Jesus’ Major Sermon

No one disputes that Jesus’ most important sermon, or at least the most famous and influential of his sermons, is the Sermon the Mount (or Plain) found in Matthew 5–7 and Luke 6:17-49. There are two basic options for this Great Sermon: it’s for us or it’s not. We can nuance this: it’s for us who are Jewish, but not for Gentile believers. Christian history defies narrowing the Sermon to Jewish believers only, but the odd thing is that many Christians are profoundly disquieted by the Sermon so they all but make it “not for now (at least as it is now written).”

When I was doing doctoral work and studying at Tyndale House in Cambridge England I met and spent regular breaks chatting with David Wenham who was at that time working on his book on the eschatological material of Jesus and editing one book or another. So when I saw that David had written an essay on preaching the Sermon on the Mount in Preaching the New Testament (ed. I. Paul, D. Wenham), I wanted to know what he had to say.

Here’s the question: What does Jesus mean when he says that those who hear these sayings of mine and don’t do them will be destroyed but those who hear them but do them will be established on rock? Does he think we have to “do” these things or not? Why doesn’t Jesus just come out and say, “You can’t do these things on your own. Trust in grace first.”?

David expresses typical disquiets about the Sermon, and he gives three:

1. It presents a legalistic works-based righteousness.
2. It presents an impossible set of demands.
3. It presents some demands that are hard to interpret.

David Wenham proposes some general observations, including reading the Sermon in its specific Gospel context. There is grace from the beginning and surrounding the Sermon. Further, he speculates Matthew was written against folks who accused Jesus of liberalism and so Matthew accentuated Jesus’ faithfulness to the Torah. “So Jesus in Matthew is not a Jewish legalist, even when he refers to the ‘least of these commandments’; rather he is emphasizing that with his kingdom preaching he is not chipping away at the law, subtracting bits and lowering the standards” (77). In the Sermon itself there is grace at work, including the beginning of the beatitudes. He then finds grace elsewhere.

So David Wenham moves to his proposal about how to read the Sermon on the Mount and preach it:

1. The Sermon is not about impossible legalism, but about kingdom living. [No one wants “impossible legalism” and everyone wants “kingdom living” but these terms don’t solve the problems David Wenham is seeking to resolve.]
2. How to live this way: (a) Kingdom living by (b) acknowledging they are poor in the spirit and (c) going with Jesus and (d) prayer to the heavenly Father.
3. How literal? Not completely literal. He means as laws. But he backs off into vagueness for me: “the preacher does not replace what Jesus said with harmless generalizations about loving other people” [which is not bad, after all, since that is the Golden Rule and the Jesus Creed, and the whole Torah … ].

So he gives some wisdom for preaching:

1. Grace and relationship, not legalism [a word that he uses for “rules” but it’s a clobber word with no content].
2. Grace, not works [he means human effort to justify ourselves, but that is not what works means in Matt 5:13-16 nor does it allow the words of Jesus to have their rugged severity].
3. Positive beauty: this is true wisdom.
4. Practicality: concrete stuff here.
5. Serious challenge: “different lifestyle” and “eternally important” … here he says the Sermon warns about cheap grace.
6. Preacher’s integrity: good.

When we are done with this chp the Sermon, in my view, is emasculated of its demand, a demand that is so obvious from beginning to end (I don’t read the Beatitudes as David does but as a manifesto of who is in and who is not and who is in shocks the listeners), and that points us to the King who utters these words from the Mount (as did Moses). Nor does he give sufficient attention to the conclusion to this Sermon, which is to do what Jesus has taught. I would ask Why did Jesus not say “Now you have to have grace at work to do these teachings of mine”? There is something fundamental to the Sermon in the form Jesus gave it:  powerful kingdom demands for kingdom people. The demand is Jesus’ evangelistic confrontation with his audience to decide whether they want to come to him and follow him or not.

There is so much concern to cushion this Sermon in this chp that I wonder if the Sermon will be heard as Jesus intended it.

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  • It may help to consider the reverse of the things Jesus mentions in these verses. I wrote about this briefly two years ago, prompted by the trouble in Libya at that time. Although I haven’t developed these ideas further since then, they made a lot of sense to me at the time and still do. Looking at things back to front or inside out can sometimes clarify what seems, well,… odd.

    Take a look and see what you think. It’ll take all of 30 seconds to read.

    Do you think I’m taking a bit of a liberty with this passage, or is it helpful to look at it this way?

  • Steve Seipke

    Thank You Scot for being so clear about how we should be interpreting the Sermon on the Mount. What would be your top three commentary recommendations for interpreting the Sermon on the Mount?

  • Seth

    This is good stuff. Stassen and Gushee flesh this out well in terms of “transformative practices” in their Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context. That book and Robert Guelich’s commentary have been invaluable to me in grasping the SOM in the context of God’s inbreaking Kingdom.

  • Great food for thought here. I do think that the opening Beatitudes set much of the tone. In particular, “poor in Spirit” seems to describe a posture of dependence upon a solution outside of ourselves. That humble, faith-filled posture manifests itself in a hungry heart towards God and a soft heart towards others in the remaining Beatitudes. Jesus then unfolds the full extent of loving God (valuing his kingdom and reward above all things), and loving others (merciful and counter-intuitive love, even for enemies) throughout the rest of the Sermon.

  • scotmcknight

    Steve, #2,

    Greenman and Larsen have a good history of reading the SoM.
    Dale Allison’s The Moral Imagination is a wide-ranging commentary.
    Bonhoeffer’s exposition in his Discipleship.

  • scotmcknight

    Greg, very doubtful. “Poor in spirit” describes a social group — the poor — who trust in God. So it is a specific group and not a general posture.

  • Scot,

    A group, yes, but a group whose posture we can learn from, no?

    I agree that the shock value of “God blesses these people?” is prominent in the Beatitudes. But the identification of the recipients of God’s blessings is not unrelated to the nature of God’s kingdom and how to receive it, as we see elsewhere in the Gospels with the connection between children and childlike faith, for example.

  • scotmcknight

    Greg, the interpretation that “poor in spirit” means humility, therefore trust, therefore grace imports Pauline theology into the beatitudes so they don’t sound what they sound like. The beatitudes are a manifesto of ‘who’s in’ and ‘who’s out’ as a shocking ‘in your face” confrontation with the assumptiveness of the elites of Galilee and Israel. Yes, of course, we can moralize from it but when that becomes the first thing we lose the socio-cultural edge that drives the list.

  • Scot, thanks for your interaction with me on this. I agree that these words can lose their punch if we don’t take into the consideration the original religious and cultural landscape. And I share your concerns about how our perceptions of Paul’s theology might influence our readings of the Gospels.

  • orton1227

    This is Jesus introducing Israel to His New Covenant, and the establishment of His kingdom in full force. Can you imagine being an Israelite hearing this for the first time, with your background of the Law, sacrificies, pesky cultural norms to follow extrapolated from the Law, the oppression from the Pharisees/Sadducces/Sanhedrin/scribes/etc, feeling completely small in the Roman Empire? No doubt some people (like the Pharisees) heard this and probably laughed because of their eschatology. Others were comforted. Others were still confused. I always like to think of the Sermon on the Mount as the syllabus for the next 40 years of Scripture writing.

