Sermon on the Mount

Sermon on the Mount
Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch

The Sermon on the Mount is a collection of sayings and teachings of Jesus, which emphasizes his moral teaching found in the Gospel of Matthew (chapters 5, 6 and 7).[1] It is the first of the Five Discourses of Matthew and takes place relatively early in the Ministry of Jesus after he has been baptized by John the Baptist and preached in Galilee.

The Sermon is the longest piece of teaching from Jesus in the New Testament, and has been one of the most widely quoted elements of the Canonical Gospels.[2] It includes some of the best known teachings of Jesus such as the Beatitudes, and the widely recited Lord's Prayer. To most believers in Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount contains the central tenets of Christian discipleship.[2]

The last verse of chapter 5 is a focal point that summarizes the teaching of the sermon: "be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect", advising the disciples or students to seek the path towards perfection and the Kingdom of God.[3][4]


Context and components

Background and setting

A page from Matthew, from Papyrus 1, c. 250

The Sermon on the Mount is the longest piece of teaching from Jesus in the New Testament, and occupies chapters 5, 6 and 7 of the Gospel of Matthew. The Sermon has been one of the most widely quoted elements of the Canonical Gospels.[2] To most believers in Jesus, the Sermon contains the central tenets of Christian discipleship.[2]

This is the first of the Five Discourses of Matthew, the other four being Matthew 10, Matthew 13 (1-53), Matthew 18 and the Olivet discourse in Matthew 24.[5][6][7]

The Sermon takes place relatively early in the Ministry of Jesus, after he has been baptized by John the Baptist in chapter 3 of Matthew and gathered his first disciples in chapter 4.

Before this episode, Jesus had been "all about Galilee" preaching, as in Matthew 4:23, and "great crowds followed him" from all around the area. The setting for the sermon is given in Matthew 5:1-2. Jesus sees the multitudes, goes up into the mountain, is followed by his disciples, and begins to preach.


While the issue of the exact theological structure and composition of the Sermon on the Mount is subject to debate among scholars, specific components within it, each associated with particular teachings, can be identified.[8][9]

The Lord's Prayer, in Matthew 6:9, 1500, Vienna

Matthew 5:3-12 discusses the Beatitudes. These describe the character of the people of the Kingdom of God, expressed as "blessings".[10] In Matthew, there are eight (or nine) blessings, while in Luke there are four, followed by four woes.[11]

In almost all cases the phrases used in the Beatitudes are familiar from an Old Testament context, but in the sermon Jesus elevates them to new teachings.[12] Together, the Beatitudes present a new set of ideals that focus on love and humility rather than force and exaction; they echo the highest ideals of Jesus' teachings on spirituality and compassion.[12]

In Christian teachings, the Works of Mercy, which have corporal and spiritual components, have resonated with the theme of the Beatitude for mercy.[13] These teachings emphasize that these acts of mercy provide both temporal and spiritual benefits.[14]

Matthew 5:13-16 presents the metaphors of Salt and Light. This completes the profile of God's people presented in the beatitudes, and acts as the introduction to the next section.

There are two parts in this section, using the terms "salt of the earth" and Light of the World to refer to the disciples - implying their value. Elsewhere in John 8:12 Jesus applies Light of the World to himself.[15]

A longer discourse is provided in Matthew 5:17-48, which in some senses is similar to other cases of Expounding of the Law in the New Testament. Jesus fulfills and reinterprets Mosaic Law and in particular the Ten Commandments, contrasting with what "you have heard" from others, also known as the Antitheses, e.g. turning the other cheek instead of taking an an eye for an eye.

In Matthew 6 (1-34) Jesus condemns doing what would normally be "good works" simply for recognition and not from the heart, such as those of alms (6:1-4), prayer (6:5-15), and fasting (6:16-18). The discourse goes on to condemn the superficiality of materialism and call the disciples not to worry about material needs, but to "seek" God's kingdom first. Within the discourse on ostentation, Matthew presents an example of correct prayer. Luke places this in a different context. The Lord's prayer (6:9-13) contains parallels to 1 Chronicles 29:10-18.[16][17]

The first part of Matthew 7, i.e. Matthew 7:1-6 deals with judging. Jesus condemns those who judge others before first judging themselves: "Judge not, that ye be not judged."

In the last part in Matthew 7:7-29 Jesus concludes the sermon by warning against false prophets, and emphasizing that humans are unable to do right ("bear fruit") apart from God.

