After healing the man with a withered hand Jesus withdraws to the sea-shore. Here great multitudes from all parts of the land resort to Him, and He heals many. As they press upon Him to touch Him, He directs that a small ship be prepared to wait upon Him. Leaving the seaside He goes up into a neighboring mountain and spends the night in prayer/ In the morning He calls the disciples to Him, and from them chooses the twelve Apostles. The multitudes now gathering to Him He proceeds to deliver the discourse called the Sermon on the Mount.
From Matthew (xii. 15) it would appear that Jesus was aware of the purpose of the Pharisees, and therefore avoided them. He would not, except so far as was necessary, come into collision with them nor expose His work to injury through their opposition. It was for this reason that, having healed all the sick among the multitudes that followed Him, He charged them that they should not make Him known, (v. 16.) He was now seeking for the humble and repentant, all in whom He could discern any sense of sin or germs of faith, and He would not for their sakes suffer Himself to be forced into a hostile attitude to the spiritual leaders of the people. This was the rule of His conduct, as it had been prophetically laid down by^the prophet Isaiah (xlii. 2): " He shall not strive nor cry, neither shall any man hear His voice in the streets."
The withdrawal from the city to the sea-shore, (Mark iii, 7,) whilst it had thus for one end, to avoid His enemies, seems also to have been to find a more convenient place for teaching and healing. In the city He was exposed to constant interruption through the eagerness of the sick and their friends, who pressed upon Him to touch Him ; and to secure personal freedom He was compelled to order a boat to attend upon Him, that He might, when necessary, use it as a pulpit to address the multitude standing before Him on the shore, and perhaps also to withdraw Himself wholly from them by crossing the lake.
The fame of Jesus seems at this time to have reached every part of the land. Crowds came, not only from Galilee and Judea, but also from Idumea and from beyond Jordan, and from the territories about Tyre and Sidon. That so great numbers, and from such remote regions, should gather at Capernaum, shows that He remained at that city for some time after His return from His first circuit. It was, doubtless, not His teachings, but His miracles of healing, that awTakened such general attention, and drew such multitudes after Him. Most came attracted by His reputation as a healer of the sick. After making all allowance for the degraded condition of the present inhabitants of Palestine, the following remarks of Thomson (ii. 84) would not be inapplicable to the Jews of the Lord's day: "Should a prophet now arise with a tithe of the celebrity of Jesus of Nazareth, there would quickly be immense assemblies about him from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judea, and from beyond Jordan. Bad, and stupid, and ignorant, and worldly, as the people are, their attention would be instantly arrested by the name of a prophet, and they would flock from all parts to see, hear, and be healed. There is an irresistible bias in Orientals of all religions to run after the mere shadow of a prophet, or a miracle worker."
That the choice of the Twelve took place at this time, appears from the mention in Mark and Luke of the various parts of the country from which the multitudes came. According to Luke, (vi. 17,) they that heard the discourse upon the mount were from Judea and Jerusalem, and from the sea-coast of Tyre and Sidon. Mark (iii. 7, 8) mentions Galilee, Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond Jordan, and about Tyre and Sidon. Matthew, (iv. 25,) who does not mention the choice of the apostles, but gives the Sermon on the Mount, speaks of the great multitudes that followed Him from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond J ordan. It was at this point, when He had special need of their services, that He selected twelve out of the body of His disciples " that they should be with Him, and that He might send them forth to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out devils," (Mark iii. 14, 15.)
Whether some particular mountain is designated by the use of the article by the Synoptists, To opos, "the mountain," or generally the ridges of hills on the sides ofscthe Lake of Galilee, as distinguished from the low shores, we cannot easily decide. The Jews distinguished the face of the country into mountains, plains and valleys. According to Middleton,1 by the mountain is here signified " the mountain district as distinguished from the other two."2 It is most natural to refer it to some specific and well-known locality; but it is plain that the mountain here is not the same mentioned in Matt. xiv. 23, Mark vi. 46, John vi. 3, where the five thousand were fed, or that in Matt, xv. 29, where the four thousand were fed. We may then rather infer that in each of these cases the mountain is defined by the article, because supposed to be already well known as the site of the event. Where this mountain was is now only matter of conjecture. Tradition has chosen the hill known as the Horns of Hattin from its peculiar shape, and called by the Latins the Mount of Beatitudes.Meyer on Matt. v. 1.
