“Ἰδὼν δὲ τοὺς ὄχλους ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος καὶ καθίσαντος αὐτοῦ προσῆλθαν αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ ” https://ref.ly/r/ldgnt/Mt5.1 via the Logos Bible Android app.
Matthew 5:2–5 (LDGNT)
2καὶ ἀνοίξας τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ ἐδίδασκεν αὐτοὺς λέγων
3Μακάριοι οἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν
4μακάριοι οἱ πενθοῦντες ὅτι αὐτοὶ παρακληθήσονται
5μακάριοι οἱ πραεῖς ὅτι αὐτοὶ κληρονομήσουσιν τὴν γῆν
Matthew 5:1 (LDGNT)
1Ἰδὼν δὲ τοὺς ὄχλους ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος καὶ καθίσαντος αὐτοῦ προσῆλθαν αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ
Matthew 7:24 NET
Matthew 5:1 (LDGNT)
1Ἰδὼν δὲ τοὺς ὄχλους ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος καὶ καθίσαντος αὐτοῦ προσῆλθαν αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ
5:1 he went up the mountain Jesus’ giving new instruction on a mountain reflects Exod 19–24. His comparisons with various points of the law (Matt 5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43) allude to Moses. Mountains provide the setting for significant teachings and events in Matthew (e.g., 17:1; 24:3; 26:30; 28:16).
sat down In Jesus’ day, the most important person or persons in a group would sit while the rest stood. Rabbis sat while giving instruction.
his disciples Matthew does not mention how many of Jesus’ followers were disciples in the full sense.
his disciples approached him The language of this verse reflects Moses’ reception of the law at Mount Sinai.
Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Mt 5:1). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
SERMON ON THE MOUNT/PLAIN. The customary designation for the discourse of Jesus recorded in Matthew 5–7 and Luke 6:20–40.
B. The Addresses
C. Present Situation of Scholarship
D. Origin and History of Tradition
E. Literary Genre and Function
1. The Sermon on the Mount
2. The Sermon on the Plain
1. The Sermon on the Mount
2. The Sermon on the Plain
H. Literary Influences
1. Within the NT
2. In the Post-NT Period
The name “Sermon on the Mount” (henceforth abbreviated SM) designates the first programmatic speech Jesus delivered according to the gospel of Matthew (5:3–7:27). The name SM (sermo in monte) was used by Augustine (A.D. 354–430), who in his early commentary (written ca. 392–396 [Mutzenbecher 1967:ix]), most probably the first ever written on SM alone, highlighted the famous text as a literary entity in itself. Since then, the name not only designates the particular text in Matthew, but, for the public mind and especially in the present debate, stands also for the text that sums up the uncompromising ethics of the historical Jesus as distinct from the post-Easter theology of the Christian Church. This simplification, however, proves untenable in the light of scholarship past and present.
Since “mountain” refers to the place where Jesus is said to have presented his sermon (Matt 5:1), the parallel speech in Luke 6:20b–49 was called after the place where it was delivered (6:12, 17), of the “Sermon on the Plain” (henceforth abbreviated SP).
B. The Addresses
The sources are unclear concerning the question of the original addresses of SM and SP. According to Matt 5:1, SM is addressed to the disciples of Jesus after he had separated them from the crowd and moved to the mountain. In 7:28, however, Matthew says that all, disciples and crowds, praised the sermon because of its authoritative power. Further, who are the disciples? According to Matt 4:18–22, only four have so far been called: Simon Peter and his brother, Andrew, and the two sons of Zebedee. Matthew can hardly have believed that only four disciples were present on the mountain, however, for he certainly holds that Jesus spoke to all the disciples and, indeed, to all the people as well. Similar ambiguity is found in connection with SP: in Luke 6:12–16, Jesus goes up to the mountain in order to elect the Twelve, and in 6:17–19, all come down to the plain and meet with the people, so that according to 6:20a, disciples and people are present. Yet Jesus makes his speech “fixing his eyes on his disciples.” Mark 3:13–19 also reports that Jesus went to the mountain to elect the Twelve, but of course there is no parallel to SM and SP in Mark. This situation would indicate that the gospel writers are certainly interested in having Jesus address both the disciples and the people, probably because the disciples (then and in their own time) have been called from the people who represent the general readership of the gospels. The address to the disciples only appears to have come from the earlier sources, SM and SP, and perhaps the Q-versions, QMatt and QLuke, into which they were integrated before their inclusion in the gospels (see Strecker 1984:26). In terms of the history of tradition, therefore, both SM and SP serve as instructions given to disciples, a function that is borne out as well by their literary genre and composition.
