Jesus Christ delivered the Sermon on the Mount to his disciples over 2,000 years ago, yet today people quote it so often that it has become idiomatic in our language. These quotes include "turn the other cheek", "blessed are the poor", "the salt of the Earth", "the light of the world", "judge not that you not be judged", and others. Often those who quote these lines take them completely out of context, misapplying them. One extreme example of a misapplication occurred to me some time ago. A man struck me on the cheek, just hard enough to smart a bit, then lifted his other hand to strike my other cheek, yelling, "Turn the other cheek! Turn the other cheek!"
This book explores these statements as well as the entire sermon from the perspective of the sociology of Jesus' era, the Greek vocabulary Matthew and Luke used to quote our Lord, and grammar and syntax. This author's task is to discover the meaning behind all of the words Jesus Christ spoke to his disciples in the sermon and to find out how we can apply them in today's world.
This abridged version, edited primarily for the audio version, leaves out most of the Greek and Hebrew vocabulary and accompanying word studies, leaving the conclusions based upon those studies. It is a simpler version, leaving out most of the technical language discussions.
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One can gleam a few worthwhile insights into the Sermon on the Mount from Oliver's dispensational approach.
Not a professional book narrator, Oliver was a bit stilted.
Jim Oliver’s nine hour audio “book” about the Sermon on the Mount, is really nine hours of scholarship-exegesis.
A chief criticism I have of Oliver in this audio work is he assumes a tone (he is the narrator too) of self-importance typical among pastors. Like most pastors, he patronizes his audience when expositing on the Bible, because like most pastors he believes that he teaches from a position of authority ordained by God. So, even if he is wrong in what he teaches, he is wrong in the same way your boss at work is wrong – at the end of the day, what are his employees going to do about it? In short, he lacks the trace of anxiety a teacher should naturally feel; anxiety encouraged in Scripture. For all his extensive knowledge of Scripture, Oliver is willfully blind to the fact that Scripture does not authorize an office in the church called “pastor”, that is, one that equates to the role assumed by pastors today. The Scripture does authorize Bible “teachers” (one of the spiritual gifts), and they are enjoined to tremble at the great and awesome responsibility they have.
Of course, all one need do is follow the money - the church as constituted today was structured to elevate and establish a criminal, paid, priestly class lording it over the plebs. “Criminal” because Oliver is knowledgeable enough to know that in the church era God was deliberately, emphatically, introducing a new dispensation in which every believer would be empowered, as “members” of Christ body, by the Spirit. One of the central characteristics of the church age is that every believer occupies a position on a level playing field. The only one who is authorized to be elevated to headship is Jesus as “Great High Priest”. Oliver, in his life choices, is defying God’s word. We see this same criminal attitude on display in politics now, as a global elite is bent on nullifying the U.S. Constitution and subjugating the American people to a new, unelected governing class, in a world devoid of national identities. Probably, despite all his biblical knowledge, Oliver has allowed himself to be blinded to the truth about the nature and structure of the true church, since he wanted, and perhaps needed, a paying job. So it is with all so-called pastors – they embrace Christianity with all their heart, and want to live the Christian life fulltime, but they also want to get paid for it. The rest of us schleps get to work out our salvation in some factory.
(The standard rebuttal to my arguments from “pastors”, is not from Scripture; rather, they argue they fully embrace the doctrine of a “priesthood of believers” in the church, but that, while no one has exceptional authority, everyone, as diverse members of the body, does have a “role” to play. This sounds good, just like when your boss at work tells you “his door is always open”, and that “we are all on the same team”. In practice, as we all know, the typical church pastor, ordained, hired by committee of elders, paid a salary etc., is expected to, and does, wield authority over his parishioners. It’s an inevitable consequence of the model on which the modern church is built – business. Pastors act like little CEO’s. For example, in this book Oliver acknowledges the right for a “limited” amount of group bible study by church parishioners – and even that is to be supervised by the pastor -, but there can be no doubt Oliver would, and probably has, taken executive action against parishioners among his “flock” that presume to engage in group bible study apart from his self-anointed, sanctioning authority. In the human body, the eye, though more exalted than the little toe, does not tell the toe what to do. Only the head tells the body members what to do. No pastor anywhere, at any time, has any authority from Christ to tell any other believer what to do. It is the corrupt structure of the church that empowers pastors with human authority.)
