Righteousness, Prayer, And Fasting
08.03.00.A. JESUS TEACHES PRINCIPLES OF LIFE. Illustrated by James Tissot. 1878.
Righteousness, Prayer, And Fasting
08.03.00.A. JESUS TEACHES PRINCIPLES OF LIFE. Illustrated by James Tissot. 1878.
As has already been noted, a number of Jewish writings have been presented to help illustrate the thoughts and opinions of some rabbis at the time of Jesus. There is a tendency among some scholars today to believe that some rabbis copied the teachings of Jesus without giving Him credit. However, they fail to recognize that many righteous rabbis lived at the time of Jesus, and like Jesus, they too, were interested in living lives honorable to God. Naturally, they would have made comments similar to those of Jesus, because they and He based their instructions on the Hebrew Bible. The classic example is the Eighteen Benedictions, of which a shortened form is found in Matthew 6.
08.03.01.Q1 Are all rabbinic writings reflective of the time of Jesus?
Clearly the answer is “no,” and that makes discernment of those writings all the more challenging. Critics have often stated that the Mishnah and Talmud were written centuries after Jesus and, therefore, are not trustworthy sources for two reasons:
What critics fail to acknowledge is that many of the Jewish teachings were taught centuries before they were recorded, as these were passed down orally from generation to generation. In fact, many originated before the time of Jesus. The portrait of the Jewish people has so often been stigmatized in a negative manner, that the very idea some Jews were righteous and sincere about God seems to be foreign to some scholars. Mary and Joseph were righteous not only when Jesus was born, but throughout their entire lives and were faithful to Old Testament teachings. And so were many others, including rabbis. Therefore, it should not be surprising that some New Testament and Jewish writings are similar. An example is this: This writer has often asked students what is the first word they think of when discussing the Pharisees. The answer is almost always the same – hypocrites. Yet only a small percentage of the 6,000 Pharisees were the leaders of the sect who confronted Jesus. There were many variations within the world of Pharisees, as illustrated by the differences between the two major rabbinic schools of theology: those of Rabbi Hillel and those of Rabbi Shammai.
. See Appendix 18.
. Fischer, The Gospels in Their Jewish Context. (Lecture on CD/MP3). Week 8, Session 2.
. See the video 02.02.01.V “The Significance of Inter-Testamental Writings: By Dr. Douglas Finkbeiner.
. While there is an element of truth to this statement, for the most part, both views are inaccurate perceptions.
. See video 02.02.16.V where Messianic Rabbi Dr. John Fischer discusses Jewish writings and why they are important in understanding the New Testament.
08.03.02 Mt. 6:1
PRINCIPLES OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
1 Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of people, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
“Practice your righteousness.” Righteousness was practiced by the giving of alms (Gk. eleemosune, 1654) mainly by giving to the poor. The term signifies pity and mercy. Jesus presented the three acts of life, at times known as three “Pillars of Faith” that demonstrated whether one was righteous. These were common knowledge, are found in various rabbinic writings, reinforced the Old Testament code of righteousness, and were considered the fruit of a holy lifestyle. These three acts were,
The Jewish leaders believed that they would have eternal life simply because they were God’s chosen people, but they still needed to demonstrate these three acts of righteousness. Consequently, some of them were proud to demonstrate such in a public display (see also Mt. 6:2-4 below). Two books written in the second century B.C. illustrate the act of almsgiving and it was believed that sins could be pardoned with a “purchase” of almsgiving. These accounts have been preserved in a collection of books known as the Apocrypha. Note the following examples:
Give alms from your possessions to all who live uprightly, and do not let your eye begrudge the gift when you make it. Do not turn your face away from any poor man, and the face of God will not be turned away from you. If you have many possessions, make your gift from them in proportion; if few, do not be afraid to give according to the little you have. So you will be laying up a good treasure for yourself against the day of necessity. For charity delivers from death and keeps you from entering the darkness; and for all who practice it charity is an excellent offering in the presence of the Most High.
Water extinguishes a blazing fire so almsgiving atones for sin.
Ben Sirach 3:30
Do not grieve the one who is hungry
nor anger the man in want
Do not add to the troubles of an angry mind
nor delay your gift to the beggar.
Do not reject an afflicted suppliant
nor turn your face from the poor
Do not avert your eye from the needy,
nor give a man occasion to curse you.
Ben Sirach 4:2-5
Do not be fainthearted in your prayer nor neglect to give alms.
Ben Sirach 7:10
Store up almsgiving in your treasury and it will rescue you from all afflictions.
Ben Sirach 29:12
It is better to give alms than to lay up gold; almsgiving delivers one from death and it purges away all sin.
Giving to the poor is an established principle in the Mosaic laws and was reinforced during the Inter-Testamental Period. By the first century some considered almsgiving as a sacred duty equal to righteousness. This and other acts of charity were considered acts towards perfection and becoming “fully righteous.” However, by the time of Jesus, some rabbis said the term “fully righteous” also included observing the entire Torah. A possible reason is that the Hebrew word tzedakah can be translated to mean both almsgiving and righteousness. Jesus did not challenge the idea that almsgiving would be a credit to one’s divine account, but He did say that it should be done privately in God’s sight without the praise and credit of men. The cultural meaning of righteousness has always been giving to the poor or expressing kindness, especially in situations when it would not be expected. But Jesus introduced a new definition of righteousness – that is to have an ongoing relationship with God.
. Vine, “Alms, Almsdeeds.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:23.
. Ben Sirach and Tobit belong to a classification of extra-biblical books known as the Apocrypha. These two literary works reflect the opinions of many Jewish people. See 02.02.03 “Apocrypha” for more information. The reader is reminded that quotations from non-biblical sources are not to be understood as being of equal authority with the biblical narratives. See 01.02.04.
. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 127.
. Barclay, “Matthew.” 1:187.
