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The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing

A Theological Commentary

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The Sermon on the Mount is one of the most influential portions of the Bible. It is the most studied and commented upon portion of the Christian Scriptures, with every Christian generation turning to it for insight and guidance.

In this volume, a recognized expert on the Gospels shows that the Sermon on the Mount offers a clear window into understanding God's work in Christ. Jonathan Pennington provides a historical, theological, and literary commentary on the Sermon and explains how this text offers insight into God's plan for human flourishing. As Pennington explores the literary dimensions and theological themes of this famous passage, he situates the Sermon in dialogue with the Jewish and Greek virtue traditions and the philosophical-theological question of human flourishing. He also relates the Sermon's theological themes to contemporary issues such as ethics, philosophy, and economics.


Translation of the Sermon on the Mount
Introduction: An Overall Reading Strategy for the Sermon
Part 1: Orientation
1. The Encyclopedic Context of the Sermon
2. Makarios: Macarisms underneath and in the Beatitudes
3. Teleios: Wholeness throughout the Sermon
4. Seven More Key Terms and Concepts in the Sermon
5. The Structure(s) of the Sermon and Its Setting within Matthew
Part 2: Commentary
6. Matthew 5:1-16
7. Matthew 5:17-48
8. Matthew 6:1-21
9. Matthew 6:19-34
10. Matthew 7:1-12
11. Matthew 7:13-8:1
Part 3: Theological Reflection
12. The Sermon on the Mount and the Theology of Human Flourishing: A Sketch


"Jonathan Pennington's reading of the Sermon on the Mount is a remarkable piece of work: erudite, careful, balanced, and fresh. Grounded in meticulous historical exegesis but shaped by a distinctive sensitivity to theological hermeneutics, the book succeeds in proclaiming what is often undersold in our evangelicalism--the goodness of the good news by which we come to flourish."

Grant Macaskill, Kirby Laing Chair of New Testament Exegesis, University of Aberdeen

"When it comes to the Sermon on the Mount, many scholars find it difficult to comprehend the Sermon, let alone to make a contribution to the history of Christian thinking about it. Pennington has accomplished both, baptizing this great collection of Jesus's teachings into the wisdom tradition of human flourishing and virtue ethics. Even where I disagree with Pennington, I have learned from his logical and clear case for the Sermon as a summons to human flourishing. This book will prove to be an exceptional classroom tool as well as a preacher's steady resource."

Scot McKnight, professor of New Testament, Northern Seminary

"Is there need for another book on the Sermon on the Mount? Yes, because few others combine the strengths, clarity, pathos, and insight of this one. It is rooted in wide reading across many centuries and traditions. It takes full measure of the range of methods available to shed light on the passage. It is alert to personal transformation as a justified aim in reading. It is balanced, hermeneutically informed, and academically grounded without failing to be pastorally useful as well as theologically responsible. The closing chapter powerfully synthesizes the book's frequently fresh and always provocative findings. Readers of all stripes will benefit from interaction with Pennington's expositions and sometimes painfully honest wrestlings."

Robert W. Yarbrough, professor of New Testament, Covenant Theological Seminary

"In this insightful volume, Jonathan Pennington brings his expertise in the Gospels (and Matthew in particular) to bear on the theological masterpiece that is the Sermon on the Mount. Pennington finds in the Sermon an 'eschatological, Christ-centered, kingdom-oriented piece of wisdom literature,' whose unified theme is the goal of human flourishing. I found Pennington's careful exegesis and balanced conclusions thoroughly convincing."

Mark L. Strauss, Bethel Seminary San Diego

"Jonathan Pennington invites readers to consider anew the First Gospel's Sermon on the Mount. Situating the Sermon's message in the nexus of Second Temple Jewish wisdom and the Greco-Roman virtue traditions, Pennington unlocks the potential of the Sermon for the church in the twenty-first century. Pennington is a model reader, who is attuned to the Matthean Jesus's kingdom-oriented agenda. In his reading, the Sermon bids humans into a way-of-being-in-the-world that produces a foretaste in the present of the whole-person, full-human flourishing promised in the eschaton through the practice of Jesus's words."

