Footnotes to the Gospels: The Sermon on the Mount

S. Kent Brown, C. Wilfred Griggs, and Thomas W. Mackay


Chapter 5

Matt. 5:1 —"He went up into a mountain"

Jesus, who had given the Mosaic law to his prophet on the mountain (Exod. 19:20; 24:1—2, 12—18), now gives the gospel law to his disciples on a mountain. The term "disciple" means one who is accepted by contract to be a student, much as one would become an apprentice in a trade.

Matt. 5:3 —"Blessed"

The Greek word literally means "fortunate" or "happy," as does the Latin beatus from which beatitude is derived The explanation of why one is happy in adverse circumstances (such as mourning, hungering and thirsting, and being persecuted) is found in 3 Ne. 12:3: happy are those "who come unto me" and are "poor in spirit. " Literally, it means "those who are beggars with respect to the spirit. "

Matt. 5:5 —"The meek"

The Greek word means "gentle, considerate, or unassuming."

Matt. 5:6 —"happy are those who [when, if or because they, etc.] are hungering and thirsting.

There are two possible meanings here: people may either (a) deliberately abstain from food and drink, or (b) have a strong desire for something. Since the Greek words for hunger and thirst do not usually have a direct object, the word righteousness may be translated "with respect to righteousness."

Matt. 5:8 —"the pure in heart"

"That is, the spiritual equivalent of being ritually pure." (W. F Albright and C. S. Mann, Matthew, "The Anchor Bible" 26 [1971], p. 47.) Jesus contrasts the purity demanded by the gospel with that achieved by the Jews in their many ritual washings and ablutions. (See also Matt. 15:1—4; Mark 7:1—13; Luke 11:37—44; Matt. 23:25—28.)

"for they shall see God"

In Psalm 24, those who have clean hands and a pure heart are entitled to "ascend into the hill of the Lord" (i.e., the temple). In the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord reaffirms that the pure in heart would see him in the temple. (D&C 67:10—13; 93:1; 97:15—17; 109:5.)

Matt. 5:13 —"ye are the salt of the earth"

See Lev. 2:13 and Num. 18:19, where salt is a token of the covenants with God and was part of the sacrificial ritual.

"have lost his savour"

The Greek means "become foolish." Commenting on a similar word found in Mark 9:50, Arndt and Gingrich (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament) state: "Salt produced by natural evaporation on the shores of the Dead Sea is never pure; when dampness decomposes it, the residue is useless."

Matt. 5:15 —"Candle…candlestick"

Greek means "lamp…lampstand." John uses the same figure in Revelation when warning the churches that unless they repented they would lose their lampstand (source of light and guidance). The two prophets in Rev. 11:4 are also likened to lampstands.

Matt. 5:17 —"to fulfil"

Literally, it means "to complete" in the sense of "to make up a deficiency." Jesus commands his listeners to exhibit true righteousness by going beyond the external religion of the Scribes and Pharisees. (Matt. 5:20.)

Matt. 5:29—30—"offend thee"

The Greek word means "cause you to stumble."

Matt. 5:39 —"That ye resist not evil"

The Greek is literally, "Do not set yourself against the evil one," meaning that one should avoid an open, offensive confrontation with an evil person. The examples of turning one's cheek and going the second mile make this teaching clear.

Matt. 5:47 —"salute your brethren only"

This may be translated "love [esteem] only your brethren."

Matt. 5:48 —"Be ye therefore perfect"

The Greek can also be translated "therefore you [plural] shall be perfect. " (See Deut. 18:13). The Greek word means "completeness, maturity, and full development" as well as perfection. Now that the Savior has "filled up" the deficiency in the law of Moses by restoring the gospel in its fulness, the disciples can also "fill up" the deficiency of goodness in their lives by living the "New Law."


Chapter 10

The entire chapter gives the same stories as are found in Matt. 19—20 except the parable of the workers in the vineyard, which is unique to Matt. 19.

Mark 10:1 "coasts of Judaea"

The Greek means "region, "district." (See also Matt. 19:1.)

Mark 10:2 "put away his wife"

In Mark the question revolves around the legality of divorce; in the parallel passage, Matt. 19:1—12, the concern is not whether divorce is legal, but rather which reasons are valid.