C. Present Situation of Scholarship
The present situation in scholarship regarding SM and SP shows little consensus. All the fundamental problems are debated: authorship, textual transmission and history of tradition, literary genre, composition and function, historical origin, location in early Christian theology, and relationship to other NT and extra-NT sources (gospels and epistles in the NT, Christian apocrypha, Jewish writings, Greco-Roman philosophy, ethics, and religion). Wide differences regarding the meaning of SM for the modern world characterize the present debates inside and outside the Christian churches. In comparison, SP has attracted little attention until recently.
D. Origin and History of Tradition
According to the gospel authors, both SM and SP go back to Jesus of Nazareth. The authors are historically correct in the general sense that the main theological doctrines expressed in SM and SP point back to Jesus; but their thesis is hardly demonstrable concerning the written texts, which are in Greek and which cannot be shown to be simple translations from the Aramaic. Both SM and SP were conceived in Greek by whoever composed them.
That SM and SP are parallel texts was recognized and debated in the patristic literature. Perhaps Origen (fr. in Mt. 79) and certainly Chrysostom (In Matth. Hom. 15) believed that the same sermon of Jesus was transmitted twice; but Augustine took the differences between them seriously, regarding them as two different speeches, one (SM) given before the apostles only and the other (SP) addressing all the people (De consensu evangelistarum 2.19). Both options have been held through the entire history of exegesis, up to the present time (see Lambrecht 1985:35–40).
Most scholars today assign the composition of SM to Matthew (Guelich 1982; Strecker 1984; Lambrecht 1985; Luz Matthäus EKKNT) and that of SP to Luke (Schürmann Lukasevangelium HTKNT, 385–86; Marshall Luke NIGTC, 243–45; Fitzmyer Luke I–IX AB, 627–62). For these scholars, Matthew received the basic material from Q and V 5, p 1107 expanded it with other sources he found in his tradition or which he made up himself; he also made editorial changes in the material. Concerning the basic Q-material, some assume that it was, on the whole, identical with SP, while others hold that Q is represented in Matthew and Luke in two recensions (QMatt and QLuke) and that SM and SP were transmitted to the gospel writers as part of these two recensions (see Moffatt 1918:194–204; Streeter 1930:249–59; Kümmel 1975:63–80; Lindemann 1984:251–63, 335–39; Strecker 1984:9–12). Some scholars have attempted to reconstruct from SM and SP an earlier Q-Sermon (see, e.g., Schenk 1981; Polag 1982); but it is still uncertain whether SM and SP were part of Q, and if they were, whether there ever was one Q-Sermon, and if there were, whether it can be reconstructed from the two recensions. Wrege (1968:1–4, 57, 108–9, 131, 172), however, does not subscribe to the hypothetical Q-source but has Matthew compose SM from sayings clusters in the oral tradition of the sayings of Jesus. Yet Wrege cannot explain—and does not treat—the parallel literary integrity of SP. Betz (1985b) regards both SM and SP as presynoptic compositions older than Q. Constructed for specific purposes, they took their form from the literary genre and function. As the evolving collection Q—really a collection of earlier collections and clusters of sayings (gnomologium)—was expanded, SM and SP ended up in the two recensions.
Over the past decades, some scholars have assumed that SM originated in early Jewish Christianity (Streeter 1930:254–59; Dibelius 1953:97: ca. A.D. 50; so also Betz 1985b: 1). Accordingly, SM continues the teaching of Jesus, looking back at it from a later perspective and making a critical and pointed selection of what was then recognized as essential (see G below). More precise data are hard to ascertain, but the central position of Jerusalem, the only place ever named in SM, is conspicuous (5:14, 34d–35; 7:13–14); and an allusion to the Peter-rock tradition in 7:24–25 is conceivable. In later Jewish Christianity, SM exerted an extraordinarily strong influence (Didache, Jewish Christian gospels, Pseudo-Clementines; Elchasaites).
There are no clues to the origin of SP as a presynoptic source. The text is apparently designed from a Jewish-Christian perspective, although written for gentile Christians.
E. Literary Genre and Function
The literary genre and function of SM was investigated by Betz in 1978 (see Betz 1985b: 1–16), who proposes that SM conforms to the genre of the epitome, which he describes thus (p. 13):
As a literary work, the epitome is secondary in nature. It is a condensation of a larger work, made by a redactor (who may of course be the same person as the author of the larger work) for a specific purpose. Its characteristics include brevity and precision in selection and formulation. But the epitome is not simply a collection of selected passages. Rather, the author has systematic goals and looks at the work to be epitomized as a whole. What he or she selects and composes into the new literary unit is intended to be a systematic synopsis. In composing the epitome, the author has considerable freedom to be creative, to reformulate, to transpose, to add and omit as necessary in view of the overall demands of the genre and purpose.