  • Scot, this is a timely post because I am doing a sermon series on the Beatitudes. I think you would agree with F. Dale Bruner’s keen observation that the “poor in spirit,” “those who are mourning,” “the meek,” and “those famished for justice,”etc., describe people in desperate situations; the beatitudes are not godly virtues to attain, but, in Bruner’s words “…God-awful conditions.” Jesus is blowing to smithereens 1st century Judaism’s prevailing views of who qualifies for the kingdom of heaven/God, like you say, who’s in and who’s not. If we turn the beatitudes into devotional tidbits about inner character, we unwittingly strip them of the outrageous grace inherent in God’s kingdom life.

  • Sweet timing, Scott; Today I’m writing a sermon on exactly that passage. Thanks!

  • JD

    I actually think the end of Chapter 5 is one of the most important, and yet neglected, parts of the Sermon: ‘Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect’. It doesn’t get more radical than that. And more impossible?! I don’t believe Jesus set impossible demands, so I think he recognised this demand required the grace of God.

  • Stuart B

    Maybe this is too off-topic, but I’ve been wondering if it makes a difference whether Jesus actually said the sermon verbatim or if it is a construction of Matthew. I remember Pete Enns doing a post a while ago claiming even Calvin himself believed it to be a construction by Matthew of various sayings.

    Does this affect the interpretation or just the question of inerrancy? Should we pay closer attention to the gospel context of Matthew and why he would have formulated it as such?

  • John, yes on Bruner’s observations about those whose lives seem decidedly “unblessed,” though I still don’t think that virtues and character are ignored altogether, especially in the second half of the list (merciful, peacemakers, pure in heart, persecuted for righteousness). These aren’t a to-do list for sure, but they do suggest (again, I’ll use the word) a “posture” towards God and others. A related question is, what is the purpose of Jesus giving the blessings? To shock (some), comfort (others), and re-educate (everyone) all at once?

  • The Sermon on the Mount is as impossible to live as it was impossible for Peter to walk on water. Peter could never achieve that feat, but he did have to confront his fears and limitations and “common sense” and step out of the boat. The Sermon on the Mount is an invitation from Jesus to set out of the boat and join Him on the water, letting Him do the impossible.

    I agree with Scot that, by removing the primary emphasis on the actual “poor” in the first Beatitude emasculates the verse (and the whole SOTM). I also find it interesting how some people refuse to accept the “legalism” of the SOTM, yet continually use “cross” language. Following Jesus leads to the costly suffering of the cross. Jesus’ other radical expectations in the SOTM shouldn’t seem so “extreme” in light of that.

    I also think that we can find an important interpretive connection between the Beatitudes in Matt. 5 and “The Least Of These” in Matt. 25 (these two discourses- Matt. 5-7 & Matt. 23-25- seem to be important and intentional book ends).

    At any rate, I love the conversation! If I might be so bold, I would like to recommend my book on the SOTM, “The Cost of Community” as one to consider too.

  • I heard a saying once and I don’t know who said it first:
    “When Jesus came, he blew everything to pieces; and when I saw where the pieces fell, I knew I was free.” To me that is a summary of SOTM. 🙂

  • scotmcknight

    John, Greg, et al…

    This is not a virtues list, nor Jesus’ version of the fruit of the Spirit. It’s confrontation with conventional wisdom of who’s in and who’s not with a radical alternative. Yes, I like what Bruner says about this, John.

    Matt 5:48 is not about impossibility; it’s about loving both one’s friends and one’s enemies. This Sermon is not about confronting us with the impossible so we will trust in God, which of course is true (we are to trust in God, we need grace, etc etc). But that’s not how Jesus shapes this Sermon, whether Matthew has reframed it or not. What happens in this text needs to be seen by beginning at the end: Jesus summons people to himself, to follow him, to come to him, and the overwhelming power of this text comes when we see Jesus for Who he is in this text.

  • T


    Thanks for being a voice against the taming of the Sermon. I do like what this author is saying about Matthew showing us a Jesus that is both confronting Judaism of his day but not being at all unfaithful to or unmindful of Torah.

    I think you’re right about the “blessed’s” being shocking revelations about who is being welcomed and rewarded as God comes to personally reign.

    And I agree that it’s not about earning anything, but Jesus is laying out the character of the God he reveals as his father (and ours), and the priorities and concerns of his emerging reign, and saying what it means to know him, trust him, obey him–and what it means not to do so.

    And Mercy does run through the whole sermon (the welcome to the poor; the birds are fed, the flowers clothed–not because they sow and reap, but because God cares about them; God is kind to the ungrateful; love enemies; we ask for forgiveness as we forgive, etc.). But it’s mercy shown that demands reorientation around that mercy of God. In fact, it seems to me that Jesus is proposing that the great unmerited mercy of the Father should be our foundation for all of life. It can calm us down to not be worried about tomorrow or our basic needs; it can give us confidence not only to feel no fear from violent people, and to prompt us to show such people love. It can free us from feeling the need to compare ourselves to others to feel justified. It can keep us from the hardness of heart that would put a spouse, particularly a wife in a patriarchal society, through the trial of divorce. It can make us hesitant to judge others. It certainly helps us see that even “the wealthy” are poor to God and have received much grace, and should show grace to others, etc., etc.

    I know you’ve given me push back about the idea that mercy is the new justice of the kingdom, but it still doesn’t seem that far off to me. 😀

  • BradK

    Does he think we have to “do” these things or not? Why doesn’t Jesus just come out and say, “You can’t do these things on your own. Trust in grace first.”

    In Mark 10:17-29 we see another example of this sort of thing, right? When the rich man asks Jesus specifically what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus tells him to obey the law. Then he tells him to sell everything and give it to the poor and follow him. Did Jesus mean these things? Why didn’t Jesus engage in a theological discourse about grace and faith and the futility of works? Why didn’t he tell the rich man that he must believe Jesus is God incarnate?

  • GeneC

    I have preached through the SoM with the general understanding that Matthew’s intention is to show Jesus fulfilling the role of Israel, for she had failed. Israel’s role was to be a new humanity, reflecting God’s likeness into the world by their worship of the creator God and confirming their national life to His Torah. Just before the Sermon Jesus has gathered a “new Israel” around himself, his 12 disciples. So as Moses gathered Israel (an oppressed, enslaved and tired people) around Sinai and proclaimed a new life for them centered around YHWH I.e. “I am the LORD your God,” so is Jesus gathering a similar group of people and proclaiming a similar message. (I understand the audience as being invited to join with him and his disciples).

    If Israel was the beginning of a new humanity, (like Adam in the garden, they were God’s people, living in God’s place, Canaan – a land well-watered like the Garden of God, and under His authority i.e. Torah, and in His presence I.e. Temple), so is this new Israel Jesus is gathering around himself. Thus, at Sinai and now on the Mount, God’s people are commanded to live in a manner commensurate with who they are – the people of God. In each case, the garden, Sinai and on the Mount, grace is the foundation upon which the commands are given. This is most obvious at Sina in the preface “I am The Lord your God” but its not lacking contextually in Genesis nor in Matthew. Thus being grounded in a grace relationship, how can any of Moses or Jesus’ commands be “legalistic?” The demands and expectations are high, but there is sufficient grace available for those who come up short (by way of the sacrifices in the OT and confession in the NT). Accordingly, the condemnation is severe for those who do not take Jesus seriously or are in it for selfish reasons.

