The Beatitudes: Matthew 5:6

Matthew 5:6; Luke 6:21a

The fourth Beatitude in Matthew (Matt 5:6)—

Maka/rioi oi( peinw=nte$ kai\ diyw=nte$ th\n dikaiosu/nhn, o%ti au)toi\ xortasqh/sontai
“Happy the (ones) hungering and thirsting (for) justice, (in) that they will be fed (full)”

corresponds with the second in Luke (Lk 6:21a):

Maka/rioi oi( peinw=nte$ nu=n, o%ti xortasqh/sete
“Happy (you) the (ones) hungering now, (in) that (later) you will be fed (full)”

This difference between the Matthean and Lukan versions echoes that of the first Beatitude (Matt 5:3 / Lk 6:20b)—in both instances, the version in Matthew qualifies the characteristic: “poor”—”poor in the spirit“; “hungering”—”hungering for justice“. The Lukan form is simple and straightforward: real, physical hunger is meant (the verb peina/w [peináœ] often has the sense of “be famished, starve”). This corresponds with the simplicity in the first and third Beatitudes (v. 20b, 21b)—the “poor” (oi( ptwxoi/) and those “weeping” (oi( klai/onte$)—to produce a clear and striking depiction of early Christians (followers of Jesus) as the poor and needy, those suffering in society. The current reality is stressed in the second-third Beatitudes (and, by implication, in the first) by use of the adverb nu=n (nún, “now”): i.e., those who hunger and weep now (here, on earth, in this life). The reason for being called “happy/blessed” is the same in both the second-third Beatitudes: it is an eschatological “reversal” of the current situation—those who weep now will laugh then, and those who hunger (are starving) now will be fed (full) then. The verb in result-clause in both the Matthean and Lukan versions is xorta/zw (chortázœ), which means “graze, feed on grass” and came to be used (especially in the middle/passive form) in the sense of “be(come) filled up, satisfy oneself,” etc. The juxtaposition is stark: a person practically starving vs. one who fills up on food. The Lukan Woe (v. 25a) emphasizes the reversal (see a similar formular in Isa 65:13):

Ou)ai/ u(mi=n oi( e)peplhsme/noi nu=n, o%ti peina/sete
“Woe to you the (ones) having become full now, (in) that (later) you will hunger!”

A different verb is used in the Woe (e)mpi/plhmi, “fill in/up”); the perfect form indicates the present status (“have [already] been filled up”) rather than the act of eating/feeding as such, but the meaning is essentially the same. The eschatological feeding of the righteous (and hungering/starving of the wicked) relates to the heavenly/divine dimension (following the Judgment), and not to the earthly eating that takes place now. For the idea of a heavenly/eschatological feast for the righteous, see e.g., Isa 25:6ff; Mark 14:25 par; Luke 14:16-24 par; Rev 19:9, etc.

The version of the Beatitude in Matthew has two principal differences:

    1. Hunger and thirst are mentioned together
    2. It is hunger (and thirst) for justice/righteousness

1. Hunger and thirst. This is a natural pair, the two ideas being brought together frequently (as a poetic parallelism) in Scripture, cf. Deut 28:48; Neh 9:15; Psalm 107:5, 9; Prov 25:21; Isa 5:13; 29:8; 32:6; 49:10; 65:13, etc.; and see also the description of apostolic hardship in 1 Cor 4:11; 2 Cor 11:27. They represent two sides of human need and sustenance—food (“bread”) and water. In the Gospels Jesus’ miracles involving food and drink reflect and important spiritual symbolism (see below).

2. Hunger and thirst for justice/righteousness. From ancient times, food and drink were used symbolically, as a metaphor for religious and spiritual experience. In the Old Testament and Wisdom literature, one may hunger/thirst for wisdom, the Word of God, or even God himself (see Deut 8:3; Psalm 42:2; 63:1; 143:6; Prov 9:5; Amos 8:11; Sirach 24:21; 1 Enoch 48:1ff, etc). The Spirit of God is sometimes described in terms of water which quenches thirst (Isaiah 44:3). This spiritualizing of eating and drinking becomes especially prominent in the Gospel of John, where the person of Jesus—his teaching and work—is identified with the Bread and Water of Life: see the dialogue with the Samaritan Woman (Jn 4:7-15), the Bread of Life discourse (Jn 6:22-59, following the miraculous feeding in Jn 6:1-14), and his teaching during the feast of Tabernacles (Jn 7:37-38). This is realized for the believer through the power and presence of the Spirit (as is clear from Jn 6:63; 7:39, etc). Imagery of this sort would become especially popular within the more ‘gnostic’ and mystical strands of early Christianity (cf. for example in the Odes of Solomon 6:8ff; 30:1-7).

Here in the Beatitude, the emphasis is on dikaiosu/nh (dikaiosún¢), which can be rendered “justice” or “righteousness” (I prefer to translate the dikai– word group with “just[ice]” rather than “right[eous…]”). This noun (and the related adjective di/kaio$, “just/righteous”) occur more frequently in Matthew than the other Gospels—dikaiosu/nh is used four more times in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:10, 20; 6:1, 33), and one should look first to these references to understand its meaning in the Beatitudes.

  • “If your justice/righteousness does not abound more than (that) of the scribes and Pharisees, no you will not come into the kingdom of the Heavens” (Matt 5:20)
  • “Have (care) toward your justice/righteousness, not to do (it) in front of men, toward [i.e. for the purpose of] being seen by them, but if not then you have no payment alongside [i.e. from] your Father in the Heavens” (Matt 6:1)
  • “Seek first the kingdom [of God] and its justice/righteousness, and all these (things) will (also) be set toward you” (Matt 6:33)

This usage reflects a somewhat different sense of the word than one is accustomed to based on the Pauline epistles (cf. throughout Romans [esp. in chapters 3-5], in 1 Cor 1:30; 2 Cor 5:21, et al.) where “righteousness” (and/or “justification”) is understood in a specific theological-soteriological sense. Jesus often speaks of “justice/righteousness” in more traditional religious terms: as faithfulness/obedience to the Law of God (which contrasts with the disobedience of the wicked [“sinners”]). Indeed, the entire Sermon on the Mount can be viewed as Jesus’ own interpretation or exposition of the Torah—i.e., justice/righteousness reflecting the underlying essence of the (written) Law. This primarily ethical instruction is complementary (and, in some sense, preparatory) to the great Johannine discourses. The Christian who experiences the reality of the Kingdom of God (and its “justice/righteousness”) through the presence of the Holy Spirit must still seek to understand and realize how this relates to the commandments of God (and Christ). The powerful and provocative teaching of the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount cannot be ignored.

This series was originally posted in the earlier version of Biblesoft’s online Study Blog. It is also available for use in Biblesoft’s PC Study Bible program (Version 5 or OneTouch) [find out more]

The Beatitudes: Matthew 5:5

Matthew 5:5

The third Beatitude in Matthew (Matt 5:5) has no counterpart in Luke:

Maka/rioi oi( praei=$, o%ti au)toi\ klhronomh/sousin th\n gh=n
“Happy the meek/gentle (ones), (in) that they will receive the earth as (their) lot”

This saying is virtually a quotation from Psalm 37:11 (indicated by the underlined words above): “But the lowly ones [<yw]n`u&] will possess the earth/land and will delight themselves upon an abundance of peace”. In the Septuagint (LXX), the first portion of Psalm 37:11 [36:11] reads:

oi( de\ praei=$ klhronomh/sousin gh=n
“But the meek/gentle (ones) will receive the earth as (their) lot”

There are two basic points of interpretation in this Beatitude:

    • The precise meaning and significance of the adjective prau+/$
    • The expression klhronomh/sousin [th\n] gh=n

oi( praei=$

Prau+/$ has the meaning “gentle, mild, meek”. The adjective itself occurs only three times elsewhere in the New Testament (Matt 11:29; 21:5 [quoting Zech 9:9]; and 1 Pet 3:4); however, the related noun prau+/th$ (“meekness, gentleness”) is found more often (1 Cor 4:21; 2 Cor 10:1; Gal 5:23; 6:1; Eph 4:2; Col 3:12; 2 Tim 2:25; Tit 3:2; James 1:21; 3:13; 1 Pet 3:15). Jesus’ saying in Matt 11:29 is fundamental for and understanding of the Beatitude here:

“Take up my yoke upon you and learn from me, (in) that [o%ti] I am meek/gentle [prau+/$] and lowly in the heart, and you will find rest/quiet anew for your souls”

Here we find the same adjective (prau+/$) connected with an expression (tapeino\$ th=| kardi/a|, “lowly in the heart”) which is similar to that in the first Beatitude (ptwxo\$ tw=| pneu/mati, “poor in the spirit”).

An examination of the context of Psalm 37:11 shows the following details related to the Beatitudes:

    • Contrast of the righteous and the wicked (cf. the model Beatitude of Psalm 1)
    • Theme of trust in the Lord (vv. 3-6) which is related to righteousness (v. 6, 16, 25, 30, 37, 39)
    • The righteous as poor and needy (vv. 14, 16, 25), but sustained by the Lord (v. 19, 40)
    • The differing fates of the righteous and wicked (v. 2, 9ff, 37-38)
    • The righteous will be happy and “blessed” (v. 4, 11, 22)

For other instances of the word in the Old Testament (LXX) with the sense of humility and meekness, see Psalm 25:9; 34:2; 45:4; 76:9; 146:6; 149:4; Isa 66:2; Sirach 1:27; 3:17-20; 10:28; 36:23, etc.

