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The Sermon on the Mount was, according to the Gospel of Matthew, a particular sermon given by Jesus of Nazareth around AD 30 on a mountainside to his disciples and a large crowd (Matthew 5:1; 7:28). It is thought by some modern Christians to have taken place on a mountain on the south end of the Sea of Galilee, near Capernaum. The recounting of the Sermon on the Mount comes from the Gospel of Matthew 5 –7.

The Sermon on the Mount may be compared to the similar but more succinct Sermon on the Plain as recounted by the Gospel of Luke (6:17–49). Some commentators believe they may be the same sermon, others that Jesus frequently preached similar themes in different places, still others claim that neither sermon really took place but were conflations of Jesus' primary teachings as put together by Matthew and Luke.

Historians say the best-known portion is the Beatitudes, found at the beginning of the section. It also contains the Lord's Prayer and the injunctions to "resist not evil" and "turn the other cheek", as well as Jesus' version of the Golden Rule. Other lines often quoted are the references to "salt of the Earth," "light of the world," and "judge not, lest ye be judged." Many Christians believe that the Sermon on the Mount is a form of commentary on the Ten Commandments. To many, the Sermon on the Mount contains the central tenets of Christian discipleship, and is considered as such by many religious and moral thinkers, such as Leo Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi.

Structure of the sermon[]

The sermon comprises the following components:

Chapter 5[]

  • When Jesus saw he had attracted a large crowd by healing the sick, he climbed a mountain with his disciples, and spoke (Matthew 5:1–Matthew 5:2)
  • Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3–Matthew 5:12)
  • You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13–Matthew 5:16)
  • I have not come to destroy "the Law and the Prophets" but to fulfill, before the end times even the smallest part ("jot and tittle") of the Law will not disappear, whoever ignores even the smallest part and teaches others likewise, will be least in Heaven, whoever obeys the Law and teaches others to obey will be great in Heaven, unless your righteousness exceeds the scribes and the Pharisees you will not see Heaven (Matthew 5:17–Matthew 5:20)
  • Anger and verbal insults prohibited, not just murder, whoever says raca is subject to the sanhedrin, whoever says idiot deserves the fires of Gehenna, make amends with friends and enemies before anything else (Matthew 5:21–Matthew 5:26)
  • Lust prohibited, not just adultery (Matthew 5:27–Matthew 5:28)
  • Better to cut away a body part that causes trouble, than for the entire body to be pitched into Gehenna (Matthew 5:29–Matthew 5:30)
  • Divorce (except for Matthew 5:32|πορνείας/porneia) and remarriage is adultery (Matthew 5:31–Matthew 5:32)
  • Oaths prohibited, not just oath breaking (Matthew 5:33–Matthew 5:37)
  • Love your enemies and turn the other cheek not an eye for an eye (Matthew 5:38–Matthew 5:48)

Chapter 6[]

  • Donate to charity in secret, not for public reward, and your Father in heaven will reward you (Matthew 6:1–Matthew 6:4)
  • Pray in secret, not like pagans with long prayers and requests, your Father already knows what you need, use the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:5–Matthew 6:13)
  • Forgive others and your Father will forgive you, but if you don't forgive others, your Father will not forgive you (Matthew 6:14–Matthew 6:15)
  • Fast in secret, not for public reward, and your Father will reward you (Matthew 6:16–Matthew 6:18)
  • Acquire treasures in heaven, not on earth (Matthew 6:19–Matthew 6:21)
  • The eye is the lamp of the body, an ἁπλοῡς/undivided-generous eye means your body is lighted, an evil eye means your body is in darkness (Matthew 6:22–Matthew 6:23)
  • No one can serve two masters, so choose either God or Mammon (Matthew 6:24)
  • Seek first the Kingdom of God, and have no worries for anything else, don't worry about tomorrow, let tomorrow worry about itself, concern yourself with today (Matthew 6:25–Matthew 6:34)

Chapter 7[]

  • Don't judge others, so that you won't be judged by others, remove the log from your own eye before attending to the splinter in another's (Matthew 7:1–Matthew 7:5)
  • Do not cast pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6)
  • Ask and you will receive, Seek and you will find, Knock and doors will open (Matthew 7:7–Matthew 7:11)
  • Do to others as you would want them to do to you summarizes "the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12)
  • The narrow and hard way leads to life, the broad and easy way leads to destruction, many take the easy way, few find the hard way (Matthew 7:13–Matthew 7:14)
  • Beware of false prophets who are wolves in sheep's clothing, by their fruits (actions) will you know them, the good tree does not produce bad fruit and the bad tree cannot produce good fruit (Matthew 7:15–Matthew 7:20)
  • Do the will of my Father in heaven rather than invoking the name of Jesus, "Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord ... I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." (Matt 7:21–Matthew 7:23 KJV)
  • Whoever follows these words of mine builds on rock and will survive, whoever does not builds on sand and will be destroyed (Matthew 7:24–Matthew 7:27)
  • Epilog (Matthew 7:28–Matthew 7:29)


One of the most important debates over the sermon is how directly it should be applied to everyday life. Almost all Christian groups have developed nonliteral ways to interpret and apply the sermon. McArthur lists twelve basic schools of thought on these issues.

