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Words from GOD – Words to GOD

Matthew 1-7, The Life of JESUS, part 6- by Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz


3 Wise men
Holy Kings

3 The Beginning of the Community in Galilee (4:12–22*)
3.1 Jesus in Galilee of the Gentiles (4:12–17*)

See the literature cited above at the excursus after 2:23* on “The Fulfillment Quotations.”

12 But when he heard that John had been delivered up, he returned to Galilee. 13/ And he left Nazareth, came and settled in Capernaum beside the sea, in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali 14/ in order that what was spoken through the prophet, Isaiah, might be fulfilled:
15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
toward the sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles,
16 the people who sat in darkness
saw a great light
and for those who sat in the land and shadow of death
a light has dawned.”
17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim and to say: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has drawn near.”
It is difficult to mark off clear demarcations. Many authors understand v. 17* as a new starting point—as the beginning of the first main part of the Gospel. However, “from then” is designed to establish the connection to vv. 12–16*.2 The connection is further supported by the source-critical observation that this section expands the Markan summary of 1:14–15*. Mark 1:14* corresponds to Matt 4:12*, Mark 1:15* to Matt 4:17*. Between them Matthew has inserted v. 13*, Jesus’ move from Nazareth to Capernaum, and vv. 14–15*, the related fulfillment quotation. Jesus’ Galilean preaching can take place only after his move to Capernaum in which Isaiah’s prediction is fulfilled. Thus the text has three parts:
a. The opening in vv. 12–13* forms the geographical transition from chap. 3 (or 2:22–23*) and prepares for what follows. In its wording vv. 12–13* corresponds to 2:22–23* (inclusive fulfillment quotation). What happens in vv. 12–13* will be repeated in 14:13*, where Jesus withdraws after hearing of John’s fate.
b. Verses 14–16* offer a commentary by the narrator on Jesus’ move in the form of a detailed fulfillment quotation.
c. Verse 17* contains the main statement, the beginning of Jesus’ proclamation with the first word of his proclamation underscored by two verbs, “to proclaim and to say” (κηρύσσειν καὶ λέγειν). Its wording is the same as that of John’s preaching in 3:2* and is quite similar to the disciples’ preaching in 10:7*.
In the framing verses 12* and 17* the evangelist is responsible for the changes in the Markan source.3 The unusual form of “Nazareth” (Ναζαρά) in v. 13* may be a remnant of a lost sentence in the Sayings Source, a trace of which remains in Luke 4:16*.4 The rest of v. 13* is redactional. Matthew combines an old report about Jesus’ move to Capernaum (see below) with words from Isa 8:23–9:1* (Ζαβουλών, Νεφθαλίμ, παραθαλάσσιος: Zebulun, Naphtali, by the sea). It may be that the wording is already influenced by Mark 1:16* (παρὰ τὴν θάλασσαν). Thus Matt 4:13* is redactional, but it is thoroughly influenced by the tradition.5
Fulfillment Quotation
The wording of the fulfillment quotation corresponds neither to the MT nor to the LXX nor to the Targum, though it comes closest to the MT. The first part of the quotation is shortened in comparison with all known OT texts by, among other things, omitting all verbal clauses. That shifts the weight to the second part of the quotation, the part from Isa 9:1*; Isa 8:23* provides only a series of subjects for the aorist εἶδεν (“saw”) further modified by adverbial statements. Moreover, the second verb, ἀνέτειλεν (“dawned/sprang up”), is unusual because this translation is not at all close to Heb. נָגַהּ (λάμπειν), nor is there evidence for it anywhere else. One can wonder whether a remembrance of Num 24:17* resonates here.8 Then presumably the wording of the quotation presupposes a messianic interpretation of Isa 8:23–9:1*, indeed a Christian interpretation, since the passage was not interpreted messianically in Judaism.9 The aorists also suggest as much. Must we therefore assume that we have here a Christian ad hoc translation of our passage? This translation cannot come from the evangelist Matthew, because the wording of the quotation creates serious difficulties in the context. The lesser difficulty is caused by the fact that “beyond the Jordan” is completely superfluous, since the focus is exclusively on “Galilee of the Gentiles.” So why did he not eliminate words here also where such large parts of Isa 8:23* are already omitted? However, the greater difficulty is that “land of Zebulun” in no way fits the Matthean context. Jesus moves his residence from Nazareth in the region of Zebulun to Capernaum in the region of Naphtali. So what is the sense of the proclamation of salvation to the land of Zebulun that Jesus has just left? It is clear that there is tension here and that Matthew has taken over the quotation only because of “Galilee of the Gentiles” and not because of the geographical references. It thus comes to him from Christian tradition, and in this case—unlike many quotations from Matthew 1–2—it has not been “discovered” in connection with its immediate context, v. 13*.
In addition to Mark 1:14–15*, Matthew obviously uses a tradition that says that Jesus had his established residence in Capernaum.11 Such a tradition can be only indirectly inferred from the Gospel of Mark and from other sources.13 It takes on clear features only in Matthew. According to Matt 13:55–56* only Jesus’ (married?) sisters all live in Nazareth but not his brothers and Mary, who probably lived with her sons. Matt 17:24–25* also suggests the same thing. The temple tax is collected from Jesus in Capernaum (where he resides?). Whose house is mentioned in 17:25* remains just as uncertain as in 9:10*, 28*.14 This tradition has obviously led to the wording in v. 13*. Mark 1:21*, a verse omitted by Matthew, may have been another stumbling block. The findings are interesting in two ways. They show, first, how faithful Matthew is to traditional material even when he formulates redactionally—indeed, even when it causes difficulties for him (as here with the geographical parts of the quotation). Second, they presumably show that Matthew looks ahead in his use of the Gospel of Mark and works according to a plan. That is, he already knows that he will omit Mark 1:21–28* and that he therefore can make use of v. 21*.

■ 12–13* After the Baptist is arrested, Jesus goes to Galilee. The verb “deliver up” (παραδίδωμι), familiar to the hearers from the passion narrative, is used here to make clear the parallelism between Jesus and John in proclamation and fate. Matthew gives no information about Jesus’ subjective motives for his return. Jesus goes to Galilee simply because it is God’s plan that he is active in “Galilee of the Gentiles.” The same is also true for the move to Capernaum. With the reminiscences of the following quotations Matthew emphasizes that it is in keeping with the divine plan. He does not say why Jesus (biographically) left Nazareth and chose Capernaum as his residence.

■ 14–16* The quotation begins with five geographical references. The interpretation and the relationship of the two prepositional declarations17 in v. 15b* remain uncertain. Are they modifying supplements to the two tribal areas of Zebulun and Naphtali in v. 15a*? In that case a “Transjordanian” perspective would be presupposed; looking from the east, the area of both tribes lies “beyond the Jordan.”18 Or does v. 15b* give two new independent geographical statements—(the region) toward the sea and Transjordan? This would correspond to the usual biblical, Jewish, and Matthean (4:25*) usage and for most of the readers is probably the most natural reading. The only problem then is that summarizing the four expressions with “Galilee of the Gentiles” is not very precise. Doubtless this last expression is for Matthew the most important one. Here it is clear that he does not mean that Galilee was settled by Gentiles19 or that Jesus’ activity had taken place completely or in part among Gentiles. It is he who makes clear in his Gospel that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah, that he was active in Israel’s synagogues, and that he forbade his disciples to engage in mission outside Israel (10:5–6*). Historically also Galilee was Israel’s heartland after 70, and it could never have become this if it had not also been populated primarily by Jews before 70. Thus the designation “Galilee of the Gentiles” has a fictive character. With this OT designation Matthew wants on a secondary level to point ahead to what Jesus’ sending has begun in the history of salvation: the movement of salvation to the Gentiles. Then in Galilee the risen Lord will also command the disciples to make disciples of all nations (28:16–20*). Under the future perspective of the salvation which will come to the Gentiles, and precisely in that regard in agreement with God’s plan, in v. 17* Jesus begins his proclamation to Israel.20 Thus Matthew wants to call attention to a perspective that is true for Jesus’ entire activity in Israelite Galilee. The fulfillment quotations of 2:23* and 12:18–21* also suggest this hidden perspective. It is important for Matthew that the salvation for the Gentiles is a biblical, prophetic perspective. The Gentiles come to salvation because the kingdom is taken away from Israel’s leaders (21:43*). Our quotation thus becomes an expression of the basic polemical claim that the evangelist lays to Israel’s Bible after the separation of church and synagogue and after the destruction of Jerusalem.
History of Interpretation
Since as a rule the basic polemical function of our quotation was not seen in the church’s exegesis, only seldom did it have an anti-Jewish effect. The reason lies in the exegesis of “Galilee” that was common after Eusebius: Galilee consists of “Galilee of the Jews” and “Galilee of the Gentiles.” Correspondingly, our text speaks of Jesus’ mission to the Jews, the people who are sitting in darkness, and to the Gentiles, who are sitting in the land and shadow of death. Interestingly, it was especially the allegorical interpretation that was closer to the Matthean scope: “Jesus withdraws from Judea to the Gentiles.… The ‘great light’ is no longer the law; it is Christ and the brilliance of the gospel.”24

■ 15–16* It is very difficult to judge how far the evangelist has interpreted the other parts of the quotation, apart from “Galilee of the Gentiles.”
Does he interpret “the people who sit in darkness” (v. 16*) to refer to the Gentiles? That is doubtful, since elsewhere in Matthew “people” (λαός) always means Israel. Nor can we decide between the alternatives whether “light” (φῶς) refers to Jesus’ person or to his teaching. With “beyond the Jordan” the evangelist may have been thinking of Transjordan, where Jesus is occasionally active (8:28–34*; 14:22–33*; 16:5–20*; 19:1*). It and the mention of Zebulun can be so understood that the Isaiah quotation was fulfilled for the evangelist not specifically in Jesus’ move to Capernaum but in all of his Galilean activity. On the basis of v. 13*, he understands “toward the sea”26 not in reference to the Mediterranean Sea but, contrary to the OT original, to the Sea of Gennesaret.
Originally Isa 8:23–9:1* probably referred to the birth of a Davidic descendant as a sign for the imminent liberation of the three provinces occupied by Assyria: Dor, Megiddo, and Gilead.27 The Matthean interpretation of the quotation does not agree with the original meaning, nor could it. Like all of early Christianity as well as the interpretation of the prophets by the Qumran sect, the meaning of an OT prediction disclosed itself to the evangelist in light of the present, which was understood as a special time of God’s saving action. Only now are we able to distinguish between the original meaning of a passage of scripture and its later actualization.
In this case there are “bridges” between the original meaning of the Isaiah quotation and its NT interpretation. In Isa 9:5* the eschatological character of the throne names, which “far transcend the historical importance of any of the Davidic kings,” is unusual.28 There is, therefore, from the very beginning an excess of meaning that will never be realized historically.
History of Interpretation
More than with other OT predictions there is in the church’s interpretation of this passage a sense of the tension between the original meaning and the NT application. Over and over it was observed that the Matthean text did not correspond to the wording of Isaiah. Therefore, primo tempore (Isa 8:23* Vg) was said to refer to the time of Tiglath-pileser. Jerome passes on a Jewish Christian exegesis that typologically relates the time of the Assyrians and the time of Jesus, claiming that since the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali were the first to be led into exile, they were also the first to be freed from their errors by Jesus. Especially interesting are Calvin’s reflections, for whom it is clear that “Matthew seems to have misused the Prophet’s testimony by altering its sense.” He points out, however, that the claim of Isaiah’s prediction has not yet been realized, that “Sennacherib … was put to flight” before Jerusalem. The prophet “took a longer view” and predicts “the general restoration of the whole church.” The return of the people from exile may have been the beginning of the light, “the fullness of its splendor emerged with Christ the Sun of righteousness.”
This interpretation of Calvin is interesting, because he does not simply take the word of Isaiah away from Israel and transfer it to a new people, the church. Instead, Israel’s fate is like a “mirror” that “is a portrayal of the state of the human race, previous to its deliverance by the grace of Christ.” According to this interpretation of Calvin, there can be a fulfillment of OT predictions only when Israel participates in it. The idea appears systematically fruitful, but we must state clearly that it is not Matthean.

■ 17* “From that time”—with this expression the evangelist picks up everything said in vv. 13–16*—Jesus begins his proclamation of the imminent kingdom of heaven. He takes up verbatim the proclamation of John the Baptist (3:2*). When compared with Mark 1:15*, our text is missing the reference to the fulfillment of time and with it the present element in Jesus’ proclamation.33 In Matthew the reign of heaven is a clearly future reality (not until 11:12* and 12:28*—and only then—does the reader learn that it is already dawning).34 It is the hour of truth that is close at hand when God will reveal himself in his judgment. In view of this understanding of “kingdom” (βασιλεία) it becomes comprehensible why Matthew can see the proclamations of the Baptist and Jesus as closely related. Also missing is the call to believe in the gospel. For the evangelist, “gospel” (εὐαγγέλιον) is nothing more than the βασιλεία proclamation of the earthly Jesus; it is not a christological kerygma that can be separated from it. From that perspective this short Markan statement is superfluous. In Matthew’s sense, “repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” interprets decisively and exhaustively what belief in the gospel means. If that refers to the conversion that precedes the Christian life and baptism,36 then this imperative stands as the entryway to the coming teaching about the better righteousness that is to be realized in the life of the Christian. It becomes clear in an exemplary way that in Jesus’ proclamation in Matthew the imperative precedes and dominates it. According to God’s plan, the righteous Son of God, Jesus, victorious over Satan, proclaimed in Galilee God’s demand in light of the imminent kingdom of God, and he did so for the future salvation of the Gentiles. Thus for Matthew the nearness of the kingdom of heaven is not a second (“indicative”) content of the proclamation alongside the call to repentance; it is its establishing, intensifying, sharpening horizon.
History of Interpretation
Extraordinarily helpful in profiling the Matthean sense is the early Luther’s completely different interpretation based on Paul. He sees in the Jesus proclamation of v. 17* two ways of talking about the gospel that interprets the law. “When it says to everyone ‘repent,’ it makes … sinners of all people and … thus brings a kakangelium … and exercises a strange office. But when it says ‘the kingdom of heaven has come near’ that is a good, sweet message … and that is its true office, the office of the gospel.”38 Matthew could not make this distinction. For him the “gospel of the kingdom” (4:23*) is a single and indivisible gospel. It is God’s call in light of the approaching kingdom. His imperative wants neither to discourage nor to humble the proud and convince them of their sin; it is, rather, a gift—a chance of salvation given to the Gentiles.
3.2 The Call of the Disciples at the Sea of Galilee (4:18–22*)
Sebastianus Bartina, “La red esparavel del Evangelio (Mt 4,18; Mc 1,16),” EstBib 19 (1960) 215–27.
Stephen C. Barton, Discipleship and Family Ties in Mark and Matthew (SNTSMS 80; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994) 128–40.
Warren Carter, “Matthew 4:18–22 and Matthean Discipleship: An Audience-Oriented Perspective,” CBQ 59 (1997) 58–75.
Richard A. Edwards, Matthew’s Narrative Portrait of the Disciples: How the Text-Connoted Reader Is Informed (Valley Forge, Pa.: Trinity Press International, 1997) 19–27.
Patte, Discipleship, 58–121.
Wilhelm H. Wuellner, The Meaning of “Fishers of Men” (NTL; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1967).

