Chapter IV


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

(Document G)

(Document P)


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 document G:

(Luke 6:20-24)
        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 Psalm 37:11).
        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;
(Luke 11:33;Matt.5:15)
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".


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.
(Luke 12:58-59;Matt.5:25-26)
        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.
(Mark 9:43-47;Matt.5:27-30)
        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 into torment.

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.
(Luke 16:8;Matt.5:31-32)
        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.


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 in vain."


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;
(Luke 6:29-30;Matt.5:39b-42)
        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?


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;
(Luke 6:27-29)
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;
(Luke 6:32-35;Matt.5:44-48)
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.
(Luke 6:36)
        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.