Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Sunday School Lesson #9

Posted by Jim F. on February 25, 2007

NOTE: FOR THE MOST RECENT, UPDATED VERSION OF THESE NOTES, GO TO : http://feastupontheword.org/Site:SS_lessons#New_Testament_lessons


Lesson 9: Matthew 6-7

As is usually the case, there is a lot of material to cover in this lesson, but the material in these chapters is so important that it would be a shame to focus on only part of it. So I will focus on the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:5-15), but I will also make notes for the rest of both chapters. Of course, Robert C and Cheryl have already provided excellent materials on these chapters.

Chapter 6

Jesus continues to teach about true righteousness, a righteousness that goes beyond mere obedience. He first discusses three basic acts of piety in first-century Judaism: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting (verses 1-18). Then he teaches where we will find our treasure (verses 19-23), and he teaches us that we ought to serve God without taking thought for ourselves (verses 24-34).

Verses 1-4: In verse 1, the Greek word translated “to be seen” is a word related to the theater. We might loosely translate it “to be a spectacle.” In verse 2, the word translated “hypocrites” could also be translated “actor” in other circumstances. (See Robert C’s post on “hypocrite” and the comments that follow for more discussion.) What is Matthew emphasizing by using these words to tell us Jesus’s teaching? What does he mean when he says that those who give in public “have their reward”? It is easy to condemn those whom Jesus describes in verses 1 and 2, but how difficult is it to live the teachings of verses 3 and 4? In other words, how tempting is it, when we do good, to tell someone, to get our reward from other people’s recognition of our good deed? What does that difficulty tell us about us? Some may see a conflict between the doctrine taught in these verses and that taught in Matthew 5:13-16. How would you reconcile that seeming conflict?

Verses 5-15: In the Greek it is clear that the Savior is making a strong contrast here: They pray that way, but you should pray this way. To learn more about the Savior’s teaching here, compare the Lord’s Prayer in the Book of Mormon and in Matthew. Joseph Smith said, “I have a key by which I understand the scriptures. I enquire, what was the question which drew out the answer, or caused Jesus to utter the parable? [. . .] To ascertain its meaning, we must dig up the root and ascertain what it was that drew the saying out of Jesus” (History of the Church 5, 261-262). In Matthew to whom is the Lord speaking and why? What’s the occasion? Ask the same questions about the Nephi version of the Sermon. Do the different answers to those questions for the Book of Mormon and the New Testament give the two versions different meanings? What might some of those differences in meaning be? What advantages are there for us to have two almost identical versions of scriptural passages?

             3 Nephi 13:5-15                               Matthew 6:5-15 

   5 And when thou prayest thou shalt not      5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not
   do as the hypocrites, for they love to      be as the hypocrites are: for they love
   pray, standing in the synagogues and        to pray standing in the synagogues and
   in the corners of the streets, that         in the corners of the streets, that they
   they may be seen of men. Verily I           may be seen of men. Verily I say unto
   say unto you, they have their reward.       you, They have their reward. 

                                                 hypocrites: The Greek word originally
                                                     meant "actor." It came to mean, "one
                                                     who dissembles."  

                                                 reward: "pay" or "wage."

What kind of prayer is the Savior condemning here? How is it a matter of acting or dissembling? Does that condemnation apply to our public prayers, such as those in church? If not, why not? How is pay a good description of what the hypocrites receive? The previous verses were about almsgiving. How does this discussion of prayer follow from the previous verses? To the Nephites, the Savior says “thou shalt not do as the hypocrites.” Matthew’s version says, “thou shalt not be.” What does each teach? How is public prayer a reward?

     6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter        6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter
     into thy closet, and when thou hast         into thy closet, and when thou hast
     shut thy door, pray to thy Father who       shut thy door, pray to thy Father
     is in secret; and thy Father, who           which is in secret; and thy Father
     seeth in secret, shall reward thee          which seeth in secret shall reward
     openly.                                     thee openly. 

                                                 closet: an inner chamber, a store-

                                                 secret: hidden, concealed 

                                                 reward: literally, "give forth";
                                                     a strong way to say "give."  

                                                 openly: "clearly" or "publicly."

Why does the Lord end with a promise of reward? What question is he addressing? What kind of reward might this refer to? This verse is parallel in structure to verse 4: the teaching about prayer is like the teaching about almsgiving. Verse 4 tells us that the Father sees in secret. What does that mean? This says the Father is in secret (using the same Greek word). What does that mean?

     7 But when ye pray, use not vain            7 But when ye pray, use not vain
     repetitions, as the heathen, for they       repetitions, as the heathen do: for
     think that they shall be heard for          they think that they shall be heard for
     their much speaking.                        their much speaking. 

                                                 vain repetitions: the Greek word
                                                     means "stammering, babbling."  

                                                 heathen: a foreigner.  

                                                 heard: have their requests granted

Who were the heathen? They were not the same as those Jesus called hypocrites. Against what is Jesus warning? Why warn against not only the prayers of the hypocrites, but also those of the heathen? Could the parallel suggest that those who pray using vain repetitions are like those who do not recognize the God of Israel?

