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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Sermon On the Mount

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SERMON ON THE MOUNT.—Professor Votaw’s learned and exhaustive article in the Extra Vol. of Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible is a mine of information and critical study, to which the reader is referred for a full treatment of questions concerning the Sermon on the Mount that must here be treated more briefly.

1. Sources.—The contents of Matthew 5, 6, 7 are commonly regarded as constituting one discourse, with the title ‘The Sermon on the Mount,’ on account of the introductory statement in Matthew 5:1. Some portions of the contents of these chapters reappear, with more or less difference of form, introduced in a somewhat similar way, in Luke 6. Other sayings of Jesus contained in the three chapters of Mt. are found scattered over the narrative in Lk., and a few are in Mk.; two are duplicated in Mt., and one is duplicated in Lk. The following is the Synoptic distribution of the Sermon:

 Matthew.Mark.

 Luke.

 Matthew 5:1  Luke 6:17; Luke 6:20 a
 Matthew 5:3-4; Matthew 5:6  Luke 6:20 b, Luke 6:21
Luke 6:22-23Matthew 5:11-12  Luke 6:22-23
 Matthew 5:13Mark 9:50 Luke 14:34-35
 Matthew 5:15Mark 4:21(1)Luke 8:16, (2) Luke 11:33
 Matthew 5:18  Luke 16:17
 Matthew 5:25-26  Luke 12:58-59
(1)Matthew 5:29-30, (2) Matthew 18:7-8Mark 9:47-48; Mark 9:43; Mark 9:45  
(1)Matthew 5:32, (2) Matthew 19:9Mark 10:11-12 Luke 16:18
 Matthew 5:39-48  Luke 6:29-36
 Matthew 6:9-13  Luke 11:2-4
 Matthew 6:20-21  Luke 12:33-36
 Matthew 6:24  Luke 16:13
 Matthew 6:25-34  Luke 12:22-34
 Matthew 7:1-5  Luke 6:37-42
 Matthew 7:7-12  Luke 11:9-13
 Matthew 7:13-14  Luke 13:22-24
 Matthew 7:16-27  Luke 6:44-49

A comparison of these columns will bring out certain clear results, viz.:

(1) Mk. is not the source of any of these sayings. Only four verses or paragraphs of them are in that Gospel at all. Of these four, three are also in Lk. A comparison between the several forms of the three shows (a) that Lk. and Mt. are nearer to one another than either of them is to Mk., and (b) that in the two cases of duplicates in Mt., Mk. is nearer to Mt.’s second renderings of the sayings than to his earlier renderings, which are those of the Sermon on the Mount, showing that if Mt. is dependent on Mk. in either case, it is in the later passages where the sayings are given in another connexion, not in the Sermon. We may account for the duplicates in this way. The first appearance of them is due to the non-Markan source; the second is perhaps derived from Mk.

(2) It is now generally conceded that the main sources of the common elements in the Synoptic Gospels are Mk., and the collection of Logia which Papias says Matthew compiled and wrote in Hebrew, or Aramaic. Further, it is agreed that the Logia must have been translated into Greek, and that it was in a Gr. form that our Evangelists used it. More recently the differences between Mt. and Lk. in their renderings of the same sayings, as well as various other phenomena connected with them, have led scholars to the conclusion that (a) there were two or more versions of Matthew’s Logia, or (b) that there were other collections of sayings of Jesus besides that made by Matthew (Wendt, Jülicher, Wernle, J. Weiss, Feine, Hawkins, Votaw, Bacon). Probably both of these suggestions must be admitted. Nevertheless, even after admitting this, we may still recognize the probability that the Sermon, as we have it in our First Gospel, is derived from Matthew’s Logia; for (α) that Gospel—apart from its opening and closing sections—consists virtually of Mk., split at 5 places, or as some reckon at 7 places, with blocks of Logia wedged in at these openings, the Sermon being the first such insertion; and (β) since our chief collection of the sayings of Jesus is that contained in Mt., since Papias ascribed to the Apostle Matthew the only collection of Logia he is reported to have mentioned, and since the Gospel containing it bears the name of that Apostle in all Patristic references to its origin, there is a strong presumption that the Logia it contains are from Matthew’s collection, although this does not forbid us to conclude that the collection may have been used by the Evangelist in a revised form. Nor, of course, does it exclude the suggestions of interpolations, glosses, etc., which can only be considered in detail as they arise in the course of the study of the text. The general conclusion is that as a whole our Sermon on the Mount is derived from Matthew’s Logia in a Greek version.