In Greek philosophy, meekness/gentleness is seen as a positive virtue, often contrasted with anger and brutality (Plato Phaedo 116c; Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics 4.5.1-4; Epictetus Enchiridion 42; for other references and bibliography, see Betz, Sermon, pp. 126-127). In Jewish tradition, Moses (like Socrates) was an ideal sage who possessed the virtue of meekness and humility (Num 12:3; Sirach 45:4); and the word could also be related to the mercy of God (i.e., his gentle chastisement, cf. Philo The Worse Attacks the Better §146). It was in early Christianity especially that meekness/gentleness came to be extolled in ethical instruction (1 Clement 13:1-4; Didache 3:7-8; 5:2; 15:1; Ignatius Trallians 3:2; Ephesians 20:2; Polycarp 2:1; 6:2; Hermas Commandment 5.2.6; Diognetus 7:4, etc.), largely as a result of Jesus’ saying in Matt 11:29 and here in the Beatitude.

klhronomh/sousin [th\n] gh=n

The verb klhronome/w (klhronoméœ) means “to have/hold by lot [klh/ro$]”, especially to receive (something) as a possession, i.e., to inherit. The reference in Psalm 37:11 [36:11] is colored by the idea of the allotments of land for the twelve Israelite Tribes (see Num 26:55; 33:54; Josh 14:1-2; 16:4, etc.). Also the Hebrew verb vr^y` (y¹raš, “possess”) in Ps 37:11 can have the sense “take possession of” or “dispossess”, and is used in relation to the Israelite conquest of Canaan; clearly, then the idea of possessing/inheriting the (promised) land is present (Hebr. Jr#a#, like Grk. gh=, can be rendered “land” as well as “earth”). Currently the “wicked” (i.e., the wealthy, powerful, ambitious, unscrupulous and violent) possess the “land”, but in the end (the age to come), it is the righteous (the meek and gentle ones) who will inherit. But how exactly should we understand the “earth/land” here in the Beatitude?

First it is necessary to look at the verb klhronome/w as it is used in the Gospels and elsewhere in the New Testament.

So the verb—along with the related nouns klhronomi/a (“inheritance”) and klhrono/mo$ (“heir”)—is almost exclusively used in reference to inheriting the kingdom of God (and eternal life). One might assume it carries the same meaning here in the beatitude; however, the distinction between heaven and earth here (cf. also the Lord’s Prayer, Matt 6:10), suggests that “inherit the earth” is not entirely synonymous with “kingdom of God/Heaven”. The difficulty stems, in large part, from differences in eschatological imagery and conception related to the “Age to Come”. The Old Testament Prophets often used concrete images of earthly blessing—long life, health, wealth, prosperity, etc.—to describe the future Age (cf. Isaiah 65:17-25 as a prime example among many). This symbolism came to be wrapped up with the idea of the restoration of Israel and the Messianic Age in later Jewish (and early Christian) thought. At the same time, the kingdom of God in terms of the eternal presence and dwelling-place of YHWH (in heaven) continued as a fundamental eschatological theme. That early Christians could conceive of both an earthly (Messianic) and eternal (Heavenly) Kingdom is apparent especially in the book of Revelation (chapters 20-22); earnest and devout believers have struggled to harmonize and relate the two concepts ever since.
(For a similar difficulty within the New Testament itself, see the parallel saying of Jesus in Mark 10:29-30 / Matt 19:28-29 / Lk 18:29-30)

The ancient context of the Beatitude form (on this, see the earlier article) suggests an eschatological afterlife setting throughout. It would, I think, be a mistake to interpret Matt 5:5 as referring to a concrete earthly (this-worldly) blessing. For the righteous (believer), to “inherit the earth/land” is a distinct aspect of the eternal heavenly reward, drawn from traditional (Scriptural) language. The idea that believers even now realize something of this inheritance is not specified by Jesus in the Beatitude, but it will become an important dimension of Christian teaching—cf. especially the Pauline teaching clarified in Eph 1:11-14: the promise of inheritance is preserved by the presence of the Spirit in us.

The Beatitudes: Matthew 5:4

Matthew 5:4; Luke 6:21a

The second Beatitude in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:4) is one of the shortest and simplest:

Maka/rioi oi( penqou=nte$, o%ti au)toi\ paraklhqh/sontai
“Happy the (ones) mourning, (in) that they will be called alongside [i.e. helped/comforted]”

In some manuscripts, verses 4 and 5 are reversed, making this the third Beatitude. It is parallel with the third Lukan Beatitude (Lk 6:21a):

Maka/rioi oi( klai/onte$ nu=n, o%ti gelasete
“Happy (you) the (ones) weeping aloud now, (in) that (later) you will laugh”

Unlike the situation in the first Beatitude, here the differences may well reflect entirely separate sayings by Jesus; in any event, they are effectively different (though related) macarisms as they have come down to us in the Gospels. The verb klai/w (klaíœ, “weep (aloud), wail”) is often used in terms of lamentation for the dead, and so is close in meaning with penqe/w (penthéœ, “mourn, grieve”). The former verb (klai/w) is much more frequent in the New Testament, and is commonly associated with the experience of suffering and loss. As such, the Lukan Beatitude is much simpler and straightforward:

    • The righteous (those called “happy/blessed”) will weep now (nu=n) here on earth
    • But later, in the end, will laugh (gela/w geláœ)

This is an example of the (eschatological) reversal we see often in Jesus’ sayings and parables (Mark 9:35-36; 10:29-31 par; Matt 6:1-8, 16-18; 11:11; 18:4; 20:25-28; 21:28-32 par), especially those in the Gospel of Luke (Lk 14:11ff; 16:19-31; 18:9-14; 22:28-30; cf. also 1:47-55). By this literary and ethical topos, the person who appears to be happy and carefree, wealthy and powerful, devout and influential in this life (but without thinking of God, cf. Lk 12:21), will experience the opposite in the life to come. On the other hand, the righteous often experience hardship and loss, suffering and poverty (or willingly experience them through self-denial and sacrifice) in this life, but will receive the opposite (as heavenly reward) in the end. The corresponding Woe to the Lukan Beatitude (Lk 6:25) is equally straightforward in this regard:

Ou)ai/, oi( gelw=nte$ nu=n, o%ti penqh/sete kai\ klau/sete
“Woe (for you) the (ones) laughing now, (in) that (later) you will mourn and weep aloud!”

I will touch upon this “Woe” momentarily; but first it is necessary to examine the Matthean Beatitude (5:4) a bit more closely, specifically the two parallel verbs penqe/w and parakale/w.

1. penqe/w (penthéœ)—the basic meaning of this verb is clear enough (“to mourn, grieve”); but mourning in what sense? There are several possibilities:

    • The straightforward sense of grieving over the loss of a friend, relative, etc. This would align the saying with the wider “consolation” literature found in Greek philosophy—see, for example, Plato’s Phaedo [“On the Soul”], a dialogue with a setting around the death of Socrates (for additional references and bibliography, see Betz, Sermon, pp. 120-123). However, given the qualification of the “poor” and “hungry” in vv. 3, 6, one would expect that something more than simple mourning/grieving is meant here.
    • Grief and mourning over the general condition of humankind. This sort of meaning accords with the tradition in Wisdom Literature (see esp. in Qohleleth/Ecclesiastes), which emphasizes, in particular, the futility of pursuing wealth, riches, worldly success, etc. While the idea is sound, with a basis in both Scripture and philosophy, it does not seem quite to fit the context of the Beatitudes.
    • Mourning in the sense of repentance (i.e. grief/mourning over sin). This has been a popular interpretation of the Beatitude, and, in fact, the verb penqe/w is used this way elsewhere in the New Testament (1 Cor 5:12; 2 Cor 12:21; James 4:9). However, if this were the intended meaning here, one would expect it to be specified—that “mourning” would be qualified as “poor” and “hunger” are in vv. 3, 6. A closer Scriptural metaphor is perhaps found in mourning for the destruction of the land and suffering of the people as a whole (brought about by sin and wickedness).
    • The religious/symbolic idea of mourning for the fate of Israel and Jerusalem. This is a theme derived from Isa 61:2-3; 66:10, and other Old Testament passages (in Isa 25; 60; Jer 31:15ff, etc; cf. also the vision of the “Weeping Woman” in 4 Ezra [2/4 Esdras] 9:38ff). The “Mourners of Zion” was a label applied to Jews at the time of the New Testament (cf. the Qumran text 11QPsaZion), and is sometimes associated with the so-called ±anawîm piety of Jews and early Jewish Christians. The use of the verb parakale/w makes this interpretation at least possible (see below), though it certainly would be reading too much into the Beatitude as it stands.

It is probably best to consider “mourning” used here in a general, unspecified sense—i.e., mourning as the result of suffering and loss (for whatever reason). That it is meant to describe the mourning of the righteous (believer, follower of Jesus), rather than grief experienced by humankind overall, is clear enough from the context. Interestingly, the positive aspect of mourning/grief sets this Beatitude (and the Lukan parallel in 6:21b) in contrast with segments of Greek philosophy, in which (according to the ideal of a)pa/qeia, freedom from passion/desire) grief and mourning (over death) were inappropriate for the wise man (cf. the saying of Epicurus in Diogenes Laertius 10.139, etc); however, see 1 Cor 7:30 for a similar perspective.

