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The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing

Digital Logos Edition

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The Sermon on the Mount is one of the most influential portions of the Bible. It is the most studied and commented upon portion of the Christian Scriptures, with every Christian generation turning to it for insight and guidance.

In this volume, a recognized expert on the Gospels shows that the Sermon on the Mount offers a clear window into understanding God’s work in Christ. Jonathan Pennington provides a historical, theological, and literary commentary on the Sermon and explains how this text offers insight into God’s plan for human flourishing. As Pennington explores the literary dimensions and theological themes of this famous passage, he situates the Sermon in dialogue with the Jewish and Greek virtue traditions and the philosophical-theological question of human flourishing. He also relates the Sermon’s theological themes to contemporary issues such as ethics, philosophy, and economics.

In the Logos edition, this volume is enhanced by amazing functionality. Important terms link to dictionaries, encyclopedias, and a wealth of other resources in your digital library. Perform powerful searches to find exactly what you’re looking for. Take the discussion with you using tablet and mobile apps. With Logos Bible Software, the most efficient and comprehensive research tools are in one place, so you get the most out of your study.

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Key Features

  • Provides an in-depth analysis of the Sermon on the Mount
  • Places the sermon in Jewish and Greek virtue traditions
  • Explores the sermon’s relevance to contemporary issues


  • Translation of the Sermon on the Mount
  • Introduction: An Overall Reading Strategy for the Sermon

Part 1: Orientation

  • The Encyclopedic Context of the Sermon
  • Makarios: Macarisms underneath and in the Beatitudes
  • Teleios: Wholeness throughout the Sermon
  • Seven More Key Terms and Concepts in the Sermon
  • The Structure(s) of the Sermon and Its Setting within Matthew

Part 2: Commentary

  • Matthew 5:1-16
  • Matthew 5:17-48
  • Matthew 6:1-21
  • Matthew 6:19-34
  • Matthew 7:1-12
  • Matthew 7:13-8:1

Part 3: Theological Reflection

  • The Sermon on the Mount and the Theology of Human Flourishing: A Sketch
  • Indexes

Top Highlights

“‘Beatitudes are description, and commendations, of the good life.’23 As prophet and sage, Jesus is offering and inviting his hearers into the way of being in the world that will result in their true and full flourishing now and in the age to come.” (Page 144)

“The argument of this book is that the Sermon is Christianity’s answer to the greatest metaphysical question that humanity has always faced—How can we experience true human flourishing? What is happiness, blessedness, šālôm, and how does one obtain and sustain it? The Sermon is not the only place in the New Testament or whole Bible that addresses this fundamental question. I would suggest that this question is at the core of the entire message of Scripture. But the Sermon is at the epicenter and, simultaneously, the forefront of Holy Scripture’s answer.” (Page 14)

“Namely, the Sermon is offering Jesus’s answer to the great question of human flourishing, the topic at the core of both the Jewish wisdom literature and that of the Greco-Roman virtue perspective, while presenting Jesus as the true Philosopher-King.” (Page 36)

“A macarism is a makarios statement that ascribes happiness or flourishing to a particular person or state. A macarism is a pronouncement, based on observation, that a certain way of being in the world produces human flourishing and felicity.” (Page 42)

“One can only flourish fully as a human when one is in a covenantal relationship with the creator God, which includes both ancient notions of what it means to flourish and a necessary orientation to God’s revelation.” (Page 50)

Praise for the Print Edition

When it comes to the Sermon on the Mount, many scholars find it difficult to comprehend the Sermon, let alone to make a contribution to the history of Christian thinking about it. Pennington has accomplished both, baptizing this great collection of Jesus’s teachings into the wisdom tradition of human flourishing and virtue ethics. Even where I disagree with Pennington, I have learned from his logical and clear case for the Sermon as a summons to human flourishing. This book will prove to be an exceptional classroom tool as well as a preacher’s steady resource.

—Scot McKnight, Julius R. Mantey Professor of New Testament, Northern Seminary

Is there need for another book on the Sermon on the Mount? Yes, because few others combine the strengths, clarity, pathos, and insight of this one. It is rooted in wide reading across many centuries and traditions. It takes full measure of the range of methods available to shed light on the passage. It is alert to personal transformation as a justified aim in reading. It is balanced, hermeneutically informed, and academically grounded without failing to be pastorally useful as well as theologically responsible. The closing chapter powerfully synthesizes the book’s frequently fresh and always provocative findings. Readers of all stripes will benefit from interaction with Pennington’s expositions and sometimes painfully honest wrestlings.

—Robert W. Yarbrough, professor of New Testament, Covenant Theological Seminary

Jonathan Pennington’s reading of the Sermon on the Mount is a remarkable piece of work: erudite, careful, balanced, and fresh. Grounded in meticulous historical exegesis but shaped by a distinctive sensitivity to theological hermeneutics, the book succeeds in proclaiming what is often undersold in our evangelicalism--the goodness of the good news by which we come to flourish.