08.03.03 Mt. 6:2-4
THE PRINCIPLE OF GIVING ALMS
2 So whenever you give to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be applauded by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! 3 But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
08.03.03.Q1 Why isn’t there a strong teaching on tithing in the New Testament?
The doctrine of tithing has been challenged by some throughout church history and defended by others, just as it is today. Those who claim it is not necessary do so, in part, citing lack of a direct command by Jesus or the apostles to continue it. So why doesn’t support exist in the New Testament?
At this time tithing was a well-established religious and cultural tradition that did not need to be explained, just as the need for giving alms was not addressed. The belief was so strong, that no one would have thought of going to the synagogue, if he had not first prepared his tithe. Note the words from the Oral Law:
A man says within his house when darkness is falling on the eve of Shabbath; “Have you tithed?”
Mishnah, Shabbath 2.7
The Pharisees were known for tithing. In Luke 11:42, for example, Jesus stated that the Pharisees carefully tithed various garden spices, but neglected the justice and love of God. In the section of the Mishnah known as the Maaseroth (meaning “tithes”) is an extensive list of regulations of what to tithe and the “tithing season” of various crops. The Jewish community was evidently in compliance with this biblical requirement.
The New Testament epistles never mention tithing because, in addition to the established tradition, voluntary offerings were sufficient for the needs of the church. Since the early church was essentially Jewish, the members continued the practice of tithing they had been taught from childhood. In addition to the first tithe, there was a second tithe (Deut. 14:22). Known as the maaser sheni, this tithe was only on produce, crops, and livestock. It was to be given or spent only in Jerusalem when the family was there for a festival or other occasion. This second tithe could be spent on personal items or given to the poor, to a synagogue, or to the temple. When given to the poor, it was placed in a quppah, or poor basket. The quppah was the weekly allotment given to the poor and consisted of food and clothing. This biblical tradition continued in the primitive church as recorded in Acts 11:28-30 when Barnabas and the Apostle Paul sent relief to Jerusalem during the famine of A.D. 44-45.
The extra-biblical book of Tobit contributes an interesting insight to the tithing issue. From the early Alexandrius and Vaticanus versions of this Inter-Testamental book are the following comments:
6 I went to Jerusalem taking the first-fruits and the tithes of my produce and the first shearings, and gave them to the priests, the sons of Aaron, who served at the altar. 7 Of all my produce I gave a tithe to the sons of Levi who ministered in Jerusalem. And the second tithe I sold, and in Jerusalem. 8 And the third [tithe] I gave to those to whom it was due.
It should be noted, however, that the second tithe was an annual obligation. Given the seven-year cycle of when fields were to remain uncultivated (lay fallow) in the seventh year, the second tithe was given on the fourth year of a new cattle herd, and on the produce of new trees and vines. This tithe appears to have been given to the Levites, who in turn were to give a tithe of their tithe to the priests. However, it seems that in later Judaism, the definition for this use was broadened and the tithe was to be given or spent in Jerusalem. There was also a third tithe for charity and was paid in the third and sixth year of the sabbatical year (Deut. 14:28-29). Some scholars have debated the second and third tithe and have concluded it was the same tithe that was used for different purposes. So the obvious question is, if the Jews and early Christians observed the second and third tithe, why would there not have been a first tithe?
Some scholars believe that tithing was also apparently an “indirect” factor when establishing a new synagogue. It was the common practice that a group of ten men could begin their own synagogue. But why were ten men needed? It has been suggested that it was because when ten men gathered their tithes, they could afford to employ a scribe who was qualified to teach the Scriptures. Since scribes were generally Pharisees, the Pharisees in effect, controlled or influenced all the synagogues in the country. In fact, after a boy had his bar mitzvah at the age of 13 years and one day of age, he could be one of those men, although his income was rather meager. This clearly suggests that tithing was a commonly accepted practice. However, some scholars believe that in Galilee, women were permitted to be part of the ten members needed to establish a new synagogue, and they seldom were income earners.
Unfortunately, certain wealthy priests were determined to obtain whatever tithes were due to them. Josephus said they even sent out armed servants to the threshing floors in order to take the priestly tithes by force; these ungodly violent acts were recorded later in the Babylonian Talmud. As a result, some lower-ranked priests had their tithes stolen and died of starvation because the “big men of the priesthood” took their wheat. This was especially true in the year A.D. 45 when Claudius reigned, and a severe famine caused the price of grain to skyrocket. The Pharisaic leaders and teachers in local synagogues suffered as much from their aristocratic leaders as did everyone else. The difference between giving a tithe because it is a divine principle, and the tithing demanded by wicked religious leaders, could not have been more profound.
Closing thoughts are as follows: Tithing was never questioned in the New Testament Period, it was simply a continuation of a well-established doctrine. According to Jesus, love would ask, “How much can I give?” But legalism will ask, “How little can I give?” This can be further demonstrated in what a pastor once said, “We make a living by what we get, but make a life by what we give.” Tithing is, in reality, given to the Lord.
The phrase, “Don’t sound a trumpet,” is an interesting double play on words. According to the Mishnah, almsgiving was supposed to be a strictly private affair, so much so that these monies were to be placed into the Chamber of Secrets or in the Chamber of Utensils, both of which were in the temple. As stated previously, the Pharisees who paraded their almsgiving were violating their own rules of righteousness. There are two considerations concerning this verse:
Herein is a classic example of Jewish expression and how it differs from modern onoes. The phrase “Court of the Women” was not for women only, as it would be assumed in modern Western thinking. Rather, any Jewish person could enter this court, but it was the limit as to how far women could go, in that they were not permitted to get closer to the sacred temple. Likewise, the Court of the Gentiles was open to everyone, but it was the limit of how far Gentiles could go within the temple.
