Another way in which Jesus and the authors of the Bible tended to be more imprecise than we are used to concerns exceptions to things. This actually overlaps with the issue of hyperbole.
First century Jews often didn’t mention that there would be exceptions to something, even when there might be many exceptions. Here are a couple of New Testament examples:
In Matthew 5:42 Jesus teaches:
‘Give to the person who asks you, and do not turn away from the person who wants to borrow from you.’
There are in fact obviously many situations when we shouldn’t give to someone who asks us for something or wants to borrow from us. For example, if someone asks us for money to buy illegal drugs, we should certainly not oblige!
Jesus, in line with ancient Jewish cultural habits, sees no need to mention the fact that there will be many exceptions to the principle that He is outlining. We wouldn’t speak like this in our culture. We would express the same concept differently.
Luke 16:15 is another example. Here Jesus states:
‘That which is highly valued by people is detestable in God’s sight.’
Actually, we can think of many things that would have been highly valued by people in Jesus’ day but which wouldn’t have been detestable to God. For instance, helping someone who has been hurt in an accident is just one of a multitude of examples that could be given.
Again, in line with His Jewish culture, Jesus takes it for granted that there will be numerous exceptions to the principle He is outlining, although He doesn’t refer to these exceptions. We wouldn’t speak like this in the modern West. We would probably express the same concept by saying, ‘Much that is highly valued by people is detestable in God’s sight.’
Failing to recognise unexpressed exceptions
Sometimes, failing to recognise unexpressed exceptions to things causes difficulties for modern Western Bible readers.
For example, in Mark 10:2-12 Jesus teaches that whoever divorces his wife and ‘marries’ another woman is in fact committing adultery. That might seem to conflict with Matthew 5:32; 19:9, which allows for divorce and remarriage in the case of sexual immorality.
However, once we understand that first century Jews often allowed for unexpressed exceptions to a principle, the difficulty disappears. Mark provides a general principle whose exceptions have been left unexpressed. Matthew then goes into a bit more detail, specifying exceptions to the principle in Mark. There is no need at all to see a conflict between these passages.
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