Teachings and theology

Plaque of the 8 Beatitudes, St. Cajetan Church, Lindavista, Mexico
be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfectMatthew 5:48[3]

The teachings of the Sermon on the Mount have been a key element of Christian ethics, and for centuries the sermon has acted as a fundamental recipe for the conduct of the followers of Jesus.[18] Various religious and moral thinkers (e.g. Tolstoy and Gandhi) have admired its message, and it has been one of the main sources of Christian pacifism.[1] [19]

In the 5th century, Saint Augustine began his book Our Lord's Sermon on the Mount by stating:

If any one will piously and soberly consider the sermon which our Lord Jesus Christ spoke on the mount, as we read it in the Gospel according to Matthew, I think that he will find in it, so far as regards the highest morals, a perfect standard of the Christian life

The last verse of chapter 5 of Matthew, (5:48) is a focal point of the sermon that summarizes its teachings by advising the disciples to seek perfection."[3] The Greek word telios used to refer to perfection also implies an end, or destination, advising the disciples to seek the path towards perfection and the Kingdom of God.[3] It teaches that God's children are those who act like God. [4]

The teaching of the sermon are often referred to as the Ethics of the Kingdom: they place a high level of emphasis on "purity of the heart" and embody the basic standard of Christian righteousness.[20]

Theological structure

The issue of the theological structure and composition of the Sermon on the Mount remains unresolved.[8][9] [21] One group of theologians ranging from Saint Augustine in the 5th century to Michael Goulder in the 20th century, see the Beatitudes as the central element of the Sermon.[8] Others such as Bornkamm see the Sermon arranged around the Lord's prayer, while Daniel Patte, closely followed by Ulrich Luz, see a chiastic structure in the sermon.[8][9] Dale Allison has proposed a structure based on triads.[9][21] Jack Kingsbury and Hans Dieter Betz see the sermon as composed of theological themes, e.g. righteousness or way of life.[8]

Analysis and interpretation

Debate over literalness

The Sermon of the Mount as depicted by Louis Comfort Tiffany in a stained glass window at Arlington Street Church in Boston

One of the most common debates over the sermon is how directly it should be applied to everyday life. Many of the rules Jesus calls for are considered by some to be extreme. At Matthew 5:29 Jesus appears to state that if your vision is leading you to adultery, then you should remove your eye. At Matthew 5:40 Jesus seems to say that if you're sued, you should not fight, but rather give up more than was asked for. These are considered by some to be challenging rules to apply to life. Many Christian groups have developed nonliteral ways to interpret and apply the sermon.

Craig S. Keener has pointed out that at least 65 different interpretations regarding the message of the Sermon exist.[22] Harvey King McArthur lists twelve of the basic schools of thought on these issues as follows:[23]