18 When he was walking by the Sea of Galilee he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishers. 19/ And he says to them: “Come after me. I will make you fishers of people.” 20/ They immediately left their nets lying and followed him.
21 And when he went on from there he saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John, in the boat with Zebedee their father mending their nets, and he called them. 22/ They immediately left the boat and their father and followed him.
The new section begins without mentioning Jesus as the subject and thus closely follows v. 17*. It is connected to the previous section with “Galilee” (vv. 12*, 18*) and “beside/by the sea” (v. 13*; cf. 15*, 18*) and to the following section with “follow” (ἀκολουθέω (vv. 20*, 22*, 25*). The two subsections, vv. 18–20* and vv. 21–22*, parallel one another in their basic features. The readers sense that it is always this way when someone is called by Jesus. The Matthean editing of the source Mark 1:16–20* is negligible and is in the interest of stylistic and narrative improvements.1

■ 18–20* As in Mark, the call of the two pairs of brothers is described with few words. Jesus is not even mentioned anymore. From the previous context the readers know that he is the Son of God who has resisted temptation and is now proclaiming the kingdom of heaven.2 He walks along the sea. The readers remember the words that Isaiah has spoken about the land of Zebulun and Naphtali by the sea, and they realize that now the light of which the prophet has spoken is beginning to shine in the darkness. Now Jesus sees the two brothers. Differently than in Mark 3:16*, Simon is introduced from the very beginning as the one known to the church as Peter. In contrast to John 1:40–42*, as the first apostle (10:2*) he is the first to be called in the Synoptics. Peter is a surname, not the name of an office.3 Jesus meets the two fishers when they were throwing out the casting or round net.
He calls them away from their work and wants to make them “fishers of people.” With this promise a space is created and a future horizon is opened up that in later parts of the Gospel will be filled with content. Perhaps some readers think initially of Jer 16:16*. In the disciples discourse, whose beginning refers back to our text,5 the disciples receive their first commission to “fish” for people (Matt 10:5–16*). With the parable of the fishnet the expression is clearly understood to refer to missionary activity (cf. 13:47*). The missions command of 28:19–20* will finally make plain what Jesus means.
The two brothers immediately leave their nets and follow Jesus. The word “follow” (ἀκολουθέω), which is so important for Matthew, appears here for the first time. It is a familiar word for the readers, since they also understand themselves as followers of Jesus. The word “immediately” (εὐθέως) and the abandoning of the nets, which were not even pulled up on land, show the radical obedience of the two men. Little more than that is said. It is left to the readers to fill out these calling stories. They will, for example, think of the future of the church that is suggested with the word “fishers of people.” Or they will think of leaving behind family and possessions, which is part of discipleship. Matthew will often return to this theme in his Gospel.

■ 21–22* The story of how Jesus calls people is repeated. That Zebedee is in the boat with his two sons appears here at the appropriate place in contrast to Mark, who does not mention it until 1:20*. Thus from the very beginning it is clear to the readers that the two sons leave their earthly father when they follow Jesus. The break the followers make with their families is also emphasized in 8:21–22*; 10:35*; and 19:27*.7 Zebedee’s day laborers disappear, probably not because the evangelist wants to conceal the family’s relative wealth but because they are superfluous. The narrator’s camera focuses completely on the act of leaving the earthly father that belongs to discipleship (cf. 10:35*, 37*). Matthew has intentionally shifted the word “immediately” in order to emphasize, as in v. 20*, that the two men who were called radically obey Jesus. The final words of the two episodes in vv. 20* and 22*, which are exact parallels (“but they immediately left … and followed him”), show what is important for the evangelist: the obedience of the men called, who are models for the readers who also understand themselves to be disciples of Jesus.
Excursus: Disciple (μαθητής)

In this text Matthew relates the beginning of the story of Jesus. Disciples are with him from the beginning, immediately after he has started to proclaim the kingdom of heaven. They are there from the beginning as witnesses of his activity, as hearers of his message, as the first of the future apostles (10:2*). At the beginning of his story Jesus already indicates what their future will be: they will be fishers of people. They will be the apostles whom the Risen One will send to all nations (28:19–20*). In this way the beginning of the Jesus story that Matthew tells here is at the same time the beginning of the story of his own church. That is especially true for Peter, the first one called. He has special significance in the area of Syria where the Matthean community lives.8
At the same time, however, the Gospel of Matthew will make clear that it is more than a historical report about the beginning. Matthew will speak of the ones called as “disciples,” not as “apostles” (only in 10:2*). “Disciple” (μαθητής), in contrast to “apostle” (ἀπόστολος), is a term that permits the readers to identify with them. The readers are also disciples. In the Gospel of Matthew, as is already the case in Mark, μαθητής is an ecclesiological term. The same is true for “follow” (ἀκολουθέω). It is not only the earlier disciples who follow Jesus but also the readers of the Gospel. Correspondingly, in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is always at one and the same time the earthly one and the exalted one who is with his community until the end of the world. Thus this story of the origin of the church has not only a historical but at the same time also a typical meaning. Where Jesus’ gospel of the kingdom of heaven is proclaimed (4:17*), people are called to radical obedience. That is how the church originated then and how it still originates. For Matthew, the typical, ecclesiological dimension is obviously part of the story of Jesus’ proclamation and activity.
We clarify the “typical” meaning of Matt 4:18–22* in two directions.
1. We do not have here a calling of special, ecclesiastically commissioned preachers. The Matthean use of the central catchword ἀκολουθέω renders such a view impossible. It appears already in v. 25*. The reference there is, in typically Matthean fashion,12 to the following of the “crowds” (ὄχλοι). The discipleship of the disciples does not separate them from the people who are sympathetic to Jesus; on the contrary, by following Jesus the people belong together with the disciples. Here the ὄχλοι are a potential church. This corresponds to the structure of the Matthean community in which there is neither a special group of followers nor a constitutive official structure.
2. If anything, Matthew has radicalized the call to discipleship. To be noted here is not only the “immediate” leaving of nets and father but also the emphasis that leaving the earthly father has in the Matthean text. It may be that we have here a reminder of the painful break with the synagogue, which assumed more importance in the situation of the Diaspora and also included a rupture of the families. In any case, it is important that in Matthew such radical obedience, which includes the break with the family, is demanded of all members of the community.
History of Interpretation
The history of interpretation also unfolds dimensions of meaning that were remote from the text. Since Jerome, it has been emphasized that uneducated people are called to the ministry of preaching. There has also been a great deal of speculation about what had preceded Jesus’ meeting with the four disciples. The interpreters often emphasize that Jesus is not seeing them for the first time. In earlier times the concern here was not with psychological or historical explanations but with harmonizing this text with John 1:35–51* (and Luke 5:1–11*).16 Not until modern times has there been a different motive for such theses. Modern conservative rationalists (!) make such assertions to save the psychological plausibility and thus the historicity of this ideal scene.18
The history of interpretation has been strongly influenced by the name of Andrew, the member of the group of four about whom we know the least. Since there are no other reports about Andrew, this text became the gospel lesson for St. Andrew’s Day (Nov. 30). Since people knew so little about Andrew from the Bible, they have been able to associate many originally heathen customs with this day. As a result, many interpretations and sermons on the text are influenced by the Andrew legend,20 especially by the idea of following Jesus on the way to the cross, which is seen in the martyrdom of Andrew.

II Jesus’ Activity in Israel in Word and Deed (4:23–11:30*)

Introductory Overview (4:23–25*)
Klaus Stefan Krieger, “Das Publikum der Bergpredigt (Mt 4,23–25),” Kairos 28 (1986) 98–119.
Lohfink, Bergpredigt, 15–38.
F. Neirynck, “The Gospel of Matthew and Literary Criticism,” in Didier, Évangile, 37–69.
Idem, “Matt 4:23–5:2 and the Matthean Composition of 4:23–11:1,” in David L. Dungan, ed., The Interrelation of the Gospels (BEThL 95; Louvain: Louvain University Press, 1990) 23–46.

23 And he went about in all Galilee, taught in their synagogues, proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom, and healed every sickness and every weakness among the people. 24/ And his renown spread throughout all Syria. And they brought him all the sick who were suffering from various diseases and torments, demon possessed and epileptics and paralytics, and he healed them. 25/ Large crowds followed him from Galilee, from the Decapolis, from Jerusalem, from Judea and from beyond the Jordan.
Verse 23* is repeated in 9:35* almost verbatim, creating a clear inclusion of chaps. 5–9. Schniewind in particular has shown that v. 23* also anticipates the structure of these chapters: “The Messiah of the word, the one who preaches, is portrayed in chaps. 5–7; the Messiah of the deed, the one who heals, is portrayed in chaps. 8/9.” With the catchwords “Galilee” (Γαλιλαία), “proclaim” (κηρύσσω), and “kingdom” (βασιλεία), v. 23* takes up the thread of 4:12*, 15*, 17*. The catchword “teach” (διδάσκω) looks ahead to 5:1–2*. Thus this section, although it functions as the heading for chaps. 5–9, has a clearly connective character and illustrates the Matthean tendency to connect main sections with transitional pericopes instead of separating them with caesurae. Verses 24–25* are also carefully formulated from a compositional perspective and along with 5:1–2*; 7:28–8:1*; and 8:16* create a frame around the Sermon on the Mount.2
The inclusion 4:23*/9:35*, which is continued in 10:1*, shows that now, following the prologue that not only introduces but also anticipates the entire Gospel, the first great arc of the main narrative begins.

Formally this text is a summary. Jesus’ healing activity occupies the central place in it as does his teaching in the following chapters 5–7. Healing miracles are taken over from Mark as the main content of summaries; Matthew here follows his source. The structure is awkward. After a title-like statement about Jesus’ proclamation and healing in Galilee (v. 23*), v. 24b* follows with another note about Jesus’ healing. Verse 24a* hangs somewhat in the air and would be more appropriate as preparation for v. 25*, which speaks of the crowds that were following Jesus.
The awkward structure is to be explained in terms of the sources. Although the summary as such does not have a parallel in Mark, the tradition-faithful Matthew writes freely at only a few points. While the decisive title sentence of v. 23* is his creation, he closely follows Mark 1:39* (cf. 1:21*, 34*; 6:6*) in his wording. The basis of v. 24a* is Mark 1:28*; the basis of v. 24b*, c* is Mark 1:32*, 34*; and the basis of v. 25* is Mark 3:7–8*.4 Thus the evangelist surveys large parts of his Markan source and takes excerpts from it. He knows ahead of time precisely which texts from Mark he will omit. He works according to a well-thought-out plan. The exorcism of Mark 1:23–27* is omitted for reasons that are not apparent; it is replaced by the healing summary of 4:23d*.

Matthew composes a condensed summary before he reports any details of Jesus’ teaching and healing activity. With the numerous passages that again take up the summary (along with 9:35* cf. also 8:1*, 16*; 12:15–16*; 14:35*; 19:2*) he creates the impression of something typical. The elements of Jesus’ preaching and healing activity that follow in chaps. 5–9 are individual examples. Thus Matthew is not trying to give a historical-biographical course of Jesus’ activity. Instead, he begins with an overall view of which he then in what follows gives concrete examples.

■ 23* In keeping with the tradition (cf. Mark 6:6*) he has Jesus wander around Galilee. The evangelist refers the beginning sentence (“he went about in all Galilee”) to everything that follows up to the equally emphasized new beginning in 19:1* (“he went away from Galilee”). The composition shows that he imagines Jesus initially in the area around his residence in Capernaum (8:5*, 14*; 9:1*). Jesus’ teaching “in their synagogues” suggests two things: Jesus turns to Israel and teaches in the synagogues as a teacher of Israel just as his miracle-working activity is for the chosen people.5 At the same time, however, the emphasized “their synagogues” makes clear that the evangelist and his community are located outside these synagogues. That “preaching” and “teaching” are not two different things is clear only from the entirety of the Gospel of Matthew.7 Matthew had already indicated in 3:2* and 4:17* the content of the proclamation: it calls for repentance in light of the imminent kingdom. Chapters 5–7* will develop what Matthew understands by “teaching.”
Jesus’ healing stands alongside the teaching. The evangelist emphasizes that all the sick were brought to Jesus and that he healed every sickness. He treats Jesus’ healing miracles as if they were a “normal” activity.9 Important for him here is probably not so much playing up Jesus’ miraculous power as obedience to the mission of the Servant of God (cf. 8:14–17*) and basic concern for human beings. The LXX word μαλακία appears in the NT only in Matthew and may mean “weakness” in contrast to the stronger term “sickness.”11 The biblical coloring fits well the statement that Jesus heals the sicknesses “among the people,” that is, in Israel, the people of God.

■ 24* In v. 24*, with the three catchwords “demon possessed,” “epileptics,” and “paralytics,” Matthew indicates healings to which he will later return (8:28–34*; 9:1–8*; 17:14–21*). In view of the Sermon on the Mount it is important that a summary portrayal of Jesus’ healing activity has preceded it. Since Matthew is primarily concerned with Jesus’ teaching, he puts chaps. 5–7 before 8–9. However, Jesus the teacher is none other than the Messiah of Israel who accompanies people—including the church—with his helping power so that the crowds can follow him. Thus vv. 23–24* speak of a dimension of the “indicative” of salvation that is so often missed in Matthew.

