The Beatitudes: Luke 6:24-26 (concluded)

In the previous article, I examined the Lukan Beatitudes and Woes (Lk 6:20-26), with their stark juxtaposition of poor vs. rich, specifically in light of: (1) Jesus teaching regarding riches and poverty (in the Synoptic tradition), and (2) the thematic emphasis of rich and poor in the Gospel of Luke. With this study as background, I will proceed today with some fundamental points of interpretation. The very difficulty of the passage necessitates that these be taken as helpful observations (to facilitate additional study) rather than definitive rules.

1. “Poor” and “Rich” in the Beatitudes are, in fact, to be understood broadly in terms of socio-economic status.

Unlike the situation in the Matthean Beatitudes, which qualify poverty and hunger (“poor in the spirit”, “hunger and thirst for justice/righteousness”), in Luke we are certainly dealing with poverty in the customary sense (as physical/material need and want). In this regard, there are two aspects which are important to bear in mind:

(a) By comparison with much of modern (Western) society, life in the ancient world tended to be harsher and more precarious. Disease and natural disaster could wreak far greater havoc on a predominantly agricultural and pastoral society, one without our modern-day amenities. The finest social ideals in our civilization today are the product of centuries and millennia of thought and struggle; the earliest law codes (even that of the Mosaic Law [Torah]) had only just begun to address issues of equality and social justice. In ancient Palestine, for example, the poor and most vulnerable in society (the landless, the sick, the widows and orphans, etc), with less-developed institutional “safety nets” in place for protection, were especially prey to the powerful and unscrupulous (rulers, land-owners, etc [and their representatives]). The Old Testament Prophets thundered this theme of condemnation for the neglect and oppression of the poor repeatedly throughout the oracles and messages which have come down to us in Scripture. The traditional topos of (good)-poor vs. (wicked)-rich was not simply an artificial invention: it reflects the socio-economic situation for countless people over many generations. We should not be misled by the apparent naïvité of this juxtaposition; it may seem overly simplistic on the surface (painting with a very broad brush), but the dualism powerfully expresses an underlying and deep-seated conflict at the heart of ancient society.

(b) Jesus’ audience appears to have been drawn largely from the poorer classes; as indicated by the quotation from Isa 61 in Luke 4:16-19; 7:18-23 par, Jesus came (as the Anointed One) to proclaim “good news” to the poor. In the (Synoptic) Gospel tradition, he is repeatedly depicted associating with the lowly (including many who would have, in socio-religious terms, have been considered “sinners”). Numerous parables and teachings stem from the current economic situation in Palestine: of persons forced, more frequently, to work as tenant farmers for rich (absentee) landowners and their managers. Women, Gentiles, Samaritans and other foreigners would have faced prejudice and oppression as well—occasionally these are given special attention by Jesus (especially in the Gospel of Luke). Jesus appears to have demanded of his follows that they identify themselves, in various ways, with the poor and lowly in society (see below). To this we must add the fact that the earliest followers of Jesus faced estrangement and persecution from their own countrymen, which certainly added to the poverty and hardship of early Palestinian (Jewish) Christians. Nearly a generation after the Gospel had spread out into the Roman Empire, Paul continued to recognize a special need for the Christians in Jerusalem (sometimes identified as “the poor”, Rom 15:26; Gal 2:10; on this, see below). Poverty, then—voluntary or otherwise—was effectively the reality for many, if not most, of Jesus’ first followers (the first generation of Christians).

2. Jesus demanded of his followers that they identify themselves with the poor and lowly.

This is reflected by the two sides of his injunction to the “Rich Young Ruler” (Mark 10:21 par):

    • “sell whatever you have…”
    • “and give to the poor…”

“…and (come) here—follow me!” References to abandoning possessions and family ties occur frequently enough in the Synoptic tradition (Mark 1:16-20; 10:28-30; Luke 9:57-62; 14:26-33 etc & pars), disappearing soon after in the early Church, so that we can be certain (on objective grounds) that this reflects the authentic teaching and practice of the historical Jesus. The two sides of this command—the initial process of becoming Jesus’ disciple—are: (a) to give up one’s possessions and attachments (i.e. become poor), and (b) give to those others who are poor. In both practice and symbol, followers of Jesus identify themselves with the poor and unfortunate in society—a frequent theme illustrated by Jesus in his parables (Matt 25:31-46; Luke 10:25-37). This habit of self-sacrifice and voluntary poverty continued on in the first congregations of believers in Jerusalem, who (according to the account in Acts 2:44-45; 4:34-37ff) chose to share all their possessions in common, selling property and donating the proceeds for use by the Church as a whole. As Christianity spread into the cities across the Roman Empire, this practice was not maintained; indeed, there is little evidence of any emphasis on voluntary poverty in Paul’s letters. He presents a very different ideal of mutual cooperation and concern which did not, apparently, involve giving up property or possessions. Rather than abandoning family ties, the expectation was that whole families and households would together consist of believers, serving to build up a wider Christian Community. It is this model which continues today; though, on occasion, groups such as the Hutterites have attempted to live out the communalistic organization envisioned in the early Jerusalem Church (and, similarly, the Jewish Community of the Qumran scrolls). The ideal of (voluntary) poverty retains an important place within the monastic traditions as well.

Most of Paul’s references to riches and poverty are soteriological, related to the (spiritual) gifts and blessings bestowed by God in Christ (Rom 9:23; 10:12; 11:12, 33 etc). Explicit references to the poor are rare, largely limited to discussion of Paul’s collection project for the Christians in Jerusalem, see esp. Rom 15:26ff; 2 Cor 8-9—the latter passage draws upon the soteriological language of rich/poor, using the example of Christ (his incarnation, 2 Cor 8:9). Only in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim 6:9-10, 17-18) are riches as such addressed, with the customary warning. This theme is much more prominent in the epistle of James (Jas 1:9-10; 2:1-7; 4:1ff; 5:1-6), which is not so much a letter as a sermon or collection of teaching, with many points of contact with Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount/Plain—this may indicate that James is earlier than the letters of Paul, and it almost certainly reflects a Palestinian (Jewish Christian) background.

3. “Poor” and “Rich” are not limited to socio-economic status, but connect with the experience of following Jesus.

Here I would point out several important, related aspects:

(a) “Poor” is not limited to material or economic poverty: it extends to include, in the words of the first Matthean Beatitude, “the poor in spirit”—this means that the follower of Jesus will embrace lowliness, meekness and humility, both in relationship to God and in service to others. This occurs as a specific point of emphasis throughout Jesus’ teaching; of many examples, see Matt 18:3-4; 23:12; Mark 9:33-37; 10:42-45; Luke 14:7-11; 17:7-10; 18:9-14 and pars (cf. also Lk 1:48, 52). Note especially the importance in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6:1-18) of doing acts of justice and charity in secret, receiving recognition and reward from no one else but God.

(b) “Poor” is not limited to poverty per se, experienced for any reason: it extends specifically to those who experience hardship and suffering on account of Jesus, or for his sake—that is, because of following him. This, too, is stressed in a number of passages (e.g., Mark 8:34-37; 10:21, 29-30; 13:9-13; Matt 10:16-25 and pars).

(c) A life and attitude of poverty imitates the example of Christ (and of God the Father in Christ), in terms of: (i) the incarnation (his self-emptying, cf. Phil 2:5-11; 2 Cor 8:9), (ii) his sacrificial service for others (even unto death, Mark 10:45 par; Phil 2:8, etc). This is also an important theme in the Sermon on the Mount/Plain (cf. the keynote verse Matt 5:48 / Lk 6:36).

4. The Beatitudes (and Woes) are intended as consolation for those who experience hardship in following Jesus.

There is some debate as to whether the Beatitudes (and Woes) represent descriptive or performative language—that is, whether Jesus’ sayings merely describe the situation and condition of people or serve to actualize it. The ancient dynamic-magical view of language, as well as the original context of the Beatitude form (a divine declaration at the Judgment after death), would suggest the latter; whereas the paraenetic (teaching and exhortation) purpose given to it would tend to frame the Beatitude as an exemplary description (or promise). There are two dimensions to the ethical/paraenetic purpose of the Beatitude (and Woe):

The first is to offer consolation and encouragement for those seeking to pursue the ethical path of justice/righteousness (in this case, following the teaching of Jesus). There may be no obvious and immediate material reward—indeed, it may require considerable deprivation, and result in mocking and mistreatment by others—but there is the promise of future (heavenly) repayment for all that one may endure in this life. The declarative form of the Beatitude has the interesting effect of announcing now that which will only be realized in the life to come. The question is whether the believer and faithful follower actually experiences the blessing now, or simply holds it as a promise/pledge for the future. The former situation is sometimes referred to as “realized eschatology” and represents an important component of New Testament teaching, with a two-fold aspect: (i) we do not have to wait for the next life to experience the reality of God’s truth and presence at work in our hearts and lives (for it is our identity now already); and (ii) the realization of what we already possess should lead us to think and act accordingly (in Paul’s language, “if we live in the Spirit, we should also go in order [i.e. walk] in the Spirit”, Gal 5:25).

5. The Woes serve both as a warning of Judgment to the world and as an ethical warning to believers.

This brings us to the second ethical/exhortational purpose of the Beatitude (and Woe): it serves as warning. But are the Woes addressed to the world at large (that is, primarily to the wicked [unbelievers]) or to the followers of Jesus (the righteous [believers])? An examination of other Woe-sayings of Jesus (Mark 13:17; Matt 11:21; 18:7 and pars) would suggest that it is the world at large he is addressing, occasionally pointed as a condemnation to would-be followers and supposedly righteous persons who act wickedly (Matt 23:13-29; Lk 11:42-46 [scribes and Pharisees]; Mark 14:21 par [Judas Iscariot]). The role of the Messiah in God’s Judgment of the nations (according to traditional Jewish thought) is sometimes overlooked; this very role is associated with Jesus in the Gospels, especially through the heavenly/eschatological figure of the “Son of Man” (Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62; Matt 13:37-41; 16:27-28; 19:28; 24:27-39; Lk 21:36 and pars). Psalm 1, which is in many ways paradigmatic for the Beatitudes, stresses that the wicked will not stand along with the righteous in the Judgment (v. 5f); the “Woe” reflects (or presages) this declaration of judgment on the wicked (or unfaithful follower), those who, in terms of the Lukan Woes (Lk 6:24-26) are wrapped up in the material things of this life.

However, the Woes (as part of the Lukan Beatitudes) are ultimately addressed to Jesus’ own disciples, and serve fundamentally as a warning not to be associated (that is, be identified) with the faithless and wicked of the world (Ps 1:1; and, for a similar instruction against following the ways of the world, repeated in the Sermon on the Mount/Plain, cf. Matt 5:46-47; 6:1, 5, 7, 16, 19, 25, 32, etc). In Matt 7:21-23, Jesus demonstrates the reality of false disciples claiming to act and work in his name, but who do not follow the will of God (as expressed through Jesus’ teaching). Specifically, the Woes emphasize the danger of believers becoming caught up with the manner and thinking of the rich, powerful, and haughty in the world—where there is indulgence and empty entertainment, derision and mockery, accumulation of wealth and luxury—there it is no place for the righteous. Paul frames the ethical instruction differently (see Gal 5:16-24, etc), but the basic point is the same: “walk about in the Spirit, and you will not complete the impulse of the flesh” (v. 16).

