The Sermon on the Mount and Christian Ethics

It is no coincidence that the Sermon on the Mount echoes throughout the Gospel of Luke, as well as in Paul’s letters and the rest of the New Testament….  In the first three centuries of the church, no other biblical passage was referred to as often…There is no question that it was understood as the charter document for Christian Living.  Church leaders constantly quoted it when offering moral exhortation. Glen H. Stassen and David Gushee, Kingdom Ethics (Downers Grove:  Invert-Varsity, 2003), 31.

For many Christians, the Sermon on the Mount is the core of Christian Ethics. As Stassen and Gushee state above, the early church used the Sermon frequently to describe how a Christian ought to live out their life in Christ. The same is true for modern Christians. Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously used the sermon as the basis for his The Cost of Discipleship, one of the most influential books on the thinking of Christians in the latter half of the twentieth century. For many Christians, the Sermon on the Mount is the foundation for Ethics, so that books like Kingdom Ethics can use Matthew 5-7 as a starting point for an ethical system.

But as Scot McKnight comments in his recent commentary on the Sermon, Jesus does not “do ethics” quite like anyone else. His teaching is not quite virtue ethics or utilitarianism or any other category of “modern ethics.” He therefore suggests “it is wiser to begin by wondering what Jesus sounded like—morally, that is—in a first century Galilean Jewish world” (Sermon on the Mount, 7).

Sermon on the MountAs McKnight explains it, the Sermon makes people nervous because it does not fit any one category of “doing ethics.” He suggests there are three dimensions to the ethics of Jesus, “from above, beyond and below.” “From above” refers to the commands directly from God as found in the Torah. The Law is not ethics in the contemporary sense since it claims to be a direct revelation of God’s will. Jesus speaks this way in the Sermon on the Mount. He teaches “by his own authority” (Matt 7:28-29). Even if he makes reference to the Law (Matt 5:21, 27) or seems to reflect rabbinical debates (Matt 33-37), Jesus declares “this is what I say.”

But Jesus does not simply command. According to McKnight, his ethics also is “from beyond.” Here McKnight refers to a “kingdom ethic.” The disciples of Jesus are part of the new age (already) even if that new age is (not yet) fully present. There is an eschatological dimension to the Sermon on the Mount since the “future has already begin to take place in the present…An ethic unshaped by eschatology is neither Jesus nor Christian” (11). But Jesus did not have in mind a kind of other-worldly detachment from the present world. The coming Kingdom of God shapes the way Jesus-followers live right now in this world.

A third dimension to Jesus’ ethic is “from below,” by which McKnight means Jesus’ ethics are like biblical wisdom. Biblical wisdom is intensely practical and is often based on observation of the human condition. Jesus’ teaching on worry in Matt 6:25-27 says worry is not worth the effort, one is better to find contentment in want God has already provided than worrying about tomorrow. This is not a “from above” commandment, “Thou shalt not worry.” Nor is it based on a prophetic look ahead to a future when one does not have any worries in a future kingdom. It is based on a common observation that people who are overly worried do not accomplish much.

In the end of his introduction, McKnight concludes that Jesus’ ethics are messianic and kingdom-oriented, but they also describe how a gathered, Spirit-filled people are to live. This observation bridges the gap between the original audience and later Christians who seek to follow Jesus.

Do other teachings in the Sermon fit into McKnight’s three categories?

33 thoughts on “The Sermon on the Mount and Christian Ethics

  1. Interesting post. Good info re. how popular the “Sermon” was in early Xnty. I’m thinking that in the early Jerusalem (and surrounding) “church” (still observantly Jewish in my view), this may have been one important common point with Jews not believing Jesus was Messiah but serious about Torah and faith. Another point might be the practice of baptism which apparently continued John the Baptist’s form, basically (as per Phillip’s use of it and other clues from Acts, mainly)…. And John had been, at least while he and Jesus were alive, perhaps AS influential as Jesus, if not a bit more. (And I don’t believe a close reading of the relevant texts allows for a “hand off” of his following or a clear self-diminishing by John to elevate Jesus, although their kingdom messages and “ethics” overlapped… but that’s another topic from today’s… Joan Taylor’s “John the Baptist Within Second Temple Judaism” is one of my sources, along with the straight NT passages and cf. with Josephus on John.)

