The Over-Rated Sermon On The Mount by Louis W. Cable (April 2000)

The Sermon on the Mount, allegedly given by Jesus, is said to be a prescription for Christian living and perhaps the most magnificent of speeches. Consisting of 107 consecutive verses covering chapters 5, 6 and 7 of the Gospel of Matthew, it is the longest continuous monologue of the New Testament. Only a small part of the speech, the Beatitudes, is recorded in Luke (6:20-38). Some other sermon verses do appear in Luke, but they are widely scattered. The writers of the Gospels of Mark and John ignore the sermon altogether as does Paul. So what is the source of this speech, and how did it get recorded in Matthew in such detail more than fifty years after Jesus allegedly gave it?

The writers of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, although working independently, drew rather heavily from the same two sources, the Gospel of Mark and a hypothetical document called “Q.” Because they were writing their gospels as narratives, the writers of Matthew and Luke were compelled to invent a setting for the delivery of the sermon. Each did so in keeping with his image of Jesus. In Matthew 5:1 Jesus goes up the mountain to deliver the sermon in the tradition of Moses on Mt. Sinai. The writer of Luke, on the other hand, has Jesus come down the mountain (6:17) to show him to be a true proletarian–a man of the people. Let us take a closer look at the sermon. In the first sentence (5:2-3) Jesus proclaims, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Although it never explains what “poor in spirit” means, it can only be assumed that it is a state of general unhappiness. Also, it never explains just how the two, poorness in spirit and the kingdom of heaven, are connected. However, this verse and others like it have been effectively used to pacify and control slaves and women. Speaking of the poor, there is an interesting passage in Luke (6:24-25) which obviously belongs with Sermon on the Mount, but which, oddly enough, is not found in Matthew. It reads, “But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger.”

It is obvious from this and other texts that in the ethics of Jesus no righteous person can be rich or own any property whatever. Being well-fed and comfortable are mortal sins per se. To possess plenty while others are in want is the ultimate crime. This edict amounts to an outright rejection of the capitalistic system. It might well have come straight out of the Communist Manifesto. Jesus declares in 5:5, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” Now, according to the record, Jesus was anything but meek. Meek people don’t openly declare themselves to be God or the son of God (John 10:30,36) as did Jesus. Also, they don’t normally go around creating public scenes as Jesus did in the Temple (Matthew 21:12). Maybe the absence of meekness explains why he failed to inherit the earth. In 5:7 Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.” Jesus was intolerant of those who disagreed with him. In Luke 19:27 he says, “But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.” Also, in Matthew 10:33 he says, “But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.”

These are not the words of a merciful person. Maybe that is why he didn’t receive mercy when in Matthew 27:46 he cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” In 5:9 Jesus declares, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” But in Matthew 10:34 he says, “Think not that I am come to bring peace on earth. I came not to bring peace, but a sword.” So much for peacemaking. In 5:16 Jesus says, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven.”

However, in 6:1, still in Sermon on the Mount, he contradicts himself by saying, “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them. For otherwise ye have no reward of your Father in heaven.” In 5:17-18 Jesus says, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” Following this ringing endorsement, Jesus proceeds (5:21-48) to re-interpret the traditional Mosaic Law. Other examples of his law-breaking include John 8:1-11 and Mark 7:19. In John, confronted with a woman caught in the act of adultery, he releases her without condemnation. Not only is adultery forbidden (Ex. 20:14), the prescribed punishment is death (Lev. 20:10). In Mark he declares all food clean, thus going counter to the law of kosher in which there is a list of forbidden foods (Lev. 11 and Deut. 14). In 5:19 Jesus warns, “Whosoever shall break one of the commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.” In addition to those cited above, there are other instances where Jesus deliberately broke the law. Perhaps the most familiar is found in John 2:4. Upon being informed by his mother that there is no more wine, Jesus insults her with the insolent and disrespectful reply, “Woman, what have I to do with thee?” Here he breaks commandment number five, honor thy mother and thy father. He breaks it again in Matthew 10:35 with the reprehensible declaration, “For I come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” In Matthew 21:19 we read, “And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon but leaves, and said unto it, ‘Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever.’ Presently the fig tree withered away.” By this unjust action (temper tantrum) Jesus broke the law forbidding the destruction of fruit- bearing trees (Deut. 20:19-20). Mark 5:12-13 tells how he caused the destruction of a large herd of swine. Yet, there is no record of him ever compensating their owner as is required by law (Lev. 24:18). Commandment number eight forbids stealing. But in Matthew 21:2-3 Jesus masterminds a horse-stealing scheme. When addressing a crowd Jesus says in Matthew 16:28, “There are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” Didn’t he tell a lie here, thus breaking commandment number nine? In 5:20 Jesus says to his disciples, “For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” This endorsement is strange indeed considering that in chapter 23 of Matthew he delivers a scathing denunciation of the scribes and the Pharisees calling them, among other things, a bunch of liars and hypocrites. In 5:22 Jesus says, “But I say unto you, that whosoever shall say, ‘Thou fool,’ shall be in danger of hell fire.” Yet, in Matthew 23:17 and 19 he refers to the Pharisees as fools. He does it again in Luke 11:40. In Luke 24:25 he calls the two men on the road to Emmaus fools. In Luke 12:20 God, who according to the Trinity is also Jesus, addresses the rich farmer as “Thou fool.” In 5:29-30 we read, “If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out; if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.” Some Christians claim that these words carry a purely symbolic meaning. However, the New Testament clearly supports a literal interpretation.

