Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Garbled thoughts on the Sermon on the Mount

I'm still thinking about the Sermon on the Mount. In this post I will recount some of my thoughts and reading over the past week, in a garbled fashion which mirrors my own thinking.

Graham Stanton on the Sermon on the Mount:

Luther also discussed the Sermon in terms of 'law' and 'gospel'. In some of his writings he emphasized that the Sermon is the 'law of Christ' that makes people aware of the gospel of God's grace through Christ: 'we are not able properly to fulfill one tattle out of our own strength...but must always crawl to Christ.' But in other passages Luther stated that the Sermon is not just the accusing law that points to sin: it is also 'gospel'. This is especially true of the beatitudes (5. 3-12). Christ 'does not press, but in a friendly way entices and speaks: "Blessed are the poor."'

By referring in different passages in his writings to the Sermon both as 'law' and as 'gospel', Luther confused some of his later followers. Many Lutheran theologians have stressed that the Sermon is the law that awakens knowledge of sin. But some (notably J. Jeremias [1961]) have claimed that the demands of Jesus in the Sermon are preceded by 'gospel', that is, by his proclamation of the kingdom and by his encouragement to his disciples to share his own sense of sonship.

(p. 292, Stanton, Graham N., A Gospel for a New People: Studies in Matthew, 1992, Edinburgh:T&T Clark)

I think Luther knew what he was doing more that Stanton thinks he did, and I think both can be maintained.

Ulrich Luz says that Jesus' 'doctrine, the "gospel of the kingdom", is contained in the Sermon on the Mount' (p. 42, The Theology of the Gospel of Matthew, 1995, Cambridge:CUP) at the beginning of his discussion on it. However he never really expands on why he thinks it is good news. I agree with Stanton though that we should remember that the sermon is just one of five discourses in Matthew, and so we should not assume that it contains all Matthew wants to recount of Jesus' teaching.

Tom Wright pointed out the obvious (that I missed) that all the obvious parallels to Moses' giving of the law means we should see what Jesus' is doing as inaugurating the New Covenant. Parallels with the Mosaic covenant are helpful. For example, you can think of how the ten commandments are purposely set in the context of Israel's redemption ('I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery...You shall...'). Or you can compare the beatitudes with the blessings/curses of Deuteronomy 28 which is no doubt what Jesus intended. But I do not yet have any conclusions on these comparisons yet.

Jesus' claim to fulfill the law I am convinced must be understood in much the same way as the numerous other references to fulfillment in Matthew, but am not sure what that means yet. Also concerned with the context of the sermon in salvation history, I remember a lecture of Don Carson once where he posed the interesting question, will their be laws in heaven (and the New Creation)? Living in the overlap of the ages I think this is the most profound question in NT ethics. I haven't yet worked out how that applies to the sermon though.


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