■ 25* Part of the image of Jesus’ activity is that crowds follow him. We must understand them to be Israelites; “crowds” (ὄχλοι) includes “people” (λαός) (v. 23*).12 The readers know from 4:21* what “following” is; with the crowds who follow,13 Matthew indicates that he understands the story of the followers in 4:18–22* in a typical (paradigmatic) sense. Thus the crowds and the disciples who follow in vv. 18–22* may not be understood as two completely separate groups.14 Instead, Matthew indicates in this way that discipleship is designed to become the church. He also needs the crowds in a compositional sense in order to secure his understanding of the Sermon on the Mount, where the crowds along with the disciples will be the hearers (cf. 5:1–2*), because what is said there to the disciples is also true for the people who are called to follow Jesus.
It is not easy to know what the geographical items mean. From the source Mark 3:8* Matthew omits (Gentile, Matt 15:21–22*) Tyre and Sidon, also Idumea.15 Whether the names of the regions circumscribe with contemporary geographical terms the area of the holy land, Israel, depends on how one understands the reference to the Decapolis. Strong Jewish minorities lived in all the cities of the Decapolis.17 Above all, however, the region of the Decapolis for the most part belonged to “biblical Israel.” Thus the evangelist wanted to speak of Jesus’ activity and success in Israel. It is different only with v. 24a*: Jesus’ fame, and only that, already spreads beyond the borders of Israel and probably covers the entire Roman province of Syria.
Excursus: Preaching, Teaching, and Gospel in Matthew

It is obvious that preaching and teaching are mentioned together in Matthew (4:23*; 9:35*; 11:1*). Is there a difference between them? Behind the question of a possible difference between κηρύσσειν and διδάσκειν is the question of the difference between kerygma and didache or between missionary preaching and community instruction in early Christianity and in Matthew.2
More strongly than Mark, Matthew associates with the content of διδάσκω Jesus’ interpretation of the law and ethical proclamation (5:2*, 19*; 7:29*; 15:9*; 22:16*; 28:20*). Geographically Matthew locates it in the synagogue or the temple (4:23*; 9:35*; 13:54*; 21:23*; 22:16*; 26:55*). The recipients of the teaching are the disciples (5:2*; 7:29*) and the people of Israel (5:2*; 7:29*; 9:35*; 11:1*; 13:54*; 21:23*; 26:55*), only once the Gentiles (28:20*). The intentional association of “teaching” with law and ethics becomes especially clear where Markan material is omitted.3 Thus Matthew’s usage is not completely original, but it is more pointed than Mark’s.
Matthew follows a widespread early Christian practice of connecting κηρύσσω with “gospel” (εὐαγγέλιον) and the latter with “kingdom” (βασιλεία). The addressees of κηρύσσειν are for him the people of Israel and the Gentiles (24:14*; 26:13*), never the disciples, because κηρύσσειν means missionary preaching. In contrast to Mark, the content of the proclamation is almost always stated, and it is done so with “gospel of the kingdom” or with a brief summary of the βασιλεία proclamation (3:1–2*; 4:17*; 10:7*). Can we therefore say that Matthew makes a conscious distinction between Jesus’ preaching and teaching?
Such a conclusion is contradicted when Matthew summarizes the Sermon on the Mount with the double expression “preaching” and “teaching” in 4:23*; 9:35*; 11:1*.6 The readers of these passages will be inclined to understand the two terms to mean the same thing. It is also contradicted by the missions command, which speaks only of “teaching” (28:20*), even though one would expect κηρύσσειν here and even though Matthew elsewhere speaks of the “proclamation” of the gospel to the Gentiles (24:14*). Is there then in Matthew alongside the didache—or even before it—no special kerygma? Thus the question of the relationship between κηρύσσειν and διδάσκειν becomes a basic question of Matthean theology. What does he mean by the two terms?
The expression “gospel of the kingdom” (εὐαγγέλιον τῆς βασιλείας), which Matthew connects in 4:23*, 9:35*, and 24:14* with κηρύσσειν, offers an initial clue. He has thoroughly reworked the term “gospel,” which is so important for Mark. He has omitted all the passages that can be understood to imply that the gospel—that is, the church’s proclamation—might go beyond the earthly Jesus or be separate from him. He has consistently modified εὐαγγέλιον with an attributive. With the addition of τῆς βασιλείας in 4:23* he reminds his readers of the call to repentance and of Jesus’ programmatic proclamation of the kingdom of God in 4:17*. Thus he makes clear with it that he understands εὐαγγέλιον to be the preaching of the earthly Jesus. Matt 26:13* further clarifies that it involves not only Jesus’ words9 but also his deeds. With “this gospel” the thought there is either of the passion narrative or perhaps of all Jesus’ deeds, even including what the anointing woman has done.
The most open formulation is “this gospel of the kingdom” in 24:14*. Since “this” is not defined by the context, τοῦτο τὸ εὐαγγέλιον most likely means the gospel of Jesus contained in all of the Gospel of Matthew. On the basis of 4:23* and 9:35*, the readers will think of Jesus’ preaching; that would be in keeping with the missions command of Matt 28:20*. Whether one is to think of Jesus’ deeds—thus of everything in Matthew’s “book”—must remain an open question; in any case it is not prohibited.
In both passages, 24:14* and 26:13*, εὐαγγέλιον is not yet completely identified with the Matthean work, but the tendency is already there. It is no accident that the identification of εὐαγγέλιον with a book, probably the Gospel of Matthew, appears for the first time in the environs and in the sphere of influence of the Matthean community, namely, in the Didache. The presupposition of identifying εὐαγγέλιον with a book is the Matthean identification of εὐαγγέλιον with the preaching and activity of the earthly Jesus.
It is theologically decisive for Matthew that all church proclamation (εὐαγγέλιον) is oriented toward the earthly Jesus and has no content other than his words and deeds. The expression “gospel of the kingdom” is—if not in a literary sense, at least theologically—“Matthew’s own capsule-summary of his work.” The proclamation and activity of the earthly Jesus become the sole standard and content of the Christian proclamation. The content of the missions command agrees: the disciples have the task of passing on to the nations the proclamation of Jesus—more precisely, all his commandments (28:20*). However, there the task is described as “teaching” rather than “preaching.”
The Sermon on the Mount gives the second clue. If 4:23* is to be understood as the heading for Matthew 5–7 and 8–9, the Sermon on the Mount must be the content of the “gospel of the kingdom.” In his introduction in 5:2* and in the conclusion in 7:29* the evangelist takes up not the word κηρύσσειν but διδάσκειν. At the same time, however, the catchword for the content of Jesus’ preaching, βασιλεία, appears at important places in the Sermon on the Mount: as an inclusion at the beginning (5:3*, 10*) and at the end (7:21*), as well as in 5:19–20*; 6:33*; and in the center of the sermon in the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer (6:10*). Thus without question the readers who come to the Sermon on the Mount from 4:23* will think that Jesus’ “teaching” on the mountain is the “gospel of the kingdom.” They will soon notice, however, that the Sermon on the Mount has an ethical sharpness. Whenever the “kingdom of heaven” appears in the sermon it is a future reality. It is the content of promise (5:3*, 10*) and of prayer (6:10*). It is the promised place into which the doers of righteousness will “enter” (5:20*; 7:21*; cf. 5:19*). It is connected with the central concept, “righteousness” (5:10*; 6:33*). The “gospel of the kingdom” stands out in relief as an ethical gospel.
All of that means that from the perspective of the entire Gospel the proclamation of the kingdom and the teaching about the behavior that God desires cannot be separated from one another, nor can the two of them be separated from Jesus. Even if the two terms can have very different connotations based on their traditional range of meaning, they belong together. Jesus’ “teaching” on the mount—his commandments—is also the missions proclamation of his disciples (28:20*). For that reason it is directed not only to the disciples but also to the people (7:28*; cf. 5:1*). Jesus’ ethical Sermon on the Mount does not presuppose the gospel of the kingdom—it is the gospel of the kingdom. It thus follows that preaching and teaching in Matthew are not related as promise of salvation and imperative, because the imperative is also the goal of the “proclamation,”13 and the “teaching” also points to the kingdom. From their traditional usage the two terms have different connotations, but in Matthew the substance is the same.

A The Sermon on the Mount (5:1–7:29*)
A. Exegetical Literature
Dale C. Allison, “The Structure of the Sermon on the Mount,” JBL 106 (1987) 423–45.
Gerhard Barth, “Bergpredigt,” TRE 5 (1980) 603–18.
Thomas Bergemann, Q auf dem Prüfstand: Die Zuordnung des Mt/Lk-Stoffes zu Q am Beispiel der Bergpredigt (FRLANT 158; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1993).
Hans Dieter Betz, “The Sermon on the Mount: Its Literary Genre and Function,” in Gesammelte Aufsätze, vol. 2: Synoptische Studien (Tübingen: Mohr/ Siebeck, 1992) 77–91.
Idem, “Kosmogonie und Ethik in der Bergpredigt,” in Gesammelte Aufsätze 2.155–87.
Idem, “The Problem of Christology in the Sermon on the Mount,” in Gesammelte Aufsätze 2.230–48.
Idem, “The Sermon on the Mount and Q: Some Aspects of the Problem,” in Gesammelte Aufsätze 2.249–69.
Idem, Sermon.
Otto Betz, “Bergpredigt und Sinaitradition,” in Jesus: Der Messias Israels: Aufsätze zur biblischen Theologie (WUNT 42; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1987) 333–83.
Erich Bischoff, Jesus und die Rabbinen: Jesu Bergpredigt und “Himmelreich” in ihrer Unabhängigkeit vom Rabbinismus (Schriften des Institutum Judaicum in Berlin 33; Leipzig: Hinrich, 1905).
John Bligh, The Sermon on the Mount: A Discussion on Mt 5–7 (Slough: St. Paul Publications, 1975).
Otto Böcher, “Die Bergpredigt—Lebensgesetz der Urchristenheit,” in idem, Manfred Jacobs, and Helmut Hild, eds., Die Bergpredigt im Leben der Christenheit (Bensheimer Hefte 56; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1981) 7–16.
Karl Bernhard Bornhäuser, Die Bergpredigt: Versuch einer zeitgenössischen Auslegung (BFCTh 2/7; Gütersloh: Bertelsmann, 1923).
Günther Bornkamm, “Der Aufbau der Bergpredigt,” NTS 24 (1977/78) 419–32.
Burchard, “Theme.”
Catchpole, Quest, 79–134.
Davies, Setting.
Martin Dibelius, “Die Bergpredigt,” in Botschaft und Geschichte, vol. 1 (Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1953) 79–174.
Marcel Dumais, Le Sermon sur la Montagne: État de la recherche, interprétation, bibliographie (Sainte-Foy, Québec: Letouzey et Ané, 1995) (literature).
Dupont, Béatitudes, vols. 1–3.
Georg Eichholz, Auslegung der Bergpredigt (6th ed.; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1984).
Reinhard Feldmeier, ed., Salz der Erde: Zugänge zur Bergpredigt (Biblisch-theologische Schwerpunkte 14; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1998).
Paul Fiebig, Jesu Bergpredigt: Rabbinische Texte zum Verständnis der Bergpredigt (FRLANT 37; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1924).
Gerald Friedlander, The Jewish Sources of the Sermon on the Mount (1911; reprinted New York: Ktav, 1969).
Leonhard Goppelt, “Das Problem der Bergpredigt,” in Christologie und Ethik: Aufsätze zum Neuen Testament (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1968) 27–43.
Robert A. Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding (Waco: Word, 1982).
C. F. Georg Heinrici, “Die Bergpredigt (Matth. 5–7, Luk. 6,20–49), begriffsgeschichtlich untersucht,” in Beiträge zur Geschichte und Erklärung des NT, vol. 3 (Leipzig: Edelmann, 1905) 1–98.
Martin Hengel, “Zur matthäischen Bergpredigt und ihrem jüdischen Hintergrund,” ThR 52 (1987) 327–400.
Hoffmann, “Auslegung.”
Jeremias, “Bergpredigt.”
Michael Krämer, Die Überlieferungsgeschichte der Bergpredigt: Eine synoptische Studie zu Mt 4,23–7,29 und Lk 6,17–49 (Deutsche Hochschulschriften 433; Egelsback: Hänsel-Hohenhausen, 1992).
Josef Kürzinger, “Zur Komposition der Bergpredigt nach Matthäus,” Bib 40 (1959) 569–89.
Jan Lambrecht, The Sermon on the Mount: Proclamation and Exhortation (Wilmington, Del.: Glazier, 1985).
Pinchas Lapide, The Sermon on the Mount: Utopia or Program for Action? (trans. Arlene Swidler; Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1986).
Lohfink, Bergpredigt.
Ulrich Luck, Die Vollkommenheitsforderung der Bergpredigt (TEH 150; Munich: Kaiser, 1968).
Giovanni Miegge, Il Sermone sul Monte (Torino: Claudiana, 1970).
Salvatore Alberto Panimolle, Il discorso della montagna (Milan: Paoline, 1986).
Patte, Discipleship.
Petr Pokorny, Der Kern der Bergpredigt: Eine Auslegung (Hamburg: Reich, 1969).
Hans-Richard Reuter, “Die Bergpredigt als Orientierung unseres Menschseins heute,” ZEE 23 (1979) 84–105.
Idem, “Bergpredigt und politische Vernunft,” in Schnackenburg, Bergpredigt, 60–80.
Rudolf Schnackenberg, “Die Bergpredigt,” in idem, Bergpredigt, 13–59.
Idem, Die sittliche Botschaft des Neuen Testaments, vol. 1: Von Jesus zur Urkirche (HThKNTSup 1; Freiburg: Herder, 1986) 98–124.
Gerhard Schneider, Botschaft der Bergpredigt (Aschaffenburg: Pattloch, 1969).
Eduard Schweizer, Die Bergpredigt (Kleine Vandenhoeck-Reihe 1481; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1982).
Soiron, Bergpredigt.
Stanton, Gospel, 285–325.
Dennis Stoutenburg, With One Voice/B’Qol echad: The Sermon on the Mount and Rabbinic Literature (San Francisco: International Scholars Publications, 1996 (contains a good catalogue of the rabbinic parallels to the Sermon on the Mount).
Georg Strecker, “Das Gesetz in der Bergpredigt,” in Timo Veijola, ed., The Law in the Bible and in Its Environment (Publications of the Finnish Exegetical Society 51; Helsinki: Finnish Exegetical Society, 1990) 109–25.
Idem, Sermon.
Stuhlmacher, “Gesetz.”
Syreeni, Making.
Tholuck, Commentary.
Sjef van Tilborg, The Sermon on the Mount as an Ideological Intervention: A Reconstruction of Meaning (Assen/Maastricht: Van Gorcum, 1986).
Hans Weder, Die “Rede der Reden”: Eine Auslegung der Bergpredigt heute (Zurich: Theologischer Verlag, 1985).
Hans Windisch, Der Sinn der Bergpredigt: Ein Beitrag zum geschichtlichen Verständnis der Evangelien und zum Problem der richtigen Exegese (2d ed.; Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 16; Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1937).
Hans-Theo Wrege, Die Überlieferungsgeschichte der Bergpredigt (WUNT 9; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1968).
B. Literature on the History of Interpretation and the History of the Influence of the Text
Paul Althaus, “Luther und die Bergpredigt,” Luther 27 (1956) 1–16.
Hugh Barbour, “The Sermon on the Mount in the Radical Reformation,” in Milan Opocensky, ed., Towards a Renewed Dialogue: Consultation on the First and Second Reformations (Studies from the World Alliance of Reformed Churches 30; Geneva: World Alliance of Reformed Churches, 1996) 85–121.
Gerhard Barth, “Bergpredigt,” TRE 5 (1980) 611–18 (good survey; literature).
Ursula Berner, Die Bergpredigt: Rezeption und Auslegung im 20. Jahrhundert (GThA 12; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1979).
H. W. Beyer, “Der Christ und die Bergpredigt nach Luthers Deutung,” Luther-Jahrbuch 14 (1932) 33–60.
Karlmann Beyschlag, Die Bergpredigt und Franz von Assisi (BFCTh 57; Gütersloh: Bertelsmann, 1955).
Idem, “Zur Geschichte der Bergpredigt in der Alten Kirche,” ZThK 74 (1977) 291–322.
Harald Diem, Luthers Lehre von den zwei Reichen, untersucht von seinem Verständnis der Bergpredigt aus: Ein Beitrag zum Problem “Gesetz und Evangelium” (BEvTh 5; Munich: Kaiser, 1938).
Ulrich Duchrow, Christenheit und Weltverantwortung: Traditionsgeschichte und systematische Struktur der Zweireichelehre (FBESG 25; Stuttgart: Klett, 1970), passim.
E. Fascher, “Bergpredigt II: Auslegungsgeschichtlich,” RGG 1 (1957) 1050–53.
Hans-Georg Geyer, “Luthers Auslegung der Bergpredigt,” in idem, et al., eds., “Wenn nicht jetzt, wann dann?”: Aufsätze für Hans-Joachim Kraus zum 65. Geburtstag (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1983) 283–93.
Gerhard Heintze, Luthers Predigt von Gesetz und Evangelium (FGLP 10/11; Munich: Kaiser, 1958), esp. 147–211.
Manfred Jacobs, “Die Bergpredigt in der Geschichte der Kirche,” in Otto Böcher, Manfred Jacobs, and Helmut Hild, eds., Die Bergpredigt im Leben der Christenheit (Bensheimer Hefte 56; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1981) 17–40.
Friedrich Wilhelm Kantzenbach, Die Bergpredigt: Annäherung-Wirkungsgeschichte (Stuttgart: Kohl-hammer, 1982).
Warren S. Kissinger, The Sermon on the Mount: A History of Interpretation and Bibliography (ATLA.MS 3; Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow, 1975) (literature).
Krüger, Evangelienauslegung, 177–204.
Kaarle Sanfrid Laurila, Leo Tolstoi und Martin Luther als Ausleger der Bergpredigt (AASF B 55; Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica, 1944).
Ulrich Luz, “Die Bergpredigt im Spiegel ihrer Wirkungsgeschichte,” in Jürgen Moltmann, ed., Nachfolge und Bergpredigt (Kaiser Traktate 65; Munich: Kaiser, 1981) 37–72.
Tore Meistad, “Martin Luther and John Wesley on the Sermon on the Mount,” in Peter Wilhelm Bøckman and Ronald E. Kristiansen, eds., Context: Festskrift til Peder Johan Borgen = Essays in Honour of Peder Johan Borgen (Trondheim: Tapir, 1987) 137–50.
Gerta Scharffenorth, “Die Bergpredigt in Luthers Beiträgen zur Wirtschaftsethik,” in Christofer Frey and Wolfgang Huber, eds., Schöpferische Nachfolge: Festschrift für Heinz Eduard Tödt (Texte und Materialien der Forschungsstätte der Evangelischen Studiengemeinschaft A 5; Heidelberg: Forschungsstätte der Evangelischen Studiengemeinschaft, 1978) 177–204.
Schellong, Gesetz.
Hermann Schlingensiepen, “Die Auslegung der Bergpredigt bei Calvin” (diss., Bonn, 1927; partial printing Berlin: Eberling, 1928).
Rudolf Schnackenburg, “Die Bergpredigt,” in idem, ed., Die Bergpredigt: Utopische Vision oder Handlungsanweisung? (Düsseldorf: Patmos, 1982) 36–55.
Stadtland-Neumann, Radikalismen.
Brigitta Stoll, De Virtute in Virtutem: zur Auslegungs- und Wirkungsgeschichte der Bergpredigt in Kommentaren, Predigten und hagiographischer Literatur von der Merowingerzeit bis um 1200 (BGBE 30; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1988).
Stuhlmacher, “Gesetz.”
Tholuck, Commentary, passim (basic commentary emphasizing the history of interpretation).
Ernst Troeltsch, The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches (trans. Olive Wyon; 2 vols.; 1931; reprinted Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1992).
Dieter Wittmann, Die Auslegung der Friedensweisungen der Bergpredigt in der Predigt der Evangelischen Kirche im 20. Jahrhundert (EHS.T 224; Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1984).
Georg Wünsch, Die Bergpredigt bei Luther: Eine Studie zum Verhältnis von Christentum und Welt (Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1920).
C. Important Sources
Augustine Serm. Dom.
Barth, CD 2/2.686–77.
Otto Baumgarten, Bergpredigt und Kultur der Gegenwart (Religionsgeschichtliche Volksbücher für die deutsche christliche Gegenwart 6.10–12; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck 1921).
Bonhoeffer, Cost, 95–176.
Martin Luther, “Wochenpredigten über Matth 5–7: Das fünffte, sechste und siebend Capitel S. Matthei gepredigt und ausgelegt (1532),” WA 32.299–555 (= LW 21.3–294).
Leonhard Ragaz, Die Bergpredigt Jesu (1945; reprinted Hamburg: Furche, 1971).
Faustus Socinus, Concionis Christi quae habetur capite 5–7 apud Matthaeum Evangelistam Explicatio (Irenopolis, 1656).
Eduard Thurneysen, Die Bergpredigt (TEH 105; Munich: Kaiser, 1963).
Tolstoy, Religion.
Wesley, Sermons.
John Wycliffe, Opus Evangelicum (ed. John Loserth; London: Trübner, 1895).