2. parakale/w (parakaléœ). The verb literally means “to call (someone) alongside”, usually with the sense of bringing aid, help, comfort, etc. It can relate either to the one bringing help or to the one being helped. Both the verb and the related noun (para/klhsi$, parákl¢sis) occur many times in the Septuagint (LXX) and New Testament. Paul uses the verb frequently for exhortation (“I call you alongside…” [i.e. I exhort you / appeal to you], Rom 12:1 et al.), but also in the context of believers helping one another (Rom 12:8; 1 Cor 14:31; 2 Cor 1:4; 2:7-8; 7:7; 13:11; 1 Thess 4:18; 5:11, 14; Col 2:2; 4:8). The words are popular in Luke-Acts, often with the sense of exhortation/encouragement (Lk 3:18; 16:25; Acts 2:40; 11:23; 13:15; 14:22; 15:31-32; 16:40; 20:1-2). In Acts 9:31 we read of the “help/comfort” (para/klhsi$) of the Holy Spirit, which is reminiscent of the Holy Spirit as “helper/comforter” (para/klhto$) in Jn 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7; 1 Jn 2:1. Most notable is the use of the words (verb and noun) in Isaiah 40-66 (so-called deutero-/trito-Isaiah)—see Isa 40:1; 51:3, 12, 19; 54:11; 57:18; 61:2; 66:13, etc. In these Isaian passages (and similar passages from the exilic Prophets), we find the important theme of the Lord bringing a message of “comfort”, promising the (ultimate) restoration of Israel. Here there also occurs the image of comfort/consolation to those who mourn (over Israel/Zion)—cf. especially Isa 57:18; 61:2-3; 66:10-13; also Jer 31:10-14; Zech 1:17. In particular, Isa 61:1-3ff and 66:10-14 (along with Jer 31:10-14) appear to have exercised an enormous influence over Jewish (and early Jewish Christian) thought—cf. for example in Baruch 4-5, especially in 4:23; 5:1 with the image of sorrow and weeping being replaced by joy and gladness. In the Lukan Infancy narrative (Lk 2:25-38) we see two figures in the Temple precincts—Simeon and Anna—who represent the “righteous poor [±an¹wîm]”, devout Jews who are looking toward receiving [i.e. waiting for] “the help/comfort [para/klhsi$] of Israel” (2:25) and “the ransom [lu/trwsi$] of Jerusalem” (2:38). Broadly speaking, early Christians (followers of Jesus) identified themselves with these same “poor” (Matt 5:3; Lk 6:20b)—those who suffered and endured hardship while awaiting the (eschatological) “comfort” of Israel.

The Lukan Woe (Lk 6:25b). Returning to the “Woe” corresponding to the Lukan Beatitude (see above), there are two elements in particular to note:

  • The relationship between weeping/mourning (klai/w/penqe/w) and laughing (gela/w). The verb gela/w is extremely rare in the New Testament (occurring only here in Lk 6:21, 25, but the related noun ge/lw$ [“laughter”] is in James 4:9, cf. below). In the Old Testament (LXX) it typically refers to mocking laughter or ridicule (Job 5:22; 17:6; Psalm 52:6 [51:6]; Prov 10:23; Eccl 7:4, 7; Sir 21:20; 27:13; Lam 1:7; also Gen 17:17; 18:12ff). In the Woe the verb is probably meant in this sense, i.e. that those who “laugh” now, often mock or ridicule the righteous (see Wisdom 2:20-24 for a summary of the mindset of the ungodly). In the Beatitude proper, however, a different nuance would seem to be required:
    • Weeping now by the righteous (oppressed by earthly, human affairs), laughter in the end (in response to divine, heavenly joy)
    • Laughter now by the wicked (dominated by earthly, human affairs), weeping/mourning in the end (in response to divine Judgment)

The exchange of joy/laughter in place of mourning/weeping is a common Scriptural motif (Psalm 30:11; Isa 25:8; 30:19; 60:20; 61:3; 65:19; 66:10; Jer 31:13, 15ff; Rev 5:4-5; 7:17; 21:4).

  • The expression mourn and weep (penqe/w and klai/w used together). As noted above, the Matthean Beatitude uses penqe/w (“mourn”), the Lukan uses klai/w (“weep aloud”), but here the Lukan Woe uses both. This could be meant to amplify the fate of the wicked, though, on the whole, it may simply reflect a traditional idiom (Mark 16:10; also Jn 16:20). In the LXX 2 Esdras 18:9 [Neh 8:9] the people are told: “This day is holy… do not mourn or weep“. In Ezek 27:30-32 and Rev 18:9-15, the expression is part of lamentation for the destruction of a city—a long-standing genre in the ancient world (cf. the famous Sumerian lamentation for the destruction of Ur). In these examples, “mourning and weeping” is done by the wicked and unfaithful.

The closest Scriptural parallel to the Lukan Woe is found in James 4:9, which will be discussed in more detail in a concluding note on the Woes.

This series was originally posted in the earlier version of Biblesoft’s online Study Blog. It is also available for use in Biblesoft’s PC Study Bible program (Version 5 or OneTouch) [find out more]

The Beatitudes: Matthew 5:3 (continued)

Matthew 5:3; Luke 6:20b, continued

Luke:      Maka/rioi oi( ptwxoi/, o%ti u(mete/ra e)sti/n h( basilei/a tou= qeou=
“Happy the poor (ones), that yours is the kingdom of God
Matthew:  Maka/rioi oi( ptwxoi/ tw=| pneu/mati, o%ti au)tw=n e)stin h( basilei/a tw=n ou)ranw=n
“Happy the poor (ones) in the spirit, that theirs is the kingdom of the Heavens

The first Beatitude (Matthew 5:3; Luke 6:20b) was discussed in the previous article; today, both versions will be examined in more detail, focusing on several areas of interpretation:

    1. The Meaning of “Poor in (the) spirit”
    2. Poor vs. Rich in the Lukan Beatitude
    3. “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Kingdom of God”

1. The Meaning of “Poor in (the) spirit”

The basic meaning of this difficult phrase was addressed in the prior article; however, it is worth looking at it more closely here. As I indicated, the nearest parallel is found in the Qumran texts—jwr ywnu (±anwê rûaµ), “poor/afflected of spirit” (see especially 1 QM 14:7, where it is applied to the “sons of light” [roa yn@B=]; cf. also 1 QM 14:3, 1 QH 5:21-22, CD 19:9, and parallel expressions in 1 QM 7:5, 11:10, etc). The nearest expressions in the LXX and New Testament are found in Psalm 34:18 [LXX 33:19] (oi( tapeinoi\ tw=| pneu/mati, translating Hebr. j^WrÁa@K=D^) and Matthew 11:29 (tapeino\$ th=| kardi/a| “lowly [in] the heart”). The Hebrew word wn`u* (from hn`u*) more properly means “lowly, afflicted” rather then “poor” (i.e. poverty per se), which is close to the Greek adjective tapeino/$ (tapeinós, “low[ly], humble”). It is also noteworthy that in the Qumran texts (and elsewhere in Judaism of the period), the <yw]n`u& (±an¹wîm, “lowly/afflicted [ones]”) were identified largely with the <ynoyb=a# (°e»yônîm, “poor/wanting [ones]”), with both used as terms for the righteous. So here in the Beatitude, there would seem to be a clear identification of poor (ptwxo/$) with lowly (tapeino/$). But poverty/lowliness in exactly what sense? There are number of possibilities for interpretation:

  • It involves a recognition and acceptance of the essential poverty inherent in the human condition. This interpretation is argued cogently by Betz, Sermon, pp. 112-119, largely on the basis of parallels in Greek philosophy and wisdom literature.
  • It is a spiritualizing motif which expresses that the righteous (or the wise and virtuous) person is truly rich, even in the midst of his/her material poverty. Indeed, material poverty actually serves as an aid to gaining wisdom; Socrates was a prototypical example, cf. Plato Apol. 23c, etc, and frequently in later Stoic and Cynic teaching.
  • It implies freedom from care and desire (a)pa/qeia, apátheia), largely as a result of a life devoted to abstinence and self-control (e)gkra/teia, enkráteia). This was tied closely to the idea that the happiness/blessedness [ma/kar] of the gods involved a lack of want or desire (reflecting a divine “poverty”). It is fairly typical of most Greek ascetic philosophy (again Socrates was a prime example, cf. Xenophon Mem. 1.5, 6ff). The concept and goal of a)pa/qeia was a prominent feature of Christian mysticism and monasticism (especially in the Eastern Orthodox tradition).
  • The “lowliness” of spirit contrasts specifically with “highness” of spirit—that is, of pride, vanity, haughtiness, worldly ambition, desire for power, and so forth. Instead, the humility of the follower of Christ eschews all these things.
  • The “lowliness” is to be understood specifically in relationship to God—to place one’s life and thought completely in trust and dependence on God.

Arguments can be made for each of these avenues of interpretation (and others as well), however, I would say that the last two are closest to the mark. A warning against what we could call “highness” of spirit appears frequently, in various forms, throughout the New Testament. Of the examples in the Gospels alone, see Mark 10:42-45 par; Matt 18:3-4 par; Lk 9:23-25; 10:19-20; 12:13-21; 14:7-11; 16:15; 17:7-10; 18:9-14. In the Gospel of Luke, especially, this emphasis on the humble and lowly is prominent—see particularly, in the parables (esp. Lk 18:9-14), and the example of Mary in Lk 1:38, 46-55. Cf. also the Christian maxim uttered by John the Baptist in Jn 3:30.

2. Poor vs. Rich in the Lukan Beatitude

The principal difference between the Matthean and Lukan forms of the first Beatitude is striking. Instead of oi( ptwxoi\ tw=| pneu/mati (“the poor [in] the spirit”), it is simply oi( ptwxoi/ (“the poor”). The exact relationship between the two versions continues to be debated. However, it is all but certain that the Lukan version essentially refers to poverty in the customary sense (i.e., material/economic poverty); the corresponding Woe in v. 24 would confirm this. Also, it is noteworthy that Luke references the “rich” (plou/sio$) and “riches” more often than the other Gospels, and always in a negative sense, or in contrast to the followers of Jesus (i.e., the “poor”)—see Lk 1:53; 8:14; 12:16-21; 16:9, 11-13, 19-23ff, etc. Even in the case of traditions shared by Matthew/Mark, Luke’s version occasionally adds the detail of riches to a negative portait, cf. in the parable of the Sower (8:14), the emphasis of the man being rich [plou/sio$] in 18:23 (in relation to v. 25), and also the narration in 21:1. Only in the case of Zaccheus (Lk 19:2ff) are riches shown in anything like a positive sense.

Even so, the stark juxtaposition of the “poor” and the “rich” in 6:20, 24 is jolting (especially for modern-day Western Christians). Here is the “woe” of v. 24:

Plh\n ou)ai\ u(mi=n toi=$ plousi/oi$, o%ti a)pe/xete th\n para/klhsin u(mw=n.
“(All the) more, woe to you the rich (one)s!—that you have your help/comfort (from riches)!”