     8 Be not ye therefore like unto them,       8 Be not ye therefore like unto them:
     for your Father knoweth what things         for your Father knoweth what things
     ye have need of before ye ask him.          ye have need of, before ye ask him.

Compare verses 24-35 and D&C 84:80-84. How are the two parts of this verse related? In other words, what does “for” mean here? Verse 8 may give us hints for understanding verse 7 better. The word “therefore” suggests that it is an explanation of verse 7. How does the fact that our Father already knows our needs explain why we should avoid vain repetitions?

     9 After this manner therefore pray ye:      9 After this manner therefore pray ye:
     Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed      Our Father which art in heaven,
     be thy name.                                Hallowed be thy Name 

                                                 After this manner: translates a
                                                     Greek phrase that literally means
                                                     only "this."  

                                                 Hallowed: holy

What does it mean to pray that the Father’s name be holy?

     10 Thy will be done on earth as it is in    10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done
     heaven                                      in heaven.

The Greek of verses 9 and 10 emphasizes the word “thy.” Why? What does it mean to pray that the Father’s kingdom come? Why does the Lord omit “Thy kingdom come” when he gives the Lord’s prayer in the New World? What is the kingdom of the Father? What does it mean to pray that the Father’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven? Do perhaps the first three petitions of this prayer mean essentially the same thing? If so, why are they repeated? How do we pray for these things in our personal and public prayers?

                                                 11 Give us this day our daily bread.
                                                 daily bread: the meaning of
                                                 the Greek word here is uncertain, but it is
                                                 taken to mean the bread that is sufficient
                                                 for a day. Compare the story of manna (cf.
                                                 Exodus 16 and John 6:48-50).

Why does the Lord omit “Give us this day our daily bread” in the New World? To what does this part of the prayer correspond in our own prayers? What might its omission in the 3 Nephi version suggest? Some have suggested that “daily bread” really refers to the bread that will be shared at the Messianic banquet. (See Matthew 8:11.) To what else might it refer? Is this petition at odds with the teaching we will see in verses 25-34?

     11 And forgive us our debts, as we          12 And forgive us our debts, as we
     forgive our debtors.                        forgive our debtors. 

                                                 forgive: the Greek word means
                                                     "send way" or "abandon." 

                                                 debts: this is a literal trans-
                                                     lation, "something owed."  

                                                 debtor: another literal trans-
                                                     lation. "one who owes."

How are our sins debts? What does this verse tell us about how our relation with others affects our salvation?

     12 And lead us not into temptation,         13 And lead us not into temptation,
     but deliver us from evil. 13 For thine      but deliver us from evil: For thine is
     is the kingdom, and the power, and          the kingdom, and the power, and
     the glory, forever. Amen.                   the glory, for ever. Amen. 

                                                 lead: to bring into" "to lead"  

                                                 temptation: the Greek word, from a
                                                      word meaning "to pierce," means
                                                     "going beyond the limits." Therefore,
                                                     it means, "sin." 

                                                  deliver: a middle-voiced verb (similar
                                                     to our passive) meaning "to flow" in
                                                     the active voice. Thus it means "draw
                                                     us away from."  

                                                 evil: the Greek word means "that
                                                     which causes pain"; "that which is
                                                     lacking"; it could mean "evil" or "the
                                                     evil one."  

                                                  power: this could also be translated

Why does the Lord speak of the Father leading us into temptation in both versions? What are we to make of that metaphor? Paraphrased, the final clause says: “because the kingdom and the power and the glory belong to thee forever.” Why does this begin with because? In other words, what does that clause explain?

     14 For, if ye forgive men their             14 For if ye forgive men their
     trespasses your heavenly Father will        trespasses, your heavenly Father will
     also forgive you; 15 But if ye forgive      also forgive you: 15 But if ye forgive
     not men their trespasses neither will       not men their trespasses, neither will
     your Father forgive your trespasses.        your Father forgive your trespasses.  

                                                 forgive: "cancel."  

                                                 trespass: literally, "falling aside";
                                                     therefore, "false step" or "sin."

These two verses aren’t part of the prayer itself, they are a comment on it. Why do you think that the only part of the prayer commented on is the part about asking for forgiveness?

Verses 16-18: In the early books of the Old Testament, fasting is a sign of mourning or repentance, accompanied by wearing sackcloth and ashes. These verses parallel the form used in discussing almsgiving and for the beginning of the discussion of prayer. As in each of the previous cases, the emphasis is on going beyond what was then considered to be the standard of righteousness. Do we have community or cultural standards of righteousness? Are we expected to go beyond those? How? Does this mean, for example, that rather than paying a 10% tithe, we should pay 12 or 15%? Or that we should fast all three meals on the first Sunday of the month rather than the two required by the Church? How do we distinguish between good forms of going beyond the requirements of the law and bad forms?

Verses 19-23: Only righteousness—about which Jesus is giving a new teaching—results in anything of lasting value, and what we treasure tells us what we value.