  2. That is a very interesting way to look at the ethics concerning the Sermon on the Mount. I know in my current ethics class we summed this up as, not only asking what would Jesus do, but think, say, and be. We tend to focus on the legalistic side of Christian ethics as believers, when really Christianity is much more about who Jesus was and what He did than what we can do. I think McKnight’s three categories can play out in Matthew 5:43-48, concerning loving your enemies. In the ten commandments, God has commanded that we love God and have no other gods before Him. This would be the above portion of our call to love. Jesus adds to this commandment by saying “love your neighbor as yourself,” this would be a below portion of McKnight’s kingdom. Ultimately we are to do that because the Kingdom of God is near which is the beyond, or prophetic portion of McKnight’s model. However, I find it interesting that Jesus not only tells us to love our neighbors, but to love those neighbors who are our enemies or who persecute us. That is definitely a below command from Jesus. We don’t find in the Law the commandment “Thou should love thy persecutors,” yet Jesus is clear in his command to love in Matthew 5. Perhaps, this (along with numerous other things) is what made Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount so influential to this day. And the reason it has become the basis for Christian ethics. I like McKnight’s model of doing ethics because it illuminates the different aspects to Jesus’ teaching and His connection to both following the Law, but also deeply loving people and God.

  3. I do appreciate McKnight’s model of ethics concerning the Sermon on the Mount. Kholstad, the example you gave of loving your enemies from Matthew 5 was solid and you did a great job fleshing it out. After reading through the Sermon on the Mount, the passage in the beginning jumps out at me, allowing it to also be better understood through McKnight’s model. Verses 3-12 of Matthew chapter 5, acknowledges blessed individuals, and the reasons why they are blessed. They are followed with verses 13-16, that through these individuals, they are the salt and the light of the world. Meaning that through their character and their actions, they are acknowledged as God the Father’s change in the world. This fits into the below (practical) branch of McKnight’s model. It shows how our faith, being led by the Holy Spirit, is carried out on earth and observed by others.

  4. The Sermon on the Mount is obviously central to our beliefs as Christians. I have read Jesus’ teaching at the Mount many different times but have never realized that there were three categories of his sermon which each have a different perspective to gain the right understanding. After reading through McKnight’s three dimensions, it really made sense. “As McKnight explains it, the Sermon makes people nervous because it does not fit any one category of “doing ethics.” He suggests there are three dimensions to the ethics of Jesus, “from above, beyond and below” (P. Long). As I read through the Sermon on the Mount again, I found that McKnight’s reasoning proved to be true.
    By saying that the ethics of Jesus are “from above”, he explains that the ethic is directly from God. I found a great example of this in Matthew 7:22 when Jesus says, “On judgment day many will say to me, Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast our demons in your name…But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws’ (NLT). As you can see, Jesus is teaching in a future tense, but also in his own authority. The second category “beyond” explains how Jesus taught about the kingdom ethic and showed how this was the time for his disciples where there was the “between” time of the kingdom. Jesus shows this in the beatitudes when he says, Matthew 5:10 “God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs” (NLT). As you can see, Jesus showed that the kingdom of God would be given to those who are persecuted for following him like others have in the past. Lastly, McKnight explains that some of Jesus’ teachings fit under the category of “from below”. The meaning of this is referred to “biblical wisdom” which Jesus gives in order to combat our human condition which tempts us to sin. This is seen throughout the Sermon on the Mount but the one that I specifically found was in Jesus’ teachings on anger. I think anger is a central part of our human condition that is prevent, but can be destroyed. Matthew 5:22 says, “But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone and idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court” (NLT). Although I think many of these teachings could fall under a number of these categories at any time, this three dimension theory proves to be true and gives good perspective to Jesus’ teachings.

