The Narrative Setting Of The Sermon On The Mount -- By: Wayne S. Baxter

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 25:1 (Spring 2004)
Article: The Narrative Setting Of The Sermon On The Mount
Author: Wayne S. Baxter


The Narrative Setting Of The
Sermon On The Mount

Wayne S. Baxter

Wayne Baxter is a student in the Department of Religious Studies at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

I. Introduction

W. D. Davies regarded the Sermon on the Mount as a “single entity which has its own unified secret to reveal.”1 The single-entity nature of the Sermon has prompted many commentators as early as Augustine to interpret it in isolation from the rest of Matthew’s gospel.2 Commentators note the geographical setting of the Sermon, but few note its literary setting within Matthew’s narrative.3 G. Strecker declares, “The Sermon on the Mount cannot be properly understood apart from the person of Jesus. .. as he is presented by the prologue of Mathew’s Gospel (1:18ff.) and also by his shout of joy and redemption (11:25–30),”4 yet his commentary on the Sermon is void of any such pre- and post-Sermon intra-textual analyses.

While the content of the Sermon differs markedly in Matthew and Luke,5 that there are significant differences between how it is presented in each gospel would suggest (among other things) that Matthew intended the Sermon on the Mount to be understood in light of its narrative setting in the gospel. The aim of this paper is to determine the function of the Sermon within its narrative setting of

chs. 1–10.6 The paper will begin by exploring some of the thematic and linguistic connections between the Sermon and its surrounding narrative, especially noting contrasts with Luke’s gospel, and will conclude by offering some reflections on how the Sermon functions in chs. 1–10.

II. Narrative Intra-Textuality

Much of the content of the Sermon on the Mount appears in seed form in the preceding narrative. The story of Joseph (1:18–21) illumines Jesus’ teaching that divorce (ἀπολύση) is permissible only in the case of adultery (5:31–32). When Joseph first learned of Mary’s pregnancy, believing that she had committed adultery, he sought to divorce (ἀπολῦσαι) her; and because he was righteo...

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