Applied to SM, that text conforms to the genre in this way: “The literary genre of the SM is that of an epitome presenting the theology of Jesus in a systematic fashion. The epitome is a composition carefully designed out of sayings of Jesus grouped according to thematic points of doctrine considered to be of primary importance. Correspondingly, its function is to provide the disciple of Jesus with the necessary tool for becoming a Jesus theologian. ‘Hearing and doing the sayings of Jesus,’ therefore, means enabling the disciple to theologize creatively along the lines of the theology of the master” (p. 15).
The text of SP also falls into the category of epitome and serves the same function. That SP on the one hand is composed in a similar way but on the other hand differs so greatly from SM is due not to a different genre or function but to the different addressees. SM is designed for Jewish Christians, SP for gentile Christians.
Careful literary analyses are indispensable for the question of the literary composition of both SM and SP. These analyses consider form and redaction criticism as well as rhetorical and argumentative strategies. Thus far such analyses have been proposed only in experimental form, but even on that basis one can say that both texts are exceedingly well constructed. Each in its own way is a textual unit with its own form, composition, and theological thought world, similarities notwithstanding. Number symbolism is one of the major elements in the composition of both.
- The Sermon on the Mount. The number three is of great importance to the composition of SM. As a whole, SM falls into three parts: the exordium (5:3–16), the central section (5:17–7:12), and the concluding section (7:13–27).
a. The Exordium (5:3–16). The exordium begins with an impressive and highly complex series of ten beatitudes (macarisms), whereby the number ten is hardly fortuitous but corresponds to an ordering principle, frequently encountered in Jewish literature, which symbolizes perfection. See BEATITUDES. But matters are still more complicated, for in 5:3–12 two strata can clearly be distinguished. In 5:3–10, a series of eight macarisms, largely parallel in form, have been brought together. Each consists of a distich in the third person plural, the second line of which is invariably introduced by hoti (“that”). In patristic exegesis, the number eight (according to other reckonings, the number seven) symbolizes perfection as well. In 5:9–10, two further macarisms have been added secondarily. These secondary expansions bring about changes in form, though it is not clear for what reason. In any case, the symbolism remains constant, since both the number eight (seven) and the number ten express perfection. As a theologumenon, perfection itself plays an important role in the SM (5:48).
The phenomenon of the series of macarisms raises the problem of how individual macarisms are related to one another. Again there are wide-ranging discussions among V 5, p 1108 the Church Fathers on this point. They noticed that the first in the series of macarisms speaks of the basic virtue of humility, while the last deals with the vision of God and deification. Thus some patristic expositors interpreted the design as a step-ladder for the ascent of the soul from the elementary virtue of humility to mystical union with God. Though one may be skeptical toward such speculative ideas, it remains necessary to find an explanation more appropriate to the text for why the Beatitudes are arranged in their present order.
In itself, the series of macarisms is by no means uniform, but is made up of four distinct types, each of two lines, with the exception of v 12, which is a tristich. The first and no doubt the “leading” macarism is found in v 3. It has its counterpart in v 10. The first line contains the macarism as such, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” formulated in the third person plural. The designation of those addressed is unusual (see below). The second line constitutes a hoti-clause, in which the grounds for the macarism are stated. However, the hoti-clause belongs to the macarism in only a qualified sense. The phrase “to them belongs the kingdom of heaven” was originally a verdict that had its place in the last judgment and is anticipated here (cf. Matt 25:34).
The second type is found in vv 4–9. Again the first line contains the macarism, cast in the third person plural, together with the designation of those who are addressed, while the second line is a hoti-clause giving the basis for the blessing. But in this instance the hoti-clause consists of an eschatological promise, formulated in the future passive. These promises arise through an eschatological interpretation of the ius talionis (law of retribution). The series comprised by vv 4–9 contains macarisms that correspond to individual scenes in which the fate of the righteous in paradise is described. Thus one can see in this section a greatly abbreviated apocalyptic vision of the world to come.
The third type is found only once (v 11). The macarism is now formulated in the second person plural and is not connected with a designation of those addressed. The second line takes the form of a hoti-clause. It presents three situations of persecution that the addressees must be prepared to undergo.