  5. The list just goes on and on. I’m in a point in my life where I don’t understand the importance of why Mr. McKnight even had to come up with three groupings. The points in my life where I feel like people try and complicate/cloud and break down the Bible a little too much.
    From Above: Matthew 5:31 when speaking about divorce, Matthew 5:38 when speaking about retaliation, and Matthew 5:43 when speaking about loving your enemies.
    From Beyond: Matt. 5:18-20 when speaking about the Law. Matt. 6:3-4 when speaking about giving to the needy. Matt.6:19-21 when speaking about laying up treasures in heaven. Matt.6:32-33 when speaking about anxiety. Matt.7:13-14 when speaking about the Golden Rule. Obviously Matt 7:21-23 speaking about never knowing you when you come to the kingdom, perhaps Matt 5:3, 8, 10 when referring to the beatitudes.
    From Below: Matt 5:13-16 when talking about salt and light. Matt 5:22-26 when speaking about anger. Matt 5:28-30 when speaking about lust. Matt.5:32 when speaking about divorce. Matt 5:34-37 when speaking about oaths. Matt 5:39-42 when speaking about retaliation. Matt 5:46-48 when speaking about your enemies. You just see it everywhere (sick of writing verses)! Teaching them how to care for the needy, pray, fast, handle money, judging… The list goes on.

  6. How about the Lord’s Prayer in chapter 6?
    Jesus commands “from above” on how to pray. He says, “when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites” (Matt. 6:5 ESV), “but when you pray, go into your room and shut the door” (Matt. 6:6). He commands also in verse seven not to “heap up empty phrases,” and then in verse nine commands them to “pray then like this.”
    As far as “from beyond,” verse 10 is one that we frequently reference when talking about the “not yet.” He prays, “Your kingdom come,” implying that we should pray for the Kingdom to come, and indicating that it has not yet fully come.
    Finally, Jesus gives very practical advice “from below.” He teaches them to pray “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgive our debtors” (vs 12), and then expands on this in verse fourteen by saying, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” This is not a command, but rather biblical wisdom in light of the human condition.

  7. Another “from below” would be, ‘you cannot serve both God and money’ because in the end you will hate one and love the other. Money is not evil, but the love of money is evil. Either you love God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength or you love money with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
    Another “from below” would be, ‘the lamp of the body’ and the lamp of the body is the eye. In Philippians 4:8 Paul says: “Whatever is true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtue, or praiseworthy meditate upon these things.”(NKJV, paraphrased) The moment we are born into this world our eyes are already full of darkness. We, as Christians, need to be careful with what we watch because it first starts with the eyes, then our minds, then our hearts, and then our mouths. “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.” (Matthew 5:18, NKJV)

  8. McKnight’s categories offer an interesting way to look at and interpret Jesus’ teachings. Certainly, Jesus was proficient in the Mosaic Law, yet He taught an ethic that went above and beyond what the Law required. He also offered a very practical perspective which was incredibly useful, considering He was the fulfillment of the Law and the Law had until that point been a way of life for the Jews. Jesus’ teachings were extremely practical as well as theological. While McKnight’s categories are not perfect, and certainly don’t apply universally to all of the Sermon on the Mount, an example to which they can be applied is Matthew 5:3-4.

    “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” From above, this passage correlates to numerous individual commands in the Mosaic Law which deal with caring for the poor, the orphaned, and the widowed. From beyond, we can see the eternal perspective, that those of lowly status here on earth will be honored in the Kingdom of God. From below, there is practical encouragement to those who are struggling in this life, knowing that comfort and honor are coming in the days ahead.

