miriam berg
October, 1973

In the Gospel according to Matthew we find a long discourse attributed to Jesus known as the Sermon on the Mount. In the Gospel according to Luke we find a shorter discourse which has many passages in common with the Sermon on the Mount. It is called the Sermon on the Plain in Luke since the setting is given as a "level place" whereas the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew is preceded with the explanation that "Jesus went up into the mountain". Are these two different occasions and discourses, or are they different reports of the same occasion and discourse?

Both the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain begin with a series of statements called the "Beatitudes", since they assert various properties which are called "blessed". Each ends with the parable of the two men, the one who built his house upon the rock, and the other who built his house upon the sand. The middle portion of each discourse contains some hortatory statements regarding love of enemies, judging not, and trees being known by their fruit, these statements being reported in the same order in each discourse. Now it is not impossible that Jesus gave two nearly identical discourses on two different occasions, one on the mountain and one on the plain; but it is also possible that when the memories of those reporting the occasion came to be written down that oral transmission had located them differently and preserved different statements. So we should ask, are there other features of the two Sermons and other features of the two Gospels which suggest only one discourse as the original?

If we place the two Sermons side by side, so that the identical passages can be seen clearly in relation to the differing passages, we can see that Matthew contains all of the Sermon on the Plain in nearly the same order, that the Sermon on the Mount contains many passages found elsewhere in Luke's Gospel, but that it also contains many passages not found in any other Gospel. (There are two verses in the Sermon on the Plain which are not in Matthew's Sermon, but these two are actually out of context where they occur.) Is it possible that Matthew actually composed his Sermon out of the sermon also reported by Luke, other source material which both he and Luke had, and source material which he alone had?

Comparison of the two Gospels in parallel and with the Gospel of Mark reveals the fact that all of the passages in the Sermon on the Mount which are not in the Sermon on the Plain but found elsewhere in Luke are within the portion of Luke known as "Luke's Great Interpolation", which is a long series of parables sayings, and events that Luke placed between two incidents reported identically by both Matthew and Mark. More specifically, comparison of all three Gospels in parallel reveals the facts that a) nearly all of Mark is included within Matthew or Luke and in nearly the same order; b) where either Matthew or Luke differs from Mark as to the order or details of an event, either Matthew reports the same order and description of the event as Mark, or Luke reports the same order and content as Mark; c) that the section known as "Luke's Great Interpolation" contains many passages which are found scattered throughout Matthew and others which are found in no other Gospel; and d) that Matthew's version of the discourses reported by Mark and Luke contains many passages which are found in no other Gospel. These relationships lead to the following hypothesis as to the origin of the Gospels first proposed by Ernest DeWitt Burton in 1898.


1. Mark is the earliest gospel, and was used as a source document by both Matthew and Luke. Both scholarly tradition and opinion concur in placing Mark as the earliest gospel, probably composed about 65 A.D. That it was used by both Matthew and Luke is attested to by the fact that the same events are reported in the same order by Matthew or Luke or both; and further that the wording of the narrative (as different from quotations from Jesus) is identical in Matthew to about 40% of Mark's gospel, and that his sentence structure is identical to about 90% of Mark's gospel.

2. Matthew and Luke both had another source document known as the Galilean document, which reported early incidents of Jesus' career, and also reported on the final week of his career. These events are distinguished by being present in both Matthew and Luke but elsewhere than in Luke's Great Interpolation. It also is supposed to have included those events reported by Luke in a different form from Matthew and Mark.

3. Matthew and Luke both had another source document known as the Perean document, which was a collection of parables, sayings, and incidents, with no particular context or location for any of them. This document is hypothesized as being Luke's Great Interpolation reported in its entirety by Luke but used editorially by Matthew to amplify the reported discourses and sayings of Jesus.

4. Matthew had a document containing sayings of Jesus called the Matthean document, since the passages are found in Matthew only of the Gospels, again used to amplify the discourses reported by Mark or Luke.

Luke's procedure was to use the first part of the Galilean document, Mark, and the Perean document as the basis for his gospel, deleting the stories from Mark where they were different from those in the Galilean document or the Perean document. He inserted the Perean document in toto into his gospel at the point where Jesus starts on his way to Jerusalem for the Passover, and concludes with the last part of the Galilean document, sometimes called the Jerusalem document because it covers the last week of Jesus' life, which was in Jerusalem. Thus Luke appears to be a compilation of the three older documents which he had collected, with little editorial alteration.