The irony is, for Oliver, the Scripture specially allows for “teachers”, exercising that particular gift of the Spirit, to be compensated for their efforts, while no compensation is specified for “pastors”. So if the church today actually looked like Jesus intended it to, Oliver would be entitled to be regularly compensated for his teaching gift, even outside of writing this book. Knowing all this, I purchased Oliver’s book anyway, despite his having no “authority” to teach as a so-called pastor, because we live in a flawed world and he is the first teacher (for that is what he is) to offer me exegesis from a dispensational perspective on the Sermon on the Mount, and I am grateful to him for that, at least.
Now I take some issue with a few of the position Oliver assumes regarding the Scripture:
1.) He chastises pastors who spend what he considers to be an inordinate amount of time on eschatology. Yes, there is a percentage of ignorant clergy like that. Oliver makes good points about not being misled by the fact of nation of Israel having been reestablished in 1947. The doctrine of immanency precludes looking to signs as clues to the time of the Rapture. However, in nearly sixty years of attending church services of various persuasions in all corners of this land, I find one teaching that is most definitely lacking is eschatology. Oliver contends that time spent on eschatology is a distraction from Scripture that equips us for this present church age. What then does Oliver do with the Scripture in Revelation that tells us Revelation is the one work in the Bible we are promised a blessing if we study it? I am finding in my study of the end times that it’s yielding all manner of dividends (blessings) in my understanding of this present age. A right understanding of when Jesus will come, or whether he has already established his kingdom in our hearts, has massive implications for the Christian. For example, post-millennialism dominated the mainstream Protestant Church in American in the 19th century, and such a worldview informed the politics of the era, culminating in the Progressive Era. In other words, Americans were living, and still do live to a large extent, under laws and decrees made by government informed by flawed eschatology. Clearly, more time spent correctly dividing the Word in terms of eschatology would have been a good thing in the 19th century, and would still be paying dividends today if they had.
2.) He argues that in light of Matthew 5:22 it is “always sinful” for a person to be angry with his brother. I find this a bit flaky, especially coming from a dispensationalist. Yes, we live now in a dispensation of God’s mercy, but God’s mercy is not his only characteristic. He is demonstrated, during prior dispensations, to be repeatedly angry. David admonishes to “not sin in your anger”, not to never get angry. Moreover, the still yet future “Day of the Lord”, prophesied about 100 times in the Bible, is characterized as a day of wrath. For example, in Zephaniah: “The great day of the Lord is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter…A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom…I will bring distress on mankind…all the earth shall be consumed; for a full and sudden end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.” And regarding our present dispensation, did not Paul live in the church age? Is there no evidence in Scripture of Paul getting angry? Did he not express the wish that church member adherents of the circumcision group would go the whole way and emasculate themselves? Finally, the Sermon on the Mount was delivered before the Jews had rejected Jesus and Jesus began to prepare his followers for the church age. Consequently, Oliver can’t credibly make the argument that Jesus’ teaching on anger in this sermon was intended exclusively for the imminent dispensation of mercy. In short, Oliver is wrong, flaky-wrong, and this kind of mistake casts a shadow over the remainder of his scholarship.
Now, I think Oliver himself supplies us the answer as to how he gets so much right in his scholarship but occasionally stumbles so badly. In his exegesis of Matthew 6:22-23 he explains quite convincingly that we deceive ourselves in compartmentalizing sin in our body. If we tolerate sin in ten percent of our lives, it taints the remaining ninety percent of our lives. He uses the example of a businessman who in almost every respect is a good Christian, excepting certain greedy business practices. In this example, Oliver names his own problem - I think the problem with Oliver is, is that he demonstrably has sufficient command of Scripture to know that the church model he serves within, and church role he occupies, are not endorsed by the Lord. But he persists for his own selfish purposes. He thinks he can get away with this, just like the ten percent greedy businessman. But despite his attempts to escape from himself, Oliver’s willful disobedience has its inevitable consequences in spoiling-chunks of wrong doctrine. Oliver’s ninety percent correct doctrine is ruined by the ten percent erroneous doctrine he tolerates in his life and ministry.