  9. The sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7 is amazing. “McKnight concludes that Jesus’ ethics are messianic and kingdom-oriented, but they also describe how a gathered, Spirit-filled people are to live” (Reading Acts WordPress)
    In Matthew 5:44 “But I tell you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” Jesus reveals the Fathers heart in this section of the Sermon on the Mount. As the Israelites, God’s chosen people, had turned their back on God so many times yet He still loved them. God commissions those who want to be His children to follow after His own heart and love their enemies. The revealing of Jesus instruction here would be considered McKnight’s ‘from above’ category.
    The Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-11 reveal the Kingdom aspect of Jesus’ teaching. The passage describes characteristics that followers of Jesus should look forward to becoming. (Peacemakers, poor in spirit, merciful etc). In two of the verses it describes the follower will inherit the Kingdom of God. In verse eight it says the pure in heart will see God. In verse eleven it says the peacemakers will be children of God. Jesus gives insight into what the present Kingdom is going to look like.

  10. The Sermon on the Mount was summonizing the people to follow Jesus in the new way of life, the kingdom way ( N.T. Wright Pg: 46 ) and I agree with him, that we do need to understand the language and life of their time to know what Jesus meant. He uses Josephus’ way as an example since he was born just after Jesus crucificsion. For instance ” Repent and Believe ” , in Jesus and Josephus’ days this meant to give up their ways and trust in them, where as today it would mean, ” drop everything and get religion “.
    In Matthew chapters 5-7 in the sermon there a lot of challenges. Jesus’ new laws have different meanings than those of Moses O.T. laws. Adultry to Jesus meant lusting in your heart, and also God looked at anger as murder. In the new testament these laws were more in your heart and more literal in the old testament.
    The beatetudes are listed and telling us how to pray, how to trust others, not to worry, and many more. To be able to follow Jesus instructions and his new laws we must follow the Gospel of Matthew.

  11. In his book, McKnight created three categories for Jesus’ ethics in the Sermon on the Mount. While I was reading the book, I was kind of confused by what was different for each one. However, once I read this blog post and was able to see examples of each category in the Sermon on the Mount, I was able to clearly see what McKnight meant. McKnight stated that, “To sketch Jesus’ ‘theory’ I want to suggest first that Jesus ‘did’ ethics from four angles: Ethics from Above, Ethics from Beyond, Ethics from Below, and then setting each of these into the context of Jesus’ messianic ethics designed for the messianic community in the power of the Spirit” (McKnight, 8). While I am still confused about the fourth angle that McKnight was talking about, I was able to find other examples of some of the three categories in the Sermon. One example of from Above in Matthew 5:33-37 when Jesus is telling us not to swear any oaths, but to just say yes or no.

    • After reading McKnight and this article, it becomes much clearer where Jesus’ statements fit into each different category. I agree with you that in the statement where Jesus is telling us not to swear oaths fits into the ‘above’ category that McKnight talks about. Adding to that, what Jesus says about not swearing oaths definitely appears to come from God. We are told that “you shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn” (Matthew 5:33). This is a command that God wants Jesus to tell us and Jesus is speaking for God in this instance. Jesus was used throughout his time on earth by God and this is a direct instance where that is taking place.

  12. Reading the sermon on the mount as recorded in Mathew, it seems as though Jesus is preaching of things already known, but presenting them in a way that His disciples and the crowd can understand. The sermons is comprehended by many as the “ethics” of Christianity, as everything stated appears to be founded on common principles. I believe that McKnight has the right idea when he presents his interpretation of Jesus’ sermon into three dimensions of ethics. Jesus spoke with authority which McKnight correlates with the dimension of “Ethics from Above.” Jesus uses parables to teach, then explains his teaching, ending with a warning of how He will know whether they obeyed including the consequences of disobeying. Chapter seven verse twenty-eight states, “for he was teaching them as one who had authority, not as their scribes”. Jesus also speaks about the kingdom in focusing on the fact that the things of this earth are temporary and worthless. This is categorized in the “beyond” dimension as Jesus’ ethics are focused not on only the matters of today, but more so the effects of what you do today will have on you for eternity. The people Jesus is teaching have also had their own experiences, and should have read and understood the concepts of God’s law. Jesus clearly knows this, and uses wisdom “from below”, or from the people, to expand their understanding. This is an interesting approach to the ethics of the sermon on the mount, however I can clearly see how it is appropriate for Jesus’ teachings.

