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Matthew 5:44 is the 44th verse of the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament and is part of the Sermon on the Mount. This is the second verse of the final antithesis, that on the commandment to Love thy neighbour as thyself. Jesus has just stated that some had taught that one should "hate your enemies" and in this verse he rejects this view.
- But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
The World English Bible translates the passage as:
- But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you,
For a collection of other versions see BibRef Matthew 5:44
This is one of the most important verses in the entire New Testament, Luz states that the ideas expressed in this verse are "considered the Christian distinction and innovation." "Love thy enemies" is what separates Christianity from all earlier religions. Nolland disagrees with this, seeing a number of historical precedents. The Babylonian text the Counsels of Wisdom contains a similar call as does the Egyptian Instruction of Amenemope. In Greek and Roman philosophy the idea of loving one's enemies had been advanced by writers such as Cicero, Seneca, and the Cynics.
This verses matches well with a passage in the Old Testament, in which King Solomon says that one should feed one's enemy if he or she is hungry.
The author of Matthew places this verse in the final antithesis, a summary of all that been stated in the Sermon. Early church thinkers also saw this as one of Jesus' most important teachings. The exact wording does not appear in prior Jewish texts, but there are examples of previous thinkers sharing Jesus' sentiments. Other traditions do have similar views. The Greek stoics expressed similar dicta of universal love. It is theoretically possible that Jesus could have been influenced by these ideas, but unlikely. The eastern faiths of Buddhism and Taoism also share this outlook. Nietzsche rejected the command entirely, arguing that love of one's enemies is weakness and dishonesty. Mao Tse-Tung also wrote a commentary on this precept, arguing that universal love is an ultimate goal, but that it is impossible until the class system is removed.
The meaning of the word love is more restricted in Greek than in English. Barclay notes that Greek had four different words that are normally translated as love. The Greek words for love for a family member, stergein; sexual love, eros; and deep affection, philia; are not used in this verse. Rather the author of Matthew uses agapan, which Barclay translates as continued benevolence. This term occurs seven more times in Matthew, and 140 times in the NT.
Enemies is a broad term that applies to all manner of foes and adversaries. In this verse persecutors are specifically mentioned. At the time Matthew was writing the Christian community was subject to considerable persecution. The entire Jewish community at both Jesus and Matthew's time was subject to persecution by the Romans.
This verse causes some problems for those interested in war. In the Middle Ages this verse was interpreted as only applying to the personal sphere. One must not hate the individual who lives in an enemy nation, but hating the enemy country, faith, or ideology was acceptable. Others have rejected this view. Leo Tolstoy specifically read this verse as a rejection of militant nationalism.
Another interpretation was that by enemy, this verse meant heathens, not opponents, and what it was advocating was the love of converting the heathens to Christianity through missionary activity.
- Luz, Ulrich. Matthew 1-7: A Commentary. trans. Wilhem C. Linss. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortess, 1989.
- Nolland, John. The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary on the Greek text. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005 pg. 267
- Proverbs 25:21
- Barclay, William. The Gospel of Matthew: Volume 1 Chapters 1-10. Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1975.
|Gospel of Matthew