Criswell Theological Review 6.1 (1992) 15-28.

                          Copyright © 1992 by The Criswell CollegeCited with permission.    





                        SERMON ON THE MOUNT



                                                    JAMES A. BROOKS

                                               Bethel Theological Seminary

                                                      St. Paul, MN 55112



Jesus is often described in the Gospels as a preacher.1  What has be-

come his most famous sermon is recorded in Matthew 5-7 and Luke

6:17-49. The former is usually referred to as the Sermon on the

Mount (note 5:1), the latter as the Sermon on the Plain (note 6:17 KJV).

The following study will be concerned primarily with the unity and

structure of the Matthean sermon, but a necessary preliminary is a

consideration of the interrelationship of the two sermons.


                        The Interrelationship of the Two Sermons


            The relationship of parallel passages is best studied in a synopsis of

the Gospels where the passages are placed side-by-side to facilitate

comparison.2 Space limitations prevent doing that here, but a perspective

can be obtained from the following list based upon Matthew's order.3


            1 Matt 4:17; 11:1; Mark 1:14, 38, 39; and Luke 3:18; 4:43, 44; 8:1; 9:6; 20:1. Compare

Matt 11:5 and Luke 4:18; 7:22; 16:16. Actually only the verb “to preach” is used. John's

Gospel never indicates that Jesus preached. It describes him as a teacher, as also the

Synoptics do more often than as a preacher. In the Gospels, however, there is not much

difference between preaching and teaching, unless it is that preaching is always public

and teaching sometimes private.

            2 Probably the best for most readers of the Criswell Theological Review is

K. Aland (ed.), Synopsis of the Four Gospels: Greek-English Edition of the Synopsis

Quattuor Evangeliorum, 8th ed. (n.p.: United Bible Societies, 1987), which is available

through the American Bible Society. A different method of presentation may be found

in Horisontal Line Synopsis of the Gospels (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1984).

            3 Similar, but less detailed, lists may be found in D. A Carson, The Sermon on the

Mount (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978) 140; R A Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount (Waco,




Matthew's                   Parallels in                 Other Parallels                      Parallels

Sermon                       Luke's Sermon                 in Luke                              in Mark

 5:3                             6:20

5:4                              6:21b


5:6                              6:21a


5:11-12                      6:22-23

5:13                                                                            14:34-35a                  9:50


5:15                                                                            8:16; 11:33                4:21


5:18 (cf. 24:35)                                                        16:17; 21:33              13:31


5:23-24                                                                                                          11:25

5:25-26                                                                      12:58-59


5:29 (cf. 18:9)                                                                                               9:47

5:30 (cf. 18:8)                                                                                               9:43


5:32                                                                            16:18


5:39b-40                    6:29


5:42                            6:30


5:44                            6:27-28, 35


5:46-47                      6:32-33

5:48                            6:36


6:9-10a, 11-13a                                                        11:2-4



6:14-15                                                                                                          11:25[-26]


6:20-21                                                                      12:33-34

6:22-23                                                                      11:34-35


TX: Word, 1982) 34; J. Lambrecht, The Sermon on the Mount (Wilmington, DL. Glazier,

1985) 36-37; and R T. France, Matthew: Evangelist and Teacher (Grand Rapids:

Zondervan, 1989) 161.


                        James A Brooks: UNITY AND STRUCTURE     17


Matthew's                   Parallels in                 Other Parallels                      Parallels

Sermon                       Luke's Sermon                 in Luke                               in Mark

6:24                                                                16:13

6:25-33                                                          12:22-31


7:1                              6:37a


7:2b                            6:38c                                                                          4:24b

7:3-5                           6:41-42


7:7-11                                                            11:19-13

7 :12a                                     6:31


7:13-14                                                          13:24


7:16-17                      6:43-44


7:21                            6:46

7:22-23                                                          13:25-27

7:24-27                      6:47-49


            The most obvious difference in the two accounts is length. Mat-

thew's sermon is about three and a half times as long as Luke's--to be

exact 107 verses vs. 30 verses.4 A second observation is that 23th of

Matthew's verses are paralleled in Luke's sermon mostly in the same

order,5 33 are paralleled elsewhere in Luke, and 50 ˝ have no parallel

in Luke. There is no comparable sermon in Mark--only scattered, sec-

ondary parallels.

