The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing

The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing December 11, 2018

I’m embarrassed to say that I am only now getting into Jonathan T. Pennington’s The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing: A Theological Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2017). There are some great SOTM books out there, Charles Talbert and Scot McKnight are on my shelf, but this is a welcomed addition to the collection. Pennington examines the historical contexts, literary dimensions, and theological themes of the SOTM, he compares the Sermon with the Jewish and Greek virtue traditions, and the philosophical-theological question of human flourishing. Pennington also relates the SOTM to contemporary issues such as ethics, philosophy, and economics. Pennington adopts Eco’s encyclopedia model of interpretation because language never exists apart from culture. Eco is helpful for reading the sermon as a sympathetic reader who seeks to approximate the experience of the model or ideal reader. Pennington sees the SOTM as “Jesus’s answer to the great question of human flourishing, the topic at the core of both the Jewish wisdom literature and that of the Greco-Roman virtue perspectives while presenting Jesus as the true Philosopher-king.” Pennington supposes that the SOTM should be read along the dual tracks of makarios (happiness) and teleios (wholeness). Other important themes are righteousness, hypocrisy, heart, Gentiles/pagans, heavenly Father, kingdom of heaven, and treasure/rewards. The commentary itself is a rich mix of exegetical insights and interactions with the history of interpretation or effects. On Matt 5:17 – which is the verse we all want to know about – Pennington takes this as part of Matthew’s apology for the Christian understanding of Judaism and the Mosaic legislation. Crucial to understanding what “fulfill” means here is how Matthew has already said that Jesus “fulfils” certain prophetic promises. Matthew’s point is that “Jesus is bringing to completion all that God began to do in ancient times.” The volume ends with a very good “sketch” on how the SOTM contributes to human flourishing where Pennington focuses on God, eschatology, virtue, grace, and salvation as transformation.

I am more of a Marcan Gospel guy, but this is a great piece of Matthean scholarship, and a great aid to preachers and teachers who are wrestling with Matthew.

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