“Footnotes to the Gospels: The Sermon on the Mount,” Ensign, Jan. 1975, 30
The Prophet Joseph Smith said that “we believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.” Since the A.D. 1611 publication of the King James version, many documents of biblical books have been found. Occasionally, this new background information sheds different meaning on selected passages or words than does the language provided by the King James translation.
The Church is fortunate to have Brigham Young University scholars who specialize in comparing various texts and languages. The Ensign has invited Brothers Brown, Griggs, and Mackay to share background data where such information might be stimulating and informative for readers of the New Testament.
Matt. 5:1—“He went up into a mountain” Jesus, who had given the Mosaic law to his prophet on the mountain (Ex. 19:20; Ex. 24:1–2, 12–18), now gives the gospel law to his disciples on a mountain. The term “disciple” means one who is accepted by contract to be a student, much as one would become an apprentice in a trade.
Matt. 5:3—“Blessed” The Greek word literally means “fortunate” or “happy,” as does the Latin beatus from which beatitude is derived. The explanation of why one is happy in adverse circumstances (such as mourning, hungering and thirsting, and being persecuted) is found in 3 Ne. 12:3: happy are those “who come unto me” and are “poor in spirit.” Literally, it means “those who are beggars with respect to the spirit.”
Matt. 5:5—“The meek” The Greek word means “gentle, considerate, or unassuming.”
Matt. 5:6—“happy are those who [when, if, or because they, etc.] are hungering and thirsting.”
There are two possible meanings here: people may either (a) deliberately abstain from food and drink, or (b) have a strong desire for something. Since the Greek words for hunger and thirst do not usually have a direct object, the word righteousness may be translated “with respect to righteousness.”
Matt. 5:8—“the pure in heart” “That is, the spiritual equivalent of being ritually pure.” (W. F. Albright and C. S. Mann, Matthew, “The Anchor Bible” 26 , p. 47.) Jesus contrasts the purity demanded by the gospel with that achieved by the Jews in their many ritual washings and ablutions. (See also Matt. 15:1–4; Mark 7:1–13; Luke 11:37–44; Matt. 23:25–28.)
“for they shall see God” In Psalm 24, [Ps. 24] those who have clean hands and a pure heart are entitled to “ascend into the hill of the Lord” (i.e., the temple). In the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord reaffirms that the pure in heart would see him in the temple. (D&C 67:10–13; D&C 93:1; D&C 97:15–17; D&C 109:5.)
“have lost his savour” The Greek means “become foolish.” Commenting on a similar word found in Mark 9:50, Arndt and Gingrich (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament) state: “Salt produced by natural evaporation on the shores of the Dead Sea is never pure; when dampness decomposes it, the residue is useless.”
Matt. 5:15—“Candle … candlestick” Greek means “lamp … lampstand.” John uses the same figure in Revelation when warning the churches that unless they repented they would lose their lampstand (source of light and guidance). The two prophets in Rev. 11:4 are also likened to lampstands.
Matt. 5:17—“to fulfil” Literally, it means “to complete” in the sense of “to make up a deficiency. “Jesus commands his listeners to exhibit true righteousness by going beyond the external religion of the Scribes and Pharisees. (Matt. 5:20.)
Matt. 5:29–30—“offend thee” The Greek word means “cause you to stumble.”
Matt. 5:39—“That ye resist not evil” The Greek is literally, “Do not set yourself against the evil one,” meaning that one should avoid an open, offensive confrontation with an evil person. The examples of turning one’s cheek and going the second mile make this teaching clear.
Matt. 5:47—“salute your brethren only” This may be translated “love [esteem] only your brethren.”
Matt. 5:48—“Be ye therefore perfect” The Greek can also be translated “therefore you [plural] shall be perfect.” (See Deut. 18:13.) The Greek word means “completeness, maturity, and full development” as well as perfection. Now that the Savior has “filled up” the deficiency in the law of Moses by restoring the gospel in its fulness, the disciples can also “fill up” the deficiency of goodness in their lives by living the “New Law.”
Matt. 6:2—“hypocrites” This is a Greek word primarily meaning “play-actor” in the New Testament era. The word implies, just as in modern times, only little correspondence between what such a person is and what he appears to be.
Matt. 6:13—“And lead us not into temptation” The Syriac reads: “And do not let us enter into temptation.”