            The following cannot be seen in the above list, but if Luke's ser-

mon is taken as the basis of comparison, 23 of his 30 verses are paral-

leled in Matthew's sermon, one is paralleled elsewhere in Matthew,

and six have no parallel in Matthew. Only one-half of a verse is paral-

leled in Mark.

            A third observation is that the wording of the parallel passages is

sometimes very close and sometimes quite different, which of course

is true of synoptic relationships in general both in the double or Q

tradition (Matthew and Luke as here) and the triple tradition (Mat-

thew, Mark, and Luke). This cannot be seen above but must be ob-

served in a synopsis, preferably a Greek synopsis. First two examples


            4 The introductions and conclusions are not included in the count or in the above list

            5 The exceptions are Matt 5:44 // Luke 6:27-28, 35 and Matt 7:12a // Luke 6:31.



of close--but not exact--agreement and then two of loose agreement

must suffice.6


"And why do you look at the                         "And why do you look at the

speck that is in your brother's                      speck that is in your brother's

eye, and do not notice the log                      eye, but do not notice the log

that is in your own eye? Or               that is in your own eye? Or

how can you say to your                               how can you say to your

brother, 'Let me take the                               brother, 'Brother, let me take

speck out of your eye,' and                           out the speck that is in your

behold, the log is in your own                      eye,' when you yourself do

eye. You hypocrite, first take                       not see the log that is in your

the log out of your own eye,                        own eye? You hypocrite, first

and then you will see clearly                        take the log out of your own "

to take the speck out of your                        eye, and then you will see '

brother's eye." (Matt 7:3-5)                         clearly to take out the speck

                                                                        that is in your brother's eye."

                                                                        (Luke 6:4-42)

“Therefore everyone who                             "Everyone who comes to Me,

hears these words of Mine,                          and hears My words, and acts

and acts upon them, may be              upon them, I will show you

compared to a wise man, who                      whom he is like: he is like a

built his house upon the rock.                      man building a house, who

And the rain descended, and                         dug deep and laid a founda-

the floods came, and the                               tion upon the rock; and when

winds blew, and burst against                       a flood rose, the torrent burst

that house; and yet it did not                         against that house and could

fall, for it had been founded                         not shake it, because it had

upon the rock. And everyone                        been well built. But the one

who hears these words of                             who has heard, and has not

Mine, and does not act upon                         acted accordingly, is like a

them, will be like a foolish                           man who built a house upon

man, who built his house                              the ground without any foun-

upon the sand. And the rain               dation; and the torrent burst

descended, and the floods                            against it and immediately it

came, and the winds blew,                            collapsed, and the ruin of

and burst against that house;                         that house was great." (Luke

and it fell, and great was its              6:47-49)

fall." (Matt 7:24-27)


            6 Because of the desirability of employing a very literal translation in order best

to represent the Greek text, all Biblical quotations in this study are from the New

American Standard Bible.

                        James A. Brooks: UNITY AND STRUCTURE    19


"Blessed are the poor in spirit,                     "Blessed are you who are

for theirs is the kingdom of                         poor, for yours is the king-

heaven. Blessed are those                             dom of God. Blessed are you

who mourn, for they shall be                        who hunger now, for you

comforted. . . . Blessed are                          shall be satisfied. Blessed are

those who hunger and thirst              you who weep now, for you

for righteousness, for they                           shall laugh. Blessed are you

shall be satisfied Blessed                             when men hate you, and os-

are you when men cast insults                      tracize you, and cast insults

at you, and persecute you, and                      at you, and spurn your name

say all kinds of evil against               as evil, for the sake of the

you falsely, on account of Me.                    Son of Man. Be glad in that

Rejoice, and be glad, for so              day, and leap for joy, for be-

they persecuted the prophets                       hold your reward is great in

who were before you." (Matt                        heaven; for in the same way

5: 3-4, 6, 11-12)                                           their fathers used to treat the