  13. The Sermon on the Mount is filled with “three dimensions” of Jesus’ ethics. A few examples I found in the category from above are: Matthew 5:21 when God commands us to not murder, Matthew 5:27 when God commands us to not commit adultery, and Matthew 5:31 when God explains divorce. From beyond can be found in Matthew 6 when Jesus teaches about giving to the needy and is continued by Jesus’ teaching of how to pray in secret. These are new practices introduced by Jesus and He shares how those who give and pray in secret are rewarded by God.
    Lastly, from below is shown in Matthew 5:28 when Jesus talks about guarding our lustful hearts, and in Matthew 5:44 when Jesus teaches us to strive to love others, specifically our enemies, and to stay away from evil. Through these “dimensions” Jesus gives us guidelines of how to lead a Christian life that resembles His own life. Knowing that we can in no way be perfect like Him, but that we are capable of practicing holiness and following the example given to us by Jesus.

  14. Many Christians often find themselves asking the questions if what they are doing is right and uplifting to God. Those are questions we should be asking ourselves, because our goal as Christians should be to strive to resemble God’s character and heart. As it states in the article, it Jesus is does not view ethics how we view ethics. Jesus is the source of what our ethics are based around. It is wiser to turn our worldly view towards Him and have him be the source of our ethical views. Jesus is the only man that walked this earth without sin, HE holds the place of complete righteousness and holiness. We are sinners and live in sinful life, so we should not seek humans to define our ethical views. The article talked about how ethics is defines from three dimensions, “from above, beyond and below”. The above commands us to follow commands directly from God. An example of that would be the Ten Commandments, where we can find a guideline on how to live life pleasing and holy to God. Now, the beyond refers to the disciples of Jesus and how we are apart of a new age, whether we can see it or. We have so much potential and grace before us that we do not fully understand how much we are blessed with and how much we are promised. “Future has already begin to take place in the present… An ethic unshaped by eschatology is neither Jesus nor Christians.” The world is always changing, traditions, styles, everything is changing. Jesus is constant and never changes. The coming kingdom of God shapes the way and will always shape how Jesus followers are to live in this world and how are called to shine in the darkness. Be obedient, spread the gospel with love and courage. The last dimension that was talked about in the article was the fact that ethics comes from below. This dimension talked about wisdom. One thing that stuck out to me is this, “Worry is not worth the effort, one is better to find contentment in want God has already provided than worrying about tomorrow.” Now, as it stated in the article, this one line of wisdom is simply based on that humans that are worried can not accomplish much, because they let worry consume them. As a college student, I can strongly relate to that.

    In all, the article stuck out to me on the fact that God’s unending wisdom comes from more than one source. Whereas our one source of wisdom comes strictly from God himself. As humans, that constantly face fear, worry and disappointment, we need to turn to God constantly and not worry about being different in the world but aim to be different.

    • Miranda this is well said. A lot of the time we do ask ourselves if what we are doing in life is pleasing to God and what He wants for us. We should be asking these questions so we know we are on track with God and the plan He has created for us. I like how you said “Jesus is the source of what our ethics are based around.” We should be striving to look at ethics the way Jesus looks at it, rather than how the world sees it. Ethics is designed from three dimension, “from above, beyond, and below.” This tells us that we should listening to Gods commands directly. I also like how you mention that we do not fully understand how blessed we are. God has does so much for us. God shapes us and how we live our lives. One of the dimensions talked about wisdom and just like Miranda this part stuck out to me, “Worry is not worth the effort, one is better to find contentment in what God has already provided than worrying about tomorrow.” This is something that I struggle with. We have a lot going on in life as a college student and worrying about things is very easy to do. We need to just remember that God is in control and we need to be obedient to Him and trust.

