The Central Section of the Sermon on the Mount

The structure of the Sermon on the Mount is debated among commentators. The following breakdown is the outline and literary structure I find most compelling among the suggestions they offer.

The Sermon on the Mount is from Matthew 5:1–7:29. Two occurrences of “the Law and the Prophets” (5:17; 7:12) appear to section off this large teaching block into three sections:

  1. Introduction to the Sermon (5:1-16)
  2. The main message of the Sermon (5:17–7:12)
  3. The conclusion of the Sermon (7:13-29)

The “main message” part (5:17–7:12) is also composed of three sections:

  1. Instances of “you have heard…but I say to you” (5:17-48)
  2. Disciplines susceptible to hypocrisy (6:1-18)
  3. Exhortations about trusting in God’s provision and seeking God’s kingdom (6:19–7:12)

The middle of the “main message” section is about “Disciplines,” and there just happen to be three of those also:

  1. Giving (6:1-4)
  2. Praying (6:5-15)
  3. Fasting (6:16-18)

The middle discipline–Praying–breaks into (wait for it…wait for it…) three parts:

  1. How not to pray (6:5-8)
  2. How to pray (6:9-13)
  3. The warning about not forgiving the trespasses of others (6:14-15)

Let’s recap. The Sermon divides into three sections (5:1-16; 5:17–7:12; 7:13-29), the middle section (5:17–7:12) divides into three more (5:17-48; 6:1-18; 6:19–7:12), then that middle part (6:1-18) also has three (6:1-14; 6:5-15; 6:16-18), and, finally, the middle of those Disciplines (6:5-15) has three parts as well (6:5-8; 6:9-13; 6:14-15). The most central section of the Sermon is 6:9-13.

If the Sermon on the Mount is a target, the bulls-eye is the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9-13).

A few (ahem: three) closing observations:

  • The arrangement of the Sermon seems to favor divisions of three.
  • The arrangement is a literary work of art.
  • The central piece–the Lord’s Prayer–is important for everything that precedes and follows it.

I’m currently preaching on this Sermon at Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and the introduction to Matthew 5–7 can be heard here.


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