Matthew 5: The Sermon on the Mount, Part 1

New Testament: Student Study guide, (2003), 13–15

What would you say if you were asked to give an overview of Christ’s teachings to someone who knew very little about Him? Much of what you might say could come from what is known as the Sermon on the Mount, which is found in Matthew 5–7. We realize how important this sermon is when we note that Jesus gave almost the same sermon to the Nephites when He visited them after His resurrection (see 3 Nephi 12–14). The teachings of the Sermon on the Mount help us understand what it means to be a Christian and that living these teachings is essential to receiving salvation in the kingdom of God (see Matthew 7:21, 24–27; 3 Nephi 15:1). Elder Bruce R. McConkie, who was an Apostle, wrote, “This sermon is a … summary … of what men must do to gain salvation; and the eternal concepts in it are so stated that hearers (and readers) will get out of it as much as their personal spiritual capacity permits” (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 4 vols. [1979–81], 2:116). Matthew 5 begins with a series of teachings known as the Beatitudes. The word beatitude comes from a word that means “to be happy, fortunate, or blessed.” The word blessed is found nine times in verses 1–12. Each time Jesus used this word He explained a way to obtain this true happiness He offers to all who come unto Him. Carefully consider how you can apply these teachings of Jesus into your life.In much of the rest of Matthew 5 Jesus taught how His laws and commandments required a greater standard of righteousness than the law of Moses. The law of Moses did not have the power to bring people into the presence of God to enjoy eternal life, but Jesus promised that this higher law would help them enter the kingdom of heaven and make them “perfect” like their Father in Heaven (see Matthew 5:20, 48).

Understanding the Scriptures

Matthew 5

Meek (v. 5)Not prideful, willing to submit to the Lord 
Merciful (v. 7)Kind, forgiving 
Revile (v. 11)To say mean and bad things 
Bushel (v. 15)Basket 
Jot or tittle (v. 18)Tiny things (actually the smallest written symbols in the Hebrew language) 
In danger of the council (v. 22)Be called to answer to the Jewish religious leaders 
Ought (v. 23)Something 
Be reconciled (v. 24)Solve the problem with 
Adversary (v. 25)Enemy, opponent 
Adultery (vv. 27–28, 32)Sexual relations with someone who is not your spouse 
Lust after (v. 28)To think improper sexual thoughts about someone 
Profitable (vv. 29–30)Better 
Put away (vv. 31–32)Divorce 
Saving (v. 32)Except 
Fornication (v. 32)Sexual sin 
Forswear thyself (v. 33)Lie under oath, break your promise 
Swear (v. 34)Make promises in the name of God or sacred things 
Compel (v. 41)Force 
Twain (v. 41)Two 
Despitefully (v. 44)With hate 
Publicans (v. 46)Tax collectors (see Bible Dictionary, “publicans,” p. 755) 

Matthew 5:13—“Ye Are the Salt of the Earth”

Salt was used not only to give added flavor to food, but also to preserve it from spoiling. Consequently, it was used as a symbol in covenant-making, since making and keeping covenants with God preserves us from spiritually “spoiling.” In Doctrine and Covenants 101:39–40 the Lord said that those who received the everlasting gospel and covenant were the salt of the earth. Salt loses its savor, or taste, as well as its purity by being mixed with other elements, such as dirt. It then would be of no use in flavoring or preserving.

Matthew 5:23–24—“Bring Thy Gift to the Altar”

The word altar is used in this verse to symbolize any sacrifices we might make for God. The counsel Jesus gave applies to everything we do to draw closer to God, such as paying tithing, attending our church meetings, serving in callings, and so on. The commandment in Matthew 5:23–24 helps us understand that seeking to repair the ways we have offended others is important in seeking to improve our relationship with God. In fact, we cannot really be one with God, no matter how many “offerings” we give to Him, unless we also love others (see also 1 John 4:20–21; Alma 34:26–29).

Matthew 5:29–30—Did Jesus Encourage Removing Part of Our Bodies as a Punishment?

The Joseph Smith Translation helps us understand that this parable was told to emphasize the importance of what Jesus was teaching about eliminating sin from our lives, not removing part of our bodies. We are to take heroic measures of self-control to avoid sin, and are to deny ourselves all ungodliness (see JST, Matthew 5:34).

Matthew 5:33–37—Swearing and Oaths

At the time of Jesus, many Jews believed it was wrong to break an oath or promise sworn in the name of the Lord, but to break an oath sworn in the name of the temple, or the city, or some other thing was not considered to be so serious or wrong. Jesus taught in this sermon that we should not swear by anything or anyone, but should keep our word whether we made an oath or not. If we say yes, or if we say no, that should be good enough.

Studying the Scriptures

Do any two of the following activities (A–C) as you study Matthew 5.

Activity A iconThe Beatitudes: A Handbook for Happiness

In Matthew 5:3–12 Jesus spoke of attitudes or behaviors that lead to true happiness. List each attitude or behavior He mentioned in those verses and tell what you think it means. For each attitude or behavior listed, give an example of how you think it will lead you to greater happiness. As you give your examples, consider the blessings Jesus promised to a person who has each attitude or behavior. The footnotes may help as you determine the meaning of important ideas.

Activity B Scripture Mastery iconScripture Mastery—Matthew 5:14–16

  1. 1.

    According to 3 Nephi 18:24, how do we let our light shine to others?

  2. 2.

    Write about two specific ways you think you or someone your age could be a “light” without having others feel like you think you are better than they are.

  3. 3.

    According to Matthew 5:16, why would you want others to see your good works?

Activity C iconThe Higher Law of Christ

Notice in Matthew 5:20 that Jesus said the righteousness of His followers must be greater than the scribes and the Pharisees. This is because scribes and Pharisees were noted for their strict obedience to those parts of the law that people could see. They were not so concerned about living the spirit of the law that is not seen. Beginning with verse 21, Jesus spoke about various laws and traditions under the law of Moses. For each, He explained the greater righteousness required of the members of His kingdom.

In your notebook, make a chart like the one below to compare the “old” law of Moses to the “new” law of Christ. In the “New Law or Standard” column, list the ways Jesus said we should apply that particular commandment.

Verses in Matthew 5

Old Law or Standard

New Law or Standard


“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time …”

“But I say unto you …”