The Beatitudes: Luke 6:24-26 (continued)

In the previous article, I looked at the structure and arrangement of four Lukan “Woes” (Luke 6:24-26), both as collection, and in relation to the four Beatitudes (Luke 6:20-23). Today, I will discuss some basic difficulties of interpretation involved in these verses—their meaning and significance in the context of Jesus’ teaching in the “Sermon on the Plain” (and elsewhere in the Gospel of Luke). In such matters, one must be careful not to rush to “explain away” the difficulties—such as facile attempts to harmonize the Matthean-Lukan Beatitudes, or to “soften” the rich-vs-poor dualism in Luke. As always, careful and sensitive exegesis (often requiring great patience) will yield more fruitful results and will end up being far more faithful to text in the long run.

At first, it should be noted that the Lukan “Woes” are far from unique: many collections of Beatitudes in the ancient world included corresponding warnings or “woes”. From the standpoint of the Old Testament and subsequent Jewish tradition, one finds series of Woes at places within Apocalyptic and Wisdom literature (e.g., Isa 5:8-22; Eccl 10:16-17; Tob 13:12ff; 1 Enoch 94-100; 2 Baruch 10:6-7); note especially the alternation of blessing and woe (curse) in 2 Enoch 52. The person who receives the woe reflects the opposite characteristics of the person declared happy/blessed. Highly influential in this regard for Judaism and early Christianity was the macarism and “Two Ways” structure of Psalm 1 (on this subject, see my earlier article). By the time of the New Testament, this dualism between righteous and wicked was well-established and familiar; as was the specific association of the righteous with the poor and oppressed. (cf. my earlier article on the first Beatitude).

Taking the text at face value would lead one effectively to identify the faithful followers of Jesus with the poor as a socio-economic class or type. But surely the poor will not all be happy and blessed in the life to come, simply for being poor, will they? Must one be destitute in this life in order to follow Jesus and receive heavenly reward? It will be helpful to examine briefly two areas: (1) Jesus’ other teaching on riches and poverty, in relation to following him; and (2) the specific emphasis on rich and poor in the Gospel of Luke.

(1) Jesus teaching on riches and poverty (in the Synoptic tradition)

  • In the parable of the Sower, riches are among the “thorns” which choke the growth of the seed and prevent it from bearing fruit (Matt 13:22 / Mark 4:19 / Luke 8:14)
  • Jesus warns against storing up treasure on earth, rather than focusing upon treasure in heaven (Matt 6:19-21; Luke 12:33-34); the version in Luke follows a command to sell one’s possessions and give to the poor (v. 33), and is illustrated by the parable of the “Rich Fool” (see below).
  • In response to messengers from John the Baptist (“are you the one coming [that is, the Messiah and/or end-time Prophet]?”), Jesus draws upon the language of Isa 61:1ff (Matt 11:2-6 / Luke 7:18-23). Among the actions associated with the Anointed is the proclamation of “good news” to the poor (see also in Lk 4:16-19). Isaiah 61 proved to be a key Messianic passage, reflecting a growing concern in the Prophets about the fate of the poor and oppressed (what today we would call social justice). Especially harsh condemnation is leveled at those who mistreat or neglect the needy, and yet continue to participate in the religious ritual, as though nothing were wrong (e.g., Isa 1:10-17; Jer 7, etc). The eschatological restoration/redemption of Israel would be centered on the righteous and faithful “poor” (cf. Luke 2:25-28).
  • In the encounter with the so-called Rich Young Ruler (“what should I do that I may have the life of the ages as [my] lot [i.e. inherit ‘eternal life’]?”), Jesus commands him to sell all his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor before becoming a disciple (Mark 10:17ff / Matt 19:16ff / Luke 18:18ff). There is a tendency to limit Jesus’ injunction to the case at hand; however, the discussion which follows points to a wider application: (a) the statement that it is difficult (almost impossible) for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:23ff par), (b) the indication that his followers have left their possessions (Mark 10:28 par), and (c) Jesus’ declaration of future reward for those leave their family and possessions to follow him (Mark 10:29f par). For more on leaving all to follow Jesus, see Mark 8:34-37 par; Matt 8:19-22 / Luke 9:57-62.
  • The episode of the poor widow’s offering in the Temple (Mark 12:41-44 par). There are two aspects to Jesus’ response: (1) he contrasts the widow’s offering (positively) with the gifts of the wealthy; (2) the episode follows directly upon his (negative) condemnation of the unscrupulous behavior of the (wealthy) religious authorities (which includes the “devouring” of widow’s houses), Mark 12:38-40 par—this echoes a familiar prophetic theme (see above), and makes the plight of the widow (in the Temple precincts) all the more poignant.
  • The Judgment illustration of the “Sheep and Goats” in Matt 25:31-46 emphasizes the importance of caring for the poor and needy (note the eschatological two-way/two-group formulation [blessing vs. woe]). This is probably the main thrust of the prior parable of the “Talents” as well (Matt 25:14-30 [cf. also Lk 19:12-27]).
  • The curious episode of the woman who anoints Jesus with costly perfume, along with the disciples’ rebuke that the perfume could have rather been sold and money given to the poor. This is recorded, with some variation, in Mark 14:3-9 / Matt 26:6-13, and Jn 12:1-8; cf. also Lk 7:37-39. John adds the detail that Judas Iscariot made the rebuke, with the aside that he was a thief and really did not care about the poor (Jn 12:4-6). The point is that, however necessary care for the poor may be, focus on the person of Jesus (that is, following him) is ultimately more important (cf. Lk 10:38-42 for a similar message).

(2) Rich and Poor in the Gospel of Luke

The juxtaposition between rich and poor that we see in the Lukan version of the Beatitudes serves as a special point of emphasis throughout the Gospel of Luke. There are a number of important passages (in addition to the Beatitudes & Woes) which are occur only in this Gospel:

  • The parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37) emphasizes the importance of caring for the poor and needy (esp. vv. 33-35).
  • The parable of the Rich Fool (Lk 12:13-21), which serves as a dire warning against the pursuit of wealth and worldly possessions: “…thus is the one storing treasure for himself and (who) is not rich unto God!” (v. 21)
  • Prior to Jesus’ parable of the (eschatological) Great Banquet (Lk 14:16-24), he offers instruction that such expense and hospitality should be extended especially to the poor and sick, rather than well-to-do friends and relatives (Lk 14:12-14, also v. 21ff). This, in turn, is preceded by a teaching (also using a Feast illustration) on the importance of humility and self-effacement (Lk 14:7-11). One finds throughout this chapter numerous echoes of the Sermon on the Mount/Plain (cf. also vv. 34-35 [Matt 5:13]).
  • The parable of the “Dishonest Manager” (Lk 16:1-9) remains somewhat obscure, but the exemplary behavior of the manager may consist in reducing the bill of the debtors by eliminating his own commission (that is, giving up money which would have come to him, for the sake of future [job] security). If so, then the parable would be illustrative of the same theme (as in the Beatitudes, etc) of temporary deprivation which results in future reward. There is here, too, a connection to the Sermon on the Mount/Plain in the discussion which follows (Lk 16:10-13, cf. verse 13 [= Matt 6:24]).
  • Zaccheus is the rare example of a positive rich character in the Gospels (Lk 19:1-10), but it is important to note that emphasis is given to the specific point that he gives away half of his goods to the poor (v. 8). It is not clear whether this means he only now (upon encountering Jesus) begins to do this, or whether this reflects his regular (just/righteous) behavior. His description as a (rich) toll-collector (v. 2) would itself seem to imply the former—such a designation, from the traditional Jewish religious viewpoint, would be enough to mark him as a lost “sinner” (v. 10). Interestingly, the parable of the Minas follows directly (Lk 19:11-27), creating an implicit interpretive connection between that parable and giving away one’s possessions to care for the poor (there is a similar association of themes in Matt 25:14-46).

Two passages are deserving of special note:

  • The Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55)—this canticle, attributed to Mary (though a few witnesses read “Elizabeth”), draws upon the language and imagery of the Old Testament and related Jewish literature (see my earlier Advent season note). Verses 51-53, in particular, contrast God’s action toward the rich and mighty with that toward the poor and humble, in a manner very similar to that of Jesus’ teaching in the Lukan Beatitudes & Woes. Note especially verse 53, which is connected syntactically with the clause in v. 52—
    52He has taken down the powerful (ones) from their seats and lifted high the lowly (ones);
    53the (ones) hungering he has filled up with good (things) and the rich (ones) he has set out (away) from (him) empty.
    —this is close in wording and thought with the second Beatitude and Woe (Lk 6:21a, 25a).
  • The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31). Here we find the nearest approximation to the teaching and conceptual formulation in the Lukan Beatitudes & Woes. The parable contrasts Lazarus (poor, sick and destitute) with the Rich Man (wealthy and well-fed), along with a reversal of their situations in the afterlife (vv. 22-23ff). Lazarus ends up in “Abraham’s bosom” (a paradisial ‘intermediate state’), for no other reason (apparently) than that he was poor and had suffered; similarly, the Rich Man is in Hades for just the opposite reason (see v. 25). There is no indication that Lazarus had lived a particularly righteous life, other than the misery which he had endured. It is just this unqualified identification of poverty and righteousness (with the related association of wealth and wickedness) which, as in the case of the Beatitudes, proves so difficult for interpreters today.

I will continue on with several interpretative guidepoints in the next article.

The Beatitudes: The Lukan Woes (6:24-26)

As discussed in prior notes on the Beatitudes, only the collection in Luke contains a corresponding set of “Woes” (Lk 6:25-26). Since, in many other respects, both the Matthean “Sermon on the Mount” and the Lukan “Sermon on the Plain” clearly draw from the same tradition (identified by many scholars as a source document “Q”), there have been a number of attempts to explain this difference, most commonly:

    • The Woes were originally part of the inherited tradition, but have been omitted (by the Gospel writer) in Matthew
    • The Woes were not part of the tradition, but were added (by the Gospel writer) in Luke, either from a separate source or by invention of the author
    • The Woes were in the version of the tradition inherited by Luke (QL) but not in the version inherited by Matthew (QM)

Strong arguments can be (and have been) made for each of these theories. A comparison of Matthew 7:21-24 and Luke 6:46-49 is perhaps instructive in this regard. Both passages deal with persons (followers or would-be followers) who hear Jesus’ words but do not obey them. However, whereas Lk 6:46 is couched as a simple lament for his followers (“and [for] what do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do the [things] that I say?”), in Matt 7:21-23 Jesus is describing a specific group of people (“not every one saying to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will come into the kingdom of the Heavens…”)—false or would-be followers who perform (or claim to perform) great works in Jesus’ name but fail (or refuse) to do the will of God. This last point is implied by way of verse 21b: the false disciples are the opposite of “the one doing the will/wish of my Father in the Heavens”. Verses 22-23 provide an eschatological setting of Judgment which corresponds to that of the Woes in Lk 6:24-26—there, too, the “wicked” for whom “woe” is declared, represent the opposite of the very things which characterize the “righteous” (Lk 6:20-23). In the context of the Sermon on the Mount, especially, those who fail to do the will of the Father, in fact, fail to keep the Law (as understood and interpreted in Jesus’ teaching)—they are “the ones working lawlessness” (Matt 7:23). In light of this special emphasis in Matt 7:21-24, it is certainly possible that (in Matthew) the Gospel writer has omitted any Woes associated with the Beatitudes inherited from the Tradition.

