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Bible Dictionaries

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary

Sermon on the Mount

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Matthew’s Gospel is built around five main sermons or collections of teachings from Jesus. The first of these, Chapters 5-7, is known as the Sermon on the Mount, after the place where Jesus was teaching at the time (Matthew 5:1). Although the section is a unified whole, many of the teachings within it occur in different settings in the other Gospels. Very likely, in view of Matthew’s style of presentation, the section contains more than the contents of a single sermon (see MATTHEW, GOSPEL OF). Jesus gave the teaching primarily to his disciples (Matthew 5:1-2; Matthew 5:13-14), though, as often happened, many others gathered to listen (Matthew 7:28).

Ethics of the kingdom of God

Jesus’ teaching set out for his followers the quality of life and behaviour that he required of those who entered his kingdom and came under his rule. Life in God’s kingdom is characterized by humility, love, righteousness, mercy, sincerity, and dependence on God. Unlike life in human society in general, it has no place for pride, hatred, cruelty, aggression, hypocrisy and self-sufficiency (Matthew 5:3-10; Matthew 5:48; see KINGDOM OF GOD).

The Sermon on the Mount is not a new set of rules to replace the law of Moses. It does not lay down a legal code of ethics, but aims to work within people to produce a standard of behaviour that no law-code can produce, no matter how good it might be (Matthew 5:17-18). The righteousness Jesus wants in his followers is more than outward conformity to certain laws (Matthew 5:20). He wants a new attitude within – the principles of the law written on people’s hearts. It is not enough, for instance, just to refrain from murder; people must remove the spirit of hate and revenge from their hearts, for it is that spirit that produces murder (Matthew 5:21-22; cf. Romans 8:4; Hebrews 8:10).

Teaching with authority

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus did not oppose or contradict the law of Moses. Rather he opposed the traditional interpretations and false applications taught by the Jewish teachers of the law (the scribes, or rabbis). Their concern for outward correctness failed to deal with inward attitudes (Matthew 5:27-30).

Instead of being forgiving, the scribes used the law as an excuse for personal revenge. They took civil laws relating to penalties for crimes and applied them to personal relationships (Matthew 5:38-42). They so twisted the meaning of the law that they could claim the law’s authority for actions that were clearly contrary to the law (Matthew 5:31-37). They even gave their own sayings equal authority with the law (Matthew 5:43-47).

Jesus was opposed to this legalistic spirit. He was also opposed to the pride it produced through its concern for outward show (Matthew 6:1-6; Matthew 6:16-18). He wanted to change people in their hearts. He taught his disciples how to pray (Matthew 6:7-15; Matthew 7:7-12), how to have new attitudes of trust in God for all life’s material needs (Matthew 6:19-34), how to examine their attitudes (Matthew 7:1-5) and how to be wise in deciding what is wholesome and what is not (Matthew 7:6; Matthew 7:15-23). Jesus’ teaching, being from God, had an authority that was lacking in the traditional teaching of the scribes (Matthew 7:28-29). But if people are to benefit from it, they must not only understand it but also act upon it (Matthew 7:24-27).


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Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Sermon on the Mount'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/bbd/s/sermon-on-the-mount.html. 2004.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, July 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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