Getting Serious about the Sermon on the Mount

Tonight I begin teaching an exegesis course on the Gospel of Matthew. Next week especially we will be getting serious about the Sermon on the Mount. I have spent several weeks reading and thinking about the SM. How deep and rich! But a complex arena of study, as the mountain (!) of literature on it suggests. Where to look for help!? Obviously you can turn to some of the great Bible dictionaries (including Dictionary of Jesus & the Gospels 2.0), but here are my top 10 suggestions (in no particular order).

#1: The Cost of Discipleship (Bonhoeffer) – I shouldn’t need to say more, because his work is so well known, but make sure you get a sense for his life and his times before or while you read this theological gem.

#2: The Sermon on the Mount (Scot McKnight) – this commentary, still pretty hot off the press, is challenging and rich with insight. Scot has read broadly and thought deeply.

#3: The Sermon on the Mount Through the Centuries (Greenman, Larsen, and Spencer) – coming out of a Wheaton conference, this volume has a number of modern scholars walk you through important interpreters of SM (e.g., Chrysostom, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Bonhoeffer, Stott, Pope John Paul II). We are using this as a textbook, and it is very helpful to see how the SM has shaped so many Christian thinkers.

#4: The Sermon on the Mount (Dale Allison) – Allison does a great job of setting the SM within its Matthean context.

#5: God With Us: A Pastoral Theology of Matthew’s Gospel (Mark Allan Powell) – Powell has a chapter on why teaching is so important for the Church, and how the SM reinforces this. And, teaching is not just doctrines and Bible trivia – the SM deals with life, piety, social concerns, and everyday discipleship.

#6: Jesus and the Victory of God (NT Wright) – Wright has a short section on SM, but argues that the SM is not an easter-teaching first pitched to the church. It makes good sense as a teaching by Jesus to his disciples and the crowds as a new calling for Israel to reclaim her mission now that the messiah has come.

#7: Kingdom Ethics (Stassen, Gushee)  – a wonderful and thorough exploration of how the spirit of the SM can guide Christian ethics.

#8: The Moral Vision of the NT (Richard Hays) – a short, but insightful chapter on Matthew as “training for the kingdom of heaven” where SM gets some treatment.

#9: Getting ‘Saved’ (Charles Talbert and Jason Whitlark) – Talbert has a nice chapter on “Indicative and Imperative in Matthean Soteriology” in here. Not sure if I agree, but makes a strong case for a Matthean theology of grace and divine empowerment that enables obedience.

#10: Last, but not least, an article by Jack D. Kingsbury, “The Place, Structure, and Meaning of the Sermon on the Mount within Matthew” Interp 41.2 (1987): 131-143. An inspiring and cogent interpretation. Here is a quote from Kingsbury in response to those that say it is an impossible ethic in the SM.

…the determining factor for him [Matthew] is the reality of God’s eschatological kingdom, or rule, which is present even now in the earthly and risen Jesus Son of God. For disciples who live in the sphere where God rules through the risen Jesus, doing the greater righteousness is the normal order of things. Until the consummation, disciples will, to be sure, have to contend with the shadows that invade this normal order, with sin and little faith. But this notwithstanding, they are indeed summoned to be the kind of person Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount, the kind of person who loves God perfectly and the neighbor as the self” (143).



7 thoughts on “Getting Serious about the Sermon on the Mount

  1. This is wonderful, Nijay. Thanks so much for this. I’m going to preach the SM from late January through the 5th Sunday in Lent. This really helps. I was inspired to do this by Scot’s commentary.

  2. Good list,Nijay. I’d add Anthony Harvey’s Strenuous Commands, which is a very good discussion of the hyperbolic language used in wisdom teaching, and which thereby argues cogently that the SonM is not a ‘new law’.

  3. Nijay, I would add Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God. Few have thought so deeply and profoundly as Dallas on the heart of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. “The really good news for Christians is that Jesus is now taking students in the master class of life,” writes Willard. “So the message of and about him is specifically a gospel for our life now, not just for dying. It is about living now as his apprentices in kingdom living…”

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