The fourth type is a tristich, represented by v. 12. Also formulated in the second person plural, it begins with a double summons to “rejoice and be glad,” then passes over into a hoti-clause in the second line, which provides the necessary justification. This line consists of a Jewish dogmatic judgment: “Great is your reward in heaven.” This verdict is then furnished with its justification in the third line: “for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” In other words, an historical verdict is rendered by which the present persecution of the community is equated with the persecution of the prophets, that, in accordance with Jewish thought, results in eschatological reward. One must read the argument in reverse, so to speak. The historical verdict rendered in v 12c leads to the dogmatic judgment in v 12b, and both together constitute the basis for the macarism in v 12a.
The beatitudes are followed by a commission of the “Church” (if at this point one can call the Christian community a church), stated as two declarations, each claiming a traditional metaphor of Jewish self-description: the salt of the earth (5:13) and the light of the world (5:14–16).
b. Central Section (5:17–7:12). The main body of SM (5:17–7:12) sets forth what is called in 7:14 “the way to the (eternal) life” (7:14), i.e., guidelines for a way of life. It consists of three parts, the first of which is devoted to the interpretation of the Torah (5:17–48).
This interpretation is introduced by a set of four hermeneutical principles (5:17–20) which are regarded as underlying all of the teachings of Jesus. The first principle (5:17) assesses the intention and purpose of Jesus as a Torah teacher and refutes the idea that he had come to abolish the Torah. The second principle (5:18) affirms the authority of the written Hebrew text of Scripture. The third (5:19) defines the status and authority of Jesus’ interpretation of the Torah in the Christian community. The fourth (5:20) specifies what is to be understood by righteousness in distinction from Pharisaism.
These principles are then applied in six cases of halakah, the so-called antitheses (5:21–48). Taken together, all six cases comprise legal issues exemplifying the commandment of Lev 19:18, “Love your neighbor” (5:43). There are two sets of three “neighborly” conflicts, the first set dealing with family conflicts, second with friends and foes, thus covering in principle all interpersonal relationships.
The first antithesis is on murder and focuses on the brother, understood here also in the wider sense of the term (5:21–26). The second antithesis treats adultery (5:27–30), the third divorce (5:31–32). The second set is based on the assumption that broken friendship is the root cause of enmity, and it opens with the fourth antithesis on oath-taking as the opposite of speaking the truth, the mark of true friendship (5:33–37). The fifth antithesis then deals with retaliation (5:38–42), while the sixth leads up to the climax and the role diametrically opposed to treatment of the brother, treatment of the enemy (5:43–48).
The arrangement of the entire series is worked out with great skill down to the smallest detail, and as a whole it amounts to an interpretation of Jesus’ love command in terms of Jewish Torah exegesis (cf. also Betz Galatians Hermeneia, 274–76). Each antithesis is carefully constructed as a legal and ethical argument interpreting in a parallel pattern Torah prohibitions and prescriptions. The argument proceeds by first refuting a false interpretation of the Torah in order then to submit the right interpretation of the same Torah and to argue the latter rhetorically with the help of illustrative examples, images, and metaphors. Each argument leads up to a conclusion justifying Jesus’ interpretation as ethically valid.
The second section of the body (6:1–18) contains cultic instruction (see Betz 1985b: 55–69). After a general exhortation (6:1), three subsections deal with the improper and proper performance of the rituals of almsgiving (6:2–4), prayer (6:5–15), and fasting (6:16–18). Analysis shows (see Betz 1985b: 57–59) a highly stylized parallel structure of the three sections and also reveals the insertion of a separate instruction on prayer after 6:5–6 (6:7–15). Composed somewhat differently from the rest of the section, this insertion presents as well different theological ideas. It polemicizes against assimiliation with the “heathen” and presents a Jewish (-Christian) doctrine of prayer (6:7–8), for which the Lord’s Prayer (6:9–13) serves as the V 5, p 1109 authoritative example; to this is joined a “sentence of sacred law” regarding forgiveness (6:14–15).
The third section of the body (6:19–7:12) is composed of seven compositions of sententiae, varying in length and character and concluded by their underlying hermeneutical principle, the Golden Rule (7:12). The collection begins with a piece on gathering treasures (6:19–21) and continues with a very succinct composition on vision (6:22–23; see Betz 1985b: 71–87). Next comes a short saying on serving two masters (6:24), followed by two long and highly developed arguments, one on worrying (6:25–34; see Betz 1985b: 89–123) and another on judging (7:1–5). A concise yet cryptic sententia on profaning the holy (7:6) is followed by a longer argument on giving and receiving (7:7–11), often thought to refer to petitionary prayer (see Luz Matthäus EKKNT, 382–87). While the arrangement appears to be somewhat loose, as is often the case in collections of sententiae, the Golden Rule (7:12) is assumed to underlie all components and, indeed, SM as a whole.
c. Concluding Section (7:13–23). The last major part of the SM consists of eschatological warnings; again there are three subsections. Indicating the importance of the Two-Way schema for SM, the first exhortation (7:13–14) combines the image of the narrow and the wide gates with that of the rough and the smooth roads: one leads to the eternal life and the other to everlasting destruction. The disciples of Jesus must struggle on the rough road and find the narrow gate, images describing the difficulties of a life lived in obedience to the SM itself.