    The Sermon on the Mount then, is a manifesto for living in the Kingdom which Jesus is establishing, not a legalistic document by which one enters or is kicked out. By conforming their lives to Jesus teaching, citizens of the kingdom will reflect God’s likeness into a world in which this reality has been blighted since Genesis 3.

    In short the SoM is about living an authentic human life in a fallen world where one is in fellowship with and submission to his/her creator and so in some meaningful sense bear His likeness and image.

    I’m not a scholar nor the son of one, so you scholars can tear my understanding apart, i suppose. Nevertheless, right or wrong this is the general context in which I preached each pericope. Also I’ve made many assumptions here for which I’m sure I will be taken to task, but oh well. It will be obvious to many the authors on whom I base my understanding,

  • Brian

    John Frye #11 “If we turn the beatitudes into devotional tidbits about inner character, we unwittingly strip them of the outrageous grace inherent in God’s kingdom life.”

    Could you say a little more about how you see grace operative in the beatitudes? (I’m not disagreeing with you, just interested to hear more.)

  • Doesn’t Bonhoeffer argue, building off of Barth, that the Sermon is grace by sheer right of its being the revealed word of God in Jesus Christ? In other words, the empowerment to live this Kingdom lifestyle is included within the sermon itself as it is spoken and given to us by Jesus.

    I appreciate these thoughts. As a pastor in a college and seminary community (Wilmore, KY), I am always chagrinned by the number of young students who have been taught that the sermon’s purpose is to set a standard of righteusness so high that they are driven to the cross by the immpossibility of actually obeying it.

  • Brian #22,
    I think the opening barrage of “Blessed are…” points powerfully toward grace in that Jesus’ (God’s) heart is revealed toward the ones who were told repeated by the religious elite that they were the unblessed. Jesus offers a wide open door to “anyone” who hears these words of mine and does them… The prevailing Jewish pinched view of God’s kingdom becomes graciously expansive (as the rest of Matthew’s Gospel goes on to demonstrate).

  • Was just about to comment when I noticed your comment #18. “It’s confrontation with conventional wisdom of who’s in and who’s not with a radical alternative.” This one sentence, Scot, is extraordinarily helpful toward grasping the point here. In fact, I think this sentence will be helpful toward helping a church get this message. Thanks.

  • Brian

    John #23 Thank you. I thought that was where you were going and I agree, though you expressed it more eloquently than I could when I tried to frame my previous question in the form of “John, do you mean to suggest…”. Thanks again.

  • Marshall

    So you Scot are saying that “in the spirit” doesn’t modify “poor”, but rather “those who are poor (in the usual way)”. Maybe we should understand it as continuing through the rest of the Beatitudes? … “Blessed are those who mourn in the spirit …”

    … what would “in the spirit” have meant to a contemporary pre-Trinitarian Jewish crowd?

  • It’s been helpful to me to understand that the SOTM and the beatitudes in particular are not laws to be obeyed or virtues to be cultivated or goals to attain. The SOTM is simply a description of kingdom-of-God people. Is there a fiercely challenging edge to the SOTM? Of course, as Jesus stresses “the two’s” that end the Sermon–two gates, two trees, two builders. On the one hand, we can’t beg off with concluding the SOTM is impossible to live and, on the other hand, doing our best to take the sting out of its high vision of life as Jesus-followers with “Now, here’s what Jesus *really* meant and it’s not as hard as it sounds…” With the SOTM, I think James, Jesus’ brother, would have said “Jesus is offering us a mirror. Take a look Jesus-follower” (see James 1:23-24).

  • Kenton

    Marshall (#26)-

    It may help to look at the sermon in Luke. There the words are “Blessed are the poor.” Period. End of sentence. No “in spirit” added. So what does that do for a rich guy like say Matthew the tax collector? He may not be poor, but maybe he’s so generous with his wealth that the poor accept him as one of their own. They might say he would in solidarity with the poor, or poor “in spirit.”

  • scotmcknight

    Marshall, not sure what you are asking.

    Poor in spirit means poor folks who, in spite of poverty, trust and hope in God. As Kenton said in 28, Luke 6 give a big clue on what poor in spirit means.

  • Kenton


    I’m on your side, here. I don’t know if your question about whether or not we’re actually supposed to do these things is rhetorical, but my answer would be a “hell YES we’re supposed to do them!” Your tone seems frustrated/annoyed that there are still people like Wenham throwing a wet blanket on the sermon. Shouldn’t you be royally p!$$ed off here? I’m close to throwing stuff at my monitor when I read someone who’s supposed to be a scholar say that “yeah, Jesus didn’t really mean all that stuff.”

  • Marshall #26,
    I can’t tell, but are you kidding with your questions? “‘Poor in spirit’ recalls the *aniyim* or *anawim, the poor/meek of the Psalms…who, while they do experience material poverty, are also, and primarily, presented as God’s faithful people, humbly dependent on his protection in the face of the oppression they endure from the ungodly rich. For ‘poor in spirit’ cf. also Isa. 66:2 ‘the poor/humble (*ani*) and contrite in spirit, who trembles at my word'” (R. T. France, *NICNT Gospel of Matthew* 164-165). So, the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those famished for justice–all undoubtedly were materially poor, i.e, powerless, in the face of wealthy elite religious leaders and oppressive Roman oppressors. So, it would be unhelpful to think of tacking “in spirit” to the other words. Luke, in fact, has Jesus blessing the economically poor and literal hungry. I don’t think we need to make a huge theological divide between “poor” and “poor in spirit” and between “those who hunger and thirst for justice” and “those who hunger.” They are in the same crappy world.

  • scotmcknight

    Kenton, yes, indeed. The problem is that folks want to somehow cover this Sermon with grace, which of course is good, but the intent is to soften it or to ignore it. There’s something radical in the rhetoric of demand that is obliterated when set in a different context. We don’t hear what Jesus is saying.

  • The phrase “poor in spirit” can also be translated as “poor in the spirit” (since there is a Greek article before pneuma). And “poor in the spirit” can also be translated as “poor in the Spirit” (referring to the Holy Spirit). As Jesus, in the preceding context of Mt. 3-4, is literally poor, hungering and suffering in the desert, and as he calls disciples to leave prospering fishing businesses to follow him, a poor “Messiah,” certainly the edge of “poor” should not be softened by talking about humility or poverty in spirit, knowing one’s need for God.
    Likewise, the grace here is not God’s mercy for those who fail or are too weak; the grace from heaven in Mt. 3-4 is the Spirit, who descends from the heavens at Jesus’ baptism, anointing him as the new king. Already John the Baptist has pointed to him as the “coming one” who will baptize with the Spirit, and inaugurate the kingdom of (and from) heaven. Besides the Spirit, the voice from the heavens announces Jesus as the beloved son (alluding to Ps. 2:7, the newly decreed king), who is pleasing (to the Father) (alluding to Isa. 42:1 and the suffering servant). This all begins at Jesus’ baptism.
    Then the Spirit (the grace empowering Jesus to do what his Father wants) leads Jesus to suffer in the desert and become the obedient son who pleases his Father. After refusing Satan’s offers of kingship over the kingdoms of earth, Jesus remains true to his God-given kingship over the kingdom of (and from) heaven. Then he begins to announce his new kingdom and call disciples into that kingdom. They are his focus in Mt. 5:1-2, and will be the blessed (by God) because they are now poor disciples of the poor king, and in the future will be given the Spirit by Jesus. Then they will be the poor in the Spirit, and theirs will be the kingdom of (and from) heaven.
    In the old covenant (through Moses), those in the kingdom of Israel who do the commands given by their heavenly king will be blessed with a promised fruitful (prosperous) land. In Jesus’ new covenant, part of the shock is that the rich are not blessed by God. Thus when Jesus says it is impossible for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven in Mt. 19:23-24, the disciples are astonished and ask who then can be saved? Jesus says this is impossible with men (even rich men, especially rich men); but with God (and the empowering grace from heaven) all things are possible (19:25-26).

