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June 27, 2011 / Daniel

Andrew Farley and the Sermon on the Mount

When my theology was more dispensational, whenever I ran across a difficult passage in Scripture (usually one that didn’t fit in my soteriology) I would just assign it to a different dispensation. And so, it was no longer my problem. It was somebody else’s problem.   Keep in mind that the problem didn’t go away. I had only relegated to a different period in redemptive history. This worked for awhile, but after time this approach became no longer satisfying to me. Neither theologically or exegetically.

This is the main problem with Andrew Farley’s approach to the Sermon on the Mount (SOTM). In his book God without Religion, Farley argues that the SOTM is not for Christians today. Instead it is only Moses 2.0. (He’s right, of course, in noticing the parallels between the SOTM and the OT Law, but his Marcionite hermeneutic uses this as a reason for dismissing both of these sections, rather than affirming its abiding value as Scripture).

According to Farley, the SOTM is the OT Law on steroids. And just like the OT Law was designed to condemn, so is the SOTM.

But how does this approach fit exegetically? First and foremost, we should notice that Matthew refers to the Sermon as the Gospel of the Kingdom.   Matthew frames chapters 5-9 with two statements (Matt 4:23; 9:35). These two passages serve as bookends for the material in between. In chapters 5-7, Jesus presents the Gospel of the Kingdom. In chapters 8-9, Jesus enacts the various signs of the Kingdom.

So as “Gospel,” the SOTM is not designed to condemn. It is good news. God’s kingdom is on the way! Things are about to change! Get ready for it! The Sermon begins with an announcement of blessings! “Blessed are the poor in spirit…”  The world as you know is going to be turned upside down.

There’s a second reason that the Sermon is for Christians in every period in history and that’s because Jesus commands his disciples to teach others to follow it. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus says,

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Certainly “everything I have commanded you” includes Matthew 5-7.   What are we to do with it? “Obey it!” Just because the SOTM gives us an intense ethic does not mean that we should shy away from it, rather  we should let it confront us as believers and be challenged to follow this new way of being human.   For Matthew, teaching others to obey the SOTM was at the heart of making disciples of Christ.  This is the missionary task of the church.

On the cover of the book, Leonard Sweet compares Farley’s work to Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  There’s a certain irony here.   Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship is an exposition of the SOTM. I have the feeling that Bonhoeffer would have called Farley’s message “cheap grace.”   Grace that justifies sin, but not the sinner.  Bonhoeffer said, “When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

The subtitle to Farley’s first book was “Jesus plus nothing.”  It should be “Jesus minus his teachings.”



Leave a Comment
  1. Randy B / Apr 3 2013 4:41 am

    Wow! Couldn’t disagree more. So we, as Christians are supposed to DO what Jesus said to DO in the Sermon on the Mount? Then we don’t need to worry about the individual commands really, since He sums it up with the last verse in Matthew 5: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
    Seems pretty clear to me, all you have to DO is BE PERFECT LIKE GOD IS PERFECT! Good luck with that… You foolish Galatians…
    Farely could be absolutely right in understanding that Jesus’ intent for the SOTM was identical to the rest of his earthly ministry to the Jewish people, which was to show them that they could never meet the Old Way (law) and needed a New Way (savior). He elevated the law (hence Farley’s terminology of “law on steroids”) to show the Jews that thought they were meeting or could meet the law that they too needed a new way. He was showing them that He was the only way.

    If you honestly tried to follow all of Jesus’ commands, you would go chop off a hand or two right now after using those hands to gouge out both eyes!

    There was an Old Covenant between God and the Jewish people. There is a New Covenant that started with Jesus’ death. To think you should read scripture without context and ignore the CRITICAL dividing line between Old and New is ridiculous. Common, certainly, but still ridiculous.

    • Daniel / Apr 3 2013 3:38 pm


      How do you understand Matthew 28:28, where Jesus tells his disciples that they should teach people “to obey everything I have commanded you”? Do you think that we should teach people to obey Jesus’ commands?

  2. Brian Midmore / Sep 21 2013 7:20 pm

    Hi Daniel,
    was it you who interacted with Paul Ellis on his website? I had a long discussion with him and I also failed to pin him down.


  1. D.A. Carson on the Lutheran approach to the Sermon on the Mount « Anchor for the Soul

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