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The Sermon on the Mount
John A. Tvedtnes

      One of the most beautiful sections of the gospels is the sermon delivered by Jesus on a mountain beside the city of Capernaum.1  It is the lengthiest quote of the Savior’s words given in the entire Bible and covers chapters 5-7 of Matthew.2

      Traditionally, we have thought of the sermon as a speech given by Jesus to a great multitude seated on the grass.  However, this is not the case.  The truth of the matter can be discerned by citing what immediately precedes the sermon itself: 

And there followed him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judaea, and from beyond Jordan.  And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying... (Matt. 4:25-5:2)

      In actual fact, Jesus went atop the mountain to get away from the crowd rather than to teach them.  When his disciples came to join him atop the mountain, he taught them, but not the multitude he had left below.3

      Neither John nor Mark recorded the sermon on the mount, though some of the teachings found in the sermon can be found elsewhere in these and other New Testament books.  For example, Mark 4:24 gives the story of the candle hidden under a bush, which, in Matthew 5:15, is placed in the sermon on the mount. Moreover, in the passage that parallels Mark 4, Matthew (chapter 13) deletes this part.  None of Matthew 6 appears in the sermon account given in Luke, while about half of the material in Matthew 7 has its counterpart in Luke, who adds a few additional items not found in Matthew.

      Matthew places the sermon near the beginning of Christ’s ministry in the Capernaum area and before the calling of the twelve.  Luke, on the other hand places it after the call and ordination of the twelve (Luke 6).  However, the account in Luke is very sketchy compared to the three chapters that Matthew devoted to quoting the Savior.  Each version begins with the beatitudes, but, while Matthew (5:3-12) lists nine of them, Luke (6:20-26) lists only four, followed by some “woes.”  Then Luke gives nothing to parallel Matthew until Matthew 5:39-44 (Luke 6:29-31,27-8).  Luke 6:32 also parallels Matthew 5:46, while Luke 6:33-35 has no parallel in Matthew.  Where Matthew 5:48 reads “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,” Luke 6:36 has, “Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.”

Meaning of the Sermon

      The sermon on the mount is best understood in the context in which it was given.  Jesus’ disciples were Jewish, schooled in the law of Moses and probably in the rabbinic (Pharisaic) traditions.  In order to understand the message of Jesus, we must understand the message of Moses, remembering that it was Jesus, in his premortal state, who gave the earlier law to the prophet Moses on another hill in Sinai (3 Nephi 15:4-5).

      When the Lord spoke to Moses from the burning bush and commanded him to bring his captive people out of Egypt, he gave to the new prophet certain tokens to prove that he was with him. In Exodus 3:12, we read:

And he said, Certainly I will be with thee; and this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee:  When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God on this mountain.

      When, at length, the Israelites arrived at the mountain, “the Lord said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them to day and to morrow, and let them wash their clothes, And be ready against the third day: for the third clay the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai” (Exodus 19:10-11).  At the same time, he said, “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.  These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel” (Exodus 19:5-6).

      Despite the wishes of the Lord, the people as a whole did not receive the priesthood (only the tribe of Levi) nor did they as a people climb the mountain to worship him there as he had commanded. Instead, only a few (Moses, Aaron and his sons and 70 elders of Israel) were allowed to join the Lord atop the mountain, where they ate in his presence.  The people never became the “kingdom of priests” the Lord intended them to be.  They never did sanctify themselves preparatory to meeting the Lord.  Brigham Young said, “if they had been sanctified and holy, the children of Israel would not have travelled one year with Moses before they would have received their endowments and the Melchisedec Priesthood” (Journal of Discourses 6:100).

      What happened to change the Lord’s plan for Israel?  Of what were they guilty and deserving of punishment?  The answers lie in the Bible and elsewhere.  First, we note that after Moses had spoken with the Lord and came down from the mountain (Exodus 19:25), the Lord spoke the Ten Commandments aloud so that all could hear him. Immediately after the listing of these commandments, we read:

And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it they removed, and stood afar off. And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die. (Exodus 20:18-19)

      In effect, the people of Israel rejected the great opportunity to commune directly with God.  They were fearful of the fiery appearance, the smoke and the noise.4  By refusing to speak with God themselves, they were rejecting the higher or Melchizedek Priesthod, which holds the keys of communing directly with God (D&C 107:13-20). Their situation was explained by the prophet Joseph Smith:

And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh; For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.  Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God; But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory.  Therefore he took Moses out of their midst, and the Holy Priesthood also; And the lesser priesthood continued, which priesthood holdeth the key of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel. (D&C 84:21-26)

      The final decision to withhold the priesthood from the people came only after Moses descended from the mountain carrying the tablets of the law.  Finding the people worshipping an Egyptian idol, the golden calf, Moses in anger shattered the tablets.  Having apprised himself of the situation, he then called out, “Who is on the Lord’s side?  let him come unto me,” whereupon the Levites rallied to his side and were thereby rewarded with a portion of the priesthood (Exodus 32).

