Sermon on the Mount (Pt. 1- Interpretation)

While in seminary, I attended a doctoral colloquium where Dr. Charles Quarles described the Sermon on the Mount as a kind of New Covenant Torah. By this, he meant that the Sermon on the Mount is the standard of life that will characterize the members of the New Covenant (Jesus’ followers). Ever since that talk, I have desired to take the time to study the most famous message ever preached.  As I study, I am going to write what I am learning on my blog. This will allow me an opportunity to synthesize what I am learning, and I hope that it will be beneficial to some of you as well![1]

The SM begins in Matthew 5, after Jesus ascends a mountain and begins to teach. He describes the nature of those who will be recipients of His blessings. He proclaims an upside-down kingdom in which the least are the greatest. And He presents a way of life rooted in a pure heart that loves God supremely and serves others sacrificially. His words have been regarded as the “manifesto” of the Christian faith and are well-respected by those inside and outside the church (see Mahatma Gandhi and the Sermon on the Mount, for example[2]).

In today’s post I want to consider the proper interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount. As I began my study, I was surprised to see how many different ways that the SM is interpreted. For those outside the faith, the SM is primarily interpreted as a description of the Christian life. This is not entirely incorrect, but it is often viewed as the primary substance of Christ’s message, which it is not. One must also account for and synthesize many other truths that Jesus taught, such as Him being the Son of God who would save His people via His death and resurrection, to understand the true substance of Christianity.

Inside the faith, interpretations are primarily concerned with understanding the purpose of the SM. Is it meant to be a law that exposes sin and drives people to the grace of God in Christ? Is it a code of ethic that will only be realized in heaven? Is it a way of life for elite Christians only?[3] Or is it a description of the kind of life that God progressively creates in His people by His Spirit?

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How did Jesus Come “By Blood and By Water?” An Exegetical Summary of 1 John 5:6

1 John 5:6- Text

Οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ ἐλθὼν δι’ ὕδατος καὶ αἵματος, Ἰησοῦς Χριστός· οὐκ ἐν τῷ ὕδατι μόνον ἀλλ’ ἐν τῷ ὕδατι καὶ ⸀ἐν τῷ αἵματι· καὶ τὸ πνεῦμά ἐστιν τὸ μαρτυροῦν, ὅτι τὸ πνεῦμά ἐστιν ἡ ἀλήθεια

Translation

“This is the one who came by water and blood, that is, Jesus Christ. (He came) not by the water only but by the water and by the blood. And the Spirit is the one who bears witness, because the Spirit is the truth.”

The Views

What does it mean that Jesus came “by water and blood?” There are at least six views: The first view understands the “water and blood” to refer to the rites of baptism (water) and the Lord’s Supper (blood). The second view understands the “water and blood” to refer to the “blood and water” that poured out of Jesus’ side on the cross (John 19:34-35). The third view takes the “water and blood” as referents to Jesus’ baptism (water) and his atoning death on the cross (blood).[1] The fourth view understands “by water” to refer to Jesus’ baptism ministry and “by blood” to his death. The fifth view takes “by water and blood” as a reference to natural birth, viewing the phrase as an argument for his real humanity. The sixth view takes “water and blood” as a unit reflecting the Jewish understanding of the body as composed of water and blood, making a statement analogous to John’s description of Jesus coming ‘in the flesh’ in 4:2.

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The Great Commission, “Go” or “As You Go?”

Should the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19 be rendered, “Go and make disciples,” or “As you go, make disciples”?

The word translated “go” is the participle πορευθέντες. Participles are similar to words in English that end in -ing­ or –ed, and they have the form of both a verb and an adjective. Πορευθέντες is a verbal participle in relation to the main verb μαθητεύσατε: “make disciples.” As Merkle states, verbal participles like πορευθέντες often function as main verbs or verbs that are coordinate with a main verb. These participles can take on the mood of the main verb and become parallel to it. An example would be Luke 17:19 when Jesus tells the leper, “rise and go your way, your faith has made you well.” Rise (Ἀναστὰς) is a participle parallel to the main verb go (πορεύου). This use of the participle is called attendant circumstance.

Although some view πορευθέντες as a temporal participle (describing the “when” of the main verb) and translate the verse “as you go, make disciples,” most scholars say the evidence points to the attendant circumstance use of the participle in Matthew 28:19. Thus the participle πορευθέντες takes on the mood of μαθητεύσατε (an imperative), and becomes parallel to it. It should then be rendered as a command parallel to the main verb ‘make disciples,’ “Go and make disciples…”

Merkle concludes, “while we acknowledge that the participle πορευθέντες is not the main verb (and not the main command) in the Great Commission, without doubt it carries an imperatival force (“Go!”). Consequently, the church is given a command to go to the nations in order to make disciples.”[1]

 

[1] Benjamin Merkle, Exegetical Gems from Biblical Greek, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019), 99-101.