Jesus equated the method of giving alms by the leading Pharisees with the actors of a Greek theater, since the sound of trumpets was not permitted in the synagogues when alms were given.
As stated previously in Matthew 6, Jesus spoke of the three pillars of faith:
In the Mishnah Avot, Rabbi Simon ha Sadeek (Simon the Righteous), also spoke of three pillars of faith. These were
Notice the similarities. Temple service was not only physical work around the facility, but also worship. Jesus refocused these and then added that alms are to be given in secret. Furthermore, He stated that meaningless repetition was not a part of worship.
. St. Cyprian (200-258) was the bishop of Carthage and wrote (De Unitate Ecclesias 23) the need to tithe because it was an unchanging divine principle that predates Moses (Gen. 14:20).
. See additional rules on tithing in the Mishnah, Ma’aserot 1.1 and Moed Shabbath 4.7.
. Josephus spoke of corrupt priests who stole the tithes from other priests in Antiquities, 20.9.2, found herein in, “A den of robbers,” 13.02.02. He also mentioned it in Antiquities 20.8.8 as found herein in “The chief priests” in 15.02.09. See additional rules on tithing in the Mishnah, Ma’aserot 1.1 and Moed Shabbath 4.7. The point is that tithing was a well-established practice.
. Mishnah, Maaseroth; For tithing reasons, see Mishnah, Maaseroth 1.5.
. Jubilees 32:8-14.
. Mishnah, Maaser Sheni. 4.3-4.
. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 134. Not all Jewish writings indicate that the second tithe was on cattle herds, but mention crops and produce only.
. Mishnah, Maaser Shemi 4.4-5.
. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 58, 102-03, 131, 134-35.
. Deut. 14:26; Mishnah, Maaser Sheni 2.1; Josephus, Antiquities, 4.8.8 (205); Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 102.
. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 131.
. See also the book of Jubilees 32:8-14, which is dated to the early second century B.C.
. Mishnah, Maaser Shemi 4.3-4; Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 134.
. Josephus, Antiquities 4.8.22; Feinberg, “Tithe.” 5:757.
. In fact, one Jewish source indicates that about this time Jerusalem had 460 synagogues and another sources stated 480 synagogues. The difference in number was probably due to the different decades when the synagogues were counted. Clearly, there were many synagogues in the Holy City.
. Bookman, When God Wore Sandals. CD Trac 6 & 7.
. Fruchtenbaum, The Jewish Foundation of the Life of Messiah: Instructor’s Manual. Class 6, page 8.
. This is a minority view among scholars, but it is well known that Galilee promoted education for girls and the rabbis were not as restrictive there as those in Jerusalem.
. Josephus, Antiquities 20.8.8 (181); 20.9.2 (206).
. Babylonian Talmud, Pesahim 57a.
. Another name for these priests was “men of violence.” See Josephus, Antiquities 20.8.8 (181); 20.9.2 (206); Babylonian Talmud, Pesahim 57a; Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 98, 106-07.
. Josephus, Antiquities 3.15.3. Some scholars believe the price of grain increased thirteen times.
. Golub, In the Days. 272-73.
. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 179-81, 190-97.
. Mishnah, Shekalim 5:6.
. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 137.
. Moseley, Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church. 28.
. Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 1:226.
. Freeman, The New Manners and Customs of the Bible. 412-13.
08.03.04 Mt. 6:5-15
THE PRINCIPLE OF A MODEL PRAYER
5 “Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! 6 But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7 When you pray, don’t babble like the idolaters, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words.
8 Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him.
9 “Therefore, you should pray like this:
Our Father in heaven,
Your name be honored as holy.
10 Your kingdom come,
Your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And do not bring us into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
[For Yours is the kingdom and the power
and the glory forever. .]
14 “For if you forgive people their wrongdoing,
your heavenly Father will forgive you as well.
15 But if you don’t forgive people,
your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.
The elements of this model prayer tell as much about us as about God. It is commonly called the “Lord’s Prayer,” but in reality, it is the Disciple’s Prayer. Virtually every element of this prayer has a connection with Jewish prayer tradition. For example, Matthew 6:13 is echoed in Benediction 6 and verse 11 is echoed in Benediction 9 of the Eighteen Benedictions. Matthew 6:9-13 has echoes from Proverbs 30:7-9. Yet amazingly, Jesus omitted the weekly requirements of scheduled fasts and ritual prayers that were so important to the Pharisees, especially those of the School of Shammai.
The Lord’s Prayer has been used to establish the pattern for prayer throughout church history. There are two forms of it (Mt. 6:9-13; Lk. 11:2-4) and the early church fathers had a third version of it in chapter 8 of the Didache. All three versions are simple, to the point, and are reflective of the prayers found in the rich Jewish traditions. Jesus desired to have His disciples continue the important points of the Jewish faith, while eliminating the dead traditional elements. Scholars believe the model prayer was composed entirely of selections of various liturgical prayers already in use in daily life. This is opposite to the spontaneous prayers often believed today to be the only ones heard by God.
For centuries it was the custom to pray three times a day, just as observant Muslims today face Mecca and pray five times a day. David prayed three times a day (Ps. 55:17) and Daniel, while in Babylon did likewise, facing Jerusalem (Dan. 6:10). Prayer was always a dedicated feature of Orthodox Judaism. The model prayer was prayed three times every day by the first Jewish believers when the temple trumpets blew signaling the formal times of prayer. These were as follows:
The custom of organized prayers at set times has led some modern students to conclude that private prayers were minimal, but that was hardly the case. In Judaism, there was an emphasis on daily private and family prayers. The disciples certainly knew how to pray privately because during childhood, they learned to pray for the daily needs of life as well as the liturgical prayers for the synagogue. They asked Jesus this question because they saw the dynamic results of prayer in His life and desired the same results. There are a number of points that Jesus taught them.