Verses 24-34: Verse 24 provides a transition to a new theme: we cannot serve both God and possessions (mammon). Verses 25-31 give various examples of what that means: we need not take thought for ourselves and our provisions because God will provide. “Take no thought” might be better translated “don’t be anxious” or “don’t worry.” How does that change your understanding of these verses and what Jesus commands? President John Taylor once taught that these verses do not apply to people generally, but to those who serve in the church through the priesthood (Smith and Sjodahl, Doctrine & Covenants Commentary 462-463). How do they apply to them? If that is right, does it follow that the rest of us ought to worry? In what ways? Are there healthy ways of worrying about the things we possess? How does verse 33 explain verses 24-32? What does “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” mean? It isn’t a quotation from scripture, but seems to be a proverb of the time.

Chapter 7

The Sermon concludes with a series of sayings that are not necessarily related to one another. Some New Testament scholars suggest that these may not have originally been part of the Sermon on the Mount itself. Their view is that Matthew may have known about these teachings from other times and added them as a collection to the end of the Sermon. However, that Jesus repeated these sayings in 3 Nephi makes that scholarly suggestions problematic.

Verses 1-5: The Greek word translated “judge” is a very strong word. It means “condemn or cut off.” When are we guilty of the kind of judgement of which Jesus speaks here? Notice the insertion that Joseph Smith makes in these verses. (See page 802 in your Bible.)

Verse 6: What is Jesus teaching here? Who is he thinking of? The terms “dogs” and “swine” were among the most derogatory terms of the time. Some have thought that he is prohibiting the disciples from preaching to the Gentiles. What do you think of that explanation? When would we be giving holy things to the dogs or casting our pearls before swine? How do we avoid doing so?

Verses 7-11: The Lord’s prayer in Matthew keeps petition to only one line and the version that the Savior gave to the Nephites omits it altogether. Here, however, we see that we are commanded to petition for our needs. Is there a contradiction between the Lord’s Prayer and these verses? Explain what you think. In these verses, is Jesus emphasizing what the Father gives or what we ask? What difference does your answer to that question make? If the Father already knows our needs (Matthew 6:8, 32), why should we petition at all? In verse 11, Jesus calls those to whom he speaks evil. Is he being hyperbolic? Why does he use that term?

Verse 12: This is one version of the Golden Rule. How is it related to Leviticus 19:18? Can a person who is not pure in heart use the Golden Rule as an accurate standard of his conduct? What problem might he encounter using it?

Verses 13-14: Remember that the word “strait” means “narrow”: the gate leading to destruction is wide and the road to destruction is spacious, but the gate leading to life—eternal life—is narrow. What does it mean to say that few find the strait gate?

Verses 15-20: We can recognize prophets by their fruits. Notice that verse 19 is a word-for-word repetition of John’s teaching (Matthew 3:10). Why was this teaching particularly important at Jesus’s time? How is it important to us today? Where do we encounter false prophets?

Verses 21-23: To whom is Jesus referring when he speaks of those who say “Lord, Lord” to him? Of those who prophesy in his name? Of those who do miracles in his name? Why would some who did these things be excluded from his presence? How can prophesying in Jesus’ name and working miracles be iniquitous? Do any of the teachings that have come before this in the Sermon answer that question?

Verses 24-27: What does it mean to hear the sayings of Jesus and to do them? What does it mean to hear them and not do them? How do these verses relate to Deuteronomy 6:4-9? How do they relate to verses 21-23?

Verses 28-29: There have been debates about when Jesus was talking to the crowd and when he was talking to his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount. Verse 28 suggests that whatever the answer to that question, the people gathered at the bottom of the hill were listening, for his teachings amazed them. The Greek word translated “authority” means “authority by commission,” so they heard his teachings as the teachings of God rather than as merely the scriptural interpretations of the scribes. Compare this to Alma 17:3.

33 Responses to “Sunday School Lesson #9”

  1. Jim F. said

    [Robert C., you’ve several times been the good fairy for me–or is it the elf who comes in the middle of the night to fix shoes. Can you fix the font in the preformatted sections so that it is readable, and can you also figure out why sometimes I have single spacing between the lines and sometimes I have double spacing? Then can you tell me what I’m doing wrong so I’ll leave you alone?]

  2. Robert C. said

    [Jim, I’ll answer here so other editors can learn along with us.

    Regarding the double-spacing: There was some glitch in the “pre” (for “pre-formatted text”) tags. If there is a “pre” tag for each line, I think this is somehow interpreted as a separate paragraph and somehow the double-spacing occurred, or something. Anyway, I just went through and took out these extra “pre” tags so there was only one opening and one closing “pre” tag for each block. Also, I made sure there were no “tabs” for these pre-formatted blocks, only spaces. I’m not sure if tabs would work or not. I’m actually curious how you got these “pre” tags in there in the first place, if you did them by hand or they somehow copied that way. I don’t really like dealing with tables and this seems like a nice and easier alternative.