2. Integrity.—The question of the integrity of the Sermon must be considered quite apart from that of its genuineness. We may be convinced that the three chapters of Mt. contain only true Logia of Jesus, and yet see reason to think that these Logia were not all spoken on one and the same occasion, in fact, that they do not actually constitute a sermon. (a) The first difficulty arises from the wealth and multiplicity of the utterances. We have here a concise concentration of many most pregnant sayings of Jesus. It is not to be supposed that a popular audience could take in so much at one hearing. But Jesus was welcomed everywhere by simple peasants and the people generally much more than by trained thinkers and the educated classes. Since ‘the common people heard him gladly,’ His style must have been adjusted to slow-moving minds; but no popular preacher would pack so much into one sermon as we have in Mt.’s three chapters.

(b) The variety of topics treated in the three chapters is inconsistent with the unity of a single discourse. Thus the encouragements to prayer and the warnings against anxiety are alien to the main topic in which the principles of the new order are contrasted with the old laws and customs.

(c) A more important consideration arises from a comparison of the portions of these chapters which reappear in Lk. with the circumstances in connexion with which they are there introduced. A priori it is improbable that any Evangelist would break up a discourse of Christ and scatter its sentences among his narratives, fitting them into the incidents gratuitously. But a study of the circumstances under which these sentences are met with in Lk. inclines us to think that they are in their right place. It will be observed that the Gospel’s most full and consecutive rendering of sayings found in St. Matthew 5-7 is in St. Luke 6. Provisionally we may regard this chapter as giving St. Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount. Let us turn to those sayings of the Mt. chapters that are in other parts of Lk. First we have Matthew 5:13 reappearing in Luke 14:34-35. This is a warning against degenerating and becoming as salt that has lost its savour. In Mt. it has no evident connexion with the Beatitudes that it follows; in Lk., however, it occurs in connexion with warnings of the danger of abandoning the following of Christ after having commenced, and serves to clinch those warnings with a final illustration. Moreover, this saying is also in Mk. (Mark 9:50), where it seems to have been introduced by association with another reference to salt in the previous verse. Therefore it would seem to have been a floating logion, which naturally found its way into Mt.’s collection. In Mt. the saying about salt losing its savour is followed by that of the lamp under the bushel—a logion which appears in Mk. (Mark 4:21) and twice in Lk. (Luke 8:16; Luke 11:33). None of these passages evinces much connexion with its context. It is to be observed that the second appearance in Lk. is nearer to Mt. than the first, since it has ‘the bushel’ as the covering article, as also Mk. has, while the first of Lk.’s renderings of it has ‘a vessel.’ Here again it would appear we have another floating logion. The solemn assurance that the Law cannot fail is not more intelligible in Lk. (Luke 16:17-18) than in Matthew 5:18; this, therefore, is rather exceptional.—The next of the Third Evangelist’s departures from the order of the Sermon on the Mount in Mt. is Luke 12:58-59 which corresponds to Matthew 5:25-26. This is the advice to agree quickly with an adversary lest it be too late, and a serious judicial sentence have to be submitted to. In Mt. this follows advice to be reconciled with a brother on grounds of the higher principles of Christ’s teaching, which forbid the quarrelsome temper. In Lk. it follows the warnings of the approach of a day of reckoning. In neither place is it inappropriate. Perhaps it was spoken on two occasions. We must always allow for that possibility.—The next three cases are more convincing. Mt. has the Lord’s Prayer following warnings against hypocrisy in prayer, which are associated with other cases of hypocrisy (Matthew 6:1-18). The subject of this whole paragraph is unostentatious sincerity, as opposed to pretentious hypocrisy. In Lk. (Luke 11:1-4) the Lord’s Prayer is introduced after Christ’s disciples have asked Him to teach them to pray, as John had taught his disciples to pray. Thus it comes appropriately as a model prayer, while in Mt. no form of prayer is immediately required when the subject is privacy in prayer as against public display. Next, the warning against worldly anxiety (Matthew 6:19-34) has no direct connexion with the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. In Luke 12:22-34 it follows the warning against covetonsness and the parable of the Rich Fool, which were occasioned by one of the multitude appealing to Jesus to decide a question of inheritance between himself and his brother.—Lastly, the saying about the narrow gate (Matthew 7:13-14) appears in Lk. in reply to the question whether they are few that be saved (Luke 13:22-24).

