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Matthew 6 – Skeptic's Annotated Bible answered

A response and reply to the notes on Matthew 6 in the Skeptic's Annotated Bible (SAB).

King James Version

SAB comment

My comment

1 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.

(6:1-3) "Do not sound a trumpet"
Don't brag about the good things that you do.
Should we let others see our good works?
The author of the SAB paraphrases this text well. See chapter 5:16 on the supposed contradiction.

2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:

4 That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

5 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.

(6:5-6) "Enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray."
Jesus tells his disciples not to pray in public. Those who favor school prayer, National Day of Prayer, etc. should take his advice. But Paul (1 Tim.2:8) disagrees with Jesus, telling his followers to "pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands."
Should Christians pray in public?
What the Bible says about prayer
Jesus does not comment here on public prayer, but on a peculiar habit of the Pharisees who publicly prayed on the streets in order to be seen. The theme of these verses is that we should not do good in order to be seen and to be praised, but because these things are good in themselves.
As Jesus himself prayed in public, for example he said grace for a public meal (Matthew 15:36) and he prayed on the cross (Luke 23:46), the author of the SAB has missed the point here.

6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

"After this manner therefore pray"
Do Christians know how to pray?
I'm surprised the author of the SAB didn't comment on the previous verse. Something like: “Christians don't have to pray, because their Father already knows what they need.” But there is no contradiction between this verse and what Paul writes in Rom. 8:26. Paul says that we do not know how to pray as we ought to pray. But God the Father knows what we need (verse 8). So if we do not know how to pray, we need a teacher. While Jesus was on earth, he could teach his disciples directly. Because he is God, he knows what we need. That is what the Lord's prayer intends to be: an example. When Jesus was gone to heaven, he promised to send us another teacher (John 16:13), God the holy Ghost. And he also teaches us to pray.
So to answer the question: “Do Christians know how to pray?” No, we know not as we ought to, but we thank God for giving us the holy Ghost who helps us in our infirmities.

10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

"Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven."
Is God's will always done in heaven?

11 Give us this day our daily bread.

12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

"Lead us not into temptation."
Does God tempt people?
"For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen."
These words (used in the Protestant version of "the Lord's Prayer") were probably not in the original gospel, since they are not found in Luke's version (Luke 11:2-4) or in the oldest manuscripts of Matthew's gospel.
"If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
Fair is fair!
The meaning here is lead us not into something that will overpower us, into something that will destroy us. Otherwise it is clear from the examples of Abraham and Job that God tempts people, but not in order that they will sin, but that they will enjoy things hard and disagreeable to our nature. See also James 1:13.

14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:

15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;

18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.

19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

22 The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.

23 But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!

"But if thine eye be evil...."
There's nothing worse than an evil eye.

24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?

26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?

"Behold the fowls of the air"
Jesus says that God feeds them. But, if so, he does one hell of a lousy job at it. Most birds die before leaving the nest, and the few who manage to fly soon die painful deaths of thirst, starvation, predation, disease, or exposure. If God is caring for them, pray that he stays away from you.
Speaking of the birds, Jesus asks: "Are ye not much better than they?" This is meant as a rhetorical question, but the answer is far from obvious to me. I guess to Jesus, though, birds are not worth much compared to humans. So you can do whatever the hell you want with (and to) them.
(6:28) Why take ye thought for rainment? Consider the lilies of the field."
A nice analogy, good advice (unless you live in cold climates), and a great movie.
The author of the SAB asserts here that most birds die before leaving the nest. Most, let us assume this is 90%. The few, the other 10%, that leave the nest die soon, just after bringing up the next generation I suppose. If they even have time for that if we have to believe this comment. And whose fault is it that even the beasts are suffering? When God created them, he saw that it was good (Gen. 1:20-21). So what happened? Are we not at fault? Wasn't it our father Adam who sinned and are we not his offspring walking in his footsteps?
The author of the SAB also casts the lives and deaths of birds in rather human terms. Is eating a bird a form of cannibalism? I doubt even the author of the SAB treats birds like he would treat humans.
But regardless of the factual status of the claims made by the author of the SAB, the point Jesus makes is that the birds do not reap nor gather into barns. Everyday again they rely on God to provide them with food. That is the example Christians have to follow. And it isn't as easy as it sounds. Relying on and trusting God is hard.

27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?

28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:

The author of the SAB asserts here that this advice is not applicable for people living in cold climates. I decided to investigate this claim by checking if lilies do indeed grow in cold climates. Below two photo's from Edmonton in Alberta, Canada. The first is taken when it is down to -25℃. The second is a flowering Lillie taken in spring in the Danen garden in Edmonton.
Edmonton in winter Lilies in Edmonton in spring
I've also been informed that there are lily species that naturally grow north of the arctic circle such as the L. bulbiferum variety croceum.

29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?

31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?

(6:31-34) "Take therefore no thought for the morrow"
Jesus says that we should not concern ourselves with material things, But Paul (1 Tim.5:8) says that anyone who behaves that way has "denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel."
Should Christians be concerned with material things?
Taking care of ourselves and those dependent on us is now a form of being overly concerned? Do I really need to spell this out?

32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.