    Regarding the Courier typeface, there’s probably an easy way to fix this, but I don’t know it–it seems Courier is the default typeface for the “pre” tags.]

  3. Jim F. said

    [Thanks for the help. I put <pre> at the beginning of the section in my word processor and the closing tag at the end, but I suppose that somehow WordPress decided to interpret those as tags for each line when I copied and pasted into it.

    I don’t think that I used any tabs. I tried to replace them all with spaces, but of course I may have missed some.

    It looks like the typeface was, somehow, easier to read once the <pre> tags got sorted out.

    Thanks VERY much, Robert.]

  4. Cheryl said

    Thanks for these study notes. I’m going to incorporate some of what you have said in my own notes – it goes without saying. Especially I am still shaking my head at how I missed the obvious connection to manna (daily bread); and I love your Greek inclusions.

    Additionally your question about community or cultural standards of righteousness really hit a nerve with me – of course the church does, of course our greater society does (some of which are quite different than the church’s, but are a strong mimetic pull nevertheless). Somewhere in all that morass of community and cultural standards there is a quiet, separate path that leads to God . . .

    I also loved the reference to Deuteronomy (hearing but doing).

    Here’s a question: What DOES 7:21-23 mean? (especially the drive out demons and do miracles part?). This will be the third time these verses come up in my GD class. The first time someone brought them up I was completely unprepared for any discussion regarding them, which I freely admitted. Second time not much better but the class had some things to say. But how do the people on this list interpret those verses? And I realize we’re talking about false prophets here, but the inference is that the false prophets had done SOME good – that’s what stops me.



  5. Jim F. said

    I wonder whether this is an abbreviated variation on what we see in Matthew 25:31-46? Here, however, doing the will of the Father and doing good works aren’t necessarily the same. Following directly after a series of sayings in which the necessity of good works is pointed out–we know true prophets by their fruits–we are reminded that there is also a covenantal element: doing the will of the Father requires more than good works. I think that reminder would make sense within the arguments between the Pharisees, Saducees, disciples of John, Essenes, and others about what it means to be the covenant people. Good works are required, and not only good works, but doing the will of the Father, i.e., living in covenant with him–though it is not obvious who is doing so.

  6. Robert C. said

    Matthew 24:24 (JST Matt 24:22) seems particularly relevant:

    For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.

    I think the driving out of demons and doing miracles in Matt 7 is analogous to this showing of signs and wonders in Matt 24, and that the “fruits” talked about in Matt 7 are emphatically not these kinds of displays of power. To this end, consider Matt 7:24:

    Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man. . . .

    What sayings is Jesus referring to? He’s just been teaching that his disciples should not be as the hypocrites who do things to be seen of men. So I think those that show forth signs and wonders are being compared to the hypocrites/actors who, although they are doing good in one sense—praying, fasting, giving to the poor, etc.—they are doing it in order to be seen of men. It would then seem that equating “good fruit” with works that look good from the outside (as I think this passage is commonly read) is a mistake. What I think is apt about Jesus’ examples is that fruit and wolves in sheep’s clothing can look good from the outside when they are in fact rotten on the inside.

    The real difficulty, I think, is not so much about how these false prophets can do signs and wonders (I don’t claim to understand how they do this, I just mean that we are explitictly told there will be signs and wonders performed by false prophets, though in light of modern charismatics I don’t think it’s too hard to imagine…), but what Jesus means when he says “by your fruits ye shall know them.” If we can’t outwardly see whether fruit is good, how can we “know” whether prophets are good? I don’t have a great answer for this, but I think it’s better to think metaphorically in terms of tasting the fruit, not just looking at the outer appearance of the fruit (perhaps it’s not too out of context to consider here the anti-sign-seeking process for producing good fruit given in Alma 32?).

  7. Cheryl said

    Robert –
    Yes, I think you have done a great job here of clarifying this issue.

    Interestingly, in Luke 9: 48-50 , there is also the following, but I think your explanation allows for this tension between Matthew 7 and these verses in a different gospel also:

    Luke 9:48-50
    48Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all—he is the greatest.”

    49″Master,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”

    50″Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”

  8. Robert C. said

    Cheryl, I think that passage in Luke calls me on the carpet for the pejorative tone I used to refer to charismatics! (I saw the film “Jesus Camp” recently which has got me thinking about related issues….)

    I think you’re right that there is a tension between Matthew and Luke, and that the tension isn’t irreconcilable: it’s not the works per se that are being condemned in Matthew, but the motivation (whether or not we believe the claim that the non-doers-of-God’s-will in Matthew actually performed miracles in Christ’s name…).

  9. Karl D. said

    Has anyone seen/read the following article on the triadic structure of the pericopes in the Sermon on the Mount (Rob, the article is on jstor if you are interested):

    Stassen, Glen, 2003, The Fourteen triads of the Sermon on the Mount, Journal of Biblical Literature, 267-308.