The second exhortation (7:15–20) is a warning to be alert in view of false prophets invading and subverting the community. There is no identification as to who these “wolves in sheepskin” are, except that ways of detecting them are indicated.
The final exhortation (7:21–23; see Betz 1985b: 125–57) against self-delusion is cast in the form of a scenario of the Last Judgment. Jesus is shown to act as the advocate of his faithful and to reject those who are deluding themselves by claiming to have prophesied, cast out demons, and wrought miracles in his name but who have failed to observe his teaching of the Torah and are therefore in a state of “lawlessness” and unrighteousness.
The peroration (7:24–27; see Betz 1985b: 3–7) takes the form of a double parable describing success and failure in discipleship through imagery of the prudent builder who builds his house on the rock in contrast to the foolish one who builds on the sand.
- The Sermon on the Plain. Falling into the same literary category, using much of the same tradition, and showing a similar arrangement in composition, SP is nonetheless very different from SM. SP has three parts: an exordium (Luke 6:20b–26), a main body containing rules for the conduct of the disciples (6:27–45), and a peroration (6:46–49).
a. The Exordium (6:20b–26). The exordium combines four beatitudes (macarisms) with four contrasting threats (“woes”). The former describe the poor as hungry and weeping and the rich as stuffing their stomachs and laughing indecently (6:20b–21, 24–25b). This description conforms to a social typology, used here to identify the Christian experiences of discrimination and harrassment of the faithful and to warn against seeking the approval of opportunists and flatterers (6:22, 26). Between the beatitudes and the threats lies a call for joy (6:23), formulating a doctrine of reward in the Last Judgment for sufferings endured.
b. Main Body (6:27–45). The rules for the conduct of the disciples in the body of SP can be divided into two subsections, the first dealing with the outside world (6:27–38) and the second with specific guidelines for education (6:39–45).
The first subsection (6:27–38) comprises a lengthy argument concerning Jesus’ fundamental command to love the enemy. The command is given in the form of four parallel ethical maxims, the first of which is Jesus’ love command, while the others provide interpretations through variations (6:27–28). This set is followed by an elaborate argumentation designed to prove that Jesus’ commandment makes sense in terms of Greek ethical discourse. First, critical objections are taken into account through a set of four examples demonstrating the seeming absurdity of the commandment (6:29–30). The Golden Rule is introduced (6:31) as the principle which makes the command intelligible. Since the Golden Rule can be misinterpreted, however, a commentary follows that refutes its erroneous interpretation (6:32–34) and sets forth the correct one (6:35) and concludes with a maxim (6:36) stating the imitation of God as the theological doctrine undergirding both the Golden Rule and the commandment of Jesus. Finally, there is paraenetical application in the form of four maxims (6:37–38).
The second subsection (6:39–45), contains the guidelines for education and opens with a demonstration of the need for and a formulation of a doctrine of Christian education. Christian education is needed as a means to prevent ignorance: “Can the blind guide the blind?” (6:39). Three rules for the learning community follow: first a rule concerning relationships between students and teachers, including their status both before and after graduation (6:40); second, a rule concerning the relationship between students, demonstrating the need for self-criticism and self-correction (6:41–42); and third, a rule concerning the relationship to oneself (6:43–45), proving the need for self-knowledge and spelling out the elements of an anthropology (“the good person” versus “the bad”).
c. The Peroration (6:46–49). The concluding section begins with a rhetorical question describing the typical behavior of immature students (6:46), and concludes with the double parable of the two builders portraying the successful and the failed disciple. Although elaborated somewhat differently, the double parable is the same as in SM.
In theological concepts, both SM and SP are at the same time characteristically similar and different. Both show dependency on presuppositions coming from the teachings of Jesus, but these have been developed into independent and coherent theological concepts of faith (the term faith, however, is not used by either SM or SP). While doctrinal presuppositions are frequently stated, the whole of the theologies must be inferred from the arguments presented in the texts. These theologies are characteristically different from, although not irreconcilable with, the V 5, p 1110 secondary contexts (Q [?], Matthew, Luke) into which they have been integrated. As compared with other NT texts, both theologies appear archaic insofar as that they show christology and ecclesiology at relatively early stages of inception, and their soteriology is essentially Jewish. Their views on God, the world, and eschatology although in many ways peculiar, do not go beyond what is conceivable in Judaism (see Betz 1985a). Apart from these general agreements, the theologies of SM and SP are strikingly different.
