Matthew 5:1-8:1

Oct 14, 2017

Sermon on the Mount Structure_Moore.pdf

My favorite professor from college days, Doug Bookman, used to always tell us he didn’t have an original thought in his head!  While the class eagerly struggled to take notes on his exemplary teaching, he used to say that, what little he did know on a given subject - wouldn’t fill a thimble! 

While my dear professor was just being humble, in that same spirit, I wanted to pass along something I had mostly nothing to do with - the structure of the Sermon on the Mount as summarized in a fine article by Glen Stassen (credited above, readily available via Google search).

Stassen himself builds upon the work of others (whom he credits).

My “thimble full” in this post, is the structure of the Lord’s Prayer itself.

(My guess is that I can’t be the only person who has ever noticed this particular parallelism ;>)

The central term in the Lord’s prayer, regarding our “bread,” is the center of the entire sermon. This adds credence to the belief of the church fathers that the bread is a eucharistic reference. Although I have translated the much debated adjective, ἐπιούσιος, more plainly as “for existence,” perhaps Jerome’s Latin rendering as “supersubstantialis” (super-substantial) in the Lord's Prayer is more on target.

The petition, therefore, truly deserves its mid-point position in the text. It is conveying our need of mediation for all things - that is, the mediation of divine grace for all our heavenly and earthly concerns.  In this case, we are asking for the essential bread from heaven, which is (or rather, “who” is) truly sufficient and substantial for our existence, both for body and soul. Jesus, the Christ, who is the true bread in the eschatological and heavenly banquet, gives himself as spiritual food to the church - and this is epitomized in his mysterious supper.

If the reader may grant something more than a purely historical reading, 2Baruch 29:8, which is a late 1st or early 2nd century Jewish pseudepigraphical text, may attest something of this thought:

“And it shall come to pass at that self-same time

that the treasury of manna shall again descend from on high,

and they will eat of it in those years,

because these are they who have come to the consummation of time.”

Most scholars reject the doxology. (Yet, I remain skeptical.) It may be that the Didache preserves the original reading of the Gospel text (albeit shorter, with just “the power and the glory,” omitting any reference to “the kingdom”). If so, then is a fitting conclusion.

If the shorter version is accepted, the balance of the structure can still be represented as shown above. In this case, “Our Father in the heavens, your name be sanctified”  would be one unit, which is then contrasted with “Deliver us from the evil one.” I believe “Evil One” correctly translates the corresponding personal reference (contrasted with God the Father). The Old Testament redemptive historical motif is evident. The meaning of our wish that God’s name may be sanctified is illuminated by Deut 33:51 (when God rebuked Moses for not sanctifying him among the sons of Israel). As to the opposite and concluding term, just as God led the Israelites out of enslavement in Egypt and rescued them from their adversary, so also we pray for deliverance from the enemy of our souls so that we might be led to the Promised Land.

There are other literary structures within this grand sermon.  Check out some other examples at