For such reasons it is now generally admitted that the three chapters in Mt. contain sayings of Jesus which were not parts of the original Sermon. This fact, however, does not justify the assertion that Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount ‘is a composition rather than an actual address’ (Moffatt, EBi [Note: Bi Encyclopaedia Biblica.], vol. iv. col. 4377). While Bacon rules out the matter which is not in Luke 6, and is scattered over other parts of Lk., he allows that the Sermon, apart from such interpolations of alien sayings of Jesus, is a connected discourse (The Sermon on the Mount: Its Literary Structure, etc.). Votaw, while admitting some interpolations, vindicates the greater part of Mt.’s rendering of it (loc. cit. pp. 7–9). The fact that we have a block of Logia here inserted in the narrative of Mt. is no proof that much, if not all of it, may not belong to a single discourse. Moreover, the descriptive introduction (Matthew 4:23 to Matthew 5:1) indicates an important discourse given on a specific occasion. It is the same with the parallel in Luke 6:17-20. Then there is a clearly marked unity in those parts of the Sermon in Mt. that remain after the apparently alien matter has been removed, and this is the case with the whole of Lk.’s shorter version. Nor need we cut down the Sermon to the limits of what is contained in Lk., for there was an evident reason for the Third Evangelist’s omission of the references to the Pharisees and to Jewish customs which Mt. has preserved, since the former was writing for Gentiles who would not be interested in these matters; while, on the other hand, they are evidently integral to the discourse as this is given in Mt., because they help to bring out the ethical principles of the new order that Christ was introducing by contrast with the old order that He was superseding.

3. Original form.—A comparison of Matthew 5-7 with the parallel passages in Lk. (especially with the discourse in Luke 6) raises the question as to which of these two versions of our Lord’s utterances is the more original. For, while it has been maintained (by Auger, Greswell, Osiander, Patricius, Plumptre, Sadler, etc.) that we have here reports of sermons given on two occasions, this view is not widely accepted by scholars at the present day.*[Note: See Paul Feine, ‘Ueber das gegenseit. Verhältniss d. Texte der Bergpredigt bei Mat. und Luk.’ (Jahrb. f. prot. Theol. ix. 1); also Plummer, ‘St. Luke’ (ICC), pp. 176–179.] It is not to be denied that Jesus may have repeated the same discourse on more than one occasion. But, in the present case, it is to be observed: (a) Each Evangelist has only one report, neither betraying any knowledge that the Sermon was preached twice. (b) Both Evangelists describe the same circumstances in introducing the Sermon—i.e. the gathering of the multitude, the collecting of disciples, and the connexion of the scene with a mountain (for though in Mt. the Sermon is on the mountain and in Lk. on a level place after Jesus had come down, this is only one of the small discrepancies invariably met with in separate accounts of the same event, and, in fact, it does not involve a direct contradiction even in the details referred to). (c) The character of the Sermon and its position in the life and work of Christ give it a unique value as the presentation of fundamental principles for the guidance of Christ’s disciples in their conduct among men. But if we grant that we have here two reports of one and the same discourse, the striking differences between them lead us to ask, In what form was this discourse actually given? In the first place, it cannot be that either of the two Evangelists simply used and altered materials that he had derived from the other, for on wider grounds it seems to be demonstrated that neither drew upon the other in any case; the probability is that while both knew Mk., neither the First nor the Third Evangelist knew the other (see Wernle, Die Synopt. Frage, p. 20). Nor can so violent a dealing with his materials be charged against either Evangelist. For a similar reason, we cannot suppose that they were both dependent on the same version of Matthew’s Logia; because, if so, one or both of them must have treated its venerated contents—consisting of reports of the sayings of Jesus—in the same unscrupulous way. They must have been working on two different collections of Logia, though perhaps both originally based on Matthew’s Hebrew collection; and the divergence must have taken place earlier—among irresponsible transcribers—by more gradual stages. But if this be the case, the task of determining between the two reports is exceedingly difficult. Probably neither can be preferred in all respects to the other. In some cases Mt. appears to be the more correct, but in other cases the probability is with Luke.