Plh\n is an adversative particle, placing the woe in contrast to the beatitude of v. 20—i.e., “happy the poor… but woe to you the rich!” It also serves as an intensive particle, perhaps in the sense of “happy the poor…even more so woe to you the rich!” It could even indicate that there is nothing more for the rich, who (in the end) only receive the help/comfort of their riches. This is certainly the basic idea expressed here—the rich have already received their reward. On the surface, this seems unduly harsh, almost over-simplistic, as though riches and poverty as such were all that mattered. Jesus’ famous parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31) presents the same sort of dualism (rich vs. poor), which is also expressed in the Magnificat (esp. 1:52-53); and, for comparison, see similarly harsh descriptions in the epistle of James (1:9-11; 2:6-7; 5:1-6). What are we to make of this? For the moment, I leave this as an open question, which I will address more thoroughly in an upcoming discussion of the Lukan Woes.

3. “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Kingdom of God”

There are two other differences between the Matthean and Lukan versions:

Matthew: au)tw=n e)stin h( basilei/a tw=n ou)ranw=n (“theirs is kingdom of the heavens“)
Luke: u(mete/ra e)sti/n h( basilei/a tou= qeou (“yours is the kingdom of God“)

With regard to the personal pronoun, all of the Beatitudes in Matt 5:3-10 use the 3rd-person plural form, while those in Luke use 2nd-person plural forms. If we accept the critical assumption that the Matthean and Lukan forms ultimately derive from a single set of sayings by Jesus (rather that two sets of sayings), then it stands to reason that one or the other has been modified at some point. The Beatitude form suggests that the 3rd person pronoun/verb is more likely to be ‘original’. In preserving and transmitting the sayings as part of a basic core of Christian instruction (catechesis/catechism), adaptation to the 2nd-person—addressing the believer directly—would only be natural.

The expression “kingdom of the heavens” (h( basilei/a tw=n ou)ranw=n, usually translated “kingdom of Heaven”) is unique to the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament. Even in parallel passages within the Synoptic tradition (shared by Mark and/or Luke), where “kingdom of God” (h( basilei/a tou= qeou=) occurs, Matthew nearly always uses “kingdom of the Heavens”. Only on five (certain) occasions (Matt 6:3; 12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43) does he use “kingdom of God”. Despite claims to the contrary, there would seem to be little difference in meaning between the two expressions. It remains uncertain just why Matthew opts for “kingdom of the Heavens”. However, perhaps it is appropriate to consider here two aspects of the Kingdom, related in turn with two key points of emphasis in the Beatitude:

  1. It is of God—that is, it belongs to God. As discussed in an earlier article, a seminal aspect of the Beatitude was its declaration that the righteous person (or initiate in the mysteries, believer, etc) would become like God (or the gods)—this would occur in the afterlife, but was already “realized” in the present. From the standpoint of ethical and philosophical instruction, the disciple is effectively encouraged and exhorted to become more like God (cf. Matthew 5:48).
  2. It is of the Heavens—that is, it is identified with the heavenly realm where God dwells (“above the [physical] heavens”); cf. the Lord’s Prayer (“Our Father, the [one] in the Heavens…”, Matt 6:9). The eschatological background and setting of the Beatitude clearly relates to the idea of the righteous person entering into heavenly bliss in the afterlife. In the earlier discussion on the Beatitude format of Psalm 1, I emphasized the locative element—that is the place or domain of the wicked (Ps 1:1) against the place of Judgment (i.e. the heavenly/divine Court) where the righteous gather (Ps 1:5). This, too, in addition to the promise of future destiny, may be “realized” in the present (cf. Ps 1:3). In terms of the ethical instruction of Jesus’ teaching, his followers are exhorted to seek after this heavenly kingdom or domain (where God dwells, and the righteous belong); cf. Matt 5:20, 48; 6:10, 19-20, 32-33; 7:7-11, 13-14.

Another small difference between the Matthean and Lukan versions related to the form of the pronoun: Matt 5:3 has the pronoun in the genitive case (“of them” = “theirs”), while Lk 6:20 uses the possessive pronoun (or adjective, “yours”). This difference is minimal, but it serves to point out the emphasis of the Kingdom belonging to the righteous (to the one declared “happy/blessed”). Perhaps it is better to consider it the other way around: the righteous as belonging to the Kingdom. The identification is such that both sides of the relationship are true.

The Beatitudes: Matthew 5:3

Matthew 5:3 (Luke 6:20b)

The first Beatitude is found in Matthew 5:3, with a parallel version in Luke 6:20b (and a corresponding Woe in v. 24). The Matthean version is:

Maka/rioi oi( ptwxoi/ tw=| pneu/mati,
o%ti au)tw=n e)stin h( basilei/a tw=n ou)ranw=n

“Happy the poor (ones) in the spirit, that theirs is the kingdom of the Heavens”

This verse serves as the heirmos (a Greek musical term for an initial trope which sets the meter and melody of those which follow) for the remaining Beatitudes. I discussed the Beatitude form itself in an earlier article.

I also treated the first Beatitude in a previous note, part of which I reproduce here below. Differences between the Matthean and Lukan versions will be examined in a bit more in the next article.

    1. Luke’s account (6:20-23) is considerably shorter, containing just four beatitudes, compared to nine in Matthew (5:3-12)—Luke’s four are paralleled in the 1st, 4th, 2nd, and 9th of Matthew
    2. Luke includes a series of corresponding ‘Woes’ (6:24-26) not found in Matthew
    3. For the first two Lukan beatitudes, the parallels in Matthew have qualifying phrases—”poor in the spirit” instead of “poor”, “hunger (and thirst) for righteousness/justice” instead of “hungry”

I wish to focus on this third aspect, especially as it relates to the first beatitude (Matthew 5:3; Luke 6:20). Some scholars have thought that Matthew modified the ‘original’ saying (preserved in Luke), softening or ‘spiritualizing’ a harsher statement. If Matthew indeed modified the saying, it was more likely for the purpose of clarifying and providing deeper insight into the meaning of the terse statement. A comparison (points of difference italicized):

Luke:      Maka/rioi oi( ptwxoi/, o%ti u(mete/ra e)sti/n h( basilei/a tou= qeou=
“Happy the poor (ones), that yours is the kingdom of God
Matthew:  Maka/rioi oi( ptwxoi/ tw=| pneu/mati, o%ti au)tw=n e)stin h( basilei/a tw=n ou)ranw=n
“Happy the poor (ones) in the spirit, that theirs is the kingdom of the Heavens
[1. I have left “spirit” in lower case for the moment; 2. o%ti introduces a reason/purpose clause, conventionally translated “for, because”]

It should be noted here in passing that, while the text of the Beatitudes (in both Matthew and Luke) is fairly certain (there are few substantive variants), it abounds with difficulties of interpretation. The following questions can be raised:

    1. The “poor” (oi( ptwxoi)—what sort of poverty is meant: physical, material, spiritual, or some combination? and in precisely what sense?
    2. Does “spirit” (pneuma) refer to: physical life, the spirit (spiritual component) of a human being, or the (Holy) Spirit of God?
    3. Is the dative case (tw=| pneu/mati) instrumental (“by the spirit”) or locative/referential (“in the spirit”)?
    4. How seriously should we take the differences between Matthew and Luke—how, indeed, should we understand them?

I offer the following brief comments for consideration:

1. The Poor—What sort of Poverty?

In the case of Luke, especially in the context of the four beatitudes together (“poor, hungering, weeping”), along with the Woes (ou)ai\ u(mi=n toi=$ plousi/oi$, “woe to you the rich [ones]!”), it is hard to avoid the conclusion that here Jesus is speaking of real physical and material poverty. Certainly, throughout the Gospel, Luke gives special emphasis to the poor and outcast. This can be seen already in the Infancy narratives—especially the canticles—with strong parallels to the so-called ±an¹wîm piety of late pre-Christian Judaism and early Jewish Christianity: God looks upon the poor and humble, rescuing them and lifting them up from oppression and suffering. The same theme runs through many of Jesus’ most famous parables (10:25-37; 15; 16:19-31; 18:1-14, etc). However, before continuing, it is necessary to address the second and third questions.

2. The “Spirit”

The phrase in Matthew (oi( ptwxoi/ tw=| pneu/mati) is difficult; it occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, and this occurrence is virtually unique in the Greek language. The term pneu=ma more literally and concretely would be translated “breath, wind” so here it could simply be another way of referring to physical poverty (we might say, “short/faint of breath”), which would accord well with the context in Luke. There are also Old Testament and other Semitic parallels—jwr rxq, vpn rxq (“short of breath” or “short in soul/spirit”) that may relate. However a more direct Greek parallel is oi( tapeinoi\ tw=| pneu/mati, “the (ones) low/humble in the spirit” (see the LXX Psalm 33:19), which conveys a different sense (referring to the human soul/spirit), and that has a parallel in the Qumran texts jwr ywnu (1 QM 14.7; 1 QH 5.21-22, etc) which almost exactly matches the expression in Matthew. The phrase, then, most likely reflects a certain humility—a humble nature, recognizing one’s own weakness and mortality, faithfully and patiently enduring whatever hardship or suffering might come to pass.

3. “In” or “by” the “Spirit”

Given the likely reference to the human “spirit”, an instrumental sense for the dative is not likely. A locative or referential sense of “in the spirit” is better, locating the center of the poverty in a person’s own spirit or soul. But this is not so much a matter of anthropology (the nature of man as a created being) as it is of psychology (how one understands his/her created nature in relation to God). Is the poverty voluntary, or is it, like most instances of material poverty, the product of external conditions forced upon a person? Given the original setting of the Beatitude form (a pronouncement set at the last judgment), and the ethical context of Jesus’ teaching to his followers, the poverty should be understood primarily as voluntary, though often involving a willing response to conditions around us. The words of John the Baptist in the fourth Gospel (3:30) come to mind e)kei=non dei= au)ca/nein, e)me\ de\ e)lattou=sqai (“it is necessary for that one [i.e. Jesus] to grow, but for me to become less”); or Jesus’ own prayer to the Father on the eve of his death ou) ti/ e)gw\ qe/lw a)lla\ ti/ su/ (“not what I wish, but what you [wish]”; Mark 14:36 par.).

