Review: The Story of God Bible Commentary (The Sermon on the Mount)

March 4th, 2014

For Scot McKnight, the Sermon on the Mount is an ethical masterpiece, but also something more. It is ethics lived in light of the messiah, who draws his followers into a new Law grounded in the person of Jesus.

The Sermon on the Mount is, along with Lynn Cohick’s commentary on Philippians, one of the pilot volumes for The Story of God Bible Commentary (SGBC) series. Edited by evangelical scholars McKnight and Tremper Longman III, SGBC seeks to place individual texts within the larger story of the bible so that the grand theme of God’s continuing work among humans remains in view.

McKnight organizes his commentary according to the format that will be used in future volumes of SGBC. Each section opens with “Listen to the Story,” which situates the Scripture passage among biblical themes. “Explain the Story” is more standard commentary, with reflections on the passage in light of historical, cultural, and theological considerations. Finally, “Live the Story” moves toward practical outworkings of the Scripture’s message.

McKnight frames the Sermon on the Mount by lifting ethics up into Christology. The person of Jesus (rather than his teaching itself) is primary in the New Testament story. But response to him comes through aligning our behaviors with his message.

The ethics of the Sermon, McKnight says, can be approached from four different perspectives. Ethics from above reflects the Torah, which imposes a moral code from God through Moses. Ethics from beyond speaks to the prophetic task of connecting present with God’s future, while ethics from below brings in wisdom from human observation. Jesus then situates each of these perspectives into the messianic ethics that will mark his community of followers.

With this in mind, McKnight delves into the individual passages of Matthew’s telling of the Sermon on the Mount, setting the particulars of the Sermon’s larger vision. Each passage is treated carefully, with respect to its internal integrity even as it is located in the larger biblical narrative.

The Sermon on the Mount commentary is an intriguing introduction to an equally intriguing project. Although The Story of God Bible Commentary is not a scholarly work, it reflects considerable scholarship. Although it is more than a devotional book, it is filled with narrative illustrations. In this respect, its intent appears similar to William Barclay’s classic Daily Study Bible, although its approach and perspective are quite different. McKnight hopes to deepen both the knowledge and devotion of the reader as he or she struggles through the text alongside the commentator.

It is too early to tell how well SGBC can fulfill its aims, although McKnight’s volume seems a good start. Casual readers will not find the going easy, but those who stick with it will find plenty worth wrestling with.

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