In this connexion the most important question is that of the original form of the Beatitudes, in regard to which the following points claim our attention: (1) In Mt. there are 7 (or perhaps 8) Beatitudes; in Lk. there are 4 Beatitudes, followed by 4 Woes which do not appear in Mt. (2) The Beatitudes in Mt. are (all but the last) in the 3rd person: those in Lk. are in the 2nd person. (3) The Mt. Beatitudes describe character and its corresponding rewards; those in Lk. describe only social conditions and the future reversal of them. Now, in favour of the originality of Mt., it may be urged that the greater spiritual value of its version of the Beatitudes points to their originality, for we cannot believe that it was given to copyists and catechists to greatly enrich their Master’s teachings. On the other hand, the following points should be noted: (a) It is not denied that the four Beatitudes not found in Lk. are genuine and characteristic sayings of Jesus. Assuredly the blessing on the pure in heart, which is among them, fell from His lips. But we may admit the genuineness of the sayings and yet deny them a place in the original Sermon on the Mount; for it has been shown above that Mt.’s three chapters contain insertions of sayings of Jesus spoken on various occasions, (b) The First Evangelist—or St. Matthew himself, the author of the Logia—elsewhere makes collections of sevens. Thus he gives 7 clauses in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), 7 parables (ch. 13), 7 woes (ch. 23). The genealogy consists of a triad of fourteens (Matthew 1:1-16). [See Hawkins, Hor. Synopt. pp. 133, 134]. We know that Jesus uttered beatitudes on other occasions (e.g. Matthew 11:6, Matthew 13:16, Matthew 16:17, Matthew 24:46). (c) It is difficult to think that if our Lord gave the sayings originally with their ethical and spiritual characterization, this could have dropped out accidentally, or have been deliberately eliminated so as to confine them to social relations. To attribute the alteration to St. Luke’s ‘Ebionism’ is to accuse the Third Evangelist of an offence in flat contradiction to his honest, declared purpose (κἀμοὶ παρηκολουθηκότι ἄνωθεν πᾶσιν ἀκριβῶς, Luke 1:3). (d) If, however, Jesus gave the Beatitudes as in Lk., His disciples may have discerned in them a deeper meaning, knowing that He was accustomed to speak in parables; or He Himself may have explained them, for we must remember that in the Gospels we have excerpts from the teachings of Jesus, pregnant sayings, parables, and aphorisms that stuck in the memory, while the fuller exposition which must often have followed is rarely given, perhaps never completely, (e) It is more likely that Jesus, when addressing His own disciples, would have used the 2nd person than that a later hand would have turned the 3rd person style of speech into the 2nd. The direct address is the more original in form; it would be natural for catechists to generalize this, rather than the reverse. We cannot say that it was according to St. Luke’s style for the 2nd person to be substituted for the 3rd, for the reverse is the case; almost every other ascription of blessedness in Lk. is in the 3rd person (i.e. Luke 1:45, Luke 7:23,Luke 10:23, Luke 11:27-28, Luke 12:37-38; Luke 12:43, Luke 14:15, Luke 23:29),* [Note: Luke 14:14 is in the 2nd person; but this takes the form of a promise, not that of benediction; similarly Luke 1:22.] while in Mt. We have benedictions in the 2nd person (i.e. Matthew 13:16, Matthew 16:17, although Matthew 11:6, Matthew 24:46 are in the 3rd person). Mt. even concludes the Sermon on the Mount Beatitudes with one thrown into the 2nd person style (Matthew 5:11). (f) It must be admitted that the Woes upon the rich seem out of place in an address to Christ’s disciples. These, like the Beatitudes in Lk., are in the 2nd person; they must be taken as apostrophizing the absent. Still, it was our Lord’s method on other occasions to speak antithetically (e.g. Matthew 6:19-20; Matthew 7:13-14; Matthew 7:24-27; Matthew 8:11-12). On the whole, these considerations point to Lk.’s as the original version of the Beatitudes.

