Saturday, December 22, 2012
Are Matthew's "Sermon on the Mount" and Luke's "Sermon in the Plain" the same?
Last Sunday, I began preaching through Luke's record of Jesus' sermon "in the plain" (Luke 6:17-49). One question that arises is the relationship of this teaching and the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew 5--7. Here are some of my notes on that question:
Here begins the so-called Lukan version of the Sermon on the Mount (Luke 6:17-49; paralleled in Matthew 5—7). One of the key interpretive questions is whether Matthew and Luke are describing the same message from Jesus on the same occassion. They follow a similar pattern. Both begin with beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12//Luke 6:20-26) and end with the parable of the building on the rock (Matthew 7:24-27//Luke 6:47-49). But there are also significant differences. Matthew’s sermon is much longer and the wording of the two sermons is not always the same. It appears to be just as plausible that Jesus taught many of the same types of messages on multiple occasions, and so Matthew and Luke’s records might well reflect two different presentations of Christ’s teaching on two distinct occasions.
One of the things that skeptics sometimes seize upon is Luke’s mention that Jesus gave this teaching “in the plain” (Luke 6:17) in contrast to Matthew 5:1 which says, “he went up into a mountain.” Again, these might be two different contexts, but even if they are the same, this is not a contradiction. Luke might simply mean that Jesus went to a level place on the mountain (v. 17 reads epi topou pedinou, literally upon a level place). Some likewise seize upon Luke’s mention of Jesus having “stood” (histemi) there (v. 17) as opposed to Matthew 5:1’s reference to his giving the sermon on the mount while sitting (kathizo). But the verb in Luke 6:17 can simply mean to stop or to settle and may not be referring to a standing posture. Again, this is not necessarily a contradiction.
Here’s the thing: If you go looking for supposed errors you usually find them; if, however, you go looking for agreement and harmony you can find that in abundance.
In Luke 6:20 Jesus begins his teaching with four beatitudes (vv. 20-23). I am inclined to think that the sermon Luke records is not the same as the one Matthew records. Here are some reasons:
(1) Matthew has eight beatitudes and Luke has only four;
(2) Matthew’s wording is different: “Blessed are the poor in spirit” rather than Luke’s simpler “blessed are ye poor”;
(3) Matthew’s beatitudes are in the third person (e.g., "Blessed are the poor in spirit" [Matthew 5:3a]) while Luke’s are in the second person (e.g., "Blessed be ye poor" [Luke 6:20]); and
(4) Luke also has four “woes” (vv. 24-26) which Matthew does not record.
Unless we are willing to forfeit any semblance of the historical reliability and verbal accuracy of the canonical Gospels, we must conclude that Jesus delivered similar messages on various occassions. The material in Luke 6 and Matthew 5--7 was part of the basic discipleship teaching of Jesus to his followers. Matthew accurately records a summary of Christ's teaching on one occassion, Luke another.