4. The Differences between Matthew and Luke

So what of the differences between the two forms of the Beatitude? One ought not gloss over them, or rush to harmonize in a facile manner, in order to avoid possible discrepancies. Rather each form should be studied carefully and prayerfully, with the understanding that they both stem from authentic sayings of Jesus. And, if one studies Jesus’ words throughout the Gospels, several clear facts emerge: (a) those who follow Christ faithfully will live modestly, without attachment to worldly possessions, and they are also likely to live in some form of poverty due to oppression or persecution; (b) we are called to follow like children, in innocence and humility, avoiding evil (both purity and poverty are a kind of “emptiness”); (c) our real poverty stems from our relationship to God, according to Christ’s own incarnate example (2 Cor 8:9; Phil 2:1-11). Both forms of the beatitude surely can be read in this light.

This series was originally posted in the earlier version of Biblesoft’s online Study Blog. It is also available for use in Biblesoft’s PC Study Bible program (Version 5 or OneTouch) [find out more]

The Qumran Beatitudes text (4Q525)

The publication of the scrolls from Qumran produced considerable excitement, in particular, among New Testament scholars, as suddenly there was available a wealth of Jewish material from a time just prior to Jesus and the first Christians. Scholars were eager to find any and all possible parallels which might shed light on the background of the New Testament. One clear and striking parallel involved the famous Beatitudes of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (cf. the series on the Beatitudes). In a fragment of what is now known as text 4Q525 (also 4QBeat[itudes]), was discovered a collection of (five) Beatitudes, similar in some ways to those of Jesus. The only other such sequence of Beatitudes surviving from the first centuries B.C./A.D. is that found in the deutero-canonical book of Sirach (14:20-27). Here, however, in 4Q525, is a group of Beatitudes, in Hebrew, which is even closer to Jesus’ own time (mid-late 1st century B.C.).

Like nearly all of the Qumran texts, 4Q525 is highly fragmentary, surviving in a number of pieces (some very small) which have been painstakingly (re)assembled as far as it is possible to do. The initial handling of the fragments was done by Jean Starcky, while a restored version of the text was first published by Émile Puech in 1991. On the standard critical edition, see Discoveries in the Judean Desert (DJD) XXV, 115-178. Unless otherwise noted, translations below are my own, in consultation (primarily) with those of Florentino García Martinez & Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar (The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, Brill/Eerdmans 1997-8, 2000, Vol.2 pp. 1052-9).

Fragment 2 (column ii) of 4Q525 begins with a sequence of five Beatitudes. Actually, the first of these has to be restored, but can be done so fairly reliably. As the sequence of Beatitudes is at the start of the fragment, it is possible that several more occurred just prior, in a portion now lost; if so, then it may represent a more extensive set of Beatitudes, like those in Matt 5:3-11 or Sirach 14:20-27. Each of these Beatitudes begins with the Hebrew yr@v=a^ (°ašrê), “(the) happiness of…”, i.e. “happiness for (the one who)…”, etc, and typically rendered “blessed be (the one who)…”. This is the same beatitude-formula known from numerous passages in the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms and Proverbs (the most notable being Psalm 1:1ff, on which see my previous note).

Here are the Beatitudes of fragment 2 (lines 1-4ff) in sequence (square brackets indicate restorations and gaps in the text):

[ ] wnwvl lu lgr awlw rwhf blb [tma rbwd yrva]
(The) happiness of (the one) speaking truth with a pure heart, and (who) does not walk about (secretly) upon his tongue {i.e. speak slander}…
[ ] hlwu ykrdb wkwmty awlw hyqwj ykmwt yrva
(The) happiness of (the one)s taking hold of her inscribed (law)s, and (who) do not take hold on(to) paths of injustice…
[ ] tlwa ykrdb wuyby awlw hb <ylgh y[r]va
(The) happiness of the (one)s dancing round (in joy) with her, and (who) do not pour out (words) on paths of foolishness…
[ ] hmrm blb hnrjvy awlw <ypk rwbb hyvrwd yrva
(The) happiness of (the one)s seeking for her with clean hands {lit. palms}, and (who) do not rise early (to look) for her with a deceiving heart…
wbl hykrdl /kyw /wylu trwtb ilhtyw hmkwj gyvh <da yrva
(The) happiness of the man (who) has reached wisdom and (who) walks about in the instruction of the Highest and sets his heart to her paths…

As in the Matthean collection of Jesus’ Beatitudes, the last of the Beatitudes turns into a more extended exhortation (lines 4-7ff, comp. Matt 5:11-12); due to the fragmentary condition of these lines, it is hard to know exactly where the Beatitude/exhortation ends. Here is a translation of lines 3b-7 (for covenience I adopt Fitzmyer’s rendering, italics indicate the portion translated above):

Blessed is the man who has attained wisdom and walks by the law of the Most High and fixes his heart on her ways, gives heed to her admonishments, delights con[stant]ly in her chastisements, and forsakes her not in the stress of [his] trou[bles]; (who) in time of distress abandons her not and forgets her not [in days of] fear, and in the affliction of his soul rejects [her] not. For on her he meditates constantly, and in his anguish he ponders [the law; and in al]l his existence [he considers] her [and puts her] before his eyes, so as not to walk in the paths of [ ]”

Only snippets and tiny portions of the remainder (of fragment 2, column ii) can be made out, the clearest of which are (with some restoration):

“…as one, and he completes his heart to(ward) her [ ]” (line 8)
“…[ a crown? upon] his [head] and cause [him] to s[it] (with) kings…” (line 9)
“…[and now {my} sons, hear me, and] turn [n]ot (away) from…” (line 12)
(translations mine)

The context makes immediately clear the single greatest difference between these Beatitudes and those of Jesus—the Qumran text is much more firmly rooted in the Old Testament Wisdom tradition, as expressed in the Psalms and Proverbs. This is made explicit in the surviving fragment 1: “…[which he sp]oke with the wisdom which Go[d] gave to him [ ] [to kn]ow wisdom and straight (teaching), (and) to understand [ ] […]to add to know[ledge]…” (cf. Prov 1:2-3). Similarly, line 12 above (as restored), echoes the call of Wisdom in Proverbs 1:8; 2:1-2; 3:1, 21; 4:1, 10; 5:1; 7:1, et al. There are also a number of apparent (or possible) allusions to the Psalms and Proverbs (and book of Job) in these Beatitudes:

The remaining fragments of 4Q525 confirm the strong sapiential (Wisdom) orientation of the work, with many other allusions to the Psalms, Proverbs and other Wisdom literature (Job, Ecclesiastes, Sirach), along with occasional references to the Prophets. This outlines again the primary difference between 4Q525 and the Beatitudes of Jesus—the former is primarily sapiential, while the latter is primarily ethical. There is, of course, a close connection between these two aspects, as both refer to the character and behavior of the righteous—i.e., the one who seeks (and finds) wisdom also acts in a right and moral manner according to the law of God. For devout Israelites and Jews, and especially the Community of the Qumran texts, Wisdom (hm*k=j*, µo½mâ) and Torah (hr*oT, tôrâ, lit. “instruction”) are virtually synonymous. We can see the way that the two are blended together in the 5th Beatitude (above, lines 3ff); being feminine nouns, they are referred to together by the feminine pronoun “she/her”.

The Torah also plays an important role in relation to the (Matthean) Beatitudes of Jesus, in terms of context of the Sermon on the Mount—the sayings in 5:17-20, followed by the six “Antitheses” in vv. 21-48. However, by emphasizing the underlying ethical aspect, over and against a simple and concrete fulfillment of the Torah regulations—both in the Beatitudes and the remainder of the Sermon on the Mount—Jesus has taken a step away from the Old Testament/Jewish Law as a binding law code for believers. Instead, emphasis is squarely on the Torah as embodied in the person and teaching of Jesus. In terms of the Beatitudes, this means that only the person who follows the teaching and example of Jesus (epitomized by the Beatitudes) can be considered “happy” or “blessed” and will be deemed worthy of obtaining the blessed life to come (following the Judgment). This is discussed further in the series on the Beatitudes and “The Law and the New Testament” (“Jesus and the Law”); the Antitheses and the sayings of Matt 5:17-20 are discussed in considerable detail in the latter series.

It may be interesting to note that the Qumran text 4Q185 also contains two Beatitudes, apparently similar in form and content to those of 4Q525; they read as follows (translation mine):

“(The) happiness of the man (for whom) it is given to him from G[od ]…” (frag 1-2 col ii. 8)
“(The) happiness of the man (who) does her [i.e. Torah/Wisdom?] and (who) does not walk about (secretly with words of [slander]) upon [her, and] does not search for her with a deceiving spir[it], and does not grab hold of her with smooth [i.e. deceitful] (word)s…” (frag 1-2 col ii. 13-14)

For a good summary introduction to 4Q525, see Joseph A. Fitzmyer (“Fitzmyer”, above), “A Palestinian Collection of Beatitudes” in The Four Gospels 1992: Festschrift Frans Neirynck, ed. F. van Segbroeck et al. Louvain University Press / Uitgeverij Peeters, 1992, pp. 509-15. This article was reprinted in Fitzmyer, The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins (Eerdmans: 2000), pp. 111-8. Also useful for a comparison with the (Matthean) Beatitudes of Jesus is George J. Brooke, “The Wisdom of Matthew’s Beatitudes (4QBeat and Mt. 5:3-12)”, Scripture Bulletin 19 (1989), pp. 35-41.

The Beatitudes: Psalm 1

This is the third introductory article in this series on the Beatitudes. The first touched upon introductory critical matters related to the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) and Sermon on the Plain (Lk 6:20-49); the second examined the Beatitude form in particular. By way of supplement, and to conclude these three introductory notes, I will be discussing the best-known Beatitude in the Old Testament: that of Psalm 1.

