HANDBOOK TO THE GOSPELS
THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT
Matthew begins by saying that Jesus went up into a mountain,
but Luke reports that the Sermon was given on "a level place",
probably the beach or the plain of Gennesaret. Thus Matthew's
version is known as the Sermon on the Mount, and Luke's version
is known as the Sermon on the Plain. Here is a summary display
of the passages in Matthew and Luke:
36. The Sermon on the Mount
37a. The Sermon continued
37b. Excerpt from document M
38a. Excerpts from document P
38b. The Sermon concluded
This table shows that Matthew apparently composed his gospel
from document G, but inserted portions of document P as shown in
the third column (38a), and also inserted a portion of the document
which he alone had, called document M (37b). It also shows that
Matthew was a skillful editor, putting passages from different
documents together with an eye to the topics being presented.
Matthew also took Mark 1:40-45 (the healing of the leper) and all
the other incidents from Mark and document G which preceded the
Sermon and placed them subsequent to the Sermon.
Jesus begins the
Sermon with a series of statements called the Beatitudes, since
they all begin with the word blessed. Here is Luke's
version of these statements as they appear to have been found in
Blessed are ye poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are ye
that are hungry, for you can be filled.
Blessed are ye
that weep now, for you can find joy and laughter.
Blessed are ye,
when men shall hate you, and separate themselves
from you, and reproach you, and cast out your name
as evil. Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy;
for behold, your reward is great in heaven, for in the
same manner did their fathers unto the prophets.
Matthew's version of these statements is longer and less personal
for each one (note how the pronoun changes from "ye" to "they"):
Blessed are the poor
in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that
mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth (quoted from
Blessed are they
that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they
shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are they that have
been persecuted for righteousness' sake; for theirs
is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye when
men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner
of evil against you. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad;
for great is your reward in heaven.
Matthew's version of Luke's last beatitude is almost the same as
Luke's version. Matthew appears to have gotten four additional
beatitudes from his unique source, document M, and also borrowed
one which he found in the Psalms.
It is easier to believe that Luke's version of the beatitudes
is actually from Jesus, because of its being more personal by
using "you" instead of "they", and because Matthew's version sounds
more like a stern preacher than a new teaching. And which form
would you be more entranced by, if you heard it?
Matthew follows this with a series of statements that appear
to have been taken from both document M and from document P,
and the gospel of Mark as well:
Ye are the salt of the earth;
(Mark 9:50;Luke 14:34-35;Matt.5:13b)
Salt therefore is good;
but if the salt has lost its savour, then
with what can IT be salted?
Ye are the light of the world;
A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid;
No man, when he has lighted a
lamp, puts it in the cellar, or
under a bushel basket, but on the
lampstand, so that people may see
by the light.
Even so, let your light shine, that
men may see your good works...
(Mark 4:22;Luke 12:2;Matt.10:26)
For there is nothing that was hid, save
that it should be made manifest; nor was there anything secret, but
that it should come to light.
The sentence about a city set on a hill is also found in the gospel
of Thomas, though not in Mark or Luke; the verse about letting your
light shine is not found in either Luke or Mark, but is probably
from document M.
The next section, which appears in Matthew only, seems to be
in the nature of introductory remarks, all from document M:
Think not that I came to destroy the
law or the prophets; I came not to destroy, but
to fulfill. For I say unto you, Till heaven
and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle
shall not pass from the law... Whosoever
shall break even one of those commandments, and
shall teach others to do so, shall be least in
the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall do
them and teach them, shall be called great in
the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto
you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of
the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter
into the kingdom of heaven.
One of the marked differences between Matthew and the others
is that Matthew invariably says "kingdom of heaven" where the
others say "kingdom of God". Henry Burton Sharman in his book
The Teaching of Jesus About the Future demonstrates that
this usage of "heaven" was a characteristic belief of the person
or persons who fashioned the gospel of Matthew. He shows that the
word "heaven" was never used by Jesus in an other-worldly sense
in statements which can be affirmed with certainty or reasonable
certainty to have been spoken by Jesus, but rather Jesus used it
in a this-worldly sense, as part of this world: i.e. "the birds
of the heaven"; "Heaven and earth shall pass away"; "Lay up for
yourselves heavenly treasure".
ANGER AND CONTEMPT
Matthew continues, using a "halakhah" and a "haggadah", which is
the rabbinic way of expounding on the scriptures, by presenting
a quotation from the Torah, and then explaining its application.
The first subject he chooses is anger and contempt; the second
is adultery; the third is divorce; the fourth is oath-taking; the
fifth is hatred and revenge, and the sixth is love of enemies.
You have heard that it was said
by the men of old, Thou shalt not kill;
but I say unto you, that if you are even
angry with another person, that is as
bad as killing them; and if you speak
contemptuously of someone, that is also
just as bad. And I say unto you, that
if you are bringing your gift to the
altar, and you remember that another
person has anything against you, leave
your gift there, and go and be reconciled
to that person, and then you may come and
offer your gift.
For if you are going with your
adversary to the judge, on the way be
diligent to be reconciled with him,
else he may sue you, and the judge
will turn you over to the sheriff,
and the sheriff will put you in prison.
I say unto you, you will not come out
from there, until you have paid the
very last farthing.
So the document M exhortation takes the famous 6th commandment, Thou
shalt not kill, and extends it to, Thou shalt not get angry. But
the illustration he gives doesn't seem to address the problem of
anger directly; it speaks about what you should do when you know
that someone has a grudge against you. This is not so easy to do,
because people often nurse grudges without letting you know it.
