Sermon on the Mount

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Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch (1877) Bloch-SermonOnTheMount.jpg
Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch (1877)

The Sermon on the Mount (anglicized from the Matthean Vulgate Latin section title: Sermo in monte) is a collection of sayings spoken by Jesus of Nazareth found in the Gospel of Matthew (chapters 5, 6, and 7) [1] [2] that emphasizes his moral teachings. It is the first of five discourses in the Gospel and has been one of the most widely quoted sections of the Gospels. [3]


Background and setting

The Sermon on the Mount is placed relatively early in Matthew's portrayal of Jesus's ministry--following, in chapter 3, his baptism by John and, in chapter 4, his sojourn and temptation in the desert, his call of four disciples, and his early preaching in Galilee.

The five discourses in the Gospel of Matthew are: the Sermon on the Mount (5-7), the discourse on discipleship (10), the discourse of parables (13), the discourse on the community of faith (18), and the discourse on future events (24-25). [4] Also, like all the other "discourses," this one has Matthew's concluding statement (7:28-29) that distinguishes it from the material that follows. For similar statements at the end of the other discourses, see 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1.

Traditionally, the Mount of Beatitudes has been commemorated as the physical site at which the sermon took place. Other locations, such as Mount Arbel and the Horns of Hattin, have also been suggested as possibilities.

This sermon is one of the most widely quoted sections of the Gospels, [3] including some of the best-known sayings attributed to Jesus, such as the Beatitudes and the commonly recited version of the Lord's Prayer. It also contains what many consider to be the central tenets of Christian discipleship. [3]

The setting for the sermon is given in Matthew 5:1-2. There, Jesus is said to see the crowds, to go up the mountain accompanied by his disciples, to sit down, and to begin his speech. [5]


The Lord's Prayer, in Matthew 6:9, 1500, Vienna Meister des Lehrbuchs Kaiser Maximilians I. 001.jpg
The Lord's Prayer, in Matthew 6:9, 1500, Vienna

Although the issues of Matthew's compositional plan for the Sermon on the Mount remain unresolved among scholars, its structural components are clear. [6] [7]

Matthew 5:3–12 [8] includes the Beatitudes. These describe the character of the people of the Kingdom of Heaven, expressed as "blessings". [9] The Greek word most versions of the Gospel render as "blessed," can also be translated "happy" (Matthew 5:3–12 in Young's Literal Translation [10] for an example). In Matthew, there are eight (or nine) blessings, while in Luke there are four, followed by four woes. [9]

In almost all cases, the phrases used in the Beatitudes are familiar from an Old Testament context, but in the sermon Jesus gives them new meaning. [11] Together, the Beatitudes present a new set of ideals that focus on love and humility rather than force and mastery; they echo the highest ideals of Jesus's teachings on spirituality and compassion. [11]

In Christian teachings, the Works of Mercy, which have corporal and spiritual components, have resonated with the theme of the Beatitude for mercy. [12] These teachings emphasize that these acts of mercy provide both temporal and spiritual benefits. [13]

Matthew 5:13–16 [14] presents the metaphors of salt and light. This completes the profile of God's people presented in the beatitudes and acts as the introduction to the next section.

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, [15] Jesus applies 'Light of the World' to himself. [16]

Jesus preaches about Hell and what Hell is like: "But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother " Raca (fool)" shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire." [17]

A page from Matthew, from Papyrus 1, c. 250 AD Papyrus 1 - recto.jpg
A page from Matthew, from Papyrus 1, c.250 AD

The longest section of the Sermon is Matthew 5:17–48, [18] traditionally referred to as "the Antitheses" or "Matthew's Antitheses". In the section, Jesus fulfils and reinterprets the Old Covenant and in particular its Ten Commandments, contrasting with what "you have heard" from others. [19] For example, he advises turning the other cheek, and to love one's enemies, in contrast 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's new teachings which bring about salvation, and hence must be adhered to, as emphasized in Matthew 7:24–27 [20] towards the end of the sermon. [21]

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 calls 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. [22] [23] [24]

The first part of Matthew 7 (Matthew 7:1–6) [25] deals with judging. Jesus condemns those who judge others without first sorting out their own affairs on the matter: "Judge not, that ye be not judged." Jesus concludes the sermon in Matthew 7:17–29 [26] by warning against false prophets.