In the discussion below, “Dahood” refers to Mitchell Dahood’s Commentary Psalms 1-50 (Anchor Bible vol. 16, 1965). His observations remain distinctive and noteworthy in the extent to which he relies upon old Canaanite (Ugaritic) parallels in vocabulary and word usage.

The first Psalm begins: rv#a& vya!h*Áyr@v=a^ “Happiness of (the) man who…”, which the Septuagint (LXX) renders as maka/rio$ a)nh/r o^$…—a common beatitude form. Maka/rio$ (makários) is the same word used to begin Jesus’ Beatitudes, and occurs frequently in the Psalms and Wisdom literature (see the previous article on these points). The terms “happy” and “happiness” have come to carry a trite meaning in modern English, so, in these contexts, most translators prefer to use “blessed”; however, this risks confusing ma/kar-/rva with eu)log-/irb, which are typically translated “bless, blessing”, etc. Hebrew yr@v=a^ (°ašr¢y) is a plural construct form which is actually difficult to render into English—literally, something like “Happy (thing)s for the man who…” It is also possible to understand it as an intensive plural, i.e., “How happy is the man who…!” The expression can be found numerous places in the Old Testament—1 Kings 10:8; 2 Chron 9:7; Job 5:17; Isa 30:18; 56:2, and frequently in the Psalms (Ps 2:12; 32:1-2; 33:12; 34:8; 40:5; 41:2; 65:5; 84:5-6, 13; 89:16; 94:12; 106:3; 112:1; 119:1-2; 127:5; 128:1; 137:8-9; 144:15; 146:5) and Proverbs (Prov 3:13; 8:34; 20:7; 28:14).

Verse 1: “Happiness of (the) man who has not walked in (the) counsel of wicked ones, and in (the) path of sinful ones he has not stood, and in (the) sitting-place of (those) mocking he has not sat (down).”

This verse describes the characteristics of the person declared “happy/blessed” in negative terms. There are three expressions, each of which contains: (1) a q¹tal (perfect) verb governed by a negative particle al), (2) a construct noun with locative preposition B=, and (3) a plural noun describing a negative class of person.

Three Verbs: (a) El^h* (h¹lak “walked”), (b) dm^u* (±¹mad “stood”), (c) bv^y` (y¹ša» “sat”). The last verb bv^y` can also have the sense of “set down, dwell”—there would seem to be a progression of sorts, from walking to sitting down.

Three Construct Nouns: The construct form attaches it to the following noun in each case. The preposition B= here indicates a consistent locative sense: that is, “in” a particular location.

    • The first noun hx*u@ (±¢ƒâ) generally means “counsel, advice”. This can be understood two ways: either (i) walking in [i.e. according to] certain counsel, or (ii) walking in a place of counsel [i.e. council, circle of advisors]. The latter sense is to be preferred.
    • The second noun Er#D# (derek) is usually rendered “path, way”, either in a concrete or metaphorical sense. It derives from a verb ird which has the basic meaning “to tread, step, march”—i.e., a place trodden down, where people have (repeatedly) stepped. It can be used in a transferred, metaphoric sense as “habit, custom, manner of being/acting”, etc., but here a concrete “path” better fits the context. Dahood draws attention to Ugaritic drkt “dominion, etc”, which also would fit the political (royal) imagery in the verse. Perhaps the rendering “domain” would be appropriate—i.e., the place belonging to the wicked/sinners, where the (wicked) activity occurs. To “stand in the path/domain” implies a participation, that one belongs to this place.
    • The third noun bv^om (môša») is derived from the same verb bvy (“sit [down]”) used in the phrase; it literally means a “place-of-sitting” (i.e. “seat”). Probably a royal seat (or “throne”) is implied, parallel to the earlier expressions “domain [or ‘path’]” and “council [or ‘counsel/advice’]”. To “sit [down] in the seat” means to identify oneself entirely with the “domain” and/or its rule; there may also be the connotation of a more permanent residence (“sit down” = “set down, dwell”).

Three plural nouns: As with the verbs, there would appear to be a progression involved: (a) <yu!v*r= (r®š¹±îm) “wicked, evil” persons in a general, unqualified sense—the construct expression is “in the council/counsel of wicked (person)s”. (b) <ya!F*j^ (µa‰‰¹°îm) “sinful, errant” persons, in the more specific sense of those who err and transgress the Law (of God)—”in the path/domain of sinful (person)s”. (c) <yxl@ (l¢ƒîm), a participle meaning persons who are “mocking, deriding, scoffing”—”in the seat of (those) mocking”. Finally, a specific kind of wrong-doing is specified, located at the very heart (the “seat”) of the wicked domain.

Verse 2:instead, his delight (is) in (the) Instruction of YHWH, and in His Instruction he mutters by day and night”

If the first verse declares what the happy/blessed person is not, v. 2 indicates what he is. The two italicized words above are difficult to render literally in English. The opening expression <a!ÁyK! (kî-°im) is a compound particle which can be used in a variety of ways; it is frequently used in oath formulas, and often means something like “indeed if…” or “except that…”. The idea here would seem to be that, if the man does not do the things described in v. 1, then he will do (instead) only thus… The focus of this verse is the hr*oT (tôrâ) of God (YHWH); hr*oT is usually translated “law”, but more properly means “instruction”. Sometimes this is regarded as synonymous with the Pentateuch (and the Law code[s] at the heart of it), but the word itself (and the metaphor expressed by it) can have a wider meaning as well—i.e., all that God commands and teaches. There are two aspects emphasized here:

    • His delight [Jp#j@] is in the Instruction [Torah]
    • In the Instruction he mutters [hg`h*] by day and night

The translation “mutters” sounds almost derogatory in English, but it is perhaps the best approximation here of the verb hgh “to growl, groan, moan, mumble”, i.e., the ineffable sounds made by animals, mourners, magicians, etc. It is also used in a figurative sense, which we might translate something like “ponder, imagine, meditate”. The common translation here of “meditates” is rather misleading, perhaps suggesting something like silent reading and prayer; in the ancient world, texts and material for instruction were not so much read as recited (from memory). The verb here perhaps indicates a deep, intense, utterance of God’s Word. For an interesting parallel (of sorts), see Romans 8:26f.

Verse 3: “and he will be like a tree (trans)planted upon streams of water, which gives his fruit in his time, and his leaf will not drop (off), and every(thing) which he does will succeed.”

This verse gives the reason or basis for the person being called “happy/blessed”, and corresponds generally to the o%ti-clause in the Beatitudes of Jesus. With many similar Beatitudes, it expresses something of the future (eschatological) state of the righteous one who passes through Judgment and enters into (heavenly) bliss; but also, it would seem, reflects the present condition of the person as well. The righteous/believer as a tree which produces (good) fruit is a common religious motif—of many examples, see Jesus’ teaching in Matt 7:17-19; 12:33 & par; cf. also Jn 1:48, 50; 15:1-2ff. Similarly, life-giving water as an image of heavenly/eternal life is widespread. The verb lt^v* (š¹¾al) indicates a plant or shoot which is transplanted—i.e., removed from one location and set into a new, better location.

Verse 4: “(It is) not thus (for the) wicked ones!—instead, (he is) like the chaff which (the) wind drives about;”

Verses 4-5 describe the wicked person, that is, the opposite of the happy/blessed one; it is the second, negative side of the Beatitude formula. Jesus’ Beatitudes in Matthew have no such specific negative formulation, but comparable statements are found in the “Woes” of the Lukan Beatitudes (Lk 6:24-26). Verse 4 presents a simple, striking contrast with the fate of the blessed person as a tree upon life-giving waters—instead, he (the wicked) is the chaff (Jm)) which the wind blows about. The wicked person as worthless chaff/dust is a fairly common metaphor, as expressed most famously in the Synoptic account of John the Baptist’s preaching (Matt 3:12 par).

Verse 5: “upon this [i.e. therefore] (the) wicked (one)s will not stand up in the Judgment(-place), and (the) sinful (one)s (will not stand) in the appointed-place of the righteous (one)s.”

Dahood suggests that fP*v=m! (mišp¹‰), is not simply the Judgment, but implies specifically the place of Judgment, i.e. the heavenly Court. This would seem to be likely with the parallel use of the preposition B= (as in v. 1, see above). Similarly the hd*u@ (±¢dâ) signifies not so much the just/righteous persons (the appointed gathering), but rather the appointed place (where the righteous gather); as such, it would be parallel to the heavenly place of Judgment. The scene, of course, is eschatological—the final Judgment before God. Just as the righteous do not belong in the place of the wicked (v. 1), so the wicked do not belong in the place of the righteous. Indeed, the <yq!yD!x^ (ƒadîqîm), the “just/righteous/loyal (ones)”, are the very ones declared happy/blessed. For more on the eschatological context of the early Beatitude form, see the previous article.

Verse 6: “For YHWH knows (the) path of (the) righteous (one)s, but (the) path of (the) wicked (one)s will pass away [i.e. perish].”

The entire Psalm is summed up in the final verse, where the “path” (Er#D#) of the righteous and wicked is juxtaposed. Here the word Er#D# is used in a wider sense than in v. 1 (see above)—it covers the entire “way” (including the habits, mode of behavior, etc.) taken by the righteous and wicked, respectively. That of the righteous is characterized by God’s knowing it (the participle u^d@oy yôd¢a±); without this knowing by YHWH, the path wanders off (db^a*) and leads to destruction (cf. Matt 7:13-14).

This Psalm (and verse 6 in particular) had an enormous influence on the “Two Ways” theology (or ideology) in subsequent Judaism and early Christianity. Several of the Qumran texts display a strong sense of dualism—light vs. darkness, truth vs. deceit, which distinguishes the righteous (identified with the Qumran community) from the wicked (virtually everyone outside of the community) with their respective destinies. In addition to the ethical aspect of this dualism, there are cosmological and soteriological components as well; see especially the “Treatise of the Two Spirits” in the Comunity Rule [1QS] 3:13-4:25, and cf. also 1 QH 6:29-30; 14:11-12; 1 QM 1:1ff; 13:9-11, etc. Similar imagery is found in the Gospel of John: light/darkness, above/below, of-the-World/not-of-the-World, from-God/not-from-God. Paul makes frequent use of ethical and psychological dualism—spirit/flesh, freedom/slavery, inner-man/outer-man, new-man/old-man, etc.—which is representative of early Christian teaching.

