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The Sermon on the Mount
SERMON ON THE MOUNT, THE. A term applied by Augustine (c. a.d. 400) to
Unity of the Sermon
Even though it is a moot question as to whether this Sermon was ever preached as a sermon or not, many have found a lack of unity and a discontinuity in Matthew’s account and they point to a collection of disjointed sayings rather than to a homiletical development. Others have found a unifying theme and the development of thought toward a climax.
Arguments against unity.
There are three basic arguments advanced against the unity of the Sermon. These would tend to support the view that it was not delivered as a sermon, or that it is not an historical account of the single sermon in the setting ascribed to it (
Nature of the material.
Much of the material seems to be the epitome of what Jesus taught. A vast range of teaching is condensed and summarized in pithy statements that need to be reflected upon at length. These pointed gnomic sentences were characteristic of Jewish religious teaching, which sought to compress and distill important truths into easily remembered, graphic statements.
Disconnection of parts.
Various parts of the Sermon (i.e.,
Parallels in Luke.
The account in
Modern scholarship, however, has concluded that the differences between
Arguments for unity.
Many able expositors have found a logical sequence in the Sermon and a thematic development that they believe point to the essential unity of
Character of the audience.
It is pointed out that the Sermon was not delivered to a general audience nor to novices, but to selected disciples who had been for some time in association with Jesus. The reason given for Jesus’ going up the mountain was to escape the crowds (
Because of a central idea that is developed throughout the Sermon progressing to a climax, many have held to the essential unity of
It has been asserted that it is of no great importance to determine whether Matthew and Luke give divergent reports of the same sermon or of two similar but distinctive sermons. It is a false assumption that the writer of each gospel told all that he knew and that what he did not tell was unknown to him. It is also false to assume that Jesus never repeated His teachings so that different reports of His words must be related to the same situation. It seems obvious also that Luke has edited out of his account the material that would have a special Palestinian-Jewish coloring. Matthew’s account is characterized by such detail. If two sources lie behind
The manner, form, or style of the Sermon reveals the literary characteristics of Sem. languages to a remarkable degree.
Semitic poetry is characterized chiefly by a literary device called “parallelism,” which is a balancing of successive thoughts, phrases, or words. Synonymous parallelism finds the thought of the first literary member restated in different words in the second member (see
Rhythm, which is another main feature of Sem. poetry, is also found in the Sermon. Rhythm does not in Sem. poetry refer to some regular system of meter but to a system of rhythmical beats of varying number (four, three, two) separated by pauses.
Our Father in heaven hallowed be thy name\nThy Kingdom come Thy will be done;\nAs in the heavens so on earth.\nOur daily bread give us today;\nAnd forgive us our as we forgive our debts, debtors;\nAnd lead us not into but deliver us from temptation, evil.
An abundance of illustration is taken from common life and nature. Solomon in all his glory, an enforced carrying of a Rom. official’s baggage for one mile, a burglar breaking in to steal, a builder of a house, trees in an orchard, gates to the road, pearls and hogs, salt and the sun, the hair of a man’s head, anointing and fasting, birds and barns, logs and dogs, a serpent and bread, wolves and sheep—these do not exhaust the illustrative material of the Sermon.
Proverbs have been defined as principles stated in pithy and ingenious words, often dealing with sharply phrased paradoxes. Such were used to penetrate the understanding and make the hearer aware. Crude literalism has always been a danger in the interpretation of the proverbial. It is the principle underlying the proverb that is important and not the literal meaning (
Contents of the Sermon
Beatitudes and supporting metaphors.
were named from the word tr. “blessed” in its Lat. root. The Gr. word tr. “blessed” is as old as Homer and Pindar, and was used of Gr. gods as well as of men; it referred primarily to outward prosperity. Aristotle used this Gr. word to mean “divine” blessedness in contrast to human happiness. It included the idea of not being subject to fate. Jesus apparently pointed with this word to the intention of God for human life, and thus a man in the condition of being truly well-off. This divine intention for life was a portrait of Jesus Himself in a sense. Jesus was the very embodiment of the Sermon on the Mount.
There is no unanimous agreement as to the exact number of beatitudes. They have been counted as seven, or eight, or nine, or even ten. In this discussion they are numbered as seven. See Beatitudes.
The first beatitude affirmed the blessedness of the “poor in spirit.” Among the Hebrews, because the rich were often corrupt and the oppressors of the poor, the “poor” became by attraction of meaning the pious, religious people who were oppressed by the ungodly. Matthew apparently added “in spirit” so that “poor” would not be misunderstood by Gr. readers who were unacquainted with the Heb. idiom.
