Passages

The Beatitudes by Mark Allan Powell

The Beatitudes are a series of Bible verses in which Jesus pronounces blessings upon people either because of who they are (“the poor”) or because of what they do (“the peacemakers”). For example, he says, “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth” (Matt 5:5). The word “beatitudes” comes from a Latin word for “blessing.”

The best-known version of the Beatitudes is found in Matt 5:3-12, but a different version is found in Luke 6:20-26. The verses serve as the opening words for the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel, and for the Sermon on the Plain in Luke. In both cases they are addressed primarily to Jesus’ disciples.

In Matthew, Jesus speaks nine blessings, but in Luke he speaks only four, which are then followed by a series of “woes” in which he effectively curses people who are the opposite of those he has just declared blessed (Luke 6:24-26). Thus, “Blessed are you who are poor” is accompanied by “Woe to you who are rich.”

It is often said that Matthew’s beatitudes are more spiritual, while Luke’s are more down to earth. In Luke, Jesus blesses the poor, but in Matthew he blesses the poor in spirit; in Luke, Jesus blesses people who are hungry; in Matthew, he blesses those who hunger for righteousness.

The first four beatitudes in Matthew, however, have been interpreted in two different ways. According to one popular interpretation, Matt 5:3-6 presents Jesus as promising rewards to people who exhibit various virtues: the poor in spirit may be linked with the unpretentious, those who mourn with the penitent, the meek with the humble, and those who hunger for righteousness with those who earnestly desire to do what is right.

An alternative reading takes Matt 5:3-6 as promising reversal to people who live in unfortunate circumstances: the poor in spirit are the despondent, those who mourn are the miserable, the meek are dispossessed people, and those who hunger for righteousness are victims of injustice (that is, people who yearn to be treated with righteousness).

Which interpretation is correct? Proponents of the first view indicate that the remaining beatitudes (those found in Matt 5:7-12) obviously promise rewards for virtue rather than reversal of unfortunate circumstances. Jesus blesses people who are merciful, who are pure in heart, who actively work for peace, and who display a willingness to suffer so that God’s will might be done. It makes sense that the first four beatitudes could be read in a manner consistent with the later ones.

But proponents of the second view say that their interpretation presents the first four beatitudes in Matthew as more consistent with the ones found in Luke. Furthermore, they say that there is still consistency in the Matthean beatitudes as a whole because the virtues praised in Matt 5:7-12 are ones enacted on behalf of the unfortunate persons described in Matt 5:3-6. The point, then, is that God’s goodness is a blessing both to those who suffer and to those who join God in alleviating suffering.

Individual verses that might also be called beatitudes are found many other places in the Bible (see Ps 118:26, Isa 30:18, Jer 17:7, Matt 11:6, Matt 16:17, Luke 1:42, John 20:29, Rev 1:3).

Mark Allan Powell, "Beatitudes", n.p. [cited 30 Apr 2017]. Online: http://bibleodyssey.com/en/passages/related-articles/beatitudes

Contributors

Mark Allan Powell

Mark Allan Powell
Professor, Trinity Lutheran Seminary

Mark Allan Powell is professor of New Testament at Trinity Lutheran Seminary (Columbus, Ohio). He is editor of the HarperCollins Bible Dictionary and author of Introducing the New Testament (Baker, 2009) and Jesus as a Figure in History (Westminster John Knox, 2012).

A gospel is an account that describes the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

Repentant of one's sins or wrongdoings.

The promise made by Yahweh to the ancestors in Genesis, including the promise of offspring, land, and blessing. Eventually the covenant becomes the essential part of this promise.

A message usually delivered orally by a religious leader.

Jesus' teachings collected in Luke 6:17-49 and comparable, but not identical, to the Sermon on the Mount in Matt 5-7.

A formal category of prophetic oracle or lament.

Matt 5:5

5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Matt 5:3-12

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.5“Blessed are the meek, for they ... View more

Luke 6:20-26

Blessings and Woes
20Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.21Blessed are you who are hungr ... View more

Luke 6:24-26

24“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.25Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who are laughing now,
f ... View more

Matt 5:3-6

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.5“Blessed are the meek, for they ... View more

Matt 5:3-6

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.5“Blessed are the meek, for they ... View more

Matt 5:7-12

7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be c ... View more

Matt 5:7-12

7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be c ... View more

Matt 5:3-6

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.5“Blessed are the meek, for they ... View more

Ps 118:26

26Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
We bless you from the house of the Lord.

Isa 30:18

God's Promise to Zion
18Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
blesse ... View more

Jer 17:7

7Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.

Matt 11:6

6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

Matt 16:17

17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.

Luke 1:42

42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.

John 20:29

29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Rev 1:3

3Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near.

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