On an important side note, when the Apostle Paul directed his followers to pray “without ceasing,” “continually,” or “always,” he did not mean uninterrupted prayer, but to observe the regular hours of prayer as had been the Jewish custom. The early church recited the Shema morning and evening along with their morning and evening prayer – that was our Lord’s Prayer along with anything else that concerned them. At noon they prayed again but did not necessarily recite the Shema. This was not a legalistic issue, but one that righteous Jewish believers wanted to do. In addition to the Lord’s Prayer, they prayed for whatever else concerned them.
“You must not be like the hypocrites.” Jesus reflected upon the Greek theater where plays were popular. The Greek word hypokrites (5695) meaning actor identifies the person who is not his real self, but portrays himself differently for the approval of the audience. The subject is discussed elsewhere, but the key point is that Jesus wants His followers to pray with honesty and sincerity, so prayers can be answered. Jerusalem had a theater, much to the chagrin of orthodox religious leaders and, therefore, everyone understood the role actors played. The leading Pharisees and the entire class of Sadducees played an important part of the ministry environment of Jesus, and He hated their hypocritical attitudes. He called them “hypocrites” nearly two dozen times, primarily for the following several reasons:
The result is that eventually the hypocrite is a man of divine condemnation (Mt. 24:51). In the New Testament there is no sin more strongly condemned than hypocrisy, and likewise in secular culture. The religious leaders loved to pray in public where everyone could admire their fine speech and sense of holiness. Note that Jesus participated in public prayers which was a common practice in the synagogues and has continued in the church.
“When you pray, go into your private room.” Jesus emphasized private prayer to develop a private relationship with God. The Greek word for “private room” is tameion, which means a room. Jesus simply indicated that when you pray you should be in a secluded area. It was commonly believed that when a man prayed, he went to a private area, wrapped his prayer shawl around his head, thereby shutting out the world and prayed. During His ministry, Jesus would at times retreat to a private area on a mountain where He could be away from the crowds to pray.
This tradition is centuries old, when the Jews, then known as the Children of Israel, wandered in the desert, they had a large tabernacle that functioned as their temple. Since not all the men could enter the tabernacle tent to pray, each man covered his head with a prayer shawl, creating his own private “tabernacle,” in which he could pray to God. Therefore, when Jesus said one should go to his “room” to pray, the cultural context means he covered his head with his prayer shawl and privately conversed with God. Some translations use the term “closet” even though closets did not exist at this time.
When people pray, just as in worship, they are to pray in spirit and in truth. God, who sees people as they really are, desires to have them come to Him in prayer so He can transform them into His image. He never intended to tell His disciples what to pray, but how to pray. To teach them how to pray, He reflected upon some prayers with which they were already familiar.
“Don’t babble like the idolaters.” The following examples most probably refer to this phrase:
It should be noted that at this time, silent prayers did not exist, neither did silent reading as both skills were not developed for another three or four centuries. So wherever there was a prayer group, it was literally a joyful noise unto our Lord.
“Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy. Your kingdom come.” There is little question that it was astounding when Jesus used the Aramaic word Abba for Father, just as He probably used imma for momma or mamma. It was commonly used in reference to one’s earthly father and one’s local rabbi, which is why it is translated as Daddy, although abi is the best translation for father. It goes beyond formalities and adds a personal and affectionate element to one’s prayer life. Yet those first four words are a balance of love and power. Only a few decades later during the time of the apostles, Rabbi Jonathan ben Zakkai, the last disciple of the famous Rabbi Hillel who taught between the years A.D. 50 – 80, used this phrase.
However, to address God in heaven in this manner was a new concept. A standard introduction to a Jewish prayer always began with, “Our Father in heaven.” This was to recognize their personal worshipful relationship to a holy God. This phrase was reflective of another prayer known as the Kaddish, which began, “Magnified and hallowed be His great name in the world …. And may He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and in your days … quickly and soon.” The phrase, “Your kingdom come.” is not a command, but rather, it has the connotation of “may it be” or “let it be.” The same Hebrew expression, found in 1 Chronicles 28:4-5 is relative to the Davidic Kingdom when ruled by his son Solomon and the phrase is translated “to cause to reign.”
“Your name be honored as holy.” In the Old Testament there are two ways that God’s name is sanctified.
Finally, the phrase, “Hallowed be your name,” (KJV) is a poetic parallel to “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth,” because God’s name will be hallowed when His will is done. The key Greek word is hagiazo (37), which means to make holy. Another translation is, “May you sanctify your name by the way I obey your will and in the way I submit myself to your kingdom and commandments.”
The location of the phrase indicates the “kingdom” is marked by acknowledging and referencing the holiness of God with doing His will and service. The clause that follows points to the perfection which believers are to attain, that being to do the perfect will of God as He would have it done in heaven. This has at times been construed to mean that anything other than the “perfect will” is sin. But that is hardly the case, as the grace of God works with people to do His will. It was never intended to be a paralyzing command. This kingdom is within the believer and reflects the attitude we are to have that honors God and our desire to be in complete obedience to him.
“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Our submission to Him is our confession. Near the end of the first century, Rabbi Eliezer was noted for reciting a prayer that stated, “Do your will in heaven above and give peace to those who fear you below.” There was also a common belief that when Israel did the will of God, His name would be sanctified before the nations. Conversely, if Israel did not do the will of God, His Name would be profaned among the Gentile nations.
Notice that Jesus did not tell His disciples to pray, “If it be your will.” Rather, He taught them to think and pray biblically and to apply the Scripture to their lives (obedience). He knew that whatever was to be done on earth was first accomplished in heaven. The prime example of this occurred when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane and death was only a few hours away. It was then He prayed that His incredible sacrifice would be accomplished as was foreordained in heaven (Lk. 22:42).
