Dispensational Theology and the Sermon on the Mount


A common criticism of Dispensational Theology is that dispensationalists ignore the Sermon on the Mount or make it applicable only to the Jews in the Kingdom.  Unfortunately this criticism has some weight since some early dispensationalists did in fact teach that the Christian did not have to follow the Sermon on the Mount since it applied only to the Jews.  There is no real “pope of dispensationalism” so these early statements are used as straw-man arguments to vilify any form of dispensational theology.

…The Sermon on the Mount has application…literally to the kingdom. In this sense it gives the divine constitution for the righteous government of the earth. Whenever the kingdom of heaven is established on earth it will be according to that constitution (C. I. Scofield, Scofield Reference Bible (1917),  999,1000)

…if it is admitted that the sermon contains requirements for entrance into the kingdom, then it must also be conceded that the teachings of the sermon will be in effect not only during the kingdom age but also at a period immediately preceding. A number of reasons indicate that this period will be that which is known as the great tribulation period (James F. Rand, “Problems in Literal Interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount” BibSac 112 (Jan 55): 28-39, 112 (Apr 55): 125-137; 35).

For example, to pray the Lord’s Prayer was not something that the Christian ought to do since it applies to the Tribulation when Jews will really need to pray “give us this day our daily bread.” The fact that the Lord’s Prayer asks for the “Kingdom to come” was thought to be a prayer that was applicable in the tribulation since the kingdom is what the Jew would be praying for at that time, not what the Body of Christ Believer ought to be praying for today.

The Kingdom Prayer will have its proper and full use in a time yet future. After the coming of our Lord for His people and the catching-up of the Church, there will be a believing Remnant of Jewish disciples raised up, who will go everywhere preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, saying, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at, hand.’ … The Jewish Remnant will be terribly persecuted under the awful reign of the Beast-King and the power of Satan (Rev 13) (William L. Pettingill, Simple Studies in Matthew, 77-79).

This teaching was particularly offensive to those from a Mennonite / Brethren background.  To them, the core of Christian ethics is to be found in the Sermon on the Mount.  Bonhoffer, for example, based his ethics almost entirely on the Sermon on the Mount.  The recent Kingdom Ethics by Stassen and Gushee is based on the Sermon on the Mount as a foundation for Christian ethical thinking.

But the criticism that “all Dispensational Theology ignores the Sermon on the Mount” is simply false.  For example:

It is our conclusion that the presence of evil and evil men, the existence of poverty, famine, hunger, and need, are all contrary to the predictions made in the Old Testament concerning the character of the kingdom. Unsaved will not enter the millennium to run rampant against the righteous (Jer 25:31-33; Ezek 36:22-29; Matt 25:31-46). We thus conclude that the Sermon on the Mount cannot be made to apply to conditions on the earth after the establishment of the kingdom ( D. J. Pentecost, “The Purpose of the Sermon on the Mount,” BibSac, 115 (April, 1958): 135), emphasis mine.

As a correction to the excessive separation of the Church and Israel in the writings of early Dispensationalists, many writers see the application of the sermon as “trans-dispensational,” ethical teachings that are true for any dispensations.  How can there really be any time in the history of the world when the ethical standards of the Sermon on the Mount would not be applicable?  For example, the idea that the command not to commit adultery includes thoughts seems to apply to all of human history.   While it is true that Jesus is dealing with elements of Jewish Law and tradition, the way he (re)interprets these traditions is radical and clearly intended to be foundation for being the people of God from the time of Jesus forward.


Harry A. Sturz, “The Sermon on the Mount and Its Application to the Present Age” Grace Journal 4:3 (Fall 63) p. 3–15.

John Martin, “Dispensational Approaches to the Sermon on the Mount,” in Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost, ed. S. Toussaint and C. Dyer (Chicago: Moody, 1986) 35-48.

Craig Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels, has a helpful summary of the various approaches to the Sermon on the Mount in theology, see pages 245-247. Page 247 note 36, has several articles on Sermon on the Mount and pastoral care.