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]

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