- The Sermon on the Mount. “The message of Jesus is a presupposition for the theology of the New Testament rather than a part of that theology itself” (BTNT 1:1; for the current state of the question, see Sanders 1985:1–58). The position of SM is that Jesus’ teaching was orthodox in the Jewish sense (5:17–20; see Betz 1985b: 37–53), but that this view is contested and must be defended against adversaries. There are those, apparently other Jews, who say that Jesus was a heretic, one who came to abolish the Torah (5:17). In fact, SM must admit that there are Christians who say this and who disregard Jesus’ teaching of the Torah. These seem to be gentile Christians, probably adherents of Paul (cf. Gal 3:23–25; Rom 10:4). SM warns that they will surely fail in the Last Judgment (7:21–23). However, even Jewish Christian teachers must be strongly warned against such thinking (5:17–20). Not to be overlooked are his warnings against assimilation (5:47; 6:7, 32) and self-doubt (6:30). SM, therefore, presents Jesus’ teaching as decidedly Jewish, and it contains no trace of what we know from contemporary (e.g., Q or Paul) or later NT sources as Christian theology. Conspicuous is the absence of the kerygma of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, even in places where one would expect it (e.g., Matt 5:11, 12, 44; see Betz 1985b: 151). Jesus has no salvific function apart from the obedience to the Torah (5:17, 18; 7:12: hō nomos) that he teaches through his commandments (5:19: hai entolai) and sayings (7:24–27, 28: hoi logoi; see Betz 1985b: 48–49). His eschatological function is understood entirely in Jewish terms as the advocate for his faithful in the Last Judgment (7:21–23; see Betz 1985b: 151–54). Because of this role, Jesus is able to pronounce the beatitudes in the here and now (5:3–12). Constituting a complicated literary creation in themselves, these beatitudes anticipate the eschatological verdict to be rendered by God in the Last Judgment. Such anticipation is based on the knowledge of the legal and doctrinal terms according to which that Judgment will be conducted. Since every Jewish teacher of the Torah ought to possess that knowledge, no “messianic” consciousness or “higher” christology is needed for pronouncing the verdict (differently, of course, when Matthew is considered as the redactor of the Gospel who is followed by most modern commentators; e.g., Guelich 1982:27; Strecker 1984; 27 Luz Matthäus EKKNT, 189). The promises made in 5:3–12 are, of course, conditional upon verification in the Last Judgment, from which the disciples of Jesus are not exempt (see 7:21–23 and Betz 1985b).
The soteriology of SM, however, is not based simply on observance of the Torah. Both this soteriology and the teachings of the Torah are based on the notion of “the kingdom of the heavens” hē basileia tōn ouranōn, i.e., of God), the interpretation of which is unique in the NT (see Betz 1985b: 89–123). The kingdom of God is otherworldly and eschatological (5:19, 20; 6:10, 33; 7:21), but is simultaneously at work in the present world. The faithful disciples participate in it during their life on earth. In fact, all creation participates in it, consciously or unconsciously, but the disciples do so knowingly. Jesus taught his disciples the Torah as the way revealed by God which corresponds to his kingdom and which leads one into it (7:13–14). The Torah has salvific force, therefore, because of its coordination with God’s reign. The disciples who study and practice this Torah can count upon eschatological reward (5:12, 46; 6:1, 5, 16). With the help of the Torah as taught by Jesus, righteousness (5:6, 10, 20; 6:1, 33: dikaiosynē; 5:45: dikaios) can actually be produced; its opposite is lawlessness (7:23: anomia; see Betz 1985b: 52). The task of the disciples in this life, therefore, is “to seek after the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness” (6:33), guided by the Torah as Jesus taught it.
