The Sermon on the Mount: Matthew’s (not Jesus’) Creation

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by Neil Godfrey

I’m continuing here with John Drury’s analysis of the parables in the Gospels.

Anyone paying attention to the previous posts (What Is a Parable? and Jesus Did Not Speak In Parables – the Evidence) knows that the meaning of “parable” in the Gospels derived from its usage in the Septuagint (Greek) Old Testament. It could range from riddles and metaphorical sayings through to allegorical narratives.

According to Drury Matthew’s special teaching contains four themes:

  • Christian discipleship,
  • Judaism (in relation to the Church),
  • Eschatology
  • and Christology.

This post highlights his emphasis on discipleship and what is required to be a good follower of Christ. His concerns are the spiritual and moral virtues of the members of the Church. This comes through most loudly in the Sermon on the Mount; the parables of the lost sheep, of the two debtors, of the labourers in the vineyard, of the marriage feast, and more. (From Drury, Parables in the Gospels: History and Allegory)


After the Beatitudes that open the Sermon on the Mount Matthew tells us that Jesus drew an analogy with salt:

5:13 Ye are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men. (All Bible quotations from KJ21)

Matthew has taken this salt simile from Mark 9:49-50

49 For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.

50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost his saltness, with what will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.”

  • Mark’s “everyone shall be salted with fire” alludes to persecution and Matthew’s saying on salt segues from the Beatitude speaking of persecution of Jesus’ followers.
  • Matthew strips away the obscurity and awkwardness in Mark’s saying: “Have salt in yourselves” is transformed into a less cryptic phrase that is more clearly pushing one of Matthew’s constant themes, discipleship: “You are the salt of the earth”.
  • Another idea uppermost in Matthew’s mind (it recurs frequently throughout his gospel as the finale of parables) is the casting out of evildoers in the day of judgement and here he adds it to Mark’s saying: “Good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot”.

The evidence for Matthew’s sayings of Jesus being an adaptation of Mark’s is strong.


Matthew’s metaphor of light follows:

14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.

15 Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.

16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in Heaven.

Matthew is adapting the Mark 4:21-22 riddle:

21 And He said unto them, “Is a candle brought to be put under a basket or under a bed, and not to be set on a candlestick?

22 For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was anything kept secret, but that it should be revealed.”

Note the way the different evangelists use the metaphor to signify their respective thematic interests.

For Mark the light is the light of revelation and it is expressed as a riddle.

For Matthew the light is the light of true discipleship which benefits all in the house/church.

For Luke light will be the guide for new converts entering into the house of the growing church.

For John who is establishing a much higher Christology the light is Jesus.

The image was derived from the Old Testament: e.g. Psalm 119:105, 130; Paul himself called Christians the lights of the world (Phil. 2:15). So we have ample antecedents from which the gospel authors could draw for this metaphor.

Matthew 5:15-16 (above) contains six words especially characteristic of Matthew and another six words that occur both twice as often in Matthew than in Mark and more often than in Luke. (Sorry, I don’t have the specific words at hand. I am repeating Drury here but my copy of his source is due to arrive shortly and then I should be able to fill these in.) The natural conclusion to draw from this is that the verses are Matthew’s own composition. He did not inherit them from an oral tradition traced back to a Galilean preacher.

Moral Dualism

In 5:14-15 Matthew pairs a city and a house. Matthew loves pairing things and again in 10:14 and 12:25 he pairs city and house. Both of those passages are adaptations of words in the Gospel of Mark but Matthew adds the city and house couplet to what he finds in Mark. Once again it is reasonable to interpret this detail in the Sermon on the Mount as Matthew’s own creation.

Matthew’s strong interest (and this is where he contrasts with Mark) is in good discipleship and this is clearly evident in his declaration that disciples are the light of the world and his command to them to let their light shine before men.

So the light metaphor, and how he develops it from his Marcan material, is a clear indication of Matthew’s editorial policy and interests: Christian discipleship in an ecclesiastical context manifested in good works which glorify the heavenly father. He will use the metaphor again at 6.22f in the Sermon in the context of individual discipleship: ‘the light of the body is the eye’. (Drury, Parables in the Gospels, p. 76)

Matthew’s Creative Hand

Drury alerts us to the richness of metaphors throughout the remainder of the Sermon on the Mount and to the fact that they all come in pairs — that typically Matthean fingerprint:

  • two masters (6.24)
  • birds and flowers (6.26-30)
  • logs and specks (7:3-5)
  • dogs and pigs (7:6)
  • asking and knocking (7:7-8)
  • loaves and fishes (7:9-11)
  • stones and snakes (7:9-11)
  • two roads (7:13-14)
  • sheep and wolves (7:15)
  • grapes and figs (7:16)
  • thorns and thistles (7:16)
  • good trees and fruit with bad trees and fruit (7:17-20)
  • two houses (7:24-27)

Subsequent parables in Matthew share the same trait. They often represent two different individuals or two different groups of people. In Drury’s words Matthew is a “moral dualist”. He sees the world in terms of good and bad. There is no room for in-between development of character as we find in Luke. In the Sermon on the Mount Matthew divides people into those who follow one of two masters; who take one of two roads; who build two types of houses. The world is divided between sheep and wolves, grapes and thorns, figs and thistles. Good people do not do bad things (none of them); nor do bad people do good things (none of them). At the final judgement all of this will be made plain.

(What damage this teaching has done to countless well-meaning followers of Christianity and their victims in turn ever since!)

The “parables” in the Sermon on the Mount all reflect the interests of Matthew as found throughout his Gospel and that set his work apart from the others. His interest is in the Church and behaviour of its members. He expresses this interest through his own characteristic words, moral outlook and styles of imagery. This is surely very strong evidence that Matthew himself (or whoever the author of the Gospel under that name was) was the composer of the Sermon on the Mount and other sayings of Jesus. The words he places in Jesus’ mouth are his own or adaptations of Mark’s and not those of anyone passed down faithfully by oral transmission.


So it’s this:

English: Orthodox Jewish scribe, Shlomo Washad...
Jewish scribe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


And not this:

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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Neil Godfrey

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