Saturday, December 29, 2012

Even more thoughts on Matthew's "Sermon on the Mount" and Luke's "Sermon in the Plain"

As I continue to preach through Luke’s Sermon in the Plain (Luke 6), I am still pondering the propriety of taking Luke’s account as an abbreviated doublet of the material in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5—7) [see this previous post].  My tendency, again, is to see these as records of two independent sermons and not the same event.

The McArthur Study Bible provides an example of an evangelical interpretation which argues that Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount and Luke’s Sermon in the Plain are two presentations of the same event.  It acknowledges, “It is possible … that Jesus simply preached the same sermon on more than one occasion.”  Yet it concludes:

It appears more likely, however, that these are variant accounts of the same event.  Luke’s version is abbreviated somewhat, because he omitted sections from the sermon that are uniquely Jewish (particularly Christ’s exposition of the law).  Aside from that, the two sermons follow exactly the same flow of thought beginning with the Beatitudes and ending with the parable about building on the rock.  Differences in wording between the two accounts are undoubtedly owing to the fact that the sermon was originally delivered in Aramaic.  Luke and Matthew translate into Gr. with slight variances.  Of course, both translations are equally inspired and authoritative (p. 1524).

The problem with this approach is simply that the differences between the two sermons are much more than “slight variances” resulting from translation from Aramaic to Greek.  For example, Matthew has eight (or nine) beatitudes (Matthew 5) and no woes, while Luke has four beatitudes and four corresponding woes (Luke 6).

I am more inclined toward the interpretation of Matthew Poole in his Luke commentary.  Poole begins, “There are many that think what Luke hath in these verses, and so the end of the chapter, is but a shorter epitome of what Luke hath in his 5th, 6th, and 7th chapters, and that both Matthew and Luke mean the same sermon preached at the same time.”  He cites two points in favor of this opinion:  (1) Matthew says that Jesus was teaching on a mountain, and Luke’s description can be taken as reference to a mountain plain; (2) There is much overlap in content.

Nevertheless, Poole concludes, “I can hardly be of that mind.”  He cites the following reasons:

(1)  He judges Luke’s reference to the plain is not the same setting as Matthew.


(2)   The description of the audience for the sermon in Luke (see 6:17) is distinct and indicates a unique setting.


(3)   “Principally, from the great differences in the relations of Matthew and Luke.”

These include:  (a) many large discourses in Matthew are not covered by Luke (e.g. Christ “true interpretation of the law” and his teaching about alms, prayer, fasting in Matthew 6); and (b) differences in the beatitudes (and woes) section.

Poole concludes:  “Leaving therefore all to their own judgments, I see no reason to think that this discourse was but a short copy of the same discourse, referring to the same time and company.”


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