    Stassen argues for a triadic structure (as opposed to a dyadic structure) within each of the pericopes. For example, he maps out Matt 5:21-26 in the following way:

    I. Traditional teaching on murder
    a. You have heard of old that it was said
    b. You shall not kill;
    c. and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment
    II. Jesus’ teaching on the vicious cycles that lead to murder/judgment
    a. being angry – you shall be liable to judgment.
    b. uttering insults – you shall be liable to the council.
    c. uttering you fool – you shall be liable to hell.
    III. Jesus’ teaching on transforming initiatives that deliver us from the vicious cycles
    a. If you remember someone has something against you, go be reconciled
    b. Make peace with your accuser if going to court.
    c. Explanation: otherwise you shall be liable for judgment.

    He argues that the first two parts (I and II) contain no imperatives, but that part III is loaded with imperatives (5) so that “transforming initiatives” are really the focus or the climax of each triad. He also argues that seeing the sermon this way allows us to see that the focus of the sermon is on grace and deliverance and not on negative prohibitions. He applies this pattern throughout the sermon. I am working my way through the article, and I think it is pretty interesting.

  10. nhilton said

    This is a great post & comments but I’m having a hard time reading any of it once printed. (I must print it because reading from a monitor makes me physically ill & I like to take time to study the post thoroughly, away from a computer.) Printing from this site cuts off the scriptural quotes on the right & importing it into Word, with the intent to increase point size there & print, messes up the quote formating. It’s the font size that is making it print poorly. It needs to be bigger in order to print bigger. Is there anything I/we can do to fix this chronic problem? I’m sorry to interrupt the chain of discussion with this complaint. :(

  11. Cheryl said

    #8 Robert –
    It is interesting about healings and other miracles – they really do happen all over the world to a wide variety of people with a wide variety of beliefs, and sometimes to people with no belief. But I have always considered healings a good thing, no matter their source.

    The tension between Luke and Matthew occurs, I think, several times, and brings to mind again their differences in audience, probably in location and perhaps even in matters of doctrine. I was thinking about NHilton’s remembering that Joseph Smith had retitled Matthew and John to “The testimony of . . . ” Actually, I’ve thought about that several times over the last couple of days. To me, it is not so important whether some person named Matthew really wrote the book of Matthew, as it is how that book is defined. And again, even though in the D&C we read that John (or at least part of it) was written by John, my feeling is that the whole book (or the form we have of it) wasn’t entirely written by the disciple John, even though the book is very beautiful to me. So when Joseph clarified the titles of those two books to “testimonies,” I’ve been thinking that perhaps this really was God’s way of telling us these books are neither exact records or histories, but exactly what they are re-labeled: testimonies. This is perhaps a stretch and conjecture, but it is stuck in my head.

    For example, Mark is the most transparent of the gospels in some ways, in spite of the Markan “secret,” etc. The author of Luke told us what the intent of that book (and also probably Acts) was – and that the author was not an eyewitness but had gathered information together what has ended up as a literary and spiritual masterpiece. But Matthew and John are neither transparent nor have any qualifiers at the beginning, yet they are obviously also literary works with a certain slant. So to relabel them is really something of importance. and as testimonies we can read them in the same spirit that we receive all testimonies. Whoever wrote those books – their spirit reaches to our spirit, and our testimonies combine.

    It is an idea, anyway.


  12. Robert C. said

    nhilton #10, I’ll see if I can play with this later but it’s not a super-easy fix.

    For now, after you copy this into Word, go to the File menu, and select Page Setup, and then change the paper orientation to landscape—you’ll have to delete the first few pages of sidebar stuff, but it should at least be readable (I know it’s not a very elegant solution, but it should at least work…). Also, if you do a CTRL-A you can increase the font-size to whatever you like (you can get the column formatting to work with a 12-point font size, though no larger, if you increase the left and/or right margins a little on the top “ruler”, or by decreasing the margins in the page setup menu ). Email me to let me know if this works or not (if not, I’ll email you a printable version).

  13. Robert C. said

    Karl #9, thanks, I’ll definitely look at that article this week, I think this is an intriguing approach.

    Cheryl #11, very interesting. Do we know if Joseph relabeled these two gospels b/c John and Matthew were apostles (first-hand witnesses) and Mark and Luke were not? Would the (likely) identity of Matthew and John vs. Luke and Mark have been something Joseph would’ve known in his time (that is, without revelation)?

  14. Cheryl said

    Robert #13,
    Ah, that was similar to NHilton’s comment also (discussion on SS Lesson 6), but . . . we don’t know who wrote the gospels, with the caveat that the D&C says John wrote John. My point is since John is dated late 1st century with many gnostic elements, it is unlikely the version we have is John’s original. Even our LDS scholars are coming around to this point of view, or at least acknowledging its validity. See:


    This contains an excerpt from the recent Sperry Symposium on how the NT came to be, and the excerpt is from the article by Eder Alexander Morrison. I’ll cut and paste the relevant part below. But before I do I’ll explain again that I was thinking about what NHilton had brought to our attention regarding the change of title, and it occurred to me that the emphasis should be on “testimony of,” that this could be God’s way of preparing us, in the 19th century in rural America, for discoveries that were to come regarding the authorship and dating of these gospels. During Joseph’s time, the gospels were most often (I think) taken as literal history. By renaming them, a correction was made. But maybe we missed the correction, and so we still think of them as literal history and struggle with trying to force them into saying something that they do not, and miss the beauty of what they really are.