                                                                        prophets."  (Luke 6:20b-23)

"Therefore you are to be per-                       "Be merciful, just as your Fa-

fect, as your heavenly Father                        ther is merciful." (Luke 6:36)

is perfect." (Matt 7:48)


            What conclusions may be drawn from the above about the rela-

tionship of the two sermons? By the nature of the case there are three

possibilities: Matthew was dependent upon Luke; Luke was depen-

dent upon Matthew; and Matthew and Luke were dependent upon a

common source.7 Before one can make a decision about the relation-

ship of the two sermons, however, a decision must be made about syn-

optic relationships in general, i.e., about the synoptic problem, and a

brief survey of the major theories is necessary.

            Augustine (d. 430) argued that the Gospels were written in the or-

der in which they are found in modern Bibles.8 More particularly,

Mark is a condensation of Matthew, and Luke used both Matthew and

Mark as his sources.9 This theory dominated until the first half of the


            7 A fourth possibility would be an unmediated inspiration of the Holy Spirit so

that the Gospel writers did not need or use sources. One who holds a high view of in-

spiration would not deny the possibility of this, but it is contrary to the fact that God

usually uses human means where available (e.g., to preach the gospel) and to the ex-

plicit statement in Luke 1:1-3 that the author collected sources.

                8 This is probably the strongest argument for the theory. The argument is weak-

ened, however, by the fact that the Gospels are found in nine different orders in the an-

cient manuscript tradition (B. M Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament [Oxford:

Clarendon, 1987] 296-97). For arguments against the theory, see below.

            9 de Consensu Evangelistarum 1.2-3.



19th century when the full extent of the synoptic problem was first rec-

ognized and began to be studied scientifically. During the 19th century

a host of solutions were proposed, and late in the century one came to

dominate, at least in Protestant circles.10  It is usually referred to as the

two-document hypothesis. It holds that Mark was the first Gospel to be

written and that Matthew and Luke independently used Mark and a

collection of the sayings of Jesus (Q11) as their primary sources.

            The priority of Mark is supported, first, by the length and con-

tents of that Gospel. It is only 60% as long as Matthew and 57% as

long as Luke. About 92% of Mark is paralleled in Matthew, 48% in

Luke, and 95% in Matthew and/or Luke. Mark contains relatively lit-

tle of the teaching and preaching of Jesus and no resurrection appear-

ances.12 Nor does it have such things as the birth narratives, the ,

Sermon on the Mount/Plain, and the parables of the Good Samaritan

and the Prodigal Son. It is very easy to see why Matthew and Luke, if

they were later than Mark, would add these items, but it is difficult to

see why Mark, if he were later than Matthew and/or Luke, would

omit them and at the same time expand their individual accounts

which he retained, as is indeed the case. In fact it is difficult to see

why Mark would ever have been written if its author knew Matthew

alone (the Augustinian hypothesis, above) or Matthew and Luke (the

Griesbach hypothesis, below). Second, the priority of Mark is indi-

cated by the inelegant language in which the Gospel is written. It is

easy to conceive of Matthew and Luke polishing Mark's rough Greek;

it is more difficult to believe that Mark debased the language of his

source(s). Third, Mark contains a number of statements which could

be misunderstood and cause offense--statements about Jesus' emo-

tions and ignorance and the disciples' dullness. Most of these state-

ments either do not appear at all or are without problems in Matthew

and Luke. Again it is understandable that Matthew and Luke would

tone down or omit such statements but not that Mark would create

them if working from earlier source(s). Fourth, Mark contains seven

Aramaic terms as opposed to only one or two in Matthew and none in

Luke. Especially in view of the probability that Mark wrote for Gen-

tile Christians and Matthew for Jewish Christians, this fact and many

other Aramaisms in his Gospel would seem to indicate that he was


            10 Until they were freed in 1943, Roman Catholic scholars were required to em-

brace the Augustinian theory, although some modified it considerably.