“Give us today our daily bread.” Our petition is to God, and our faith is in God, who provides for all of our needs. This statement is an echo of the mealtime prayer as follows:
Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who feeds the whole world with your goodness . . . you give food to all mankind. Through your goodness, food has never failed us: O may it never fail us forever and forever.
Jewish Mealtime Prayer
The term bread refers to the following:
To pray the Disciple’s Prayer is to invoke all three meanings into one’s prayer life.
“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” The key idea clearly is about forgiveness. Through Jesus we are forgiven (Gk. aphiesthai 918), from whatever sin separates us from God. The term has a wide variety of meanings, including an undeserved release of obligation, punishment, and other penalties that could be required. It is by His love, grace, and mercy that we are forgiven if we are repentant.
Our confession and His grace are sufficient to forgive us, as we are obedient and compassionate to forgive others. Another way of saying this is “forgive us of our sins (Gk. for debts is opheilema 3783) in proportion that we forgive the sins of others.” This portion of the Lord’s Prayer is reflective of the sixth benediction of the Eighteen Benedictions, or Shemoneh ‘esreh, that Jews commonly prayed. It stated, “Forgive us, our Father, for we have sinned against you; blot out our transgressions from before your eyes. Blessed are you, O Lord.”  The phrase, “forgive our debtors” is an echo of a common teaching as found in Ben Sirach.
“Forgive the wrong of your neighbor, and then your sins will be forgiven when you pray.”
Ben Sirach 28:2
Matthew used the Hebrew word debts while Luke, writing in Greek, used the word sins. The difference is insignificant. The English words sins and debts are both translated from the Aramaic word hoba. Therefore when Jesus, who spoke He referred to sinners as well as to debtors. It should be remembered that each gospel writer wrote to a different audience. The Jews understood that the word debts had a spiritual significance, which needed divine intervention in the form of forgiveness. The Greeks, to whom Luke was writing, would not have understood debts in that context, but they did understand the meaning of sins.
About the year 170 B.C., the Jews, who were under the cruel dictatorship of Antiochus IV Epiphanes suffered severe persecution with possible extermination. It was a time when faithful Jews hated their brothers (Jewish anti-Semitism) who renounced their faith in order to escape persecution and death. God intervened in a miraculous manner through the Maccabean Revolt. But in the midst of their suffering there was a righteous Jewish slave who wrote a magnificent passage on forgiveness. A portion of his words is as follows:
He that takes vengeance will suffer vengeance from the Lord,
and he will firmly establish his sins.
Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done,
and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray.
Does a man harbor anger against another,
and yet seek for healing from the Lord?
Does he have no mercy toward a man like himself,
and yet pray for his own sins?
If he himself, being flesh, maintains wrath,
who will make expiation for his sins?
Remember the end of your life and cease from enmity,
remember destruction and death and be true to the commandments.
Remember the commandments,
and do not be angry with your neighbor;
Ben Sirach 28:1-6
The teaching similarities between the Ben Sirach and Jesus of Nazareth are at times profound. That is because both are based upon the same Old Testament Scriptures – but obviously Sirach lacks divine inspiration. St. Augustine made this insightful comment about the biblical phrase:
Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. What if God should answer, “Why do you ask me to do what I promised, when you refuse to do what I have commanded?”
Augustine, The Lord’s Prayer Explained
08.03.04.Q1 Why did Jesus pray, “do not bring us into temptation,” (Mt. 6:13) when James said that God doesn’t tempt us (Jas. 1:13-14)?
The phrase in question is found in the Lord’s Prayer, “And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” The difficulty is obvious: Why would a holy and loving God want to lead anyone into sin, especially when James 1:13-14 assures us that God will not tempt anyone with evil? This is another example of how a so-called “biblical difficulty” is the result of translation. The word temptation would better be translated as testing or challenging situations, when one decides to pass or fail the test or situation that he or she faces. Another interpretation is do not permit us to go. The English word tempt always suggests a seduction to commit evil, but this is wrong. The word does not mean surrender to evil, but it means a trial or test of any kind without a reference to moral quality. The support for this interpretation is that the Greek word peirazein is better translated as test. The testings of life are not intended to make anyone fall, but to strengthen them. An example is where God tested or tempted Abraham (Gen 22:1). The ultimate choice is ours and the prayer is to ask God to intervene on our behalf when we make decisions.
Clearly, God desires our dependence to be totally on Him. The phrase Jesus used was borrowed from liturgical morning and evening prayers that said “Cause me not to go into the hands of sin, and not into the hands of the transgression, and not into the hands of temptation, and not into the hands of dishonor.” A parallel passage in the Babylonian Talmud reads as follows,
Bring me not into sin, or into iniquity, or into temptation, or into contempt.
Babylonian Talmud, Berakoth 60b
To surrender to the temptation and commit sin is to succumb to the pressure of the test or trial. In the prayer we are to ask God to keep us strong and keep us from failing. Luke did not record the first phrase; Matthew gave us the second phrase, which is a restatement of the first, for God to deliver us from the evil one or to deliver us from what is evil. The fact that the concept is stated twice is a Hebrew method of declaring its importance. The same theme is found repeated in Matthew 26:41 and parallels, where one is to watch and pray to our heavenly Father that one does not fall under the pressure and trials of life.
An old Jewish prayer said, “Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread” (cf. Prov. 30:8). The Hebraic word for bread (lehem) could also be translated “food,” and, in the cultural context, it means “all of man’s provisions.” Jesus usually taught in Aramaic while the gospels were eventually written in Hebrew and Greek. Modern students may discover that the Hebrew idioms, which present a richer and deeper meaning, are at times missing from the Greek translations. This is a classic example of the importance of understanding the Jewish roots of Christianity. In this case, when Jesus spoke of “bread,” He had reference to all the necessities of life.