The analysis of 4:23–25* showed that the evangelist has surrounded the Sermon on the Mount with inclusions that form a ring.1 This “ring-shaped” concept appears to be continued in the interior of the Sermon on the Mount. It is built symmetrically around a core, namely, the Lord’s Prayer in 6:9–13*. The sections before and after the Lord’s Prayer parallel one another, resulting in the structural scheme located in figure 1.
Since for the most part Matthew makes use of traditional material, closely following his sources in wording and order, the architectonic symmetry is all the more amazing. It becomes effective only when the Sermon on the Mount is read as a whole, and even then one sees it not on first reading but only after repeated readings and, one might say, when seen “optically.” Thus the structure of the Sermon on the Mount already gives obvious clues how it wants to be understood. The kingdom of heaven (see figure 1, p. 173) promised for the future stands over the entire Sermon on the Mount. The true meaning of “law and prophets” revealed by Jesus is the leitmotif of the main section. The Lord’s Prayer is its central text. Thus the Sermon on the Mount takes its readers along a way that leads them from God’s radical demands into the “interior” of faith where they experience the Father’s nearness in prayer. Then it leads them back into the praxis of renouncing possessions and of love.4
Figure 1

Frequently, although not always, one can see a three-part division within the individual main sections. The beginning and ending each have three parts (5:3–10*, 11–12*, 13–16*; 7:13–14*, 15–23*, 24–27*). Then there are two groups of three antitheses followed by the three-part teaching on piety (5:1–18*) containing the insertion of the Lord’s Prayer, which, framed by two logia, again consists of three parts. Also divided into three parts are 6:19–24* and 7:1–11*. Of course, such observations are in part questions of exegetical discretion. It is striking, however, how often the exegete’s discretion is pointed in a certain direction.
In addition to the inclusions there are repetitions of catchwords, such as “righteousness” and “father” scattered throughout the entire Sermon on the Mount, or “be anxious, concerned” (μεριμνάω), “pray” (προσεύχομαι), and so on in shorter sections. For reading (one read out loud!) they function much as do underlined words in modern written texts: they underscore what is important. The frequency of repetitions, of formulaic expressions, and of parallelisms corresponds to Semitic formative style. To my knowledge, however, there are no analogies to the ring composition of the Sermon on the Mount, which extends into the broader context, and to the parallel length of individual sections in Matthew.

Until relatively recently, little attention was paid to the question of the genre of the Sermon on the Mount. It was customary to regard it as a sermo or as a summary8 of Jesus’ preaching. Hans Dieter Betz classifies it as belonging to the ancient genre epitome, the “excerpt” from a larger work that was used primarily in instruction. To be sure, form-critically this genre can hardly be described with precision; there are major differences from the extant philosophical epitomai, especially the “Principal Doctrines” (κυρίαι δόξαι) of Epicurus. Matthew was thinking of the biblical Sinai Torah, and he wants to remind the readers of it. He does so, however, by situating the sermon on a mountain (see on 5:1 and 7:28–29) rather than by its structure. The careful structure that is so important for its content also distinguishes the Sermon on the Mount from Jewish collections of wisdom sayings. In short, there is no real analogy to the Sermon on the Mount that would permit us to interpret it in terms of its genre.

The Sermon on the Mount was composed by the evangelist Matthew. Just as in the other parts of his Gospel, Matthew has edited the texts before him with redactional additions and reformulations. Unlike the other discourses, for this programmatic discourse of Jesus he had no source from the Gospel of Mark; he had only Mark’s brief report about Jesus’ authoritative preaching (Mark 1:21–22*; cf. 3:13*). In all probability, however, the evangelist can make use of Jesus’ programmatic discourse, the so-called Sermon on the Plain of Q 6:20–49, which immediately followed the temptation story in Q. He follows its structure;12 he merely places the golden rule (Q 6:31) as a summary at the end of his main section (7:12*).
He has inserted into the plan of the Sermon on the Plain additional, thematically appropriate material, as he did in other discourses. Some of the material comes from other parts of the Q source (5:13–16* = Q 14:34–35 and 11:33; 5:18* = Q 16:18; 5:25–26* = Q 12:57–59; 5:32* = Q 16:17; 6:9–14* = Q 11:2–4; 6:19–21* = Q 12:33–34; 6:22–23* = Q 11:34–36; 6:24* = Q 16:13; 6:25–33* = Q 12:22–31; 7:7–11* = Q 11:9–13; 7:13–14* = Q 13:23–24; 7:22–24* = Q 13:25–27). Deserving special attention here as independent Matthean compositions are the text about the disciples’ commissioning (5:13–16*), the section on prayer placed in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount (6:1–18*), the section 6:19–34* on possessions newly gathered from various Q texts, and the second section on prayer, 7:7–11*. The remaining materials from Q are suggested by the theme. In many cases Matthew has excerpted continuously, preserving the probable Q sequence, or he has made use of texts that were close together in Q. There are also a few short texts of special material that are determined by the subject of the context (5:5*, 7–9*, 14b*, 19*, 23–24*, 29–30* [?], 41*; 6:7–8*, 14–15*, 34*; 7:6*). In most of the cases it is difficult to decide whether the evangelist has taken them from oral tradition or has found them already connected to his Q text (= QMt).
The three primary antitheses of 5:21–22*, 27–28*, 33*, (34–35*), 37*, and the three-part piety regulations of 6:2–6*, 16–18* constitute special cases. These two sections are conspicuous because Matthew inserted into them and added to them additional material from Q. I surmise, therefore, that they were already available to him in a special written source.
The Q hypothesis has been subjected to a number of recent challenges in connection with the Sermon on the Mount:
a. Hans-Theo Wrege (Überlieferungsgeschichte) tries to demonstrate that Q did not exist and that the entire Sermon on the Mount is based on reliable oral tradition.17
b. Thomas Bergemann calls attention to the relatively low degree of agreement in the double traditions of the Sermon on the Mount. According to him, for the most part the variations in wording cannot be explained as redactional. Bergemann assumes that a basic document existed of the Sermon on the Mount/Plain that was not preserved in Q and into which the evangelist has inserted Q materials.19
c. In various publications, but especially in his large commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, Hans Dieter Betz postulates the hypothesis that the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain are independent epitomai of Jesus’ proclamation that the two evangelists found in their respective recensions of Q (Q and Q).21 According to Betz, the pre-Matthean Sermon on the Mount originated in the 50s in Jerusalem, and Matthew simply incorporated it into his Gospel without changes.
d. Michael Krämer (Überlieferungsgeschichte) is troubled by the great freedom with which the two evangelists are alleged to have used the Q source. He rejects its existence and postulates instead a successive growth of the two independent discourses: the (Jewish Christian) Sermon on the Mount and the (Gentile Christian) Sermon on the Plain.23 The point around which they crystallized was the commandment to love one’s enemies.
Therefore, explaining the Sermon on the Mount in the framework of the Q hypothesis is still for me, relatively speaking, the best possibility. It must be granted to the critics, however, that particularly in the area of the Sermon on the Plain it is often not possible to reconstruct a Q text from Matthew and Luke that is identical in its details. There are a number of differences between the Q text used by Matthew and that used by Luke. Both the assumption of different recensions Q and Q and the assumption that along with the written sources the continuing oral tradition may have influenced the Matthean wording are unprovable postulates that suggest explanations born of perplexity. To be sure, they are not a priori improbable. There have often been different recensions of subliterary religious texts. And it is self-evident that the oral tradition would have remained alive especially with such important and frequently used texts as those of the Sermon on the Mount.
The Matthean redaction is very painstaking and at the same time very conservative. It is especially intensive in key passages (e.g., 5:16*, 17–20*, 48*; 7:12–14*, 21–23*). In only a few cases has Matthew formulated new logia without direct support in the tradition (5:10*, 20*; 6:1*; perhaps 5:17*). In many cases it can be shown that he has not simply done his editorial work as a free author but that he was influenced in his redaction by the language and the life of his community (e.g., 6:9–13*; 7:13–14*) or in an indirect way by his sources (e.g., 5:10*, 31*, 38*, 43*; 7:15*, 19–20*).

The Sermon on the Mount is the first extensive proclamation of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. For that reason alone it has a foundational character. It is the only discourse of Jesus that almost exclusively contains commandments of Jesus. When in 28:20*—again on a mountain—Jesus charges the eleven disciples to teach the nations to keep everything “I have commanded you,” the thought is probably of the Sermon on the Mount. Thus it is also the central content of the Christian missionary preaching.
The evangelist does not give a summary statement of the theme of his first discourse; the concluding comment in 7:28* simply refers to it as “sayings” (λόγοι). The current designation “Sermon on the Mount” comes from Augustine (Sermone Domini in Monte). Since the mountain was important for the evangelist (it reminded the readers of Sinai and of Moses), it is a happy choice. Important for the content of the theme is the programmatic introit to the main section. For this reason Otto Betz, not incorrectly, understands 5:20*, the verse introducing the antitheses, as an important statement of the theme of the Sermon on the Mount.25 The word that is central there, “righteousness” (δικαιοσύνη), is one of the basic leading words of the discourse—a word that the evangelist through repetition impresses on his readers’ minds (5:6*, 10*, 20*; 6:1*, 33*). Further, “kingdom of heaven” (βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν) is both the catchword that in the title verse 4:23* characterizes the content of Jesus’ proclamation as well as the important key term (cf. 5:20*; 6:10*, 33*) that frames the entire discourse (5:3*, 10*; 7:21*). For these two reasons, “Discourse on the Righteousness of the Kingdom of Heaven” may be a fitting title.
History of Interpretation

