Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:1-3

Matthew 5:1-3

When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. After he sat down his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to teach them by saying: 3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
(NET Bible)

An unexpected opening

In the concluding verse of Matthew chapter 4, we found that large crowds (4:25) from such distant places as Syria and Jerusalem accompanied Jesus. They had heard that he was preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing (4:23).

But gathering crowds and leading them was not the mission Jesus had been given. When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain (5:1). Since Galilee has no tall mountains, you should think in terms of the Texas hill country — that kind of mountain.

Whenever we read a literary work like Matthews Gospel, it is sensible to probe whether simple words may conceal unexpected yet intentional connections. That is the case with he sat down (5:1). The Greek verb is used eight times in Matthew, and in most cases it involves sitting in a position of authority or judgment.[1] That will certainly prove to be the situation on this day. Perhaps anticipating Jesus, his disciples gather around him. But, exactly what is a disciple?

When you recall that some of Jesus disciples turned away from him (John 6:66), it becomes obvious that disciple is not a synonym for believer. We will contrast discipleship under Jesus with other forms of first-century discipleship. How does discipleship to Jesus contrast with the disciples of the Jewish rabbis or to Greek masters such as Socrates?

Allegiance to a rabbi meant adhering to his view of the Torah, the instruction revealed by Moses in Genesis to Deuteronomy. Allegiance to Socrates was shown by adherence to his ideas or his philosophy. TDNT says: In contrast to both, Jesus binds exclusively to himself. The rabbi and the Greek philosopher are at one in representing a specific cause. Jesus offers himself. This obviously gives a completely different turn to the whole relation of the disciples to him.[2] Discipleship under Jesus involves personal commitment to him and the acceptance of his teachings that results in obedience.

Of course, Matt. 5:1 begins the famous Sermon on the Mount, which extends through 7:29. I agree with Turner when he says: The sermon amounts to personal ethics for the followers of Jesus. . . . The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus authoritative teaching about the way believers should live today.[3]

Today we will only put a toe in the deep waters of the Sermon by considering 5:3. Blessed are the poor in spirit illustrates that the sharply paradoxical character of most of [the Sermons] recommendations reverses the conventional values of society.[4] If we called for a show of hands from all who strive to be poor in spirit, the resulting inner tension would show how counter-cultural this is! See Ps. 37:14-17, James 2:5 and Prov. 16:18-19 for further ideas on being poor in spirit.

Turner correctly says, To be poor in spirit is to acknowledge ones total dependence on God for everything, for righteousness . . . as well as sustenance.[5]

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] References are Matt. 13:48; 19:28; 20:21, 23; 23:2; 25:31.

[2] TDNT, 4:447, mathotes, disciple, q.v.

[3] David L. Turner, Matthew, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2008) 144.

[4] R.T. France,The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 159.

[5] Turner, Matthew, 149.

Books: Forged by Bart Ehrman is reviewed by Darrell Bock

In my previous post about Bart Ehrman’s book Forged, available here, I directed attention to Ben Witherington’s extensive review of Ehrman’s latest book. I should also have mentioned Darrell Bock’s serial posts on the same topic, available [link deleted due to malware report]. Bock is a well-known New Testament scholar at Dallas Theological Seminary and has authored commentaries on the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, along with many other fine books.

Bock and Witherington agree that Ehrman is not only wrong but also less than candid in his analysis. Ehrman claims than many New Testament books are not written by those who are reputed to be the authors. So, according to Ehrman, Paul did not write the letters ascribed to him and the same is true of Peter, just to pick two authors as examples. But Ehrman is not correct, as Bock and Witherington ably show.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

The Sermon on the Mount: Approach to Interpretation

This post begins an occasional series on The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). After todays introduction, you may expect Bible exposition. I sometimes use the acronym “SOM” to refer to the Sermon on the Mount.

I am indebted to R.T. France for the idea of calling Matthew chapters 5-7 The Discourse on Discipleship rather than the more common title The Sermon on the Mount.[1] R.T. France correctly points out that Jesus was speaking to those who had responded to his preaching that the kingdom of heaven had drawn near. I will generally stick to the traditional title (The Sermon on the Mount), but Frances title would have been better.

How the Sermon on the Mount affects you

It is one thing to title Jesus remarks and quite another to figure out how they fit into the lives of Christians today. How did Jesus intend for us to interpret them? To answer that question is not easy! NT scholar Craig Blomberg says, Perhaps no other religious discourse in the history of humanity has attracted the attention which has been devoted to the Sermon on the Mount.[2] Out of this vast consideration, at least 36 different views have emerged on the sermons message.

Perhaps because Stanley Toussaint is a pastor as well as a New Testament scholar, I prefer his simpler overview of six viewpoints[3]:

1. The Soteriological [Salvation] Approach: People may receive salvation by governing their lives through the principles of the SOM. This idea was once popular among theological liberals, but it had been abandoned by 1980 for the simple reason that, if it were true, no one could be saved!

2. The Sociological Approach: Society would be ideal if guided by the principles of the SOM. This idea fails in that there is no evidence that Jesus was trying to modify society. Several famous people have tried to implement parts of the SOM, though not all recognized Jesus as the Son of God.[4] However, this world-system will be destroyed and replaced by God, not freshened up.

3. The Lutheran Approach: Toussaint calls it The Penitential Approach. This view holds that the purpose of the SOM is to make people conscious of their sin and drive them to God. But the Lutheran Approach does not recognize that the SOM is addressed to disciples; thus, he is speaking to people who have already repented and come to God. Jesus says they are salt and light (5:13-14). Still, the SOM does heighten awareness of sin, and that part of this viewpoint has merit.

4. The Millennial or Kingdom Approach: This view says that the way of life presented is applicable to the future Millennial Kingdom, in which Jesus will rule this world (Rev. 20:4). But, to say the least, it would be odd for Jesus to tell his disciples to pray for the coming of the kingdom (Matt. 6:28) when it was already going on. Why would disciples be persecuted and reviled (Matt. 5:11-12) in the future kingdom? Problems abound!

5. The Church Approach: Toussaint calls it The Ecclesiastical Approach. The idea here is that the SOM is the rule of life for the church. However, Toussaint correctly points out that the church is not mentioned until Matthew 16:18 and does not exist until Acts 2, following the resurrection of Jesus. So, even though this view is popular and promising, it has a timing problem in NT history.

6. The Interim Approach: The idea of the Interim Approach is that the SOM presents an ethic for the time preliminary to the establishment of the Millennial Kingdom. This concept improves upon #5 by eliminating direct dependence on the presence of the church. That said, SOM also applies to the church throughout the period of its existence. In fairness, I must add that Toussaint would not agree with my application of the SOM to the church and would say that I have modified the Interim Approach as he originally described it.[5]

So, I have used the Interim Approach as the interpretive grid for explaining the SOM, and have taken the position that the principles Jesus gives are directly applicable to the church, even though the church did not exist when Jesus first taught these ideas.

My next post will explain the first part of the Sermon on the Mount, a section often called The Beatitudes.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials prepared for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 153.

[2] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992) 93.

[3] Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold the King (Portland: Multnomah Press, 1980) 86-94.

[4] Four men who tried to use SOM in whole or part: Leo Tolstoy, Karl Marx, Mohandas Gandhi, and Martin Luther King.

[5] Toussaint got the idea of an interim ethic from Albert Schweitzer and then modified it.