Matthew's procedure was to use Mark as the basis for his gospel, but deleting the stories from the Galilean document where they differed from those of Mark, and using the Perean document and the Matthean document to amplify the discourse in the Galilean document and the discourses reported by Mark, using parts of Mark, passages from the Perean document, and passages from the Matthean document. Matthew also inserted many editorial comments regarding fulfillment of Old Testament "prophecies" and prediction of coming events, and modified statements by Jesus in a theological and eschatalogical direction.

Matthew and Luke apparently each used different oral traditions for their stories of the birth and resurrection of Jesus, since they cannot be harmonized with each other differing as to location, sequence of appearances, and audiences to whom Jesus appeared. Neither Mark nor John contain a birth story, and the oldest manuscripts of Mark either do not contain a resurrection story or they contain a version different from the one reported in the King James translation and subsequently the English Revised and American Revised translations. Also it may be noted that the list of appearances reported by Paul is different from any of the Gospels and includes his own experience which is not reported by himself as a bodily appearance.

Based on the Burton hypothesis, I propose a Discourse on Standards of Goodness, as I see it as having been originally given on the occasion of the Sermon on the Plain remembered fragmentarily as Luke's Sermon on the Plain modified by Matthew to have taken place in the mountain because of a reference in the immediately preceding verses of Mark, and parts of it remembered also as the Matthean document, sometimes known as Matthew's Logia, which includes those portions of Matthew's gospel not found in any other Gospel.


As interesting as all this analysis may be, it is the content of the Sermons that is more important. The structure is important to consider because it is possible that the meaning is a function of the structure, and also because it is possible that not everything in the Sermons is from Jesus, and some of it may have nothing to do with what he was teaching. That is why we must consider the structure: to see how it "hangs together" and with other parts of Jesus' teachings.

In examining the content, however, we must start with the self-evident axiom that any teaching is useful only insofar as it can be practiced constantly; if it is difficult to understand or apply then it is not useful at least not for many people. Of course this axiom could be challenged on the basis that many useful and important things require study before they can be used; but it still must be evident that those things are going to be useful or there is no reason to pursue the study.

Thus even before examining the content, we need to know what problems are being spoken to, what the content will be useful in dealing with. What problems are being approached in the Sermon on the Mount? Henry Burton Sharman in his text, The Records of the Life of Jesus proposes the alternate title for the Sermon: the "Discourse on Standards of Righteousness", since the material seems to be on what is right and proper, or best and worthy behavior. In other words, the Discourse attempts to answer (even if only in part) the question: What is the Right Thing to Do?

The first portion of the Discourse speaks to the state of his listeners; certain properties are extolled as "blessed", or virtuous; and certain statements are made about the relationship of Jesus to the Law of Moses and of his listeners to righteousness in general. The "blessed" properties may be listed as: poverty, hunger, sorrow mercy, purity of heart, peace-making or reconciliation-seeking, and suffering under persecution. The first three have to do with physical states, and the last four with acts or consequences. Jesus also asserts that his hearers are the "light of the world" and the "salt of the earth"; that he is not come to set aside the Law which is still permanent and eternal; and that one's righteousness must exceed that of those around them or it is insufficient to reach the "kingdom of God".

The second portion of the Discourse speaks to five kinds of behavior, including anger or contempt, lust taking of vows, responses to that which is perceived as evil, and treatment of those who are regarded as enemies. This section also considers several kinds of behavior which are generally considered to be "religious" those of alms-giving, prayer, and fasting. The Sermon on the Mount as presented by Matthew then contains some general exhortations regarding attitude towards life which are important but not part of a consideration of righteousness: laying up treasure in heaven, and unmindfulness of physical need.

The third portion contains a number of contrasts of behavior: not judging, clearing one's own eyes of blind spots, giving gifts asked or unasked the Golden Rule, the Narrow Way, good and bad fruits and the parable of the house on the rock and the house on the sand. Each of these could be given much explication, and it is probable that Jesus gave such explication when he gave the Discourse, instead of obscure hints. But we do not have that explication and we must be content with the words we have, and try not to read our own preconceptions into them.

by Jesus of Galilee

And seeing the multitudes, he began to speak to them saying:

Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God can come more easily to you.
Blessed are you who are hungry, for you can be filled with love and peace.
Blessed are you who are sorrowing, for you can be filled with joy.
Blessed are you who show mercy to others, for you will receive likewise.
Blessed are you whose hearts are free of unloving thoughts, for that is the nature of God.
Blessed are you who seek reconciliation and peace for you will be called children of God.
And blessed are you, even when you are being mistreated and misunderstood, for the kingdom of God can be found in spite of that. Rejoice, for in the same manner were the prophets of old treated.

