Sermon on the Mount
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according to the Gospels
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The Sermon on the Mount (anglicized from the Matthean Vulgate Latin section title: Sermo in monte) is a collection of sayings and teachings of Jesus, which emphasizes his moral teaching found in the Gospel of Matthew (chapters 5, 6 and 7). It is the first of the Five Discourses of Matthew and takes place relatively early in the Ministry of Jesus after he has been baptized by John the Baptist and preached in Galilee.
The Sermon is the longest piece of teaching from Jesus in the New Testament, and has been one of the most widely quoted elements of the Canonical Gospels. It includes some of the best known teachings of Jesus, such as the Beatitudes, and the widely recited Lord's Prayer. To most believers in Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount contains the central tenets of Christian discipleship.
The last verse of chapter 5 is considered to be a focal point that summarizes the teaching of the sermon: "be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect", advising his disciples and followers to seek the path towards perfection and the Kingdom of God.
Background and setting
The Sermon on the Mount is the longest piece of teaching from Jesus in the New Testament, and occupies chapters 5, 6 and 7 of the Gospel of Matthew. The Sermon has been one of the most widely quoted elements of the Canonical Gospels. To most believers in Jesus, the Sermon contains the central tenets of Christian discipleship.
Before this episode, Jesus had been "all about Galilee" preaching, as in Matthew 4:23, and "great crowds followed him" from all around the area. The setting for the sermon is given in Matthew 5:1-2. Jesus sees the multitudes, goes up into the mountain, is followed by his disciples, and begins to preach.
While the issue of the exact theological structure and composition of the Sermon on the Mount is subject to debate among scholars, specific components within it, each associated with particular teachings, can be identified.
Matthew 5:3–12 discusses the Beatitudes. These describe the character of the people of the Kingdom of God, expressed as "blessings". The Greek word most versions of the Gospel render as "blessed," can also be translated "happy". (See Matthew 5:3–12 of Young's Literal Translation for an example.) In Matthew, there are eight (or nine) blessings, while in Luke there are four, followed by four woes.
In almost all cases the phrases used in the Beatitudes are familiar from an Old Testament context, but in the sermon Jesus elevates them to new teachings. Together, the Beatitudes present a new set of ideals that focus on love and humility rather than force and exaction; they echo the highest ideals of Jesus' teachings on spirituality and compassion.
In Christian teachings, the Works of Mercy, which have corporal and spiritual components, have resonated with the theme of the Beatitude for mercy. These teachings emphasize that these acts of mercy provide both temporal and spiritual benefits.
There are two parts in this section, using the terms "salt of the earth" and Light of the World to refer to the disciples – implying their value. Elsewhere in John 8:12 Jesus applies Light of the World to himself.
The longest discourse in the Sermon is Matthew 5:17–48, traditionally referred to as the Antitheses or Matthew's Antitheses though Gundry disputes that title. In the discourse Jesus fulfills and reinterprets the Old Covenant and in particular its Ten Commandments, contrasting with what "you have heard" from others, e.g. turning the other cheek compared to taking an eye for an eye. According to most interpretations of Matthew 5:17, 18, 19, and 20, and most Christian views of the Old Covenant, these new interpretations of the Law and Prophets are not opposed to the Old Testament, which was the position of Marcion, but form Jesus' new teachings which bring about salvation, and hence must be adhered to, as emphasized in Matthew 7:24–27 towards the end of the sermon.
In Matthew 6 Jesus condemns doing what would normally be "good works" simply for recognition and not from the heart, such as those of alms (6:1–4), prayer (6:5–15), and fasting (6:16–18). The discourse goes on to condemn the superficiality of materialism and call the disciples not to worry about material needs, but to "seek" God's kingdom first. Within the discourse on ostentation, Matthew presents an example of correct prayer. Luke places this in a different context. The Lord's prayer (6:9–13) contains parallels to 1 Chronicles 29:10–18.
Teachings and theology
The teachings of the Sermon on the Mount have been a key element of Christian ethics, and for centuries the sermon has acted as a fundamental recipe for the conduct of the followers of Jesus. Various religious and moral thinkers (e.g. Tolstoy and Gandhi) have admired its message, and it has been one of the main sources of Christian pacifism.
- If any one will piously and soberly consider the sermon which our Lord Jesus Christ spoke on the mount, as we read it in the Gospel according to Matthew, I think that he will find in it, so far as regards the highest morals, a perfect standard of the Christian life
The last verse of chapter 5 of Matthew (5:48) is a focal point of the sermon that summarizes its teachings by advising the disciples to seek perfection." The Greek word telios used to refer to perfection also implies an end, or destination, advising the disciples to seek the path towards perfection and the Kingdom of God. It teaches that God's children are those who act like God.
The teachings of the sermon are often referred to as the Ethics of the Kingdom: they place a high level of emphasis on "purity of the heart" and embody the basic standard of Christian righteousness.
The issue of the theological structure and composition of the Sermon on the Mount remains unresolved. One group of theologians ranging from Saint Augustine in the 5th century to Michael Goulder in the 20th century, see the Beatitudes as the central element of the Sermon. Others such as Bornkamm see the Sermon arranged around the Lord's prayer, while Daniel Patte, closely followed by Ulrich Luz, see a chiastic structure in the sermon. Dale Allison and Glen Stassen have proposed a structure based on triads. Jack Kingsbury and Hans Dieter Betz see the sermon as composed of theological themes, e.g. righteousness or way of life.
Analysis and interpretation
The Sermon has been interpreted in a wide variety of ways by different Christian groups and Craig S. Keener states that at least 36 different interpretations regarding the message of the Sermon exist. Keener lists 8 categories of views:
- The predominant medieval view that it applies to the clergy (specially in monastic orders) and not the laity
- Luther's view that it represents an impossible demand like the law
- The Anabaptist literal view which directly applies the teachings
- The Social Gospel view
- The Christian existentialism view
- Schweitzer's view of an imminent eschatology referring to an interim ethic
- Dispensational eschatology which refers to a future Kingdom of God
- Inaugurated eschatology in which the Sermon's ethics remain a goal to be approached, yet realized later
Comparison with the Sermon on the Plain
While Matthew groups Jesus' teachings into sets of similar material, the same material is scattered when found in Luke. The Sermon on the Mount may be compared with the similar but more succinct Sermon on the Plain as recounted by the Gospel of Luke (6:17–49), which occurs at the same moment in Luke's narrative, and also features Jesus heading up a mountain, but giving the sermon on the way down at a level spot. Some scholars believe that they are the same sermon, while others hold that Jesus frequently preached similar themes in different places.
Comparison with Buddhist teachings
Although modern parallels between the teachings of Jesus such as the Sermon on the Mount and some Buddhist teachings have been drawn, these comparisons emerged after missionary contacts in the 19th century, and there is no historically reliable evidence of contacts between Buddhism and Jesus during his life. Modern scholarship has almost unanimously agreed that claims of the travels of Jesus to Tibet, Kashmir or India (see Unknown years of Jesus) and the influence of Buddhism on his teachings are without historical basis.
- Gospel harmony
- Jesus in Christianity
- Life of Jesus in the New Testament
- Sermon on the Plain (Gospel of Luke)
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- St. Augustine of Hippo. Commentary on Sermon on Mount. Translated by William Findlay. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1601.htm
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