Chapter 9

Luke 9:51 "he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem"

Luke's notation here opens his account of Jesus' journey to Jerusalem where He is to die. In this section (Luke 9—19), Luke records many words and deeds of Jesus found in none of the other gospels. A deep debt is owed this evangelist for preserving these moving stories which are unique to his gospel account.

Luke 9:53 "they [the Samaritans] did not receive him"

The Samaritans usually did not provide lodging for those going to Passover in Jerusalem, since the Samaritans considered the temple on Mount Gerizim (near Shechem) the proper place to worship Israel's God. (See John 4:20—21.)


Chapter 10

Luke 10:1 "the Lord appointed other seventy also"

The number "seventy" recalls both the 70 special ministers called to help Moses (Num. 11:16; Exod. 24:1, 9) and the 70 families who descended from Noah and populated the earth after the confusion of tongues, (Gen. 11:10—26.) Jewish tradition says these 70 families founded the 70 gentile nations which made up all the earth's inhabitants. In a real sense, Jesus' call to the 70 ministers foreshadowed the Christian missionary effort among "all nations." (See Matt. 28:19; compare the dimensions of the calling of present-day seventies to the gentile nation in D&C 107:25, 34, 97.)

Luke 10:19 "power to tread on serpents"

Jesus' statement here clearly recalls the curse uttered against the serpent in Gen. 3:15.

Luke 10:33 "a certain Samaritan"

The mention of the Samaritan (a person which most Jews at that time regarded with contempt) demonstrates Jesus' use of exaggeration to make his meaning absolutely clear. Note that the "lawyer" who hears the parable refuses to repeat the word "Samaritan" in his answer to Jesus. (See Luke 10:37.)


Chapter 11

Luke 11:15 "Beelzebub"

Beelzebub is a variant spelling and distortion of the name Beelzebul, which some Greek manuscripts read in this passage. The first mention of Beelzebub as the name of a deity occurs in 2 Kings 1:2. Beelzebub means "lord of flies"; Beelzebul can mean either "lord of the divine abode" or "Baal the prince."

Luke 11:24 "he walketh through dry places"

Literally this means "waterless places," recalling phrases such as "waterless clouds" (Jude 12) and "waterless wells" (2 Pet. 2:17).

Luke 11:34 "The light of the body is the eye"

A better translation would be: "The lamp of the body."

Luke 11:39 "full of ravening"

The Greek phrase simply means "full of greediness."

Luke 11:51 "From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias"

Abel was the first martyr (Gen. 4:9) and Zechariah was the last (2 Chron. 24:20—22) mentioned in the Old Testament.


Chapter 12

Special Note: It is worth observing that Luke 12—19 preserved a great number of Jesus' sayings that focus on the devaluation of wealth. This is especially interesting in light of the fact that Luke, a physician, would have been a person of means. The significance is not lost: Luke, substantially wealthy, illustrates by including these sayings that his conversion to Christ has caused him to relegate wealth to a much lower position on his scale of values than before.


Chapter 15

Luke 15:7 "ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance"

This reference is to the pharisees and scribes, who considered themselves more righteous than the publicans (tax—collectors) and sinners listening to Jesus. (See also Matt. 9:11—13.)


Chapter 16

Luke 16:7 "An hundred measures of wheat"

The Greek koros is a dry measure equivalent to approximately 12 bushels. (See Josephus, Ant. 15:314.) Fifty baths of oil were equal in value to 20 cors of wheat, so the steward reduced both bills by the same amount.


Chapter 17

Luke 17:21 "kingdom of God is within you"

This phrase can also be translated here to read, "The kingdom of God is in your midst."


Chapter 19

Luke 19:2 "chief among the publicans"

Although Zacchaeus is called a "chief tax—collector," that term does not occur elsewhere in extant Greek literature. It is assumed by many that Zacchaeus may have been one who contracted with the Roman government to collect the taxes in this local region. This practice, common in the Empire, involved hiring people to assist in the collection (publicans); often tax-collectors became rich by collecting much more than Rome demanded and then pocketing the excess.

Luke 19:8 "if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation"

This passage would be more clearly rendered: "If I have extorted anything from anyone."