I have two items for my write-up today on Hans Dieter Betz’s The Sermon on the Mount:
1. On page 323, Betz is commenting on Matthew 5:48, in which Jesus exhorts his disciples to be perfect, as their Father in Heaven is perfect. Betz quotes Didache 6:2, which states: “For if you can bear the whole yoke of the Lord, you shall be perfect; but if you cannot, do what you can.” This reminds me somewhat of the claim that the Sermon on the Mount is for especially pious Christians, not the ordinary Christian. At the same time, Didache 6:2 is not telling ordinary Christians to forsake the Sermon on the Mount altogether, but rather to do what they can. And Betz cites passages in the New Testament in which perfection is a goal for all believers, even if they have not yet attained it (I Thessalonians 3:13; 5:23; I Corinthians 1:8; II Corinthians 11:12; James 1:4).
2. When Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount refers to the “Father in Heaven”, does he believe that God is the Father of believers only, or of everyone? Betz goes with the latter. On page 387, when discussing the Lord’s Prayer, Betz states: “The address of God as ‘Father’ names him as creator, sustainer, and protector of the entire creation, the universe. But the image of the father is more than a metaphor because it suggests that God has ‘fathered’ his creation, his progeny.” Betz refers to Philo’s epithet of God as the progenitor and Greek discussion about Zeus being the father and maker of all things. Another passage that Betz could have cited was Acts 17:28, in which Paul tells his Athenian audience that we are God’s offspring, within the context of talking about God creating all things. And Paul is talking here primarily to non-Christians.
But does not Jesus tell his disciples in Matthew 5:45 that they should love their enemies so that they might be children of their Father in Heaven, who sends rain on the just and the unjust alike? Doesn’t that imply that not everyone is God’s child and that only people who act like God are the ones who can claim him as their Father in Heaven? As far as I can see, Betz does not tackle this question head-on. He may believe that Matthew 5:45 is telling children of God (which is everyone) to act like God’s children by resembling their Father. But, in my opinion, that’s not literally what Matthew 5:45 is saying.