The second illustration from document P addresses what you should
if you are being sued, and appears to tell us that we should settle
for whatever is demanded. This is a hard order; sometimes it may
be that more is being demanded of us than we owe. But these cases
make it clear that Jesus is laying down a new ethic, at the same
time that he refuses to repudiate the old ethic, by telling us
that we should follow every commandment in the old law.
The next halakhah is about adultery, which he broadens to
include even being sexually attracted to another person:
Ye have heard that it was said,
Thou shalt not commit adultery; but
I say unto you, that every one who
looks at a woman and desires sex with
her hath committed adultery with her
in his heart.
And if your right eye causes
you to lust, pluck it out, and cast it from you;
for it is better for you that one of your organs
should be lost, that that your whole body fall
into torment. And if your right hand
causes you to lust, cut it off, and
cast it from you; for it is better for
you that one of your organs should be
lost, that that your whole body fall
The sayings about the eye and the hand are found twice in Matthew,
once copied from Mark, and once here in the Great Sermon. Whether
Matthew noticed it or not, we can take it as an authentic saying
from Jesus, because it occurs in both document M and in the gospel
of Mark, copied into Matthew. But the important thing is that
here Jesus also extends the meaning of the 7th commandment to even
having the desire for someone to whom you are not married or who
is married to someone else. So in both cases he extends the
meaning of a commandment about actions to include emotions and
desires, as being equally bad.
Every one that divorces his wife,
and marries another, commits adultery;
and he that marries one that has been
divorced also commits adultery.
This saying attributed to Jesus caused the Catholic Church to decree
that marriage was indissolvable, and that divorce was a sin. Modern
ethics has discarded this, saying that it is worse to stay married
to someone when there are psychological or practical reasons why the
two persons should NOT stay together. So while Jesus may have said
this, it is one of his teachings that we have moved away from, with
divorce now as common as marriage.
SWEAR NOT AT ALL
The third of the principles of conventional morality which
Jesus addresses here is swearing oaths.
Ye have heard that it was said
by them of old time, Thou shalt not
forswear yourself, but perform what
you have sworn to do. But I say unto
you, Swear not at all; neither by the
heaven, for it is the throne of God;
nor by the earth, for it is the
footstool of his feet; nor by Jerusalem,
for it is the city of the great king.
Neither swear by your head, for you
cannot make one hair white or black.
Instead, let your speech be Yea, Yea,
or No, no; and whatsoever more you utter
is committing a sin in the eyes of God.
One of the shocking things in the Old Testament (as well as in much
other literature) is the way in which people say, By God, or by my
father's bones, or some such oath, before they declare what it is
that they are determined to do. It is this that Jesus is instructing
us not to do, and instead commands us to say Yes to that which we
know to be true, and No to that which we know to be untrue, and by
implication if we do not know, we should keep silence. It is awful
to declare in the name of God that you will do something, and then
not do it. That is what is meant by "taking the name of the Lord
RESIST NOT HIM THAT IS EVIL
The fourth of the Old Testament commandments which Matthew
inserted in the Sermon on the Mount from Document M is hatred and
revenge, and hating one's enemies.
Ye have heard that it was said,
An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a
tooth; but I say unto you, Resist not
him that is evil;
To him that smites you on the
right check offer him the other also;
and he that takes away your cloak,
let him have your coat also.
and whoever shall compel you to go
a mile, go with him two miles.
Give to every one
that asks of you; and from him that
taketh away your goods, ask them not again.(Luke 6:31; Matt.7:12)
And as ye would that men should
do unto you, do ye also to them likewise.
So Jesus here teaches that it is wrong to resist any kind of treatment
from anyone, even if it causes you suffering. This ethic has been one
of the most persistent among those who have tried to live according to
the teachings of Jesus. Here again modern views seem to have departed
from this ethic, and teach instead that one should stand up for
oneself and to protest if you are being mistreated. Which of the
two ethics, non-resistance, or actively fighting back, do we
believe in today?
LOVE OF ENEMIES
The fifth of the ethical principles which Jesus addresses in
this portion of the Sermon on the Mount is even more persistent
among those who have tried to live according to the teachings of
Jesus, the rejection of hatred and the enthroning of love of all
persons including enemies.
Ye have heard that it was said
by them of old time, Thou shalt love thy neighbor,
and hate your enemy;
but I say unto ye which hear, Love
your enemies, do good to them that
hate you, bless them that curse you,
and pray for them that despitefully
use you. I say again, Love your
enemies, and do them good; and lend,
never despairing, and your reward
shall be great, and you shall become
sons of the Most High;
for he makes the sun to rise on the
evil and the good, and sendeth rain
on both the just and the unjust.
For if you love them that love
you, what reward do you have? do not
even publicans the same? And if you
salute your brothers only, what do
you more than others? do not even
Gentiles do the same?
and if you lend to them from whom you
hope to receive, what thank have you?
for even sinners lend to sinners.
Ye shall therefore be all-inclusive
in your love, even as your Father in heaven is all-inclusive
in his love.
Be yourself merciful,
even as God your father is merciful.
The word translated "merciful" implies unlimited lovingkindness;
the word translated "perfect" in the King James version is more
accurately translated "whole" or "complete", and i have translated
it as "all-inclusive in your love" in the verses above. Except
for the parable of the Good Samaritan, no portion of Jesus'
teaching is as persistent and as powerful as this new ethic.
In the next chapter we shall finish our analysis of the
Sermon, as it is found in both Matthew and Luke.