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Posts by: Nathan

The Pinnacle of Hope: Ascending the Mountain (Mt 5:1-2)

The Pinnacle of Hope: Ascending the Mountain (Mt 5:1-2)

“So therefore let us too run up to the upward path, so that we may come with Isaiah to the pinnacle of hope, and see from a vantage-point those good things which the Word shews to those who accompany him to the height.”–Gregory of Nyssa[1] When Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) described the first two verses of Matt 5 as a “brief…

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11 Helps In Reading The Sermon on the Mount

11 Helps In Reading The Sermon on the Mount

“[W]e inevitably interpret the Sermon on the Mount for our own time and place. We are neither ancient Jews nor ancient Christians. We do not live within the first-century world of Jesus or Matthew or share in their culture or participate in their forms of government. We live rather in the age of capitalism, democracy, secularization, and technology—modern realities that…

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Beyond the Binaries: A Return To Wisdom And Virtue

Beyond the Binaries: A Return To Wisdom And Virtue

“The Sermon must once again become a basic text and primary source of moral theology, ahead of the Decalogue, natural law, or an assemblage of norms or rights established by pure reason. In the face of the rationalism of our times, this demands of us an audacious faith in the solidarity of the Gospel, both at the intellectual and at…

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Biblical Criticism And The Sermon: “Literal” As Problematic

Biblical Criticism And The Sermon: “Literal” As Problematic

Students today wishing to do graduate study in religion will often find “theology” and “biblical studies” to be two different options, on two different tracks. It is fairly standard these days to ask a professor whether she is a “biblical scholar” or a “theologian.” There is a long answer as to why this is so, and I would love to…

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Protest And Dissent: Reformers Read the Sermon on the Mount

Protest And Dissent: Reformers Read the Sermon on the Mount

What have we learned so far? The earliest Christians read the Sermon on the Mount as “literal when possible.” “Literal” implies a preference for seeing the sermon as injunctions to be obeyed; “when possible” shows a recognition that the sermon does contain some portions which are not to be taken in a literal way. This reading took place within a larger…

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The Middle Ages: Virtue, Vice, Mendicants, & Moral Manuals

The Middle Ages: Virtue, Vice, Mendicants, & Moral Manuals

The church of the first three centuries offers up a reading of the Sermon on the Mount that is “literal when possible.” Jesus offers—to all who hear–commands to be obeyed, but joyfully with anticipation, as part of a larger vision of transformation (through virtue) into a greater and greater likeness of God. Near the end of the fourth century, a…

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Not Problematic…Paradigmatic: Later Patristic Readings

Not Problematic…Paradigmatic: Later Patristic Readings

“Broadly speaking, in the patristic period, both in the East and West, the Sermon was not perceived as problematic. Quite the contrary, the Sermon was seen as paradigmatic and foundational to understanding Christianity itself.”—Jonathan Pennington[1] Daniel Harrington and James Keenan render a service to us all by helping bridge the gap between moral theology and New Testament studies. In their…

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Literal When Possible: The Sermon’s Earliest Reception

Literal When Possible: The Sermon’s Earliest Reception

In 1978, Robert M. Grant argued persuasively that the earliest Christians read the Sermon on the Mount as “literal when possible,” regarding them as commands to be obeyed. Grant’s excellent Semeia chapter, buried in an older volume, is a bit hard to find for the average reader. As we look at the reception history for the Sermon on the Mount,…

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The Devil’s Masterpiece

The Devil’s Masterpiece

In the history of interpretation, few passages have spawned more theories and garnered less agreement than the Sermon on the Mount. One commentator said the history of scholarship on the sermon might be called “Versions and Evasions of the Sermon on the Mount.”[1] For this reason, Luther memorably named the interpretive confusion “the devil’s masterpiece”: Christ here deliberately wanted to oppose…

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Conversation Partners For Reading The Sermon

Conversation Partners For Reading The Sermon

Before we dive into the history of interpretation on the Sermon on the Mount, let me introduce you to my main conversation partners. READING THE BIBLE WITH THE DEAD (Who, Though Dead, Yet Speak) Clement of Alexandria (150-215): Stromateis Book 4, Chapter 6. Tertullian (160-220): Four Books Against Marcion, Book IV, Chapter XIV. Origen (184-253): Commentary on Matthew & On First…

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