In the teaching on divorce, Lk.’s absolute statement (Luke 16:18) must be preferred to Mt.’s more qualified form of the saying (Matthew 5:32), containing the clause παρεκτὸς λόγου πορνείας, although that recurs in Matthew 19:9 (so Holtzmann, Hand-Com.; but Swete, St. Mark, accepts the clause as original), because (a) it is not found in the more primitive version of the saying in Mark 10:11-12, and (b) the softening of an apparently harsh saying by a gloss was in accordance with the tendency of scribes.

The case of the Lord’s Prayer is more difficult. We saw above that the way in which it is introduced in Lk. points to the conclusion that the original setting of it was in the incident there recorded rather than in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus may well have given the Prayer more than once (so Bernard in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, vol. iv. p. 43a), but in Lk. it certainly appears as something new for the benefit of the disciples in answer to their request, and this is later than the version in the Sermon.

The two versions are as follows:

Matthew 6:9-13 Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885.Luke 11:2-4 Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885.
Over Father which art in heaven,

Father,
Hallowed be thy name.Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth. 
Give us this day our daily (ἐπιούσιον) bread.Give us day by day our daily (ἰτιούσιον) bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.And forgive us our sins: for we ourselves also forgive every one that is indebted to us.
And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

And bring us not into temptation.

Authorized Version of Lk. had all the clauses in Mt., but there is ample justification for the omissions seen in Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 (see art. Lord’s Prayer, p. 57b). They could easily have come in through assimilation to Mt. The enrichment of the Invocation would be a natural growth. Elsewhere Mt. shows a penchant for the use of the word ‘heaven.’ Thus he, and he alone, has the expression ‘the kingdom of heaven,’ elsewhere invariably ‘the kingdom of God.’ In Romans 8:15 we have ‘Abba, Father,’ as the Christian invocation; cf. Mark 14:36 (see Wellhausen, Einleit. in die drei ersten Evangelien, p. 38). The clause ‘Thy will be done,’ etc. (which is better attested than the other omitted words, since it is in א), may be regarded as an expansion of the clause which precedes it—‘Thy kingdom come’—founded on words of Jesus spoken on another occasion (Matthew 26:39, Mark 14:36, Luke 22:42). The final clause in Mt. may be taken as the antithesis and completion of the clause ‘and bring us not into temptation.’ These points seem to be in favour of the originality of Lk. Nevertheless, it was the Mt. fuller form of the Prayer that was adopted in the Church, as far as we have evidence, from the earliest time, for this is the form in the Didache (viii.). Both forms must be traced to a common Greek translation of the Aram, original, since they both contain the rare and difficult word. ἐπιούσιον Dr. Chase considers that they both exhibit the Prayer as changed for liturgical purposes.*[Note: TS, vol. i. No. 3; this is cited by Dr. Plummer in ICC on ‘St. Luke’.] Dr. Plummer considers that Mt.’s form of the Prayer is the nearer to the original (Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible iii. 141 f.). Thus he points out that the δὸς ἡμῖν σήμερον of Matthew 6:11 is more likely to be genuine than the δίδου ἡμῖν τὸ καθʼ ἡμέραν of Luke 11:3, because (a) καθʼ ἡμέρν occurs in NT in St. Luke’s writings only (Luke 19:47, Acts 17:11), and (b) the present form of the verb (δίδου), which this involves, is an exception to the forms in the other clauses, which have aorists, as Mt. has here (δός).

