One of the best known selections from the New Testament is the Sermon on the Mount, delivered on an unnamed mountain in Galilee. It is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew 5–7.
The first section (Matthew 5:3–12) contains the Beatitudes (“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” etc.).
Beginning in Matthew 5:17 is a section dealing with the Law (Torah). This is the first of three sections, according to W. D. Davies in the accompanying article, that reflects the influence of Pharisaic tradition as recorded in a rabbinic text called the Mishnah. There, the rabbis proclaimed that the world stands on three bases: Law (Torah); Worship; and Deeds of social service (Kindness). This famous triad might well have determined the structure of the Sermon on the Mount, according to Davies, for the section on Torah is followed by a section on Worship (6:1 ff.), which is followed by a section on deeds of kindness (7:7 ff.).
Thus beginning in 5:17 we read: “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished ….
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart ….
“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
“Again you have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.”
The next section, beginning in chapter 6, involves aspects of true worship:
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this …”
Then comes the famous Lord’s Prayer.
Beginning in chapter 7:7 is a section dealing with deeds of kindness:
“Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man of you, if his son asks him for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him?”
The Sermon concludes:
“And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:28–29).