—Grant Macaskill, Kirby Laing Chair of New Testament Exegesis, University of Aberdeen

In this insightful volume, Jonathan Pennington brings his expertise in the Gospels (and Matthew in particular) to bear on the theological masterpiece that is the Sermon on the Mount. Pennington finds in the Sermon an ‘eschatological, Christ-centered, kingdom-oriented piece of wisdom literature,’ whose unified theme is the goal of human flourishing. I found Pennington’s careful exegesis and balanced conclusions thoroughly convincing.

—Mark L. Strauss, Bethel Seminary San Diego

Jonathan T. Pennington

Dr. Jonathan T. Pennington is the associate professor of New Testament interpretation at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He also served as a visiting professor at Southeastern Seminary, as well as the Institute of Biblical Studies in Orlando, Florida and Melbourne, Australia.

He earned a BA in history and his teaching certificate from Northern Illinois University, and his MDiv from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he also taught Greek for two years as an NT fellow. For five years, he also served as the associate pastor at the Evangelical Free Church of Mt. Morris in northern Illinois.

He holds a PhD in New Testament studies from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland (in St. Mary’s College), where he wrote his thesis, “Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew,” under the supervision of professors Richard Bauckham and Philip Esler. Dr. Pennington is a member of the Society of Biblical Literature, the Tyndale Fellowship (Cambridge), the Institute for Biblical Research, and the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies. He’s published a variety of articles, reviews, and Greek and Hebrew language tools, as well as books like Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew (Brill),Cosmology and New Testament Theology (T&T Clark), and Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction (Baker Academic).

Sample Pages from the Print Edition


2 ratings

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  1. Brian Davidson
  2. A Adams

    A Adams


    This is a helpful overview of the Sermon on the Mount. Pennington's extensive introductory material is good. Pennington sees the study of 2nd Temple Judaism and 1st century Greek virtue ethics as the lens through which to see the SM, coupled with the best insights postmodern literary theory have yielded for the study of any text. Pennington is attempting (admirably) to use these tools to get at Jesus's and Matthew's intent with the sermon. But two issues plague the book that these tools cannot avoid: First, I think Pennington is overly committed to his own thesis. Pennington is aware of this potential problem, which is why he spends a good deal of time on Umberto Eco's mediating position on postmodern literary criticism. But if you skip the introduction and just read the commentary, you would never know he's trying to avoid the "I've figured it out" syndrome so common in biblical studies. The second problem that this book suffers is related to the first. Because Pennington is attempting both to give a faithful interpretation of the SM (his best stab), and also to interact with the literature that already exists, in many cases he is trying to have a conversation with dead scribes and the Living Christ at the same time. This is helpful if you're reading him in concert with other commentators, but limits the usefulness of the book in the pastoral context. I rarely find his insights helpful for sermon preparation, and the book doesn't really work as a standalone resource for understanding the SM either. There are some serious blessings in this work, though. Pennington's Virtue Ethics approach to the SM is helpful, but even he would admit that it's not entirely novel. Many of the early commentators on the SM take a similar approach. Pennington is at his best when he's echoing Augustine or Chrysostom. His analysis of the structure(s) of the SM is great, too. I'm not convinced that the collision of 2nd Temple Judaism and 1st century virtue ethics gives the best lens through which to interpret the sermon, but he has given me much to think about with respect to how this collision is the indubitable context within which the sermon was preached. It's often hard to distinguish between those two things, especially in theological and biblical studies, but it bears remembering: The context is not the text. The Sermon on the Mount is not the product of the collision, but God's revelation through the message of Jesus Christ in the midst of that collision. To put it another way, contextual studies often forget the genius of human invention and relegate brilliance to a mere artefact of human culture. This is always a diminution of the genius of the individual as the image of God; how much more, when it comes to God's very Word? The brilliance of the Sermon on the Mount is that God the Son incarnate brought the message of the Kingdom to a mount in 1st century Judea which is still the message of the Kingdom for people in every nation in the 21st century. For the pastor, John MacArthur's Matthew commentary is a great contrast here. MacArthur is obsessed with understanding Scripture within its canonical context, and applying it to people in his own social context. This is the primary task of biblical interpretation. Scripture must first be heard as God demands it be heard, and that is as a coherent counsel from Him from start to finish, second as His Word for the hearer in every generation, and only third as an artefact of earlier cultures. Scholarly commentators almost always major in the third area, and thereby help the rest of us do the other two. For lay people looking for one book on the Sermon on the Mount, I would therefore recommend MacArthur or perhaps Boice, or for those who don't mind doing more work to apply the text in the 21st century, the incredible volumes by John Stott or Martyn Lloyd-Jones. For pastors or others serious about studying the SM beyond what expository commentaries offer, I would suggest Charles Quarles's excellent work on the topic as a first stop before Pennington. In fact, I'd love to see Pennington and Quarles interview one another on the SM. It would be a wonderful exchange. Grant Osborne's ZECNT on Matthew is another volume worth your time, and he's imminently concerned with theology in application. RT France's TNTC is brief, but makes a nice companion to this book. But where Pennington probably outshines others is in his Introduction and "Part 1: Orientation." This is where Pennington lays out the context of the sermon, key word studies, and structural analysis. It's also where most will find plenty to disagree with. It's the thesis, after all.