We may arrange the events preparatory to the delivery of the Sermon on the Mount in the following order: the Lord leaving Capernaum in the evening goes to the mount, which cannot have been at any great distance, and spends the night alone. Very early in the morning His disciples, probably according to His direction, came to Him, and from them He selected the Twelve. By this time the multitudes who had lodged in Capernaum or in its neighborhood, learning whither He had gone, followed Him, and then He addresses them.
As Matthew (chs. v., vi., vii.) and Luke (vi. 17-49) introduce their reports of the Sermon on the Mount by the mention of differing circumstances, and as their reports differ in many points, it has been questioned whether both can refer to the same discourse. The various opinions may be reduced to three.
1 Raumer, 32, note.
1st. That which regards them as reports of discourses wholly distinct, and spoken at different times, and perhaps also at different places.1 2d. That which regards them as reports of distinct discourses, but spoken successively : the one before the choice of the apostles, the other after it; the one to the disciples, the other to the multitude ; the one sitting upon the mountain, the other standing upon the plain.2 3d. That which regards them as abstracts of one and the same discourse.8
To determine which of these views is correct, or how the respective discourses of Matthew and Luke stand related to each other, we must examine in detail the several points of likeness and unlikeness. And 1st, the difference of place. Matthew (v. 1) says: "And seeing the multitudes He went up into a mountain, and when He was set His disciples came unto Him. And He opened His mouth and taught them." Luke (vi. 17-20) says, that after the choice of the Twelve " He came down with them, and stood in the plain, (art T07rov 7re8tvou,) and the company of His disciples and a great multitude of people,... which came to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases; and they that were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed. And the whole multitude sought to touch Him, for there went virtue out of Him and healed them all. And He lifted up His eyes on His disciples, and said," &c. Thus, according to Matthew, the discourse was delivered by the Lord sitting upon the side or top of a mountain; according to Luke, after He had chosen the Twelve He descended to the plain, and having healed the sick, addressed those present. But the latter does not say that the discourse was spoken on the plain, although He does not mention any re-ascent.
Krafft, Greswell. * Augustine, Lange.
3 Robinson, Tischendorf, Stier.
Such a re-ascent is however very probable, for it is said " that the whole multitude sought to toueh Him ; " and as, when similarly pressed upon the sea-shore, (Mark iii. 9,) He entered a boat and taught from it; so now He. would naturally ascend to a point where they could not reach Him, and from which He could easily be seen and heard by all.1 Some would understand the "plain" of Luke of a level spot on the side of the mountain, or at its foot, where the multitude could sit or stand, this plain itself being, in reference to the sea-shore from whence they came, a part of the mountain. Thus Stanley, speaking of the hill of Hattin, says: "The plain on which it stands is easily accessible from the lake, and from that plain to the summit is but a few minutes' walk. The platform at the top is evidently suitable for the collection of a multitude, and corresponds precisely to the * level place' mistranslated ' plain,5 to which He would ' come down,' as from one of its higher horns, to address the people."a In this way all seeming discrepancy between Matthew and Luke as to the place, disappears. The choice of the Twelve was made upon the mountain before the multitude gathered, which choice Matthew does not mention. As the Lord beheld the people gathering to Him, He goes down with His disciples to meet them upon some level place, and after healing the sick, He seats Himself in a position, probably higher up upon the hill, where He can be seen and heard by the great crowds, and proceeds to address them.3
2d. Difference of time. Following his report of the sermon, Matthew relates (viii. 2-4) the healing of the leper as having immediately taken place. Luke (vii. 2-10) relates the healing of the centurion's servant as immediately following.
i So Robinson, Har. 193.
3 So Tholuck, Sermon on the Mount, 53, "a level place, not a plain." a See Ebrard, 350; Stier, i. 327 ; Liechtenstein, 247. Alford, after Meyer, finds the two Evangelists in contradiction.