  • The Absolutist View rejects all compromise and believes that, if obeying the scripture costs the welfare of the believer, then that is a reasonable sacrifice for salvation. All the precepts in the Sermon must be taken literally and applied universally. Proponents of this view include St. Francis of Assisi and in later life Leo Tolstoy. No Christian denomination fully adopts this position, but the early Anabaptists came close and modern Anabaptist groups such as the Mennonites and Hutterites come closest.
  • One method that is common, but not endorsed by any denomination, is to simply Modify the Text of the sermon. In ancient times this took the form of actually altering the text of the Sermon to make it more palatable. Thus some early copyists changed Matthew 5:22 from "whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment" to the watered-down "whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment." "Love your enemies" was changed to "Pray for your enemies" in pOxy 1224 6:1a; Did. 1:3; Pol. Phil. 12:3. The exception for divorce in the case of porneia may be a Matthean addition; it is not present in Luke 16:18, Mark 10:11, or 1 Cor 7:10–11; and in 1 Cor 7:12–16, Paul gives his own exceptions to Jesus' teaching. Additions were made to the Lord's Prayer to support other doctrines, and other prayers were developed as substitute. More common in recent centuries is to paraphrase the Sermon and in so doing make it far less radical. A search through the writings of almost every major Christian writer finds them at some point to have made this modification.
  • One of the most common views is the Hyperbole View, which argues that portions of what Jesus states in the Sermon are hyperbole, and that if one is to apply the teaching to the real world, they need to be "toned down." Most interpreters agree that there is some hyperbole in the sermon, with Matthew 5:29 being the most prominent example, but there is disagreement over exactly which sections should not be taken literally.
  • Closely related is the General Principles View that argues that Jesus was not giving specific instructions, but general principles of how one should behave. The specific instances cited in the Sermon are simply examples of these general principles.
  • The Double Standard View is the official position of the Roman Catholic Church. It divides the teachings of the Sermon into general precepts and specific counsels. Obedience to the general precepts is essential for salvation, but obedience to the counsels is only necessary for perfection. The great mass of the population need only concern themselves with the precepts; the counsels must be followed by only a pious few such as the clergy and monks. This theory was initiated by St. Augustine and later fully developed by St. Thomas Aquinas, though an early version of it is cited in Did. [1] 6:2, "For if you are able to bear the entire yoke of the Lord, you will be perfect; but if you are not able to do this, do what you are able" (Roberts-Donaldson), and reflected in the Apostolic Decree of the Council of Jerusalem of Acts of the Apostles 15.
  • Martin Luther rejected the Catholic approach and developed a different two-level system McArthur refers to as the Two Realms View. Luther divided the world into the religious and secular realms and argued that the Sermon only applied to the spiritual. In the temporal world, obligations to family, employers, and country force believers to compromise. Thus a judge should follow his secular obligations to sentence a criminal, but inwardly, he should mourn for the fate of the criminal.
  • At the same time as the Protestant Reformation was underway, a new era of Biblical criticism began leading to the Analogy of Scripture View. Close reading of the Bible found that several of the most rigid precepts in the sermon were moderated by other parts of the New Testament. For instance, while Jesus seems to forbid all oaths, Paul is shown using them at least twice; thus the prohibition in the Sermon does have some exceptions.
  • In the nineteenth century, several more interpretations developed. Wilhelm Hermann embraced the notion of Attitudes not Acts, which can be traced back to St. Augustine. This view states that Jesus in the Sermon is not saying how a good Christian should behave, only what his attitude is. The spirit lying behind the act is more important than the act itself.
  • Albert Schweitzer popularized the Interim Ethic View. This view sees Jesus as being convinced that the world was going to end in the very near future. As such, survival in the world did not matter as in the end times material well-being would be irrelevant.
  • In the twentieth century another major German thinker, Martin Dibelius, presented another view also based on eschatology. His Unconditional Divine Will View is that the ethics behind the Sermon are absolute and unbending, but the current fallen state of the world makes it impossible to live up to them. Humans are bound to attempt to live up to them, but failure is inevitable. This will change when the Kingdom of Heaven is proclaimed and all will be able to live in a Godly manner. A similar view is also described in Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, written in the late nineteenth century.
  • Closely linked to this is the Repentance View, which is that Jesus intended for the precepts in his Sermon to be unattainable, and through our certain failure to live up to them, we will learn to repent.
  • Another eschatological view is that of modern dispensationalism. Dispensationalism, first developed by the Plymouth Brethren, divides human history into a series of ages or dispensations. Today we live in the period of grace where living up to the teachings of the sermon is impossible, but in the future, the Millennium will see a period where it is possible to live up to the teachings of the Sermon, and where following them will be a prerequisite to salvation.


  • The Greek translated as ye that work iniquity is ergazomenoi ten anomian or literally workers of lawlessness. Reference: A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature Bauer, Gingrich, Danker. Also, Young's Literal Translation: ye who are working lawlessness. See also Great Apostasy.

See also[]

External links[]


  • Betz, Hans Dieter. Essays on the Sermon on the Mount. translations by Laurence Welborn. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985.
  • Fox, Emmet. The Sermon on the Mount: The Key to Success in Life and the Lord's Prayer : An Interpretation 1989 ISBN 0060628626
  • Kissinger, Warren S. The Sermon on the Mount: A History of Interpretation and Bibliography. Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1975.
  • Kodjak, Andrej. A Structural Analysis of the Sermon on the Mount. New York: M. de Gruyter, 1986.
  • Lapide, Pinchas. The Sermon on the Mount, Utopia or Program for Action? translated from the German by Arlene Swidler. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1986.
  • McArthur, Harvey King. Understanding the Sermon on the Mount. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1978.
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