            11 Q is simply the first letter of the German word Quelle which means "source."

            12 This statement assumes that Mark 16:9-20 was not a part of the original, as is

recognized by most conservative scholars and most conservative translations (ASV,

NASB, NIV, Berkeley/Modern Language Bible, and Living Bible).

            James A Brooks: UNITY AND STRUCTURE                    21


nearer to the early, Aramaic sources.13 Fifth, Matthew and Luke

never agree against Mark in the order of their accounts and only

rarely and then only in trivial matters in their wording. The best--al-

though certainly not the only--explanation of this phenomenon is that

Mark was written first and that Matthew and Luke independently

used it as a source of information.

            If for no other reason than it does not now exist, the evidence for

the use of Q by Matthew and Luke is not as strong as that for their

use of Mark. Nevertheless there are about 250 verses common to these

Gospels but not in Mark for which an explanation is needed. These

verses contain mostly discourse, i.e., the teaching of Jesus, rather than

a narrative of his deeds. The wording is often so close that depen-

dence upon oral tradition appears to be an unsatisfactory explanation.

Of course it is possible that Luke was dependent upon Matthew or

Matthew upon Luke for this material.14 If so, why did the one who

was dependent leave out so much that was so good in his source? And

if Luke were dependent upon Matthew, why has he broken up the or-

derly discourses in Matthew and scattered the material throughout

his Gospel? In the Q tradition Luke places the sayings of Jesus in

different contexts from those of Matthew. Is this likely if he were us-

ing Matthew? It is most significant that in the triple tradition where

Matthew has something not in Mark, Luke does not have the addi-

tional material. This consideration is strong evidence that he did not

use Matthew. The presence of "doublets" in Matthew and Luke also

seems to indicate that they used Mark and another source.15

            Certainly there are difficulties with the Q hypothesis, but there

are even greater difficulties with the alternative that Luke was depen-

dent upon Matthew.16 As a result most students of the synoptic


            13 Inasmuch as Aramaic was the language of the common people in first-century

Palestine, it is probable that Jesus did most of his teaching and preaching in that lan-

guage. Therefore all of his words in the Greek NT are probably a translation. Just as

modern English versions vary considerably from one other, it is probable that the early

translations of Aramaic accounts varied greatly. This is one explanation of the different

versions of the sayings of Jesus.

            14 The latter has been argued so rarely and unconvincingly that it need not be


            15 A doublet consists of two accounts of the same event or saying. According to J. C.

Hawkins, Horae Synopticae (Oxford: Clarendon, 1909; reprint ed. Grand Rapids: Baker,

1968) 80-107, there are 22 of these in Matthew, eleven in Luke, but only one on Mark.

Only four of these appear in Mark and twice each in Matthew and Luke and therefore

support the above claim.

            16 It needs to be recognized clearly that there are difficulties with all the theories

of synoptic relationships and that therefore one must deal in terms of probabilities, not

certainties. Probably synoptic relationships are more complex than any of the theories.