      A further consequence was that the higher law that the Lord intended to give to Israel was set aside for a time, while a lesser, carnal law replaced it.  Paul wrote, “The law was added for transgression” till the coming of Christ (Gal. 3:19-20).  King Benjamin said, “Yet the Lord God saw that his people were a stiffnecked people, and he appointed unto them a law, even the law of Moses” (Mosiah 3:14).

      With the lesser law in operation, it was inevitable that a lesser order of priesthood should be instituted.  Thus it was that the Aaronic or Levitical priesthood, having fewer powers than the higher or Melchizedek, came to rule over most of the activities of the Israelites under the law of Moses.  The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible explains it in the context of the second set of tablets containing the law:

And the Lord said unto Moses, Hew thee two other tables of stone, like unto the first, and I will write upon them also, the words of the law, according as they were written at the first on the tables which thou brakest; but it shall not be according to the first, for I will take away the priesthood out of their midst; therefore my holy order and the ordinances thereof, shall not go before them; for my presence shall not go up in their midst, lest I destroy them.  But I will give unto them the law as at the first, but it shall be after the law of a carnal commandment; for I have sworn in my wrath, that they shall not enter into my presence, into my rest, in the days of their pilgrimage. (JST Exodus 34:1-2)

At that time the Lord said unto me, Hew thee two other tables of stone like unto the first, and come up unto me upon the mount, and make thee an ark of wood.  And I will write on the tables the words that were on the first tables, which thou breakest, save the words of the everlasting covenant of the holy priesthood, and thou shalt put them in the ark. (JST Deuteronomy 10:1-2)

      The prophet Joseph Smith explained that “God cursed the children of Israel because they would not receive the last law from Moses . . . the Israelites prayed that God would speak to Moses and not to them; in consequence of which he cursed them with a carnal law” (History of the Church 5:555).  We shall examine later what the prophet meant by the “last law” that the Israelites would not receive from Moses.

      The inferiority of the law of Moses as compared to the law brought by Jesus is mentioned in various places by Paul in the New Testament.  But, surprisingly, it is also a subject of discussion by Old Testament prophets. For example, the Lord told Ezekiel:

I lifted up mine hand unto them also in the wilderness, that I would scatter them among the heathen, and disperse them through the countries; Because they had not executed my judgments, but had despised my statutes, and had polluted my sabbaths, and their eyes were after their fathers’ idols.  Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live. (Ezekiel 20:23-24)5

      The “fathers’ idols” mentioned here undoubtedly refers to the golden calf, which was patterned after Egyptian idols known to the Israelites during their long captivity.  The golden calf incident was the turning point in the history of God’s attempt to bring Israel to full union with him.

      The prophet Jeremiah also wrote of the rejection of the higher law by Israel in the time of Moses:

Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Put your burnt offerings unto your sacrifices, and eat flesh.  For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices: But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people. and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you.  But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward.  Since the day that your fathers came forth out of the land of Egypt unto this day I have sent unto you all my servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them: Yet they hearkened not unto me, nor inclined their ear, but hardened their neck: they did worse than their fathers. (Jeremiah 7:21-26)

      The point made at the beginning of this passage is that it was not the Lord’s original intention to dwell on carnal ordinances such as sacrifice when he brought the people out of Egypt into Sinai. Instead, he wanted them to obey his voice and to follow the laws he would give them.  This commandment was uttered in Exodus 15:26 (repeated in Deuteronomy 6:3), before they even arrived at the mountain where the Lord was to revealed himself to all the people.  The same principle was taught by the prophet Samuel, who said to King Saul: “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?  Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22)

      Though Israel rejected the higher law and had to be placed under the yoke of a lesser, carnal law, there remained the anticipation that, at some future date, the Lord would once again reveal the fulness of that higher law to his people:

Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by: the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

      The New Testament clearly indicates that this prophecy was fulfilled in Christ (Hebrews 8:5-13; 10:16-17).  He it was who brought forgiveness of sins, which is a major feature of the new covenant promised in the days of Jeremiah.  He restored the higher law to the people.

