The Sermon On The Mount, by W.D. Davies
My feelings about this particular book are somewhat complicated. The author clearly knows a lot about the sermon on the mount and how it connects with various other parts of scripture as well as with the thinking that was common at the time relating to the Talmud as well as various sectarian beliefs found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Yet at the same time, although there is a lot about this book that is scholarly and certainly worth reading, there is a lot that is missing about this book as well that a reader would expect out of someone who truly knew and followed the Bible. The author is interested in source criticism and in various speculative thoughts about the relationship between the synoptic Gospels as well as various imaginary sources like Q, and these questions allow the author to flex his own intellectual vanity and demonstrate himself as a scholarly writer. Still, it seems as if the author has a hard time admitting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and King and God. This makes the author’s flexing at least a bit hollow because he misses the essential importance of the Sermon on the Mount in order to try to bolster his own credibility as a thinker.
This book is a short one at about 150 pages or so and it is divided into six chapters. The book begins with a preface and a list of abbreviations. After that the author discusses about the setting of the Sermon on the Mount within the book of Matthew, about which the author has plenty of ideas that he is happy to share with the reader (1). This leads to a discussion of the Sermon on the Mount in the setting of Jewish messianic expectations which Jesus both fulfills in part as well as subverts in part (2). Here the author points out sensibly Jesus’ non-revolutionary interests from a political point of view, a fact neglected by many contemporary readers. This leads to a discussion of the context of Matthew 5-7 in the Judaism of the time, which leads to a discussion of the Talmud and sectarian writings (3). After this the author discusses Matthew 5-7 in the early church (4), and then after that the author discusses the Sermon on the Mount and its setting within Jesus’ preaching as a whole (5) as it is recorded in the Gospels and even in Paul’s own writings. After that the author comes to some conclusions and includes an index of references for the many cross-references that have been made.
And this is not an uncommon problem, for writers to imagine themselves as experts on some biblical subject instead of people who struggle mightily with application. Instead of focusing on the application of what Jesus Christ said, which will quickly convince anyone who seriously attempts it that they are not indeed experts in how to live life, the author focuses on areas where his intellectual abilities can blossom and show themselves off to the reader. So the reader is left with some decisions to make about how to view the author and his preening. A fair-minded reader who sees the author as majoring in the minor and neglecting the most important aspects of Bible study will nevertheless find much in the author’s study to help them to better understand the way that Matthew wrote Jesus’ words and the particular setting that they were a part of. If this setting does not necessarily end the question of what to get out of this section of scripture, a book like this one can certainly help the reader to gain some intellectual understanding about matters of interest.