  • Marshall

    Scot @30, that’s what I meant. I wouldn’t suppose that ALL poor people are blessed; many “have no root”. They give in to self-pity, alcoholism, vandalism, other forms of despair. I don’t believe that God WANTS people to be poor, on the contrary, but we don’t look in the right place for wealth, eg to the lilies of the field. People who sleep in the streets can find salvation and the Kingdom where they are, but it’s BETTER when there are not people sleeping in the streets. Two messages?? One *to* poor people, and one *about* them?

    John @32, rich people can also mourn, and in the same way as poverty, grief can be destructive of right relationship with God. I don’t think mourning is ALWAYS a blessing any more than is poverty, but Jesus shows us the right way to deal with such: stay “in the spirit”.

    … so as Evangelicals we use that phrase in a special way, about the stuff that arrived at Pentecost. And of course, that phrase doesn’t occur in Mark, where the whole thing is laid out differently, eg the opposition to the Woes. I wondered if its use here is ananchronistic; the pointer to Isaiah 66 is helpful.

  • MatthewS

    I believe we all get burned by the excesses of others at some point, and those burns tend to inform our hermeneutic later.

    There are so many neat hand-waves to push aside the shock value of what Jesus and others said in Scripture. I have a desire not to defang this thing but to let it work on me.

    But here are some personal reactions when I read this post:

    I know plenty of people who would be happy to hide behind the SOTM in refusing to aid a wife in leaving a physically abusive environment. Turn the other cheek. Mourn. Be poor in spirit. Is there any place in the SOTM that allows a wife to stand up against physical (or other) abuse? What about a business man who is being falsely sued?

    I can’t afford a high quality coffee grinder or a fountain pen at present, so if I were to walk up to you and request to have yours, would you feel obligated to “give to those who ask you?” And I know you have a caring heart, so perhaps you would! But if it didn’t stop – now can I have your car, your house, your bank account – at some point you would say no. But what in the SOTM allows you to say no?

    Our church has charitably provided free housing for some deadbeat-ish folks for years. I’m at a point of believing we are harming some people more than helping when we enable certain behavior, which I believe is Scriptural wisdom, but I do not see room for that consideration here in the SOTM. Believe it or not, Scot, I recall a comment from you some years ago about a neighbor who wouldn’t mow the lawn, and you found it best not to continue to enable him. But again, where is that clause in this sermon?

    I’m not being silly, btw. When you preach, you mess with people’s lives. I’m trying to honestly think about how I would preach, and balance, this passage.

    (on a side note, I googled that comment about the lawn, and it was in 2007! I can’t believe it’s been at least 6 years that I’ve been benefiting from your blog, but I am grateful)

  • Lucas Dawn #34,
    I think your Spirit-oriented emphasis is supported much better by Luke’s Gospel than Matthew’s. From the presence of the definite article before *pneumati* you’ve created an emphasis that I don’t think is supported by Matthew’s text. What exactly would “poor in the Spirit” mean? The way I read your comment above it sounds like you make the terms “poor in (the) spirit” refer to a future time when the disciples will be “poor, but in the Spirit.” I just can’t buy that. But, hey, it’s just me. I think the terms “poor in (the) spirit,” “those mourning,” “the meek,” and “those who hunger and thirst for justice” are fluid; they flow into and help define one another. The terms do not refer to distinct people-group categories.

  • norman

    Some of this background I covered in our discussion last week on Scot’s Post “How much Torah for Christians?” I would refer my next to last post #55 there in which I discuss the Jewish implications of Matt 5:17-18 as I understand them.

    The importance of these verses is that Christ is not saying that the Law is going to continue indefinitely. He IMO is saying that the Law would remain in effect until all Prophecy has been fulfilled (big difference). That was the intent of the Law and the Prophets as Jesus pointed out that the Law pointed to Him and so He brings to a close the Mosaic covenant of Law Keeping. But not until all things were complete. At the current point the Old System would still be in play for His Jewish Audience and they were expected to be Jews above reproach. That theme of being beyond reproach in the eyes of those fellow Jews who were wavering or persecuting them would bring some to repentance during the transitional period that was to occur. We indeed see in Acts 21 that those Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were still “zealous for the Law” in their visiting with Paul who made them nervous as they took to heart Jesus instructions from the Sermon on the Mount. They were confused by Paul just as many still are today.

    Matt 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

    Again I refer you to my previous post in which I attempt to define the Jewish and especially the Messianic concept and implications of “Heaven and Earth” and how it is not about a physical material earthly change but about a reassignment of the Governance and manner in which God interacts with His People. That H & E change occurred when Judgment upon the old system took place as Christ said it would at the hands of the Roman General Titus who leveled the Temple, Killed many of the priest, removed animal sacrifices and burned physical Jerusalem to the ground. In its place is now Heavenly Jerusalem Rev 21.

    The Sermon on the Mount is critical background in which Christ laid out the principles that He expected His followers to adhere to during the many tumultuous 40 years that lay ahead of them. It was for Jews at that time specifically but none the less we can always take instructions from these teachings as scripture is profitable no matter what era we find ourselves in.

  • Kenton

    norman (#38)-

    To quote I’m going to take a different tangent, and let’s see how that plays out.

    I think Matt 5:17-18 is a preface to 5:19-6:18 where Jesus is saying a lot of “You’ve always heard _(blank)_, but here’s _(better)_.” In other words “stop reading the ‘law’ like a lawyer. It’s not about dancing on the edge of what you can and can’t do, but rather it’s about living in the center of the shalom that God intended.” So what Scot was saying about who’s in and who’s not in, and the shock of who is in comes into play. The poor, hungry and meek are blessed. Don’t just stick with a “Do not murder” kind of “law.” Go for a “Do not hate” kind.

    That doesn’t seem to have an expiration date to me.

    (BTW, a good read on the SOTM, besides the ones Scot mentioned is Brian McLaren’s “The Secret Message of Jesus.” He explains that idea a lot better than I just did.)

  • Gary

    I am in agreement and merely wanted to add what I have found to be the most helpful treatment of the SOTM, which is found in Dallas Willard’s “The Divine Conspiracy.” Willard gives the Beatitudes and the whole sermon precisely the kind of treatment discussed here, IMHO.

  • TJJ

    But there is nothing ” blessed” about being poor……in and of itself……nor are the poor necessarily and closer to God, more attuned to faith, or more or less of anything per se, necessarily. The poor can be very unholy and untrusting too. So there is a breakdown there for me in the interpretation grid Scott is using. I am not saying he is wrong, i am very likely wrong, but there it is.