As these events were separated by a considerable interval of time, so, it is said by Krafft and othersmust have been the discourses which they respectively followed. But we have already seen that Matthew is not narrating events in chronological order, and that the healing of the leper took place before the Sermon on the Mount. We are not therefore obliged to suppose the discourses distinct upon this ground.
3d. Difference of audience. Matthew (iv. 25) describes the multitudes present as from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond Jordan; Luke (vi. IT) as from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the sea-coast of Tyre and Sidon. From this partial difference of names Krafft (83) infers that those who heard the discourse reported by Matthew were mostly Jews, with perhaps a few Syrians; but that those who heard the discourse reported by Luke were mostly from the eastern side of Galilee and the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. But this inference is not warranted. In this enumeration neither of the Evangelists designs to discriminate between Jewish and heathen lands. This appears from Mark, (iii. 7, 8,) who mentions Galilee, Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond Jordan, and about Tyre and Sidon. If heathen were present, according to Luke, from Tyre and Sidon, so might they be also, according to Matthew, from Decapolis. The Evangelists plainly all intend to say, that the crowds who were present came from every part of the land; and any difference in the enumeration of the regions whence they came is unimportant* On the other hand, the very particularity of the mention of so many provinces by each, sufficiently shows that all point to one and the same period.
4th. Difference of contents. "Of 107 verses in Matthew, Luke contains only 30; his four beatitudes are balanced by as many woes; and in his text parts of the sermon are introduced by sayings which do not precede them in Matthew, but which naturally connect with them."1
» Alford on Matt. Y. 1. See also Greswell, ii. 429 ; Krafft, 83.
But these differences are few when compared with the resemblances. The beginning and ending of both are the same; there is a general similarity in the order, and often identity in the expressions. Often in the Evangelists, when their reports are in substance the same, there are many variations.1 That the two discourses should have so much in common if they were distinct, spoken at different times and to different audiences, is most improbable. That many of the shorter proverbial expressions might be used at various times is natural, but not that such similarity should prevail throughout.3
The supposition that the Lord first addressed the apostles and disciples, which address Matthew gives, and then the multitudes, which address Luke gives, was advocated by Augustine, and has been the ruling one in the Latin Church. It has been also adopted by most of the Lutheran harmonists, though Calvin calls this view light and frivolous. That there is something esoteric in the former and exoteric in the latter may be admitted ; but this is owing not to the different audiences to whom the discourses were spoken, but to the different classes of readers for which the two Gospels were designed. It may be that neither Matthew nor Luke gives us the exact discourse as it was spoken. Without entering into 'the vexed question of inspiration, its nature and degrees, we may say that each Evangelist, writing under the direction of the Holy Spirit, made such selection of the Lord's words, as well as of the events in His history, and so arranged them, as best to meet the wants of those for whom he wrote.
1 Compare the Lord's Prayer as given Matt. vi. 9-12, and Luke xi. 2-4; and His discourse concerning the Pharisees, Matt, xxiii. and Luke xx. 46.
3 Neander's explanation, 224, that the original document of Matthew of Hebrew origin, " passed through the hands of the Greek editor, who has inserted other expressions of Christ allied to those in the organic connection of the discourse, but spoken on other occasions," is one of those arbitrary assumptions, whose frequency makes so much of German criticism worthless.
That Luke should omit those portions of the discourse having special reference to the Jewish sects, and to the Mosaic laws, was in accordance with the general scope of his Gospel as designed for heathen Christians; whilst Matthew, on the other hand, writing for Jewish Christians, would retain them. To this Alford and others object that in some cases Luke is fuller than Matthew, (compare Matt. vii. 1, 2, and Luke vi. 37, 38.) But, as has been said, Matthew may not give the words of the Lord in all their fulness; and it is not at all inconsistent wTith the fact of an epitome that certain thoughts should be more fully expanded than in the original, when this original is itself but an epitome.
There is still another argument against the identity of these two discourses, based upon the fact that Matthew does not relate his own call (ix. 9) till he had recorded the sermon. But it is so abundantly established that Matthew does not follow chronological order, that this is of no importance.
We conclude, then, that Matthew gives this discourse substantially, if not literally, as it was spoken, and that Luke gives th6 same, but modified to meet the wants of that class of readers for whom he especially wrote.