Teachings and theology

Plaque of the 8 Beatitudes, St. Cajetan Church, Lindavista, Mexico Saint Cajetan Church, Gustavo A. Madero, Federal District, Mexico11.jpg
Plaque of the 8 Beatitudes , St. Cajetan Church, Lindavista, Mexico

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. [27] Various religious and moral thinkers (e.g. Leo Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi) have admired its message, and it has been one of the main sources of Christian pacifism. [1] [28]

In the 5th century, Saint Augustine began his book Our Lord's Sermon on the Mount by stating:

If anyone 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 (Matthew 5:48) [29] is a focal point of the Sermon that summarizes its teachings by advising the disciples to seek perfection. [30] 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. [30] It teaches that God's children are those who act like God. [31] [ better source needed ]

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. [32]

Theological structure

The theological structure of the Sermon on the Mount is widely discussed. [6] [7] [33] 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. [6] Others such as Günther 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. [6] [7] Dale Allison and Glen Stassen have proposed a structure based on triads. [7] [33] [34] Jack Kingsbury and Hans Dieter Betz see the sermon as composed of theological themes, e.g. righteousness or way of life. [6]


The Sermon of the Mount as depicted by Louis Comfort Tiffany in a stained glass window at Arlington Street Church in Boston Sermon-on-the-mount-tiffany.jpg
The Sermon of the Mount as depicted by Louis Comfort Tiffany in a stained glass window at Arlington Street Church in Boston

The high ethical standards of the Sermon have been interpreted in a wide variety of ways by different Christian groups.

North American Biblical scholar Craig S. Keener finds at least 36 different interpretations of the message of the Sermon which he groups into eight views: [35]

  1. The predominant medieval view, "reserving a higher ethic for clergy, especially in monastic orders" [36]
  2. A view associated with Martin Luther that it represents an impossible demand, but serves to educate Christians on the ideals of their faith [37]
  3. The Anabaptist a literal view which directly applies the teachings [38]
  4. The Social Gospel view [ clarification needed ]
  5. The Christian existentialism view[ clarification needed ]
  6. Schweitzer's view of an imminent eschatology referring to an interim ethic
  7. Dispensational eschatology which refers to the future Kingdom of God
  8. 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's teachings into sets of similar material, the same material is scattered when found in Luke. [1] The Sermon on the Mount may be compared with the similar but shorter Sermon on the Plain as recounted by the Gospel of Luke (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. [39]