On the history of the exegesis of the Sermon on the Mount. I am not interested here in portraying the entire history of the influence of the Sermon on the Mount. I would like merely to call attention to an aspect that is important for me—the relationship between a given interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount and its church situation. Especially in the time before the Enlightenment, interpretations of the Bible could not simply be freely selected, as if one could always choose “the” right interpretation. They were rather in large part the expression of each specific ecclesiastical self-understanding and of the reality of one’s own church. Thus they revealed how authors in their time have understood the church’s task. It became (relatively) possible to separate the interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount from one’s own situation only with the historical-critical method—an approach that permitted one to make a fundamental distinction between what the Sermon on the Mount means and one’s own position. Friedrich Naumann is a good example. A visit to Palestine led him to the insight that the Sermon on the Mount, what he calls “the Protestant-Franciscan form of Christianity,” “arose in a spiritual temperature that is completely different from ours”27 and therefore cannot be applied to politics. Johannes Weiss and Albert Schweitzer, who saw in Jesus an “interim ethic,” also did not even consider adopting it as their own ethic. This possibility of separating the interpreter from the text means for us, on the one hand, a (relative) chance to understand the text. On the other hand, it means that the understood text has no meaning for the present. That is, it is meaningful only insofar as the modern interpreters acknowledge meaning from their own perspective, in their individuality and in their competence. However, interpretations of the Sermon on the Mount from the time before the Enlightenment always expressed the relevance of the Sermon on the Mount for their interpreters. That is, they always mirrored their church situation and their own interpretive approach. It is important, therefore, to raise the question of the fundamental relationship between the interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount and ecclesiastical reality.
In spite of the need for many corrections in his details, my most helpful conversation partner has been Ernst Troeltsch. He makes a sociological distinction between church and sect. They are characterized by certain types of piety and theology. While the “church” as an institution of salvation and grace is characterized by a piety of redemption and a religion of grace, the “sect” is a “voluntary society, composed of strict and definite Christian believers,” who emphasize “the law instead of grace, and in varying degrees within their own circle set up the Christian order based on love.” In the sect Christ is “the Lord, the example and lawgiver of Divine authority and dignity,” rather than primarily the redeemer. Realizing holiness is central for the sect; “the real work of redemption” takes place only in the future through judgment, “when He will establish the kingdom of God.” Very often the piety of the sect is Jesus piety, while Paul is decisive for the church type.
We need not go into the details of this scheme here. What is productive in it is that it makes it possible to understand Matthean theology as a classic example of a “sect theology,” that is, as the theological draft of a minority group in a twofold sense: on the one hand against Israel, on the other against pagan society. This group let Jesus lead it to its own life-rule of obedience and love. Matthean theology is basically perfectionistic. It understands grace centrally as help in praxis. In “sects” like the Matthean community the piety of the Sermon on the Mount was often in fashion. The examples from the history of interpretation that I will cite in connection with individual texts will show that there have repeatedly been such small groups for which the Sermon on the Mount was central and which came especially close to its meaning. Examples are the ancient church before Constantine, early monasticism and closely related church fathers such as John Chrysostom, medieval fringe groups such as the Waldensians, Franciscans, and also Cathari, especially the Anabaptists, and also early Methodists.31 All of them represent a perfectionistic interpretation. For all of them God’s command was a fundamental and immovable impulse of their piety and their life. It is amazing how much one finds analogies to the Matthean concept in such groups.
Notable by comparison is the greater distance from the Sermon on the Mount in the great churches. In the Catholic tradition the dominant interpretive model is not the two-level ethic emphasized by the Reformation polemic. Instead, after Augustine, and with constant reference to him, the interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount was perfectionistic. With its commandments the “perfect … sermon” “forms” the “Christian life.” In the Sermon on the Mount “the entire perfection of our life is contained.”34 However, the two-level ethic appears only in the interpretation of individual passages and even then only relatively late. While at an early date individual commands of the sermon were applied in a special way to certain groups such as the clerics, it was Rupert of Deutz (ca. 1100) who first introduced the term consilium into the exegesis of the Sermon on the Mount. Here monastic images, which earlier more likely would have been associated with Matthew 19 (and Matt 10), break into the interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount. Thomas Aquinas, whose interpretation represents an important attempt to organize the commandments of the Sermon on the Mount into praecepta and consilia, shows that it is still valid for every Christian and is only in a peripheral way the basis for special consilia. The reformers directed their polemic against an interpretation that even in the late medieval church hardly dominated all of the interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount. Sociologically we can somewhat oversimplify and say that on the whole the medieval national church preserved, even if in a somewhat weakened form, the type of interpretation from the time when it was a minority church.37 Thus it preserved, to use Troeltsch’s language, the type of interpretation characteristic of its “sectarian past.” The later distinction between praecepta and consilia was added in an attempt to integrate rigorous monastic interpretive traditions into the church’s interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount, which, in spite of its perfectionistic understanding, was increasingly distanced from the basic meaning of the Sermon on the Mount. However, there never was the opinion that the Sermon on the Mount was no longer valid for the ordinary Christian. Instead, its purpose continued to be to lead all Christians into the way of Christian perfection. One might say that it thus preserved a bit of minority church salt in the national church.
On the reformers’ interpretation I would like to limit myself to a few probably quite subjective impressions. Luther’s interpretation, like Calvin’s, is decisively influenced by the controversies with the Anabaptists. As an interpreter who himself comes from the tradition of the Reformation, I am first of all impressed by the Anabaptists, who in an exemplary way not only understood but also practiced the Sermon on the Mount. My interpretation of individual texts will repeatedly return to them. In protocols of trials and disputations with primarily quite simple, theologically uneducated Anabaptists one repeatedly finds basic elements of Matthean theology: the precedence of practice over doctrine, the will to obedience, serious attention to the individual commandment that is more than the simple command to love, the commitment to creating a community of brothers and sisters. By contrast, what is impressive with the reformers is the possibility for the Christian to be engaged in the world and the attempt to think of action in both realms under the rubric of love. Their central concern is to understand the Christian’s action in terms of justification as the action of a person loved by God whose deeds are free for the simple reason that they are not works.
However, from the perspective of Matthew, who was so interested in the Christian’s fruits (7:15–23*), we must also consider the consequences of the reformers’ approach to interpretation. Here I have major questions.
a. Dominant with the reformers first of all are the tones that emphasize the impossibility of fulfilling the Sermon on the Mount. The basic interpretive tendency had been different in the previous history of interpretation.40 This change presumably had to do with the reformers’ deepened understanding of sin and their central Pauline starting point. As a consequence, in the post-Reformation theology the Sermon on the Mount—which now no one can keep anyway—increasingly became “law” in the Pauline sense. It was the accuser before God’s tribunal, where acquittal occurs solely on the basis of Christ’s expiatory death. It is understandable that in the long run this interpretation led not to insisting that the Sermon on the Mount be practiced but to its internalization.
b. When can Christians act independently of their worldly relations? Luther distinguishes between Christians and their action in relatione—for example, as lord, wife, child, neighbor, or secular official. Even for the reformers, however, it is sometimes difficult to recognize where Christians can still act as Christians. In theory, Luther’s approach is clear: where the neighbor’s interests are at issue, the behavior of Christians must be different than when only their own interests are involved. When, however, are the interests of neighbors not involved? Renouncing possessions, for example, affects not only the owners of possessions but also their families. Thus it is not surprising that the reformers, in contrast to their theological starting point, often gave very cautious advice for practical living. To obey Christ literally would also be “to sanction a wrong,” something one should not do “out of a genuine love of righteousness.” In short, as much as the doctrine of the two kingdoms begins by being different from its modern version, the ethics of intention,44 the impression remains that the two are logically related. The flight into attitude, which is also a flight from praxis, is in my judgment also a consequence of distinguishing between a Christian in himself or herself and a Christian in relatione who is bound to other people and must protect their interests. In practice this distinction can be maintained only by distinguishing between inside and outside and that means then between attitude and praxis. It does not take much to demonstrate how far one is removed here from Matthew, for whom everything depends on deeds.
c. The third question directed to the reformers’ interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount is concerned with the relationship of the individual to the community. For the Anabaptists it was essential to build community according to the will of Christ. In his interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount, Martin Luther repeatedly speaks to individual Christians. Christians are few and far between. He is more distant from the central Matthean idea that the community of brothers and sisters is the place where the Sermon on the Mount must be practiced. He does not yet actualize the community of those who seriously want to be Christians, because he thought that the time was not yet ripe for it and because he wanted to avoid giving rise to factionalism.48 Thus for Luther the community can scarcely become the place where God’s commandments to his “dear Christians” can be visibly realized. Understood as a word to individual Christians, the Sermon on the Mount remains without consequences for the shape of the church.
All three questions want to establish why a real practice of Christianity based on the Sermon on the Mount never spread widely in the churches of the Reformation. The Sermon played a secondary role and was more interesting theologically than practically. In terms of Troeltsch’s distinction between “church” and “sect” one would ask whether the reformers’ interpretation had not been to a much greater degree than the Catholic two-level ethic a typically “churchly” interpretation, that is, a successful attempt at domesticating a text that caused difficulties in a national church. Is thus the reformers’ interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount in reality an attempt of a national church to cope theologically with a text that essentially contradicted it? I say this deliberately in the form of a question and do not think that it is everything one can say about the reformers’ interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount. However, one must also say this.
All the more understandable is the fascination that for a long time has flowed and increasingly flows from the Sermon on the Mount precisely in the churches of the Reformation. Among the interpreters of the twentieth century Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Leonhard Ragaz probably play the greatest roles. Both of them in unmistakable language demand the total practice of the Sermon on the Mount and warn against an internalized grace. Among the interpreters of the nineteenth century the entire world speaks of the radical Leo Tolstoy, while the memory of the interpretations of Wilhelm Herrmann or Adolf von Harnack, which in their own way are excellent, has, outside professional circles, completely faded. Most fascinating of all, however, is the text of the Sermon on the Mount itself. All this demonstrates that the attempt to domesticate the Sermon on the Mount has completely failed.

1 Introduction (5:1–16*)
1.1 Jesus Goes up onto the Mountain (5:1–2*)
Allison, New Moses, 172–80.
Donaldson, Jesus, 105–21.

For additional literature see above, II A on the Sermon on the Mount (5:1–7:29).

5:1 When he saw the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples came to him. 2/ He opened his mouth, taught them, and said:
The text immediately follows 4:25* without a visible new beginning. The material used by the evangelist comes from Mark 1:21* along with the ascent of the mountain from Mark 3:13*.1 In spite of this use of the Markan source, however, the evangelist works here relatively freely in his wording. In locating the Sermon on the Mount here he expresses his own intention. In his Markan source Matthew is still at the introduction to the healing of the demoniac in Capernaum. He omits it and replaces it as it were with the Sermon on the Mount. There are scarcely any compelling reasons for the omission of Mark 1:23–28*.3

It is not clear from the wording whether Jesus was evading or teaching the crowds. Not until the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount (7:28–29*) is it clear that the latter is meant. Thus it is as though the Sermon on the Mount has two concentric circles of hearers: disciples and people. After 4:23–25*, “people” of course means the people of Israel. Jesus is not only Israel’s healing Messiah; he is also Israel’s teaching Messiah. However, the first readers would also have remembered the “people” to whom they are to proclaim Jesus’ gospel. The joint appearance of the disciples and the people excludes certain interpretations of the Sermon on the Mount. It cannot be an ethic for the disciples in the narrower sense, that is, an ethic only of the “perfect.” Thus a two-level ethic is excluded. The Sermon on the Mount is an ethic for the disciples, but it also applies to the listening people. At the most one might understand the Sermon on the Mount as a discourse designed to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom to the people who proleptically are already following Jesus. For Matthew the mountain is the place of prayer (14:23*), of healings (15:29*), of revelation (17:1*; 28:16*), and of teaching (24:3*). It does not have one established meaning.
It is probable that associations with Moses’ ascent of Sinai (Exod 19:3*, 12*; 24:15*, 18*; 34:1–2*, 4*) are connected with the formulation “to go up the mountain” (ἀναβαίνω εἰ̃ τὸ ὄρος). The conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount (7:28–29*) also recalls these texts.5 However, that does not yet mean that the evangelist sees Jesus programmatically as a second Moses. That here the people, unlike Israel in the wilderness, are with Jesus on the mountain already speaks against that view. We have here no more than an association; the Moses typology is by no means the basic framework within which the Sermon on the Mount is to be interpreted. Only the reminiscence of Israel’s basic history is clear: now through Jesus God will again speak fundamentally to Israel just as he did long ago on Mount Sinai. Only the Sermon on the Mount itself will show how Jesus’ gospel of the kingdom is related to the Law of Moses.
Jesus sits down, as is customary for teachers in the synagogue service. The biblical expression “to open his mouth” (ἀνοίγω τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ) not only heightens the solemnity; it also strengthens the reminiscence of the biblical character of the scene. Now for the first time, after his brief core statements of 3:15* and 4:17*, the Son of God will proclaim to Israel his “gospel of the kingdom.”
1.2 The Beatitudes (5:3–12*)
Ernest Best, “Matthew V:3,” NTS 7 (1960/61) 255–58.
Hans Dieter Betz, “Die Makarismen der Bergpredigt (Matthäus 5,3–12),” ZThK 75 (1978) 1–19.
G. Braumann, “Zum traditionsgeschichtlichen Problem der Seligpreisungen Mt V 3–12,” NovT 4 (1960) 253–60.
Ingo Broer, Die Seligpreisungen der Bergpredigt: Studien zu ihrer Überlieferung und Interpretation (BBB 61; Bonn: Hanstein, 1986).
Catchpole, Quest, 16–23, 81–94.
Gustav Lejeune Dirichlet, De veterum macarismis (RVV 14/4; Giessen: Töpelmann, 1914).
C. H. Dodd, “The Beatitudes: A Form-Critical Study,” in More New Testament Studies (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968) 1–10.
Jacques Dupont, “Les πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι de Matthieu 5,3 et les ענוי רוח de Qumrân,” in J. Blinzler, et al., eds., Neutestamentliche Aufsätze: Festschrift für Prof. Josef Schmid zum 70. Geburtstag (Regensburg: Pustet, 1963) 53–64.
Idem, Béatitudes, vols. 1–3.
David Flusser, “Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit,” in Judaism, 102–14.
Idem, “Some Notes to the Beatitudes,” in Judaism, 115–25.
Hubert Frankemölle, “Die Makarismen (Mt 5,1–12; Lk 6,20–23): Motive und Umfang der redaktionellen Komposition,” BZ NF 15 (1971) 52–75.
Augustin George, “La ‘forme’ des Béatitudes jusqu’à Jésus,” in Mélanges bibliques rédigés en l’honneur de André Robert (Paris: Bloud & Gay, 1957) 398–403.
Giesen, Handeln, 79–121.
M. Girardi, “Annotazioni alla esegesi di Gregorio Nisseno nel De Beatitudinibus,” Aug 35 (1995) 161–82.
Gregory of Nyssa De Beatitudinibus, PG 44.1194–1302 = translated and cited according to Gregory of Nyssa: Homilies on the Beatitudes (trans. Stuart George Hall; Leiden: Brill, 2000) 21–90.
M. Dennis Hamm, The Beatitudes in Context: What Luke and Matthew Meant (Zacchaeus Studies: NT; Wilmington, Del.: Glazier, 1989).
K. C. Hanson, “How Honorable! How Shameful! A Cultural Analysis of Matthew’s Makarisms and Reproaches,” Semeia 68 (1994) 81–111.
Adolf von Harnack, “Sanftmut, Huld und Demut in der alten Kirche,” in Festgabe für D. Dr. Julius Kaftan zu seinem 70. Geburtstag (Tübingen: Mohr, 1920) 113–29.
David Hellholm, “ ‘Rejoice and Be Glad, for Your Reward Is Great in Heaven,’ ” in Festschrift Günter Wagner (Berne: P. Lang, 1994) 47–86.
Günter Jacob, “Die Proklamation der messianischen Gemeinde,” ThV 12 (1981) 47–75.
Klaus-Peter Jörns, “ ‘Armut, zu der der Geist hilft’ (Mt 5,3) als nota ecclesiae,” ThZ 43 (1987) 59–70.
Christoph Kähler, “Studien zur Form- und Traditionsgeschichte der biblischen Makarismen” (diss., Jena, 1974).
R. Kieffer, “Wisdom and Blessing in the Beatitudes of St. Matthew and St. Luke,” StEv 6 (1973) (TU 112) 291–95.
Idem, “Weisheit und Segen als Grundmotive der Seligpreisungen bei Mattäus und Lukas,” in Theologie aus dem Norden (SNTU A 2; Linz: Studien zum Neuen Testament und seiner Umwelt, 1977) 29–43.
Klaus Koch, The Growth of the Biblical Tradition: The Form-Critical Method (trans. S. M. Cupitt; New York: Scribner’s, 1969) 6–8, 16–18, 28–29, 39–44, 59–62.
Charles H. Maahs, “The Makarisms in the New Testament” (diss., Tübingen, 1965).
Neil J. McEleney, “The Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount/Plain,” CBQ 43 (1981) 1–13.
Pietro Meloni, “ ‘Beati gli affamati e assetati di giustizia’: L’interpretazione patristica,” Sandalion 2 ([Sassari] 1979) 143–219.
Idem, “ ‘Beati I perseguitati per la giustizia’: L’interpretazione patristica,” Sandalion ([Sassari] 1980) 191–250.
Christine Michaelis, “Die π-Alliteration der Subjektsworte der ersten 4 Seligpreisungen in Mt, Lk und in Q,” NovT 10 (1968) 148–61.
Engelbert Neuhäusler, Anspruch und Antwort Gottes: Zur Lehre von den Weisungen innerhalb der synopti-schen Jesusverkündigung (Düsseldorf: Patmos, 1962) 141–69.
Mark Allan Powell, “Matthew’s Beatitudes: Reversal and Rewards of the Kingdom,” CBQ 58 (1996) 460–79.
Émile Puech, “4Q525 et les péricopes des Béatitudes en ben Sira et Matthieu,” RB 98 (1991) 80–106.
Sato, Q, 247–64.
Rudolf Schnackenburg, “Die Seligpreisung der Friedensstifter (Mt 5,9) im matthäischen Kontext,” BZ NF 26 (1982) 161–78.
Eduard Schweizer, “Formgeschichtliches zu den Seligpreisungen,” in Matthäus, 69–77.
Mario Spinelli, ed., Le Beatitudini nel commento dei Padri Latini (LCO 8; Rome: Paoline, 1983).
Georg Strecker, “Die Makarismen der Bergpredigt,” NTS 17 (1970/71) 255–75.
Trilling, Christusverkündigung, 64–85.
N. Walter, “Die Bearbeitung der Seligpreisungen durch Matthäus,” StEv 4 (1968) (TU 102) 246–58.
Hans Windisch, “Friedensbringer—Gottessöhne,” ZNW 24 (1925) 240–60.
W. Zimmerli, “Die Seligpreisungen der Bergpredigt und das Alte Testament,” in E. Bammel, C. K. Barrett, and W. D. Davies, eds., Donum gentilicium: New Testament Sudies in Honour of David Daube (Oxford: Clarendon, 1978) 8–26.

