43. The Sermon on the Mount
More time and energy than has been warranted have gone into
the questions whether the Sermon was one complete continuous discourse or is to
be regarded as an assemblage of separate pieces of the Lord’s teaching
spoken at different times in his ministry: and whether the words were spoken in
a mountain or on a plain (Lk. 6:17): and whether they were spoken in Greek or
Notwithstanding Matthew’s undeniable system of bringing
together similar material without regard to chronological sequence, it is
evident from the beginning and end of this section (ch.5-7) that here is a
complete discourse: “When he was set ... his disciples came unto him,
and he opened his mouth, and taught them...” (Mt 5:1, 2) “And it
came to pass, when Jesus ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his
Yet it is not inconceivable that there were in fact two
separate discourses which Matthew, for convenience and in accordance with his
customary practice just mentioned, has brought together in Matthew 5, 6,
Since the challenge of the religious authorities was now
building up strongly, it is tempting to see Mt. 5:17 - 6:18 as a complete
and detached discourse spoken to the disciples in answer to that challenge:
“Ye have heard that it hath been said... But I say unto
you...” And, remarkably enough, most of the rest of the Sermon bears in
one way or another on the disciples’ reaction to the temptations of
materialism. So perhaps there was a Sermon on the Mount and also a Sermon on the
Plain, which Matthew has put together without distinction because the
distinction is not important.
The distribution of material in the two versions (Mt. Lk.) is
widely different: 107 verses in Matthew, and only 29 in Luke; but there are also
another 36 verses dotted about in different parts of Luke which show a fairly
close correspondence with sections of Mt. 5, 6, 7. There is no difficulty about
this, for there are plenty of signs that our Lord not infrequently found it
desirable to repeat parts of his teaching, and not necessarily in exactly the
same phrasing. All busy preachers of the gospel who are not tied to a manuscript
will readily understand this.
There is clear indication that the teaching was addressed to
his disciples, but in the hearing of a larger crowd, many of whom doubtless were
made into disciples by the prospect of this idealistic new world which Jesus
opened up to them.
The question of geographical location has been unnecessarily
complicated by failure to let the gospel writers use words in their own way. In
these records “the mountain” (5:1 RV) does not mean one
specific point of elevation but was probably local idiom for “the
hills”. The same phrase: “the mountain” is used of a very
different locality (e.g.Mk. 6:46; Jn. 6:3, 15).
Matthew mentions that Jesus sat to teach his disciples. This
was normal Jewish procedure. In the Talmud, to sit is-to teach. It was a method
well designed to put the emphasis on the substance of what was taught, rather
than on the mode of its delivery. The teacher who depends on histrionics to get
his point over is cut down to size by this unspectacular mode of
Another important reason for mentioning this detail is to
emphasize the contrast between Moses and Christ. Deuteronomy 5:31 tells of
another Sermon in the Mount. On that occasion Moses stood as
Israel’s representative, to receive instruction. Yet the ultimate
aim and intention was the same: “Ye shall observe to do therefore as the
Lord your God hath commanded you: ye shall not turn aside to the right hand
or to the left” (v. 32).
Although the teaching was intended primarily for his close
disciples, it is evident that a considerable number of others were also present:
“And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the multitudes
were astonished at his doctrine” (7:28). Thus, Luke’s version of the
Beatitudes is pointedly addressed to disciples: “Ye poor” etc.,
whereas in Matthew the more general: “Blessed are the poor in
spirit” allows of a wider audience.
Over against this early discourse to the disciples in public
there is the long private talk of Jesus with them at the end of his
ministry-Jn.13-16. And the eight introductory Beatitudes, which set in so
winsome a fashion the tone of all that is to follow, have also a very grim
counterpart in the eight Woes which Jesus finally pronounced on “scribes
and Pharisees, hypocrites” (Mt. 23:13-29). The opposition of these evil
men was already evident, so that it became necessary for Jesus to include in his
teaching explicit warnings against their philosophy and practices. So from the
very commencement the matchless positive principles of Christ are shown to be
unique. There is sustained contrast with the reprehensible practices so highly
esteemed among his contemporaries.
It is perhaps not inappropriate to add here a few more general
observations on the Beatitudes, now to be considered individually.
That they are eight, and not seven or nine, in number seems to
be indicated by the inclusion of the eighth in Luke’s version, even though
he has i four in his list, with four matching “woes”. ,
There seems to be no logical order, apart from the fact that
the first and the eighth both insist on a present blessing. The eighth --
persecution -- comes more naturally at the end, for whereas the first seven
describe “differing elements of excellence”, i.e. what the true
disciple is, the last is about what men do to him.
There is no conscious blessedness in these various respects. A
man may know himself to be merciful or a peacemaker without being aware of any
special blessing resting on him because of that. The blessing lies essentially
in God’s estimate of him because he is seen by Heaven to have these
And of course there is, or should be, room in one personality
for several or all of these spiritual traits.
There is no lack of other Beatitudes in the teaching of Jesus,
so the list in Matthew 5, must be taken as a collection of examples.
“Blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for
they hear (13:16) “Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in
me” (11:6). “Blessed is that (faithful and wise) servant
whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing (giving them food in due
season)” (24:46). “Blessed are they that hear the word of God, and
keep it” (Lk. 11:28). See also Jn. 20:29; Rev. 1:3; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6;
22:7, 14; 1 Pet. 3:14; 4:14; Jas. 1:12, 25; 2:5, 7 (which alludes to the
Beatitudes in the gospels).