problem have concluded that Matthew and Luke, in addition to using

Mark, independently used a common source called Q. Whether Q was

a single document or several documents is uncertain. It has been

objected that it is unlikely that such an amorphous collection of the

sayings of Jesus even existed, but in 1945 another collection of disor-

ganized and independent sayings, some of which are paralleled in the

canonical Gospels, was discovered in Egypt in the Coptic Gospel of


            One theory that was set forth late in the 18th century when the

synoptic problem first began to be studied was that of J. J. Griesbach.17

Soon, however, it fell into disfavor. In recent years, however, it has

been revived by W. R Farmer18 and others. The Griesbach-Farmer-

two-Gospel hypothesis is that Matthew was the first Gospel to have

been written, that Luke was dependent upon Matthew, and that Mark

condensed and conflated both Matthew and Luke. It does have the ad-

vantage of support of part of the ancient tradition,19 something which

the two-document hypothesis cannot claim. It is best able to explain

the minor agreements in wording of Matthew and Luke against Mark,

although there are other ways to explain these. It can also explain the

order of accounts in the Synoptics, but not as well as can the two-doc-

ument hypothesis. Of course it has the advantage of not having to em-

ploy a hypothetical source (Q). But it is not able to explain

satisfactorily why Mark was ever written or why Matthew and Luke

appear to improve upon Mark at various points (above). Furthermore

very little redaction criticism20 has been done of the basis of

Matthean priority, whereas much has been done on the basis of Mar-

kan priority. Still further it is questionable whether condensation and

conflation are compatible. The latter usually results in a longer, not a

shorter account (e.g., Tatian's Diatessaron).21


recognize. Once they were written there may have been a period of comparison and in-

terchange before their texts began to be stabilized, probably about the middle of the

2nd century when they began to be recognized as Scripture.

            17 For a list of Griesbach's works in which he developed the theory, see W. R

Farmer, The Synoptic Problem (New York: Macmillan, 1964) 7, n. 8.

            18 Synoptic Problem.

            19 Clement of Alexandria, Hypotyposes, as cited by Eusebius, Church History

6.14.5. Clement claimed that the Gospels with genealogies (Matthew and Luke) were

written before those without (Mark and John). Of course the other part of the ancient

tradition is that of Augustine (above), and, although it does support the priority of Mat-

thew, it does not support the order Matthew, Luke, Mark.

            20 Redaction criticism attempts to distinguish a writer's sources from his own

composition in order to determine his theological motivations.

            21 It should be noted that many of the arguments against the Griesbach hypothesis

apply equally against the Augustinian.

                  James A. Brooks: UNITY AND STRUCTURE    23


            Therefore the most likely view of synoptic relationships in gen-

eral is the traditional, two-document hypothesis that Mark was the

first Gospel and that Matthew and Luke used it and Q as their pri-

mary sources. A study of the relationships of the Sermon on the

Mount and the Sermon on the Plain confirms part of this theory. Inas-

much as there are no significant parallels with Mark, nothing can be

determined about the relationship of Matthew and/or Luke to Mark.

Something can be determined about the relationship of Matthew and

Luke. Because most of Luke's sermon is paralleled in Matthew--most

of it in the same order and in similar wording--it is reasonably cer-

tain that one or the other was dependent upon a written source and

that the two did not independently compose their entire sermons. If

Luke were dependent upon Matthew, it appears most unlikely that he

would have reduced Matthew's sermon to less than a third of its size

to produce his own sermon and then to have scattered about 40% of

the remainder throughout much of his Gospel. It is much more likely

that Matthew and Luke independently used a sermon in Q, that Luke

altered the Q sermon comparatively little, and that Matthew greatly

expanded it with material found elsewhere in Q and material from

other sources.

            The preceding is in keeping with what Matthew appears to have

done elsewhere in his Gospel. The most distinctive feature of Mat-

thew is five large discourse sections, of which the Sermon on the

Mount is the first. None of these appears to be one sermon delivered

on a single occasion but a collection of Jesus' sayings on a subject. The

mere length of the discourses is not a problem. Even the longest, the

Sermon on the Mount, can be read aloud in the average time of a

modem sermon, and ancient sermons were probably much longer.