    That’s all. And it was just a thought.

    Here’s the excerpt, from the website above:

    “The Four Gospels
    Whatever the reasons they were written, the four Gospels are, by no means, the unchanged and unadulterated words of biographers or stenographers who followed Jesus around and recorded His utterances verbatim. They probably began, in common with other ancient scriptures, as oral traditions–collections of reminiscences, stories, proverbs, and anecdotes.

    Most scholars agree that the first of the three so-called synoptic (“see-alike”) Gospels to be written is Mark, composed within a few decades of Jesus’ death (c. AD 65-70) at a time when some who knew Him personally were probably still alive (see Mark 9:1). The author is likely John Mark, the sometime missionary companion of Paul and Barnabas and a reputed acolyte of Peter. Tradition tells us that Mark wrote his Gospel under the direction of Peter, perhaps in Antioch, or even Rome. No one knows for certain. Mark’s Gospel, apparently written primarily for a Gentile audience, emphasizes Jesus’ activities more than His sayings. It appears to have been cited less often by early Christians than were the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

    Matthew, who was perhaps not the Apostle of the same name who had been a tax collector before his call, is believed to have utilized much source material from Mark in writing his Gospel, the longest and most eloquent of the three synoptic Gospels. Some scholars suggest that the book was written ten to fifteen years later than Mark’s Gospel, about AD 80-85. Matthew’s Gospel contains many of the same accounts found in the book of Mark but adds,inter alia, a detailed genealogy of Jesus, the story of the wise men, the flight to Egypt, and (most importantly) the Sermon on the Mount. It was written, so tradition says, in various places around the Mediterranean basin.

    Luke, the biographer of Paul’s missionary journeys, was, so tradition avers, a Gentile physician who wrote his Gospel in idiomatic Greek, perhaps about the same time as the Gospel of Matthew may have been written (AD 80-85). Luke emphasizes Jesus’ loving-kindness and human understanding (see Luke 15), while underlining His role as the Savior of all humankind. He gives Gentiles a significant place in Christ’s ministry, leading some scholars to believe that Luke’s Gospel was written for an audience of predominately Greek-speaking Gentile Christians. Luke tells many stories of faithful women about whom nothing is said in the other Gospels, including Mary’s cousin Elisabeth, mother of John the Baptist (see Luke 1:5-66); the widow of Nain (see Luke 7:11-17); and the woman (reportedly a sinner) who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears (see Luke 7:37-50). In Luke’s account, Mary the mother of Jesus, and not Joseph, plays the principal role in the story of Jesus’ birth.

    Though many modern scholars disagree, Latter-day Saints aver that the Gospel of John, his epistles, and the book of Revelation were written by the Apostle “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23), perhaps towards the end of the first Christian century (about AD 90-95). John differs from the other Gospels. It was written for a different audience, addressed to middle-class, literate, Hellenistic members of the new Christian community. It contains numerous accounts not found in the other Gospels, including Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, the story of the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, and the raising of Lazarus from the dead. John emphasizes Jesus’ divinity and His Resurrection, affirming that He is the Only Begotten Son of the Father. More abstract than the three synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John begins with a profoundly beautiful statement of Christ’s status in the premortal life: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Some modern scholars believe John wrote those words, at least in part, to counteract the Gnostic heresy that the spirit of God had descended on a mortal man (Jesus) at his baptism. John testified that Jesus Christ is real, both fully human and fully divine, not a phantom, as the Docetics falsely claimed. John had seen, heard, touched, and broken bread with Him.”

  15. brianj said

    Jim F: thanks for putting in questions about 6:7-8. Those verses touched me personally—answered a question I’ve had about my own prayers. It’s so easy (for me) to read the Sermon on the Mount as criticism and warning, and so I miss the hope that is there. This is an example: God knows what I need, even before I ask.

    All: I’m enjoying the discussion about 7:21-23. I had the same problem Robert described in #6: how do we “know them” if their fruits appear to be good? I wonder if perhaps I am focusing on the wrong fruits? In other words, healings and miracles and prophecies are not the fruits of true prophets. I sense that what Jesus is saying is that the real fruits of a real prophet are that they get others (i.e. me) to “do the will of our Father who is in heaven.” So it’s not about the actions of the prophets, but on how their words act to bring me closer to God.