Luke 6:24-26

I touched upon each of the Lukan Woes briefly in my earlier notes on the first, second, fourth and ninth (Matthean) Beatitudes. It is worth recounting several fundamentally difficult points of interpretation. To begin with, here are the four Woes, each of which corresponds (almost precisely) with a Beatitude:

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)!” (v. 24)
Beatitude: “Happy (you) the poor (one)s, (in) that yours is the kingdom of God” (v. 20b)

Ou)ai\ u(mi=n oi( e)mpeplhsme/noi, o%ti peina/sate
“Woe to you the (ones) having been filled up now, (in) that (later) you will hunger!” (v. 25a)
Beatitude: “Happy the (ones) hungering now, (in) that (later) you will be fed (full)” (v. 21a)

Ou)ai\ oi( gelw=nte$ nu=n, o%ti penqh/sete kai\ klau/sete
“Woe to (you) the (ones) laughing now, (in) that (later) you will mourn and weep (aloud)!” (v. 25b)
Beatitude: “Happy the (ones) weeping (aloud) now, (in) that (later) you will laugh” (v. 21b)

Ouai\ o%tan u(ma=$ kalw=$ ei&pwsin pa/nte$ oi( a&nqrwpoi:
kata\ ta\ au)ta\ ga\r e)poi/oun toi=$ yeudoprofh/tai$ oi( pate/re$ au)tw=n
“Woe (to you) when all men should say (things) beautifully [i.e. speak well] of you;
for accordingly their fathers did the self(same) things to the false-Foretellers [i.e. false prophets]!” (v. 26)
Beatitude: “Happy are you when men should hate you…on account of the Son of Man!
Be joyful and leap (with joy), for see—your payment (is) much in Heaven;
For accordingly their fathers did the self(same) things to the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets]” (vv. 22-23)

The first three Beatitudes/Woes can be grouped together as follows:

  • Principal dualism of Poor vs. Rich (v. 20b, 24) with ultimate inheritance of each (Kingdom of God vs. earthly riches)
    • Eschatological reversal (= reversal of values):
      • hunger vs. being well-fed (v. 21a, 25a)
      • weeping/mourning vs. laughing (v. 21b, 25b)

The fourth Beatitude/Woe concludes the Beatitudes (and the exordium) and transitions into the subsequent teaching—i.e., how the righteous (follower/believer) should live out the characteristics that (will) declare him/her “happy/blessed”. The ninth Beatitude in Matthew (Matt 5:11-12) serves the same rhetorical and instructional purpose, but in a slightly more complex arrangement. The Lukan Beatitude/Woe, however, is unique in the way it repeats and emphasizes the principal dualism of Lk 6:20b, 24:

  • Poor vs. Rich
    • Inheritance: Kingdom of God vs. earthly riches
  • People do/speak evil to you vs. speak well of you (example of Prophets vs. False Prophets)
    • Reward: Much in Heaven vs. worldly favor (implied)

It is this stark dualism (with its reversal of values) that has caused so much difficulty for thoughtful interpreters. The apparently harsh, almost simplistic, juxtaposition of poor vs. rich has led to the Lukan Beatitudes being thoroughly ignored (in comparison with the far more popular set of Beatitudes in Matthew). One is unlikely to hear them preached today, and the Woes hardly ever (especially in the reasonably well-off and well-to-do churches of the modern West)! Sadly, they suffer neglect even from many serious and distinguished commentators. The reasons are not hard to find; and yet, it is important to examine these difficult verses to see just what it is that Jesus (and the Gospel writer) wish to communicate, and why this particular form of instruction was used. This I will attempt to do in the next article.

The Beatitudes: On Prophets and False Prophets

In previous notes I discussed the Beatitude of Jesus in Matt 5:11-12 and Luke 6:22-23 (with the corresponding “woe” in Lk 6:26); there “Prophets” and “False Prophets” are mentioned in relation to the ethical instruction for believers to rejoice when experiencing persecution. It may be helpful to examine briefly the background and significance of these terms.

Prophets

The English word prophet is simply a transliteration of the Greek profh/th$ (proph¢¡t¢s), which is presumably derived from a root compound of a verb fh(mi) (“say, speak, tell”) and the particle pro (“fore[ward], before”), along with the related (or denominative) verb profhteu/w (proph¢teúœ). This can be understood in either (a) a spatial-relational sense (i.e., to speak/declare before someone, to speak forth), or (b) a temporal sense (to speak/declare beforehand). In earlier Greek (from the classical period) the former sense is dominant; by the time of the New Testament, the latter is more prominent. The verb profhteu/w (“to speak/tell before”) is roughly synonymous with similar verbs such as prole/gw (“gather/count/say before”), profwne/w (“give voice before”), and proagoreu/w (“say in public before”), and early on came to be used in the technical sense of delivering an oracle or message from the gods (cf. G. Friedrich in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament [TDNT] VI:781ff for an extended discussion and many references).

The Hebrew noun ayb!n` (n¹»î°) is usually translated in English as “prophet”, though its precise etymology remains uncertain. The Arabic verb naba°a (“announce, inform, impart”) may ultimately derive from the same (early Semitic) root as ayb!n` (the verb ab*n` is denominative, itself deriving from the noun ayb!n`). In all likelihood the Hebrew noun relates to the Akkadian verb nabû (“call, proclaim,” etc), and may reflect a passive form (i.e. “[one who is] called”, “[one] appointed to proclaim”; cf. a comparable term dyg]n` n¹gîd, “[one] highly visible, in front” [leader/ruler]). In any event, ayb!n` refers more to a role than a specific activity (unlike the partially synonymous word hz#j) µœzeh, “seer”, one who receives visions, cf. 1 Sam 9:9)—namely, to serve as an intermediary or spokesperson between God and the people. The role of prophet/ayb!n` was hardly unique to Israel; it is attested throughout the ancient world (the prophetic/oracular letters from Mari provide perhaps the closest early examples). Our best information, understandably, comes from prophets attached in some way to the royal court, but there doubtless were persons who fulfilled a similar role and function at the smaller community level (of family, clan, or tribe). By use of various means and methods (vision, oracle, divination), prophets informed people of the will and intention of the gods. “Prophecy” in the popular mind is often associated primarily with predicting the future; however, this is a distortion of the prophet’s true function—to reveal the will of God (or the gods). In the dynamic-magical (one might say “proto-logical”) religious mindset of the ancient world, that which God (or the gods) willed would certainly come to pass. In a non-literate or pre-literate society especially—with no sacred writings—leaders depended upon such a spokesperson for accurate “revelation”. As such, the “false prophet” (see below)—one whose revelatory information was ‘incorrect’ or unreliable—could have a devastating effect on society.

Interestingly, the term ayb!n` occurs only rarely in the Pentateuch and early Historical Books (Joshua–Samuel); outside of Deuteronomy and 1-2 Samuel, it appears only in Gen 20:7 (said of Abraham); Exod 7:1 (of Aaron); Num 11:29; 12:6; Judg 6:8, along with the feminine form ha*yb!n+ (Exod 15:20; Judg 4:4, of Miriam and Deborah) and the denominative verb ab*n` in Num 11:25-27 (of inspired elders/leaders of Israel, cf. v. 29). Deuteronomy 13:1-5 and 18:15-22 provide instruction for how the people should regard prophets who appear or become known in the community, including tests for true and false prophecy (see below); the latter passage, in particular, refers to Moses as a prophet (also in Deut 34:10). Samuel was the first great Prophet, in the traditional sense (1 Sam 3:20); but there are also enigmatic references to groups of prophets (1 Sam 10:5-12; 19:20-24) as well as passing mention of “prophets” (1 Sam 9:9; 28:6, 15), the precise context of which is lost to us today. Other specific prophets begin to be mentioned in the later sections of 1-2 Samuel—Gad (1 Sam 22:5; 2 Sam 24:11) and Nathan (2 Sam 7:2; 12:25)—and many more figures appear in the books of Kings (with parallel accounts in 2 Chronicles), intertwined with the political history of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The best known of these prophets are Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 172 Kings 8) and Isaiah (see esp. Isa 6:1-9:6; 36-39 and parallel passages in Kings-Chronicles). Contrary to the popular conception of Elijah (and, subsequently, John the Baptist) in tradition, most of the prophets were almost certainly educated and literate persons, especially those associated with the royal court. In all likelihood, there were ‘schools’ or ‘guilds’ of prophets—already in 1 Sam 10:5-12; 19:20-24 we see prophetic groups or communities, and Isaiah is described in a matter of fact way as having ‘disciples’ (Isa 8:16). This latter reference also suggests the task of recording and preserving prophecies (in written form)—a very slight indication of the sort of work which may ultimately have produced the core of the Prophetic writings (Scriptures) which have come down to us (similar collections of oracles [of the Sibyls] are known from the Greco-Roman world).

The early Old Testament references to prophets and prophecy seem to emphasize three primary aspects: (1) the general role of serving as spokesperson (i.e. for God), (2) declaring a specific oracle or message from God, and (3) delivering ecstatic (divinely-)inspired utterances. By the kingdom period, it is the second aspect which dominates, in two basic ways (for an extended discussion, cf. F. M. Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic Harvard:1973, pp. 223-229):

    1. Royal oracles—messages delivered to kings, and related to their rule
    2. Judgment oracles—messages delivered to both king and people, foretelling and/or threatening God’s coming judgment, sometimes with an exhortation to repent

In the Prophet books (Scriptures) which are principally pre-exilic and/or exilic in date, the message is largely one of judgment, focusing upon the condition and fate of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. However, gradually, this is extended to incorporate two additional themes:

    1. Judgment oracles against the surrounding nations
    2. The promise of restoration following judgment (for at least a “remnant” of Israel/Judah)

The theme of restoration becomes even more prominent in the later exilic and post-exilic writings (all the more so if one wishes to include some or all of Isaiah 40-66 in this category), and provides the background for a good deal of Messianic thought in Judaism and early Christianity.

Within Jewish tradition, “the Prophets” came to be virtually synonymous with the Prophetic writings (Scriptures) that are now part of the Old Testament. The extent to which these writings derive from the Prophets themselves (and reflect their exact words) continues to be debated by scholars. There can be no doubt, however, that in Jesus’ time “the Prophets” meant the books as least as much as the men associated with them. The expression “the Law and the Prophets” served as a locution for all of what we would call inspired or authoritative Scripture (cf. Matt 5:17; 7:12; 11:13; 22:40; Lk 16:16, 29-31; 24:27, 44; Jn 1:45; Acts 13:15; 24:14; cf. Sirach 1:1), though the extent of the “canon” at the time remains an open question. The book of Psalms appears to have been included under the “Prophets” (with David as a prophet, cf. Acts 2:30), as well as the historical books Joshua–Samuel (associated with the prophet Samuel). Even the Law (Pentateuch) had a prophetic character, considered traditionally as the work of Moses (a prophet, cf. Deut 18:15ff; 34:10).