      Living under the carnal Levitical law, the Israelites paid little heed to the prophets send by the Lord until, at last, there were no more prophets.  Lacking revelation from the Lord through the higher priesthood, they were obliged to rely on teachers learned in the law of Moses, called rabbis.  From the early rabbis came not only the preservation of the books of the Old Testament, but also the Talmud and the Midrashim, stories based on oral tradition and designed to help the Jewish people know what was right and what was wrong.

      Through Jeremiah, however, the Lord said that the day would come when the people would no longer rely on the written word, but that the law would be written in their hearts.  This is a thought expressed elsewhere in the Bible as well (Isaiah 51:7; Proverbs 3:3; Ezekiel 11: 19-20; 2 Corinthians 3:3).  The meaning is clear: the time would come when Israel would no longer have to rely on the word of the prophets only, but each man would himself have the priesthood or authority to commune directly with God and receive revelation.  This was part and parcel of the new covenant brought by Jesus.

      Returning to the sermon on the mount, we note that Jesus, after prefacing his remarks with the beatitudes, began his discourse by talking about the two major divisions of the Old Testament, the Law of Moses and the Prophets:

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.  For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.  Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-19)

      It was not Jesus’ intention to do away with the basic law of Moses, for there was nothing wrong with that law.  Rather, he wanted to put it in a different perspective, in the light of the higher law.  He illustrated by citing some of the commandments.  The law forbids murder, but Jesus taught us to avoid its cause, hatred (Matthew 5:21-26).  The law forbids sexual sins, but Jesus taught us to avoid lustful thoughts (Matthew 5:27-32).  The law forbids us to break sworn oaths, but Jesus taught us that it was better to avoid oaths altogether and always tell the truth (Matthew 5:33-37).  While the law permitted vengeance for wrongs (“an eye for an eye”), Jesus taught that it was better to forgive (Matthew 5:43-47).

      Obviously, Jesus was taking the commandments from their carnal context in the lesser law and placing the same commandments in their spiritual context.  Though it was true that the act of sin itself was wrong, it was also wrong to think evil thoughts, such as anger, lust and hatred.  While Moses was constrained by the rebellious nature of the people to speak in terms of acts, Jesus spoke of attitudes.6  Moses gave the people a law written on stone tablets; Jesus wrote it in the heart and made it a part of each true believer’s personality and soul.  This he could do because, with the restoration of the higher priesthood and its availability to all of his followers, Jesus could confer upon them the Holy Ghost.7

      Under the law of Moses, people obeyed for fear of punishment, for the penalties were grave for disobedience, and some lost their lives.  The higher law, however, teaches us that we should not obey out of fear of punishment or out of hope of reward.  Rather, we should obey because we have an inward desire to do so.8  Indeed, the scriptures make it clear that entry into the celestial kingdom is only through obedience to the law for the right reasons.

      In D&C 76:103-106, we read that the wicked of the earth go to the lowest of the three degrees of glory, the telestial.  The good people of the earth are assigned to the terrestrial kingdom (D&C 76:71-77).  If this be the case, how, then, does one enter into the celestial?  What additional requirements are there?  From one of Jesus’ teachings in the sermon on the mount, it is clear that just doing good deeds does not qualify one for the celestial kingdom:

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.  Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name?  and in thy name have cast out devils?  and in thy name done many wonderful works?  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matthew 7:21-23)

      The Joseph Smith Translation corrects “I never knew you” to read “you never knew me.”  It is important that we come to know Christ in order to receive a place in the celestial world (John 17:3; D&C 93:1).  It is also important that, having known him, we become like him.  That means that we must not only do good, but also speak well and think good thoughts (Mosiah 4:30; Alma 12:14).  Our actions must be backed up with good intentions and a desire to do the right thing.  It is in this light that Jesus said, in the sermon, “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).

      The scribes and Pharisees were not wicked people.  In fact, they were among the most righteous of all the Jews.  They were not sinners, but could, at all times be found doing the right thing.  But Jesus called them “hypocrites,” because while they obeyed all the commandments, they did not do so for the right reason.  They performed good deeds out of a sense of hope that God would reward them for these actions.  In the sermon, Jesus described the Pharisees as performing good deeds “to be seen of men” and that, having done so, “they have their reward” (Matthew 6:1-18).  The reward could, of course, be that they were, in fact, seen.  However, keeping in mind the qualifications for the terrestrial kingdom, that it is destined to be the abode of those who do not greatly sin on the earth and who accomplish good works, we might think of that as being their ultimate reward.

