (see Jn 4.19,25 ). In what follows, Jesus and his followers are shown to do more, not less, than the Torah requires. The debate over divorce in Mt 19.3–13 employs a related argument. Though the Torah contains provisions for grant‐ing a divorce (Deut 21.1 ), Jesus claims that Moses introduced such stipulations as a conces‐sion. They do not reflect the will of God as re‐vealed in Gen 1.27 . The Genesis text also figures in a critique of social laxity about divorce in the Dead Sea Scrolls (see CD 4.19–21 ). Thus it was used to indicate God's intention concerning mar‐riage prior to the time of the Qumran commu‐nity (second century BCE through first century CE). The Qumran tradition, however, does not use it, as the New Testament does, to negate the legal standing of another text of the Torah. This passage from Matthew implies that the point of “messianic” interpretation is to restore the in‐tention of the original lawgiver, namely God. Matthew 5.48 concludes on a similar note. Righteousness implies assimilation to God's own perfection.
New Testament authors do not interpret the details of legal traditions found in the Jewish scriptures. Rather a series of “summary princi‐ples” serves to demonstrate that the intention of the Torah has been realized in the Christian community. Matthew 7.12 uses the “golden rule” as such a summary, for instance. The most common Christian summary focuses on the in‐junction to love God and the neighbor, the love command (see Mk 12.28–34; Jn 13.34–35; Rom 13.8–10; Gal 5.14; Eph 5.1–2; 1 Thess 4.9–10; Heb 13.1; Jas 2.8 ). Matthew 23.23–24 employs the distinction between attention to observance of detailed precepts concerning tithing and the “weightier matters”—justice, mercy, and faith‐fulness. This passage has, apparently, been refor‐mulated from Matthew's Jewish Christian per‐spective, since it presupposes the development of the law on tithing (Deut 14.22–29 , later taken to include dill and cumin). The parallel in Lk 11.42 fits the more common New Testament pattern. Those condemned fail in justice and love of God, that is, the obligation to love God and neighbor. Though the text is not quoted exactly, Mat‐thew's formula probably reflects Mic 6.8 .
Christians presume that the stories concerning Israel provide instructional examples for their community. Tales of unfaithfulness or grumbling in the wilderness were particularly popular (see 1 Cor 10.1–13; Heb 3.7–4.13 ). Abraham serves as an example of the works (such as hospitality) appropriate to faith (Jas 2.21–26 includes Rahab as an example). The heading “faith” in‐troduces a catalogue of biblical models in Heb 11.1–40 , which serves as a summary of the bib‐lical story from Abel through the prophets. Though “by faith” has been inserted into each example, the particular story which follows does not always represent faith, at least not in the same way. The christological exegesis by which Hebrews argued that Jesus as exalted Son of God was foreseen by the Psalms and prophets and that the sacrificial death of Jesus ended the need for Jewish sacrificial rituals (Heb 7.1–10.18 ) shapes this catalogue as well. Each of the heroes in the catalogue merits a promised re‐ward for fidelity to God which has been deferred until the establishment of a heavenly people of God through Jesus ( 11.13–16 ).