But it is unblest to seek the kingdom of God in wealth, for it can never be found there;
Unblest also is it to search for. happiness in food, for you will remain hungry spiritually;
Unblest is laughter th&t does not spring from inward peace and joy, for it is but temporary, and will be followed by suffering;
And unblest is the pursuit of prestige for its own sake, for it does not bring joy and peace.

You are the light of the world; you are the salt of the earth. Therefore let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works, and recognize the kingdom of God within you.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the prophets; for I came not to abolish, but to bring them out in all fullness. And I say unto you unless your conduct exceeds in goodness that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not be able to attain the kingdom of God.

* * *

You have heard it taught of old, Thou shalt not kill, and whosoever shall kill shall be punished. But I say unto you, that even if you are angry with another or contemptuous of him or her, or think of them as a fool that you will suffer, because you will never find the kingdom of God while you do so.
Therefore I say unto you, if you are going to worship God, or to do some goodly thing, and you remember that there is some unresolved matter between you and another whether it be what you think he has done to you, or what you see that you have done to him, wait rather, go seek out your friend, and be reconciled, and then continue with your worship.

You have heard it also taught of old, Thou shalt not commit adultery; but I say unto you, adultery springs from even the glance or the feeling of lust that to want the act is the same as the act itself that you are not free of adultery unless you are free from the lust of desire. Even as if your eye were to cause you to suffer, and you were to pluck it out and cast it from you, therefore also pluck out your lustful feelings, and replace them with love; it is far better for you to love without desire, than for you to desire without love; such desire will only prolong your suffering.

Again, you have heard it taught of old, Do not swear by yourself, but make all your vows in the name of God. But I say unto you, Swear not at all, neither by heaven, nor by the earth, nor by the temple; neither by your head, for you can't make even one hair white or black by your own words. I say unto, Let your speech be Yea, yea; and Nay, nay; whatsoever is more than one of these brings you away from the kingdom of God.

And you have also heard it said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth; but I say unto you, Resist not that which seems to be evil. If someone hits you, don't hit him back, for that will only prolong suffering, both for him and for you. And if anyone wishes to take anything from you, let him have it; possessions will not bring you into the kingdom of God. If anyone asks you to go with him, go with him, and look for the ways in which you can help him. And give to anyone that asks anything of you; remember the times when you have been in need and asked others for something.

You have heard that it was said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy; but I say unto you Love your enemies also, and do good even for them that hate you, bless them that curse you, pray for them that persecute you, that you may be the children of God; for does he not make the sun to rise on those who are evil as well as those who are good, and send the rain on both the just and the unjust? For if you love only those who love you, what difference does that make? does not everyone love those who love them? And if you are good only to those who are good to you, what do you do which is more than others? does not everyone do the same? That is not enough to bring you into the kingdom of God; I say unto you, Let your love be universal and unconditional let it include all people, even as God includes all people in his love.

* * *

When you are doing something which you or the world regards as good, do not trouble to make it public seeking approval of mankind; that is not the way to find the kingdom of God. Rather do it without regard to whether anyone knows of it, even without regard to whether your left hand knows what your right hand is doing; the act itself is sufficient and once done can be forgotten; do not be attached to it.

Or when you are praying to God, do not trouble to make it known unto men, for that also will not bring you to the kingdom of God. Rather, wait until you are alone, with yourself and with God, and then pray as you will; what you pray for will bring more joy if you are not attached to receiving it.

And when you are praying, do not repeat yourself incessantly, hoping to be heard by your much speaking; for God knows what things you need, before you even ask; and all things will come to you if you are not demanding of them. For which of you, if your son ask you for bread will give him a stone? or if he ask you for a fish, will you give him a stone? or for an egg, a scorpion? If you then, being human, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more so shall God, who is the Father of all people.

And when you are fasting, again, do not trouble to make it apparent to the world; that is not the purpose of fasting. Rather when you are fasting, go about your life normally; the value of fasting be yours whether or not anyone else knows about it.

* * *

Judge not, and you shall not be judged; condemn not and you shall not be condemned; release, and you shall be released; give, and all shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over shall come into your bosom. For with what judgement you judge, you shall be judged; and with what measure you use, it shall be measured out to you.

And wherefore do you criticize the blind spot that you see in your brother's eye, when you do not see the one in your own eyes? How can you say to him Let me cast out the speck that I see in your eye when you cannot see the dust in your own? First of all clear the dust from your own eyes; when that is done then you will see clearly how to cast out the speck from your brother's eye.