The problem with the idea that the discourses were originally one

sermon or one teaching session is the variety of the material in all of

them. Such variety is tolerable in a written compilation but not in an

oral account. There is nothing improbable or immoral about such top-

ical, as opposed to chronological, arrangement. It in no way questions

the authenticity of any of the teaching attributed to Jesus.22

            It is likely therefore that Q contained an account of a famous ser-

mon of Jesus about the blessedness of the godly person and about


            22 Carson (Sermon on the Mount, 143-45) argues that Jesus preached the same ser-

mon on different occasions, lengthening or shortening it and adapting it in other ways

depending upon the hearers and situation. Matthew reports one version of a sermon;

Luke another. Carson explains the diversity of material in Matthew's sermon on the ba-

sis of representing "a full-fledged teach-in” which "undoubtedly. . .went on for hours,

with Jesus preaching the equivalent of many of our sermons” (143). He repeats this ex-

planation in his commentary Matthew: The Expositor's Bible Commentary, 12 vols. (ed.



virtues to be pursued and vices to be avoided in order to enjoy such

blessedness. Luke reproduced this sermon with comparatively few al-

terations. The most likely Lukan addition is the woes of 6:24-26. It is

possible that he may have omitted a little of what is in Matthew and

that both Matthew and Luke may have omitted a little of the Q ser-

mon, but there is no way to determine this. Matthew, however, greatly

expanded the sermon by adding material found elsewhere in Q and

perhaps also in other sources.


                                    The Unity of Matthew's Sermon


            If most of the previous conclusions are correct, the matter of the

unity of Matthew's sennon may be treated briefly. Everything de-

pends upon what one means by "unity." If "unity" means a single ser-

mon preached on one occasion by Jesus, Matthew 5-7 is not a unity.

If, however, the word "unity" may be applied to a carefully arranged

and edited compilation of Jesus' teaching on a particular subject, the

Sermon on the Mount is a unity. There is no indication of interpola-

tions by later editors. The only problem is to determine a dominating

theme and a clear structure which constitute unity. The former will

be done in the remainder of this section, the latter in the final section.

Theme is tied up with purpose. What purpose did Matthew have

in bringing together various sayings of Jesus in his first discourse sec-

tion? There has been no shortage of theories. The most important are

conveniently summarized by Carson.23 Lutheran interpreters have

tended to understand the sermon as an exposition of the law to show

people their need of grace. Neither grace nor law, however, dominate

the sermon. Classical liberalism saw in the sermon an ethic for all peo-

ple of all ages. Nevertheless much of the discourse is irrelevant to those

who are not already disciples of Jesus. Many contemporary liberals see

in the sermon nothing more than the ethical standards of Matthew's

own church. This view denies that most of the teaching goes back to

Jesus and that Jesus intended his teaching to have continuing validity.


F. E. Gaebelein; Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1984) 8:123-25. Certainly Jesus did repeat

himself from time to time as every preacher and teacher does, and therefore the expla-

nation is possible. It is not probable, however, as it ignores the likelihood that both re-

ports of the sermon are highly condensed It is not likely that two versions of the same

sermon would have been remembered and kept distinct in the tradition. One may occa-

sionally explain the different accounts of Jesus' teaching by conjecturing that he said

similar but not identical things on different occasions, but if one does this very often the

explanations become absurd.

            23 Sermon on the Mount, 151-57; and Matthew, 126-27.

                James A. Brooks: UNITY AND STRUCTURE     25


The Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition applies every element of the ser-

mon to all Christians of all ages in such a way as to justify pacifism and

withdrawal from secular society and to depreciate public prayer. No

portion of Scripture should be made absolute in such a way as to elimi-

nate interpretation and individual application. Existentialism finds in

the sermon as well as the Bible generally merely a summons to "au-

thentic" existence. There is some truth in the view as far as it goes, but

it fails to reckon with the specific ethical requirements of the discourse.

Albert Schweitzer described the sermon as an interim ethic for the

brief period between its proclamation and the expected end of the

world. Of course the world did not end as Jesus supposedly expected,

and therefore the sermon has little continuing validity. Nineteen centu-

ries of history have proved, however, that the sermon does have lasting

validity. Some evangelicals describe the sermon as an intensification of

the law, but this makes too much of 5:17-20 and ignores other passages.

Classical dispensationalism conceives of the sermon as an ethic for 1he

millennial kingdom and therefore of minimal relevance for the church

age. Why, however, would a code of law be needed during the millen-

nium when at least most of the participants are perfected saints?

