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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:
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. These include the Babylonian text the Counsels of Wisdom, which says "Do not return evil to the man who disputes with you; requite with kindness your evil-doer... smile on your adversary." Nolland also cites the Egyptian Instruction of Amenemope, which says
Row that we may ferry the evil man away,
For we will not act according to his evil nature;
Lift him up, give him your hand,
And leave him [in] the hands of god;
Fill his gut with your own food
That he may be sated and ashamed.
Similarly, the Book of Proverbs says:
If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat;
and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink.
Nolland claims that we should see parallels in in Greek and Roman writers such as Cicero, Seneca, and the Cynics. This Greek stoics also discouraged their followers from retaliating, but were concerned primarily with maintaining their tranquility, rather than seeking the benefit of the enemy, as Jesus commands.
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 had recently faced considerable persecution under Nero. The entire Jewish community at both Jesus and Matthew's time was subject to persecution by the Romans. (see History of the Jews in the Roman Empire, Persecution of Christians in the New Testament, and Anti-Christian policies in the Roman Empire)
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.
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.
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.
Activists and Social Theorists
Nietzsche argued that love of one's enemies is weakness and dishonesty. Gene Sharp believes that it is not necessary for activists to express love for their opponents or to convert these opponents to their perspective in order for activists to achieve their desired policy changes. Instead, Sharp follows James Farmer in emphasizing that through nonviolent tactics, those in power can be forced by public pressure to concede to popular demands.
Notes and references
- For a collection of other versions see Bible Hub Matthew 5:44
- Matthew 5:44
- Matthew 5:44
- 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
- "The Instruction of Amenemope". Chapter 4. Retrieved 16 April 2017.
- Proverbs 25:21
- Piper, J. (2012). Love Your Enemies: Jesus' Love Command in the Synoptic Gospels and the Early Christian Paraenesis. Crossway. p. 54. ISBN 978-1-4335-3478-2. Retrieved 16 April 2017.
- Sim, D.C. (1998). The Gospel of Matthew and Christian Judaism: The History and Social Setting of the Matthean Community. Studies of the New Testament and Its World. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 236. ISBN 978-0-567-22085-1. Retrieved 16 April 2017.
- Sim, D.C.; Allen, P. (2012). Ancient Jewish and Christian Texts as Crisis Management Literature: Thematic Studies from the Centre for Early Christian Studies. The Library of New Testament Studies. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 74. ISBN 978-0-567-55397-3. Retrieved 16 April 2017.
- Barclay, William. The Gospel of Matthew: Volume 1 Chapters 1-10. Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1975.
- Souryal, S.S. (2014). Ethics in Criminal Justice: In Search of the Truth. Taylor & Francis. p. 165. ISBN 978-1-317-52264-5. Retrieved 16 April 2017.
- Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm; Tille, A.; Haussmann, W.A.; Gray, J. (1897) . A Genealogy of Morals. Macmillan. p. 50. Retrieved 16 April 2017.
- Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm (1921) . The Genealogy of Morals. Translated by Samuel, Horace B. Section I.14.
- Reno, R. R. (2008). "Confession as self-culture: Nietzche and the demands of faith". In Abraham, W.J.; Gavrilyuk, P.L.; Koskela, D.M.; Vickers, J.E. Immersed in the Life of God: The Healing Resources of the Christian Faith: Essays in Honor of William J. Abraham. Eerdmans Publishing Company. p. 148. ISBN 978-0-8028-6396-6. Retrieved 16 April 2017.
- Reno, R. R. (January 2008). "Nietzsche's Deeper Truth". First Things. Retrieved 16 April 2017.
- Brandes, Georg (2015). Friedrich Nietzsche (English Edition):. Translated by Chater, Arthur G. William Heinemann. ISBN 978-1-331-58841-2. Retrieved 16 April 2017.
- Engler, Mark (Fall 2013). "The Machiavelli of Nonviolence: Gene Sharp and the Battle Against Corporate Rule". Dissent Magazine. Retrieved 22 April 2017.
- Komito, David Ross. "Tibetan Buddhism and psychotherapy: A conversation with the Dalai Lama." The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology 15.1 (1983): 9.
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