What does "Ye have heard that it hath been said" mean?
In Matthew 5:21 & 33 we see the expression "Ye have heard that it hath been said" and many brothers take this to mean, "you heard God ordered through the law". That is why many get the wrong idea that "before", God said something to the Jews, but "now" he changed his mind and tells Christians the opposite.
“As saith the proverb of the ancients, Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked; but mine hand shall not be upon thee”. (I Sam 24:13)
Here in Samuel we see the same expression, which clearly refers precisely to that, “someone”, and not to God's law. From that error of appreciation comes the idea, in part, that the doctrine that God took for good, "before" is not good "now".
Equally, when in Matthew 5:43 Jesus said, “Ye have heard that it hath been said…”, it means just that, “has been said”. It means that someone before that time, said such things, it doesn't mean that God said such thing in the law.
In the verse we just mentioned, Jesus said that "it was said" you should hate your enemy. In my opinion Jesus is referring to some old saying or a proverb from Jewish tradition, which for sure had no scriptural basis. I say that, because Jesus didn't say that God said it, but that “it was said”, just like that. Besides, there is no verse whatsoever in the Old Testament that says such a thing. The closest one is Deuteronomy 23:6, which doesn't say to hate them, but it refers only to the Ammonites and the Moabites, as we will see later.
Besides, the spirit of the Scriptures in the Old Testament is always the opposite. Always one of loving your neighbor, both, the national, the foreign, our friends, and our enemies, as we can see in Exodus 22:21; 23:4, 5 and 9; and Leviticus 19:17-18. Let's see.
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy”. (Mt 5:43)
“3 An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the LORD for ever… 6 Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days for ever”. (Dt 23:3-6)
“Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor
oppress him, for ye were
strangers in the
“4 If thou meet thine enemy's ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again. 5 If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him”. (Ex 23:4-5)
“Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger,
for ye know the heart of a stranger,
seeing ye were strangers in the
“17 Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart; thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. 18 Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD”. (Lev 19:17-18)
As we saw in these passages, what God's law said was very different than what the ancients said. Who knows who were the ones who said such things, maybe proverb writers.
In my opinion, what happened in the case of the twisting that the Jews did in the time of Christ is that, as always, on one hand, the people, due to their wrongful intentions, and on the other, the religious clicks, because of their own interests, deform and adapt the interpretation of the Scriptures, and in some cases the Scriptures themselves.
It is something similar to what happens today with Catholics and the Ten Commandments, in which even that one of them specifically talks against idolatry, they can't see it in spite of its clarity. Or in the case of Protestants with God's law in general, but particularly with the Sabbath.