Blessed Are You Who Are Evil? Theological Anthropology in the Sermon on the Mount

The Sermon on the Mount provides a radical call to discipleship with striking prohibitions and commands. Interpreting these imperative statements has been the subject of much debate and interpretation within Christian scholarship. In addition to interpretation, pastors and preachers are confronted with pressing concerns of the application of these commands within the context of modern hearers. These complex matters of interpretation and application may be alleviated by understanding the Sermon on the Mount’s theological anthropology.

The vocabulary and discourse features of the Sermon on the Mount provide information from which the interpreter may construct an anthropological profile. Terms of thematic address, verbal shifts in person and number, and the surrounding context of the Sermon provide the data for such a profile. From the Beatitudes, which describe the hearers as the μακάριοι (5:3—12), to negative terms such as “hypocrite” and “evil ones,” which come later in the Sermon (7:5, 11), Jesus employs a range of terminology to describe his hearers.

This paper will provide an anthropological profile of the ideal hearer of the Sermon on the Mount, which draws from the positive and negative language of the Sermon as well as key discourse features. I will argue that the Sermon on the Mount uses vocabulary highlighting both the hearers’ position in the kingdom and their sinfulness. The juxtaposition of these realities depicts the life of discipleship and a dependence on the Father. I will first consider the surrounding narrative context, which describes Jesus’ historical audience. Next, I will survey the various terms of address which explicitly or implicitly characterize the hearers. I will then examine the discourse features of the Sermon, which have relevance to discerning how the hearers are addressed. After constructing the anthropological profile, I will provide practical, hermeneutical, and homiletic implications. These implications will provide specific application of the Sermon’s commands and homiletic suggestions for communicating these truths to modern hearers.

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