    • Miranda this is a good post I like what you started with ” Many Christians often find themselves asking the question if what they are doing is right and uplifting to God because this is an important question you can take with you anywhere whether its school, work and even at home. I also think it is important to be a Christ-like individual and always be doing what is right. This important as well to do good, be good and do what is right all the time even though no one is watching because whether or not we a Christ-like people and we what god is expected of us.

  15. One thing that stood out to me was that Jesus’ ambitions were Kingdom focused because ultimately He was on earth to prepare and to tell of the coming Kingdom but also to demonstrate how we ought to live as Christians. Living in the world today we often look to others and live and learn by example, so for us to live by Christs’ example by having a Kingdom oriented goal in mind we also need to have a Christ like goal in mind as well so that while we work to grow God’s Kingdom people also can see that we are reflecting Christ like Christ reflected God while He ministered on the earth. McKnight wants us to recognize that as we live to further the Kingdom we also must have the proper ethics to and this basis off simply obeying God and His laws / guidelines for us. After all, our purpose is to reflect and glorify God.

  16. Worry is not a gift from above. Worry is a lack of trust in God that results in anxiety, fear and even depression. As a college student, I tend to worry about many things. However, worrying is not what God calls his children to do. Jesus teaches on the issue of worrying extensively in Matthew 6:25-64. Jesus reminds his audience of their value to the Lord, showing that they have no reason to worry because they are valued and loved. Jesus is calling his audience to trust that God the father will provide for them in all aspects of their lives. This type of teaching is what McKnight calls inductive observation (12). Jesus is calling man to observe the world around him and gain knowledge, wisdom and understanding for what he observes. This is why Jesus call attention to the lilies of the valley, he is asking his audience to observe and then understand.

  17. McKnight’s dimensions for Jesus’ ethics provide a useful tool to categorize Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. An interesting section from Jesus’ teaching is the one in which He warns his followers about keeping treasures on earth (Matt. 6:19). At first glance one could say that this teaching fits in the “from below” dimension. Trying to keep as much treasures on earth as possible comes from the common knowledge that doing it does not guarantee happiness, and doing so is not wise [wisdom]. It doesn’t refer to prophecy and it doesn’t come across as a command. However, towards the end of this teaching, Jesus changes his tone. He states “You cannot serve both God and money.” This statement is directly connected with one of the ten commandments, specifically “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Does this mean that this teaching from the Sermon can also be categorized as “from above” dimension? Most likely. After all, McKnight’s whole argument is that “Jesus’ ethic is a combination of an Ethics from Above, Beyond, and Below – the Law, the Prophets, and the Wisdom Literature” (McKnight, 13). This combination is clear in this teaching by allowing the reader to categorize it as both.

  18. Alan Kasten, I enjoyed reading through the assigned reading very much. the sermon on the mount is such an awesome piece of our Christian history, with so many things to pull from for our daily devotionals, to weekly sermons. the question that was brought up in the mcnight book, as well as in the blog post was, was it Jesus who was reflecting on the moral ethics at the time, or was it Jesus who came up with them all the way at the beginning of time. For us, we clearly know that it was Jesus who made the ethics to follow from the beginning because he knew that it would give us a better life. but it is cool and very important to look back at the original context of the verse. and when we do that we find that the people would have thought of Jesus as the great teacher, most likely not the author of the work that he was saying, but he was. we see in the book when McNight says “Jesus never says “thus says the lord” He speaks directly as the voice of God. This is a great point that Jesus was not saying that he is sharing this knowledge that he gained someplace, Jesus is sharing knowledge that He has made.