It is less clear to what extent the actual prophetic role and gift was believed to continue on in persons within Judaism up to the time of the New Testament. The evidence from Qumran (the Dead Sea Scrolls) is equivocal and ambiguous at best. The word ayb!n` (whether in the singular or plural) nearly always refers to the Prophets of old (or their Writings); in only a few instances is it possible that prophecy is thought to continue on into the present (e.g., in 1QS 1:3; 8:15-16; 1QpHab 7; 4Q265; 4Q375; 11Q5; 11Q19 54, 61; for these and other references cf. George J. Brooke, “Prophets and Prophecy in the Qumran Scrolls and the New Testament” in Text, Thought, and Practice in Qumran and Early Christianity Brill:2009, pp. 32-41). Within the Qumran Community, the positive sense of prophecy appears to have been limited to the (inspired) teaching and interpretation of Scripture (“the Law and Prophets”), such as is exemplified in the “Teacher of Righteousness” (Jesus fulfills a similar role as inspired interpreter in the Sermon on the Mount, cf. Matt 5:17-20ff). 1 Maccabees 9:27 seems to reflect a common sentiment that authoritative Prophets (in the ancient religious and Scriptural sense) had disappeared from Israel—a view which helped to fuel eschatological and apocalyptic expectation of a great Prophet-to-Come. There were two strands to this tradition: one, in terms of Moses (via Deut 18:15-19, cf. 1 Macc 4:46; 14:41; 1QS 9:11; 4Q158; 4Q174); the other, in terms of Elijah (prim. from Mal 3:1; 4:5-6, cf. Sir 48:10; 4Q558; also 4Q521). This (eschatological) Prophet is mentioned several times in the New Testament, in reference to Jesus (see Jn 6:14; 7:40, also Lk 7:16; Jn 1:21, 25 and note the imagery in Mark 9:4ff par); in Acts 3:22-23; 7:37, Jesus is explicitly identified with the “Prophet like Moses” of Deut 18:15ff. As for the figure of Elijah, there is some evidence associating him with Jesus (see Mark 9:4ff par; Jn 1:21, 25; Lk 4:25-26 and 7:18-23 par, with similar language [from Isa 61] in Lk 4:18ff), though in the Synoptic tradition he is more commonly identified with John the Baptist (Mark 8:18; 9:11-13 par; Matt 11:14; Lk 1:17, 76; but see John’s explicit denial of the role in Jn 1:21). In the Gospels, Jesus himself is depicted as prophesying: regarding his own suffering and death (Mark 8:31; 9:31 par), the destruction of Jerusalem (Mark 13:1-2 par; Lk 19:43-44), and other end-time events (Mark 13 par [Matt 24; Lk 21], also Lk 17:20-37). And, of course, in traditional Christian theology, Prophet is one of the three main “offices” of Christ.

Within the early Christian community, prophecy was viewed as a manifestation of the work of the Holy Spirit, marking the “new age” which inaugurates the end-time (see the quotation and adaptation of Joel 2:28-32 in Peter’s Pentecost speech, Acts 2:14ff, and cf. Acts 19:6). In the Pauline congregations, prophecy had its proper place as a “gift” and work of the Spirit (Rom 12:6; 1 Cor 11:4-5; 12:10, 28-29; 13:2, 8-9; 14:1-6, 22ff; 1 Thess 5:20); and there are other references to prophets and prophecy in the Church as well (Matt 7:22; Acts 13:1; 15:32; 21:9-10; Eph 4:11; 1 Tim 1:18; 4:14, etc), though the exact nature such activity and utterance is not entirely clear. The early Christian Didache (chaps. 11-13) deals with the issue of receiving prophets, including the question of how to judge whether they are true or false (see below). The expression “Apostles and Prophets” (Eph 2:20; 3:5; 4:14; Didache 11:3) almost serves as a locution for all leaders and teachers in the community. This may also relate back to the manner in which early believers (esp. the Apostles and first disciples) were, by the suffering and persecution which they would endure, identified with the Prophets of old—the theme of persecution of the Prophets is relatively common in the New Testament (Matt 23:29-37; Lk 11:47-50; 13:34; Acts 7:52; 1 Thess 2:15), serving as sympathetic and exhortative examples for believers (Heb 11:32-12:1) and signifying their ultimate heavenly reward (Matt 5:11-12; Lk 6:22-23; Rev 11:18; 16:6; 18:24).

Interestingly, there is relatively little direct evidence in the Old Testament itself regarding the persecution of the Prophets. We read of attempts to kill Jeremiah (Jer 26; 38:4-6ff, cf. also Jer 15:15; 17:18; 20:11), and Elijah (1 Kings 19:1ff); the latter episode occurring within the context of Ahab and Jezebel putting prophets to death (1 Kings 8:4, 13; 19:1, 10, 14), just as king Jehoiakim put to death Jeremiah’s contemporary, Uriah. Later tradition, as recorded by Josephus (Antiquities 10.38), attributes similar widespread slaughter of prophets by wicked king Manasseh, but there is no comparable detail in the Old Testament (Josephus may simply be elaborating upon 1 Kings 21:16). Amos encountered threatening opposition from the priest of Bethel (Amos 7:10-13), but no further action is recorded. The Jewish work known as The Lives of the Prophets (1st cent. A.D.?) summarizes the lives and careers of twenty-three prophets; of these, only six (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Micah, Amos, and Zechariah ben Jehoiada) were put to death, though a number of others suffered persecution in some form. Most famously, Isaiah is recorded as having been sawn in two during the reign of Manasseh (1:1), and this appears to be reasonably well-established tradition (cf. Martyrdom of Isaiah 5:1-5; j. Sanh 10:28c, 37; b. Yeb 49b, and the reference in Heb 11:37a). For Zechariah ben Jehoiada, see the note at the bottom of the page.

False Prophets

The term “False Prophet” translates the Greek yeudoprofh/th$ (pseudoproph¢¡t¢s), but actual references to “false prophets” in Scripture are quite rare. As indicated above, societies—especially those which did not rely on fixed authoritative Writings—depended on the veracity and reliability of their prophets (i.e. those who spoke for and interpreted the will of God [or the gods]). False or unreliable prophecy was, therefore, a religious problem of the highest magnitude. For ancient Israelite religion, the question of false prophets is addressed in Deuteronomy 13:1-5 and 18:15-22. The first passage is connected with idolatry: the prophet who advocates following after “other gods”, even if associated prophetic ‘signs’ have come true, can be judged to be acting falsely (implied) and should be put to death. The second passage frames the true Israelite prophet as being like Moses (see the discussion above), and offers a simple test in 18:20-22: if the prophecy does not come true, then it is not a message spoken by God (cf. also Jer 28:9). This latter test is reasonable enough on the surface, but who makes this determination? Moreover, it may take generations to determine whether a prophecy has ultimately come to pass; indeed, numerous oracles in the Prophetic writings (Scriptures) have not clearly come to pass or require questionable methods of interpretation to demonstrate that they have taken place. By comparison, the early Christian Didache, in its discussion on receiving prophets (chaps 11-13), uses their moral conduct and ethical behavior (along with ‘orthodoxy’ in teaching) as the principal test (11:8-12). Jesus himself offers a test regarding false prophets (Matt 7:15ff), whom he apparently identifies with those followers who have not done “the will of my Father” (vv. 21ff); in the context of the Sermon on Mount, this no doubt refers to those who fail or refuse to follow Jesus’ own teaching and interpretation of the Law.

Who exactly are these “false prophets”? Are there any examples in Scripture? The prophets of pagan religions and deities (such as those of Canaanite Baal-Haddu, 1 Kings 19:20-40 etc), according to the nature of Israelite monotheism, have to be considered false. Other “false” prophets are, perhaps, to be associated with the use of questionable means (forms of visions, dreams and divination, etc, cf. Jer 23:25ff; Ezek 13:7ff; Isa 8:19, etc); however, the emphasis in Jer 23:9-40 and Ezek 13:1-23 has more to do with relying on “false” visions which come from the prophet’s own mind. 1 Kings 22:5-28 records an historical instance of “false prophets” (contrasted with a “true” prophet, Micaiah vv. 8ff)—here at least the name of one “false” prophet is mentioned (Zedekiah, v. 24). In 1 Kings 22 and Ezek 13, the false prophets declare peace, security and military success (which, of course, is just what the people and the ruler would like to hear), rather than judgment, destruction, and military defeat. This, indeed, would seem to be the primary characteristic of “false prophets”—they declare what appeals to their audience, rather than the (often harsh) message which may come from God (Isa 30:10-11; Jer 5:31; 6:14; 8:11; 14:3; Mic 2:11; 3:5; for a similar thought, cf. also 2 Tim 4:3). In Jeremiah 28, Hananiah is a (false) prophet who, in a similar fashion, predicts the defeat of Babylon (see esp. Jeremiah’s response and rebuke in vv. 6-9). At the time of the New Testament, the famous and ancient figure of Balaam would no doubt have been considered a false prophet, of sorts (cf. 2 Pet 2:5; Rev 2:14); however, in at least one strand of Old Testament tradition, Balaam appears as a positive figure, who utters (inspired) oracles regarding Israel (Numbers 23-24).

Within the New Testament and early Christian tradition, along with the revival of Spirit-guided prophecy (see above), the problem of false prophets surface anew. Already Jesus had warned of false prophets (Matt 7:15; 24:11, 24) to come. The Jewish magos Elymas (bar-Jesus) is called a false prophet in Acts 13:6; and the danger of (pseudo-)Christian false prophets is mentioned in early writings as well (1 Pet 2:1; 1 Jn 4:1; Didache 11-13). In Jesus’ eschatological discourse (Mark 13 par) “false prophets” are connected with “false Christs”—that is, false Messiahs—(Mk 13:22 and par Matt 24:11, 24); and elsewhere there is an association with those who claim to have done wonders in Jesus’ name (Matt 7:21-23). More prominent is the connection with “false teaching” in the Church (see esp. 1 Tim 6:20; 2 Tim 3:1-9; 4:3f; 2 Pet 2:1-3; 1 Jn 4:1ff; 2 Jn 9-10; Rev 2:14-15, 20, 24; Did 11:3ff, and Paul’s reference to “false brothers” and “false apostles” in 2 Cor 11:13, 26; Gal 2:2, cf. also Rev 2:2). 1 John provides perhaps the most detailed description of false teaching, related to a specific Christological view, which is difficult to determine precisely (see esp. 1 Jn 2:18-25; 4:1-6). This aberrant view of Christ is connected both with “false prophets” (4:1) and “antichrist” (2:18) which have resulted in divisions within the community (2:10). 1 Jn 4:1ff provides another test to determine false prophets, whether the spirit which speaks through the Christian messenger is truly from God. Mention should also be made of the personification of false prophecy depicted in the book of Revelation (see on the “False Prophet” in Rev 16:13; 19:20; 20:10); whether this should be understood as a real flesh-and-blood figure, or symbolic and representative, quite depends on one’s mode of interpreting the book (but cf. 2 Thess 2:9-11).

In referring to “false prophets” in the ‘Woe’ of Luke 6:26, Jesus is drawing upon the Old Testament image of prophets who declare things which the people want to hear (peace, prosperity, material security, et al), rather than the message of God. This explains why people speak well of them, and they may have considerable currency and popularity in their lifetime; but the ultimate (heavenly) reward belongs to those who confront society with a message of righteousness (justice) and holiness, according to the example of God in Christ.