There is some indication that the Christian movement initially referred to itself as “The Way” (see Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4); cf. the use of Isa 40:3 (a verse used as a point of identification at Qumran as well) in Mark 1:3 par., and also note John 14:5-6. The “Two Ways” concept was prominent in early Christianity, and is used as the framework for exposition in the so-called Teaching (Didache) of the Twelve Apostles (chaps. 1-6) and Epistle of Barnabas (chaps. 18-20). The Didache begins (1:1):

“There are two Ways—one of Life and one of Death—but there is much difference between the two Ways”

The instruction which follows (in both the Didache and Barnabas) is heavily dependent upon Jesus’ teaching, especially that in the Sermon on the Mount. Besides the “two paths” in Matt 7:13-14, Jesus speaks of “two masters” (Matt 6:24), “two trees” (Matt 7:15-20), and “two builders” (Matt 7:24-27). An ethical dualism, of sorts, is implied throughout the “Antitheses” of Matt 5:21-48. The “way of the wicked” is only implied in the Beatitudes (i.e., the opposite of what characterizes those called happy/blessed), but this is spelled out in the Lukan version with the “Woes” of Lk 6:24-26.

On the Beatitude Form

To begin this series on the Beatitudes, we will look briefly at the form and significance of the Beatitude.

The Beatitudes (from Lat. beatus, beatitudo, “blessed, blessedness”) of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount/Plain (Matt 5:3-12; Lk 6:20-23) follow a specific two-part structure:

    1. An initial declaration, beginning with the plural adjective maka/rioi (makárioi) “happy/blessed (are the)…”
    2. A clause beginning with o%ti (hóti) “(in) that” [i.e. “for, because”], which states reason or basis for being called “happy/blessed”

A more common form begins makar(io$) o%sti$… “happy/blessed (is) the (one) who…”

From a form-critical standpoint, the beatitude (or “macarism”, from the Greek makar[io$]) is a specific literary genre, sometimes referred to under a wider type called “ascription”. It is attested throughout the Ancient Near East and Greco-Roman world, serving as a vehicle for instruction and exhortation in a short, memorable line.

The Greek word ma/kar (mákar) has the primary meaning of “happiness, bliss”, with the adjective maka/rio$ (makários) “happy, blessed”. The adjective o&lbio$ (ólbios) is essentially synonymous with maka/rio$ and appears frequently in Beatitudes. Other related words are eu)tuxh/$ (eutych¢s, “hit by good [fortune]”) and eu)dai/mwn (eudaímœn, lit. “[having] a good daimon” [i.e. “fortunate”]). For a discussion of all these terms, including their earliest usage, etc, cf. Cornelius de Heer, MAKAR-EUDAIMWN-OLBIOS-EUTUXHS: A Study of the Semantic Field Denoting Happiness in Ancient Greek to the End of the 5th c. B.C. (Amsterdam: Hakkert, 1969).

Ma/kar/maka/rio$ referred especially to the happiness/bliss of the gods, who, being immortal, would not suffer the needs and wants of ordinary human beings; see, for example, Homer Od. 5.7:

Zeu= pa/ter h)d’ a&lloi ma/kare$ qeoi\ ai)e\n e)o/nte$
“Father Zeus and (you) other happy/blessed gods (who) are forever”

It came to be applied to human beings, particularly those who proved worthy to be like the gods (in the afterlife). This appears to be an important aspect and function of the Beatitude form in its earliest usage in the Ancient Near East. The Greek word ma/kar itself may be related to Egyptian m±r (which has a similar meaning of “happy, blessed, fortunate”); we see it in the context of the deceased person who passes the judgment of God (or the gods, e.g. Osiris) and is declared happy/blessed, worthy to enter ‘heaven’ and share in the divine life. Something of this was preserved in early Greek thought as well; cf. Hesiod Theogony ll. 954-5, Works and Days ll. 141, 170; Plato Laws 947e; Epicurus [in Diogenes Laertius Lives of the Philosophers 10.123]; Pausanias Description of Greece 7.5.3, etc.

The language of Beatitude was especially prominent in the mystery cults, where the initiate will be like the gods after death—

o&lbie kai\ makariste/, qeo\$ d’ e&sh| a)nti\ brotoi=o
“Happy and blessed, a god you will be in place of a mortal”
Inscriptiones Graecae 2 XIV, 641, 1 = DK 1 B 18 (& Zuntz A.1, line 8)
(from the Thurii gold leaves c. 4th cent. B.C. [Orphic mysteries?])

but this status is declared already in the present (what we might call “realized eschatology”)—

“Happy [o&lbio$] is (he) who of men upon earth have seen these (mysteries)…”
(Homeric) Hymn to Demeter line 480 [Eleusinian mysteries]

cf. also from Euripides Bacchae lines 73-75 [the Dionysian/Bacchic mysteries]:

“O happy [ma/kar], he who, (having) good fortune [eu)dai/mwn]
(and) knowing (the) rituals of (the) gods,
makes holy (his) life and
brings (his) soul (into the sacred) company”

For similar language related to the mysteries of Isis and Osiris, cf. Apuleius Metamorphoses 11.16; and see especially the use of this “mystery” language in a Jewish context in Joseph and Aseneth 16.7f:

Makari/a ei@ su/   )Asene/q, o%ti a)pekalu/fqh soi ta\ a)po/rrhta tou= qeou=
“Happy are you, Aseneth, (in) that [i.e. because] the (mysteries) kept away from (humans) have been uncovered [i.e. revealed] to you…” (compare Jesus’ saying in Matthew 13:16 par.)

The Beatitude gradually entered into use in Greek philosophy and Wisdom literature, for the purpose of ethical instruction. Again, the emphasis is on becoming happy/blessed (like the gods), either in the sense of gaining (divine) wisdom or in living free from passion and care; cf. the saying of Empedocles (frag. 132 DK B 132); Epicurus (in Diogenes Laertius Lives of the Philosophers 10.139); Plato Laws 2.660e; Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics 10.8 [1178b].

Maka/rio$ and related forms occur in the Septuagint [LXX], usually translating Hebrew rva [pl. constr. yr@v=a^], and often in the form of a Beatitude—cf. Genesis 30:13; Psalm 1:1ff; 41:2; 106:3; 119:1-2; 127:5; 144:15 [LXX 40:2; 105:3; 118:1-2; 126:5; 143:15]; Isa 56:2; Mal 3:12, etc. It occurs frequently in Proverbs (Prov 3:13; 8:32, 34; 14:21; 16:20; 20:7; 28:14; 29:18) and elsewhere in the Wisdom Literature (Eccl 10:17; Sirach 14:20; 25:8-9; 26:1; 31:8; 34:15; 37:24; 48:11; 50:28). Especially noteworthy are the series of Beatitudes in deutero-canonical Sirach 25:7-10 and Tobit 13:15-16; and, even closer in theme and structure to Jesus’ Beatitudes in Matthew, that of the extra-canonical book of 2 [Slavonic] Enoch 42:6-14. There is also a sequence of Beatitudes (in Hebrew) from Qumran (4Q525, frag. 2 col. II vv. 1-4ff), which parallels those of Jesus at certain points; this work will be featured in a special supplementary article (“Spotlight on the Dead Sea Scrolls”).

In the next article I will examine the Old Testament model a bit more closely, looking especially at the archetypal Beatitude of Psalm 1.

For several references above, and occasionally throughout these notes on the Beatitudes, I am indebted to the outstanding (and encyclopedic) commentary by Hans Dieter Betz (The Sermon on the Mount, Hermeneia series, Fortress Press [1995]); I will hereafter reference is as “Betz, Sermon“.

The Beatitudes: Introduction

This study series focuses on the Beatitudes of Jesus, beginning with several introductory notes, and then treating each beatitude individually. It was originally created as a series of daily notes (for the previous Biblesoft study blog), and is being re-posted here in a new and improved format.

The Beatitudes of Jesus, in their best-known form, are part of the collection of teaching commonly referred to as the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7—Beatitudes, 5:3-12). This collection is similar, in both content and arrangement, to the “Sermon on the Plain” in Luke 6:20-49 (Beatitudes, 6:20-26). In both, a group of Beatitudes head the collection (in the position of an exordium), introducing the teaching that Jesus gives to his disciples. This being the case, in discussing the Beatitudes, it is necessary first to examine the relationship between the Matthean and Lukan collections (or “sermons”), touching upon matters of Source Criticism and the so-called Synoptic Problem.

In both Gospels (Matthew and Luke) this material is presented as though delivered as a connected ‘sermon’; however, it seems clear enough that this is principally a literary framing device (cf. Matt 5:1-2; 7:28; Lk 6:17ff, 20; 7:1), and that the “sermon” is better understood as a collection of sayings and teachings, originally spoken on different occasions, and brought together as a way of summarizing or epitomizing how Jesus instructed his disciples. This has been recognized by critical commentators since at least the time of Calvin (cf. his Gospel Commentary [Harmony], on Matt 5:1).

As the “Sermon” on the Mount/Plain contains material found in both Matthew and Luke, but not (for the most part) in the Gospel of Mark, it is technically part of so-called “Q” (for German Quelle, “source”). One may speak of “Q” loosely (simply as reflecting common/shared traditions, whether written or oral, i.e., the “double tradition”), or strictly (as a specific written document). Nearly all critical scholars mean it in the latter sense, as an actual source document—an early Gospel, contemporary with (or prior to) Mark, which no longer survives. Most scholars (including a fair percentage of traditional-conservative commentators) adopt some variation of the Two-Source hypothesis—that Matthew and Luke, in fashioning their own Gospels, each made use of Mark and so-called Q for the core collection of traditions as well as the basic narrative framework. Traditions and material unique to Matthew or Luke are typically labeled “M” and “L” respectively; these labels may also be understood to represent actual source documents, or simply as a way to describe a set of traditions used by the Gospel writer.