  19. I find that the McKnight’s classifications of the ethical dimensions of the Sermon on the Mount feel a little unnecessary and overcomplicated although I understand the desire behind wanting to analyze the implications of how the Sermon is a game changer to the landscape of “ethics”. However, there are other elements of the Sermon that do fit into the dimensions of ethics that McKnight has created. As stated in the article above the whole sermon is part of ethics from above because throughout the whole of the Gospels, Jesus did and spoke everything by not only his father’s authority but by his own. There are quite a few elements that indicate that the Sermon’s ethics are from beyond as well. In Matthew 5:21 Jesus said “You have heard that it was said to those of old,” and then in Mathew 5:22 follows up by saying “But I say to you”. These choices in words indicate that there has been a change, in that this made sense in the days of old but those days are over. The ethics from below are just everywhere throughout Jesus’s teachings and the law, as God doesn’t make stupid laws. The law literally works in a logical way, that is not so much a set of rules but a guide book for how to live a successful and happy life. In Matthew 7:1-5 Jesus is just pointing out the reality of judging others in a way that is so accurate it is almost comedic (Jesus really loved his metaphors). But the ethics of below shine through in many similar passages. That being said I still find these classifications of the ethics completely unnecessary and over complicate what should be a fairly straight forward message.

  20. The thing about this that really stuck out to me was that Jesus re-gave commandments using his own authority. God had already given laws to follow. Jesus teaching are hand in hand with the laws that are pure and from God. This is clearly seen in Matthew 5:17 where Jesus says “Think not that I have come to destroy the law.” There were possibly people who were thinking or hoping that Jesus would get rid of the law entirely. Instead he reminds people which laws are important. Maybe the people Jesus was speaking to had never read it for themselves or had never understood what God was saying. But Jesus put it into plain new terms meant for the future.

  21. Mcknight’s three dimensions to the ethics of Jesus provides a different look at the Sermon on the Mount, looking to categorize pieces as “from above, beyond and below”. I think that there are certainly other teachings in the Sermon that could fit into one of McKnight’s categories, although I do feel that some of the teachings could fit into multiple categories. Regarding the category “from below”, McKnight describes wisdom as “how to live in God’s world in God’s way” (McKnight, 12). Much of the sermon in Matthew 5-7 is a commandment or a look into the future, but “from below” focuses more on common knowledge, such as in Matt. 6:25-27 where Jesus says that worry is not worth it, as the next day will worry for itself. An example that could fit into this category is Matt. 5:14-15, which is clearly not acting as a command or from above or looking at something from beyond, but is an obvious statement that Christians are the light of the world, and as we spread our light to others, we light up the room around us and onto many more. McKnight’s categories are helpful in attempting to explain the ethics of Jesus, but we have much more to learn about our perfect God and the Scriptures before us.

    • Abbie,

      As you mentioned, McKnight’s categories are helpful, but there is much more to learn. I believe that McKnight’s three dimensions provide what could be the core belief of Christian ethics. It is the start of it all. As the post mentions, Jesus doesn’t do ethics like anyone else. The way the world looks at ethics and the way Jesus looks at ethics is drastically different.

      Matthew 5 lists anger, lust, and divorce as some of the sermons preached on the mount. As Christians, we see that these are important in our walk with Christ. From a worldly view, these are a normal thing. It is second-nature and no thought is given. It really stuck out to me that nobody think of ethics in the same way that Jesus does.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  22. Very interesting look ethics, as McKnight mentions in his book, Jesus doesn’t do ethics like anyone else and he doesn’t fit neatly into any of these ethical theories that he talked about in his book. (McKinght, 7) He states that the sermon on the mount deserves a much better theory. He talks about the virtue, deontological, and utilitarian ethics while each does have something true to say about Jesus but using these categories runs the serious risk of colonizing Jesus into the history of philosophical thinking. and it would be smarter for us to just begin to wonder what would Jesus be like to understand him morally and ethically in the world he was living in. McKnight talks about something about the sermon on the mount that makes Christians and Protestants nervous, especially those whose theology’s first foot is a special understanding of grace. Some have said that grace has to be first or nothing works right. But McKnight says “Jesus doesn’t say, “First grace, then obedience.”” Then he goes on to talk about ethics from above and ethics from beyond and ethics from below to show us and tell us how Jesus doesn’t do ethics like anyone else or how anyone wants Him to do it.

