Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Excursus (Lk 6:20-8:3 etc)

In the previous note, I presented the Synoptic narrative outline, as represented by the Gospel of Mark, along with a more detailed breakdown of the traditions in Mk 3:13-8:30, the second half of the Galilean period (1:14-8:30). Today, I want to look at how this material was developed by Luke and Matthew. In particular, I will focus on Luke’s treatment of the Synoptic/Markan traditions.

First, here again is the outline of Mk 3:13-6:13:

  • Calling the Twelve—3:13-19
  • Reaction to Jesus’ ministry—his natural vs. true family; 3 traditions joined together:
    3:20-21, 22-30, 31-35
  • Parables of Jesus—4:1-34, a distinct block (or sub-unit) of traditional material, organized as follows:
    • Introduction (vv. 1-2)
    • Parable of the Sower:
      —The Parable (vv. 3-9)
      —Saying to the Disciples (vv. 10-12)
      —Explanation of the Parable (vv. 13-20)
    • Three additional Parables (vv. 21-32)
    • Conclusion (vv. 33-34)
  • Miracle (Calming the Storm): Jesus with the Disciples together in the boat—4:35-41
  • Healing Miracles: 2 Episodes (3 miracles)—5:1-20, 21-43
  • Reaction to Jesus’ ministry—his natural vs. true family; episode at Nazareth—6:1-6a
  • Mission of the Twelve—6:6b-13

The green above indicates portions which Luke appears to have either re-worked or presents in a different order:

    • Luke reverses the order (6:12-16, 17-19) of the material corresponding to Mk 3:7-12, 13-19, reworking it to some extent
    • In 8:4-21, also the material corr. to Mk 3:31-35 & 4:1-25 is reversed and set in a different narrative context (omitting Mk 3:20-30)
    • Luke has a quite different (and expanded) version of the episode at Nazareth (Mk 6:1-6a), and it is set in a different location—at the very beginning of Jesus’ Galilean ministry (Lk 4:16-30); cf. the earlier note on this passage

The dark red portions above indicate the Markan traditions which Luke has omitted, or otherwise does not include—Mk 3:20-30; 4:26-34.

Besides the ‘additions’ to the Nazareth episode (mentioned above), Luke has also included a considerable amount of material at a point corresponding to Mk 3:19. Here is the Lukan outline, with Markan parallels in parentheses:

From this point, Luke 8:22-9:6 follows Mk 4:35-5:43 + 6:6b-13. It is important to consider the additional Lukan material (6:20-8:3), which is comprised of six distinct units set in sequence. “Q” indicates the so-called Q-material, shared by Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark. “L” refers to traditions found only in Luke. There are three “L” traditions included here:

    • 7:11-17: a healing miracle story—the raising of the dead son of the widow at Nain.
    • 7:36-50: an encounter story (with a parable), involving the traditional motif of conflict/debate between Jesus and the Pharisees—the anointing of Jesus by the “sinful” woman. This tradition is quite similar to, but not identical with, Mk 14:3-19, and will be discussed in an upcoming note.
    • 8:1-3: a narrative summary, probably of Lukan composition, but containing traditional/historical information.

The traditions in 7:11-17 and 36-50 are very much in keeping with the episodes of the core Synoptic Tradition (cf. the previous note), though 7:36-50 shows definite signs of literary development. The “Q” material is rather different, and indicates that it has been derived from a separate (and early) line of tradition.

Many scholars believe that “Q” was an actual source document, comprised mainly of a collection of sayings by Jesus. These sayings, at an early point, were joined together, by way of thematic and “catchword” bonding, to form small units, which then could be collected/grouped into larger sections of sayings-material. “Q”, if it existed at all as a specific text, would have been made up of these larger sections, two of which are found at this point in Luke:

1. The “Sermon on the Plain” (Lk 6:20-49), which follows the basic outline of the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew (chapters 5-7). Despite the narrative setting in each Gospel, which presents the material as a single “sermon” given by Jesus, most (critical) commentators believe that it is better understood as a collection of sayings, parables, and teachings by Jesus, which represents the sort of instruction he gave regularly to his disciples. Matthew’s version contains considerably more material, some of which is found in a different location in Luke. Moreover, there are some significant differences in wording and emphasis, especially in the Beatitudes (cf. my earlier series on the Beatitudes for more detail). Here is a breakdown of the Lukan “sermon”:

Luke and Matthew have each arranged several distinct units of “Q” material (sayings and parables, etc) to form a sermon or discourse. Notably, each Gospel writer (independently) has set this in the context of Jesus gathering his disciples together and instructing them (Matt 4:18ff; 5:1-2; Luke 6:12-16, 17)—though in each Gospel it occurs at a slightly different point in the narrative.

2. Jesus and John the Baptist (Lk 7:18-35). I have discussed this section briefly in the earlier notes of this series on the Baptism of Jesus. Again, while it would seem that the material in vv. 18-35 is all part of a single discourse by Jesus, this more likely reflects the thematic joining of a number of different traditions during the (early) process of collection and transmission. Clearly, the common theme involved is John the Baptist and his relation to Jesus. In my view, this is a mark of very early historical tradition, as the interest in John the Baptist soon faded among Christians in the New Testament period. There is less variation between the versions of this material in Matthew and Luke, than for the earlier “Sermon” (cf. above); both Gospels preserve it as a distinct block of tradition. Here is how it appears in Luke:

It is worth noting the portions in Matthew’s version which are not found in Luke (or occur in a different location):

Interestingly, while this Q-material in Luke follows generally after Jesus’ calling the Twelve (6:12-16) and the “Sermon” (6:20-49), in Matthew it occurs at a different (though similar) point in the narrative. The calling and subsequent mission of the Twelve is narrated together (Matt 10:1-5f), followed by an entirely separate collection of instruction (or “sermon”) for the disciples (10:5-42).

This brief, though detailed, analysis demonstrates the creative work of each Gospel writer in selecting, adapting, and arranging traditional material. Many of the themes and contours of the narrative are the same in each Gospel, but the overall presentation and thematic structure differs considerably. This is all the more true when we consider how the (historical) traditions have been developed and arranged in the Gospel of John. I will be examining this in the next note.

The Beatitudes: Early Christian Interpretation

In the previous article, I examined the structure and arrangement of the Beatitudes, including the idea of number symbolism associated with them. Today, I will follow this up with a short discussion of ways the Beatitudes have been interpreted and applied by Christians, focusing on two principal figures in the early Church: Augustine and Gregory of Nyssa.

2. Early Interpretation of the Beatitudes

The Sermon on the Mount had a profound influence on early Christian ethical instruction (see esp. throughout the epistle of James and the “Two Ways” portion of the Didache [chs. 1-6]); and may have been used specifically in catechesis prior to baptism. However, citations of the Beatitudes (whether direct or indirect) are actually somewhat rare in early writings—cf. Polycarp Philippians 2; Ignatius Ephesians 10 [long version]; Irenaeus Against Heresies III.22.1; IV.9.2, 20.5, 23.9; V.9.4; Tertullian To His Wife II.8; On Modesty 2, 5; On Fasting 15; On Flight in Persecution 7, 12; Origen On First Principles II.3.7, 11.2. The first, sixth and seventh Matthean Beatitudes (Matt 5:3, 8, 9), with their more obvious spiritual and theological emphasis, were clearly the most popular and oft-quoted. The mystical (‘gnostic’) sense of the sixth [v. 8], along with the reference to believers as “sons of God” in the seventh [v. 9], appealed especially to the Alexandrians Clement (who cites verse 8  numerous times in his Stromateis) and Origen (On First Principles I.1.9; Against Celsus VI.4; VII.33, 43). Unfortunately the relevant portion of Origen’s massive Commentary on Matthew (Book 2) has not been preserved (except for a fragment [on Matt 5:9] in the Philokalia ch. 6; cf. also the reference in Book 13.7). The Pseudo-Clementine literature provides a commentary of sorts on Matt 5:3, 8-9 (Recognitions I.61; II.22, 29; III.27, 29; Homilies XV.10), including the clarifying point that only the righteous poor will be blessed (not all poor).