It is not so easy to account for the omission of whole clauses by Lk. Accordingly, Dr. Plummer holds that Christ gave the Prayer originally on two different occasions in two different forms. But it has been pointed out that Lk.’s occasion requires us to view it as the first introduction of the Prayer, and yet this is later than the Sermon on the Mount. Besides, we must compare the briefer form of the Prayer with the briefer form of the Beatitudes. In both cases it is likely that the explanation is the same. Either Lk. abbreviates in both cases, or Mt. expands in both cases. With the Beatitudes we saw that the latter is the probability. Moreover, viewing Mt. as a whole, we see in it a fulness of expression not found in the other Gospels, due possibly to a catechetical use of the sayings of Christ. Thus we have the sign of Jonah explained in Matthew 12:40 with a reference to the whale, while it is left indefinite in Luke 11:30; in Matthew 16:16 ‘the Son of the living God’ added to St. Peter’s confession in Mark 8:29 ‘Thou art the Christ,’ where Luke 9:20 has ‘the Christ of God’; in Matthew 16:28 ‘the Son of Man coming in his kingdom,’ while Mark 9:1 and Luke 9:27 have only ‘the kingdom of God,’ etc.; at Matthew 26:28 ‘unto remission of sins’ with reference to the blood of the covenant at the Lord’s Supper, a clause not found in Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, 1 Corinthians 11:25. Still Lk. has characteristic additions, such as in the verse, ‘I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance’ (Luke 5:32), where the last two words appear to be a didactic gloss, since they are not found in Matthew 9:13, Mark 2:17, and are not required by the context, but are congenial to Lk., the penitents’ Gospel. Lk. has also characteristic alterations; for instance, for ‘good things’ in Matthew 7:11, Luke 11:13 has ‘the Holy Spirit,’ in accordance with that Gospel’s peculiarly frequent references to the Spirit of God—leaving the probability of originality with Mt. in this case. Therefore we cannot make an invariable rule of giving Lk. the preference. While, however, we cannot be positive in deciding the question, the reasons stated above seem, on the whole, to point to Lk.’s version of the Lord’s Prayer as the more original. While admitting this, we may hold it probable that Mt.’s additional clauses are echoes of teachings of Jesus given on other occasions, or of His own explanations of the Prayer, analogously to the case of Mt.’s Beatitudes compared with Lk.’s. See, further, art. Lord’s Prayer.

In other parts of the Sermon on the Mount the question of priority and superiority of authority is of less importance, since the divergences between Mt. and Lk. are less significant (see Wellhausen, Einleitung, pp. 67–73).

4. Scene and circumstances.—A Latin tradition, that cannot be traced back earlier than the 13th cent. and is not found in the Eastern Church, gives Karn Hattin, a two-peaked hill a little south west of the plain of Gennesaret, as the locality of the delivery of the Sermon. All that can be said in its favour is that this mountain would be a very suitable spot; but there is no means of confirming so late a tradition. There is a discrepancy between Mt. and Lk., the one stating that Jesus gave the Sermon when He was on the mountain, the other that it was on a level place after He had come down from the mountain. It has been suggested by the harmonists that the level place might be somewhere among the hollows and shoulders of the mountain, so that, while Jesus had to descend to it, it was still in some degree on the mountain. But while this may be allowed as a possibility, the discrepancy is only one of many that are scattered over the Gospels, most of which may be regarded as too trivial to affect the question of historicity.

