Common Scriptures in Review: Gender & the Sermon on the Mount

RayBeatitudes, Bible, christ, christianity, Culture, diversity, doctrine, feminism, marriage, meekness, mercy, plan of salvation, prophets, repentance, righteousness, Sermon on the Mount, spiritual progression, women 12 Comments

I absolutely LOVE the Sermon on the Mount. It is my second favorite passage in all our recorded scripture – right behind the Intercessory Prayer.  However, we often forget that it was delivered to . . . his disciples . . . not to the multitude who had gathered because of his fame.  In fact, the first verses of Matthew 5 are crystal clear as to his audience:

1 And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:
2 And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,

Here is my point – my two points, really.

1) This great sermon was delivered as a higher level discourse to his most dedicated followers – including those who eventually would form the new faith of Christianity.  Its standards absolutely are not easy, and its directives absolutely are not natural.

Sometimes we hold the general population of the Church (and each other and others) to these standards, while Jesus himself took great care not to do so of the general population of his followers. This often is a good example of unrealistic expectations – and of demanding others live a standard we ourselves are unable to master.

2) This great sermon was delivered mostly to the MEN who would form the leadership of his movement, even though there is no reason to believe that the listeners were all men.  (I personally believe there were women present.)


Did the gender composition of the listening group have an impact on the content of the sermon?

Generally speaking, the list of attributes included in the Beatitudes are considered throughout history to be feminine.  Jesus was speaking primarily to men about how to change and grow (repent) and become godlike.  So,

1) Might the Sermon on the Mount have been different if the primary audience had been women?  If so, how?

2) How can we take the general message of repentance (change and growth and the acquisition of godly characteristics) and use it to achieve the proper balance we need to become “perfect” (complete, whole, fully developed)?

3) Must every individual acquire all the characteristics listed – or can a spouse/companion share that endeavor and, between two, create one united, balanced, “prefect” whole?

Comments 12

  1. Ray, I think we have to be careful in assuming these teachings were to men only as I think you suggest in you personal opinion that women were there as well. Luke 6 seems to indicate that they were to more than just the apostles. I think its highly probable that these teachings were told again and again throughout his ministry. They were certainly taught in the BoM to more than men as well. The fact that we dont have other recordings is not enough to prove that these teachings had gender in mind.

  2. Elder McConkie believed the sermon on the mount was actually given several time to several groups of people and the version in the New Testament are just highlights that his disciples keyed in on. Now, he might be wrong and you are correct that the New Testament makes it appear it was only to his disciples. But, I also would be surprised if these were highlights from many different talks he gave to many different groups of people.

    “Might the Sermon on the Mount have been different if the primary audience had been women? If so, how?”

    Also remember, the gospels were literally written decades after Christ died from men living in a very male-dominant culture. Our own Bible Dictionary admits these gospels were each written with different cultures in mind. This is why Luke has so much discussion of Mary and other females in Christ’s life: Luke was writing with Greeks in mind who were a very “feminist” culture compared to others.

    Look, I understand that most people don’t want to view the gospels this way, but a lot was lost over the decades and the audiences were very male-centered and I don’t think any LDS scholar would refute this. This does have real bearing on the New Testament, another reason why the New Testament just isn’t enough.

  3. I find the profound principles in the Sermon on the Mount correspond with Buddhism, which teaches that living in peace, forgiving, meeking, and loving kindness are the secrets to inner peace and happiness. If we live in a state of surrender and mindfulness, the principles in the Sermon on the Mount become part of our daily walk. We make these concept difficult when we chose to live unconsciously, allowing our ego to dictate our thoughts and our moods.

  4. I don’t understand why you think Christ’s disciples were mostly men. Are you confusing disciples with apostles? I can understand your reading this as Jesus leaving the crowds of curiosity seekers and speaking to his devoted followers, but not the assumption that his devoted followers were mostly men.

  5. Karen:

    There are many, many similarities between what Jesus taught and Buddhism, particularly in the Sermon on the Mount, but in many other places as well. I have also found great peace in meditation. I know it’s probably just me, but at times struggling with various issues in prayer leaves me unsettled when all is said and done. Perhaps it’s just that I need to learn patience. In meditation, however, letting go and just being gives me a great calm every time. And, ironically, I can often think about gospel principles better after practicing Buddhist meditation. Odd.

  6. Post

    Ardis, based on everything I’ve read and studied over the years, I believe the sermon was delivered “mostly” to men – meaning only that I believe the majority of his closest disciples were men and that some of the message (especially the middle part) is directed specifically to the men who would be the primary missionaries after the crucifixion.

    I never said I thought there were only a couple of women who heard the sermon – only that most of the listeners were men.

    I also find it fascinating that the characteristics and actions enumerated in the sermon are precisely what people who had been steeped in traditional attitudes of power would need – and, in that society, those attitudes were most obviously manifested in the roles men held more commonly than women.

    PLEASE, everyone, understand that I did not say there were no female disciples of Jesus – or even only a handful or a tiny minority. I am asking a pretty straightforward question, but perhaps I asked it badly.

    How might the Sermon on the Mount have been different if the primary audience was comprised “mostly” of the most disenfranchised and powerless members of the society of the time – those who had been “compelled to be humble” already by their circumstances? Would it not have changed at all? For example, how might the message have been different if those who listened to it had been “mostly” meek and merciful and poor in spirit and peacemakers already – or did not include a physician, a tax collector, small business owners, etc?

  7. Ray,

    I agree that it is about balance in many ways. Balance between the masculine and the feminine. Balance between strength (which Christ certainly had) and humility. Balance in many things. Interestingly, drawing on Karen’s comments, this is also a very Eastern philosophy. Yin / yang. Cosmic balance. The Middle Way.

    I like the thought that the audience directed the sermon and had never really thought of it like that. I think that it might have been much the same in many ways, though. I think the things He was warning against weren’t necessarily characteristics of the specific MEN in the audience, but more characteristics of the “Natural Man” (also including females). The things He expounded on were a more primitive level (Mosaic law) and seem to be the natural reaction to the world around us. We essentially need to subdue this.

  8. Ray-
    Great post. I particularly like this:
    “Must every individual acquire all the characteristics listed – or can a spouse/companion share that endeavor and, between two, create one united, balanced, “prefect” whole?”

    I have often felt that there is power in relationships, a form of synergy if you will, that can be developed. I absolutely think that two people coming together can create on united, balanced, “perfect” whole. I think the Sermon on the Mount can help us in that effort.

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