      The true believer, Jesus taught, cannot have his thoughts on rewards such as those sought by men.  To illustrate, he said, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust cloth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

      On another occasion, Jesus was approached by a rich young man, who asked him, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?  And he said unto him . . . if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.  He saith unto him, Which?” Thereupon, the Savior listed some of the Ten Commandments.  “The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?  Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.”  The young man, being rich, was unable to give up his wealth and went away sorrowfully, whereupon Jesus discoursed briefly on the difficulty of a rich man entering the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:16-26).

      There is, of course, nothing wrong with having earthly possessions.  But he who is not willing to forsake all for the kingdom of God cannot, as Jesus said to the young man, “be perfect.”  He also expressed this thought in the sermon on the mount, when he said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33) and “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).  Hebrews 7:11-12 teaches that perfection came not by the law (of Moses) but through the atonement of Jesus Christ.

      The extent to which one must seek to become perfect, in thought as well as in deed, is clearly indicated by one of the beatitudes: “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5: 6).  Who can honestly say that he desires righteousness as much as he desires food and drink?

      It is said that the great philosopher Socrates was once approached by a young man wishing to become his pupil.  Socrates led him to the Mediterranean, where he promptly dunked his head under water and held him there for a moment.  When he came up gasping for breath, Socrates asked him what he wanted most while under water.  The reply, of course, was “air.”  “When you want to learn as much as you wanted air,” said the philosopher, “return to me.”

      Only when we arrive at the state where we cannot live without righteousness, just as we cannot live without air, food and drink, can we be certain that we have “endured to the end.”  Meanwhile, we may be on the correct pathway, but it will be necessary to continue walking and improving ourselves on a daily basis.

      Having laid this foundation, we can now return to Joseph Smith’s statement that the Israelites were cursed with a carnal law because they rejected the “last law” given to them by Moses.  What was this last law?  If the prophet had reference to the Ten Commandments, the basis of the law written on the tablets given to Moses, then the “last law” must have been the tenth commandment: “Thou shalt not covet.”  This, in fact, makes perfectly good sense, if we examine the nature of the Ten Commandments.

      The first nine commandments are such that one who breaks any of them can readily be detected.  He may be caught doing or saying something wrong, in violation of one of these commandments.  The punishment for breaking one of these principal commandments was death, usually by stoning.  But how was it possible to determine if an individual was guilty of being covetous and thus in violation of the tenth commandment?  Because this commandment dealt with one’s thoughts rather than with outward deeds and speech, it was impossible to enforce.  And yet it was at the root of the other commandments.

      From Jesus’ examination of the Ten Commandments and other portions of the law of Moses in his sermon on the mount, we have seen that he was concerned not only about overt acts, but with inward thoughts and intentions.  It becomes readily apparent that covetousness can lead to the commission of other sins.  One who covets his neighbor’s property can be tempted to steal; he who covets his neighbor’s wife can be tempted to commit adultery, and so on.

      Rejection of the tenth commandment meant that the Israelites were not prepared to receive the higher law, which requires that we not only have pure acts and pure speech, but pure thoughts as well.  With the coming of Jesus Christ to the earth in flesh, it was time to once again reveal the fulness of the higher law.  This he did in the sermon on the mount.

Fulfillment of the Law

      What did Christ mean when he said that the law must be fulfilled?  Moreover, what was the thought behind Paul’s words that “the law was added for transgression” till Christ come (Galatians 3:19-20)?  To what was it added?  The answer to that question is that the lesser law was added to the substratum of the higher law already revealed to Moses.  It was still possible for those who really worked hard at salvation to attain to the Melchizedek priesthood and the higher law under the Mosaic dispensation, though few did so.  Consequently, it is obvious that part of the Mosaic law code must belong to the higher law.  In view of the fact that the Ten Commandments, for example, are stressed not only in the Old Testament, but also in the New Testament and in the Doctrine and Covenants, it is clear that they belong to the higher law and were not “done away” in Christ.

