Matthew 6:5 is the fifth verse of the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament and is part of the Sermon on the Mount. This verse opens the discussion on the proper procedure for praying.
- And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites
- are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and
- in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men.
- Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
The World English Bible translates the passage as:
- “When you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, for
- they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the
- corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Most
- certainly, I tell you, they have received their reward.
For a collection of other versions see BibRef Matthew 6:5
The previous verses have been discussing alms-giving, and Jesus argued that such giving should be in secret, and not be to pursue praise from others. This verse extends this argument to prayer, another of the cornerstones of Jewish piety. In that era there were public prayers at the temple, and private prayers to be said on one's own. There were also regularly scheduled times for prayer. Schweizer notes that when it was time to pray, one was instructed to seek out an inconspicuous corner, and prayers not at public events were to be quietly mumbled. As mentioned in this verse, standing was the standard position for prayer.
In this verse Jesus condemns as hypocrites those who make an ostentatious display of praying. As with Matthew 6:2 this verse states that for those who pray to be seen by others, their only reward will be the adulation of their peers. Similarly, Luke 18:9-14 condemns a Pharisee who seeks out the most prominent location in the Temple to pray. However, theologian M. Eugene Boring notes that Jewish writings from that time are equally condemning of exhibitionist prayer, so these verses should not imply that it was a mainstream practice. William Hendriksen notes that while in Matthew 6:2 the word used for street can also be read as alley, this verse is clear in stating that the prayer is taking place at the corner of the major thoroughfares.
This verse is not a total rejection of communal worship. Such behaviour is praised at Matthew 15:36 and elsewhere in the New Testament. What is being attacked is ostentatious prayer meant to impress others. Those who pray to be "seen by men" rather than to pray to God.
In this commandment to his followers, Jesus condemned the practice of public prayer, explicitly saying NOT to do it as the Pharisees (the leaders who led the public prayer) did. As with many things that Jesus said, he wanted to overturn tradition, and recommended praying in private instead. 5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
In this, Jesus was anticipating the way that many Christians act today.
- Schweizer, Eduard. The Good News According to Matthew. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1975
- Boring, Eugene "Gospel of Matthew." The New Interpreter's Bible, volume 8 Abingdon, 1995 pg. 201
- Hendriksen, William. The Gospel of Matthew. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1976
- France, R.T. The Gospel According to Matthew: an Introduction and Commentary. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1985.
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