  16. Robert C. said

    Cheryl, thanks for the clarification and including that quote (and here is the comment nhilton made that started this discussion in Lesson #6). My interest was primarily why Joseph would distinguish between Matthew and John relative to Mark and Luke. I see nhilton already expressed my point, that perhaps it was b/c they (or their “disciples” who recorded the tradition they started, which I think is a common theory regarding Matthew’s gospel) were first-hand witnesses and could testify in a way that Mark and Luke (or whoever wrote those gospels) couldn’t. But I like your point about literal history vs. a document who’s purpose is not historical but spiritual. If you haven’t seen Jim’s “Scripture as Incarnation” in Historicity and the Latter-day Saint Scriptures, I think you would find it very interesting (though it’s not exactly light reading) in how it deals with this historicity issue. Here is related post he made on the subject at the T&S blog last year.

  17. Cheryl said

    Robert #16 – Yes to your comments.

    Here is a story: I was sitting in a large lecture class at U of M on the Gospels, and Boccaccini was explaining what we could know about Jesus with relative historical certainty – this does NOT include the resurrection. A young woman raised her hand and commented in that that very large class of several hundred students that while there was no historical confirmation outside the gospels regarding the resurrection, what we could know with absolute certainty was that SOMETHING HAPPENED that caused people to believe that Jesus resurrected. That one day no one believed this, and then, suddenly in historic terms – very suddenly – some people believed this enough to write about it and to base life changes on this reality as they understood it.

    No mythic archetype can account for this, in my opinion.

    The spirit still washes over me as I write this – and I receive confirmation of several things – not only of the resurrection, but also that secular study can sometimes confirm spiritual truth, and last, that that young woman was most definitely not of my faith, but she had the courage to make that statement calmly and with certainty in front of a very large group of people.

    So while the gospels may not be historical in every point as we understand history, the testimony of all four of them, and the letters we will read later, ARE historical documents left to us by people who wrote them because “something happened.”

    Re the other point of testimony of being confirmation that they were the testimonies of Matthew and John – I do not discount this, though the original testimonies might have originally been an earlier writing. But my other point still holds – a testimony is more than history, different than a record-keeping endeavor. And by making the gospels literary as well, we understood the people who wrote them were intelligent, creative, loving human beings, who understood the beauty and importance of writing in a way that reaches our intellects as well as our spirits. Perhaps that itself is a revelation of how the two (intellect/spirit) are entertwined.


  18. Robert C. said

    Chery #17, I know I’m being rather pedantic on this point, but my concern is that if we emphasize the “testimony” designation too much as an anti-history designation, then I think we run the risk reading the gospels of Mark and Luke with too much of a historical lense b/c they weren’t given the “testimony” designation. This is why I’m inclined to think (perhaps) more in terms of “gospel” being a term that distinguishes a historical book from a spiritual one, and “testimony” as a designation distinguishing a particular kind of spiritual document (more of a first-hand witness). But as I reread your comment #11, I think I’m actually more in agreement now with what you said there, I guess I’m just appreciating better what your originally said and how you phrased it—thanks for your patience with me on this!

  19. Cheryl said

    Robert #18,
    Thanks for these comments. Thanks for taking the time to look at #11 again.

    I don’t really have much more to say about this (“testimony” as a labeling of the gospels). It was a diversion, enjoyable for me, but a diversion only. Now back to the real work.


  20. Cheryl said

    #9Karl D, Thanks for the tip about that article – was able to get a PDF of it.

  21. nhilton said

    Can anyone explain why the NIV leaves out the last line of the Lord’s Prayer as printed in our LDS KJV?

    I think it’s so integral to the prayer that I can’t imagine why they chose to delete it unless primary sources supported doing such a thing.

  22. nhilton said

    Hey, all the gospels were relabled by the prophet to be “testimonies,” not just Matthew & John. I was making the distinction between two being apostles & the other two disciples only.

  23. Cheryl said

    Well, good. Thanks for the correction. Forget about what I said in #11 that was based on only two being so relabeled.

    Still, my thought process regarding the renaming holds – these are testimonies, and should be read and defined as such. Not record-keeping. Not exact histories.

  24. brianj said

    nhilton, #21: Why is the last line missing from the NIV (and other translations)? See here. (The short answer is: it’s not found in some manuscripts, so it appears to be a late addition.)

  25. Cheryl said

    #23 Cheryl
    And I have to add – I am laughing at myself. God help all of us – and me specifically – from taking ourselves too seriously (;->) . . .

  26. nhilton said

    Thanks, Brianj. I love the last line, tho w/o it the evil in v. 13 from which we’re to pray to be delivered melts right into vs. 14&15, emphasizing the Atonement as a vehicle for deliverance from sin as we forgive others. So, I think the last line should indeed be left out.

  27. brianj said

    nhilton: oooo, you’re right. I had noticed the missing line but not its effect on the text. I like your reading! Thanks!

  28. Robert C. said

    Karl #9, I finally started reading this article and I too find it fascinating. I hope to have time to (read and) write up some more detailed comments about the article—for now, let me just add a couple words to the very nice summary you posted.