The reference to Zechariah in Matt 23:35 presents a notorious historical-critical difficulty. Here he is named as “Zechariah son of Berechiah” (the designation of the Old Testament exilic prophet of the book that bears his name), but the historical event described almost certainly relates to “Zechariah son of Jehoiada” (2 Chron 24:20-22), an earlier figure. The Lives of the Prophets correctly distinguishes the two characters, but regards them both as prophets (chs. 15, 23 [2 Chron 24:2 describes Zechariah ben Jehoiada as a priest]). That there was some confusion in the tradition is clear from the so-called Proto-Gospel (Protevangelium) of James (mid-2nd cent. A.D.), which further identifies the Zechariah slain in the Sanctuary with Zechariah the father of John the Baptist (§23-24).

The Beatitudes: Matthew 5:11-12 (continued)

Matt 5:11-12 (Lk 6:22-23), continued

In the previous article, I looked at the first portion of the two-fold Beatitude in Matt 5:11-12 and Luke 6:22-23, which declares that those who experience persecution, hatred, insults and mistreatment on account of Jesus are “happy/blessed”. The result (o%ti) clause giving the reason for happiness does not appear until the second portion (Matt 5:12/Lk 6:23):

Matthew 5:12

Xai/rete kai\ a)gallia=sqe, o%ti o( misqo\$ u(mw=n polu\$ e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$:
ou%tw$ ga\r e)di/wcan tou\$ profh/ta$ tou\$ pro\ u(mw=n
“Be joyful and leap (for joy), (in) that your payment (is) much in the Heavens;
for thus they pursued the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] before you.”

Luke 6:23

Xa/rhte e)n e)kei/nh| th=| h(me/ra| kai\ skirth/sate, i)dou ga\r o( misqo\$ u(mw=n polu\$ e)n tw=| ou)ranw=|:
kata\ ta\ au)ta\ ga\r e)poi/oun toi=$ profh/tai$ oi( pate/re$ au)tw=n
“Be joyful in that day and spring up (with joy), for see—your payment (is) much in Heaven;
for accordingly their fathers did the self(same) things to the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets].”

There are some differences in vocabulary, but clearly these are two versions of the same saying. Three elements should be highlighted and discussed in turn:

    1. “Be joyful and leap (for joy)”
    2. “Your payment (is) much in Heaven”
    3. “For so (they did)…to the Prophets”

1. “Be joyful and leap (for joy)”

Both versions begin with a second person plural imperative of the verb xai/rw (chaírœ, “be joyful, glad, happy”, i.e. “rejoice”); in Matthew it is in the active voice, in Luke the passive, but the sense is the same—”Be joyful, rejoice!” The second verb may reflect a variant translation of the original Aramaic—a)gallia/w (agalliáœ, “leap, jump [for joy]”) in Matthew, and skirta/w (skirtáœ, “spring [up], leap”) in Luke. The dynamic parallelism of the two verbs doubly emphasizes the command to be joyful when one experiences mistreatment and persecution. Even more than the prior Beatitudes, this injunction by Jesus runs counter to one’s natural human instinct—the normal response is to see persecution as a bad thing and to regret having to experience it. Jesus does not merely say one should accept and endure persecution, he commands us (emphatically) to rejoice when it occurs. Bear in mind, this mistreatment is qualified in the previous verse as being suffered on account of Jesus; nevertheless, this does not make it any less difficult for the natural mind and flesh to respond to it with joy. Occasionally we see Paul and other early Christians rejoicing in suffering (Acts 5:41; Rom 5:3ff; 2 Cor 6:10; 7:4; 8:2; Phil 2:17-18; Col 1:24; James 1:2; 1 Pet 1:6; 4:11, cf. also Jn 16:20-24), but even in the New Testament this is somewhat rare. How appropriate that this most difficult teaching concludes the Beatitudes and leads into the equally challenging instruction of the Antitheses (Matt 5:21-47, which conclude with the command to love one’s enemies [Matt 5:43-47; Lk 6:27-35]).

2. “Your payment (is) much in Heaven”

The word misqo/$ (misthós) is typically translated here as “reward”, but more properly means “payment” (for services rendered, i.e. “wages”). However, one may emphasize the aspect of “compensation, recompense”, which comes close to the idea of “reward”. It is no doubt due to subsequent Christian (esp. Pauline) theology that misqo/$ is especially colored by the sense of the grace or “gift”of God, and, therefore, as “reward” (see Rom 4:4, etc). Jesus uses the term on a number of other occasions (Matt 10:41-42; Mark 9:41), including several more times in the Sermon on the Mount/Plain (Matt 5:46; 6:1, 2, 5, 16; Lk 6:35); the motif of Christians as workers who receive their wages (from God) was a natural one, and would have been readily understood within the socio-economic status of Jesus’ followers (cf. Matt 20:1-16 [v. 8]; Lk 10:7; Jn 4:36). As for the idea of payment/reward “in Heaven” (Matt. “in the Heavens”), it is a common refrain in the Sermon on the Mount, sometimes phrased as payment from God the (heavenly) Father, treasure in Heaven, etc (Matt 5:46; 6:1-2, 4-5, 16-21), and elsewhere in Jesus’ teaching (Matt 10:41-42; 19:21; Mark 9:41; 10:21, 30 par; Lk 12:21, 33-34; 18:22; cf. also the parables in Matt 20:1-16; 25:14-30 par; Lk 16:1-17). The Kingdom of God/Heaven is itself said to be a treasure hidden away for the disciple who finds it (Matt 13:44). Subsequently in the New Testament, the heavenly payment/reward becomes contained within the wider soteriological concept of inheriting the Kingdom (e.g., 1 Cor 6:9-10; 15:50; Gal 5:21; Eph 5:5; Col 3:24; Heb 1:14; 9:15; 1 Pet 1:4, also Heb 12:28), but the motif remains, associated with the end-time Judgment before God (1 Cor 3:8-14; 4:5; 2 Cor 5:10; Rev 11:8, etc). The heavenly reward as extremely/excessively “great” or “much” (polu/$, polús) is a traditional eschatological motif, which Jesus uses to contrast with (and present as compensatory with) the persecution and mistreatment his followers receive in this life. That there may be “degrees of reward” related to suffering endured by the disciple for Jesus sake is perhaps suggested by Mark 10:29-31 par, but see also the parable in Matt 20:1-16 (where all workers receive equal payment).

3. “For so (they did)…to the Prophets”

The reference to the Prophets (lit. “Foretellers”, pl. of profh/th$ proph¢¡t¢s) is an interesting addition by Jesus to the principal result-clause , in that it further qualifies the persecution faced by the righteous (believer) (cf. the prior note on the eighth Beatitude, Matt 5:10). In Matthew it reads “for thus they pursued [i.e. persecuted] the Foretellers before you” (“they” being unspecified or implied); in Luke it states “accordingly their fathers did the self(same) things to the Foretellers” (referring to the four verbs and expressions of mistreatment in Lk 6:22, committed by the Israelite/Jewish contemporaries of the Prophets). It is difficult to say which might more accurately reflect the putative ‘original’ saying (in Aramaic); in either version, however, the meaning is essentially the same. Persecution of the Prophets of Israel was a common ethical and polemical motif in Judaism (1 Esdr 1:41; 2 Esdr 1:32; 2:1; 7:130, etc; cf. 1 Kings 19:10; Jer 15:15; 17:18; 20:11; 26:20-24) and the New Testament (Matt 5:12; 23:29-37; Lk 11:47-50; 13:34; Acts 7:52)—indeed, the Prophets in this respect serve as sympathetic exemplars for believers to follow (Heb 11:32-12:1). Saints and Prophets are mentioned in tandem in the heavenly vision of the book of Revelation (Rev 11:18; 16:6; 18:24), in a similar eschatological context (reward for their suffering and martyrdom) as we find here in the Beatitudes.

After reading Luke 6:22-23, the corresponding “Woe” in verse 26 is surprisingly brief, almost perfunctory, by comparison—

Ou)ai\ o%tan u(ma=$ kalw=$ ei&pwsin pa/nte$ oi( a&nqrwpoi: kata\ ta\ au)ta\ ga\r e)poi/oun toi=$ pseudoprofh/tai$ oi( pate/re$ au)tw=n
“Woe when all men say (things) beautifully [i.e. speak well] of you, for accordingly their fathers did the self(same) things to the false-Foretellers [i.e. false Prophets]”

including one corresponding phrase from 6:22b and presenting the contrast (opposite) of 6:23b. Jesus may not have wished to conclude the Beatitudes with on an overly negative tone by emphasizing the opposite (for the wicked) of everything relating to the righteous in vv. 22-23; or, perhaps the Gospel writer shortened Jesus’ saying for the same purpose. I will be discussing the four Lukan Woes specifically in the next day’s note, but here in passing it is worth examining the term “false prophet” (yeudoprofh/th$), which I will do in a supplemental article.

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 5:11-12

Matthew 5:11-12 (Lk 6:22-23)

The so-called ninth (or ninth + tenth) Matthean Beatitude (Matt 5:11-12) holds a special position and should be considered separately from the collection of eight in Matt 5:3-10. It is also significant in that there is a Lukan parallel (Lk 6:22-23, with a corresponding “woe” in v. 26) for this two-fold Beatitude. It may be helpful here to compare the two sets of Beatitudes (Matthean and Lukan), using Matthew as the point of reference:

    • 1st: Matt 5:3 (= 1st in Luke [Lk 6:20b with “woe”, v. 24])—”Happy the poor…”
    • 2nd: Matt 5:4 (= 3rd in Luke [Lk 6:21b with “woe”, v. 25b])—”Happy the (ones) mourning/weeping…”
    • 3rd: Matt 5:5 (not in Luke)—”Happy the meek/gentle…”
    • 4th: Matt 5:6 (= 2nd in Luke [Lk 6:21a with “woe”, v. 25a])—”Happy the (ones) hungering [and thirsting]…”
    • 5th: Matt 5:7 (not in Luke, but see Lk 6:36)—”Happy the merciful…”
    • 6th: Matt 5:8 (not in Luke)—”Happy the pure in heart…”
    • 7th: Matt 5:9 (not in Luke)—”Happy the peace-makers…”
    • 8th: Matt 5:10 (not in Luke)—”Happy the (ones) having been pursued on account of justice/righteousness…”
    • [9th]: Matt 5:11-12 (= [4th] in Luke [Lk 6:22-23 with “woe”, v. 26])

One can consider Matt 5:11-12 as a single saying or two—I prefer to treat it as a twofold (single) Beatitude, which picks up where the eighth Beatitude leaves off (see the previous article), with the theme of enduring persecution:

Maka/rioi e)ste o%tan o)neidi/swsin u(ma=$ kai\ diw/cwsin kai\ ei&pwsin pa=n ponhro\n kaq’ u(mw=n [yeudo/menoi] e%neken e)mou=
“Happy are you when they should revile you and should pursue (you) and should say all evil down on [i.e. against] you [acting falsely] on my account.”

Xai/rete kai\ a)gallia=sqe, o%ti o( misqo\$ u(mw=n polu\$ e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$:
ou%tw$ ga\r e)di/wcan tou\$ profh/ta$ tou\$ pro\ u(mw=n
“Be joyful and leap (for joy), (in) that your payment will be much in the Heavens;
for thus they pursued the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] before you.”

