The Beatitudes: Conclusion

By way of conclusion for this series on the Beatitudes, I thought it worth examining in summary fashion other Beatitude-sayings in the New Testament and early Christian literature. Besides the sayings in the Sermon on the Mount/Plain, there are a number of Beatitudes elsewhere in the Gospel tradition:

1. Matthew 11:6 (identical with Luke 7:23)

maka/rio/$ e)stin o^$ e)a\n mh\ skandalisqh=| e)n e)moi/
“happy is the (one) who would not be tripped (up) in me”

The expression skandalisqh=| e)n e)moi/ is foreign to English; typically it is translated something like “would not be offended by me”. A ska/ndalon (skándalon) is a trap or snare, such as would cause one to trip or fall and so be caught; the verb skandali/zw (skandalízœ) in the active voice means “to trap”, with the general sense of “cause (one) to trip, stumble”, while the passive refers to the one who is trapped or tripped up. In the figurative sense, to trip/stumble over a person means to take offense or be led astray, etc by him/her—in English, we might say “find offense in (someone)”. What the person says or does (or what he/she represents) can cause one to be offended or troubled. In both Matthew and Luke, the saying is part of Jesus’ response to messengers from John the Baptist who ask “are you the one coming [i.e. the Messiah/end-time-Prophet] or do we look toward (receiving) another?”

2. Matthew 13:16 (par. Luke 10:23b)

u(mw=n de\ maka/rioi oi( o)fqalmoi\ o%ti ble/pousin kai\ ta\ w@ta u(mw=n o%ti a)kou/ousin
“but happy your eyes (in) that they see (these things), and your ears (in) that they hear…”

The Lukan saying is shorter and simpler: maka/rioi oi( o)fqalmoi\ oi( ble/ponte$ a^ ble/pete (“happy the eyes seeing the [things] which you see”). The context is different, but in both versions the emphasis is upon the disciples who have seen and heard Jesus (something prophets and kings [or righteous persons] wished to see, but did not [Matt 13:17; Lk 10:24]). Contrary to the original setting and main purpose of the Beatitude form, the saying here refers specifically to the present, though the promise of future (eternal) happiness may also be implied. Parts of the body are sometimes singled out for happiness/blessing.

3. Luke 11:28 (cf. verse 27)

maka/rioi oi( a)kou/onte$ to\n lo/gon qeou= kai\ fula/ssonte$
“happy the (ones) hearing the account/word of God and watching/guarding (it)”

This is Jesus’ response to a declaration by a woman in the crowd: “happy the belly th(at) held you (up) and the breasts which you sucked!”—a natural, popular view of sacredness by association. Jesus begins his response with the emphatic particle menou=n(ge), which could be rendered something like “yes, indeed, but…”—he draws attention away from the sign (the biological/familial aspect) of his person to that which the sign signifies (the word of God). A similar point and parallel is made in Mark 3:31-35 par.

4. Matthew 16:17

maka/rio$ ei@ Si/mwn Bariwna=, o%ti sa\rc kai\ ai!ma ou)k a)peka/luye/n soi a)ll’ o( path/r mou o( e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$
“happy are you Shim±ôn Bar-Yôna, (in) that flesh and blood did not take the cover from [i.e. uncover, reveal] (this) for you, but my Father in the Heavens”

This is part of Peter’s famous confession and subsequent commission in Matthew 16. The basis for the Beatitude is that Peter’s confession (“you are the Anointed, the Son of the living God”, v. 16) came as the result of special divine revelation.

5. Luke 12:37 (with repetition in v. 38, 43; par. Matthew 24:46)

maka/rioi oi( dou=loi e)kei=noi ou^$ e)lqw\n o( ku/rio$ eu(rh/sei grhgorou=nta$
“happy the slaves who the lord having come should find (stay)ing awake/aroused”

This is part of a parable with an eschatological emphasis, about the importance of disciples staying alert and watchful for the Lord’s return. As such, it is very much in keeping with the original eschatological/judgment setting of the Beatitude form.

6. Luke 14:14 (cf. verse 15)

maka/rio$ e&sh|, o%ti ou)k e&xousin a)ntapodou=nai/ soi, a)ntapodoqh/setai ga/r soi e)n th=| a)nasta/sei tw=n dikai/wn
“happy you will be (in) that they have no (means) to give back (in return) to you, for it will be given back (in return) to you in the standing-up [i.e. resurrection] of the just/righteous (ones)”

The context of this saying is Jesus’ teaching that hospitality and expense (of food, etc) should be extended to the poor and sick rather than to one’s well-to-do friends and relatives. This has much in common with the Beatitudes, in particular: (1) the importance of Jesus’ followers identifying with the poor and lowly; (2) the emphasis on (heavenly) repayment in the life to come. In the next, related pericope a man dining with Jesus utters another beatitude: “happy the one who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”, which prompts Jesus to relate the parable of the ‘Great Banquet’ (for a similar narrative device and parallel, cf. on Luke 11:27-28, above).

7. Luke 23:29

maka/riai ai( stei=rai kai\ ai( koili/ai ai^ ou)k e)ge/nnhsan kai\ mastoi\ oi^ ou)k e&qreyan
“happy the firm [i.e. sterile] ones and the bellies th(at) have not caused (children) to be (born) and breasts which have not thickened (i.e. nourished [children])”

This is an eschatological beatitude of a very different sort. In the narrative setting (on the way to his death), Jesus responds to the lamentation of women in the crowd (v. 27) with a warning of coming (impending) tribulation (v. 28): “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep upon me, (but all the) more weep upon yourselves and upon your offspring, (in) that see—the days are coming…” The blessing of verse 29 is darkly ironic in the face of the terrible travail that is coming, though it is in keeping with the focus of the Beatitudes (esp. in Luke) on the poor and suffering. For Jesus’ foretelling of end-time tribulation (fulfilled, in part at least, during the war of 66-70 A.D.), cf. Luke 19:41-44; 21:5-36 par.