Joel Willitts, professor of biblical and theological studies, North Park University

"You have heard it said that the Sermon on the Mount is an impossible ideal, but Jonathan Pennington says to you that it brings blessing and virtue, wholeness and excellence through the wise words of King Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount has informed theological ethics and Christian discipleship for centuries, but often readers have not known quite what to do with these instructions. Pennington here offers a comparative and literary analysis that brilliantly plots the text's portrayal of the good life of the gospel against other portraits of the virtuous life in Jewish and Greco-Roman literature of the day."

Michael Allen, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando

"Jonathan Pennington has written an exegetically sane and readable commentary on the Sermon on the Mount that also provides a macroscopic reading strategy focusing on how the Sermon envisions the realization of true human flourishing. Pennington argues what may be surprising to many today: human flourishing does not come by ignoring the law of God but by doing the will of God as whole persons. Pennington recognizes the need for balance between the unique work of Jesus in Matthew--who saves his people from their sins--and the necessity for his disciples to live in accord with the ethics of the kingdom. Pennington's exposition of Jesus's teaching has numerous implications for how we approach life today and deserves careful consideration. For anyone who has ever asked, what is the good life?, here is an answer that interacts robustly with the biblical text in its ancient context. This is a creative, substantive, and worthwhile contribution to the study of the Sermon on the Mount."

Brandon D. Crowe, associate professor of New Testament, Westminster Theological Seminary

"Pennington offers a helpful prolegomenon to the study of the Sermon on the Mount. His fresh proposal of a new paradigm for interpreting the Sermon exhibits an awareness of the major trajectories in the history of interpretation and judiciously engages the most recent scholarly discussions. Not content with mere theory, Pennington applies his paradigm in a brief commentary on the Sermon. Along the way he offers many insights that will enrich one's study of Jesus's ethical teaching. This is essential reading for scholars interested in synoptic studies."

Charles Quarles, professor of New Testament and biblical theology, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

The Author

  1. Jonathan T. Pennington
    Freddy Sinarahua

    Jonathan T. Pennington

    Jonathan T. Pennington (PhD, University of St. Andrews), a popular speaker, teacher, and preacher, is associate professor of New Testament interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also on staff as a preaching pastor at Sojourn...

    Continue reading about Jonathan T. Pennington


Jesus Creed 2017 Commentary of the Year
Outreach 2018 Resource of the Year (Theology)
A Top Five Reference Book for Parish Ministry in 2017, Academy of Parish Clergy

"At the heart of Jesus' ethical vision for kingdom people is the Sermon on the Mount. Jonathan Pennington's study of the Sermon takes the discussion to a new level by shaping it as Jesus' vision of human flourishing. . . . This book is a splendid contribution to both Jesus and Sermon on the Mount studies."

Scot McKnight,


"A major contribution not only to exegetical study of the Sermon on the Mount but also to the overall understanding of the Bible and the Christian life. Pennington surveys how the church has wrestled with the Sermon in various ways and then works carefully through the context of the Sermon, providing a thoughtful approach to the words of Jesus as they related to the rest of Scripture. This profound study offers a vision of what it means for human beings to flourish as well as providing significant instructions for faithful pastoral ministry."

Ray Van Neste,

Preaching (one of the "Top 10 Commentaries and Bible Study Tools of 2017," Annual Preaching Survey of Bibles and Bible Reference Works)

"Pennington's expertise in the Gospel of Matthew becomes clear as he provides a historical, literary, and theological exposition of the Sermon on the Mount. . . . Pennington effectively answers how the Sermon promotes human flourishing in the midst of the theological and existential questions those contexts raise. . . . Pennington's argument deserves careful consideration in light of the social, political, economic, and ethical issues with which our world is immersed. This work is not only helpful for understanding human flourishing according to the Sermon but also useful for considering ways to engage those outside the Christian tradition in regard to the teaching of Jesus. . . . In light of the topic, content, and emphases, I hope that those in and outside of academia will engage The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing to expand further the conversation regarding human flourishing. Pennington tackles this topic with precision and care in light of both the Jewish and Greco-Roman contexts. While the text may be most appropriate in an academic setting on the Gospel of Matthew or the Sermon on the Mount itself, Pennington's work deserves attention and consideration amidst a plethora of works that challenge us to consider Jesus's Sermon on the Mount in Matthew."

