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Definition: Sermon on the Mount from Collins English Dictionary


1 New Testament a major discourse delivered by Christ, including the Beatitudes and the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 5–7)

Summary Article: Sermon on the Mount
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

In the New Testament, the summary of Jesus' teachings recorded in Matthew 5–7. It forms the basis of Christian teaching on discipleship, and includes the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3–11), that lay down the spiritual qualities held by a true Christian.

Opinions differ as to whether the Sermon on the Mount is a summary of what Jesus taught on one occasion or a compilation of teachings from several occasions. It is more probable that St Matthew put together large blocks of Jesus' teachings that were originally delivered on separate occasions.

The Sermon calls for the highest moral living by the followers of Jesus, and has been criticized because the demands are unrealistic. However, it may be seen as setting ideals for Christian behaviour and presupposes that God's help is needed to fulfil these ideals.

In Matthew's account, Jesus went up a mountain to teach the way of life that is necessary for those who wish to be part of the kingdom of God. He teaches the crowds in the presence of his disciples, whom he will eventually authorize to teach others and spread his message. Just as Moses received the Law of Moses and the Ten Commandments from God on a mountain, Jesus now gives his teaching on a mountain. In the sermon, Jesus comments on the Ten Commandments and emphasizes the importance of the state of mind of his followers as well as their actions.

Jesus was concerned to show that his teaching was not designed to destroy the Law and the Ten Commandments, but to give them a new, more spiritual interpretation. He condensed the commandments into the two greatest commandments: his followers were to obey God in their hearts as well as in their actions, and love their neighbours as they did themselves. His interpretation of the commandments included showing love to enemies as well as neighbours. In the Sermon on the Mount, he sets out ideals for his followers; he does not expect it to be easy, but encourages high ideals.

The Sermon includes the Beatitudes, which stress the possibility to be happy as a Christian, even in difficult circumstances; and ethical teaching, including contrasts between Jesus' teaching and Jewish law and practice. It ends with a short parable to demonstrate the importance of putting the teachings of the Sermon into practice. Matthew writes that the crowds are amazed at the authority with which Jesus speaks.

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