    What I find most interesting about the shift in emphasis that Stassen’s (actually, I think he’s just extending an idea proposed by Hans Weder and others) triadic structure effects is in how the second part of the triad is interpreted. That is, rather than simlpy replacing the old (interpretation of the) prohibition with a new prohibition, like we are wont to interpret this, Christ is describing a vicious cycle and then offers a way of deliverance out of this vicious cycle. The effect is that rather than an emphasis on prohibition, the emphasis becomes a direction of hope that will allow us to break this vicious cycles.

    For example, with the don’t murder/don’t be angry passage, there is never an actual prohibition against being angry. Rather, there is a description of the negative consequences of being angry. After this description of a vicious cycle, the way of deliverance is offered with positive imperatives rather than prohibitions, viz. leave thy gift and be reconciled, agree with thine adversary.

    It is this shift in emphasis from the 2nd to the 3rd part of each teaching that makes the reading with this structure in mind very different. Although the “be ye therefore perfect” is one of the few anomalies of this structure (Stassen takes it that the 2nd and 3rd parts of the triad are reversed for emphasis in this final, summarizing passage of Ch. 5), here’s how Stassen describes the shift in interpretation the triadic structure offers for this passage (I’m putting in bold what I find most interesting; the shift isn’t as dramatic here as on most other passages, but since I’ve been studying this passage in particular…):

    This climatic triad ends the first six triads with a summarizing explanation: ‘You will be complete as your Father in heaven is complete’ (or perfect or all-inclusive). It does not mean to live up to an ideal of moral perfection, as if one could say that god lives up to an ideal of perfect virtue. It points to God’s creative care for the just and unjust, giving sunshine and rain to all. It is no legalistic demand, no idealistic self-perfection. ‘It means to launch out with the love of God and for the enemy, which goes out to all.’ [Hans Weder, Rede der Reden] It points to being whole, complete, or all-inclusive in love toward others, including enemies, as God is inclusive in love toward the just and unust alike. [p. 282]

    If we take the 2nd triad as the focus (as the traditional dyad-with-examples analysis does), then we are much more inclined to mistake the description of the vicious cycle as simply a new prohibition that is even more stringent. As Strassen points out, this construes Jesus’ teaching as simply offering an ideal of moral perfection rather than offering a message of hope that will deliver us out of the vicious cycles that so commonly occur. Strassen also suggests that this perfect-ideals reading of Christ is bound to make any disciple subject to the charge of hypocrisy that is so prevalent in these same passages. If Jesus is implicitly saying “don’t ever be angry,” then isn’t he a hypocrite when he (seems) to be angry with the moneychangers in the temple? Jesus is not just giving a new prohibition, but a whole new way of thinking that is a message of hope-for-deliverance.

    (This is much longer than I anticipated, and I’m still not describing this well—I guess it’s a rather subtle shift, but one that I think makes a lot of difference in how these teachings are read and applied….)

  29. Karl D. said

    Rob, thanks for your comments on the article. I to like how the triadic structure shifts the focus to deliverence. For those who would like a more accessible source than jstor you can also find the article at the following link:

    The Fourteen Triads of the Sermon on the Mount

  30. Cheryl said

    Rob and Karl,
    Great discussion on the triads. Karl, thanks for bringing this to our attention.

  31. nhilton said

    In reading Matt. 7 I see the entire chapter speaking of how we treat our brothers and sisters. V. 12 sums it up for me, that this is the Law & the Prophets. As I was reading the chapter, I initially tried to section it out but when I did this I realized that it really related verse by verse.

    Verses 1-5 clearly speak of judging & correcting others while verse 6 speaks of who we should even try to correct…don’t bother with the dogs or swine.

    Then v.7-11 tells us how to know who(including ourselves),what and how to correct.

    Then v.12 is the Golden Rule as a guide in how we should deal with others, including in our juding & correction of them.

    V.13-14 seem a warning that we should be bound tightly with God in a rigid & circumspect way lest we get sidetracked from our goal.

    V.15 warns us NOT to be false prophets, misguiding our brothers and sisters and warns us against others doing the same. V.16-20 continue to help us identify others’ motives and characters as we choose to befriend, correct, assimilate, etc.

    V.21-23 teach that v.12 is serious, that loving our brothers & sisters is the ultimate commandment and doing anything more or less than this will not get us to Heaven.

    V.24-17 emphasize the magnitude of following Christ in his instruction.

    As Chapter 8 opens we see Jesus doing exactly what he has just instructed us to do.

  32. nhilton said

    I also had some thoughts about the parallel-ness (is that a word) of the text being something like:

    *Corruptable* *Eternal*

    Rewards of Man Rewards of God
    Treasures of Man Treasures of God
    Judgement of Man Judgement of God

    I’m hoping this posts properly w/o formatting. If not, I hope it still makes sense.

    Also, there seem to be some Grace vs. Works ideas at play here, i.e. we can give, pray, fast and yet it’s really up to God to step down and lift us to where we want to be. Perhaps this is important in relation to our judging others, too, since grace is required to lift any of us up; we should just be loving & patient with everyone.

  33. […] and how this insert dramatically changes the message of the prayer (as we’ve discussed on another post).  Her eyes opened wide and she remarked on how important an observation this was in light of the […]

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