One of the earliest and most influential treatments of the Beatitudes is that of Augustine in his Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount (Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, written c. 395 A.D.). Augustine adopts the eight-fold (7 + 1) structure (of Matt 5:3-10), and uses it as an organizing principle for the exposition (cf. I.3 [§10] and II.25 [§87]), dividing the Sermon into seven sections (inspired by the idea of the “seven gifts” of the Holy Spirit [cf. Isa 11:2-3 and in I.4 §11]). The seven principal beatitudes reflect an “ascent” of the soul and progress in virtue, and serves to divide the commentary into two parts: (1) the first five Beatitudes (Matt 5:3-7) relate primarily to the “active life” (vita activa, with its good works [bona opera]) and govern book 1 (on Matt 5); (2) the last two Beatitudes (Matt 5:8-9) refer to the “contemplative life” (vita contemplativa) and govern book 2 (on Matt 6-7). Augustine connects the vision of God in the sixth Beatitude with the teaching on prayer and worship in Matt 6:1-18 and includes a seven-fold exposition of the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9-13 [II.4-11 §§15-39]). Augustine was probably familiar with the work of his older contemporary Ambrose of Milan (who discusses the Beatitudes in his Commentary on Luke, written c. 390). Ambrose draws a parallel between the eight Matthean Beatitudes (representing the ascent of the soul) and the four Lukan Beatitudes (which represent the four cardinal virtues). In many of his exgetical and homiletical works, Ambrose shows clear influence of Greek ascetic-mystical theology, such as that reflected in his contemporary Gregory of Nyssa.

Gregory’s set of eight Orations on the Beatitudes (along with a comparable set of five on the Lord’s Prayer, both written sometime between 385 and 390) represents the earliest extensive treatment on the Sermon on the Mount which has come down to us. Using the mountain setting (Matt 5:1ff) as his reference point, Gregory interprets the eight Beatitudes as steps or stages in the ascent of the soul, devoting one sermon for each Beatitude or “step”. In this, Gregory draws upon a popular concept and viewpoint common to both Greco-Roman ascetic philosophy and early Christian (mystical) theology, whereby the disciple or initiate learns to purify himself (or herself) from the passions and earthy/material or fleshly concerns (the lower aspect of the soul) and rises to experience in greater fullness and clarity the mind or spirit (the higher aspect of the soul, which is a reflection of God). Something of this ascetic-mystical teaching can be found in the New Testament itself (especially in Paul’s ethical dualism and spiritual instruction), but generally in a moderated form. Within the mystical tradition of the Eastern Church, in particular, these points came to have much greater emphasis;  we see this within monasticism especially, in the writings and teachings of the so-called Desert Fathers. It is very much a synergistic spiritual ethic: through the ascetic life-style of self-effacement and self-denial one works to eliminate the passions (apatheia) and cultivate the (Christian) virtues, preparing the ground work for receiving the (gift of) knowledge of God and to be transformed into His likeness (theiosis). The “ladder” motif proved useful and popular as a framing device for spiritual and ethical instruction in this regard, as indicated by works such as the 4th-century Syriac Book of Steps and, most famously, in the 7th century Ladder of Divine Ascent by John Climacus. In the Beatitudes, this purification of the soul begins with humility and poverty of spirit (the first Beatitude) and would seem to culminate in the sixth Beatitude, where the pure in heart “see God”—indeed, this is favorite theme of Gregory’s which he expounds elsewhere in his writings (most notably in the second book of his Life of Moses, esp. related to the Sinai revelation and theophany). The arrangement of the Beatitudes in Matthew forces Gregory to go beyond the beatific vision to discuss the seventh and eighth Beatitudes (Matt 5:9-10), which he does with his usual skill, though he admits to some difficulty in approaching the final Beatitude (on persecution).

