Matthew 6:1-4

6.1 Προσέχετε δὲ τὴν δικαιοσύνην ὑμῶν μὴ ποιεῖν ἔμπροσθεν τὼν ἀνθρώπων πρὸς τὸ θεαθῆναι αὐτοῖς· εἰ δὲ μή γε, μισθὸν οὐκ ἔχετε παρὰ τῷ πατρὶ ὑμῶν τῷ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς.

6.2 Ὅταν οὖν ποιῇς ἐλεημοσύνην, μὴ σαλπίσῃς ἔμπροσθέν σου, ὥσπερ οἱ ὑποκριταὶ ποιοῦσιν ἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς καὶ ἐν ταῖς ῥύμαις, ὅπως δοξασθῶσιν ὑπὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων· ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀπέχουσιν τὸν μισθὸν αὐτῶν. 6.3 σοῦ δὲ ποιοῦντος ἐλεημοσύνην μὴ γνώτω ἡ ἀριστερά σου τί ποιεῖ ἡ δεξιά σου, 6.4 ὅπως ᾖ σου ἡ ἐλεημοσύνη ἐν τῷ κρυπτῷ· καὶ ὁ πατήρ σου ὁ βλέπων ἐν τῷ κρυπτῷ ἀποδώσει σοι.

6.1 And be mindful not to perform your righteousness before men with the intent that it will be seen by them; otherwise, you do not have a reward with your Father in the heavens.

6.2 Therefore, when you do your charitable giving, don’t bring attention to yourself as the ‘pretenders’ do in the synagogues and on the streets, so that they may be glorified by men; truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6.3 As for your own charitable giving, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 6.4 so that your gift may be in secret; and your Father seeing in secret will repay you.

In 6:1, we start with the word προσέχετε. This word has at its core meaning the idea of “bringing near”, “bringing to”. By extension, it means to pay attention to, keep in one’s mind, and is often translated “heed”. It is in the present indicative active, indicating progressive action. It governs an infinitive of the verb for “to do, to perform”. We are to be careful of, to pay attention to, our motives. Good done to seek one’s own glory and praise is not a good in the Father’s eyes.

The clause with the prepositional phrase παρὰ with the dative of πατὴρ could be roughly translated, “Οtherwise, you do not have a reward at the house of/side of your Father in the heavens.” Jesus wants his followers to redirect their attention away from the fleeting praise of men to God’s more lasting reward.

Rather than a new topic, this is the topic Jesus began earlier in chapter 5. He is further explaining how the righteousness of his followers must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus criticizes these with subtlety, describing their showy efforts at receiving the praise of men. Unfortunate for them that God was not impressed.

There appear to be two variations to verse 6:1. The connective δὲ leading into the sentence may be a copyist’s edit. This would give no change of meaning, but gives slight change to flow. Without this connective, the change of topic is more abrupt.

The second variant appears to be the direct object of ποιεῖν. In my interlinear, the Greek reads δικαιοσύνην “righteousness”, where in some versions, the word ἐλεημοσύνην “alms, giving to the needy”, used also in verse 2, is found. In Nestle there is no footnote, and I see no note even in the NET Bible. I would not know there was a variant if I had not stumbled upon it looking up definitions at blueletterbible.com.

This difference also has no direct change to meaning, as the use of “righteousness” emphasizes how the “giving” spoken of in the next verse relates to Jesus’ accusation of the scribes and Pharisees. The use of “giving” or “alms” would feed right into the next verse, since this is the word used there, and would simply rely on the context of the passage to supply the association to the righteousness Jesus has been talking about.

In 6.2, the verse literally says not to “sound a trumpet before you,” which I have translated “Don’t draw attention to yourself.” For that is what the trumpet would do, cause everyone to look at the source of the noise. Which is exactly what this kind of giving is, noise. It is without substance. Giving that is not motivated by love, but rather by pride and the desire for praise, does not measure up to the righteousness God calls us to. In fact, this kind of giving is really a form of greed, the constant craving for the praises and adoration of men. Jesus is direct in his judgment. If the praise of men is what they crave (though they may not say it in those words), they have their reward. This nicely parallels back into his previous statement about the lack of reward for those who are not “mindful” about the motives behind their actions.

I chose to translate the word commonly translated “the hypocrites” as “pretenders” to bring out the intended meaning. I get the feeling “hypocrite” is often used as a catch-all word for people who are judgmental. Though this is often in context, the proper understanding of the word is of a person who says one thing and does another. Or better yet, to bring out the drama metaphor in the word, someone who is playing a part. They are not really acting in response to God’s love, but instead are acting in some way because it is expected of them, etc.

The unfortunate truth is that they are only fooling themselves! For the word used when Jesus says “They have their reward,” means to have received fully. They have their whole reward now, rather than having it in eternity with those whose reward is in the presence of Jesus, their savior.

6:3-4 round out Jesus message about how we should give. We should do it in such a way that, “our left hand does not know what our right hand is doing”. It is a secret to all but the Father. I do not see in this any requirement that giving should be without thought or careful planning. Our giving should be done in a way that is wise and yet requires sacrifice. But it should not be done in such a way that it generates attention. And we ourselves should not praise our own giving! We should never think proudly in our hearts, “Wow! What a great gift I just gave!” Maybe you did. But it was God who provided. It was God who filled your heart with compassion to give in the first place. It was God who has worked in your heart to make you one of his children. So the idea that we can pat ourselves on the back is also to be put out of our minds.

Jesus tells his followers that giving done with the right motives will be repaid by God in secret. Maybe that means money, maybe not. But God will make our giving worthwhile. Paul even tells us that when we give, God will provide us the means to give even more. No get-rich-quick scheme here. Simply, God will allow a righteous giver to abound in righteousness.

I do see have at least one question from that “in secret” statement. In the Greek, I am not clear whether the second “in secret” is bound to the participle, “one seeing,” referring to the Father – or to, “will repay.” In other words, is it, “your Father who sees in secret will repay,” or is it “Your Father who sees will repay in secret.” I may just not be understanding some way in which Greek is being more specific, or both may be intended based on the position, the vagueness allowing for both to be understood in context.

I almost just continued on from here, as the next paragraph forms a great parallel about prayer, which also is not to be done in a showy fashion. But, that would have made for a very long passage, and even longer blog entry, so I stopped here.

So more later, God willing.

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About George

I'm interested in theology, languages, translation and various sorts of fermentation.
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2 Responses to Matthew 6:1-4

  1. Pingback: Greek Polytonic Keyboard Travails « σφοδρα - exceedingly

  2. George says:

    I corrected the Greek in verse 4. I had written βλέπτων, rather than βλέπων. Had I failed even further, by replacing the ε with an α, I would have had to translate it as, “…your Father, the one that harms…”

    Hmm.

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