With regard to the Sermon on the Mount/Plain (and its relation to “Q”), there are several critical theories:

  • The Lukan “Sermon on the Plain”, being considerably shorter, more or less represents the collection as found in “Q”; Matthew has modified/expanded this material (from other traditions, i.e. “M”) to create the “Sermon on the Mount”
  • Both Matthew and Luke have significantly modified (redacted) a simple core “Sermon” which was part of “Q”
  • The differences between the Matthean and Lukan “Sermons” are primarily the result of different versions (recensions) of “Q” (call them QM and QL) used by Matthew and Luke respectively.
  • A variation of this last theory would be that the Matthean and Lukan “Sermons” reflect different versions of a source collection of traditions/sayings (the “Sermon” as such) separate from so-called “Q”

I would say that the second and fourth options are more likely to be correct. The arrangement of material is similar enough that a core collection of traditions must lie behind both versions. This collection (the core “Sermon”) may (or may not) have been part of a separate “Q” document. I suspect that, as a clearly-defined collection, it is extremely old, perhaps going back to the earliest layer of Gospel tradition. Scholars debate whether the “Sermon” (and/or “Q”) existed in Aramaic (being subsequently translated into Greek), or whether the earliest written form was already Greek. It is usually assumed that (most of) Jesus’ original teaching was in Aramaic; but how this relates to the Greek forms recorded in the Gospels (and their sources) remains an open (and much disputed) question.

Here is an outline of the portions of the “Sermon” Matthew and Luke share:

Matthew includes much which is not in Luke (or is found elsewhere in Lk), and Luke, too, has some sayings not in Matthew; however, the portions they share (in the same order, and often in similar wording) are significant enough to indicate a common source.

It should be noted that, even if one accepts the general critical view of the Sermon on the Mount/Plain as a traditional collection of sayings and teachings which has been modified/redacted in different ways, there is little reason to doubt, on objective grounds, that the sayings/teachings themselves are authentic. In other words, while not necessarily reflecting full-fledged sermons delivered by Jesus, they must, in a fundamental sense, accurately reflect his teaching.

In the first article of this series, I will address the basic form and significance of the Beatitude.

This series is available for use in Biblesoft’s PC Study Bible program (Version 5 or OneTouch) [find out more]

February 10: Matthew 5:3; Luke 6:20

The Beatitudes of Jesus, which occur at the very beginning of both the famous ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (Matthew 5-7) and the parallel ‘Sermon on the Plain’ (Luke 6:17-49), must surely be regarded as one of the most famous (and extraordinary) portions in the entire New Testament. The contexts of the two accounts are similar, but different enough to lead more traditional-conservative commentators at least to regard them as separate sermons, preached on different occasions. Critical scholars, on the other hand, generally view them as two versions the same basic sermon (or collection of sayings), derived from a traditional source common to both Matthew and Luke (so-called “Q”, Quelle, source). On the whole, I find this latter view more likely. But, if so, then either Luke reduced the material considerably, or Matthew expanded it (most of Luke 6:27-49 can be found in Matthew as well); or, perhaps both took place. Part of the inspired, creative process in composing the Gospels involved incorporating authentic traditions and sayings of Jesus into an original arrangement, within a specific narrative framework. That details occasionally differ are not necessarily indications of ‘errors’, nor do they always need to ‘harmonized’—in most instances they are literary, not historical, differences.

Consider, in particular, the so-called Beatitudes (beatus, beatitudo, “blessed, blessedness”), or, more properly, Macarisms (from the Greek maka/rio$, “happy, blessed”). It is here that we find the greatest differences between the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ and the ‘Sermon on the Plain’, most significantly:

    1. Luke’s account (6:20-23) is considerably shorter, containing just four beatitudes, compared to nine in Matthew (5:3-12)—Luke’s four are paralleled in the 1st, 4th, 2nd, and 9th of Matthew
    2. Luke includes a series of corresponding ‘Woes’ (6:24-26) not found in Matthew
    3. For the first two Lukan beatitudes, the parallels in Matthew have qualifying phrases—”poor in the spirit” instead of “poor”, “hunger (and thirst) for righteousness/justice” instead of “hungry”

I wish to focus on this third aspect, especially as it relates to the first beatitude (Matthew 5:3; Luke 6:20). Some scholars have thought that Matthew modified the ‘original’ saying (preserved in Luke), softening or ‘spiritualizing’ a harsher statement. If Matthew indeed modified the saying, it was more likely for the purpose of clarifying and providing deeper insight into the meaning of the terse statement. A comparison (points of difference italicized):

Luke:      Maka/rioi oi( ptwxoi/, o%ti u(mete/ra e)sti/n h( basilei/a tou= qeou=
“Happy the poor (ones), that yours is the kingdom of God
Matthew:  Maka/rioi oi( ptwxoi/ tw=| pneu/mati, o%ti au)tw=n e)stin h( basilei/a tw=n ou)ranw=n
“Happy the poor (ones) in the spirit, that theirs is the kingdom of the Heavens
[1. I have left “spirit” in lower case for the moment; 2. o%ti introduces a reason/purpose clause, conventionally translated “for, because”]

It should be noted here in passing that, while the text of the Beatitudes (in both Matthew and Luke) is fairly certain (there are few substantive variants), it abounds with difficulties of interpretation. The following questions can be raised:

    1. The “poor” (oi( ptwxoi)—what sort of poverty is meant: physical, material, spiritual, or some combination? and in precisely what sense?
    2. Does “spirit” (pneu=ma) refer to: physical life, the spirit (spiritual component) of a human being, or the (Holy) Spirit of God?
    3. Is the dative case (tw=| pneu/mati) instrumental (“by the spirit”) or locative/referential (“in the spirit”)?
    4. How seriously should we take the differences between Matthew and Luke—how, indeed, should we understand them?

I offer the following brief comments for consideration:

1. The Poor—What sort of Poverty?

In the case of Luke, especially in the context of the four beatitudes together (“poor, hungering, weeping”), along with the Woes (ou)ai\ u(mi=n toi=$ plousi/oi$, “woe to you the rich [ones]!”), it is hard to avoid the conclusion that here Jesus is speaking of real physical and material poverty. Certainly, throughout the Gospel, Luke gives special emphasis to the poor and outcast. This can be seen already in the Infancy narratives—especially the canticles—with strong parallels to the so-called ±an¹wîm piety of late pre-Christian Judaism and early Jewish Christianity: God looks upon the poor and humble, rescuing them and lifting them up from oppression and suffering. The same theme runs through many of Jesus’ most famous parables (10:25-37; 15; 16:19-31; 18:1-14, etc). However, before continuing, it is necessary to address the second and third questions.

2. The “Spirit”

The phrase in Matthew (oi( ptwxoi/ tw=| pneu/mati) is difficult; it occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, and this occurrence is virtually unique in the Greek language. The term pneu=ma more literally and concretely would be translated “breath, wind” so here it could simply be another way of referring to physical poverty (we might say, “short/faint of breath”), which would accord well with the context in Luke. There are also Old Testament and other Semitic parallels—jwr rxq, vpn rxq (“short of breath” or “short in soul/spirit”) that may relate. However a more direct Greek parallel is oi( tapeinoi\ tw=| pneu/mati, “the (ones) low/humble in the spirit” (see the LXX Psalm 33:19), which conveys a different sense (referring to the human soul/spirit), and that has a parallel in the Qumran texts jwr ywnu (1 QM 14.7; 1 QH 5.21-22, etc) which almost exactly matches the expression in Matthew. The phrase, then, most likely reflects a certain humility—a humble nature, recognizing one’s own weakness and mortality, faithfully and patiently enduring whatever hardship or suffering might come to pass.

3. “In” or “by” the “Spirit”

Given the likely reference to the human “spirit”, an instrumental sense for the dative is not likely. A locative or referential sense of “in the spirit” is better, locating the center of the poverty in a person’s own spirit or soul. But this is not so much a matter of anthropology (the nature of man as a created being) as it is of psychology (how one understands his/her created nature in relation to God). Is the poverty voluntary, or is it, like most instances of material poverty, the product of external conditions forced upon a person? Given the original setting of the Beatitude form (a pronouncement set at the last judgment), and the ethical context of Jesus’ teaching to his followers, the poverty should be understood primarily as voluntary, though often involving a willing response to conditions around us. The words of John the Baptist in the fourth Gospel (3:30) come to mind e)kei=non dei= au)ca/nein, e)me\ de\ e)lattou=sqai (“it is necessary for that one [i.e. Jesus] to grow, but for me to become less”); or Jesus’ own prayer to the Father on the eve of his death ou) ti/ e)gw\ qe/lw a)lla\ ti/ su/ (“not what I wish, but what you [wish]”; Mark 14:36 par.).

4. The Differences between Matthew and Luke

So what of the differences between the two forms of the Beatitude? One ought not gloss over them, or rush to harmonize in a facile manner, in order to avoid possible discrepancies. Rather each form should be studied carefully and prayerfully, with the understanding that they both stem from authentic sayings of Jesus. And, if one studies Jesus’ words throughout the Gospels, several clear facts emerge: (a) those who follow Christ faithfully will live modestly, without attachment to worldly possessions, and they are also likely to live in some form of poverty due to oppression or persecution; (b) we are called to follow like children, in innocence and humility, avoiding evil (both purity and poverty are a kind of “emptiness”); (c) our real poverty stems from our relationship to God, according to Christ’s own incarnate example (2 Cor 8:9; Phil 2:1-11). Both forms of the beatitude surely can be read in this light.

For more on the Beatitudes, I will be posting here this week several Exegetical Study Series that were previously up on Biblesoft’s earlier Study Blog site, including an in-depth series on the Beatitudes.

For an outstanding critical treatment of the entire Sermon on the Mount (and the Beatitudes), see especially Hans-Dieter Betz, The Sermon on the Mount (translated in the Hermeneia series, Fortress Press, 1995), which includes many useful Classical parallels and references.