The circumstances under which the Sermon on the Mount was delivered justify the exceptional importance that has always been attached to it. It was given early in our Lord’s ministry, though not at the commencement. It belongs to the first year, before the disfavour of the authorities had arisen, or at all events before it had become serious; but it is sufficiently late for the popularity of the new Teacher to have reached a climax. The primitive stage of the Galilaean mission consisted of a round of preaching in the synagogues; the second stage, still in the first year, is characterized more by open-air preaching, necessitated by the vast growth of the crowds who pressed to hear the popular Teacher, and by their insistence on hearing Him in season and out of season without waiting for the set times of the synagogue services. Internally the teaching of Jesus has undergone development. At the primitive stage it followed closely the lines laid down by John the Baptist, and could be summarized under the formula, ‘Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,’ that is to say, it was an announcement of the coming Kingdom. But at the more advanced stages, to which the great Sermon belongs, Jesus had passed on from ‘preaching’ (κήρυγμα) to teaching (διδασκαλία), and was now expounding the nature of the Kingdom, its character, principles, processes. The Sermon on the Mount comes into this category. It is teaching, rather than preaching. Further, as a consequence, it was originally designed for disciples, for those who seriously desired to learn. This is made evident by the introductions of both Evangelists. In Mt. we read, ‘And seeing the multitudes (τοὺς ὄχλους), he went up into the mountain; and when he had sat down, his disciples (οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ) came unto him: and he opened his mouth, and taught them (αὐτούς),’ i.e. the disciples (Matthew 5:1-2). Here the distinction between the crowd and the learners is very marked. It was to avoid the crowd that Jesus retreated to the mountain—a common habit, referred to on several occasions. Then the eager inquirers followed; and finding Him there, led Him to speak to them, or, as seems more likely, they came at His own invitation. The situation is not so clear in Lk., where the coming of the crowd to Christ follows His visit to the mountain, which He had ascended for prayer (Luke 6:12), and where He had chosen the Twelve Apostles (Luke 6:13); and whence He had come down with them, after which He ‘stood on a level place’ (Luke 6:17). Still Lk. preserves the distinction between the disciples and the crowd by saying, ‘And a great multitude of his disciples, and a great number of the people from all Judaea,’ etc. (Luke 6:17). Having described the cures, which in Mt. preceded the ascent of the mountain, he says, ‘And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said,’ etc.—here commencing his version of the great Sermon. Thus in Lk. this is delivered to the first of the two groups, the disciples in distinction from the crowd, as in Mt. Moreover, the use of the 2nd person in the Lukan version of the Beatitudes evidently indicates disciples—a fact which the apostrophe of the absent rich does not nullify; because in each case a specific class, not the mixed multitude, is contemplated. As we proceed with the Sermon, this fact repeatedly emerges. It is only to His own disciples that Jesus could say, ‘Ye are the salt of the earth’ … ‘Ye are the light of the world’ (Matthew 5:13-14). It is no objection that towards the end of the discourse Jesus says, ‘Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven,’ etc. (Matthew 7:21), and concludes with the parable of the Two Foundations, because these warnings might well be needed by many disciples. There was a traitor even among the Twelve. We are not to conclude, however, that these disciples consisted only of the Apostles. St. Luke had expressly said that ‘there was a great multitude of his disciples’ (Luke 6:17) present on this occasion.

In Lk. (Luke 6:13) the Sermon follows the choosing and appointment of the Apostles; and this fact has led some to regard it as ‘the charge to the Twelve.’ But in Mt. there is no description of the choice of the Apostles, and they are not especially associated with the Sermon. In both Gospels the introduction of the Sermon introduces a much larger audience. All the genuine ‘hearers of the word,’ all who expressly sought out Jesus and set themselves to learn of Him, are included in the comprehensive group of ‘disciples.’ Still the audience was virtually confined to this group. The Sermon was for disciples, not for the world at large. It may be pointed out, on the other hand, that while the introduction to the Sermon in both Gospels has this indication, the comments which follow it in each case seem to point to the general public. Thus in Matthew 7:28 it is said, ‘And it came to pass, when Jesus ended these words, the multitudes were astonished at his teaching,’ etc., and in Luke 7:1 ‘After he had ended all his sayings in the ears of the people.’ The language, however, is indefinite in both cases and perhaps not specially considered, for no emphasis is here laid on the nature of the hearers, as was the case in the introductory descriptions.