  • Kenton


    How is there a breakdown? You seem to be saying that your shocked. That’s what Scot is saying. That’s the point.

  • TJJ

    In other words… does just being “poor” make you in?

  • TJJ

    I am not shocked by that interpretation… just does not hold up and make sense to me as a proposition. How does just being “poor” make you in? Why? It only has shock value it there is a shocling answer to that question.

  • norman

    Well if there is no expiration date then Mosaic Law Keeping is still in force for Jews today and for those who want to become Jews. I say that the Heavens and Earth did change just as the OT and NT present and expected. There is no more Law post 2nd Temple destruction as Paul and Hebrews clearly lay out IMO as that 40 year New Exodus brought the Old Covenant to a close. It was a transition period until everything was fulfilled.

    However don’t try to hold me to something I’m not presenting which you appear to be doing with your contentions. I’m not saying that Jewish Christians are held to that legal standard forever, they (First Century Jewish Christians) are going to be what Paul calls the first fruits of the harvest and this is a special calling and time in history when Messiah comes and brings in the Kingdom of God through Life in the Spirit. If we want the Jews to still emulate the Mosaic Law and Gentiles to go a separate way then we are standing the teachings of Paul on his head no matter how much we want to gloss over it. You simply have to put these pieces of literature into the context of the times and read them in that manner to who and why they were written for which is what I’m attempting to do.

    Christ was exhorting these Jews to not give their jealous Jewish brothers any reason to say they were not respectable and therefore have an excuse to shun the coming Kingdom. They were to go the extra mile because they carried a burden of transition that was special for the fullness of times and life and death and salvation were going to be at stake.

    Yes I agree that this would be a shock to contemplate to those Jews who would heed this call to follow Christ. As I said in my previous post these callings are worthy and beneficial for spiritual walking with God at any time in history but they were addressed to a special people, time and place. However the time would come when these special times would be with the ages past but God’s Highest Ideas are eternal. But the Law wasn’t.

    Perhaps I misunderstood you and if I did then please elaborate.

  • Kenton



    3. a sudden or violent disturbance of the mind, emotions, or sensibilities: (empahsis added.)

    If it doesn’t make sense to you – really doesn’t make sense to you – then you’re experiencing “shock.”

    How does being poor make you “in”? You know, I don’t have a good answer at the moment. It’s about time to go home and my mind is shutting down. Which, fwiw, doesn’t bode well for parsing out norman’s last comment.

  • Kenton


    I fear we’re talking past each other.

    Of course there IS a change that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus makes, otherwise what would be the point? But the idea of an expiration date of Mosaic law is troubling to me. You’re not suggesting that the laws of murder, adultery, keeping one’s word (IOW, the things Jesus not only brings up but goes further with) are commands we are no longer called to follow, are you?

    I’m wondering if we’re separated by some sort of New/Old Perspective on Paul, here? Mosaic law in terms of “badges of covenant membership” did expire, but that doesn’t really come into the picture for a few years. You certainly can’t use Paul’s words (in Galatians, Ephesians, Romans) to throw out (or “expire”) Jesus’ words in the SOTM. My apologies if’n I’m misrepresenting you – and I really hope I am – but that’s what it seems to me like you’re doing, no?

  • norman

    Yes there was a change that took place, and we use Paul’s writings to flesh out the ramifications of that change. I know those who want to remain legalistic systematically are not comfortable with Paul but I believe his examinations are the interpretive method called for. I don’t know about the new perspective but his old perspective works pretty well IMO. I really can’t believe that Christians are still wanting to hang on to Mosaic Law when it’s clear cut that it was the focus of change that needed to occur for right standing before God. I think Mosaic apologists are a new trend on an old problem that was dealt with nearly 2000 years ago and relegated to the ash heap of Religious expression by the Cross. And no, just as Paul said that just because we are not under law are we to keep on sinning. So your idea that you are trying to assign to those who say the law has been set aside support immorality has already been tried on Paul before and it doesn’t stick.

    Rom 6:15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!
    Col 2:14-15 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. THIS HE SET ASIDE, NAILING IT TO THE CROSS. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

    I believe there is simply a weak understanding of Pauline and early Christian theology at large out there making the circuit and I must say it is troubling to say the least. We are being asked to return to the beggarly elements that were set aside 2000 years ago. Even Peters letters rejected legalistic Judaism.

    2Pe 2:21-22 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.”

  • John Frye, #37
    Thanks for your response. Luke does emphasize the Spirit, in the Gospel and Acts. Yet so far in Mt. 1-5, every use of pneuma has referred to the Spirit (see 1:18,20; 3:11,16; 4:1). And of significance for Mt. 5:3, which connects the Spirit with the kingdom of (and from) heaven, is 3:2 and 3:11 where the approaching presence of the kingdom of heaven and the coming baptism of the Spirit are linked by John the Baptist. In 3:16 the promises of a new king and kingdom begin to be fulfilled when the heavens open and the Spirit descends on Jesus. Because Jesus is now anointed as king, with the Spirit from the heavens, the kingdom of the heavens has begun; Jesus himself is the first and foremost example of “the poor in the Spirit,” who is blessed by the presence and power of this new reign from the heavens.
    In Mt. 10:1, the disciples are given authority (the Spirit, temporarily) over unclean spirits and (authority) to heal every disease (and in 10:7 to proclaim the kingdom). They will continue to be poor, as they take no money or food with them, but depend on the hospitality of those to whom they go. In 10:20 Jesus says when they are asked to give an account before rulers, it will be the Spirit speaking through them. This mission is a foretaste of the great commission, where Jesus sends them to all the nations, making disciples and baptizing them into the name (the presence and power) of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to do everything Jesus commanded. I think Jesus’ kingdom is this international kingdom of disciples who will, through the empowering grace of the Spirit, be enabled to give up their greed, and follow the lowly, servant path of their king.
    You mentioned “fluidity” with the beatitudes. I see this in connections like mourning due to poverty (which is also clear in Lk. 6) and meekness (patient gentleness that does not try to get out of poverty using violence, but just waits to inherit the earth in the end), who thus hunger and thirst for righteousness (for Jesus’ new way of life rather than better food or clothing). Just as Jesus refused to be a greedy king in the desert and hungered more for obeying God’s word than for bread, so the disciples will be filled with that same righteousness (especially when they become filled with the Spirit, who empowers this righteousness of obeying Jesus’ commands).

  • Kenton

    “I don’t know about the new perspective but his old perspective works pretty well IMO.”

    You’d have a lot of company in a lot of circles, but I’d be willing to be you’re outnumbered by the commenters on this blog.

    “I think Mosaic apologists are a new trend on an old problem that was dealt with nearly 2000 years ago and relegated to the ash heap of Religious expression by the Cross.”

    Well, yes and no. The cross gave us a grace we can live by 2000 years ago, but the understanding of the cross you’re espousing is about 500 years old dating back to Luther. To say we have no obligation to obey laws of murder is insane to say the least. And if your answer to that is Rom 6:15, then at what point is sin defined in terms of keep a law that has expired? That’s self-contradictory.

