The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing: A Theological Commentary


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A recognized expert on the Gospels provides a theological and literary commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, showing how this influential text offers insight into God's plan for human flourishing.

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Aug 6, 2018

Must Have

You can read my full review on my blog, Spoiled Milks (2/12/18).

Jonathan Pennington has written "a historical, literary, and theological exposition of the Sermon on the Mount" (1). He situates the Sermon "in the dual context of Jewish wisdom literature and the Greco-Roman virtue tradition, both of which are concerned with the great theological and existential question of human flourishing" (1). It is laid out in three parts with his own translation and an introduction providing an overall reading strategy for the Sermon.

Jesus, the true king and embodiment of God's Law, "is the epitome of wisdom and virtue" (15). Pennington defines what he means by flourishing: "True human flourishing is only available through communion with the Father God through his revealed Son, Jesus, as we are empowered by the Holy Spirit. This flourishing is only experienced through faithful, heart-deep, whole-person discipleship, following Jesus' teachings and life, which situate the disciple into God's community or kingdom" (14).

Pennington surveys Israel's story, the setting of Second Temple Judaism wisdom literature, and the Greco-Roman virtue tradition and how their worldviews around certain terms Jesus uses. He performs a word study on the words makarios ("blessed/flourishing") and teleios ("perfect/whole")-two major concepts within the Sermon. He states that "Matthew's literary skill is all about structure" (106). Pennington lays out the broad structure and locates the Lord's Prayer at the center of the Sermon (132-33).

Part two consists of six chapters of commentary on the Sermon. It is filled in with the information from part one, as the structures and word studies give shape and fill the commentary portion. Part three gives a theology of the Sermon and human flourishing in six theses. The Bible is about (1) human flourishing with (2) God in the center where his disciples live under (3) divinely revealed (4) virtue (5) under his grace. (6) God saves us to know him and to serve and love one another in his creation.

No section of Scripture has been written about more than Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. "The Sermon, standing as it does as the first teaching of the new-covenant documents, likewise reveals much about how one understands several issues of theology and Christian practice" (3). Jesus teaches his new-covenant members-then and now-how to flourish and live virtuously in a covenantal relationship with their Father, the God of the universe.

Anyone studying the Sermon on the Mount would be at a loss without Pennington's book. Pennington has spent fifteen years in Matthew, and one sees the depth of his research in his insights, explanations, and footnotes. Pennington has an eye for Matthew's literary techniques such as structuring, inclusios, and word plays. He also brings out how Jesus' instructions show us how to live virtuously as new covenant members. Pennington's book is a must-have.

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