For additional literature see above, II A on the Sermon on the Mount (5:1–7:29).

3 “Happy are the poor in spirit,
for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
4 Happy are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Happy are those who are kind,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfied.
7 Happy are those who are merciful,
for they will obtain mercy.
8 Happy are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Happy are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
10 Happy are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
11 Happy are you when they insult you and persecute you
and say all kinds of evil things against you untruthfully for my sake.
12 Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward is great in heaven.
Just so did they persecute the prophets before you.”
The beatitudes are self-contained and compactly composed. The first and eighth beatitudes are framed by the same concluding clause (“for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them”). These two concluding clauses are also the longest. The length and the composition of the frame show that the theme “kingdom of heaven” remains important in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew repeats the central catchword of the proclamation of Jesus given him in 4:17* and 23* and will now reveal what the content of the “gospel of the kingdom of heaven” is.2 With the concluding word “righteousness” (δικαιοσύνη) in the fourth and eighth beatitudes the first eight beatitudes appear as two “strophes” of approximately the same length.4 In addition, the first four beatitudes designate those who are pronounced happy with words beginning with π. The final, ninth, beatitude is longer than the others and contains a direct consolation in the second person plural. Its emphatic address to the community is continued in the following pericope, 5:13–16*. In a second clause it repeats “happy” (μακάριοι) with “rejoice and be glad” (χαίρετε καὶ ἀγαλλιᾶσθε), before the promise begins that is introduced with “because/for” (ὅτι) and supported with a comparison. This last beatitude is connected to the previous one with the catchword “persecute” (διώκω). This word is obviously important for Matthew, because it is repeated in v. 44* with the promise of future divine sonship (vv. 9*, 45*).
The first, second, and fourth beatitudes are based on a Q text (Q 6:20b–21). The Q text may be identical to the Lukan text, presumably without the “now” (νῦν) inserted twice into Q 6:21. For linguistic reasons “of (the) heaven(s)” (τῶν οὐρανῶν, vv. 3*, 10*) and “righteousness” (τὴν δικαιοσύνην) may come from the evangelist. With all the other Matthean additions to the original three beatitudes there is no linguistic evidence to determine whether they come from the evangelist. There is especially no evidence for “in the spirit” (τῷ πνεύματι) in v. 3*, which is usually regarded as redactional.
Whether the Beatitudes were originally formulated in the second or third person plural is a very difficult question. Since the third person is more likely to belong to the genre of macarism, the second person is more likely to be original. If this is the case, the Beatitudes were initially addressed directly to people who are suffering. Later, presumably prior to Matthew, they have been adapted to the third person, which is customary for macarisms. Or did Luke assimilate the macarisms formulated in the third person to the woes and to the last, secondary macarism in vv. 22–23*? Although Luke likes direct address,8 I find the first thesis more probable. The Lukan Beatitudes are a strange mixed form between the third person (in the protasis) and the second person (in the apodosis). An adaptation to vv. 22–23* would have had to look different.9 The Lukan text form also does not correspond to the Aramaic and Hebrew beatitudes in the second person. Presumably an “abnormal” Aramaic text form has agreed with the “abnormal” Greek text form. Gos. Thom. 54 also supports the view that the second person is original. In Matthew, however, the content shift in the direction of parenesis and the choice of the third person go together.
Are the beatitudes that Matthew has in addition to Q (vv. 5*, 7–10*) redactional? Opinions are divided on the question.11 Linguistically, only v. 10* can be demonstrated to be redactional.12 Thus more speaks for assigning vv. 5*, 7–9* to a preredactional text recension. In these additional beatitudes there is language that is strongly influenced by the OT. It can point equally well to Matthew or to the community before him.13 However, the new formulation of the second beatitude based on Isa 61:2* is clearly pre-Matthean.14 Creating new formulations in light of the OT thus probably began early. Two hapax legomena also speak for a preredactional wording of vv. 7–9*.15 Thematically, the additional beatitudes also correspond to general community parenesis. I therefore assume that Matthew has found a previously expanded list of seven beatitudes.
Tradition History

The history of the transmission is most likely to be reconstructed as follows:
a. The first three beatitudes—those transmitted in Q (Luke 6:20b*, 21*)—may go back to Jesus in approximately their Lukan form. Speaking for this view are the direct promise of salvation to the dispossessed, the absence of an explicit christology, and of an ecclesiological limiting of the addressees.
b. In Q the initial series of three beatitudes was expanded with the addition of the fourth beatitude, Q 6:22–23, which had originated in the community. At the same time the promise of salvation in all the beatitudes was applied to the Christian community.
c. Between the Sayings Source and Matthew’s redaction the three original beatitudes were reformulated and expanded with the addition of a fourth (v. 5*) to create a π- series. Verses 7–9* were also added.
Since the π- series presumably owed its form to oral tradition, we must assume not that there was a unilinear development of the text but that written and oral tradition progressed side by side in Greek. The (pre-Lukan?) woe was probably also influenced by Matt 5:4* in the oral tradition. In this phase of the transmission the Beatitudes were also formulated in the light of Isa 61:2*, 7*, and various psalms. Presumably early on one discovered a suggestion of Isa 61:1* in the first beatitude and then reworded the third beatitude, the one about those who mourn, in the light of Isa 61:2* and placed it immediately after the beatitude of the poor. Along with v. 4*, v. 5* in particular shows the influence of Isaiah 61 (v. 7*). This biblical text, which was also important in Qumran,17 played a major role in early Christianity. Instead of assuming that Jesus’ original beatitudes were formulated in the light of Isaiah 61 (except for “poor” [Q 6:20 = Isa 61:1*] there are no parallels in the wording), I think it is more likely that upon reflection on the first beatitude—perhaps under the influence of Q 7:22—the text of Isaiah 61 was discovered and influenced the pre-Matthean reformulation of the Beatitudes.

There are special studies on the genre “beatitude.” One begins here with the beatitudes in the Bible and in Judaism, since they are the only beatitudes with which Jesus’ hearers and the readers of the Gospel of Matthew could have been familiar.21 In the Jewish context beatitudes were used above all in the wisdom parenesis as an expression of the connection between a person’s deeds and what happens to the person. They were usually formulated in the third person, that is, without concrete addressees.23 Wisdom beatitudes are a didactic genre and serve to instruct. Since the rise of apocalypticism there are examples of the future apodosis with an eschatological sense when it was possible to formulate the deed-result connection by including the eschaton. Also with the rise of apocalypticism there is the brief nominal protasis that no longer describes in wisdom style the behavior of those who are happy.25 Then the emphasis is on the apodosis.
Thus Jesus’ beatitudes are part of this transformation in apocalypticism of what was originally a wisdom genre. However, they are distinctive—in the use of the second person, in linking them in a series, and in the paradoxically formulated protasis: the persons pronounced happy are precisely those from whom one would not expect it. In keeping with their partial return to the language of wisdom, the Sitz im Leben of the Matthean Beatitudes is parenesis.
It is next to impossible to say anything definite about the prehistory of the final beatitude, vv. 11–12*. It is probable that the saying was formed in the community (situation of persecution, explicit christology). It is certain that it was in Q.
In v. 11* Matthew probably replaced the Son of Man title with “for my sake.”28 In Luke the situation of being excluded from the synagogue is addressed (“separate/exclude” [ἀφορίζω], “cast out the name” [ἐκβάλλω τὸ ὄνομα]); Matthew’s wording is more general. The generalizing “all” (πᾶν) (“kinds of evil”) may come from him. The addition of “lying, false(ly)” (ψευδόμενοι), a hapax legomenon, is secondary, but it is not possible to further define it.
In v. 12* the generalizing can be seen in the present imperatives. It is especially notable how pointedly Matthew speaks of persecution (twice διώκω; cf. vv. 10*, 44*).
History of Interpretation

There are in the history of interpretation three basic types, which complement one another.
a. A first basic type emphasizes the word of grace in the Beatitudes.
This interpretation is based primarily on the first four beatitudes. People are pronounced blessed who are in a particular situation: “That they are poor and sad and meek and empty and in need of righteousness is only the situation which has come on them.” Grace is often spiritualized, especially in Protestant interpretations: “It is … the empty before God … to whom the promise is made.”32 The Beatitudes “all describe … the same contrast … between those who are righteous in themselves and those for whom there is righteousness only by grace.”
b. A second basic type understands the Beatitudes primarily as ethical exhortation.
Included here is the mass of the interpretations of the ancient and medieval churches and most modern Catholic interpretations. In the ancient church and in the Middle Ages the series of beatitudes was understood as a royal stairway. The way from the first to the last beatitude is identical with the way from repentance to perfection. Thus the Beatitudes are all about virtues. Their sequence is irreversible. The first three deal with the person’s emancipation from earthly ties, the next three with one’s relationship to others, the last two with one’s final acceptance by God. Gregory of Nyssa impressively places his interpretation in the framework of a journey to the top of a mountain.35 More recently, Martin Dibelius interprets the Beatitudes as a “catalogue of Christian virtues,” Hans Windisch as “conditions for entering” the kingdom of God. According to Neuhäusler, they are to lead the hearer to the question: “Am I like this?”37 For Trilling they are to be put under the heading of 5:48*: be perfect.38 According to Dupont, in the final analysis all the Beatitudes deal with one theme, righteousness. Walter sees the Beatitudes as a counterpart of the Decalogue and, like it, divided into two tablets.40
c. A third basic type sees in the Beatitudes regulations for the life of the community. Their goal is the life (beatitudes 5–8) that comes from grace (beatitudes 1–4).
In a sermon from 1725 Zinzendorf impressively understands the eight beatitudes as a description of the way of those who “hunger and thirst for grace” and then learn from that “how one is to deal with other people.”41 More recently similar attempts begin with Matthew’s arrangement of the Beatitudes into two strophes. Then the first strophe may be described as dealing with persons who are living in hope or who are needy, while the second strophe deals with those who act. Or the first strophe deals with attitudes, the second with activities.43
However, some attempts to understand the Beatitudes as regulations for the life of the church interpret all eight beatitudes uniformly. For Bonhoeffer it does not matter whether the Beatitudes speak of the disciples’ behavior or their suffering; the only important thing is that they speak of life with Christ in discipleship. “The fellowship of the beatitudes is the fellowship of the Crucified. With him it has lost all, and with him it has found all.” Along with the ancient church, Luther interprets the Beatitudes ethically, but he understands their commandments as the content of the gospel. “This gospel … also contains commandments—namely, how one is to be poor in spirit, meek, merciful, etc.” Jesus’ interpretation of the law by means of the Beatitudes is “the greatest blessing of all.”45 There are others who understand the Beatitudes ethically, but they place the emphasis on the “reminders of the promise” in the second clauses, because it is “not the injunctions … but the reasons for them” that are enjoined.
Interpretation: Jesus

When the three types of interpretation are compared with what the texts say, one must make distinctions in the history of the tradition. Different interpretations have special support at different stages of the text.
For Jesus the unconditional assurance of salvation to people who are in a hopeless situation is decisive. The three authentic beatitudes have a paradoxical character. They are not to be interpreted in terms of the wisdom deed-result connection, for neither do they put a human behavior in the foreground nor is the promise to those who are blessed in any way the consequence of a behavior. On the contrary, for example, the evidence of the beatitude to those who are hungry is contradicted by the daily experience that they are not filled. The background of these three beatitudes is instead the apocalyptic hope for a total reversal of conditions. Here Jesus’ beatitudes differ from apocalyptic future hopes through his message of the kingdom of God: the promised glorious future is already dawning in his activity. A part of the salvation promised to the poor, the hungry, and those who mourn is already a reality in Jesus’ acceptance of the dispossessed, in his common meals with them, and in the joy over God’s love experienced in the present. Jesus’ beatitudes are not empty promises of something that will happen in the future; they are “a language act that makes the coming kingdom of God a present event.”
Regarding the original meaning of the first beatitude, with its general designation of the addressees as “poor” and its general apodosis “the kingdom of God belongs to you,” it may have already functioned as a title in Jesus’ original series of three; the second and third beatitudes are concrete examples of the first. It is true that according to Semitic usage “poor” means not only those who have no money but in a wider sense also the oppressed, wretched, dependent, humiliated. In no sense, however, does it mean only a particular type of piety or only an internal poverty freed from external circumstances. The philological evidence points that out relatively clearly,49 as do the parallel beatitudes of those who mourn and hunger—beatitudes that cannot be separated from external circumstances. Speaking finally for this understanding is the translation with the Greek word πτωχός, the strongest available Greek word for social poverty. The general rule is that the πένης has to work, the πτωχός has to beg. In the LXX πτωχός is the translation of עָנִי and of דַּל but almost never of עָנָו. This translation emphasizes the social aspect of the beatitude according to its meaning for Jesus. When the Matthean text now defines the word πτωχός with “in spirit” (τῷ πνεύματι), it emphasizes an aspect that based on πτωχός is unexpected and sounds surprising. The addition indicates that by itself πτωχός would have to be interpreted differently and that therefore there has been a shift in meaning. If our interpretation of the original meaning of the first beatitude is correct, we must surmise that Luke preserved the meaning while Matthew did not.52 The situation is similar with the beatitude to the hungry.
This observation reveals the major problem of the interpretation of the Matthean beatitudes. Matthew’s additions and interpretations appear to have moved the sense of the Beatitudes in the direction of parenesis. One can also see such shifts of meaning later in the history of interpretation. On the one hand, historical exegesis must ask as precisely as possible who is being blessed, and it must do so precisely for the sake of this shift in meaning. Only by so doing can it trace the history of the interpretation. On the other hand, however, for the sake of the present interpretation of the texts it will avoid constricting definitions of the meaning and emphasize the openness of the texts. The terms that designate those who are pronounced blessed are very general. They permit the hearers to fill them with their own associations and interpretations. It was precisely the openness of the Matthean formulations that repeatedly makes it possible for the church’s interpreters to discover what for them was basic and central in these beatitudes.
Interpretation: Matthew

