Matthew 5 begins:

1Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

2And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: ESV

and Matthew 7 ends:

28And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. ESV

The 'them' in Matthew 5:2 is perhaps ambiguous but is usually taken to mean the disciples, but by the end, it is 'the crowds' who Jesus 'was teaching'. Were the crowds just 'overhearing' teaching directed at the disciples? Were the disciples and the crowds both being addressed all along? Was there a gradual shift in audience, or a point in the teaching when Jesus starts addressing the wider audience?

edit in response to Joseph's comment:

…or, were 'the crowds' in 7:28 the same people as 'the disciples' in 5:1?

  • In Luke 6:17-49, if Luke is referring to the same events as Matthew 5-7 (i.e., Sermon on the Mount) then the term "disciples" is qualified by Luke in his gospel account as "a large crowd of his disciples" not to mention "a great throng of people" (Luke 6:17). Concerning this large crowd of people, Luke continues and writes: "And turning his gaze toward his disciples..." (Luke 6:20). Thus the great mass of people also comprised "his disciples."
    – Joseph
    Apr 13, 2013 at 19:25
  • I'd been thinking on the same lines without considering Luke: in some sense at least, the crowd were his 'disciples' as they were following him and listening to his teaching. Apr 13, 2013 at 19:28
  • 1
    In John 6:60 there is mention of "many of his disciples" which, due to the announcement of carrying ones cross, then becomes a group whittled down to no less than 12 people according to John 6:66-67.
    – Joseph
    Apr 13, 2013 at 19:50
  • 1
    Additionally, your question betrays your bias. Joseph, I was wondering if you'd be willing to interact with other scholarly sources and, perhaps, justify the claim that the sermon on the mount and the sermon on the plain are the same event
    – swasheck
    Apr 14, 2013 at 2:49
  • 1
    @swasheck (and jackdouglas) - I apologize for the confusion. When I said "no less than 12 disciples" I did not mean that 12 disciples were left, but that numerically the number of people involved at the time did not go below twelve. (In other words, there could have been 50 people remaining.) What I forgot to mention was that the number of disciples following Jesus eventually went to zero according to John 16:32.
    – Joseph
    Apr 14, 2013 at 19:48

3 Answers 3


Matthew 5-7 is most naturally read as a single literary unit. Jesus went up to a mountainside and his disciples went with him (Matt. 5:1-2). However, by the end of the discourse we notice that the crowds are amazed by Jesus' teaching. It seems that the crowds found Jesus and the disciples.

I contend that Jesus' primary audience are his disciples. At this point it is not delineated as to whether or not this means the Twelve, the seventy, or a larger group of disciple. However, I read 5:1 to indicate a withdrawal by Jesus from the larger multitudes. That's not to say that they had nothing to gain from the teaching, but that Jesus was specifically addressing the disciples and the remainder were welcome to listen.

My sense is that the "crowds" serve as a larger people group and are held over against the disciples, however many they are. This would be consistent with Matthew's portrayal of "the crowds" as being a large group of people who were looking for a miracle, or people who were there for the show. I guess I'd call them "potential insiders" but not "insiders" like the disciples.

There are no breaks in the discourse of Matt 5 - 7 that would indicate a shift of attention to this broader audience.

The so-called Sermon on the Plain has too much literary and conceptual overlap to not be describing the same event. Differences between the two are explicable (but that'd be a different question). Luke still has the disciples as his primary audience in his version (Lk. 6:20) but his account reads more along the lines that the crowds had already found them.

So a reasonable timeline would be:

  1. Jesus sees the large crowds
  2. Jesus withdraws to pray
  3. The disciples (apparently a large group) go to find Jesus
  4. Jesus talks to his disciples as the crowds find them

There was an article published in the Ensign magazine in 1991 available online that includes the following commentary:

According to the Book of Mormon account, Jesus addressed different segments of the congregation at different times during the sermon. It is important to note these shifts in audience as we try to apply the meaning of these passages to our individual lives. It is possible that instructions given to a specific portion of the audience are not applicable to the general audience.

One such instance is 3 Nephi 13:25–34 [3 Ne. 13:25–34]. (See also Matt. 6:25–34.) The Book of Mormon account indicates that Jesus concluded one portion of his sermon and then “looked upon the twelve”—those “whom I have chosen to minister unto this people.” Then he began speaking directly to them. (3 Ne. 13:25.) The Matthew account does not make it clear that there is an audience shift, but the account in Luke does. (See Luke 12:22.)

A careful analysis of the verses that follow indicates that these doctrines apply to the unique situation and calling of the Twelve Apostles, who had consecrated their entire lives to the service of the Master and the preaching of his gospel.

It should be noted that the account of the Sermon on the Mount in the Book of Mormon is almost identical to the account in Matthew 5-7 with only a few minor changes for context. In direct answer to your question, in 3 Nephi 12:1 it states "he stretched forth his hand unto the multitude, and cried unto them, saying" showing that the beginning of the sermon is directed to the multitude, but as shown above there is a shift in audience for part of the sermon to be directed at the apostles specifically. Then in 3 Ne 14:1, "when Jesus had spoken these words he turned again to the multitude, and did open his mouth unto them again, saying:" thus the content in Matt 7 was directed back to the multitude.

I know this answer doesn't technically come from the Bible, but I personally have found the correlation between Book of Mormon account and the Bible account beneficial for further edification.


Hello Brothers & perhaps Sisters!!!

Short & simple, JESUS was talking to the crowd & HIS Disciples. The crowd were obviously interested people & not obviously disciples, because the "Great Commission" had not yet been given. JESUS Hand selected his Disciples that HIS FATHER have to HIM. Not to say, that by Faith, many weren't already, but it states plainly... "A crowd gathered to listen" & more than likely, out of intrigue & curiosity!!!

Just my take!!! FATHER, may YOUR HOLY SPIRIT Teach all things!!! In the MIGHTY NAME OF JESUS CHRIST... AMEN!!!


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.