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Sermon on the Mount
The Sermon on the Mount is a Biblical speech by Jesus of Nazareth to his followers and a large group of people around AD 30. Jesus gave the speech on the side of a mountain. The most popular part of the speech is the Beatitudes, which are at the beginning of the speech. The sermon also contains the Lord's Prayer. Other popular lines from the Sermon on the Mount are "turn the other cheek", "salt of the Earth", "light of the world", and "judge not, lest ye be judged".
One of the most important debates over the sermon is how it should be applied to everyday life. Almost all Christian groups have created their own ways to understand and use the sermon in their lives. McArthur lists twelve basic schools of thought on these issues:
- The Absolutist view is that the sermon should be followed exactly as it was said. If this causes the person who lives his life this way to be put in danger, it is what is needed for the person to be saved. It must also be followed at all times. People who followed this view include St. Francis of Assisi, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Leo Tolstoy also believed this when he was older. The Oriental Orthodox Churches believe this is the correct understanding of the sermon, The early Anabaptists came close to following this view. The 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, people would change the text of the Sermon. This was done to make it more popular. For example, Matthew 5:22 was changed from "whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment" to "whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment." More common in recent centuries is to change the wording of the Sermon. This was done to remove parts that people would find difficult to accept. Almost every major Christian writer has made changes similar to this at some point.
- One of the most common views is the Hyperbole View. It says that parts of what Jesus said in the Sermon are hyperbole. They believe if someone is to use the teachings in the real world, they need to be "toned down." Most people agree that there is some hyperbole in the sermon but they argue about which parts are hyperbole.
- The General Principles View says that Jesus was not giving instructions. This view says that he was teaching general ways of how a person should behave. These people think that many of the things he said in they in the Sermon are just examples of these general ideas.
- The Double Standard View is the view the Roman Catholic Church believes. It thinks some parts of the teachings are general ideas and other parts are instructions. A person must follow the general ideas to be saved, but following the instructions is only need if the person is trying to be perfect. Most people only have to follow the ideas. The instructions only have to be followed by a very few holy few, for example, the clergy and monks. This view was created by St. Augustine. It was later changed by St. Thomas Aquinas. Geoffrey Chaucer used this view in his book, Canterbury Tales (Wife of Bath's Prologue, v. 117-118)
- Martin Luther did not believe the Catholic view. He created a different two-level system. This is called the Two Realms View. Luther divided the world into the religious and secular or non-religious section. He believed that the Sermon only applied to the religious part. In the every day world, the needs of family, employers, and country would make people have to do things that the sermon said they should not do. For example, a judge should follow the law when dealing with a criminal, but he should feel sorry for what happens to the criminal.
- The Analogy of Scripture View believes that parts of the sermon were changed by the writing in the New Testament. For example, Jesus said that it was wrong to make an oath, but Paul is shown using them at least twice.
- In the nineteenth century, several more ways of understanding the sermon were created. Wilhelm Hermann believed the idea of Attitudes not Acts. This view believes that what Jesus said in the sermon was not what a good Christian should do. They believe Jesus was only telling the people what he would do.
- Albert Schweitzer made the Interim Ethic View known. This view thinks that Jesus thought that the world was going to end in a short time. The teachings only applied to this short period of time.
- In the twentieth century, the German thinker, Martin Dibelius created the Unconditional Divine Will View. This view believes that the ethics of the Sermon were meant to be followed as they were said, but with the way the world is today, people are no able to do so. Humans will try to follow the ethics, but they will always fail. This will change when the Kingdom of Heaven comes back to the world. At that time everyone will be able to live in a Godly manner.
- The Repentance View is similar to the Unconditional Divine Will View. It believes that Jesus knew that people would not be able to follow his teaching. By failing to follow them, people would learn to repent. In this way, people would come to faith in the Gospel.
- Another similar view is that of modern dispensationalism. Dispensationalism divides human history into separate groups. Today we live in the period where living up to the teachings of the sermon is impossible, but in the future, we will see a period where it is possible to live up to the teachings of the Sermon. At this time, people must follow them to get salvation.
The author Christopher Knight says in his book Hiram Key, that the 'Sermon on the Mount' did not happen. He thinks that Matthew 'stuck all kinds of passages together as though they were spoken one after another to a crowd on a mountain top.' Knight believes that 'the teachings were drafted into this one 'occasion' to avoid interrupting the flow of the overall story.' The Hiram Key was created by both Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas.
E. Earle Ellis (Professor of Theology) says that this sermon is Jesus asking believers to live in a way that will be standard in the future kingdom of God. As Ellis says, we are to speak Jesus' words, think his thoughts, and do his deeds. Since this will be the ethic of the future kingdom of God, people should live their lives in a way that will help them be ready to live in God's kingdom.
- McArthur, Harvey King. Understanding the Sermon on the Mount. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1978.