The teachings of Jesus point to the desire of God to have people live in holiness. This principle is taught throughout the Old Testament Scriptures and was demonstrated by Jesus. By the power of the Holy Spirit, believers are able to obey the Word of God and not have sin dominate their lives. This has become known as the doctrine of sanctification. In fact, the phrase “kingdom of God,” means that God rules in one’s life. The daily sins that one commits are removed by the blood of Jesus. That accomplishes holiness.
08.03.04.Q2 Is the Lord’s Prayer of Matthew 6:9-13 the same as in Luke 11:2-4?
These two prayers are similar, yet different. He wanted His followers to pray issues of the heart rather than memorized liturgical prayers that can easily become rote and meaningless. It must be remembered that Jesus taught His principles in many different settings. Although His words may be slightly different from one location to another, the message was always the same. Clearly Matthew and Luke quoted the same teaching in two different settings, so the quotations may not be identical. (See also 08.03.04.Q4 “Ipsissima Verba” and “Ipsissima Vox” below.) Note the following:
Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV 1984) Luke 11:2-4 (NIV 1984)
He said to them,
This, then, is how you should pray. “When you pray, say:
Our Father in heaven, Father,
Hallowed be your name. Hallowed be your name
Your kingdom come. Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread. Give us each day our daily bread
And forgive us our debts And forgive us our sins
As we also have forgiven our debtors. for we also forgive anyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation And lead us not into temptation.
But deliver us from the evil one.
Another example of quotations not being identical is found in the following:
Mt. 16:16 “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”
Mk. 8:29 “You are the Messiah!”
Lk. 9:20 “God’s Messiah!”
Unfortunately, while Jesus did not want this prayer to become liturgical, that is precisely what happened and has continued for centuries. The model prayer was immediately adopted by His faithful followers. It became a part of the messianic Jewish synagogue liturgy and, by the end of the first century it was incorporated in chapter 8 of the Didache, a/k/a The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. This instructional book was written to meet the needs of the early growing church. Scholars believe that Jewish liturgy was modified and used in the first Jewish churches, especially since the first churches were Jewish in nature and they were reflective of the Jewish traditions.
Some scholars have suggest that since Luke wrote to a Gentile audience, he probably omitted the expression “who is in heaven” because the Gentiles believed the god Zeus Olympus resided in heaven. No gospel writer wanted to confuse the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with Zeus Olympus or any other pagan deity. Modern students are seldom aware of the strong influences of Greek religions upon the Jewish culture. The disciples never attacked other religions, but simply demonstrated that faith in Jesus was superior to other gods.
08.03.04.Q3 How can the Kingdom of God be a future event if it has already arrived?
Some passages state that the Kingdom of God is near or present, while others state the kingdom will be a future event. The two seeming contradictions are explained in that the Kingdom is near or present in part, but will be fulfilled at a future time. Consider these thoughts:
Therefore, the Kingdom of God is present in those who have committed themselves to Him, and yet it is coming in a future time as a political entity. For additional details, see 06.01.08.Q2 “Is there a difference within the phrases Kingdom of God/Heaven?” Both John the Baptist and Jesus preached repentance, but Jesus added the good news of the arrival of the Kingdom of God.
The unique feature of the Kingdom of God/Heaven is that it is built upon the Old Testament. There are no less than 295 Old Testament quotations found in the New Testament, as well as a number of general references.
A Lesson in First Century Hermeneutics:
08.03.04.X The Mystery of “Ipsissima Verba and Ipsissima Vox.”
Understanding these terms and their use in biblical times will bring considerable clarification for passages that do not seem to be in perfect agreement. The explanation begins with the following question:
08.03.04.Q4 What is the significance of verbal statements, “ipsissima verba” and “ipsissima vox?”
It is the opinion of this writer that the importance of these two phrases have grossly been understated, and unfortunately, sometimes not at all. Knowing how people communicated clarifies many so-called biblical difficulties. In ancient times there were two ways of reporting what was said, and both were deemed accurate. Note the emphasis on “accurately repeating.”
Ancient writers had no difficulty in considering these two kinds of verbal expressions as identical. The gospel writers were not necessarily interested in recording the exact words of Christ, but they always recorded His exact voice. This view or understanding of the gospel writers is consistent with the Greek historian Thucydides, who made the following comments about repeating the exact substance of speeches:
It was difficult for me to remember the exact substance of the speeches I myself heard and for others to remember those they heard elsewhere and told me of … I have given the speeches in the manner in which it seemed to me that each of the speakers would best express what was needed to be said about the ever-prevailing situation, but I have kept as close as possible to the total opinion expressed by the actual words.
Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, 1.22.1
It is evident from ancient Greek writers that it was permissible to record the primary theme or exact voice (vox) faithfully, rather than obtain an exact quotation or exact words (verba). Scholars agree that the accuracy of the gospel message does not demand verbal precision. An example of Jewish writers conveying ideas without exact wording was discovered in a Dead Sea Scroll fragment 4Q521, which is explained in this author’s commentary on Luke 7:18-23. Finally, righteous Jews of the time, who apparently were lower level Pharisees, had a prayer similar to what Jesus had suggested as a model prayer. Note the similarity:
May your will be done in heaven above,
and grant peace and contentment to those who fear You,
and do whatever seems best to You.
Mishnah, Berakoth 3:7
May it be Your will, O Lord my God,
to make me familiar with your Law,
and cause me to adhere to your commandments.
Do not lead me into sin,
nor into iniquity,
nor into temptation,
nor into dishonor.
Compel my impulses to serve You,
and keep me far from an evil man or evil temptations.
Give me good desires and good companions in this life.
And let me this day and every day find grace,
favor and mercy in Your eyes
and in all the eyes who see me,
and grant me Your best blessings.
Blessed are You, O Lord, who grants Your best blessings to Your people, Israel.
Babylonian Talmud, Berakoth 60b
Another example of the exact voice (vox) and the exact words (verba) is the Roman titulus, the sign on the cross that identified Jesus, where each of the four gospel writers wrote the same theme but used different wording.