Matthew 19:12 tells of men actually castrating themselves so that they would not be tempted by the flesh. Also, some naive and credulous Christians have taken this passage literally with tragic consequences. In 5:32 Jesus says, “Whosoever shall put away (divorce) his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.” Here again Jesus contradicts the Law of Moses. According to Deut. 24:1-4 divorce is permitted and a divorced woman is allowed to remarry. It is interesting to note that Jesus’ teachings concerning divorce are for the most part ignored by Christians. In 5:33-37 Jesus forbids the taking of oaths.(The words “oath” and “vow” are used interchangeably throughout the Bible.) Such a prohibition contradicts traditional Jewish practice. Oath-taking is common throughout the Old Testament, particularly the Pentateuch.

In Acts 18:18 it is recorded that the Apostle Paul took an oath. One of the principle themes of the Sermon on the Mount is love. In 5:43-44 Jesus says, “Ye have heard it said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” But, in Rev. 2:21-23 he shows what amounts to a pathological hatred for Jezebel, whom he obviously perceives as an enemy. He even threatens to kill her children. (See also Luke 19:27 above.) In 5:48 Jesus issues a directive which cannot be taken seriously. Here he says, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Jesus himself was far from perfect, as we have seen. In 6:25-26 Jesus says, “Therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” This pronouncement is contradicted in 1 Timothy 5:8. There it says, “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel.”

In 7:1 Jesus says, “Judge not that ye be not judged.” Therefore, no Christian can ever sit in judgement, not even in a court of law. Concerning judging, we learn in John 5:22 that God abdicates all responsibility for judging. He turns it over to Jesus. But Jesus emphatically says in John 8:15, “I judge no man.” Again in John 12:47 he says, “For I came not to judge the world.” Jesus also told his disciples not to judge (Luke 6:37). Who then is responsible for judging? This question is never answered. In 7:12 Jesus invokes the golden rule. (The Golden Rule, said by some to convey the very essence of Christianity, appears only twice in the New Testament, Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31.) However, in Matthew 15:4 and Mark 7:10 he utters these frightful words, “He that curseth his father or mother, let him die the death.” (See also Matthew 10:33 above.)

In 7:15 Jesus says, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” Could he possibly be referring to himself here? In 7:17 we read, “Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.” If this passage is referring to Christianity and the tree represents the church, the Christian church can only be seen as a corrupt tree producing evil fruit. How else can one justify the fractious history of the church with its crusades, inquisitions, witch burnings, pogroms and injustices in which many people, including innocent women and children were tortured, killed or forcefully converted in the name of Jesus? As the authoritative statement of the Christian belief system, the revered Sermon on the Mount stands as the most over-rated, and perhaps the most hypocritical, document ever written. Sources include: Jesus and the Gospels by Randel Helms, The Sermon on the Mount by Shmuel Golding, Losing Faith In Faith by Dan Barker, The Five Gospels by Robert W. Funk and Roy W. Hoover, and The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q by Burton L. Mack. The writer, a longtime Foundation member, is a native of East Texas.

He graduated from Lufkin High School in 1941, and enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1942 and saw service in the South Pacific during WWII. After the war Louis enrolled at the University of North Texas at Denton. There he met and married Maryjane Wilson Cable in 1950, later transferring to Texas Christian University in Ft. Worth where he earned the MS in geology in 1961. He received an appointment to the U.S. Geological Survey in 1961 and retired from that organization in 1983, relocating to Lufkin, Texas in 1985.

“During my retirement years I have traveled widely throughout the world. This includes two trips to Africa. In 1991 I went to Kenya as a volunteer in the search for evidence of early human evolution. In 1993 I traveled to Egypt and to Israel where I visited important archaeological sites. In June of 1997 I traveled to Belize to take part in an ongoing archaeological investigation of the ancient Mayan civilization. My current interests are human evolution and Christian origins,” he writes.

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