5. Purpose and character.—The purpose of the Sermon on the Mount can be understood only when account is taken of the audience to which it was addressed. Since this audience consisted of disciples and not the public, we must read the discourse as an ethical directory for Christians. Therefore the question as to whether its precepts can be embodied in the laws of the State is irrelevant. A group of Galilaean peasants in a province of the Roman Empire had nothing whatever to do with the business of legislation; and even in contemplation of the future spread of Christianity it could not have been the intention of Christ that principles which He desired to see working outward from the heart should be imposed upon a community by force with the external authority of the magistrate. But while it is a mistake to regard the Sermon on the Mount as a model for civil and criminal law, on the other hand it would be an error to abandon its ideal in favour of a lower code of ethics even in the police courts. The disciple of Christ will always desire to see His will carried out; but this does not mean that he is at liberty to force his Master’s precepts on a society that is reluctant to obey them because it has not submitted to the authority from which they emanated. If we can look forward to a condition in which the State is effectually Christianized, then we shall have a society in which the magistrate is not needed; that is to say, the removal of the conditions which now prevent the Sermon on the Mount being applied in the police court will abolish the police court itself as an anachronism. Therefore we must view the Sermon on the Mount as primarily aiming at the direction of the conduct of Christians in their personal behaviour as individuals and members of a brotherhood. It has relations to the outside world in so far as Christian men and women have such relations. For instance, commands about love to enemies and kindness to persecutors are especially concerned with the conduct of Christians towards people who are not of their own fellowship. Still, it is the conduct of Christians only that is considered. These considerations should safeguard the interpreter against two other misapprehensions: (1) It is an error to regard the Sermon on the Mount as the sum and substance of Christianity, and to condemn later developments as not of the essence of Christianity (Hatch, Harnack). We have no evidence that Jesus Christ intended to put His whole message into this one discourse. He is here discussing the ethics of the Kingdom of heaven. Elsewhere He treats of other features of the Kingdom. (2) Since this discourse lays down principles of conduct for discipleship, the discipleship must have been previously established in other ways (e.g. denying self, taking up the cross, following Christ, turning and becoming as little children, etc., as elsewhere indicated by Jesus Christ).

In the main, the Sermon on the Mount indicates the character of life and conduct that Jesus Christ commends to His disciples as the rule of life. Commencing with the Beatitudes, He points out the way to true happiness. This is more apparent in Mt. than in Lk.; but if the Beatitudes in the former Gospel may be taken as at least a true exposition of the deeper meaning of the simpler felicitations in the latter Gospel, it is safe to say that Jesus here teaches that blessedness is associated with character. The conduct commended throughout the Sermon is set forth by Christ as a fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17). It completes what was imperfect in the earlier religion by realizing its essential principles and developing them to perfection. The consequence is that external precepts of the more primitive condition are abrogated—not universally, but wherever they conflict with a later ethical development. This applies to the Sacred Torah as well as to traditions of the scribes, as in the examples of hatred, divorce, swearing, and revenge, formerly permitted under certain conditions, though regulated and restrained by the Law, but now absolutely forbidden by Christ. In the next place, conduct condoned or even honoured hitherto is condemned as unworthy of the higher standard set up by Christ. In particular, ostentation in almsgiving, in public praying, and in fasting is reprobated, and the habit of judging others is reproved. The Sermon closes with warnings against being deceived by false prophets, and insists forcibly that mere discipleship in hearing the teaching is vain; the end of all is energetic conduct in obedience to this instruction. The principal interpolations consist of (1) two passages encouraging prayer (Matthew 6:9-15; Matthew 7:7-11), and (2) one long passage discouraging worldly anxiety (Matthew 6:19-34). They rest their exhortations equally on the Fatherly goodness of God. They are among the choicest and most beautiful of our Lord’s teachings, plainly vindicating their right to places in the Logia by their character as of the inner essence of His message, even if their inconsistency with the How of the argument in the Sermon, supported by the fact that they are placed in other parts of His narrative by Lk., leads us to regard them as out of place when inserted in this particular discourse.

See also such articles as Authority of Christ, Law, Teaching of Christ, etc. etc.

Literature.—This is given exhaustively at the end of Votaw’s art. ‘Sermon on the Mount’ in the Ext. Vol. of Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible. The following selection may be found useful: Tholuck, Bergrede Christi [English translation from 4th ed., Edin. 1860]; Achelis, Die Bergpredigt, 1875; B. W. Bacon, Sermon on the Mount, 1902; J. B. Bousset, Le Sermon sur la Montague, 1900; C. Gore, The Sermon on the Mount, 1896; W. B. Carpenter, The Great Charter of Christ, 1895; J. Oswald Dykes, The Manifesto of the King, 1881; the Comm. of B. Weiss, H. Holtzmann, Morison, Bruce, Plummer, etc.

W. F. Adeney.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Sermon On the Mount'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/s/sermon-on-the-mount.html. 1906-1918.

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