Video Insert >
08.03.04.V The Significance of Ipsissima Verba and Ipsissima Vox. Dr. Joe Wehrer discusses the significance of “ipsissima verba” and “ipsissima vox” to biblical interpretation.
Finally, the important significance of this comparison is that Jesus was not teaching a radical new theology. The Jews had already heard the essence of His teachings. He was simply bringing to them the “fullness,” as promised in their Hebrew Bible and applied to His message of the Kingdom of God and salvation.
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. It is interesting that dancing is the only kind of expression of praise and prayer that is not in the New Testament. In the Hebrew Bible there are eleven Hebrew verb roots related to dancing. For example, the verb hul, means to whirl, to dance, or to writhe, is found in Psalm 87:7. The fact, that there are so many expressions has led some scholars to conclude that the Israelites may have developed an advanced stage of choreography. Pilch, The Cultural Dictionary of the Bible. 124-25.
. For a collection of Jewish traditions connected with the Lord’s Prayer, see Georg Strecker, The Sermon on the Mount: An Exegetical Commentary. Trans O.C. Dean, Jr. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1988) 108-09.
. The Eighteen Benedictions were prayers that were prayed three times every day. See Appendix 18 “Eighteen Benedictions.” See also Byargeon, “Echoes of Wisdom in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9-13).” 353-66.
. See 02.02.08 for additional information on the Didache.
. Didache, 8.3.
. De Vries, “Hour.” 2:657.
. See discussion on “Evening” in Appendix 16.
. Garr, Restoring Our Lost Legacy. 137-38.
. See discussion on “evening” in Appendix 16; Vine, “Even, Evening, Eventide.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:108.
. Jeremias, The Prayers of Jesus. 72-73.
. Herbert, “Hypocrite.” 109-10.
. See the discussion on hypocrites / hypocrisy in 08.03.04 (Mt. :5-15) and in “Pharisees” in 02.01.14.
. Hindrances to answered prayers are lack of honesty and sincerity (above), unconfessed sin (Ps. 66:18); carnal motives (Jas. 4:3); unbelief (Jas. 1:5-6); satanic activities (Dan. 10:10-13); domestic problems (1 Pet. 3:7); pride (Lk. 18:10-14); robbing God – failure to pay tithes (Mal. 3:8-10); disobedience (Prov. 1:24-28; 28:9; Zech. 7:11-14).
. The location of the theater in Jerusalem has not been found as of this writing, but several seat tokens have been uncovered by archaeologists.
. Adapted from Barclay, A New Testament Wordbook. 56-59.
. Gal. 2:13; 1 Tim. 4:2; 1 Pet. 2:1.
. Barclay, A New Testament Wordbook. 56-57.
. Mt. 18:19-20; Acts 1:24; 3:1; 4:24-30.
. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 86-87.
. Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 140.
. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 87.
. Smith, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew. 110.
. Strong’s No. 5; While the term abba has often been defined as a child’s expression of daddy, language scholar James Barr has suggested that abba was a solemn adult address to father; See Pilch, The Cultural Dictionary of the Bible. 2; Mould, Essentials of Bible History. 530; Vine, “Abba.”Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:1.
. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 362-63.
. Jeremias, The Prayers of Jesus. 16; For an extensive study on the word Abba, see Joachim Jeremias, The Prayers of Jesus 11-65; Parry, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Talmud. 38-39.
. Freeman, The New Manners and Customs of the Bible. 414.
. Young, The Jewish Background. 11.
. Vine, “Hallow.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:300 and “Hades” 2:287.
. Freeman, The New Manners and Customs of the Bible. 414, quoting the Babylonian Talmud, Berakoth.
. Freeman, The New Manners and Customs of the Bible. 413-14.
. Cranefield, “Bread.” 37.
. Barclay, A New Testament Wordbook. 53-55.
. See 02.03.03 “Economy” for a brief description of the condition of the economy during the ministry years of Jesus.
. Opheiletes – “One who owes anything to another.” Vine, “Debtor.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:150.
. Barclay, “Matthew.” 1:192; See also Appendix 18, “The Eighteen Benedictions.”
. Freeman, The New Manners and Customs of the Bible. 415.
. The book is known by several variations of the name ben Sirach, such as as Ecclesiasticus, Jesus ben Sirach, or Sirach.
. Bailey, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes. 252.
. Taylor, “Debt, Debtor.” 61-62.
. Young, The Jewish Background. 30.
. See 03.04.17.
. Cited by Freeman, The New Manners and Customs of the Bible. 415; Ben Sirach and Tobit belong to a classification of extra-biblical books known as the Apocrypha. These two literary works reflect the opinions of many Jewish people. See 02.02.03 “Apocrypha” for more information. The reader is reminded that quotations from non-biblical sources are not to be understood as being of equal authority with the biblical narratives. See 01.02.04.
. The framework of a prayer in Jubilees 12:19-20, written in the second century B.C., is strikingly similar to the Lord’s Prayer.
. Thomas, The Golden Treasury of Patristic Quotations: From 50 – 750 A.D. 106.
. Carson, “Matthew” 8:172-73; Young, The Jewish Background. 31-32; See also Mishnah, Avot 5:3.
. Bailey, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes. 131.
. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:43-44.
. Barclay, “Matthew.” 1:224.
. Freeman, The New Manners and Customs of the Bible. 415.
. Young, The Jewish Background. 24.
. For additional references on the doctrine of sanctification, see Heb. 12:14; 1 Pet. 1:14-16; 1 Thess. 5:23-24; 1 Jn. 2:6; Rom. 8:3.
. Martin, Worship in the Early Church. 35.
. Ajamian, “People, Land, and Faith – An Armenian-Orthodox Perspective.” 74.