In general, I would agree with the eight-fold (7 + 1) structure used in analyzing and expounding the Beatitudes. Early commentators such as Gregory, Ambrose and Augustine, in viewing them through the fundamental interpretive lens of the ascent of the soul and progress in virtue, certainly read a bit too much into the text. On the other hand, at their best moments, they display considerable insight and sensitivity to the spiritual dimension of Scripture—something sadly lost and neglected today. But is there a meaningful order to the Beatitudes which might accord with something like the “ascent” viewpoint in early Christian thought? In the previous note, I examined the way in which the Matthean Beatitudes might have expanded from a smaller (four-fold) set such as we find in Luke 6:20-23. Here, I might suggest the following outline:

  • Happy the poor in the spirit, that theirs is the kingdom of the Heaven (#1, Matt 5:3)
    • Happy the ones mourning, that they will be called alongside [i.e. helped/comforted] (#2, Matt 5:4)
      • Happy the meek/gentle ones, that they will receive the earth as (their) lot (#3, Matt 5:5)
    • Happy the ones hungering and thirsting for justice/righteousness, that they will be fed full (#4, Matt 5:6)
      • Happy the merciful/compassionate ones, that they will receive mercy/compassion (#5, Matt 5:7)
        • Happy the ones pure/clean in heart, that they will see God (#6, Matt 5:8)
        • Happy the ones making peace, that they will be called sons of God (#7, Matt 5:9)
  • Happy the ones having been pursued on account of justice/righteousness, that theirs is the kingdom of the Heavens (#8, Matt 5:10)

This outline has the advantage of preserving the basic structure of the Lukan set [the first three + a concluding beatitude regarding persecution]. It also keeps the second and third Lukan sayings in tandem (expounding the basic idea of the poor), intercut with an ‘inner’ pair of sayings involving meekness and compassion (which could be said to expound the idea of poor in spirit). Moreover, it does demonstrate a kind of progression (or “ascent”) from outer (the first beatitude) to inner (the sixth-seventh), before concluding with the final beatitude (parallel to the first) that frames the entire set. As indicated previously, I prefer to treat the ninth (or ninth + tenth) beatitude in Matt 5:11-12 as a transitional verse: it moves from the exordium of the Beatitudes into Jesus’ teaching proper—beginning with the saying on salt and light in vv. 13-16.

For several observations above I am indebted to the critical Commentary by Hans Dieter Betz (The Sermon on the Mount, Hermeneia series, Fortress Press [1995]), which I have consulted on a number of occasions throughout these notes on the Beatitudes; here see pp. 105-109.

The Beatitudes: Order and Arrangement

In bringing this series of daily notes on the Beatitudes to a close, it may be helpful to discuss briefly something of the way the Beatitudes have been interpreted and understood in Church History. I will focus on two areas: (1) the order and arrangement (of the Matthean Beatitudes in particular), and (2) the history of interpretation as prefigured in the treatments by Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine.

1. The Order and Arrangement of the Beatitudes

The question of the number, order, and arrangement of the Beatitudes is connected with the more difficult question of the relationship between the Matthean and Lukan sets of Beatitudes (addressed in my introduction to this series of daily notes). I tend to accept the general scholarly premise that the Sermon on the Mount and Sermon on the Plain both stem from a common tradition—a collection of sayings of Jesus already arranged in a particular order which may (or may not) reflect a unified oral discourse. The Matthean Beatitudes (along with the Sermon on the Mount as a whole) is longer and more extensive than the corresponding version in Luke. In all likelihood, the Gospel writer in Matthew has expanded the collection with additional material from other sources—this applies primarily to the material in chapter 6 (some of which is attested elsewhere in Luke), but also to other portions: notably 5:17-42, and expansions in 7:21-23, as well as in the Beatitudes. I think it quite possible that we have something like the original ‘core’ (of four Beatitudes) in Luke; at any event, it is easy to see how this structure might have been filled out with other sayings (additional Beatitudes of Jesus are attested in the Gospels). Note the following outline, with the elements unique to Matthew offset and italicized and the Beatitude number (Matthean/Lukan) indicated in parentheses:

  • Happy the poor in the spirit (1)
  • Happy the ones weeping/mourning (2/3)
    • Happy the meek/gentle ones (3)
  • Happy the ones hungering and thirsting for justice/righteousness (4/2)
    • Happy the compassionate/merciful ones (5)
    • Happy the ones pure in heart (6)
    • Happy the ones making peace (7)
    • Happy the ones pursued/persecuted because of justice/righteousness (8)
  • Happy are you when men… because of me. Be joyful and leap for joy, that your payment is great in Heaven…they did the same to the Prophets (9/4) [because of the length and complexity of the last Beatitude, there is greater variation between the two versions].

One can point to three areas of ‘expansion’:

    1. The addition of qualifying/explanatory phrases in Matthean 1 & 4 (“poor in the spirit“, “hunger [and thirst] for justice/righteousness“)
    2. A series of four beatitudes (Matthean 3, 5-7), which roughly form two thematic groups:
      Happy the meek / Happy the merciful
      Happy the pure in heart (…will see God) / Happy the peace-makers (…will be called sons of God)
    3. A concluding beatitude (Matthean 8) which precedes the final compound saying and shares with it the common theme of persecution (“for the sake of…”)

Of course, it is also possible that in Luke a larger collection of Beatitudes has been reduced, though I think this is somewhat less likely. Occasionally, scholars have sought to reconstruction an original collection (in Aramaic) of Beatitudes from which both the Matthean and Lukan sets are derived (cf. M. Black, An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts, 3rd edition, Oxford:1967, pp. 156-158), but this is highly speculative at best.

The structure of the Lukan set is extremely simple and compact:

  • Happy the Poor
    • Happy the ones hungering now
    • Happy the ones weeping now
  • Happy are you when men… because of me. Be joyful and leap for joy, that your payment is great in Heaven…they did the same to the Prophets

It follows a clear 3 + 1 formula, with the second and third beatitudes expounding the first (illustrating the present condition of the “poor”), and with the first and fourth beatitudes in dynamic parallelism. This parallelism is brought out more precisely when comparing the first and eighth beatitudes in Matthew:

  • Happy the ones poor in the spirit, (in) that theirs is the kingdom of the Heavens
  • Happy the ones having been pursued on account of justice/righteousness, (in) that theirs is the kingdom of the Heavens

As to the number of Beatitudes in Matthew, there is some debate as to how this should be understood. Did the Gospel writer (or Jesus himself) have any particular number (symbolism) in mind? Several possibilities have been suggested by commentators:

  • By including Matt 5:11-12, there are nine beatitudes, or ten, if one counts the last (compound) saying as two (“Happy… Rejoice…”). Ten is well-known in the ancient world as symbolic of completion, perfection, etc; within Jewish tradition, 9 + 1 = 10 serves as a significant formula (see Sirach 25:7ff; Philo Questions on Genesis 4.110 [cf. Betz, Sermon, pp. 105-106]).
  • By separating out Matt 5:11-12 as an appendix or transitional saying, there are eight beatitudes. Matt 5:10 frames the collection, forming an inclusio with the parallel in the first beatitude; following this structure results in (the sacred number) 7 + 1 = 8.
  • Some scholars have questioned the originality of Matt 5:5 (the third beatitude); if it were removed, the same first three beatitudes would be grouped together as in Luke, and yield a total of seven (or, including Matt 5:11-12, eight: 7 + 1). However, there is no real textual basis for omitting the verse, though some manuscripts include it in a different position (as the second beatitude, ahead of verse 4).

The eightfold structure (7 + 1) of verses 3-10 is to be preferred as an interpretive base, treating the ninth (or ninth + tenth) beatitude of vv. 11-12 as a kind of appendix. This arrangement, with its (possible) number symbolism will be discussed in the next article, in relation to early interpretation of the Beatitudes.

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: 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 5:6

Matthew 5:6; Luke 6:21a

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Beatitudes: Matthew 5:4

Matthew 5:4; Luke 6:21a

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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