  1. The Absolutist View rejects all compromise and believes that, if obeying the scripture costs the welfare of the believer, then that is a reasonable sacrifice for salvation. All the precepts in the sermon must be taken literally and applied universally. Proponents of this view include Francis of Assisi, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and in later life Leo Tolstoy. The Oriental Orthodox Churches fully adopt this position; among Radical Reformation groups, the early Anabaptists came close, and modern Anabaptist groups such as the Mennonites and Hutterites come closest. More recently, this view is supported by Franz Alt[24] and James W. Douglass.[25]
  2. One method that is common, but not endorsed by any denomination, is to simply modify the text of the sermon. In ancient times this took the form of actually altering the text of the sermon to make it more palatable. Thus some early copyists changed Matthew 5:22 from "whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment" to the watered-down "whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment." "Love your enemies" was changed to "Pray for your enemies" in pOxy 1224 6:1a; Did. 1:3; Pol. Phil. 12:3. John 13:34-35 tells the disciples to "Love one another". The exception for divorce at Matthew 5:32 in the case of porneia may be a Matthean addition;[26] it is not present in Luke 16:18, Mark 10:11, or 1 Cor 7:10–11; and in 1 Cor 7:12–16, Paul gives his own exceptions to Jesus' teaching. Additions were made to the Lord's Prayer to support other doctrines, and other prayers were developed as substitute. More common in recent centuries is to paraphrase the Sermon and in so doing make it far less radical. A search through the writings of almost every major Christian writer finds them at some point to have made this modification.[citation needed][27]
  3. One of the most common views is the Hyperbole View, which argues that portions of what Jesus states in the Sermon are hyperbole, and that if one is to apply the teaching to the real world, they need to be "toned down." Most interpreters agree that there is some hyperbole in the sermon, with Matthew 5:29 being the most prominent example, but there is disagreement over exactly which sections should not be taken literally.
  4. Closely related is the general principles view that argues that Jesus was not giving specific instructions, but general principles of how one should behave. The specific instances cited in the sermon are simply examples of these general principles.
  5. The double standard view is the official position of the Roman Catholic Church. It divides the teachings of the sermon into general precepts and specific counsels. Obedience to the general precepts is essential for salvation, but obedience to the counsels is only necessary for perfection. The great mass of the population need only concern themselves with the precepts; the counsels must be followed by only a pious few such as the clergy and monks. This theory was initiated by St. Augustine and later fully developed by Thomas Aquinas, though an early version of it is cited in Did. 6:2, "For if you are able to bear the entire yoke of the Lord, you will be perfect; but if you are not able to do this, do what you are able" (Roberts-Donaldson), and reflected in the Apostolic Decree of the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:19-21). Geoffrey Chaucer also did much to popularize this view among speakers of English with his Canterbury Tales (Wife of Bath's Prologue, v. 117-118)
  6. Martin Luther rejected the Roman Catholic approach and developed a different two-level system McArthur refers to as the two realms view.[28] Luther divided the world into the religious and secular realms and argued that the Sermon only applied to the spiritual. In the temporal world, obligations to family, employers, and country force believers to compromise. Thus a judge should follow his secular obligations to sentence a criminal, but inwardly, he should mourn for the fate of the criminal.
  7. At the same time as the Protestant Reformation was underway, a new era of biblical criticism began leading to the Analogy of Scripture View. Close reading of the Bible found that several of the most rigid precepts in the sermon were moderated by other parts of the New Testament. For instance, while Jesus seems to forbid all oaths, Paul is shown using them at least twice; thus the prohibition in the Sermon may seem to have some exceptions; though in fairness to Paul, it should be pointed out that he was not present at the Sermon on the Mount and may not have been aware of all of its teachings. See also Pauline Christianity.
  8. In the nineteenth century, several more interpretations developed. Wilhelm Herrmann embraced the notion of attitudes not acts, which can be traced back to Augustine. This view states that Jesus in the Sermon is not saying how a good Christian should behave, only what his attitude is. The spirit lying behind the act is more important than the act itself.
  9. Albert Schweitzer popularized the interim ethic view. This view sees Jesus as being convinced that the world was going to end in the very near future. As such, survival in the world did not matter as in the end times material well-being would be irrelevant.
  10. In the twentieth century another major German thinker, Martin Dibelius, presented another view also based on eschatology. His unconditional Divine will view is that the ethics behind the sermon are absolute and unbending, but the current fallen state of the world makes it impossible to live up to them. Humans are bound to attempt to live up to them, but failure is inevitable. This will change when the Kingdom of Heaven is proclaimed and all will be able to live in a godly manner. A similar view is also described in Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, written in the late nineteenth century.
  11. Closely linked to this is the repentance view, which is that Jesus intended for the precepts in his Sermon to be unattainable, and through our certain failure to live up to them, we will learn to repent or that we will be driven to faith in the Gospel.
  12. Another eschatological view is that of modern dispensationalism. Dispensationalism, first developed by the Plymouth Brethren, divides human history into a series of ages or dispensations. Today we live in the period of grace where living up to the teachings of the sermon is impossible, but in the future, the Millennium will see a period where it is possible to live up to the teachings of the sermon, and where following them will be a prerequisite to salvation.

E. Earle Ellis (Professor of Theology at SWBTS) says that this sermon is an eschatological invitation in which Jesus is inviting believers to live according to an ethic that will be standard in the future kingdom of God[citation needed]. As Ellis says, we are to speak Jesus' words, think his thoughts, and do his deeds. Since this will be the ethic of the future kingdom of God, believers should go ahead and adjust their lives to this ethic in this age.

Comparison with the Sermon on the Plain

While Matthew groups Jesus' teachings into sets of similar material, the same material is scattered when found in Luke.[1] The Sermon on the Mount may be compared with the similar but more succinct Sermon on the Plain as recounted by the Gospel of Luke (6:17–49), which occurs at the same moment in Luke's narrative, and also features Jesus heading up a mountain, but giving the sermon on the way down at a level spot. Some scholars believe that they are the same sermon, while others hold that Jesus frequently preached similar themes in different places.[29]

