The discourse of Jesus in Matt. 5–7 placed, according to Matthew's scheme, to correspond to Moses' receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. It was first given this title by St Augustine (about 392 CE). Some of the material is replicated in Luke 6: 20–49, which is shorter and said to be delivered on the level ground. Luke does, however, add to his four Beatitudes four corresponding Woes, relevant to Christian life in the Church, which is a typical theme of Luke: notice the addition of the word ‘daily’ at 9: 23 (it is not in Mark 8: 34).
Matt.'s Sermon is a compilation of Jesus' sayings edited by the evangelist and it is therefore not so much the quintessence of Jesus' moral teaching (as popularly asserted) but the quintessence of Matthew's understanding of that teaching, and it must be read in conjunction with the wider narrative, as when he lives out his own injunction of non-violence in the Passion narrative (Matt. 26: 67–68 and 27: 28–36). They were delivered on various occasions and as now arranged they present Jesus as the New Moses, setting out the New Righteousness for his disciples. The Sermon is an integral part of the whole gospel but can be examined as a distinct unit. The first part (Matt. 5: 1–12) consists of the nine Beatitudes, or Blessings, showing that in the kingdom of Heaven (or God) there will be a great reversal of values. The beatitudes are pronounced in the indicative form, not the imperative. They are statements about a kind of life entirely independent of a particular community, Jewish or Christian. They apply to everyone. The disciples are addressed (5: 1) but so are the crowds (7: 28). The imperative is implied—disciples at any rate ought to imitate that ideal form of living wherever it is found. There follows a series of practical examples setting out the ideals of the Kingdom in terms of the conditions of this life: murder, adultery, oaths, and animosity are all forbidden by the absolute standards of the Kingdom. There follows (6: 1–7: 12) a collection of Jesus' teaching on righteousness towards God; generosity and self-discipline; undetectable fasting and discreet almsgiving; perfect trust and non-judgemental attitudes. The centrepiece of the section is the Lord's Prayer (6: 9–13), and it ends with the Golden Rule.
Interpretation of these injunctions has been split. On the one hand are those (predominantly Catholic) who have regarded them as commands to be taken as they stand; for with the help of divine grace, they are able to be put into practice, at any rate by those with a special vocation to do so, such as members of religious orders. Others (mostly Protestant) have regarded the sermon as giving ideals to be striven towards; for a requirement to love as God loves (5: 46) is an impossible demand for perfection (Matt. 5: 48) which accuses the readers of their imperfections and which already Luke in his version (6: 36) modifies to the more practicable command to be merciful as God is merciful.
One section of the sermon (Matt. 5: 17–48) contrasts the righteousness demanded by the Law with that put before the disciples of Jesus in a series of ‘antitheses’. They are in an extreme form, to goad Matthew's readers into actions inspired by love (Matt. 22: 39), but they represent the heightening of the Law and not its abolition (Matt. 5: 17).