The Sermon on the Mount and The Book of Mormon
April 21, 2011 1 Comment
One of the points of theology that set members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) apart from the rest of the Christian world is our belief in The Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ. In fact, it is for that belief we are called, “Mormons”.
The Book of Mormon does not take the place of the Holy Bible; New or Old Testament. For Mormons, the Holy Bible and The Book of Mormon support one another. We read and study both sets of scriptures and consider them to be the word of God. Simply put, The Book of Mormon records the dealings of God with His children in a different part of the world than that of the Holy Bible. We believe that there were Christians living beyond Jerusalem and like their biblical counterparts, received the word of God through prophets and they subsequently recorded those words.
The pinnacle of The Book of Mormon is the record of Jesus Christ’s visit to these other Christians after His resurrection. In the gospel of John, Jesus explains that He is the “Good Shepherd” and teaches His disciples that, “…other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” (John 10:16) These “other sheep” were His too. He loved them, they loved Him. They prayed and looked forward to His visit. Surely, a “no respecter of persons” God (Acts 10:34 ) would want to visit and bless all of His children, no matter their geography. The sweetest, most stirring words of The Book of Mormon are those of Christ’s visit among these other Christians.
Included in the record of His visit, is another version of the “Sermon on the Mount.” So important are the teaching set forth in this sermon that Christ wanted (and wants) them taught to all. The sermon given to these other Christians was delivered at a temple and thus it is known as “The Sermon at the Temple.”
The text of both sermons is very similar with some very important differences. It is some of these variances that not only increase my faith in Christ but in the truthfulness of both sermons.
Dr. Krister Stendahl(1921-2008), the former Catholic Bishop of Stockholm and Dean of Harvard Divinity School noted that when Jesus teaches the Sermon on the Mount, He does so being perceived as a local Rabbi1. The fact that He was teaching wouldn’t be unusual at all. “Rabbi” means teacher after all and for Jesus to deliver a theological discourse would not be unprecedented. (Though, the content of the sermon and the feeding of the people following did cause some discussion.)
In the Sermon at the Temple however, explained Dr. Stendahl, Jesus teachers not as a local Rabbi, but as the resurrected, eternal, immortal, universal Christ. He had accomplished all that He was to do; the suffering in Gethsemane and the Cross, the crucifixion and the resurrection were all behind Him. He had truly drunk the “dregs of the bitter cup.” (Alma 40:26)
Some of the changes in the sermons support Dr. Stendahl’s point. From the Sermon on the Mount:
Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first bereconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)
Now, from the Sermon at the Temple
Therefore, if ye shall come unto me, or shall desire to come unto me, and rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee—
Go thy way unto thy brother, and first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I will receive you. (3 Nephi 12:23-24)
Note that as the resurrected Lord, Christ replaces the “altar” with Himself; “come unto me.” No longer are they to look forward symbolically to the Great Sacrifice but now are to approach the only name of salvation, Jesus Christ.
Again, from the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus is perceived as a local Rabbi:
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)
And the Sermon at the Temple where Christ is the Universal Lord:
Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect. (3 Nephi 12:48)
Now that He “has suffered the will of the Father in all things,” Christ includes Himself, with His Father, as the standard to whom all should look.
These subtle differences support the belief that Jesus Christ is more than a local Rabbi. He is the Son of the Living God, the Redeemer, the Savior. As King Benjamin, a king found in The Book of Mormon, put it:
I say unto you, that there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent. (Mosiah 3:17)
1Krister Stendahl, “The Sermon on the Mount and Third Nephi,” in Reflections on Mormonism, ed. T. Madsen (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, 1978), 142.