There are three verbs used in verse 11, all in the aorist subjunctive form:

  • o)neidi/zw (oneidízœ, “revile, reproach, disgrace”). This verb is relatively rare in the New Testament, used in reference to Jesus’ suffering in Matt 27:44; Mark 15:32; Rom 15:3 (quoting Psalm 69:9); and for the suffering of believers in 1 Pet 4:14, a sense similar to that in the Beatitude here (see below). Related nouns o&neido$ and o)neidismo/$ (“reviling, reproach, disgrace, shame”) also appear on occasion (Lk 1:25; Rom 15:3; 1 Tim 3:7; Heb 10:33; 11:26; 13:13).
  • diw/kw (diœ¡kœ, “pursue, chase [after]”). In the negative sense (as here and in v. 10), this verb is usually translated “persecute”. Cf. my discussion on the eighth Beatitude in the prior note.
  • e&pw (épœ [used only in past tense], “say, speak”)—here it is the specific idiom “speak evil”, which is relatively frequent in Scripture (see esp. Psalm 109:20; Matt 12:34; Mark 9:39; Lk 6:45; Acts 19:9; James 4:11; Tit 3:2; 1 Pet 4:11). The qualifying participle yeudo/menoi (pseudómenoi, “acting/doing falsely”) is present in nearly all Greek MSS, but is absent from a number of witnesses (primarily ‘Western’: D b c d h k syrs geo Tert al), and is otherwise suspect on internal grounds (it is the sort of clarifying addition one might expect a well-intentioned scribe to make). If original, it may have been removed to harmonize with Luke 6:22.

The closing phrase e%neken e)mou (“on my account”) echoes a similar expression in v. 10 (e%neken dikaiosu/nh$, “on account of justice/righteousness”), which qualifies the persecution: it is done on account of (following) Jesus. In Luke 6:22, the expression is “on account of the Son of Man” (in the Synoptic Jesus traditions, “Son of Man” often appears as circumlocution by which Jesus effectively refers to himself). Here is the first portion of the Lukan Beatitude, set side-by-side with that of Matthew for comparison (nearly identical or common elements are italicized):

Matthew 5:11

Maka/rioi e)ste o%tan o)neidi/swsin u(ma=$ kai\ diw/cwsin kai\ ei&pwsin pa=n ponhro\n kaq’ u(mw=n [yeudo/menoi] e%neken e)mou=
Happy are you when they should revile you and should pursue (you) and should say all evil down on [i.e. against] you [acting falsely] on my account.”

Luke 6:22

Maka/rioi/ e)ste o%tan mish/swsin u(ma=$ oi( a&nqrwpoi kai\ o%tan a)fori/swsin u(ma=$ kai\ o)neidi/swsin u(ma=$ kai\ e)kbalwsin to\ o&noma u(mw=n w($ ponhro\n e%neka tou= ui(ou= tou= a)nqrw/pou
Happy are you when men should hate you and when they should mark you (apart) from (others) and should revile you and should cast out your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.”

The Lukan version fits more naturally as part of the collection of four (3 + 1), all addressed in the 2nd person plural. The version in Matthew is the more striking in its shift to the 2nd person plural (all of the prior Beatitudes are in the 3rd person)—Jesus is now addressing his followers directly. The message regarding one’s response to persecution follows through in the subsequent teaching of Matt 5:43-47; Lk 6:27-35:

Matthew 5:43-44

43“You have heard that it has been uttered: ‘You shall love the (one who is) near you [i.e. your neighbor], and you shall hate the (one who is) hostile (to) you [i.e. your enemy]’; 44but I say to you: ‘Love the (ones) hostile (to) you, and speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray] over the (ones) pursuing you…'”

Luke 6:27-28

27“But I say to you the (ones) hearing: ‘Love the (ones) hostile (to) you [i.e. your enemies], do/act beautifully to the (ones) hating you, 28give good account (of) [i.e. bless] the (ones) wishing (evil) down on you, speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray] about the (ones) bringing threats/insults upon you…'”

Paul echoes the same teaching in Romans 12:14:

eu)logei=te tou\$ diw/konta$ [u(ma=$], eu)logei=te kai\ mh\ katara=sqe
“Give good account of [i.e. bless] the (ones) pursuing [you], give good account and do not wish (evil) down (on them)”

In Luke, this instruction on loving and doing good to one’s enemies follows directly after the Beatitudes, whereas in Matthew there is intervening teaching (including the first five “Antitheses”, Matt 5:21-42—vv. 43-47 is the sixth). In both versions, the teaching concludes with a similar summarizing saying by Jesus:

Matthew 5:48

“Therefore you shall be complete, as your heavenly Father is complete.”

Luke 6:36

“Become merciful/compassionate, even as [also] your Father is merciful/compassionate.”

This response toward one’s enemies and persecutors is one of the most challenging and striking of all Jesus’ teachings. Perhaps even more difficult to realize is the response indicated in the second part of the Beatitude—”Be joyful and leap (for joy)…!”—which I will discuss in the next article.

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 5:10

Matthew 5:10

The eighth Matthean Beatitude (Matt 5:10) brings the collection of Beatitudes to a close:

Maka/rioi oi( dediwgme/noi e%neken dikaiosu/nh$, o%ti au)tw=n e)stin h( basilei/a tw=n ou)ranw=n
“Happy the (ones) having been pursued on account of justice/righteousness, (in) that theirs is the kingdom of the Heavens”

The Greek verb diw/kw (diœ¡kœ) has the primary meaning “pursue, chase after”, and can be used in either a positive/neutral or negative sense. For the instances of the latter, it is typically translated “persecute”—that is, to pursue with hostile intent, or for the purpose of doing harm. Occasionally, we see the verb used in the positive sense (of pursuing righteousness, peace, etc.) in the New Testament (see Rom 9:30-31; 12:13; 14:19; 1 Cor 14:1; Phil 3:12, 14; 1 Thess 5:15), but more often it is used in the negative sense, as here in the Beatitude (cf. Matt 5:44; 10:23; 23:34; Lk 21:12, et al.). Already in the early Church the verb, with its related nouns diwgmo/$ and diw/kth$, came to have the technical meaning of the persecution of believers (because of their faith in Christ)—cf. Jn 15:20; Acts 9:4-5; 22:7-8; Rom 12:14; 1 Cor 15:9; 2 Cor 4:9; Gal 1:13, 23; 2 Tim 3:12; Rev 12:13, etc. The compound/prefixed verbs e)kdiw/kw (ekdiœ¡kœ) and katadiw/kw (katadiœ¡kœ) are intensive forms (lit. “pursue out” and “pursue down”) which occasionally appear in the New Testament as well (Mk 1:36; Lk 11:49; 1 Thess 2:15). The verb diw/kw (along with its compound/prefixed forms) is relatively infrequent in the Septuagint (LXX), and translates a range of Hebrew words (cf. Lev 26:17; Deut 6:19; Judg 7:25; Psalm 7:1, 5; 31:15; 35:3; 44:16; 71:11; 109:16, 31; 119:84, 86, 157; Prov 13:21 [LXX 12:26]; Eccl 3:15; Isa 30:28; Jer 20:1-11; Nah 1:8; Joel 2:20; Dan 4:22). The theme of the persecution of the righteous became more common in the Psalms (cf. Ps 7; 31:15; 69:26; 119:84-88, 150, 153-158, 161ff, etc) and subsequent Apocalyptic and Wisdom Literature—see especially Wisdom 1:16-2:24; also 1 Enoch 95:7; 103:9ff. The prophets, as righteous messengers of truth, were seen as the target of persecution (Jer 15:15; 17:18; 20:11), a theme continued on into the New Testament: the suffering of the prophets was a model and parallel for the suffering of believers (Matt 5:12; 23:29-37; Lk 11:47-50; 13:34; Acts 7:52; Rev 11:18; 16:6; 18:24). Similarly, the so-called “Teacher of Righteousness”, as (idealized) head and representative of the Qumran sect, was depicted as enduring persecution. Indeed, even in the Greco-Roman world, it was a philosophical topos that the wise and virtuous person was likely to suffer in this way (the ideal figure and example being Socrates, cf. Plato’s Apology and Phaedo, also Republic 361e-362a, and Xenophon’s Memorabilia 1.1-2, etc). For additional references, with some bibliography, cf. Betz, Sermon, pp. 143-145.

The Greek particle e%neken (héneken) is difficult to translate into English—it is necessary to use cumbersome expressions such as “on account of”, “for the sake of”, to capture the genitive relationship. It is specifically because of (or on account of) justice/righteousness (dikaiosu/nh) that the faithful follower of Jesus will be persecuted. What precisely does this mean? Several related aspects have to be considered:

  • When the wicked act unjustly against the “righteous”, this violation of “justice” can be said to be “on account of” justice/righteousness.
  • “Righteousness” in the specifically Jewish sense (used by Jesus) relates to upholding the Law of God (in both thought and action). Those who violate and transgress the Law are, by definition, unjust, and (in their wickedness) tend to oppose the righteous.
  • The righteous came to be identified largely with the poor and needy—persons who tend to be victimized and oppressed by the (unscrupulous) wealthy and powerful in the world. This aspect is what today we would call social justice.
  • The justice/righteousness of the Kingdom of God (Matt 5:33) is connected with the idea of being like God Himself (Matt 5:48). The wicked who act as enemies of God will also oppose those who are like Him.
  • Justice is interconnected with judgment—by way of eschatological “reversal”, the “righteous” who are poor and suffer now will, in the end, be rewarded by God.

All of these themes are emphasized by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount/Plain, and continue to be important elements in any proper Christian ethic. However, eventually, the ethical standards of Jesus’ teaching here would be subsumed under the general concept of believing and following him, and expressed in a new way as (to use Paul’s expression) “walking in/by the Spirit” (Rom 8:4; Gal 5:16, 25). Jesus himself uses older expressions in the Sermon on the Mount, closer to what we find in Jewish writings of the period—see especially the way the wicked and righteous are juxtaposed in Wisdom 1:16-2:20. This has caused Christian interpreters no end of difficulty in attempting to harmonize and reconcile the Sermon on the Mount with later Pauline theology. Paul uses the word dikaiosu/nh (“justice/righteousness”) in rather a different way than Jesus does here.

The intimate connection between poverty and righteousness (see Wisd 2:10) is made especially clear in the Beatitudes, as the eighth concludes with the same phrase as the first: “(in) that theirs is the kingdom of the Heavens” (o%ti au)tw=n e)stin h( basilei/a tw=n ou)ranw=n). This forms an inclusio which frames the collection of eight Beatitudes, and creates a kind of equivalence (synonymous parallelism) between those who are “poor in the spirit” (oi( ptwxoi\ tw=| pneu/mati) and those who “have been pursued on account of justice/righteousness” (oi( dediwgme/noi e%neken dikaiosu/nh$). Many interpreters have seen a progression of sorts from first to eighth Beatitude: one begins with humility and lowliness (the extreme inward condition) and ends with enduring persecution (the extreme outward manifestation). That there is an artistry of this sort involved is almost certain (I will discuss the order and arrangement of the Beatitudes in an upcoming note). The eighth Beatitude, with its emphasis on persecution, both concludes the set of eight sayings (in 3rd person plural address) and leads into the summarizing “ninth” Beatitude (in 2nd person plural address) of Matt 5:11f, which I will be exploring in the next article.