    I’m not going to get a lot into the NPP, but personally, it helped me reconcile a lot of those questions that your answers leave (“left”) me with. The wikipedia article on the NPP is a good place to start if you’re interested.

  • Andrew

    Jesus’s message was a combined message of inner purity and works (as in, what you do for your fellow man). He saw these, correctly, as completely inter-related (if you are constantly thinking ill of other people, you are likely not to treat them well)
    Paul’s statement “works of the law” referred to ritualistic acts meant to instill Judaic fellowship (notably circumcision and kosher food laws), not the moral aspects of Torah. It was and is common in Jewish tradition to have widely different interpretations of what Torah meant and what needed to be followed. Jesus and the earliest Jewish-Christians did not see Torah being invalidated or “a done deal”, but clarified and stripped away of needless excesses. And that goes for Jews or Gentiles. The letter of James, one of the few primary (non-Pauline) documents arising from the Jewish-Christian tradition-even if likely written by followers of James and not Jesus’s brother himself, sums it up nicely. The ‘royal law’ ie Torah is basically summed up in the Golden Rule and how human beings treat each other.
    The whole Lutheran idea of “sola fide” and salvation through declarations of “faith” is, frankly, a crock and needs to be relegated to the dustbin of history’s proven false interpretations. Jesus’s teachings are all about ACTION . . both deeds and actions of the heart. You follow something else you aren’t following Jesus, period.

  • norman


    Let’s set some of you conclusions straight. I have zero affiliation with Luther and Calvin’s thinking as I never pick them up and don’t have any inclination to do so. In fact I do almost all of my research from 2nd Temple period and First Century examinations. Very little beyond that scope. I concentrate on the various Jewish perspectives that were populating these periods of time and I’m especially attuned to Paul’s perspective that I believed reflects 2nd Temple ideology as it evolved into messianic fulfillment. I’m sorry that I quote Paul so extensively, I do realize that he is falling out of good standing with those that don’t approve of his message. But that’s nothing new as there were pockets of Jewish Christians such as the Ebionite’s that didn’t want anything to do with Paul either. That was simply the death throes of Judaism lashing out to hang on to Mosaic Traditions IMO.

    You know the difficult thing about discussing theology is that people don’t get it all wrong so the challenge is to sift out their bad conclusions without throwing out the baby with the bath water. But to the undiscerning student they likely aren’t yet capable of determining when someone is positing half-truths. Or to be more generous simply error mixed with truth.

    So you think that appealing to the percentage of commenters here on this blog validates ones conclusions? When are you going to cease your allegations that the call for abandonment of Mosaic law Keeping as practiced by ruling Jews in Jesus time is equivalent to condoning murder.

    Now take Andrews approach even though he may be misreading me also, but at least he lays out a balanced approach in this discussion that leads to dialogue and learning. He presents the “ritualistic acts” as the problem that Paul is against and I think he makes a good case for that understanding. He also distinguished those with “the moral aspects of Torah” which is where the discussion needs to focus more upon IMO.
    It is very difficult to study Paul extensively in Romans and Galatians and not come away with the understanding that he considered the Jewish practices of Law Keeping in vogue at the time of Messiah to be a huge if not “The” problem with the way religion was practiced in those days. We just as well throw out Romans 5-8 which is his classic investigation of the Problem of Law which he takes back to Adam and lays on his doorstep as the root of legalism. Paul is not against Law but he is against certain practices of Law keeping. Notice the good Law he proposes as opposed to the defective Law that brings “sin” and “death”. Perhaps people are not inclined to define the defective law in hopes of not offending anyone’s traditions.
    Rom 8:2 For the LAW OF THE SPIRIT OF LIFE has set you free in Christ Jesus FROM THE LAW OF SIN AND DEATH.

    Again I agree with Andrew that the “Golden Rule and how human beings treat each other” is at the heart of understanding Jesus and He in facts states so.

  • Kenton

    Great, because my thinking is in line with Andrew’s even if it was poorly expressed. Jesus’ teachings are indeed about ACTION, including the Golden Rule and the Jesus Creed and the whole of the sermon on the mount. And they are as applicable today as they were when he first spoke them.

    I also agree that sola fide (in the form it was passed down to me) is/was a crock. That doesn’t make me an apologist for enforcing the ritualistic acts (or the”badges of covenant membership”) of Mosaic Law. You can cease those allegations as well, thankyouverymuch.

  • T


    Just so it’s clear, NPP folks and the bulk of people at this blog aren’t talking–at all–about chucking Paul or diminishing his importance. I for one do object though to making Jesus’ teaching, in effect, to be part of the old covenant or the (bad) law, whether its done through dispensational, Lutheran, or any other systematic theology. For too long folks have misread Paul to insist that he disagrees with and trumps Jesus, James, John, etc. Any systematic reading that makes the plain teaching of that much of the NT look like heresy is a signal that the systematic needs major help. That’s the thrust of Scots post re the SOM, and the SOM is just one example in the NT.

  • Andrew

    Poorly expressed? . . .,now wait a minute! 🙂

  • Kenton

    No, no, no, no, no.

    I meant if *I* was expressing myself poorly.

    Sorry about that.

  • norman


    I’m not one much for labels as I was being a little glib about the New and Old Paul perspective. 🙂

    I would agree that any systematic reading of Paul and Jesus seemingly at odds would not have been thought through and examined properly. Paul I believe provides the view for Christianity after the end of Temple/Tabernacle worship as instituted by Moses. According to the Hebrew letter the old Tabernacle model was a type projecting the better Temple established by Christ. That old Covenant was in the process of passing away.

    Heb 8:1-7 Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, IN THE TRUE TENT that the Lord set up, not man. … THEY SERVE A COPY AND SHADOW OF THE HEAVENLY THINGS. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” 6 But as it is, CHRIST HAS OBTAINED A MINISTRY THAT IS AS MUCH MORE EXCELLENT THAN THE OLD AS THE COVENANT HE MEDIATES IS BETTER, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

    13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And WHAT IS BECOMING OBSOLETE AND GROWING OLD IS READY TO VANISH AWAY.

    So even the Jewish Hebrew writer realized that Moses tent/temple system of worship was inadequate in light of the revelation of Christ. The morality of their covenant was based upon the same principles that Christ reaffirmed which is the two Great commandments and not in their systematic approach established by Moses. As I stated yesterday Christ in the Sermon on the Mount was calling those Jews who would follow Him to live the Law to the highest standards in order that there would be no reproach upon the “church” body of Christ during this phasing out time of Moses and the tent along with its constituent practices of ritual Judaism.

    Col 2: 16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. THESE ARE A SHADOW OF THE THINGS TO COME, BUT THE SUBSTANCE BELONGS TO CHRIST. Let no one disqualify you, …

    Gal 5: 5 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to EVERY MAN WHO ACCEPTS CIRCUMCISION THAT HE IS OBLIGATED TO KEEP THE WHOLE LAW. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

    When we read Jesus in Matt 5:17 talking about the Law and obeying it we have to reconcile it with how Paul and others have interpreted and applied it. We simply can’t let either discussion stand alone in a vacuum without determining the implications. IMO the implications were that for Jewish Christians they were to uphold the law until the Temple was judged as was the first Temple in 600BC. This would be the sign at that time that Ritual Judaism was no longer to be followed because the main emphasis of the Temple, Priesthood and sacrifices and feast Days at the Temple could not be sustained. This was considered the sign that the Jesus following Jews were looking for but apostate Jews did not believe would ever occur. It only took about 40 years from Pentecost to transpire and indeed some of those standing before Christ when he proclaimed its demise in Matt 24 did see His Prophecy fulfilled.