■ 3* Μακάριος, in Greek originally a term reserved for the gods, in Koine can hardly be distinguished any longer from εὐδαίμων and means “happy” in the fullest sense of the word. But the translation “happy” sounds somewhat banal, and it obscures the eschatological character of the promises in the second clauses. The traditional interpretation as “blessed” is not only a “religious” term that is hardly in use any longer; it also evokes in a much too unilinear way associations with the beyond: in German “the blessed” is a common designation of the dead. However, these beatitudes are not designed to give comfort by making promises about the next life; they are an authoritative language act that pronounces people happy in the here and now.54 In short, there is no ideal translation in German [or English].
The “poor in spirit” has been interpreted in different ways.
We must ask whether πτωχός (1) has the meaning of actual economic poverty or (2) the metaphorical meaning “humble” or in general “not having,” “lacking.” The dative can be interpreted as (A) a dative of means or instrument or (B) a dative of respect or reference. Finally, πνευ̃μα can mean (a) the Holy Spirit or (b) the human spirit. As a result various interpretations are possible.
The Greek word πτωχός will hardly have been used metaphorically outside the Bible; that suggests initially a literal interpretation here as well (1). Then the dative is best understood as a dative of means (1A). If we then understand πνευ̃μα as the human spirit (b), the resulting meaning is “poor by means of one’s own spirit,” that is, “voluntarily poor” (1Ab). That is the way it has been interpreted frequently, but the formulation would be difficult. If, however, we understand πνευ̃μα as the divine Spirit, the expression would be: “poor by the (working) of the divine Spirit” (1Aa). However, the context and Matthean usage speak against such an understanding.58 It is thus better to understand the dative as a dative of reference (B). That would move the meaning of πτωχός in the direction of a metaphorical understanding (2B). That then makes it difficult to interpret the spirit as the divine Spirit. It has been suggested that the meaning is “poor in divine Spirit” (2Ba), but that is hardly possible since that would have to be expressed differently in Greek. We are left then with the interpretation in terms of the human spirit (2Bb). There are various nuances depending on the understanding of “poor” and “spirit.” One can generalize the literal meaning “poor.” In that case what is meant is: poor, but not, or not only, economically poor but poor with regard to one’s feeling’s, that is, for example, “despondent,” “despairing.”60 Or one can interpret πνευ̃μα in terms of the inner life as a whole; the “poor in spirit” are then “those who in regard to their inner lives stand before God as beggars … with the feeling of their inability to help themselves.” Here many have thought of the Galilean “people of the land,” who in religious terms were regarded as nothing. If, on the other hand, we proceed from the nuance “lowly,” which admittedly is closer to the Semitic עָנָו than to the Greek πτωχός, then we understand “lowly with reference to the spirit” not as a condition but as an attitude: blessed are the lowly in spirit—that is, the humble. The decision is difficult, because the nuances can overlap.63
Are there related Semitic terms, or is there even a Semitic equivalent to πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι? The OT is aware of related terms, but they are formulated with different roots. The only direct parallels are in the Qumran writings (1QH 6.3; 1QM 14.7). They are formulated with עָנָו, not with עָנִי. In Middle Hebrew עָנִי is the poor person, עָנָו the one who is lowly or humble. 1QM 14.7 is uncertain. The preceding context interprets עַנְוֵי רוּחַ in the sense of “dejection,” “despair,” and the immediate parallel תְּמִימֵי דֶרֶךְ in the sense of “humble.” In 1QH 6.3 the עַנְוֵי רוּהַה appear in a macarism in wisdom style alongside those “who love mercy” (אוהבי רחמים); the context is ethical. Important also is 1QS 11.1, where the “lofty in spirit” (רָמֵי רוּחַ) are contrasted with the עֲנָוָה (humility) of the pious. The two nuances, “poor in feelings” = despair and “lowliness in feelings” = humility, overlap. Thus we cannot exclude an ethical element. The other Matthean beatitudes lead to the same conclusion.
Thus we observe not only a change in the language but also a shift in the content. Social poverty moves to the background; psychic need moves to the foreground. It spills over into the ethical attitude of humility. We may not construe an alternative between an interpretation in terms of inner need and an interpretation in terms of a humble attitude; based on the Jewish parallels, the two overlap.70 Thus we must speak of a tendency to internalize and to ethicize the first beatitude. We cannot determine unequivocally where the evangelist belongs in this development. The expression “poor in spirit” says nothing about whether the humble are poor or rich.
History of Interpretation
The ancient church adopted this interpretation. The large majority of the fathers understood spiritual poverty as humility. The distance from the original “social” interpretation becomes even greater: spiritual poverty explicitly does not mean necessitate paupers. At the most, “spiritually poor” refers to one’s inner attitude toward wealth: one should not place one’s confidence in riches. In principle, however, the rich are just as blessed as the poor, for God is no respecter of persons.73 The bias of Jesus’ original beatitude is completely abandoned. The internalization of poverty reaches a final depth and at the same time a new mountaintop quality in mysticism. In an impressive sermon on Matt 5:3* Meister Eckhart spoke of a threefold poverty.74 “Poor in spirit” is the one who “wants nothing,” not even “to fulfill God’s beloved will”; who “knows nothing,” not even about God’s working in himself; and who “has nothing,” not even room in himself in which God can work.
The interpretation in terms of voluntary poverty (rejected above [1Aa, 1Ab]) also plays a considerable role in the ancient church. Of course, then the first beatitude no longer refers to all Christians but only to the religiosi, to clerics and monks. It even made its way into the monastic regulations.76 It was not usually offered as the only interpretation; it appeared along with the more general interpretation in terms of humility, since beatitudes spoken to all the people by no means apply only to the religiosi. For the most part this interpretation has been abandoned, even in the Catholic area.

The kingdom of heaven is promised to the humble. All of the concluding clauses speak of promises rather than rewards. With this first promise Matthew sets brackets around all the Beatitudes (vv. 3*, 10*); the remaining concluding clauses develop what “kingdom of heaven” means. At the same time he repeats the title he had given Jesus’ preaching in 4:17*, 23*. The Sermon on the Mount is the unfolding of the “gospel of the kingdom.”78 As in 21:43* and 25:34*, the kingdom is clearly the content of salvation. Matt 4:17* and the future tenses of 5:4–9* make clear that it lies in the future. It is also clear that the designation “kingdom of heaven” does not mean that the promise is spiritualized or made otherworldly. It is conveyed in vv. 4–9* with eschatological images that in part are quite concrete, and it also includes, if we may so interpret the parallels between vv. 3* and 5*, the earth.

■ 4* With the second beatitude, the one concerning those who mourn, we can also observe a spiritualizing tendency. If actual weepers were meant in the original version from Jesus, in the post-Matthean interpretation of the church the beatitude was related not to the saecularis tristitia but to sorrow over one’s own sin and the sin of others.80 The question now is where Matthew belongs in this line of development. There is no doubt that replacing “weeping” with the more general “mourning” that had taken place already before Matthew had made the later religious interpretation possible, but that was not the motive for the change. Instead, “mourn” (πενθέω) and “comfort” (παρακαλέω) come from Isa 61:2–3*, which speaks in general of sorrow in this world, especially the sorrow over Jerusalem.81 Nor are there in my judgment sources in contemporary literature in which πενθέω without further clarification means sorrow over imperfection or sin. Thus in Matthew the meaning is probably the same as in Isa 61:2–3*. That agrees also with Matt 9:15*: when the bridegroom is present, mourning is out of the question. “Mourning” includes all the sorrows of this eon that in the coming eon will be replaced with comfort. The original beatitude of Q 6:21b has been expanded, but there has been no essential change in meaning. The tendency to give them an ethical sense, which we can observe in the following beatitudes, is still missing here. Thus for Matthew the first four beatitudes probably do not have a unified religious or ethical meaning.

■ 5* Understanding the beatitude about the πραεῖς is made extraordinarily difficult by the word’s open-endedness. It is no accident that it can reflect each interpreter’s own piety ideal. “Devout,” says Gaechter, “passive resistance” (in contrast to the Zealots), says Schalom Ben-Chorin. The Greek Gregory of Nyssa speaks of mastering anger with reason. Zwingli, the politician, says that “gentleness … does not permit violence and injustice to be done to anyone” and is not the same as weakness. The Socialist Ragaz followed him.
In early Christian parenesis πραΰς is parallel to ἡσύχιος (“quiet”: 1 Pet 3:4*; 1 Clem. 13.4; Barn. 19.4), μακρόθυμος, ἐλεήμων (“patient,” “merciful”: Did. 3.7–8), and ἐπιεικής (“gentle/forbearing”: Titus 3:2*; 1 Clem. 21.7; cf. 2 Cor 10:1*; 1 Clem. 30.8). It is contrasted primarily with wrath (Ignatius Eph. 10.2). This agrees with Greek usage, but it is probably more helpful for understanding Matthew than for the church’s interpretation.87 Important for him is the Jewish-Greek usage, for the beatitude is a quotation from Ps 36:11* LXX. In the LXX πραΰς usually translates Heb. עָנָו, especially when it is understood in the sense of an ethical attitude.89 For people who lived in the area of Semitic languages πραΰς took on the meaning “humble.” Matt 11:29* and 21:5* show that it also is not unknown to Matthew. In 21:5* there are overtones of nonviolence, in 11:29* of kindness. A glance at Jewish parenesis shows that there the nuances of humility and kindness can hardly be separated from one another.91 Thus πραΰτης is humility that is expressed in kindness and gentleness. No German [or English] translation of πραεῖς does justice to the fullness of meaning in the Greek word. In its content the third beatitude stands somewhere between the first and the seventh. It is the earth, not only the land of Israel, that belongs to those who are kind, for the traditional promise of land had long since been transposed into the cosmic realm. That does not include the other-worldly beyond, however, for the promise of the earth makes clear that the kingdom of heaven includes a new this-worldly earth. Here too the promise is strongly focused on those who are pronounced happy: those who use force are not the ones who will possess the land.

■ 6* Matthew has inserted his key concept “righteousness” (δικαιοσύνη) as the object of hungering and thirsting. There are three possible interpretations. Δικαιοσύνη can mean a human attitude, a divine gift or God’s power,97 or, in a combination of the two interpretations, God’s covenant disposition as gift and task.
The first two types are easily located in the history of interpretation. The first is the classic ancient and “Catholic” interpretation. “Righteousness” then represents a human attitude, either a special virtue that is the opposite of greed or the essence of virtue itself.100 This type usually interprets “hungering and thirsting” in an active sense: it is a question of works and not simply a desire. However, it is not simply a matter of ethics. Since Origen102 the interpreters emphasize that Christ is the essence of God’s righteousness so that it is much more than the fairness (ἴσον) that is due every person. Then in Protestantism, primarily because of the exegesis of the Reformation, the trend was reversed,104 and the verse was read in terms of Paul. Here the righteousness for which people long is less God’s eschatological recompensing power than his grace here and now, the iustitia imputata. “Hungering and thirsting” take on a passive note. Since it is a question of God’s righteousness, the iustitia passiva imputed to a person, hunger and thirst can refer only to human longing.
In my judgment, without question the decision is to be made in favor of the first, the ancient church/Catholic, interpretation. In all Matthean passages δικαιοσύνη can be understood as a human attitude or behavior; in some of them the word must be understood this way. Since the first and second strophes of the Beatitudes end with this catchword, everything speaks in favor of interpreting δικαιοσύνη the same way in vv. 6* and 10*. In v. 10* the interpretation in terms of a human attitude is much more probable. The context also speaks in favor of this understanding, especially from the third beatitude on, as does the earlier passage 3:15*, which is still fresh in the readers’ minds. Thus the only remaining question is whether this interpretation is consistent with the metaphor “hungering and thirsting” or whether the verbs suggest an interpretation in favor of God’s righteousness. The Jewish and Hellenistic parallels show that “hungering and thirsting” can mean both “to long for”107 and “to exert oneself for.” Thus nothing stands in the way of the ethical interpretation, which the ancient church with good sensitivity advocated almost to the exclusion of all others. Here the OT structure of “righteousness” is preserved. Righteousness is the attitude or behavior that the covenant God requires of his people. Its content will be described in more detail in 5:20–48*. Here “hungering and thirsting” describes not those who have reached the goal of righteousness but those who are on the way toward it and who are making an effort to achieve it.109

■ 7* With the next three beatitudes we approach the central concern of Jewish wisdom parenesis. The fifth beatitude, the beatitude about the merciful, formulates protasis and apodosis in exact parallels. Here it approaches the OT “law of the ‘sphere in which deeds determine fate’ ”110 as well as the parenetic motif of the correspondence of divine and human behavior. Since the demand of mercy represents the essence of Jewish works of charity, there are numerous Jewish parallels.112 Matthew speaks of the priority of mercy over sacrifice (9:13*; 12:7*), because mercy is one of the “heavier things of the law” (βαρύτερα τοῦ νόμου, 23:23*). In the miracle stories he will show that the mercy of the Son of David corresponds to the mercy demanded of people. As in the other beatitudes, the relation between the import of salvation in the protasis and the promise in the apodosis is still undecided. It is neither clearly the case that God’s mercy comes first and motivates human behavior (as in 18:23–35*), nor is it clearly the case, as it is claimed only a short time later in the church’s parenesis, that human mercy has the purpose of causing divine mercy.