            If none of the above adequately describes the purpose and/or

theme of the Sermon on the Mount, what is it? One should note that it

follows closely after the programmatic statements that Jesus went

about proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom of heaven (4:17, 23). The

term "kingdom of heaven" appears six times and the word "kingdom"

alone three times at strategic places in the sermon. The sermon is

therefore a description of the virtues which should characterize those

who belong to the kingdom of heaven. This kingdom is the reign of

God in the lives of people in Jesus' day, during the apostolic era, and

in every age since those times. The sermon deals with the personal

life of those who belong to the kingdom. Other aspects of their life

are dealt with in other discourses, e.g., mission in chapter 10. Those

who belong to the kingdom could be described simply as disciples-a

term which appears at the beginning of the sermon (5:1). Therefore

the sermon has a consistent theme, and this theme constitutes part of

its unity. Another part is supplied by its structure.


                                    The Structure of Matthew's Sermon


            There are almost as many outlines of the Sermon on the Mount

as there are commentaries on it. This essay, however, must be limited

to scholarly studies which seek to determine the structure intended

by the author himself. Still further it will be limited to what its writer



considers to be the most important study on the subject: Dale C. Alli-

son, Jr., "The Structure of the Sermon on the Mount.”24

            Allison begins by surveying and criticizing previous studies of

structure: that of Farrer who views the remainder of the sermon as a

commentary on the Beatitudes; that of Davies who thinks that the ser-

mon is based upon the three pillars of Simeon the Just; those of

Grundmann, Schweizer, Bornkamm, Gundry, and perhaps Lambrecht

who find the organizing principle in the Lord's Prayer; and those of a

number of other scholars which cannot be summarized here simply

and briefly.25 Allison then proceeds to set forth his own proposal.26

The most important element in Allison's analysis of the structure

is the presence of numerous triads, something he finds in the other

Matthean discourses as well.27 Many of these can be seen in the fol-

lowing abbreviated description of Allison's structure.

            There is clearly an introduction and conclusion which consist of

4:23-5:2 and 7:28-8:1 respectively and which correspond to each other.

Note the correspondences: "great crowds followed him" (4:25 and 8:1);

the crowds (5:1 and 7:28); the mountain (5:1 and 8:1); "going up" (5:1)

and "going down" (8:1); "teaching" (5:2 and 7:28); and, "opening his

mouth" (5:2) and "when Jesus finished these words" (7:28).

            The sermon proper therefore just as clearly consists of 5:3-7:27. It

also has opening and concluding sections which correspond: the nine

(3 x 3) Beatitudes in 5:3-12 and the three warnings in 7:13-27.

            The core of the sermon therefore consists of 5:13-7:12 and deals

with the task of the people of God in the world. It has a heading or in-

troductory summary (5:13-16) which provides a transition from the

blessedness of the future (5:12-13) to the demands of the present

(5:17-7:12). Then 5:17-7:12 clearly divides into Jesus and the Torah

(5:17-48), the Christian cult (6:1-18), and social issues (6:19-7:12). Matt

5:17, however, is more than an introduction to the section on the To-

rah; it is also an introduction to 5:17-7:12 and corresponds to the con-

cluding summary in 7:12.

            The section on Jesus and the Torah (5:17-48) begins with a state-

ment of general principles (5:17-20) and then contains two triads of

antitheses: 5:21-32 on murder (5:21-26), adultery (5:27-30), and divorce


            24 JBL 100 (1987) 423-45. A much briefer account of the structure may be found in

W. D. Davies and D. C. Allison, Jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gos-

pel According to Saint Matthew, 3 projected vols.. The International Critical Commen-

tary (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988-) 1:61-64.

            25 Allison, "Structure," 424-29.

            26 Ibid., 429-45.

            27 Ibid.. 438-40.

                  James A Brooks: UNITY AND STRUCTURE     27


(5:31-32); and 5:33-48 on swearing (5:33-37), turning the other cheek

(5:38-42), and loving enemies (5:43-48).28

            The section on the Christian cult (6:1-18) consists of a statement

of general principle (6:1) and three areas of specific instruction on

almsgiving (6:2-4), prayer (6:5-15), and fasting (6:16-18). The second

can be further subdivided using additional triads.