The second beatitude spoke of the blessedness of those who mourn, but just as “poor” did not refer to actual poverty so “those who mourn” did not refer to those who were sad. The strongest word for mourning in the Gr. language is used. In the LXX, it describes mourning for the dead and also the mourning for sins. Such men are desperately sorry and truly penitent for their sins. Their sorrow for sin may reach out to embrace the needy world. The passive voice of “comforted” suggested that God acted in their behalf to share with such men His own strength. God’s comfort can come only when and where there has been repentance; this is the meaning of the future tense “shall be.”
The third beatitude announced the blessedness of the meek. The Gr. term tr. “meek” is prob. derived from the LXX,
The fourth beatitude spoke of “hungering and thirsting after righteousness.” Righteousness prob. did not in this instance mean goodness as much as it meant right standing with God. In Isaiah, “righteousness” was used by the prophet to define “salvation.” Such men are characterized by the most intense craving for the gift of God’s grace. “Shall be filled” was the terminology used of feeding and fattening cattle. These men are blessed because God “fattens out” the seeking soul in the fullness of salvation.
The fifth beatitude (even as the sixth and seventh) concerned man in relation to his fellow man, whereas the first four looked toward God. The fifth beatitude noted the blessedness of the merciful. “Mercy” dealt with what was to be experienced of pain, misery, and distress. Mercy as active pity was revealed as an element in true righteousness (
The sixth beatitude identified the “pure in heart” as those who would see God. “Pure” meant singleness of heart, an honest heart free from any hidden motive of self-interest. It was part of Jesus’ “good news for the poor,” that even if they could not attain to the ritual purity of the Pharisees, they could see God. Jesus taught that the only defilement that really bars a man from God’s presence comes from within. The man whose heart is truly fixed on God will not lack God’s presence.
The “peacemakers” of the seventh beatitude were those who were true subjects of the Prince of Peace who came to found a kingdom of peace. Such men exercised themselves in the extension of His sovereignty, the only source of peace in a world of alienation, strife, and passion. The passive voice “shall be called” [by God] implies that He only can bestow the title “sons.”
The last beatitude witnessed to the blessedness of those who suffered because of their loyalty to God. They have suffered because of their godly characters. It was not suggested by these words that the ideal Christian character could not be formed apart from persecution; rather it meant that where Christian character provoked persecution there would also be afforded an additional opportunity to prove one’s relationship to God and to demonstrate the reality of citizenship in the heavenly kingdom.
The two metaphors that follow the Beatitudes were intended to show the effect of such ideal character in a world that needed such living. Salt was used in the Jewish sacrificial system (
Whereas the action of salt is silent and unseen, the action of light is obvious and discernible. The term “light” or “lamp of the world,” was not infrequent in the rabbinic writings. It was applied to Israel as God’s lamp. Biblical material likewise made use of this symbol. It was God who lit Israel’s lamp (
Christian life and Jewish ideal contrasted.
Jesus was not at war with the religion of the OT, and He was not the opponent of Mosaic law. He was, however, in strong opposition to the externalism of Pharisaism. He regarded the OT as having permanent validity (
In the first example Jesus interpreted the commandment against murder to prohibit also anger and hatred. The degrees of punishment suggested for those who violated this commandment, in terms of the “judgment” for the man who has been angry with a brother, the “council” for the man who has insulted his brother and “hell of fire” for the man who has said “you fool,” has puzzled interpreters. Some feel that Jesus argued as a skilled rabbi, and this type of argument looked for gradation of punishment. Others think that these references were meant as irony, holding up to ridicule such rabbinic distinctions. The central teaching is quite clear, however, in the concluding statement, which reveals that no act of worship is acceptable to God when the worshiper is wrongly related to his fellow men. Hostility toward others may not eventuate in the act of murder, but it is nonetheless a barrier to worship. A quarrel is never to be nurtured, but quickly resolved.
The prohibition against adultery was carried even further by Jesus to forbid also the desire to commit adultery. The literal meaning of the Gr. suggests that such a man has looked upon a woman with the deliberate intention of lusting after her. Beyond question, the teaching about the removal of the offending eye and the offending hand is fig. The removal of offending organs could not actually remove sin from a man’s heart. These were strong words that indicated the seriousness of the problem and the necessity of a remedy, whatever the cost.
Next, in connection with the law against divorce, Jesus stated the divine ideal of marriage as an indissoluble union—one man for one woman for life. He identified the law of Moses that authorized limited divorce as a concession to the hardheartedness of human beings. The so-called “exceptive clause” that recognized divorce on the ground of unchastity seems out of harmony with Mark and Luke who exclude it. It seems best to emphasize that in the teaching of Jesus, marriage was a God-given institution, and divorce a violation of the divine will.
