The Gospel of Matthew indicates Jesus “
went up on a mountain” before preaching the famous Sermon on the Mount. Meanwhile, the Gospel of Luke reveals that Jesus “
came down” before delivering this message. Furthermore, Matthew showed that Jesus “
was seated” before teaching while Luke stated that Jesus “
stood on a level place.” How can both accounts possibly be accurate? Let’s take a look at the two passages and then find out why these are not contradictions.
And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:1–3, emphasis added)
Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself. … And He came down with them and stood on a level place with a crowd of His disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem. … Then He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples, and said: Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. (Luke 6:12–20, emphasis added)
There are at least two possible solutions to these apparent contradictions. One possible solution to each of the difficulties is that Matthew and Luke recorded two separate events. However, this does not seem to be the best answer, since both Gospels record similar events before and after the Sermon. They also show that it took place in the same geographical area and was delivered to the same group of people. So although this scenario is possible, it seems unlikely that these are separate accounts of two different, yet similar sermons.
Both of these alleged contradictions are easily explained upon closer examination of the text.
Let’s look at the location of this sermon. The Gospel of Matthew provides a brief summary of the Lord’s activities in that region during the weeks and perhaps months leading up to the message. Following that summary, Matthew simply stated that Jesus “
went up on a mountain.” On the other hand, Luke provided specific details about Christ’s activities the night before the Sermon on the Mount. “
He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12). In the morning Jesus called 12 of His followers and came down the mountain to preach.
The simple answer is that Matthew summarized the Lord’s movements prior to the message. He did not specifically mention that Jesus went out to the mountain and prayed throughout the night before teaching. So Matthew skipped those details and just mentioned that Jesus went up the mountain and delivered the Sermon on the Mount. If Jesus went higher up the mountain to pray the night before, then Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts are in agreement. Jesus went up the mountain to pray and came back down some of the way to a level place on the mountain before delivering the Sermon on the Mount.
So was Jesus standing or sitting as He preached? It is possible He did both. Matthew states that Jesus sat down and then started teaching. This was the common practice among Jews of the day. Teachers would stand when reading Scripture, but they sat during their teaching, just as Jesus did in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:16–21).
Once again, Luke provides more details leading up to the Sermon, whereas Matthew records more of the message itself. Luke shows that Jesus “
stood on a level place” and healed all the people who came to Him.
And He came down with them and stood on a level place with a crowd of His disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem, and from the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear Him and be healed of their diseases, as well as those who were tormented with unclean spirits. And they were healed. And the whole multitude sought to touch Him, for power went out from Him and healed them all. (Luke 6:17–19)
There are at least two obvious solutions to this sitting or standing dilemma. First, Jesus sat at the beginning of the Sermon but then stood and moved about during the course of the message. A better solution is found by closely looking at the text. Jesus stood while healing the multitude, and this may have taken several hours. Then, after healing people, He sat down and delivered the Sermon on the Mount.
Both of these alleged contradictions are easily explained upon closer examination of the text, but issues like this highlight an important point. Many skeptics have accused the New Testament writers, especially Matthew, Mark, and Luke, of being in collusion (i.e., they got together to make sure they got their stories straight.). However, if these writers were in collusion, they would have used similar (or identical) wording in each of these accounts. The fact that these apparent disagreements exist demonstrate that these men were largely independent of each other and were not in collusion.1 They were guided by the Holy Spirit to write the words they used, and when we look closely at the text, we see that the accounts can be harmonized without much difficulty.