Matt. 6:16—“disfigure their faces” The Greek means “to render one’s face either invisible by covering the head or unrecognizable through neglect of cleanliness.”
Matt. 6:19—“where moth and rust doth corrupt” The Greek means “where worm and insect destroy.”
Matt. 7:3—“mote … beam” Here is a contrast exaggerated beyond reality to prove a point. The word “mote” translated denotes any small or insignificant speck or chip, while the word rendered “beam” refers to a wooden beam used in constructing houses.
Matt. 7:11—“being evil” This is better stated, “although you are wicked.”
Matt. 7:17—“every good tree bringeth forth good fruit” There are different words translated as “good” in this verse, and the passage should read: “Every noble [upright] tree bears precious [unblemished] fruit.”
Matt. 7:29—“as one having authority, and not as the scribes” Among the Jews of the New Testament period, the Scribes were the legal experts, men who were versed in the law. Their strength derived from citing precedent and appealing to former authorities when making a legal point. In contrast, Jesus speaks with the authority of the lawgiver and does not rely on tradition or precedent to pronounce the law in this sermon.
John 5:4—Many ancient texts omit the last phrase of verse 3 and all of verse 4. See also the commentary on this passage by Elder Bruce R. McConkie (New Testament Commentary, vol. 1, p. 188.) Raymond Brown (The Gospel of John, 1:207) notes that the bubbling of water may have been caused by an intermittent spring and “was thought to have healing power.”
John 5:10—“it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed” In the Mishnah (Sabbath 7:2) one is forbidden to carry anything from one house to another; later in the same tractate (10:5) there is a prohibition against carrying a bed with a dead man upon it, with the implication that carrying an empty bed is also forbidden.
John 5:14—“sin no more” On one occasion Jesus disallowed an attempt to connect sin and illness (John 9:3), but in another instance such a connection is implied (James 5:14–15). Many of the miracles of Jesus are, in fact, directed against the kingdom of Satan. (See Mark 5:1–16; Luke 4:33–35.)
John 5:18—“making himself equal with God” Some scholars (The Gospel of John 1:216–19) have observed how the Jewish rabbis reasoned that God continued to work on the Sabbath, notably in giving life and receiving the dead, and in other divine activities. Such Sabbath activity was thought to be limited to God, however, and Jesus was claiming “divine prerogative” to work on the Sabbath as his father worked. It should be noted, however, that Jesus makes no claim of independent equality: the Son does not act on his own but does the will of the one who sent him. (John 5:19, 30.)
John 5:32—“There is another that beareth witness of me” After Jesus’ statement that he does the work of his Father, he gives four different witnesses to support his claim to be the Son of God. These witnesses are John the Baptist (John 5:32–33), the works (miracles) which Jesus has performed (John 5:36), the Father himself (John 5:37–38), and the scriptures (John 5:39).
John 5:39—“Search the scriptures” Although Jesus might be commanding the Jews to search the scriptures (“Search the scriptures since you think you have eternal life through them—even they are witnesses of me”), the Greek favors the following translation: “You are searching the scriptures because in them you think you have eternal life; even they are witnesses of me.”
John 6:7—“Two hundred pennyworth of bread” Literally, “200 denarii.” A denarius is a day’s wages, usually said to be worth 18 cents (without taking inflation into account). Thus, Philip is saying that not even 200 days’ wages would buy bread sufficient to give everybody even a little bit.
John 6:9—“barley loaves” Wheat bread was quite common, but barley loaves were cheaper and used chiefly by the poor.
John 6:10—“sit down” Literally it means “lie down, recline.”
“in number about five thousand” It should be noted that although this miracle is usually referred to as the feeding of the 5,000, John, Mark, and Luke state that there are about 5,000 men. Matthew makes it explicit that this number does not include the women and children (Matt. 14:21), and thus the miracle should be thought of as the feeding of the 10,000–15,000. It has often been observed that this is the only miracle of Jesus’ mortal ministry recorded in all four Gospels.
John 6:27—“meat” The Greek means “food” (nourishment).
“God the Father sealed” The Greek means “God the Father has marked with a seal (or endued with power from heaven).”
John 6:59—“These things said he in the synagogue” There is ample evidence of Jesus teaching in synagogues: Matt. 4:23, Matt. 9:35; Matt. 12:9; Matt. 13:34. For Jesus teaching in Capernaum and the synagogue there, see Luke 4:31 and Luke 7:5.