Salvation in SM is thus primarily identical with the kingdom of God. Drawing upon an archaic mythology (5:45: God “makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and he rains upon the just and the unjust”), SM describes God’s reign as that of the Father of the cosmos (6:9 [Lord’s Prayer]; 5:16, 45, 48; 6:1, 4, 6, 8, 14, 15, 18, 26, 32; 7:11, 21). His reign stands in stark contrast to that of the political despots (cf. also 5:35, where God is given the title, “the great king,” ho megas basileus). Unique in the NT is the concept of the divine Fatherhood as creatio continua, the evidence of which is observable in the natural order (6:25–34; see Betz 1985b: 108–18, 121–23) by those whose eyes function properly (6:22–23; see Betz 1985b: 71–87). The heavenly Father treats Jesus’ disciples as his own sons, and they in turn are called to understand themselves and act as “sons of God” (5:9, 45; 7:9–11; see Betz 1985b: 122–23). Like all sons, the disciples of Jesus must mature to perfection (5:48: teleios). To provide the necessary guidance for this learning and maturing is the aim of SM. Its goal is to teach the disciples to imitate their heavenly Father in their daily lives, even as they themselves are fathers (7:11). In this sense the entire Christian existence as taught by SM is imitation of God (imitatio Dei).
- The Sermon on the Plain. Although SP is designed from a Jewish-Christian perspective, its addressees were in all likelihood disciples of Jesus coming from a Greek cultural background. None of the material in SM concerned with matters of Jewish religion is found in SP. The language, conceptuality, and ideas, as well as the construction of the arguments, conform to Greek presuppositions. The teaching of Jesus is centered in the maxim, “Love your enemies” (Luke 6:27b), without prooftext as in SM/Matt 5:43) and, argued in terms of Greek ethical discourse, dispels all doubts about its absurdity (6:29–30). Salvation comes to these disciples (the notion of “disciple” occurs in 6:40) as an extension of Jewish eschatological promises, very similar to but not identical with those in SM. As disciples of Jesus, the addressees can expect great reward “on that day,” that is, the day of the Last Judgment (6:23). The verdict will be admission to the “kingdom of God” (6:20: hē basileia tou theou), when they will be made “sons of the Most High” (6:35). Then there will be the traditional celebrations: good food, fun and games, and wild dances. Hence there can be joy even now (6:21, 23) in anticipation.
V 5, p 1111 What are the theological grounds for extending these promises? They are not based, as one might expect, on the kerygma of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; there is no doctrine of “grace” and no concept of “faith in Jesus Christ.” The great reward which is said to be stored in heaven (6:23b) will be given to the faithful disciples “on that day” because of the sufferings they have endured “on account of the Son of Man” (6:22). These sufferings seem to be discriminations coming primarily from Jews (6:23c, 26c; note “their forefathers” instead of “the prophets before you” in SM/Matt 5:12c), and are said to be the same as those endured by the prophets of old and hence deserve the same reward. Since their reward was great, so will be that of Christians who suffer (6:23, cf. 26). Discipleship of Jesus, however, does not consist primarily of ugly sufferings. SP conceives of that discipleship in terms of Greek education (paideia), by which the ethics of Jesus is learned as a way to realize one’s humanity and as a means of survival in an evil and dangerous world.
Like Greek ethics, SP is primarily concerned with the realization of one’s humanity. How such realization is to be accomplished is explained in clear, extremely concise terms. Basic is the Greek ethical concept of “the good person” ho agathos anthrōpos):“The good person brings forth the good out of the treasure of the heart, but the bad produces the bad out of the bad” (6:45). Notably, the bad is denied the honorific term, “human person” (anthrōpos).
The central ethical demand of Jesus is to love one’s enemies (6:27b–28). Properly understood, this demand conforms to God’s philanthropy and mercy, both of which are key terms of Greek religion and ethics. God is “kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (6:35d). He is “your Father who is merciful” (6:36). Therefore, the proper human response can only be that one is both generous and merciful and thus imitates God (6:35–38). Love of the enemy, however, not only corresponds to divine philanthropy but also exemplifies the Golden Rule (6:31) rightly understood (6:32–35). Loving the enemy (6:27c–28) means taking the initiative in turning the enemy into a friend, a theory rooted in Greek ethics. Later, Polycarp (Phil. 12:3) can rightly comment: “Love those who hate you, and pray for those who curse you, and you will have no enemy.” Therefore, a life of generosity and mercy in every respect is the proper response to divine generosity and mercy.
This message was common in both the Greek and the Jewish world, especially in the Hellenistic-Jewish diaspora (see Betz 2 Corinthians 8–9 Hermeneia on 2 Cor 9:6–15). As a presupposition, it is also the basis for the rules of Christian education (6:40–45). Salvation can thus be experienced even now in overcoming ignorance (6:39), in improving one’s relationship within the community (6:37–38, 41–42), in becoming a good human person (6:43–45), and in surviving the hazards of life in general (6:47–49). This life of discipleship is, however, threatened from within at every point, so that constant self-examination and self-correction remain indispensable (6:41–46).
