- This is a helpful overview of the Sermon on the Mount. Pennington's extensive introductory material is good. Pennington sees the study of 2nd Temple Judaism and 1st century Greek virtue ethics as the lens through which to see the SM, coupled with the best insights postmodern literary theory have yielded for the study of any text. Pennington is attempting (admirably) to use these tools to get at Jesus's and Matthew's intent with the sermon. But two issues plague the book that these tools cannot avoid: First, I think Pennington is overly committed to his own thesis. Pennington is aware of this potential problem, which is why he spends a good deal of time on Umberto Eco's mediating position on postmodern literary criticism. But if you skip the introduction and just read the commentary, you would never know he's trying to avoid the "I've figured it out" syndrome so common in biblical studies. The second problem that this book suffers is related to the first. Because Pennington is attempting both to give a faithful interpretation of the SM (his best stab), and also to interact with the literature that already exists, in many cases he is trying to have a conversation with dead scribes and the Living Christ at the same time. This is helpful if you're reading him in concert with other commentators, but limits the usefulness of the book in the pastoral context. I rarely find his insights helpful for sermon preparation, and the book doesn't really work as a standalone resource for understanding the SM either. There are some serious blessings in this work, though. Pennington's Virtue Ethics approach to the SM is helpful, but even he would admit that it's not entirely novel. Many of the early commentators on the SM take a similar approach. Pennington is at his best when he's echoing Augustine or Chrysostom. His analysis of the structure(s) of the SM is great, too. I'm not convinced that the collision of 2nd Temple Judaism and 1st century virtue ethics gives the best lens through which to interpret the sermon, but he has given me much to think about with respect to how this collision is the indubitable context within which the sermon was preached. It's often hard to distinguish between those two things, especially in theological and biblical studies, but it bears remembering: The context is not the text. The Sermon on the Mount is not the product of the collision, but God's revelation through the message of Jesus Christ in the midst of that collision. To put it another way, contextual studies often forget the genius of human invention and relegate brilliance to a mere artefact of human culture. This is always a diminution of the genius of the individual as the image of God; how much more, when it comes to God's very Word? The brilliance of the Sermon on the Mount is that God the Son incarnate brought the message of the Kingdom to a mount in 1st century Judea which is still the message of the Kingdom for people in every nation in the 21st century. For the pastor, John MacArthur's Matthew commentary is a great contrast here. MacArthur is obsessed with understanding Scripture within its canonical context, and applying it to people in his own social context. This is the primary task of biblical interpretation. Scripture must first be heard as God demands it be heard, and that is as a coherent counsel from Him from start to finish, second as His Word for the hearer in every generation, and only third as an artefact of earlier cultures. Scholarly commentators almost always major in the third area, and thereby help the rest of us do the other two. For lay people looking for one book on the Sermon on the Mount, I would therefore recommend MacArthur or perhaps Boice, or for those who don't mind doing more work to apply the text in the 21st century, the incredible volumes by John Stott or Martyn Lloyd-Jones. For pastors or others serious about studying the SM beyond what expository commentaries offer, I would suggest Charles Quarles's excellent work on the topic as a first stop before Pennington. In fact, I'd love to see Pennington and Quarles interview one another on the SM. It would be a wonderful exchange. Grant Osborne's ZECNT on Matthew is another volume worth your time, and he's imminently concerned with theology in application. RT France's TNTC is brief, but makes a nice companion to this book. But where Pennington probably outshines others is in his Introduction and "Part 1: Orientation." This is where Pennington lays out the context of the sermon, key word studies, and structural analysis. It's also where most will find plenty to disagree with. It's the thesis, after all.