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The Beatitudes: Matthew 5:9 (continued)

Matthew 5:9, continued

Maka/rioi oi( ei)rhnopoioi/, o%ti au)toi\ ui(oi\ qeou= klhqh/sontai
“Happy the (ones) making peace, (in) that they will be called sons of God”

The first part of the seventh Matthean Beatitude (Matt 5:9), dealing specifically with the term ei)rhnopoio/$ (“peace-maker, [one] making peace”), was examined in the previous article. Today I will be looking at the second portion—the result-clause o%ti au)toi\ ui(oi\ qeou= klhqh/sontai (“that they will be called sons of God”). There are two elements which need to be explored: (a) the expression “sons of God” (ui(oi\ qeou=), and (b) the future passive of the verb kale/w (“to call”, i.e., “will be called”).

“Sons of God”

The Greek expression ui(oi\ qeou= (huioí theoú) corresponds to the Hebrew <yh!ýa$[h*] yn}B= (b®nê [h¹]°§lœhîm), both rendered as “sons of God”. The Hebrew expression is used in Gen 6:2, 4 and Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7 in something like its original sense, referring to otherworldy (heavenly, “divine”) beings (trad. “angels” in English). It is tied to the ancient Near Eastern religious concept of the deities as sons/children of the high god—in Canaanite texts, the deities are the “sons of °E~l” (ban£ °ili[-ma]); the form of the Hebrew expression in Psalm 29:1; 89:7 (<yl!a@ yn}B= b®nê °¢lîm) is closer to that of the Canaanite [see below]. In ancient Semitic religious thought, the gods would assemble at the tent of their father °E~l and participate in the divine council. Within the developed monotheism of Israel, lesser heavenly beings (i.e. “angels”) take the place of “gods” in the divine council, but the language and imagery remains (surviving longer in poetry, see the references above). The phrase also appears in Deut 32:8 (the MT reads “sons of Israel”, but “sons of God” is almost certainly original), as well as an equivalent Aramaic phrase (in the singular, /yh!l*a$ rB^ bar °§l¹hîn) in Dan 3:25. A similar expression, /oyl=u# yn}B= (b®nê ±elyôn, “sons of the Highest”), is applied with irony and sarcasm to human rulers in Psalm 82:6 (quoted by Jesus in Jn 10:34).

°E~l (la@) is the ancient Semitic word for “God”, attested in both Northwest Semitic (Canaanite, Phoenician) and Eastern Semitic (Amorite, Akkadian, etc) languages. Literally, it would mean something like “Mighty [One]”, and is used frequently in the Old Testament (cf. the earlier article on this name). On the whole, the Israelite/Hebrew God, known by the tetragrammaton YHWH (perhaps originally “the [one who] causes to be…”), seems to have been identified with the Canaanite/Amorite high god °E~l. There is virtually no opposition between YHWH and °E~l recorded in the Old Testament, unlike the situation between YHWH and the storm deity Hadad/Haddu (“Baal”). The common Hebrew word for “God” (<yh!ýa$, °§lœhîm) is most likely derived from la@, but the precise relationship remains unclear. The plural <yh!ýa$ may be used as an intensive plural, i.e. “Mightiest”, in reference to YHWH/God. <yl!a@ (°¢lîm) in Psalm 29:1; 89:7; Job 41:17 could be a plural form, or a singular which preserves an enclitic particle (ma); originally it would have been the latter, though subsequently in Hebrew it seems to have been understood as a plural (as in Dan 11:36). For a good, readable discussion of these questions, see F. M. Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic Harvard:1973, pp. 44-75.

In the Old Testament, we also see the king (the anointed ruler, i.e. “messiah”) referred to as God’s “son” (see esp. Psalm 2:7; 2 Sam 7:14); and the people of Israel as a whole were, on occasion, called God’s “son” as well (Exod 4:22; Hos 11:1). Jesus as “son of God” is a complex issue which requires a separate study, but the association seems to derive primarily from the messianic sense of the ruler as God’s son. For the seminal references in Luke 1:32, 35 (with Aramaic precursors to the expressions in the Qumran text 4Q246), see my earlier articles. It would appear that two distinct messianic conceptions were brought together and applied to Jesus: (1) the Davidic ruler (redeemer figure) would oversee the restoration of Israel, and (2) the “Son of Man” (a pre-existent, heavenly/divine figure) who would oversee the eschatological Judgment. This conception of the divine/heavenly “Son of Man” is closer to the original sense of the “son[s] of God”. In subsequent Christian theology (as enshrined in the Nicene Creed), Jesus came to be understood as Son of God in a substantive, metaphysical sense (the idea of Divine generation); but we must be cautious about reading this back into the New Testament.

In the New Testament, the phrase ui(oi/ qeou= (“sons of God”) is used as a descriptive title for believers (Rom 8:14, 19; Gal 3:26), along with the parallel (and virtually equivalent) expression te/kna qeou= (“children of God”, Jn 1:12; 11:52; Rom 8:16, 21; 9:8; Phil 2:15; 1 Jn 3:1, 10; 5:2). The term carries a strong sense of identity. It is noteworthy that the Hebrew word /B# (ben, “son”) is frequently used to describe and identify members of a group or class (“sons of…”), without implying any biological relationship. In Pauline thought, especially, the theological concept of ui(oqesi/a (huiothesía, lit. “setting/placing [one] as son” but often translated “adoption”) was prominent (see Rom 8:15, 23; 9:4; Gal 4:5, and Eph 1:5). This is close to the idea expressed in John 1:12—believers are given the authority (the legal right) to become sons/children of God. The relationship is understood now, on the basis of the presence of the Holy Spirit (see esp. Gal 4:5-6), but will only be realized fully in the (eternal) life to come. There is thus also an important eschatological aspect: upon the Judgment, the righteous (believers) will take their place (with the angels/heavenly-beings) as “sons/children of God” (see already in Wisd 5:5; Lk 20:36; and esp. in Rom 8:19-21). This certainly represents the background and primary sense of Jesus’ Beatitude, as we shall see.

“Will Be Called”

 The passive (especially the future passive) of the verb kale/w (kaléœ, “to call”) is often used as a “divine passive” (passivum divinum), where God is the implied agent of action. In other words, in relevant passages, “[will] be called” can be understood in the sense of “God will call…”. Greek kale/w typically translates the Hebrew verb ar*q* (q¹râ), such as it is used in the Creation account (Gen 1:1ff, cf. verse 5, etc)—this reflects the dynamic-magical dimension of ancient theology: God speaks (calls something into being) and it is. We also see this expressed in the ancient Semitic idiom “call someone/something X” or “call someone’s name X“, whereby, in giving the name, one confers (or confirms) a person’s substantive identity and destiny. This dynamic-magical aspect of speech has almost entirely disappeared from modern thinking, but an awareness of it is essential for understanding the thought-world of the Scriptures. An examination of the use of the future passive of kale/w is illuminating:

Let us briefly examine the most relevant of these passages:

  • Matt 2:23 is a composite citation/adaptation from Scripture (“he will be called a ‘Nazorean'”), as a prophecy regarding Jesus, whlich I have discussed in some detail in any earlier Christmas season article.
  • Matt 5:19, also from Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, has a context similar to the Beatitude, referring to those who will (in the end) be called “little/least” and “great” in the Kingdom of Heaven.
  • Mark 11:17 (and the parallel in Matt 21:13) occurs in the context of Jesus’ “cleansing” the Temple, where Isa 56:7 is quoted (“my house will be called a house of speaking out toward [God]”); the original Isaian passage is an eschatological vision, related to the restoration of Israel, whereby foreigners (Gentiles) come to be joined as part of the people of God.
  • Luke 1:32: this is part of the angelic message to Mary, regarding the identity and destiny of the child Jesus (“he will be great and will be called son of the Highest“)
  • Romans 9:7 and Heb 11:18 both quote Gen 21:12 (according to the LXX), “in Yiƒµaq {Isaac} your seed will be called”. According to Paul’s unique theological and soteriological interpretation, believers are identified as the (true) children of Abraham (i.e., the “children of promise”, see esp. the argument in Galatians 3-4).

This leaves Romans 9:26, which provides the nearest equivalent to the expression in Matt 5:9; it is a quotation (and adaptation) from Hosea 1:10:

And it shall be (as) in the place in which it was uttered to them “You are not My people”, there they will be called sons of the living God [klhqh/sontai ui(oi\ qeou= zw=nto$].

This follows a similar citation of Hos 2:23 (Rom 9:25). Paul has re-interpreted the sense of the original prophecy to refer to the Gentiles (those “not God’s people”) who have now, by faith in Christ, become the people of God. Yet the context of Rom 9-11 could still be said to retain, on the whole, the proper sense of Hosea, in that Paul’s lengthy argument has, at its heart, the eschatological salvation of Israel—in the end, “all of Israel” will come to faith in Christ and be(come) God’s people again (filling the prophetic motif of the “remnant”).

The original Beatitude formula, as I discussed in an earlier article, relates to the eschatological identity and destiny of the righteous—in the Judgment, the righteous (believer) is declared worthy to partake of (or share in) the blessedness of God (or the gods). This involves three aspects: (a) the ultimate fate of becoming like God in Heaven; (b) the ethical sense of becoming like God (imitating Him) in this life; and (c) a mystical or initiatory realization of this identity with God in the present (for the Christian this is realized through the Holy Spirit in Christ).

Here in the Beatitude of Matt 5:9 we see the importance of peace-making as a characteristic of being like God (see the previous note); Jesus’ summary statement in Matt 5:48 (“you shall be complete, as your heavenly Father is complete”) follows immediately upon his teaching regarding love for one’s adversaries and enemies (the “antitheses” of Matt 5:38-47). In some ways, this might be considered the most difficult and challenging part of Jesus’ ethical teaching; and it is therefore appropriate, perhaps, that here faithful followers (believers) are judged worthy of being called “sons of God”.

The Beatitudes: Matthew 5:9

Matthew 5:9

The seventh Matthean Beatitude (Matt 5:9) is—

Maka/rioi oi( ei)rhnopoioi/, o%ti au)toi\ ui(oi\ qeou= klhqh/sontai
“Happy the (ones) making peace, (in) that they will be called sons of God”

a well-known, but perhaps not so well-understood, saying of Jesus. The verbal noun (or adjective) ei)rhnopoio/$ (eir¢nopoiós) is a composite term corresponding to poiei=n ei)rh/nhn (poieín eir¢¡n¢n, “to make peace”) and the related compound verb ei)rhnopoie/w. The noun/adjective does not occur in the Septuagint (LXX) version of the Old Testament, and only here in the New Testament, but the verbs ei)rhnopoie/w (“make peace”) and ei)rhneu/w (“be at peace, peaceful”) are more frequent (Mark 9:50; Rom 12:18; 2 Cor 13:11; 1 Thess 5:13; Col 1:20; cf. also Eph 2:15; James 3:18). The adjective ei)rhniko/$ (“peaceful”) is used in Heb 12:15; James 3:17; and, of course, the concept and ideal of peace (ei)rh/nh) is prevalent throughout Scripture (see below).

