“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake”

“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” March 26, 2023


Brueghel's Sermon on Mount
“The Sermon on the Mount”  (Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1597)
You should not conclude from this slightly misleading painting that the Sermon on the Mount was delivered in Flanders. That would be a mistake.


While, in terms of their form, Matthew 5:10 and 5:11-12 may seem at first glance to constitute two distinct “beatitudes,” it’s pretty obvious from their parallel, even synonymous, content that they’re really a single unit.  The second portion doesn’t contain a specific statement of reward because it’s simply a restatement of the first portion , which does name the reward:

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

Note, too that the reward for those who are persecuted and reviled for righteousness’ sake is “the kingdom of heaven” — precisely the same reward that was promised to “the pure in heart” in Matthew 5:3.  Which is to say that the Beatitudes both begin and end with the promise of “the kingdom of heaven,” that the same promised blessing “bookends” all of them.

Note, as well, the significant words “for righteousness’ sake” and “falsely” and “for my sake.”  It is all too easy to imagine that we’re being persecuted for our faith when we’ve actually earned criticism for our own misbehavior — whether it be pride or cliquishness or lack of charity, or whatever.  If the evil being spoken of us is true, there is certainly no virtue in us for that.  Merely being “reviled” isn’t enough to earn one “the kingdom of heaven.”  If one’s poor behavior merits reviling, that is likely the reward that one will receive!

It’s instructive to compare the equivalent passage in the Sermon at the Temple, as it is recorded in 3 Nephi 12:10-12 in the Book of Mormon.  I’ve marked the substantial differences from KJV Matthew 5:10-12 in italics (and indicated one omission within brackets):

And blessed are all they who are persecuted for my name’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

And blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute [you], and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake;

For ye shall have great joy and be exceedingly glad, for great shall be your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets who were before you.

The only difference that I want to discuss here, though, is the replacement of “for righteousness’ sake” in Matthew 5:10 by “for my name’s sake” in 3 Nephi 12:10.  Arguably, 3 Nephi’s text suggests that the name of Christ is a synonym for the concept of righteousness.  This passage, in its 3 Nephi version, is thus more explicitly Christ-centered than is the corresponding passage in Matthew.

I find that potentially quite interesting.  It reminds me of a paper given by the eminent New Testament scholar Krister Stendahl (1921-2008), who served, among other things, as the Lutheran bishop of Stockholm, Sweden, and as the dean of Harvard Divinity School.  Entitled “The Sermon on the Mount and Third Nephi,” it was delivered at Brigham Young University as part of a symposium in the mid-1970s.

I quote from Professor Stendahl, who was, of course, writing as a Protestant scholar who, while very respectful, did not regard the Book of Mormon as genuine ancient scripture:

The most striking feature that I discern when I compare 3 Nephi with Matthew or with the three synoptic Gospels is the transposition into Johannine style. The Gospel of John, as you know, is famous for the fact that to a large extent it consists of revelatory speeches or revelatory discourses. Most analysts of the Gospel of John see in it two distinct types of material or sources. The signs, the seven signs, are often more miraculous than they are in the synoptics, so that the blind is born blind; the rescue of the disciples who were in the boat in storm being heightened by that strange saying, “they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land . . .” (John 6:21). Everything gets a little more miraculous. Another example is the healing of the centurion’s son. In the Gospel of John we are told that the healing occurred exactly at the time when Jesus said, “Your son will live” (John 4:53). It may be of interest to compare the synoptics and 3 Nephi on this point also. Perhaps also here 3 Nephi is akin to John. “When God is at work you can never understate the case” seems to be the theological principle at work to the greater glory of God.

Be that as it may, the real analogy between the Johannine Jesus and the Jesus of 3 Nephi is found in the style of discourse. The message in both is that he is the Redeemer, the Savior, “I Am”: “I am the life, I am the way, I am the seed that falls into the ground. Come unto me. Believe in me.” In the synoptic tradition, however,—of which the Sermon on the Mount is a part—Jesus does not speak about himself. He speaks about the kingdom. But in the Gospel of John every symbol, every image that occurs about the kingdom is transposed into an image for Jesus. Jesus tells stories about the shepherd and the sheep. But in John, Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Jesus tells stories about the seed of the kingdom. But in John, Jesus is the seed. And as I have shown, the tendency toward the centering around faith in Jesus is perhaps the most striking tendency we find when comparing Matthew and 3 Nephi. That is also the dominant note in John.

Another feature we isolated was the transposition into revelatory speech style, which also is that of John’s, including the “verily, verily” and “behold, behold”—all part of the revelatory speech style. The emphasis on faith in Jesus is not a theme in the synoptics and especially not in the Sermon on the Mount. In the synoptic Gospels one believes in God and trusts in the coming of the kingdom.

This transposition is in keeping with the whole image of Jesus’ ministry in 3 Nephi. It is not only a matter of the genre of revelatory speech. It is the very absorbing of Jesus into the image of a Redeemer and lifting him out of history into a more timeless space as the Revealed Revealer.

Thus let me summarize my observations by saying that the image of Jesus in the whole of 3 Nephi, and even more in the portion giving the Sermon on the Mount, is that of a revealer, stressing faith “in me” rather than in what is right according to God’s will for his people and his creation.

In other words, from Professor Stendahl’s point of view, the Book of Mormon is actually hyper-Christian.  Which is something to bear in mind when, as they often do, evangelical Protestant anti-Mormons declare the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “a non-Christian cult.”



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