    Jesus instituted an overthrow of the old system it seems clear and His followers believed in that overthrow. All of scripture must be examined in context and not proof text alone.

  • Kenton


    Thanks, that helps. I think what I would say in response to that (“we would say” – if I’m not being too presumptuous.), is that these results of your interpretation are things we can all get on board with: the time of the temple has passed and with it the sacrifices and the priestly system. Very well and good. We in the NPP would even add to those things kosher laws, strict sabbath laws, and the big issue for gentiles – circumcision. (The so called “badges of covenant membership”)

    I think what we would raise eyebrows with is if you’re telling us that because the time of the temple has passed then the understanding of v. 15 is that the rest of the SOTM is obsolete or perhaps has some sort of secondary value but is not primarily for us today. That’s where we go from politely listening to your interpretation to raising a big stink.

    I (and here I’ll strictly speak for me) am not on the same page regarding your interpretation of v. 15. That’s OK. You made your point well, and I think your take has some merit even though I find other interpretations more inline with my current thinking. I don’t really even think this line of thinking on v.15 necessarily means that the entirety of the SOTM was for up until the destruction of the temple and is now somehow secondary. The SOTM as foundational in my understanding of the gospel, so anything that diminishes it elicits a strong response from me. (Yeah, yeah, I get the irony. My efforts to base a life upon “blessed are the meek” start with a mindset of “blessed are the meek my @$$!” Oh, what a wretched man I am.)

    If I went too strong in my responses earlier, I’m sorry.

    Grace to you, norman.

  • T


    I agree with you on many points, and even with the idea that the temple’s destruction was significant, but I don’t agree with using that date as the date for transition in any way that effectively puts Jesus’ own teaching into an OT (law) instead of NT box. It’s the arrival of the New, in and through and with Christ, not the destruction of the old, that marked the beginning of the new covenant under the Messiah. Jesus said, “the time is coming *and is now here*, when you will worship neither here nor in Jerusalem.” So the shadow of the temple system had already been replaced by the substance of Christ. He was already replacing the Temple not only in worship, but also by forgiving sins himself on the authority given by the Father.

    As I said it’s not just the SOM, but also multiple parts in the gospels, in James, John and I John, and even Paul that affirm Jesus’ teachings for Christians. It’s not the temple’s destruction, but Christ’s arrival, which is the transition point, which places his teachings not as part of the law that Paul rails against, but as the teachings of our current and long-awaited Lord.

  • norman


    There are many folks over the years that recognize that there is a transition going on but they naturally jump to conclusions and think it’s all about the future end of the physical planet when Christ supposedly comes again. IMO People really don’t pay attention to the context of how those earliest Christians were describing and expecting things because we have a tendency to read ourselves into the script and override the contextual times. So much more of scripture starts to make sense when we keep the transition time in their context and not in ours.

    I’m not arguing at all against the implication of the Cross and the Resurrection but if we pay closer attention to the expectations of these writers we see that they were also looking forward to what becomes a climatic consummation in their lifetimes. It wasn’t a physical event like we suppose but was what we call a closing consummating event that put the stamp of closure upon the fulfillment of prophecy that was expected with Messiah. The main event is what is called the Judgment upon Judaism which is a covenant judgment and its sign would be that City’s slaughter of over a million people according to Josephus. This is simply the way the ancients looked at things and is why Christ prophesied this event and therefore it was considered proof of His divinity.

    The separation in Matt 25 of the sheep and the Goats goes back to Ezekiel 34 at least and is what most today simply would call excommunication language in which apostate Jews who refused Christ were declared outside the New Covenant that they rejected. I know this idea bothers a lot of people today as we attempt to smooth over our modern ideas of God but in those days it was considered right for God to take vengeance upon those who persecuted the faithful. That is what Christ said was going to happen in Matt 23 to many Jewish scribes and Priest who killed and murdered the martyrs. However in the Sermon on the Mount the Faithful were told to turn the other cheek and depend upon God as he would be the only one to exact vengeance for their blood. That was a high calling to people in those days to turn the other cheek.

    Yes the transition times were in full force but significant changes in History take time to take hold and that Cross and Resurrection set the stage for the next 40 years of transition. It’s compared to the 40 year transition in the wilderness of Israel before crossing the Jordan and entering the Promised Land. See Heb 3 and 4 and the story of Acts from Pentecost onward. The Christians followed the template of OT Judaism in their understanding the Old as shadows of the reality that would come with Messiah. The OT becomes patterns and models for the New Covenant Kingdom.

    And yes we can overstate the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem but only because its significance has been understated throughout Christian History. It’s simply a missing part of the whole OT and NT picture that helps complete these early Christians perspective.

    T, ask those Zealous for the Law Jewish Christians in Acts 21 why they hadn’t forsaken the Temple and circumcision yet? It’s because they believed they were under the mantle of Christ instructions to them as Jewish believers in Him to remain devout until the end when they would no longer be able to worship on the physical mountain of Jerusalem. You see the first century faithful believed when these events had occurred that Christ “Parousia/coming” had occurred as projected. It’s all us Christians afterward who want to appropriate their times. It’s been happening for 1900 years as people continually misread the NT story.
    IMHO 🙂

  • T


    I hear you. And it’s a theory with some theoretical and even historical beauty to it. But if the implication or application of that theory is to basically put “no longer applicable” through much of the NT, especially the teachings of Jesus and related parts of the epistles, I’m just not buying it.

    Best to you.

  • norman


    It’s amazing to me how we conjure up the worst case scenarios when we encounter something new or different. I don’t mean any disrespect but how does the timing of the juridical covenant consummation make Christ and His resurrection “no longer applicable”. Think about it. Is it because somehow we lose out on getting to experience the “elements melting in fervent heat” and all those left behind folks get to be fried like pouring burning oil on an ant hill? Or maybe it’s the getting to experience the laying down together of the wild animals with the domestic animals that people are really looking forward to. Or is it sky walking our way into the atmosphere that really gets one excited. You know those misunderstandings of Jewish literature really don’t do much for one’s spiritual walk if that is what people think we should focus on and place our trust in. It’s hard enough to keep Christians from fixating on Heaven and pay attention to their walk with God in the here and now.

    Indeed the Kingdom of Christ is here and the power of it is fully manifested and not in a corrupted state for life in a dangerous and physically challenging world. (that was the old covenant that was corrupt) If one thinks they are living in the times of the NT writers and want to imagine themselves in that era perpetually so be it, but people need to recognize that we have been called to put on Christ and live life abundantly in the Spirit of God fully and not partially. Whether one think it’s off in the future somehow or if they embrace its power fully now likely makes little difference as long as they embrace its power for moment by moment and day by day Godly living.