The Jews were fond of oaths. The Pharisees considered themselves bound by an oath if it was stated in certain words. If it was not, the slightest verbal change relieved these formalists from all moral obligation. Intricate and complicated were the rules and regulations by which such a system operated. In the Mishna and Talmud are two books that deal extensively with oaths and vows. Jesus again expressed His interest in the attitudes and inner motivation of men; He earnestly desired His followers to live and speak the truth because truth alone is right.
The rabbis misinterpreted the law at the point of retaliation. It was their contention that it commanded retaliation. Jesus said that the OT teaching was never intended to occasion violence; it was given to put a limit on such violence. Jesus taught a “Christian retaliation,” by which actual good was given in return for evil.
Love to others.
“Love your neighbor” in the OT was understood to mean a fellow Israelite (
Finally, Jesus called supremely for a likeness to God in the lives of His people. This was not a command to sinlessness as such but was rather related esp. to the love of God. Christians were to exercise complete love as did God, who sent His sun and rain upon both the just and the unjust.
The Jews asserted three principal expressions of the religious life. They were the three great pillars on which the good life was based: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting (
To the Jews, almsgiving was of great importance, and they counted it as a part of worship (
The disciples were warned about the wrong motivation in prayer; they were to pray to God and not to men. There was also a warning against vain repetitions. Moffatt tr. it in this way: “Do not pray by idle rote like pagans, for they suppose they will be heard the more they say” (
This was counted by the Jews as a sign of special piety. The Pharisees fasted on Mondays and Thursdays in commemoration of Moses’ ascending the mountain to receive the law and descending with the law. Some of the devout apparently smeared ashes on their faces as a token of their fast, and thus gained the commendation of men for their piety. Jesus did not condemn fasting as such; once again, it was the wrong motivation that deserved the scathing denunciation.
Jesus taught the meaning of genuine worship to be an exclusive devotion to God in this life. A man served God by living. His God-consciousness was determinative in everything. This was the meaning of a heart that was “in heaven.” Some men lived with this world dominating their lives—not so the Christian. The worldly wealth of the 1st cent. was frequently counted in garments and grain rather than coin of the realm, in the same way the cattle and land once reflected a man’s wealth in this country; but it was foolish for a man to let his life be governed by avarice rather than by God. What a man garnered to himself in the way of material substance could not by its very nature be permanent. His possession of it was uncertain, and it passed away quickly. Preoccupation with the goods of this world could draw, like a magnet, his heart away from God.
The metaphor of the eye in a moral sense was quite common among the Jews. A good eye signified a generous soul, and an evil eye a grasping and grudging one (
Greed and anxiety about life were next presented. Nothing was intended in these vv. to forbid foresight, careful planning, or prudence; but these remarks were directed against a care for this life that dishonors God because it fails to find its stability, confidence, and security in relationship to Him. The heavenly Father has always been interested in and ready to meet the needs of human life at every level and in all experiences. God’s kingdom must be placed first in life, and then there could be a foundation upon which to rest in confidence with reference to the material and temporal.
The Christian’s sympathy.
The connection of this passage (
Jesus admonished His disciples not to be disparaging in their criticism (
The disciples were warned against being overzealous in trying to help another (
It was revealed that prayer was the best way to help; it was in prayer that the solution was to be found to the problems of life (
Jesus used three metaphors to urge men on to realize the intention of God for their lives: “the two ways,” the “two kinds of fruit,” and the “two builders.”
The two roads.
The first taught that following Jesus was difficult—involving struggle, self-discipline, and effort.
The two fruits.
The second warned against false guides whose real purpose was selfish and destructive. Guides in life must be tested.
The two builders.
The third emphasized the importance of the right foundation for life, which is the teaching of Jesus. Only those who obey Him will be safe in the experience of testing.
E. S. Jones, The Christ of the Mount (1931); Wm. Hendriksen,(1934); E. T. Thompson, The Sermon on the Mount and Its Meaning for Today (1936); E. Fox, The Sermon on the Mount (1938); A. T. Ohrn, The Gospel and the Sermon on the Mount (1948); R. W. Sockman, The Higher Happiness (1950); A. M. Hunter, Design for Life (1953); J. W. Bowman and R. W. Tapp, The Gospel from the Mount (1957); D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, vols. I and II (1959); H. K. McArthur, Understanding the Sermon on the Mount (1960); W. K. Pendleton, The Pursuit of Happiness (1963).