CLAIM: Critics point out that Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount is different than Luke’s account. Is this a biblical contradiction?
RESPONSE: Two options are feasible in solving this difficulty:
First, Jesus was an itinerant preacher, so it’s likely that these are two distinct teachings. Jesus travelled from city to city preaching. Is it likely that he gave entirely new teachings in each city that he went—or is it likely that Jesus repeated his teachings often. We find it highly more likely that Jesus repeated his teachings over and over. We see evidence of this within the gospel of Luke for example. Here, Jesus taught that his disciples needed to pick up their crosses and carry them in two places in the gospel of Luke (Lk. 9:23; 14:27). The same is true with Jesus’ teaching on giving our lives away, so that we can keep them (Lk. 9:24; 17:33). Thus, even within the same gospel we see teachings repeated. Therefore, it is highly likely that Matthew’s account is a different teaching than Luke’s account—given the fact that Jesus repeated his teachings so often.
Second, the authors of Scripture often arrange their material thematically. If an author of Scripture decides to explain events topically, rather than chronologically, this isn’t an error. For instance, if you asked a friend, “What was your high school experience like?” Imagine if they said, “I graduated with a 4.0… I was really overweight as a freshman… But I lost a lot of weight when I joined track and field my sophomore year.” Would you tell the person that they were a liar—simply because they recounted the events of their high school experience out of chronological order? Of course not! In a similar way, we should grant the same freedom to the writers of Scripture.