    Christ brought us freedom from bad religion that suppressed people’s relationship with God whether we realize it or not. All one has to do is pay attention when they read the OT to realize that there was something wrong with their organized religion that the prophets continually railed against. They thought the messiah was coming to set it straight and I’m here to tell you that they didn’t think that the time of the Messiah would drag on for 2000 years and counting but would come and put an end once and for all to the problems bad corrupted religion produced. But those of us after this time keep dragging it out and act like Jesus just didn’t get the job done. Paul is probably spinning in his grave lamenting the confusion that has embraced the church regarding the Kingdoms bountiful gifts to us but unfortunately we get his writings pre AD70 and not post. We will have to ask him in Heaven to set the record straight.

    Frankly it saddens me that we feel so comfortable in watering down the power of the Kingdom of Christ and talk as if he never really got the job done. Well if one thinks He’s coming back to get it right the next time it’s because one simply hasn’t applied oneself to really grasping Biblical literature. I get amazed at all the self-righteous theologians today who are happy to correct everyone’s misconceptions about Genesis but turn around and treat Revelation as if they never picked up a hermeneutic book after leaving Genesis. They know by gut instinct that Genesis can’t be taken literally and will look under every bush to figure it out, but have no qualms what so ever to take Revelation literally and just sit there on their hands and wont’ touch it contextually. First off they want to project it’s time of writing to a point where it can’t make sense of the times. In fact if you notice the current scholarship out there you will see the inclination to keep moving the NT literature further and further past the time it talks about. They just don’t want to think it can actually have been written contextually during the times being reflected. They find one piece of literature that might fit that mold and they want to reassign all the rest to later periods with ulterior purposes in its writing.

    Biblical scholars today pick their fights carefully and will not tackle more than one item at a time that will possibly get them fired. They are not going to be declared heretical about both Genesis and Revelation at the same time. Perhaps someday after a few more generations we will see scholars put the total picture of the bible together consistently but for now we have to deal with scholars who have gaps in their systematic theology because they fear losing their influence in the biblical world. I understand this because I operate under the same constraints and so I’m tired and feel like venting a little tonight. I guess I’m taking my cue from Pete Enns who seems to be on a perpetual venting rant for several months now. He must be rubbing off on me.

    Blessings to you also T but please don’t think what I believe about Christ is “no longer applicable”.

  • T


    I wasn’t saying or trying to in any way imply that you were thinking that Jesus’ cross and resurrection, or what you believe about Christ in general is no longer applicable. We are talking about Jesus’ teachings, specifically the SOM. I may have misread you, but you seemed to say that the SOM was specifically crafted for the Jewish followers to prep them for period leading up to the destruction of the Temple, to get them through that specific tribulation. The implication being, therefore, that much of Jesus’ teaching, is, in a real sense, “no longer applicable” for us since we’re in a much, much later and different situation. If I’ve misread you, I apologize; it was not intended. Hopefully, you can now understand me if that was the issue.

    Best to you.

  • norman


    I thought our discussion of the SOM was about setting context, that is what I attempted to do. It’s a Jewish piece of literature illustrating Jesus speaking to Jews first and then we can take it from there. No one is saying it shouldn’t also be used for exhorting and meditative purposes as well, in fact I mentioned that purpose right off the bat but you must have missed it.

    I almost always set out when dealing with scripture by looking at who, what, why and where it was written to and for. Some times people think I over analyze it but but I think people under analyze it more often and draw conclusions that are sometimes problematic.

    Thanks for the response

  • T


    Fair enough. We disagree then on the chronological scope that Jesus intended in some significant part for his SOM and related teachings. Is that a fair reading of what you are saying, based on the context and text as you read them? I just want to be sure I understand.

  • norman


    I guess we must if you insist.
    I’m not sure about the details of your concepts so I would have to see significantly more Exegesis on your part to determine.

  • Andrew

    Norman, your theory about the Law or parts of the Law remaining in effect until the fall of Jerusalem only holds water if you support very early dates for the NT texts you’re citing. IMO, with the exception of Paul’s authentic letters, all NT texts, in their canonical form (with the possible exception of James) were composed post-70. A majority of scholars regard the Olivet Discourse as a separate piece of apocalyptic literature inserted as post-diction into Mark (and thus carried by Matthew and Luke). Rather than fulfilling them, the fall of Jerusalem actually intensified apocalyptic expectations of early Christian communities and that’s reflected in the texts.
    There are many literary liberties the evangelists took to fortify the faithful in their own communities post-70, when Judaism began coalescing together in unity and tolerance towards Jewish Christians dwindled. The traditional view of the fall of Jerusalem being some act of God to sever the covenant in response to the rejection of Jesus was a clever maneuver of the early Church as they claimed the Christian story was the true continuation of Judaism and that anyone who remained a Jew was an apostate.

  • Charles Spurgeon saw the Sermon on the Mount as applicable to our lives more so than most American Christians.
    “… it is a dangerous state of things if doctrine is made to drive out precept,**”

  • norman


    I’m quite familiar with the majority of scholars ascribing to late dates for much of NT literature. I also understand the need to develop theories that discredit fulfilled prophecy that is troubling to modern sensibilities. They may be right but I would have to bet against them at this time. I’m not that inclined toward the evangelical approaches so I don’t ride that horse that they often ascribe to, however modern scholars also read their own presuppositions into their conclusions in order to arrive at where they want to. It’s a tricky business to go against the consensus scholars if you want to join their ranks isn’t it, that sometimes leads to mistakes being perpetuated longer than they should.

    The bottom line is that these ideas of pseudo or after the fact writing do indeed have a history in Judaism and Christianity but you can also let this idea color everything you look at if you’re not careful. You could end up with absolutely no fulfilled prophecy because everything was written after the fact to conform to a certain theme or model. I don’t know of any quicker means of destroying Christianity if that is the route critical scholarship is taking us. The reason I say that is because the pattern for the messiah that is often followed in the first century finds much of its outline form in the Enoch writings. I’ve been waiting for the day when some sharper than average atheist grasp that the model for the early Christians was already outlined 200 years before Christ arrived. All the Christians have then done is rewritten the messiah story to match parts of Enoch to a large extent. The Jews after AD70 were so concerned with these kinds of projections that they abandoned Enoch because of its robust messianic prophecy. Now it looks like critical scholars are handing the atheist the tools to gut the idea of fulfilled prophecy.

    Andrew I simply reject the current consensus scholars on this and there is no better example than Revelation in which there are divided camps on when it was written. Pre or Post AD70. Most scholars think the harlot is Rome but the better internal and consistent scholarship IMO points to it as being that old OT Harlot: namely Jerusalem. Now I grant you some wily and creative early Christians could have written it as a Pseudo piece after the fact but it they did it would have been a tremendous wasted effort considering the intent and purpose of that piece of literature to provide comfort to those under the Jews and Nero’s extreme persecution that was going on in the middle of the first century. You simply do not have the Sea Beast (Rome) and the Land Beast (apostate Jews) occurring together at any other time in History in extreme persecution of the church. I recommend the story of Acts, but I know it was written very late too. But scholars don’t even recognize the difference between those two beasts and it never enters their mind to pursue that idea that Daniel setup at least 200 years earlier as prophecy being fulfilled. Critical scholars never see a fulfilled prophecy they can sink their teeth into.

    Oh well we haven’t even touched the tip of the iceberg on this issue so I’ll leave it there.

    I’ll also recommend John A. T. Robinsons book “Redating the New Testament” as a resource to seriously consider on this subject.