Matt Jones,

Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

"This is a fine theological interpretation of Matthew's Sermon on the Mount. Pennington . . . draws on a wide range of traditional and contemporary interpretations of Matthew's text to bring a fresh analysis of the meaning of this key Christian work, not only in the setting of Matthew's Gospel and early Christianity but in its meaning for today. . . . Students of Matthew's Gospel and those interested in Christian theological ethics will find substantive material here."

Donald Senior, CP,

The Bible Today

"I took Pennington's class on the Sermon on the Mount nearly ten years ago when I was working on my MDiv at Southern Seminary. It was one of my five favorite courses during seminary. For years, I've been waiting for all of those classroom insights and the best of Pennington's subsequent study of the sermon to make their way into a book. Finally, it's here. And it doesn't disappoint. Pennington's work draws upon a wide range of scholars from different generations and theological streams. He situates Jesus's most famous sermon in the context of both Jewish wisdom literature and also the Greco-Roman virtue tradition. . . . I highly recommend you spend some time with this new commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. It is well written, well researched, and it aims at our hearts."

Trevin Wax,

The Gospel Coalition

"Simply put, we will all preach on the Sermon on the Mount at some point in our lives. Pennington helps to sort out the various approaches over the centuries. His well argued approach relates to the idea of glorifying God by enjoying Him forever. Virtue ethics set in biblical cement helps us anchor our lives beyond the often 'obligatory prayer for salvation' that provides only a half-salvation. . . . This is a book of 'rubber that meets the road' theology--encounter morality in terms of obligations and prohibitions being swallowed by the freedom giving capacity for happiness through Christian Virtues. . . . Recommended."

Ron Baker,

LifeWay Christian Resources/Pastors (blog)

"[This book] might help us apply the Sermon on the Mount in a powerful way to our everyday lives. . . . While Pennington's book is a classic commentary with verse-by-verse notes on Matthew 5 to 7, it is also much more. He sets out to show how the Sermon on the Mount fits into the larger meta-narrative of God's redemptive story--the Bible--and how the Sermon speaks deeply to the idea of human flourishing."

Hugh Whelchel,

Institute for Faith, Work & Economics

"The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing is both convincing and engaging. Pennington is judicious and detailed, but also clear and accessible. . . . Pennington is careful and honest, and does much to help the reader recognize the benefit of reading the Sermon through theological lenses. . . . A remarkable, theological exploration into one of the most important passages of the New Testament. Pennington is familiar with the history of interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount and his expertise in the Gospels provides a solid foundation for the work produced here. Pennington is insightful, engaging, and informed. If you can only own a single book on the Sermon on the Mount, please, let it be this one! It comes strongly recommended and will be used often."

John Kight,

Sojo Theo blog

"An illuminating and powerful theological commentary on the most famous teaching of our Lord. . . . This book would be an incredibly valuable resource to anyone interested in studying the Sermon on the Mount on a deeper level. I would highly recommend that pastors who intend to preach on these passages buy this commentary. . . . What a wonderful book. Honestly, it is the finest I've ever read on the Sermon on the Mount, and one of the finest books I've read this year thus far. It is scholarly without being obnoxiously boring. It is readable and personable. It is pastoral and challenging. It is faithful to the text of Scripture, and it engages with recent scholarship with honesty and integrity. I will refer to this book whenever I teach, preach, or write on the Sermon, and I'm eager to read more by Dr. Pennington. . . . This book is truly a must-read for studies in the Sermon on the Mount. Dr. Pennington has written a wonderful work that I expect to turn to again and again in my life and ministry. Buy this book and read deeply. If your pastor is preparing to preach on these texts, buy him a copy. I can't recommend this fine book highly enough."

Nathan Weis,

Top Christian Books

"Anyone studying the Sermon on the Mount would be at a loss without Pennington's book. This isn't the end-all-be-all of comments on the Sermon, but Pennington has spent fifteen years in Matthew, and one sees the depth of his research in his insights, explanations, and footnotes. Pennington has an eye for Matthew's literary techniques such as structuring, inclusios, and word plays. If you're going to study or teach on the Sermon, or if you simply want to know more about the Sermon, Pennington's book is a must."

Spencer Robinson,

Spoiledmilks blog