■ 8* “Pure in heart” or a “pure heart” is a Jewish expression that comes from the psalm piety of the OT.114 What is meant is an undivided obedience to God without sin. According to Jewish usage, “heart” designates not an area inside a person but the center of human wanting, thinking, and feeling. Since the expression is connected to an established Jewish usage, we may not read into it an anticultic polemic. Judaism has always—along with the more narrow cultic usage—spoken of the person’s purity in a comprehensive sense. Matthew also is aware of a holistically understood purity that, while relativizing the cultic area, in no way abolishes it (cf. 5:23–24*; 23:25–26*: πρῶτον). Even the recourse to Ps 23:4* LXX—the psalm that may have been sung upon entering the temple—calls attention to the inner unity of the purity idea rather than to a polemic against the cult. As in the other beatitudes, the promise is meant eschatologically. Like early Christianity, Judaism hopes that God, who in this world was visible only to Moses (Num 12:8*; Deut 34:10*), in the eschaton will be able to be seen face-to-face.117 Then all remoteness from God and uncertainty will disappear.
History of Interpretation
This beatitude has an especially intensive history of interpretation, because in its linguistic expression it was closer to the Greek feeling of late antiquity than was any other beatitude. It becomes, as Karlmann Beyschlag has said, the “essence of all Christian mysticism and asceticism.” Here I can suggest only a few things. Dominant in late antiquity was the ascetic interpretation of the purity of heart. Valentinus sees the human heart as the abode of demons. When, however, the good father looks at it, it becomes light, and the one who has a pure heart can be called blessed. For Clement this word is the alpha and omega of his ideal of the perfect Gnostic. Purity of heart is the suppression of one’s wild lusts. God’s promise is fulfilled in the Gnostic in the hard struggle against the desires of one’s own body.120 Gregory of Nyssa is also a witness for this kind of interpretation: when the heart is purified of all passion and every mental sin the image of God in a person will reappear, and God will become visible. Matt 5:8* is a key word in Athanasius’s Life of Antony, and it describes his way to perfection.
The Reformation offers (not exclusively but quite clearly) examples of an interpretation of the purity of heart with a different accent—what one might call a “secular” interpretation. Luther says that we should aspire not to the height but to the depth, as God himself has done, and “seek God in the wretched, the erring and toiling”; “there one sees God, there the heart becomes pure and all pride is laid low.” Purity of heart means that every heart in its own place in the world “is watching and pondering what God says and replacing its own ideas with the Word of God.” In the post-Reformation interpretation purity of heart becomes an inner-worldly attitude; what is meant is simplicitas and integritas.
The promise of seeing God has engaged interpreters even more intensively. Saying “that eternal life will consist in the vision of God” almost always had a special power. One root of this power lies in Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy, for which the true meaning of existence is realized in the vision of God.126 This may be one reason why the distinction between the present and the eschaton in which the vision of God will be granted is often partially eliminated so that the vision of God is already realized in the perfect Christians’ radiance of the image of God. The purified soul sees “God within as in a mirror.”128 The vision of God is granted the eye of the spirit—the heart purified of evil thoughts and deeds, not only through purpose and will but through God’s help. Along with reflection on the possibility of seeing God indirectly already in the present, however, throughout the entire tradition of interpretation there is always the hope of the final vision by those who “through the vision have become immortal and are immersed in God.”130
This beatitude opens up a vast wealth of Christian self-understanding and Christian hope. It would be a mistake simply to reject as illegitimate everything that is exegetically not justified in the forum of the biblical text. It is rather part of the biblical texts’ own power that they themselves are able to open up new dimensions in new people. However, these new dimensions and new hopes still must be engaged in a constant conversation with the old declaration of the text. Based on the original meaning of the text one must constantly make sure that purity of heart and vision of God do not lead to a flight from the world or a private piety of the religiously gifted person. It must express itself as obedience to God in the world and as hope for a future vision of God that is more than the individual’s own private deep experience. The sixth beatitude stands in a context that speaks of interpersonal relationships, and it does not intend to remove people from those relationships and lead them into religious self-sufficiency. In my judgment the interpretation of the Reformation has come especially close to the meaning of the Matthean text.

■ 9* The seventh beatitude, the blessing of the peacemakers, also exudes Jewish coloring.
The exhortation to make peace has a central place in wisdom and in rabbinic parenesis. What is always meant are concrete steps in interpersonal relationships. There is also much evidence for a relationship between making peace and an eschatological promise.133 Admittedly, the exhortation to make peace never appears with the eschatological promise of being a child of God, but there are statements that articulate Israel’s sonship with God as a future hope.
“Peacemaker” (εἰρηνοποιός) means something active, not simply peaceableness. Along with the following beatitudes, this beatitude looks to the commandment to love one’s enemies in 5:44–48*. There too divine sonship is promised (5:45*); there too, as in vv. 10–12*, the subject is enemies and persecutors. Thus Matthew is presumably thinking not only of harmonious relations among the members of the community but also of life beyond the boundaries of the community.135 There is no direct christological reference; only as they read the entire Gospel will it become clear to the readers how much the Son of God demonstrates what he demands. The promise of divine sonship has no direct relationship to making peace. The readers of the Gospel of Matthew would probably not understand it primarily against the background of Jewish analogies137 but in terms of 3:13–4:11*. Just as Jesus, the Son of God, proves himself in obedience to the father, so obedience to his will also makes it possible for his disciples—in the eschaton—to be called sons of God.138
History of Interpretation
This beatitude became especially important in the debate over the Sermon on the Mount and the peace movement in the second half of the twentieth century. A presentation of the sermons preached in German Protestant churches on our text shows that prior to 1945 there was almost no political dimension. In a direct sense that is justified, since the wisdom exhortation to make peace was directed primarily at interpersonal relationships. After 1945 the sermons took on political dimensions as well.140 Such messages are often connected with an explicit reference to Christ, who is the “model” and “embodiment of healing peacemaking.” These messages are the preachers’ own “extensions” of the text in a new situation—extensions for which they themselves are responsible. Although they are not directly justified by the text, they are in my judgment indirectly justified by the open quality of the text. Furthermore, Matthew puts Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount into the horizon of the kingdom of God that is not a private or interpersonal affair; it requires personal reorientation and personal steps in all areas of life, including the political and economic.

■ 10* The redactional blessing of the persecuted in v. 10* does not go beyond what is said in v. 3* and vv. 11–12*. It wants to reinforce the two main aspects of the entire series, righteousness and the kingdom of heaven. The perfect participle “having been persecuted” (δεδιωγμένοι) generalizes the specific event of persecution portrayed in vv. 11–12*. One might say that Matthew, who is looking back on persecutions that have already happened,142 understands persecution as a sign that one is a Christian. “Righteousness” is a human attitude or conduct. One can be persecuted only because of that conduct, not because one merely longs for (divine) righteousness.144 Righteousness is characterized by Christian practice and confessing Jesus. The persecution for the sake of righteousness in v. 10* and the equally redactionally formulated persecution for “my sake” in v. 11* mutually interpret one another. Confessing Christ manifests itself in deeds (7:21–23*; 25:31–46*).

■ 11–12* The final beatitude speaks directly to the disciples. Here too Matthew has generalized. Instead of “exclude/separate” (ἀφορίζω) and “cast out the name” (ἐκβάλλω τὸ ὄνομα), he has the much more general “persecute” (διώκω) and “say evil” (λέγω πονηρόν). The community must basically expect abuse and persecution. That was presumably its experience especially in Israel in the time before the Jewish War (10:23*; 23:34*), and it is also a possibility in the entire Roman Empire since Nero’s day,146 as the numerous persecution pareneses in the NT illustrate (Heb 10:32–34*; 1 Pet 2:12*; 3:14*, 16–17*; 4:12–17*; cf. 2 Timothy). “Lying/falsely” (ψευδόμενοι) illustrates the ethical interest. A promise is not granted to all persecutions, only to the persecution that happens for the sake of Christ, that is, of righteousness (cf. 1 Pet 3:14*, 17*; 4:14–15*). Verse 12* repeats and interprets μακάριοι: there shall be joy and jubilation in the community over the suffering. The reason for the joy lies in the reversal of conditions that the future will bring: your reward in heaven will be great. In Matthew “reward” is always bestowed in the hereafter, in the last judgment.148
Verse 12b* is an addendum. To what degree the persecution of the OT prophets is the basis for the promise of the heavenly reward remains unclear. While Luke 6:23* mentions only OT prophets, Matthew, like Q, speaks of the persecution of the “prophets before you.” Itinerant prophets play a relatively large role in Matthew (see 10:41*; 23:34*, 37*).149 He has taken over the prophetically influenced traditions of the Q community with fewer changes than Luke.
History of Interpretation and Summary

The Matthean interpretations of the Beatitudes are part of a long history of interpretation that has by no means ended with Matthew. For one thing it is characterized by an “ethicizing” tendency; the Beatitudes become a kind of mirror for a Christian life. A second noticeable tendency is the tendency to “internalize.” Increasingly such basic religious attitudes as humility, renunciation of the world and of sin, and faithfulness move to the foreground. This history of interpretation begins already in the pre-Matthean stage of interpretation and continues in Matthew and then especially in the later interpretation of the church. It is by no means unilinear and uniform. The ethical tendency is not yet present, for example, in the second beatitude, while one can see it indirectly in the eighth. Different nuances of meaning are by no means mutually exclusive, and they can be heard in different ways by different readers. For example, the first beatitude speaks of an inner need and a religious attitude, the third of a religious attitude and a particular practice, the sixth of a basic religious attitude that is made concrete in action.
The Reformation’s interpretation has somewhat eliminated the ethicizing and to that degree has come closer to the original meaning (but not to Matthew’s meaning!). However, it has not eliminated the internalizing of the Beatitudes. In the modern period the internalizing has progressed by increasingly spiritualizing the concreteness of the promise of salvation.
Protestant interpreters in particular have difficulty with this understanding of the Matthean Beatitudes. The obvious question for Protestants is whether there is not then a “legalistic interpretation … which makes the gifts of the kingdom of God dependent on the person’s moral capacity.” Matthew obviously did not have this concern. He lets Jesus pronounce people happy whose inner attitude and outer practice correspond to the kingdom of heaven that Jesus promises them. He binds the promise of salvation to a Christian life lived in its entirety.152 He appears not to have seen that in the process the promise of salvation could covertly become a condition of salvation. For him the divine promise of salvation and human practice are inseparable. Is that naïve? Was Jesus’ gift of grace betrayed by the Matthean reinterpretation? Was the message of grace unintentionally changed into a piece of Christian ethic? Does Matthew the evangelist really take grace seriously? To illustrate this basic question we take another look at the history of interpretation.
It is notable how often grace was added in the history of interpretation. It appears to be missing from the Matthean text, and precisely for that reason it was added in the interpretation of the ancient church and Middle Ages. Probably most impressive and important is the practice after Augustine of paralleling the seven beatitudes with the sevenfold form of the working of the Holy Spirit according to Isa 11:2–3* and the seven petitions of the Lord’s Prayer.154 This connection influenced all of the exegesis of the Middle Ages. It is anything but frivolous. The basic concern lying behind it is to connect grace and virtue or, if one adds the frequently cited seven petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, to connect petition, grace, and virtue. This sequence is irreversible for medieval theology: “He handed down the discipline for living not in the mode of commandments but in truth also (in the mode) of gifts and prayers.”156 Combining the gifts of the Spirit and the demands of the Beatitudes thus makes clear that their concern is “dona virtutum.” “Here the sequence of petitions (preces), gifts (dona), and beatitudes (beatitudines, virtutes) is irreversible and ensures that the divine operation of grace comes before every human activity.”
The same concern lies behind the many attempts to interpret the Beatitudes christologically. Origen comes the closest to staying in the framework of the Matthean conceptual model when he emphasizes that in his activity Jesus gave an example for fulfilling the Beatitudes in his kindness, in his weeping over Jerusalem, in his reconciling love. Gregory of Nyssa initially says that Jesus helps on the way to the mountain by promising blessedness and showing the way.160 Eventually, however, because that is obviously not enough, he must move to a high, christological level: “He assigns the inheritance, he is himself the best inheritance; he is the goodly portion, he bestows your portion on you; he is the one who makes rich, he is riches; he shews you the treasure, and becomes your treasurer; he leads you to desire the lovely pearl, and is offered for sale to you who trade well.” And in another place he is of the opinion “that the Lord, when he speaks of virtue and righteousness, offers himself to his disciples as the object of desire.”162 Matthew says none of that.
Such attempts show how ancient and medieval interpreters spoke intensively of grace, even if they did not, as did later Protestant interpreters, negate the ethical dimension of the Matthean Beatitudes. The question is whether in so doing they were in their own way taking up a concern that Matthew shared or whether they were correcting a deficiency. I would like to assume that the former is the case and not to impute an implicit works-righteousness to Matthew. Therefore I would like to demonstrate with a few reflections that the ethical recasting of the Beatitudes in the Gospel of Matthew in no way involves an annulment of grace.
1. We must consider the situation of the Matthean community. It looks back on what may be a fifty-year history of Christian preaching of grace. A constantly repeated message of grace can become “cheap grace.” By ethicizing the Beatitudes, Matthew and/or the community before him have accommodated themselves to their changed situation. The text thus shows how Christian preaching must also be determined by the situation in which it takes place. Whether, for example, modern preachers choose Jesus’ original version of the Beatitudes or the Matthean version is to be considered less in terms of the “correctness” of the theological approach than in terms of the situation of the community. Obviously a basic problem for the Matthean community was how it would remain faithful to the faith given it. And with his ethical interpretation Matthew wanted to help it do just that.
2. The prior preaching of grace is presupposed not only in the history of the Matthean community but in the Gospel of Matthew as well. The “ethical” Sermon on the Mount is part of the history of God’s dealings with Jesus. For Matthew the narrative framework of the entire Gospel is an expression of the priority of grace that makes of his beatitudes “dona virtutum.” Jesus’ demands are demands of the “Immanuel” who accompanies and helps his community.
3. There is also something of the promise of grace in the apodoses of the Beatitudes. They are all to be understood eschatologically and are not anticipated by the grace of the presence of God experienced in the present. Matthew has very concretely understood such images as “kingdom of heaven,” “heirs of the land,” and “to see God.” The church’s interpretation tended to see part of the promises of the Beatitudes realized already in the present. However, the price paid for that interpretation was that the promises threatened to lose their concreteness and their world-encompassing character and to shrink to nothing more than the individual’s personal salvation. That was not Matthew’s opinion.
In the Protestant interpretive tradition there is also another difficulty in understanding the element of grace in the Matthean promises. They are for pious and active people—in a sense for those who “make an effort.” Still, for Matthew they are a complete and pure granting of grace. The difficulty in understanding Matthew here is probably similar to that Protestants sometimes have in understanding the Catholic doctrine of grace. The active, toiling Christians who are sustained by God and to whom Matthew, horror of horrors, promises a “reward” (5:12*) are precisely not the people who want to be justified by their own works.
4. Finally, for Matthew God’s exacting will is itself a part of grace. For him it is “gospel” that the Son of God proclaims God’s will. “Instead of distinguishing between indicative and imperative, Matthew … gives his demand to people as a gift.” His understanding of the gospel corresponds to the OT-Jewish understanding of the Torah as something that helps people stay in the covenant that God has created for his people.168 In this sense Jesus’ commandments are also an element of gospel. “Just as elsewhere [the gospel] spreads his mercy—namely, how he made the blind see, raised the dead, healed the lame—so here it [!] also confronts us with the reality that he interprets the law for us.” The commandment is not something that is foreign to the gospel; instead, the “gospel also [contains] commandments—namely, now one is to be poor in spirit, meek, merciful, etc.” Matthew has understood his “ethical” beatitudes in much the same way that none other than Martin Luther has expressed it.
Luz, U. (2007). Matthew 1–7: a commentary on Matthew 1–7. (H. Koester, Hrsg.) (Rev. ed., S. 155–202). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.


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