Why Are There Four Gospels and Only One Sermon on the Mount  Term Paper

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gospels in the Bible, each purporting to tell the true story of Jesus' time on earth. In these four books, the famous "Sermon on the Mount" is only recorded in full one time (in Matthew), though a much abridged version is recorded in Luke and supposedly told when Christ has descended from that same mountain. (Maybe he was giving a synopsis of his longer lecture) Understandably, no single short book could possible encompass all the events of any man's life, let alone the life of a wise prophet and Messiah. It seems odd that this sermon is not elsewhere recorded not because each of the gospels should be expected to tell of the same episodes ( as if there we no others), but rather because generally speaking they do stick to the same canon of stories. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the synoptic gospels because they are all interwoven with one another and tend to portray the same events. John is the odd-gospel out, as it seems interested in different parables and stories. The inclusion of four gospels, all of which tell slightly different and inconsistent stories, has led to a great deal of speculation among scholars as to which are most accurate and where between their lines the "real" story lies. In order to thoroughly speculate on why there is only one complete telling of the Sermon on the Mount, even though there are four gospels, it is necessary to understand the many competing theories as to why there are four gospels and what the connection between them may be.

The most obvious and orthodox answer to this question can be summed up in one word: God. To be more precise: what God wants, God gets -- don't question God. This theory suggests that each author was divinely instructed as to precisely what words should be used, and hence similarities are obviously evidence that God was dictating the literal words of Jesus

, while differences may be chalked up to a metaphor or mystery, or dual truths (for example, some claim that the different lineages in Matthew and Luke come from tracing Jesus' lineage alternately through his adoptive father and through his mother). Old orthodoxy would link the number of gospels to the divine will of God. "Why were there only four? St. Irenaeus explained: 'There are four principle winds, four pillars that hold up the sky, and four corners of the universe; therefore, it is only right that there be four gospels.'"

According to this explanation, one may be sure that the Sermon on the Mount is only in the Bible once because God, in his inscrutable knowledge, willed this to be the case.

Another set of common beliefs regarding the origin of the gospels, which may or may not coincide with the belief in their divine inspiration, is that one of the gospels came into existence first, and the other two were based on those that proceeded. The general consensus currently is that Mark came first, and then Matthew and Luke, at least one of which was based on the other. "scholars reason that Matthew and Luke both use Mark for a source, and also had other sources of their own."

In this scenario, it becomes evident that the reason the Sermon on the Mount appears in Matthew (and in a much abridged version, as the Sermon on the Plain, in Luke) is because these appearances post-date Mark. Perhaps further information of some sort, be that divine inspiration, word of mouth, outside sources, or personal ingenuity, was available to Matthew and/or Luke. John, of course, was working from radically different sources and knowledge pools (apart from his connection to the Spirit), and apparently had either not heard of the Sermon on the Mount, or did not consider it to be particularly outstanding among the many teachings of Christ. Those who argue in defense of this theory point to the way that "Minor agreements" are frequently made between Luke and Matthew in instances where both are telling a story out of Mark, and yet both have some small word choice in common which they do not share with Mark.

Other supporting arguments include the non-existence of a verifiable "Q."

One theory on this outside source is that it was a collection of the "Sayings" of Christ. Most of the gospels are narrative, yet many ancient sources (including biblical passages) suggests
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that there were many books filled with the sayings of Christ. Many scholars postulate the existence of a proto-Gospel, filled with the wisdom teachings of Christ, and known euphemistically as Q. The theory of Q. generally speculates that Mark and Q. predate Matthew and Luke, and that these later two were written without knowledge of each other's efforts.

Q is supposedly a lost book, which prefigures the later synoptics by giving more dialogue than Mark, including the Sermon on the Mount. It is particularly the differences in the Sermon on the Mount between Matthew and Luke, and the differences in their accounts of the birth of Jesus, that point to Q. "An assessment of the totality of the evidence indicates a balance in favor of the Q. hypothesis."

If the Q. hypothesis is right, then the reason why the Sermon on the Mount appears in Matthew and is not completely given anywhere else is because it is a collection of the sayings in Q. Theoretically, in Q. all of the Sermon on the Mount would have been archived. Matthew put it into his book in a sort of lump, in a three-chapter long sermon. Luke, on the other hand, took many of the same sayings and separated them with larger stretches of action narrative, seeking to make a new form out of the formless sayings. So the sermon as it appears in Q. is never seen in John or Mark's gospels, who had no source to the secret document. It is only fully regurgitated by Matthew.

One of the evidences frequently quoted for the existence of Q. is that elements of it appear not only in the synoptic gospels, but also in certain non-canon texts. Specifically, elements of Q. appear in the recently discovered/translated Gospel of Thomas. The fact that certain textbook "Q" sorts of sayings also manifested in this other book indicate that it may in fact be real, or so the argument might suggest. Prior to the discovery of the book of Thomas, "all known Gospels were written as narratives; no other Sayings Gospel had ever been seen; it was an unknown gospel construct. But after the 1945 discovery of the Sayings Gospel of Thomas at Nag Hummadi in the 1940's, the theory of 'Q' became much more believable."

However, there is another possible answer which does not propose the existence of a complete and completely forgotten book. It is possible that Q. is not as carefully structured and as complete as scholars believe, but might have been a more episodic book -- even a Gnostic book. Quite blatantly, it is possible that the Gospel of Thomas itself provided the inspiration for many of the unique thoughts and ideas in that developed between the writing of Mark and the writing of Matthew or Luke. If this is the case, then the reason that the Sermon on the Mount is in only one of the gospels would be that only one of the authors was familiar with and had been touched and inspired by the gospel of Thomas. Having a so-called Gnostic text be the source of the Bible's most inspiring and oft-quoted moral segment would also have a significant impact on the legitimate ways in which these verses were interpreted. There seems to be some evidence, if one considers the possibility that the Gospel of Thomas predates and prefigure two of the other gospels, that the Sermon on the Mount is part of mystery teachings not about the kingdom of God to come after death -- but of the kingdom of God which is born of gnosis within the soul of the faithful.

Indeed, the similarities between the Sermon on/at the Mount in the canonical Gospels and in Thomas are obvious. Consider these three quotes:

1. "Jesus said, 'Congratulations [blessings] to the poor, for to you belongs Heaven's kingdom.' "

2. "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

3. "[He] said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. "

Most people would be hard pressed to tell which of the verses came from the Bible and which from Thomas, particularly when taking into account the many liberties taken in most translations. The differences between these versions are relatively small, and they show a definite similarity above and beyond mere sentiment. Imagination unaided would not be enough to create these similarities -- either all three were inspired by God, by some previously written source, or through eye witness experience (which appears to be unlikely). So the idea that either Q. led to…

Sources Used in Documents:


Bruce, Robinson. "The Christian Scriptures (New Testament)" Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. < http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_ntb1.htm>

"The Gospel According to Seneca"

Goodace, Mark. "The Case Against Q. FAQ" < www.ntgateway.com/Q/faq.htm>

Kirby, Peter. "The Existence of Q" Early Christian Writings. < http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/q-exist.html>

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