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Sermon on the Mount." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of The Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005
  2. ^ a b c d The Sermon on the mount: a theological investigation by Carl G. Vaught 2001 ISBN 9780918954763 pages xi-xiv
  3. ^ a b c d The Sermon on the mount: a theological investigation by Carl G. Vaught 2001 ISBN 9780918954763 pages 7-10
  4. ^ a b Matthew by Charles H. Talbert 2010 ISBN 0801031923 page 78
  5. ^ The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament by Andreas J. Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum 2009 ISBN 9780805443653 pages 194-196
  6. ^ The Gospel of Matthew by Craig S. Keener 2009 ISBN 9780802864987 pages 37-38
  7. ^ Preaching Matthew's Gospel by Richard A. Jensen 1998 ISBN 9780788012211 pages 25 & 158
  8. ^ a b c d e Reading the Sermon on the mount: by Charles H. Talbert 2004 ISBN 1570035539 pages 21-26
  9. ^ a b c d What are they saying about Matthew's Sermon on the mount? by Warren Carter 1994 ISBN 080913473X pages 35-47
  10. ^ "Beatitudes." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005
  11. ^ "Beatitudes." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005
  12. ^ a b A Dictionary Of The Bible by James Hastings 2004 ISBN 1410217302 page 15-19
  13. ^ Jesus the Peacemaker by Carol Frances Jegen 1986 ISBN 0934134367 pages 68-71
  14. ^ The Synoptics: Matthew, Mark, Luke by Ján Majerník, Joseph Ponessa, Laurie Watson Manhardt 2005 ISBN 1931018316, pages 63-68
  15. ^ Charles Spear, Names and Titles of the Lord Jesus Christ, 2003 ISBN 0766174670 page 226
  16. ^ Clontz, T.E. and J., "The Comprehensive New Testament with complete textual variant mapping and references for the Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Josephus, Nag Hammadi Library, Pseudepigrapha, Apocrypha, Plato, Egyptian Book of the Dead, Talmud, Old Testament, Patristic Writings, Dhammapada, Tacitus, Epic of Gilgamesh", Cornerstone Publications, 2008, p. 451, ISBN 978-0-977873-71-5
  17. ^ Stevenson (2004), p. 198.
  18. ^ The sources of Christian ethics by Servais Pinckaers 1995 ISBN 0813208181 page 134
  19. ^ For Tolstoy, see My Religion, 1885. cf. My Religion on Wikisource.
  20. ^ Christian ethics, issues and insights by Eṃ Stephan 2007 ISBN 8180693635 page
  21. ^ a b The Structure of the Sermon on the Mount by Dale Allison, Journal of Biblical Literature Vol. 106, No. 3, Sep., 1987 [1]
  22. ^ The Gospel of Matthew by Craig S. Keener 2009 ISBN 9780802864987 page 160
  23. ^ McArthur, Harvey King. Understanding the Sermon on the Mount. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1978.
  24. ^ Franz Alt, Frieden isr möglich. Die Politik der Bergpredigt., 1983.
  25. ^ James W. Douglass, see his bibliography.
  26. ^ Instone-Brewer, David. Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 2002.
  27. ^ This claim is presumably from the book by McArthur cited for this entire section, however, a page reference would be nice here, as would examples of this claim.
  28. ^ McArthur, Harvey King. Understanding the Sermon on the Mount. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1978.
  29. ^ Ehrman 2004, p. 101


  • St. Augustine of Hippo. Commentary on Sermon on Mount. Translated by William Findlay.
  • Betz, Hans Dieter. Essays on the Sermon on the Mount. translations by Laurence Welborn. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985.
  • Kissinger, Warren S. The Sermon on the Mount: A History of Interpretation and Bibliography. Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1975.
  • Knight, Christopher The Hiram Key Century Books, Random House, 1996
  • Kodjak, Andrej. A Structural Analysis of the Sermon on the Mount. New York: M. de Gruyter, 1986.
  • Lapide, Pinchas. The Sermon on the Mount, Utopia or Program for Action? translated from the German by Arlene Swidler. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1986.
  • Lambrecht, Jan, S.J. The Sermon on the Mount. Michael Glazier: Wilmington, DE, 1985.
  • McArthur, Harvey King. Understanding the Sermon on the Mount. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1978.
  • Prabhavananda, Swami Sermon on the Mount According to Vedanta 1991 ISBN 0-87481-050-7
  • Stevenson, Kenneth. The Lord's prayer: a text in tradition, Fortress Press, 2004. ISBN 0800636503.

External links

Sermon on the Mount
Life of Jesus: Sermon on the Mount or on the Plain
Preceded by
Commissioning the Twelve
New Testament
Succeeded by
Widow’s Son at Nain Raised
Miracles of Jesus

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  • Sermon on the Mount — a discourse delivered by Jesus to the disciples and others, containing the Beatitudes and important fundamentals of Christian teaching. Matt. 5 7; Luke 6:20 49. * * * Biblical collection of religious teachings and ethical sayings attributed to… …   Universalium

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