H. Literary Influences
The literary influences of SM have been and continue to be immense. Comprehensive studies do not exist and probably never will because of the number of sources involved. Bibliographies, despite their efforts, remain incomplete. In comparison, SP has been far less influential. In fact, until recently not much attention has been devoted to it, apart from the gospel of Luke (see Wellhausen 1911:59–60; Knox 1957:9–17; Kahlefeld 1962; Schürmann Lukasevangelium HTKNT, 323–86; Robinson 1982:391; Worden 1973; Lambrecht 1985:206–32).
- Within the NT. Literary dependencies and influences exerted by SM and SP upon other NT writings is a problem recently investigated by many scholars. There is a multitude of hypotheses and methodologies, and most questions remain open. What were the relationships between SM, SP, and Q, or versions of Q? Whatever these were, what was their influence upon Q? If Matthew and Luke included these texts in their gospels, did they influence these gospel writers elsewhere? Why do Mark and John have no knowledge of either SM or SP? Did Paul know of SM or SP? The parallels in his letters are too close to be accidental, but the significant differences have so far prevented any agreeable solution; see especially 1 Thess 4:2, 3–12 (cf. SM/Matt 5:16, 27–32; 6:33); 5:15 (cf. SM/Matt 5:38–42); 1 Cor 4:12 (cf. SM/Matt 5:44; SP/Luke 6:28); 7:10–16 (cf. SM/Matt 5:31–32); Gal 5:14 (cf. SM/Matt 5:43–48); Rom 2:1–3 (cf. SM/Matt 7:1–5, 7–12); 12:9–21; 13:8–10 (cf. SM/Matt 5:43–48; SP/Luke 6:27–28, 32–36). Did Paul obtain access to these texts through SM, SP, a version of Q, or from the oral tradition? One of the greatest puzzles remains the literary and theological relationship between SM and the Epistle of James (see Shepherd 1956; Dibelius and Greeven James Hermeneia, 28–29; Davies 1966:401–14), but also 1 Pet 3:14; 4:14 appears to be familiar with the beatitudes (cf. SM/Matt 5:10; SP/Luke 6:22; see also 1 Pet 2:19, 20, 23; 3:16; and Best 1969–70:95–113).
- In the Post-NT Period. As Koester, Robinson, and many others have pointed out, early collections of Jesus’ sayings developed side by side with the Gospels well into the 2d century (see Robinson 1982:389–94 with references). Evidence of such collections has surfaced in papyrus findings such as Papyrus Egerton and the Oxyrynchus Papyri nos. 1, 654 and 655, both of which contain important parallels to SM and SP (noted in Aland 1982: nos. 51–75, 78–83, and pp. 584–85; NTApocr. 1:97–116). Such sayings collections are also related to the Nag Hammadi texts, especially the Gospel of Thomas (see Koester 1980:238–61; Robinson 1982:393–94). As some of the sayings collections made their way into the NT (notably SM, SP, and Q), others did not, which may account for many similarities and differences among all sources concerned. These developments may also be responsible for the parallels to SM and SP in the Apocryphal Gospels and the Apostolic Fathers, where clusters of sayings can be found (see especially 1 Clem. 13:2; 2 Clem. 4:1–7:7; 13:2–4; Polycarp, Phil. 2:3; 6:2; 7:2; 12:3; see Koester 1957).
Strongly reminiscent of the Two Way schema in SM/Matt 7:13–14 is its appearance in the Doctrina apostolorum, probably originally a work of great proximity to Did. 1:1–6:3 and Barn. 18–20 (see Rordorf and Tuilier 1978:22–34, 206–10; Wengst 1984:13 with references and bibliography). The relationship of SM and SP to the Shepherd of Hermas is as yet unexplored. For Justin Martyr and the Pseudo-Clementine literature, doctoral dissertations have V 5, p 1112 been published but they do not deal explicitly with the problem of SM and SP. All Christian writings of the post-NT period up to and inclusive of Justin Martyr contain numerous references and allusions to SM and SP with most of them textually different and independent from the canonical gospels as we have them. Even after the gospels of Matthew and Luke became generally accepted, this process of transmission may have continued for some time, especially in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, the monastic rules (e.g., the Regula Benedicti), and the liturgical, martyrological, hagiographical, and mystical literature of the East and West. Specialized studies on most of these aspects are lacking. For preliminary surveys, see Massaux 1950; Mees 1975; Beyschlag 1977; Grant 1978; and the indexes of passages in Biblia Patristica 1–3 (1975–1980).
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HANS DIETER BETZ
Betz, H. D. (1992). Sermon on the Mount/Plain. In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (Vol. 5, pp. 1106–1112). New York: Doubleday.