  23. Jesus’ ultimate purpose on the earth was to save us so that we might believe in Him and be able to have eternal life praising Him. Through this Jesus met a lot of people and taught them in many ways. Specifically, one of Jesus’ most famous teachings was the Sermon on the Mount. This historical teaching is shown to teach various ethics that are not always normal for this time. There are three ways to describe these ethical teachings from above, beyond, and below (Long, 2018). Ethical teachings from above are the commands directly from God. These things could be the ten commandments revealed to Moses from God. Jesus also uses this in the Sermon on the Mount from God’s will. Another type of ethics is from beyond, this is teachings that focus on the future. In this teaching, it could be the role of the disciples and shaping the future. Lastly, there are ethical teachings from below which focuses on Biblical wisdom. This teaching is practical and taught from human patterns. In this, it can look at our behaviors of worrying, as Jesus taught this He focused on the wisdom of not worrying about tomorrow. This is important because He looks at what the group needed and taught to help them. I believe that these teachings from the Sermon on the Mount can be seen in one of these categories. In Matt. 6:19-24, it talks about the treasure in Heaven. This ethical teaching looks to the future as we think about how we cannot take anything with us. We have an eternal perspective here that helps us see that we do not need to store things up for the future, we just take our relationship and belief in God. These ethical teachings can be helpful to understand Jesus’ teaching and how it works in our lives.

  24. Modern ethics can be described as what society sees as morally right or wrong. This is somewhat the case with Christian ethics as well. The sermon on the mount in the book of Matthew is one of the prime examples that we can draw from when we need direction in what is right or wrong. Examples like, “you shall not murder…you shall not commit adultery…do not break oaths…” (Matthew 5:21-37). These principles however differ from ethical principles because they do not necessarily fit into an ethical category. According to Phil Long’s blog post, Jesus’ ethics fit into the categories of, “above, below, and beyond” (McKnight). The above is in reference to the command of God from the original Old Testament law. The beyond meant according to McKnight meant, “But Jesus did not have in mind a kind of other-worldly detachment from the present world. The coming Kingdom of God shapes the way Jesus-followers live right now in this world. And lastly the below refers to commands from the sermon on the mount that is not above or beyond. It looks act commands that are applied for us today only – it has no application to the above or the beyond. Phil Long explains that “It is based on a common observation that people who are overly worried do not accomplish much. The beneficial concept to having Christian ethics applied in your life is that they are not ever-changing. Modern day ethics can be seen as evolving with the times – there are things in this world society frowns upon today that was not frowned upon back in the day. An example of this can be seen as the LGTBQ community. The societal perspective on the issue was originally frowned upon. It was not socially acceptable in society prior to the 20th century. At the turn of the 21st century it changed to being more and more acceptable until today where it is almost normal. The Bible is not like this. Isaiah 40:8 says, “the grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”

  25. I have never thought on the ethics conflicting the Sermon on the Mount. This is interesting to me to understand fully what is going on. Christianity is majorly about who Jesus was as well as how we need to live like him, and this teaching impacted us because it conflicts the idea of giving us Christians our “rules.” Yes, we have technical rules, but in all reality, how we should live as humans is essentially just to be a decent being, as well as and most importantly, honoring God. Matthew 5:43-48 can be connected to McKnights three categories. Which talks about loving our enemies and living out our lives like God and try to be perfect, because He is perfect. I like the teaching about how Jesus calls us to not only love our neighbors whom we like. A big struggle for a lot of people is loving the neighbors who are against us or try and persecute us for whatever reason. Those kinds of people are the hardest to truly show love to as we are supposed to. I agree with the idea that he stated that ethics that are “of above” are from Jesus because that would essentially mean they are directly from God. Any message directly from God is truly what we as believers should trust and follow.

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