The word ei)rhnopoio/$ had distinctively political overtones in the Greco-Roman world, as a term used to describe a strong and virtuous ruler (cf. Dio Cassius 44.49.2 [applied to Julius Caesar by Marc Antony], 72.15.5). For the pax Romana and Augustus in particular as the “bringer of peace”, see my earlier Christmas season note; and cf. on Alexander the Great, Plutarch On Alexander’s fortune and virtue 329-330. From the Hellenistic Jewish perspective, Philo uses the term ei)rhnopoio/$ of God in On the Special Laws II §192, and a similar attribute ei)rhnofu/lac (“guard[ian] of peace”) in On the Special Laws I §192, On the Decalogue §178, etc. God as the one who brings or establishes peace is found in a number of Old Testament passages (Lev 26:6; Num 6:26; Judg 6:23-24; 1 Kings 2:33; 1 Chron 22:9, 18; 2 Chron 14:6-7; Job 25:2; Psalm 29:11, etc; cf. also in Isaiah 9:6-7; 27:5; 52:7; 53:5; 54:10; 60:7; 66:12; Zech 9:10, and Lk 1:79).

Peace—Greek ei)rh/nh, eir¢¡n¢, usually translating Hebrew <olv*, š¹lôm—was especially associated with wisdom and the righteous in the LXX (Job 22:21; Psalm 34:14; 37:11, 37; 72:7; 85:10; 119:165; Prov 3:2, 17; 16:7; Isa 26:3; 32:17-18; 54:13; Zech 8:16, 19; Mal 2:5-6; Wisd 3:3; Sir 1:18; Bar 3:13; 5:4), while the wicked either oppose peace or have only a false peace (Psalm 28:3; 35:20; 120:6; Isa 48:22; 57:21; 59:8; Jer 6:14; 8:11; 14:19 [and throughout Jeremiah]; Ezek 13:10, 16; Mic 3:5; Wisd 14:22; Sir 28:9, 13, 16). Peace was an important aspect of the covenant-making process (Josh 9:15; 2 Sam 3:21, etc), especially between God and His People (Num 25:2; Psalm 29:11; 85:8-10; Isa 54:10; Ezek 34:25; 37:26; Mal 2:5, and cf. Lk 2:14), and is signified ritually by, among other things, the sacrificial “peace offering” (see esp. Leviticus 3, 7; Numbers 6, 7; also Deut 27:17; Judg 21:4; 1 Sam 11:15; 2 Sam 6:17-18; 1 Kings 3:15; Ezek 45:15-17; 46:2, 12, etc). By the time of the New Testament, there was clear association of righteousness and peace in Jewish wisdom literature (Psalm 85:10; Isa 9:7; 32:7; 48:18; Bar 5:4; 1 Enoch 92:1; 94:4; Ps Sol 12:5, etc), which would seem to be related to the background of the usage by Jesus here in the Beatitudes. In fact, there is a parallel to Matt 5:9 in the series of Beatitudes in 2 Enoch 52 (v. 11-14, version A):

Happy is he who establishes peace;
cursed is he who strikes down those who are in peace.
Happy is he who speaks peace, and he possesses peace;
cursed is he who speaks peace, but there is no peace in his heart.
(translation F. I. Andersen in Charlesworth ed. Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Vol 1 ABRL 1983, p. 181; italics mine)

In early Christian thought, peace was both a characteristic of the faithful believer (the association with righteousness) and a gift from God (the idea of God as bringer of peace). It is most frequent in the Pauline letters (see especially in Romans and Ephesians). As an attribute or characteristic of the believer, peace is related to the presence and work of the Spirit (Rom 8:6; 14:17; Gal 5:22; Eph 4:3; cf. also 1 Thess 5:23). Peace for Christians emphasizes both one’s relationship with other believers, and the soteriological component of reconciliation with God (see esp. Rom 5:1; Eph 2:14-17; Col 1:20). For the idea of the indwelling “peace of God” or “peace of Christ” in the heart of the believer, see Phil 4:7; Col 3:15, also Eph 2:14f; and cf. the related expression “God of peace” in Rom 15:33; 16:20; Phil 4:9; 1 Thess 5:23; 2 Thess 3:16; Heb 13:20.

There are two New Testament verses which especially relate here to the Beatitude:

  • Romans 14:17: “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but justice/righteousness and peace and joy in the holy Spirit”
  • James 3:18: “But (the) fruit of justice/righteousness in peace is scattered (as seed) to/for the (ones) making peace [poiou=sin ei)rh/nhn]”

These passages echo language Jesus uses throughout much of the Sermon on the Mount (see Matt 5:3, 6, 9-11; 6:33; 7:15-20).

Interestingly, the theme of peace is not as prominent in Jesus’ teaching overall as one might expect. He frequently uses the greeting or salutation “go in peace”, “be at peace”, “peace be with you”, which may or may not convey a deeper theological/spiritual meaning. There are only four passages where the specific concept of peace (in a deeper sense) is certainly involved: two are found in the Johannine discourses (Jn 14:27; 16:33) where Jesus contrasts the (true) peace he gives with the (false, inferior) peace “of the world”. In Luke 19:42, Jesus weeps over the fate of Jerusalem, that the people might have known “the (things leading) toward peace”. The last is the difficult and provocative saying of Jesus in Matt 10:34 (par Lk 12:51)—

“Do not suppose that I came to cast peace upon the earth; I came not to cast peace, but a sword”

in which Jesus appears to contradict the very image of God as bringer of peace (see above). This controversial passage will be discussed in detail at a later time.

For the second clause (“…that they will be called sons of God”) of the Beatitude in Matt 5:9, it will be the focus of the next article.

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 5:8 (continued)

Matthew 5:8, continued

In the previous article, I discussed the first clause of the sixth Matthean Beatitude (Matt 5:8)—

Maka/rioi oi( kaqaroi\ th=| kardi/a|, o%ti au)toi\ to\n qeo\n o&yontai
“Happy the (ones) clean in the heart, (in) that they will see God”

where I examined the meaning and significance of the expression “pure/clean in the heart” (kaqaro\$ th=| kardi/a|). Today, I will look at the result-clause, which states that they are declared “happy/blessed” in that they will see (o)pta/nomai optánomai, lit. “look with [open] eyes [at]”) God.

“They will see God”

There are several difficulties involved with this phrase, both theological and eschatological.

A fundamental tenet of Israelite and Jewish monotheism was that no human being could surviving seeing God (in this life); Moses’ encounter in Ex 33:20ff makes this clear (for a possible poetic echo of this motif, cf. Song 2:14). This theological point is emphasized especially in the Johannine literature: Jn 1:18; 5:37; 6:46; 1 Jn 4:12. However, there are other passages where chosen individuals are given a direct vision of God (Gen 32:30; Ex 24:10; and the prophetic visions 1 Kings 22:19; Isa 6:1-5; Amos 9:1; Ezek 1:1ff; Dan 7:9-22 [cf. Rev 1:12-16ff; 20:11ff]). In addition, there are references to Moses and others encountering God “face to face” (Exod 33:11; Num 12:8; 14:14; Deut 4:36; 5:4; 34:10; cf. also the expression in Judg 6:22; 1 Cor 13:12). For the metaphor of seeing God’s “face”, note in Gen 33:10; Isa 64:4, etc.

In the Old Testament, vision of God is intertwined with the idea of a divine appearance or manifestation (theophany), which usually takes place in the language and imagery of various natural phenomena (fire, wind, light, etc.)—Ex 3:4ff; 16:10; 19:16-25; Deut 5:24; Judg 6:22; 13:22; Ezek 1:1ff; 10:20; cf. also 1 Kings 19:11-13, and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). In general terms, God also is said to have “appeared” to the Patriarchs and other saints (Gen 12:7; 17:1; 18:1; 35:9; Num 12:5). In the New Testament, God becomes visible in the Person of Jesus, as noted especially in the Gospel of John (Jn 1:14, 50-51; 12:45; 14:7ff).

So, on the one hand, God cannot be seen; on the other, he is seen. This has led to the theological distinction that God, in his essence, is invisible (cf. Deut 4:12; Rom 1:20; Col 1:15-16; 1 Tim 1:17; Heb 11:27), and can only be seen through an intermediary. Jewish tradition and theology, in particular, was uncomfortable with the idea of any personal theophany, attributing the Old Testament accounts (see above) to an angel or the hypostasized Word (memra) of God, rather than to YHWH himself (see Acts 7:38 for an instance of this in the New Testament). Christian theologians debated whether human beings in their unfallen state had a true vision of God, and whether even the blessed in Heaven could ever see God in His essence (cf. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae Part I Question 12; Question 94.a1; Part II:ii Question 173.a1; Part III suppl. Question 92).

A vision of God (or, at least, of His Glory) was an established element of eschatological hope throughout the religions of the ancient world. We see this expressed in Old Testament passages such as Job 19:26; Ps 98:3; Isa 35:2; 40:5; 52:10; 60:2; [Lk 2:30-32; 3:6]. In Greco-Roman religion and the mystery cults the promise of blessedness in the afterlife could also be expressed in terms of beatific vision, related to the purity of soul (e.g., in Plato, Phaedo 69; Plutarch, On the Cessation of Oracles 40, On the Delay of Divine Vengeance 22ff; On the Face appearing in the orb of the Moon p.943; Apuleius, Metamorphoses bk 11, etc). This language of eschatological promise pervades the New Testament (Mark 9:1 par; Jn 11:40; 17:24; Acts 22:14; 1 Cor 13:12; 1 Jn 3:2; Rev 20:11ff; 22:4) and is certainly the primary emphasis in Matt 5:8—the one who is pure in heart will be found worthy to receive a vision of God Himself in the afterlife. It is worth noting that the future forms of the verb o)pta/nomai typically are used in an eschatological context in the New Testament (Mark 13:26; 14:62 par; Luke 3:6; 13:28; 17:22; Jn 1:50-51; 3:36; 16:16-22, etc).

However, the New Testament references also suggest an experience of the promise for believers now (in this life), which will only be realized fully in the life to come (see 1 Cor 13:12). This is understood first in terms of seeing God (the Father) in the person of Jesus (Jn 1:14, 50-51; 12:45; 14:7ff, also Col 1:15-20; Heb 1:1-4ff). Fundamentally, then, it is experienced through the power and presence of the Spirit (of God and Christ), cf. Rom 8:9-16; 2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; Gal 4:6; Eph 1:13-14; 2:22, etc). In an earlier article, I discussed the principal significance of the Beatitude—that the happy/blessed status of the righteous (believer) consists in sharing in the blessedness of God. Here vision is closely related to the idea of imitation (and even transformation), as Paul makes clear especially in 2 Cor 3:18.

The beatific paradox of God’s invisibility and our vision of Him was cherished and deeply felt by Christian mystics throughout the ages. Gregory of Nyssa holds these two aspects together in his Life of Moses II.152-158, 162-169, and esp. 219-255 (commenting on Exod 33:11, 20) and Sermon 6 On the Beatitudes (commenting on Matt 5:8). He states, in appropriately paradoxical fashion—

Kai\ tou=to/ e)stin o&ntw$ to\ i)dei=n to\n qeo\n, to\ mhde/pote th=$ e)piqumi/a$ ko/ron eu(rei=n
“And this is really to see God: not ever to find (one’s) fill of desiring (to see Him)”
This truly is the vision of God: never to be satisfied in the desire to see Him” (transl. Ferguson/Malherbe)
Life of Moses II.239