. Young, The Jewish Background. 4.
. Mt. 3:2; 4:17; 12:34; Lk. 17:21. For further study, see John F. Walvoord. Matthew: Thy Kingdom Come. Chicago: Moody, 1974.
. Mt. 25:1; Jn. 18:36; Acts 1:6-7
. See Mt. 11:12; 12:28; 16:19; Lk. 11:20; 16:16; 17:21 as well as the parables of the Sower, the Tares, the Levean, and the Dragnet.
. See Dan. 7:27; Mt. 13:43; 19:28; 25:34; 26:29; Mk. 9:47; 2 Pet. 1:11; 1 Cor. 9:9; Rev. 20. See also Richardson, “Kingdom of God.” 119-21. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:310-11.
. Jeremias, The Prayers of Jesus. Appendix; Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages. vii.
. Charlesworth, Jesus within Judaism. 166; Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages. vii.
. Charlesworth, Jesus within Judaism. 166; Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages. vii.
. Hagner, “Jesus and the Synoptic Sabbath Controversies.” 270. A classic example are the descriptions of Jesus that were written on the titulus, which was then carried before Him as He was led to the crucifixion site. These descriptions are discussed later in this eBook.
. Barclay, Jesus. 243; Hagner, “Jesus and the Synoptic Sabbath Controversies.” 268.
. Cited in Bock and Herrick, Jesus in Context. 73-99. See expanded comments by Thucydides in sections 1.21-22.
. These scholars hold to the Reformed Doctrine of Biblical Inspiration on the concept of Ipsissima Vox: Stonehouse, Origins of the Synoptic Gospels. 109-10; Murray, Calvin on Scripture and Devine Sovereignty. 30; Hodge and Warfield, “Inspiration.” 238.
. See 08.05.04.
. See “An Illustration of a Roman Titulus” at 16.01.11.A. The titulus was a wooden placard carried by the condemned or by the lead soldier, on which was written the reason for the execution.
08.03.05 Mt. 6:16-18
THE PRINCIPLE OF FASTING
16 “Whenever you fast, don’t be sad-faced like the hypocrites. For they make their faces unattractive so their fasting is obvious to people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head, and wash your face, 18 so that you don’t show your fasting to people but to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Fasting originated as a single day event – the Day of Atonement – as written by Moses. These are a few of his words:
29 “This is to be a permanent statute for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month you are to practice self-denial and do no work, both the native and the foreigner who resides among you. 30 Atonement will be made for you on this day to cleanse you, and you will be clean from all your sins before the Lord. 31 It is a Sabbath of complete rest for you, and you must practice self-denial; it is a permanent statute.
Prior to the exile in Babylon, the Jews were required to fast only on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29-31; 23:27-32; Num. 29:7). However, during the exilic period, regular fasts were introduced (Zech. 7:3-5; 8:19). In both the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, fasting is associated with a specific purpose, such as the confession of sin although fasting was prescribed in the Torah for only one day in the year, the Day of Atonement.
“Whenever you fast.” Many Jews believed that fasting was a form of self-punishment that would ward off divine punishment. They did not realize or acknowledge that biblical fasting is the denial of food for a period of time during which the believer is in pursuit of a deeper relationship with God. This pursuit was to be in the privacy of one’s home or a secluded area.
Centuries earlier, during the days of Isaiah, God rebuked the Israelites, because they fasted without a changed life (Isa. 38:1-7; cf. Mt. 6:16-18). Somehow, the religious leaders missed the lesson and had a distorted view of it. In this passage, Jesus applied the imagery of the theater to the actions of the Pharisees who were anything but private with their fasting. The Pharisees did not literally paint their faces when fasting, but they gave the appearance they were suffering and in severe discomfort. As they walked throughout the city in bare feet, un-bathed, and with ashes sprinkled on their heads; their procession was similar to actors of the Greek theater who painted and disfigured their faces to portray the characters they played. The Pharisees prided themselves on fasting twice a week (Lk. 18:12) – on Mondays and Thursdays, when the markets were open and everyone could see them. Jesus opposed this and desired prayer and worship to be in spirit and truth and, therefore, in secret rather than in any form of public display.
“Put oil on your head, and wash your face.” Jesus said the tradition of ashes, appearance of sorrow and discomfort should be set aside and a mood of joy should accompany the one fasting. The placement of oil on the head and the face washing were social indicators of joyful events. Finally, ever since Moses wrote his passage in Leviticus, fasting had been instituted for several reasons as follows.
The fast is a physical expression of a heart-felt sorrow. A true fast must be done with an honest and pure heart. Note the words of an Inter-Testamental writer.
The man who fasts to get rid of his sins, and goes again and does the same thing – who will listen to his prayer, and what profit is there in his humbling himself?
Ben Sirach 31:30
. Neh. 9:1-2; Ps. 35:13; Isa. 58:3, 5; Dan. 9:2-20; 10:2-3; Jon. 3:5; Acts 9:9.
. Lev. 16:29; 23:27; Num. 29:7.
. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 176.
. Ex. 34:28; 1 Sam. 7:6; 1 Kg. 19:8.
. Earle, “Luke” 2:79; Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:405; Mishnah, Taanith 1:4-7; See also Didache 8:1.
. New International Version Study Bible footnote on Mt. 6:17.
. As is shown elsewhere in this study, the leading Pharisees fasted on Mondays and Thursdays which were the market days in Jerusalem. This permitted everyone to see that they were fasting, which was little more than a public display of self-righteousness that Jesus condemned.
. Examples are found in these extra-biblical books: Reuben in The Testament of Reuben 1:10; Simeon in The Testimony of Simeon 3:4; and Judah in The Testament of Judah 15:4. These are found in a larger literary work known as The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. See Appendix 22 for further information.
. Jer. 14:12; Neh. 1:4; Acts 13:3; 14:23.