      To better understand which part of the law of Moses was to be fulfilled and hence give way to the higher law when Christ came, one must first understand the divisions of the law of Moses.  They are three in number:9  1) the commandments (sometimes translated “testimonies”), 2) the statutes (sometimes translated “ordinances”), and 3) the judgments.  These same three divisions of the law are listed in the Book of Mormon, where the word “performances” sometimes is substituted for “judgments."10  Indeed, the Book of Mormon is our best source of information on the validity of these various parts of the law.  It tells us that the statutes and judgments (ordinances and performances) are what would be done away in Christ, while the commandments would remain.11

The Sermon in the Book of Mormon

      When Jesus appeared to the Nephites, he announced to them the end of certain requirements of the law of Moses and the establishment of the higher law.  As a part of his teaching, he delivered to them the same sermon recorded in Matthew 5-7 (see 3 Nephi 12-14).  There are, however, some differences between the Old World and New World versions of the sermon on the mount.  The reasons are generally 1) because the culture of the Nephites was not identical to that of the Jews, and 2) Christ had already risen from the dead, so the new law was already in effect.  We shall here take note of some specific differences between the two versions of the sermon.12

Matthew 5:1 = 3 Nephi 12: 1. In the Matthew account, Jesus left the multitude and spoke to his disciples (perhaps only the Twelve) on the mount.  In the Nephite account, Jesus begins speaking to the twelve, then turns to the multitude.  (We must remember that the wicked had already been killed off, so the more righteous were the ones who heard him speak.)  He then prefaces his remarks by “blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized.”  Continuing the thought in 3 Ne. 12:2, he says, “blessed are they who shall believe in your words . . . and be baptized.”

Matthew 5:3 = 3 Nephi 12:3. The beatitudes as they stand in Matthew give the impression that anyone found in any of the conditions listed there (meek, pure in heart, poor in spirit, etc.) would be blessed.  This, of course, is not the case, for Jesus was speaking only to those who had been baptized and were following him.  In the Nephite account, he makes it clear that more is required.  For example, he says, “Yea, blessed are the poor in spirit who come unto me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  The idea of being baptized and coming unto Jesus as a prerequisite to any of the blessings given in the beatitudes should be carried down through all of the rest of them.  The Joseph Smith translation adds this idea to the Matthew account.

Matthew 5:6 = 3 Nephi 12:6. Matthew reads, “Blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.”  The Book of Mormon version adds “with the Holy Ghost,” a statement added to the New Testament version by Joseph Smith in the JST.

Matthew 5:13-14 = 3 Nephi 12:13-14. While Matthew reads “Ye are the salt of the earth . . . ye are the light of the world,” the Book of Mormon version reads “I give unto you to be the salt of the earth . . .I give unto you to be the light of this people.”  The Joseph Smith Translation makes this change in Matthew.

Matthew 5:18 = 3 Nephi 12:18. Matthew reads, “One jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”  Indeed, all had not yet been fulfilled at that time, for Christ was still in his mortal probation.  By the time he delivered the sermon to the Nephites, however, the great atonement had been wrought, and he was able to say, in the past tense, “One jot nor one tittle hath not passed away from the law, but in me it hath all been fulfilled.”

Matthew 5:20 = 3 Nephi 12:20. To the Jews, Jesus said, “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”  Since there were no Scribes or Pharisees among the Nephites, he reworded this: “Except ye shall keep my commandments, which I have commanded you at this time, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 5:22 = 3 Nephi 12:22. The King James Version of Matthew reads, “Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.”  The Book of Mormon version reads, “Whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of his judgment.”  Besides the change from “the judgment” to “his judgment,” we note that the words “without a cause” are omitted from the version in 3 Nephi.  These same words are also missing in most of the early Greek manuscripts of Matthew, while some Greek manuscripts have the marginal note that they are not “in the Jewish” (meaning the Hebrew or Aramaic original, no longer extant).

Matthew 5:24. This verse mentions leaving one’s gift at the altar.  Since animal sacrifices ceased with Christ’s atonement, there was no need to give such an example to his Nephite audience, so it is not in the Book of Mormon.

Matthew 5:25 = 3 Nephi 12:25. In Matthew, Jesus speaks of a man being delivered to the judge, then the officer and then cast into prison.  To the Nephites, whose political and legal system was probably different from that of the Jews, he mentions only prison.  Significantly, the Book of Mormon indicates that the government had broken down and people had separated into tribes just before the coming of Christ (3 Nephi 7:2-4).