            Unlike some other scholars, Allison does not find the section on

social issues (6:19-7:12) to be without discernible structure. It consists

of sections on God and mammon (6:19-34), and one's neighbor (7:1-12),

each of which contains first a triad consisting of exhortation and two

parables and then a concluding encouragement.

            As indicated above, the golden rule in 7:12 does more than close

the section on one's neighbor (7:1-12) and/or the larger section on so-

cial issues (6:19-7:12); it also closes the entire central section (5:17-7:12).

It summarizes the law and the prophets and therefore corresponds to

the introductory statement in 5:17 about the continuing validity of the

law and the prophets.

            How should one evaluate Allison's analysis of structure? It is cer-

tainly a careful and thorough study of the subject, perhaps the best

that has ever been made. It is certainly correct to recognize the prom-

inence of triads. There is no doubt that Matthew had a fondness for

grouping things by threes. This would naturally aid the memory in

learning the material. It is one thing, however, to recognize the prom-

inence of triads; it is another to claim that their use determines the

structure. Some of them are forced, e.g., exhortation, parable, and sec-

ond parable m both 6:19-24 and 7:1-12 (exhortation and parables are

not parallel). There are too many instances in Allison's analysis where

there are two divisions rather than three. It is doubtful therefore

whether the recognition of triads is the key which unlocks the struc-

ture of the sermon.

            In view of the widespread disagreement about the structure and

the problems with all analyses, one cannot help but wonder if Mat-

thew himself employed a rigid structure. If he did, it still has not

been discovered even after 19 centuries of searching. On the other

hand, the sermon certainly is not a miscellaneous collection of the

sayings of Jesus without any structure at all. There is some topical


            28 Allison's justifications for two triads of antitheses rather than merely six antith-

eses are the word "against in v 33, the presence in the first three but absence in the last

three of the word "that” following "but I say unto you,” the presence of “you have heard

that it was said to the men of old” at the beginning of the first and fourth, and the de-

scription of legal ordinances in the first three but the use of imperative verbs in the last

three ("Structure,” 432-33).



arrangement and some arrangement in groups of threes, resulting in

a coherent discourse which is easy to read and follow and a unity

which commends itself to most readers.

            Because the author himself did not impose a fixed structure upon

the sermon, modern readers therefore may adopt any outline which is

helpful, as long as it is realized that it is not the only possible one.

The present writer submits the following for consideration. Of course

many of the items could be further subdivided.


Introduction: the setting of the sermon (5:1-2)

            1. The blessedness of disciples (5:3-12)

            2. The character of disciples (5:13-16)

            3. The new law for disciples (5:17-48)

                        Introduction: Jesus' attitude toward the law (5:17-20)

                        (1) About murder (5:21-26)

                        (2) About adultery (5:27-30)

                        (3) About divorce (5:31-32)

                        (4) About oaths (5:33-37)

                        (5) About retaliation (5:38-42)

                        (6) About love of enemies (5:43-48)

            4. The practice of piety by disciples (6:1-18)

                        Introduction: the evil of ostentation (6:1)

                        (1) By almsgiving (6:2-4)

                        (2) By prayer (6:5-15)

                        (3) By fasting (6:16-18)

            5. The avoidance of materialism by disciples (6:19-34)

            6. Warnings to disciples (7:1-27)

                        (1) Against judging (7:1-5)

                        (2) Against sacrilege (7:6)

                        (3) Against failure to pray (7:7-12)

                        (4) Against worldliness (7:13-14)

                        (5) Against false teachers (7:15-23)

                        (6) Against hearing but not acting upon the word (7:24-27)

            Conclusion: the effect upon the hearers (7:28-29)




This material is cited with gracious permission from:

The Criswell College; 

4010 Gaston Ave. 

Dallas, TX   75246


Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: