Welch Expounds the Sermon on the Mount at Museum of Art Lecture
On January 31, John W. Welch addressed the topic "The Five Faces of the Savior in the Sermon on the Mount" as part of the Museum of Art lecture series on the life of Christ, which has now concluded. Welch, Robert K. Thomas professor of law at BYU, editor in chief of BYU Studies, and the founder of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, spoke about five specific layers of instruction within the Sermon text in Matthew 5—7. As Welch related, "the Sermon on the Mount is not a scrapbook" of moral maxims, but more importantly it reveals the Savior's different "faces of salvation."
Expressing his love and appreciation for this text, Welch first addressed the ethical, moral, and allegorical meanings taught by the Savior in his Sermon on the Mount. With these first three layers, the Savior taught basic principles of and directions about leading a Christlike life. For example, when Christ instructs his disciples to "Pray for them which despitefully use you" (Matthew 5:44), Matthew uses the Greek word eulogeite, which means not just to pray for them privately, but also "to speak well of, to thank, and even to praise." Christ gave his followers clear instructions on how to implement this higher moral law: the sermon concludes by instructing listeners and readers to build our "house upon [the] rock" of Christ (Matthew 7:24).
Welch noted that most people see only the first three faces or meanings in the Sermon on the Mount. Yet, as Welch emphasized, "Jesus was more than a moral philosopher." If Christ only offered advice on a good way to live, his message would not have been so astonishing. According to Welch, the amazing power of the Savior's sermon is found in the fourth uniting face: Christ taught with divine authority, which enabled him to confidently extend promises and signal warnings. He also taught sacred ritual (which becomes especially evident when the Sermon text is juxtaposed with 3 Nephi 12—14, the Sermon at the Temple in Bountiful). For example, Welch noted that in Matthew 5:48 Christ invites us to become "perfect," or "the Greek word teleios, [which] when used in ritual settings means to become fully and completely initiated and introduced into the sacred experience" of ritual worship. Thus the Sermon is not simply moral theology but also divine revelation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The BYU Museum of Art's exhibit of Beholding Salvation: Images of Christ will continue through June 16.