8. John 13:17

ei) tau=ta oi&date, maka/rioi/ e)ste e)a\n poih=te au)ta/
“if you see/know these things, happy are you if/when you should do them”

The immediate context of this (conditional) beatitude is the example (washing the disciples’ feet) and teaching of Jesus in Jn 13:3-16, but it certainly could be said to apply to Jesus’ teaching in general (as recorded in the Gospel of John). In its simple, generic way, this Beatitude summarizes the famous Matthean/Lukan Beatiudes—the disciple will be declared happy/blessed in so far as he/she follows the will of God (in the person and teaching of Jesus). Indeed, there are here a number of parallels to themes in the Sermon on the Mount: (a) the importance of humility and sacrificial service, (b) identifying with the poor and lowly (i.e. the menial task of footwashing), and (c) an emphasis on imitating God (in Christ) by performing such service. For a similar saying, cf. James 1:25.

9. John 20:29

maka/rioi oi( mh\ i)do/nte$ kai\ pisteu/sante$
“happy the (one)s not seeing and (yet) trusting”

This is the conclusion of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to the disciples (especially to Thomas) in Jn 20:24-29 (cf. the ‘earlier’ appearance in vv. 19-23). Upon seeing Jesus, his doubt removed, Thomas exclaims “my Lord and my God!”, to which Jesus’ replies: “(In) that you have seen me you have trusted? Happy the ones not seeing and (yet) trusting!” In effect, this simple and beautiful saying concludes the Gospel of John as well.

10. Acts 20:35

maka/rio/n e)stin ma=llon dido/nai h* lamba/nein
“It is more happy (for one) to give than to receive”

Paul cites this saying of Jesus at the close of his farewell address to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20, but it is otherwise unattested in the Gospels.

11. Revelation 22:7, 14

maka/rio$ o( thrw=n tou\$ lo/gou$ th=$ profhtei/a$ tou= bibli/ou tou/tou
“happy the (one) guarding the accounts [i.e. words] of the foretelling [i.e. prophecy] of this scroll”

maka/rioi oi( plu/nonte$ ta\$ stola\$ au)tw=n, i%na e&stai h( e)cousi/a au)tw=n e)pi\ to\ cu/lon th=$ zwh=$
“happy the (ones) washing their robes, that their exousia [i.e. right, permission] will be upon the tree of life…”

These sayings are recorded as coming from Jesus (implied) in the final vision of the book of Revelation. They recapture the original context of the Beatitude form—that of declaring the righteous able to pass through the judgment to enter into heavenly bliss—but in other respects the language and sentiment differs considerably from the Beatitudes of Jesus in the Gospels.

Other Beatitudes in the New Testament not spoken by Jesus are: Luke 1:45; Romans 4:7-8 (quoting Psalm 32:1-2); 14:22b; James 1:12, 25; 1 Peter 3:14; 4:14; Revelation 1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; cf. also Acts 26:2; 1 Cor 7:40. In the writings of the so-called Apostolic Fathers (late-1st–mid-2nd centuries), Beatitudes also appear; sometimes these are citations from Jesus or the Gospels, in other instances they are original formulations—cf. 1 Clement 44:5; 50:5 (also 35:1); ‘2 Clement’ 16:4; 19:3; Ignatius Philadelphians 10:2; Polycarp Philippians 2:3; Didache 1:5; Barnabas 10:10; 11:8; Hermas Visions 3.8.4; Commandments 8.9; Similitudes 5.3.9; 6.1.1; Martyrdom of Polycarp 2:1.

As for the “Woes” corresponding to the Lukan Beatitudes (Lk 6:20-23, 24-26), there are similar Woe-sayings of Jesus elsewhere in the Gospels (Mark 13:17; 14:21 pars; Matt 11:21; 18:7; 23:13-29 pars; Lk 17:1), as well as several other Woes in the New Testament (1 Cor 9:16; Jude 11; Rev 8:13; 9:12; 11:14; 12:12; 18:10, 16, 19).

Finally, it may be worth mentioning the Beatitudes in the Coptic Gospel of Thomas. This document, the date and origins of which still uncertain (it was probably written or compiled sometime between 100 and 150), consists entirely of sayings of Jesus. It is an interesting and, it would seem, unusual mixture of: (1) sayings similar to those recorded in the (Synoptic) Gospels; (2) otherwise unknown sayings similar in character and style to those in the Gospels; (3) unknown sayings which seem to have a ‘Gnostic’ sense about them, or are otherwise difficult to interpret. With regard to the sayings with parallels in the Synoptic Gospels, scholars continue debate whether these, on the whole, are dependent on the canonical books or are independent of them. There are a good many sayings similar to those in the Sermon on the Mount, including the following “versions” of the Beatitudes:

#54: “Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven” (Lk 6:20b; Matt 5:3)

#68a (cf. also #69a): “Blessed are you when you are hated and persecuted” (Lk 6:22-23; Matt 5:11-12)

#69b: “Blessed are the hungry, for the belly of him who desires will be filled” (Lk 6:21a; cf. Matt 5:6)

Translation of Thomas O. Lambdin in James Robinson ed., The Nag Hammadi Library in English, 3rd edition (Brill:1988), pp. 126-138.

Other Beatitudes in the Gospel of Thomas are in sayings #18, 19 , 49, 58, 69a, 79 [Lk 11:27-28; 23:29], along with a lone Woe-saying in #112.

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