See also

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  1. 1 2 3 Cross, F.L., ed. (2005), "Sermon on the Mount", The Oxford dictionary of The Christian church, New York: Oxford University Press.
  2. Baasland, Ernst (2015). Parables and Rhetoric in the Sermon on the Mount: New Approaches to a Classic Text. Tübingen, DE: Mohr Siebeck. ISBN   9783161541025.
  3. 1 2 3 Vaught, Carl G. (2001), The Sermon on the mount: a theological investigation, Baylor University Press, ISBN   978-0-918954-76-3 . pages xi–xiv.
  4. The Gospel of Matthew by Craig S. Keener 2009 ISBN   978-0-8028-6498-7 pp. 37–38.
  5. Although the speeches in Matthew 5-7 and in Luke 6 both begin with beatitudes and end with the parable of the two builders, the settings are interestingly different but involve the same components. Whereas Matthew has Jesus go up the mountain with his disciples, sit, and deliver his speech to the crowds, Luke (6:17) describes him coming down from the mountain with his disciples, standing on a level place, and speaking to the crowds.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 Reading the Sermon on the Mount: by Charles H. Talbert 2004 ISBN   1-57003-553-9 pp. 21–26.
  7. 1 2 3 4 What are they saying about Matthew's Sermon on the mount?, Warren Carter 1994 ISBN   0-8091-3473-X pp. 35–47.
  8. Matthew 5:3–12
  9. 1 2 "Beatitudes." Frank Leslie Cross, Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005 ISBN   978-0-19280290-3
  10. Matthew 5:3–12
  11. 1 2 A Dictionary of The Bible, James Hastings 2004 ISBN   1-4102-1730-2 pages 15–19.
  12. Jesus the Peacemaker, Carol Frances Jegen 1986 ISBN   0-934134-36-7 pages 68–71.
  13. The Synoptics: Matthew, Mark, Luke, Ján Majerník, Joseph Ponessa, Laurie Watson Manhardt 2005 ISBN   1-931018-31-6, pages 63–68
  14. Matthew 5:13–16
  15. John 8:12
  16. Spear, Charles (2003). Names and Titles of the Lord Jesus Christ. p. 226. ISBN   0-7661-7467-0.
  17. Matthew 5:22
  18. Matthew 5:17–48
  19. See David Flusser, "The Torah in the Sermon on the Mount" ( and idem, "'It Is Said to the Elders': On the Interpretation of the So-called Antitheses in the Sermon on the Mount" (
  20. Matthew 7:24–27
  21. France, R. T. (2007). The Gospel of Matthew. Wm. B. Eerdmans. pp. 1118–9. ISBN   978-0-80282501-8.
  22. 1 Chronicles 29:10–18
  23. Clontz, T.E. & J., The Comprehensive New Testament with complete textual variant mapping and references for the Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Josephus, Nag Hammadi Library, Pseudepigrapha, Apocrypha, Plato, Egyptian Book of the Dead, Talmud, Old Testament, Patristic Writings, Dhammapada, Tacitus, Epic of Gilgamesh, Cornerstone, 2008, p. 451, ISBN   978-0-9778737-1-5
  24. Stevenson (2004), p. 198.
  25. Matthew 7:1–6
  26. Matthew 7:17–29
  27. The sources of Christian ethics by Servais Pinckaers 1995 ISBN   0-8132-0818-1 page 134
  28. For Tolstoy, see My Religion, 1885. cf. My Religion on Wikisource.
  29. Matthew 5:48
  30. 1 2 Vaught, Carl G. (1986). The Sermon on the Mount: A Theological Interpretation. SUNY Press. pp. 7–10. ISBN   9781438422800.
  31. Talbert, Charles H. (2010). "Matthew". Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament. Baker Academic. p. 78. ISBN   9780801031922.
  32. Christian ethics, issues and insights by Eṃ Stephan 2007 ISBN   81-8069-363-5.
  33. 1 2 Allison, Dale C. (September 1987). "The Structure of the Sermon on the Mount" (PDF). Journal of Biblical Literature. 106 (3): 423–45. doi:10.2307/3261066. JSTOR   3261066.
  34. Stassen, Glen H. "The Fourteen Triads of the Sermon on the Mount." Journal of Biblical Literature, 2003.
  35. Keener, Craig S. (2009). "The sermon's message". The Gospel of Matthew. Wm. B. Eerdmans. pp. 160–2. ISBN   978-0-8028-6498-7.
  36. Mahoney, Jack (February 2012). "Catholicism Pure and Simple". 2nd, 3rd, and 4th paragraphs. The most widespread and notorious of these strategies was the double standard approach which developed by the time of the Middle Ages, requiring the sermon to be taken seriously by only some members of the Church.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  37. Cahill, Lisa Sowle (April 1987). "The Ethical Implications of the Sermon on the Mount". Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology. 41 (2): 144–156. doi:10.1177/002096438704100204. S2CID   170623512. The notion that the Sermon is impossible of fulfillment, but has a pedagogical function, is usually associated with Martin Luther or, as Jeremias puts it, with "Lutheran orthodoxy." However, Luther himself maintained that faith is active in works of love and that it is precisely faith which loving service presupposes and of which it is a sign. For this reason, Jeremias's own hermeneutic of the Sermon carries through Luther's most central insights. The Sermon indicates a way of life which presupposes conversion; the Sermon's portrayals of discipleship, while not literal prescriptions, create ideals and set burdens of proof for all concrete embodiments.
  38. "Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO)". first paragraph. Whereas Luther emphasized salvation by faith and grace alone, the Anabaptists placed emphasis on the obedience of faith.
  39. Ehrman 2004, p. 101


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Sermon on the Mount
Life of Jesus: Sermon on the Mount or on the Plain
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