Matthew 5:26 = 3 Nephi 12:26. The “farthing,” an English word used to denote a Roman coin unknown to the Nephites in their isolation in the New World, is replaced by “senine,” a Nephite monetary unit.  In the Nephite version, Jesus adds that it is impossible for a man to pay his debts while in prison, since he earns no money while there.

Matthew 5:29-30 = 3 Nephi 12:29-30. The analogy of plucking out the right eye and cutting off the right hand, while they made perfectly good sense to the Jews, may not have been significant to the Nephites.  Therefore, Jesus told them not to suffer “these things” to enter into the heart and to deny oneself of these things.

Matthew 5.35 = 3 Nephi 12:35. The reference to the city of Jerusalem is deleted in the sermon as delivered to the Nephites, since only their distant ancestors of six centuries years earlier had known the holy city.

Matthew 5:45 = 3 Nephi 12:45. The Nephite version is shorter, stating that God makes the sun to rise on the evil and on the good, while the Matthew version says he makes the sun to rise on the evil and sends rain on both just and unjust.

Matthew 5:46-47, which speak of the publicans, tax officials in Roman times, have no parallel in 3 Nephi, where the political system was different.  Instead, 3 Nephi 12:46-47 reads, “Wherefore those things which were of old time, which were under the law, in me are all fulfilled.  Old things are done away, and all things have become new.”

Matthew 6:11.  A portion of the “Lord’s Prayer” has “Give us this day our daily bread,” a statement omitted from the version in 3 Nephi 13.

3 Nephi 13:25. Before saying, “take no thought,” Jesus turns to the twelve disciples.  In the Matthew version, since he is speaking only to the twelve apostles, apparently, there is no need for him to turn away from the multitude.  But since the instructions to the twelve to take no thought for the cares and concerns of earthly subsistence are for the select few and not for all of Christ’s followers, in 1 Nephi 14:1, he returns to the multitude.

Matthew 6:32 adds, in parentheses, “(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek).”  Since the “Gentiles” had a different meaning for the Jews than for the Nephites, the Book of Mormon leaves this out.

Matthew 7:28-29 tells how the people were astonished at Jesus’ teaching, for he taught with authority and not as the Scribes.  The Nephites, seeing the resurrected Christ, could hardly be astonished at his authority, nor would the term “Scribes” have the same meaning for them, so this passage is omitted in 3 Nephi.


1.  That the sermon took place just outside Capernaum is evidenced by the fact that, immediately after the sermon, Jesus went into Capernaum, where he performed miracles (Matthew 8:1-5).

2.  Compare the sermon Jesus delivered to the Nephites in the city Bountiful following his resurrection (3 Nephi 12-14).

3.  Jesus often resorted to mountaintops, either alone or with his apostles (Matthew 14:22-23; 15:29; 17:1; 28:16; Luke 6:12).  On occasion, he tried to get away from those seeking cures only (Mark 6:45-46; Luke 6:2-3, 15).

4.  Because of the fiery appearance atop the mountain, the Israelites said, “Our God is a consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24; 9:3; Hebrews 12:29).

5.  The entire chapter speaks of God’s anger with the Israelites in the wilderness because of their disobedience and non-acceptance of the law he proposed to them.  Compare Psalm 81:8-13; Acts 7:38-42.

6.  The word “beatitude” means “blessing,” but because they describe attitudes of being, teachers sometimes call them “be attitudes.”

7.  This is not to say that no one in the Old Testament was inspired of God nor that the higher law and the priesthood was unattainable.  Rather, the people as a whole were not blessed with the higher law and the lesser or carnal law was administered by the Aaronic or Levitical priesthood.  There were, at all times, some prophets holding the higher priesthood, some of them possessing the keys thereof.  For a discussion, see John A. Tvedtnes, The Church of the Old Testament (2nd ed., Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1980) .

8.  Those who inherit the celestial kingdom have reached the point where they no longer have a desire or an inclination to do evil (Mosiah 5:2; Alma 13:12; 19:33), always desiring to do that which is right.

9.  Deuteronomy 4:13-14; 4:1-2, etc.  I am indebted to Avraham Gileadi, who first pointed this out to me in Israel shortly after his conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ.

10.  Helaman 15:5; 2 Nephi 5:10, etc.

11.  Alma 30:3; 2 Nephi 25:24-25, 30; 4 Nephi 12.

12.  For an in-depth study, see John W. Welch, lluminating the Sermon at the Temple & Sermon on the Mount: An Approach to 3 Nephi 11-18 and Matthew 5-7 (Provo: FARMS, 1999).