Are there Contradictions in the Sermon on the Mount?

Category: Bible/Christian Worldview 150 0

The Sermon on the Mount is one of the most famous sermons in the Bible and in history. In this sermon Jesus taught that the poor in spirit will inherit the kingdom of heaven, those who mourn will be comforted, the meek will inherit the earth, and the persecuted will get a great reward in heaven, among many other things. Both Matthew and Luke give an account of the Sermon. However, Bible critics will point out that the two accounts have contradictions in them. See if you can see the “contradictions” in the following two passages concerning the Sermon on the Mount:

“Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…’” (Matthew 5:1-3)

“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him…He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coast of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by evil spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all. Looking at his disciples he said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God…’” (Luke 6:12-20)

Matthew says that Jesus “went up on a mountainside” and that he “sat down” while teaching. Luke says that he “went down” the mountain and then “stood on a level place.” So who is right?

Different Solutions

There are two possible solutions to these “contradictions.” The first is one that I heard years ago – that Matthew and Luke were recording two separate events. It is logical to conclude that since Jesus’ ministry lasted for a few years, then he probably had topics that he taught about on multiple occasions. This is a sound, logical solution. However, Tim Chaffey believes that there is another, more likely solution to these alleged contradictions.

He says that since the two gospels record similar events before and after the Sermon on the Mount, that the Sermon took place in the same geographical area, and was delivered to a similar group of people, then it is likely that Matthew and Luke were recording the same event.

Chaffey notes that prior to the Sermon, Matthew gives a summary of Jesus’ ministry in the region and concludes just before the Sermon that Jesus “went up on a mountainside.” This is in contrast to Luke, who gives more specific details about Jesus’ ministry in the region the night before the Sermon: “Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.” The next morning Jesus “went down” the mountain.[1] Chaffey says:

“The simple answer is that Matthew summarized the Lord’s movements prior to the [Sermon on the Mount]. He did not specifically mention that Jesus went out to the mountain and prayed throughout the night before teaching. So Matthew skipped those details and just mentioned that Jesus went up the mountain and delivered the Sermon on the Mount. If Jesus went higher up the mountain to pray the night before, then Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts are in agreement. Jesus went up the mountain to pray and came back down some of the way to a level place on the mountain before delivering the Sermon on the Mount.”[2]

What about whether Jesus was sitting or standing? There are two solutions to this. First, Jesus began by teaching sitting down and stood up and moved around over the time it took to give the Sermon. Second, and probably the better solution, is that Jesus was standing while he was healing the people. After healing the people, he sat down and taught.[3]

Conclusion

All of the solutions are logical. However, I have to agree with Chaffey on how he explains the variations (not contradictions) within the gospel accounts.

What do you think? Are the skeptics correct that the Sermon on the Mount has contradictions? Or do the solutions above explain that the differences are simply variations in the details that Matthew and Luke chose to write down? Leave a comment below or on our Facebook page.


[1] Tim Chaffey. “Did Jesus Go Up or Down the Mountain?” In Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions. Ken Ham, Bodie Hodge, and Tim Chaffey eds. (Green Forest: Master Books, 2011.) Pg. 86.

[2] Ibid., 86.

[3] Ibid., 86-87.

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