So therefore, people, do unto others as you would that others should do unto you; let the needs of others be to you as your own needs; this is the whole of the law and the prophets.

* * *

Therefore also consider this: there is no good tree which brings forth rotten fruit, nor is there any dead or rotten tree which brings forth good fruit. Each tree may therefore be known by its fruit; for men do not gather figs from thorn bushes, nor yet gather grapes from a bramble bush. But every good tree brings forth good fruit just as every bad tree, brings forth ba'd fruit. See therefore that you become a good tree, that you will be known by your fruit; the good man brings forth out of his heart that which is good, but the wayward man brings forth that which is not good.

You who listen to me, do not center your attention on me, but rather consider and practice those things which I commend unto you, for thus will you find the kingdom of God. For everyone who comes and listens to me and practices those things which I teach, will be like unto a man building a house, who digs deep and lays the foundation for his house upon the rock and then when the floods come, the house cannot be shaken because it is founded upon the rock. And likewise, he who hears me but does not those things which I teach is like a man who builds his house upon the sand without a foundation, and when the floods come his house will be washed away.

* * *

And the multitudes were astounded at his teaching; for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.

* * *


The student of the Sermon on the Mount will have observed that some of the most loved passages from the Sermon I have omitted in the previous rendering. These include Jesus' public prayer known as the "Lord's Prayer", the treasure in heaven not being anxious about our lives. The latter passages I have omitted since they come from Luke's Great Interpolation and also because they do not seem to bear directly on the question of "What is the Right Thing to Do?" but rather on "What is the Right Way to Feel?" which is valid and interesting but I will consider it elsewhere, elsewhen, and under another title.

I have also omitted the so-called "Lord's Prayer" perhaps the single most widely known saying attributed to Jesus. There are several reasons for this omission from the Discourse, as follows:
1. It also comes from Luke's Great Interpolation and does not seem to bear on the question of Standards of Goodness. Matthew seems to have inserted it into the Sermon at this point because of the context where Jesus is speaking about how not to pray, and it seemed natural to follow that with a statement on how his followers were to pray.
2. More importantly, the thrust of Jesus' exhortations at this point in the Sermon have to do with proper prayer being inward and secret, and for Jesus to have instituted a public prayer, as evidenced by the third person plural used throughout the prayer, would seem to be contradictory to those exhortations.
3. Also, it does not seem probable to me that Jesus would have instituted "a" prayer for his disciples saying, "After this manner therefore pray ye". what seems to me more probable is that it was originally a spontaneous ebullient expression made by Jesus on some occasion, remembered by some follower and later incorporated as an institutional part of Christian life and worship.
4. Finally, the form of the expression does not seem to me to be consistent with the rest of the teachings of Jesus, being a form of petitionary prayer ("Give us..." Forgive us..., "Lead us") when Jesus was teaching among other values a form of self-reliance and self-Messiahship.

Therefore, I prefer to call it "Jesus' public prayer", rather than the "Lord's prayer". I have also attempted to re-cast the thoughts contained in it in a way which expresses the manner after which 'I feel that we should pray.


Our Father-Mother, friend, sister, and brother abiding forever in compassion, peace, and love We honor and cherish thy being and presence;

We will labor to bring into our hearts the reign of thy universal and unconditional love;

We trust thee and know that all things will come to us which we need;

We will open our eyes to the spiritual nourishment which abounds around us;

And we will love others unconditionally even as thou lovest all people unconditionally;

We will continually raise our consciousness to liberate ourselves from the ways in which we forcefully try to control the world, and to become aware of the oneness of all beings;

For thus do we become Godlike, and worthy to be called children of God and attain continuous inner peace and joy.

Our Father,

Which art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name;

Thy kingdom come;

Thy will be done, in earth,
as it is in heaven;
Give us this day our daily bread;

And forgive us our debts
as we forgive our debtors;
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil;

For thine is the kingdom,
and the glory, and the power,
As revised
Our father-mother, friend,
sister, and brother,
Abiding forever in compassion,
peace, and love,
We cherish and praise thy being
and presence,
We will labor to bring into our hearts
the reign of thy universal and
unconditional love;
We trust thee and know that all things
will come to us which we need;
We will open our eyes to the spiritual
nourishment which abounds around us;
Amd we will love others unconditionally
even as thou lovest all people;
We will continually raise our consciousness
to liberate ourselves from the ways in
which we forcefully try to control the world
and to learn the oneness of all beings;
For thus do we become Godlike, worthy to be
called children of God, and attain continuous
inner peace and joy.

(originally published under the name of John Fitz)