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It’s very unlikely that there ever was an actual Sermon on the Mount. The Jesus of the Gospels was an itinerant teacher with an ever-increasing crowd in His wake, and there were always Temple guards around who were eager to report to religious leaders whatever heretical statements they heard. Since much of what the Lord had come to teach amounted to heresy, He had to parse out most of His teachings in innocuous bits here and there. For Him to have stood on a hillside and given to hundreds or thousands of people the long and organized speech containing many heresies that is the Sermon on the Mount would have been a lunatic act! And it comes early in the public phase of His life. If He had taught this way, He could not have survived and continued to teach for three more years at a time in history when the only way He could have made any impact at all was by teaching the truth over and over again in many places over years of time. It is likely that those who wrote down the folk memories of the teachings of Jesus that survived into the third generation simply organized them into collections that later made their way into the written Gospels.

The Gospels of Matthew and Luke mostly share the same sources. In Luke, an extract of the collection of teachings that became Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount appears as what is called the Sermon on the Plain, and it is interesting to see how the sayings subtly differ as these two Gospel writers use their common source material. We’ll talk about that next week.    

Chapter Seven concludes Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. In Chapter Six, Jesus tried to banish fear; now in Chapter Seven He works to bring us to a more adult understandingBut before we plunge in, I hope you won’t mind if we pause here briefly. There are two points that I want to make sure you always keep in mind when you read the Gospels.

First, Jesus lived and taught two thousand years ago. He taught at least two centuries before there was any recognizable version of Christianity, and nothing He said even hints that He was trying to form a new religion. On the contrary, He seems to have been trying to move us beyond the need for religions so we could relate to God on our own. We must never forget how primitive the world around Jesus was two thousand years ago! Nor can we overlook the fact that His Gospel teachings were spoken in Aramaic and passed along orally for a couple of generations before being written down and translated into Greek, and from Greek they then were translated into Latin and all the modern languages. And even beyond all these sources of potential confusion, the Gospels spent more than fifteen hundred years in the custody of Christian leaders to whom some of what Jesus had said must have felt antithetical to their religion. That the Catholic clerics didn’t butcher the Gospels when they could have done that so easily is an astounding blessing. It may be a miracle.

And Second, the dead consistently tell us that the Gospel teachings of Jesus are accurate. Even despite the handicaps enumerated above, we are assured by those not now in bodies that the teachings of Jesus as we have them in the four canonical Gospels are indeed substantially what the Lord taught. To be frank, that really is a miracle! But perhaps it’s not such a surprising miracle, since Jesus told us two thousand years ago that He was speaking as God on earth. For example, He said,  I and the Father are one” (JN 10:30), and “The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works” (JN 14:10). Not everything Jesus is quoted as saying in the Gospels actually was said by Him, since the First Council of Nicaea in 325 added some passages on church-building, sheep-and-goats, predestination and election, hellfire and damnation, and end-times nonsense. But those additions are so inconsistent with the Lord’s genuine teachings that we can easily pluck them out. When we have done that, we still have today the genuine words that the Godhead spoke to us through the Lord two thousand years ago!

Read more of this Roberta Grimes blog article.


Roberta Grimes

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