Guelich Carefully Exegetes the Sermon on the Mount, Part 2
Robert A. Guelich. 1982. The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding. Dallas: Word Publishing. (Go to part 1)
Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
As a sermon, the Sermon on the Mount is relatively self-contained and not tightly related to the rest of Matthew’s Gospel. If this were not so, one would question the authorship of the sermon. However, one would hope to see common elements in Jesus’ teaching on different occasions. Guelich does not pursue this angle; instead, he develops theological themes.
Three Interpretative Lenses
Guelich views the Sermon on the Mount through 3 interpretative lenses: Christology, ecclesiology, and eschatology. Under Christology, the Sermon sets forth Jesus as Messiah who fulfills not just a single prophecy, but all of scripture. With ecclesiology, we see a messianic gathering of Apostles and other disciples who are both reconciled and saved through the Jesus Messiah and distinguished from unattached crowds and critics, such as the scribes and Pharisees. Under eschatology, Jesus announces blessings for the poor and destitute which both congratulate them for their faith but also promise a new identity and relationship with God as they lean into these blessings (27-30). The tension between the kingdom’s appearance already and not yet informs and complicates each of these interpretative dimensions.
Still, the problem of a tightly woven treatise is that the balance of themes is internal to the argument and the same balance is hard to maintain in commentaries on it. How do you follow particular threads? How do you understand them relative to other threads? Complexity breeds complexity. Each of Guelich’s chapters follows a stylized format:
- Literary Analysis;
- Notes; and
- Comments (7-9).
The comment section is usually broken up into 3 or more sub-sections unique to that chapter. Guelich sees the Beatitudes as providing structure to the sermon by anticipating later admonitions and warnings. In the remainder of my comments, let me follow the first Beatitude (blessed are the poor in spirit) through this framework.
Consistent with Guelich’s translation (62), for example, the first Beatitude reads: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:3 ESV) He notes that the same basic beatitude is also found in Luke 6:20 (34) and appears in the second person, not the third person.
In his literary analysis, he observes that: “The content [of a beatitude as a literary form] consists of the blessing and a description of the recipient, usually identified by an attitude or conduct befitting the blessing” (63). He notes that a total of 44 beatitudes appear in the NT. For example, the Apostle Paul (63) writes:
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Rom 4:7-8 ESV)
Paul’s beatitude is a direct quote from Psalm 32:1-2. The implication of Jesus’ use of the beatitude form is that he is building on the wisdom literature of the Old Testament in his sermon.
In trying to establish a translation for the Greek word, makario, Guelich sees Luke’s Beatitudes more as eschatological blessings while Matthew’s form more of an entrance requirement for the kingdom (65). In other words, is one blessed now (congratulations) or blessed in the future (as in heaven)?
And who exactly are the poor in spirit? In a Greek sense, the poor are socioeconomically poor (68). In a Hebrew sense, poor means desperate. Guelich writes:
“…the poor in Judaism referred to those in desperate need (socioeconomic element) whose helpless ness drove them to a dependent relationships with God (religious element) for the supplying of their needs and vindication.” (69)
Are they voluntarily poor, spirituality poor, or humble? (72).
Guelich sees poor in spirit having both Christological and ecclesiological components. The focus on the poor in spirit depicts Jesus Christologically as fulfilling God’s promise through Isaiah 61:1 (97). In response to John the Baptist’s concern about his messianic ministry, for example, Jesus cites Isaiah 61:1 responding:
“And he answered them, Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” (Luke 7:22 ESV)
Poor in spirit also shows his disciples turning to God ecclesiologically being “stripped of all self-sufficiency, self-security, and self-righteousness” (98).
Guelich sees the Beatitudes functioning as a unit together in anticipating the admonitions that follow rather than a one-to-one correspondence (92). Poor in spirit as humble surely anticipates:
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” (Matt 6:1-2 ESV)
The term, poor in spirit, does not appear overtly in this context so the linkage is subtle.
Here again, we see in the warnings an echo of the first Beatitude, not an overt reference. For example, Jesus says:
“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matt 7:3 ESV)
The problem here is the opposite of humility—pride. Someone poor in spirit as humble probably would not be as quick to make this mistake.
Robert Guelich has written a careful and engaging commentary on the Sermon on the Mount that is unlikely to be superseded quickly. It is perhaps surprising to note that this commentary predated (1982) personal computers that have made scriptural study much easier. This observation only makes his accomplishment all the more amazing.
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20 ESV)