To resume again with specific criticisms:
1. In commenting on Jesus’s admonition not to judge Oliver acknowledges that this carries with it also the need to offer brothers corrective advice (Matthew 7:6). Oliver acknowledges the freedom brothers have to do this within the confines of the church (meaning, for Oliver, a body of believer-members in a particular congregation), but that it “better be Scriptural advice”, or the pastor will have to take executive action. In short, if you don’t agree with the pastor, you’d better keep your mouth shut. That, of course, is the real world practical outworking of what Oliver is saying. Genuine spiritual growth is hampered in the false church model that Oliver and most of America inhabits, because people are afraid of contradicting the pastor. So they keep their mouths shut. And since if reality, the CEO-pastor is head over every function of the false church model, he is spread so thin he does not have time to supply corrective advice as often as it is needed. Since everyone else is afraid to give it, the result is no one gets help, people don’t grow and people fall away from the church. When I was still within the false church model I was once invited to teach a class on pretty much any subject I chose. I chose to teach creationism – that there are both internal (Scriptural) and external (scientific) proofs for the creation account in Genesis. Since the church pastor did not accept as literal the creation account given in Genesis, I was forced to leave the church. The pastor exercised his phony man-based authority. German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer tried, in the 1930’s, to teach the Lutheran church of Germany that it is wrong, scripturally, for Christians to persecute Jews. He was overruled by false-church-model authority. Oliver is correct in what he teaches about Matthew 7:6, but it has no practical application in the church model he, Oliver endorses and occupies.
2. When Oliver arrives at Matthew 7:15-20 (about false prophets) all of a sudden his exegetic skills go on holiday. All through this work, Oliver dissects virtually every important, and some unimportant, word for its original meaning, its meaning as employed in scripture and meaning in context. For example, Oliver takes the time to inform us that where it says in verse 28 that, ”When Jesus had finished saying these things”, the word “When” is as actually a loose translation of a Greek idiom. Apparently Oliver thinks it important you know all about the word “when”, but that he, and you, can take-or-leave any examination of precisely who Christ was referring to when speaking of “prophets”. Despite that only a tiny number of translators translate the Greek word employed as “teacher”, instead of prophet, Oliver, in examining these verses, soon substitutes, on his own authority, the word “teacher” or “false teacher” for prophet or false prophet. Now why might Oliver do this? Perhaps it’s because since his own role in the church has no biblical foundation, he wants to steer the reader away from understanding what the roles in the church are actually supposed to be. As Oliver undoubtedly knows, “prophesy” is a legitimately authorized spiritual gift within the church that Jesus intended to set up, and it was to be executed by “prophets”. Though not a biblical scholar, my quick perusal of the word for prophet employed by Jesus in these verses refers not to someone who is merely expositing on God’s written word, but is uttering - if a true prophet - new insights into the mind and will of God. Jesus stating that we will know whether a prophet be true or false by the kind of fruit he produces, almost certainly refers to whether or not a prophet speaks words that consistently and accurately describe future events. Of course, Oliver can’t have people with the gift of prophesy undermining his man-given authority as pastor (his church might conclude Oliver, and his paycheck, are dispensable), so Oliver changes “prophet” into “teacher”, legitimizing his role as teacher to his congregation. Since Oliver displays, in this book of his, all the necessary knowledge and understanding to know better, one is forced to conclude that Oliver is himself the kind of person Jesus is here warning about – a person who misleads others. Oliver knows “prophet” is not equivalent to “teacher”, but he suppresses this truth for his own purposes.
In summation, Oliver is a credible exegetical scholar and one can glean a few worthwhile insights from listening (or reading) him, but I find that on the whole it’s not worth it. It’s not just that I don’t like people who assume a false role of authority within the church; it’s that in doing so such people, as Oliver said, sinful in ten percent of their lives, are compromised in all of it. Oliver is incapable of dividing the whole word truthfully. Olive would be well advised to exit his role as pastor, and move toward full-time author/teacher, or if he already has done so, spend far less time defending a false church model in his exegesis.