Matthew 5: 3-12 – Beatitudes

Beatitude is a statement which declares the blessedness of certain people. In the Old Testament, especially in the book of Psalms and in Wisdom literature there are several beatitudes (cf. Ps 1: 1; 32: 1-2; 33: 12; 40: 4; 41: 1 etc; Prov 3: 13; 16: 20; 28: 14; Sir 14: 1-2; 25: 8-9; 34: 15; 50: 28 etc). Both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament the beatitudes usually have a common form. It begins with the formula “blesses is/are” and then mentions the person or group with the article and finally the reason for the blessedness is also sometimes stated (cf. Mt 5: 3-10). Blessedness spoken of in the Old Testament is primarily related to earthly blessings such as one’s well being, honour, children, wisdom, piety, etc. Wisdom (cf. Prov 3: 13; Sir 14: 20; 25: 9; 37: 24) and the observance of the Law (cf. Ps 1: 1; 41: 1-2; 106: 3; 119: 1-2; 128: 1; Prov 8: 32; 14: 21; 20: 7; 29: 18) are thought of as the basis of blessedness. Like wisdom and Law, piety is also a gift of God, and a pious man who trust in God, who waits for him and who fears and loves him is also declared blessed (cf. Ps 2: 11; 34: 8; 40: 4; 84: 12; 112: 1; Prov 16: 20; 28: 14; Sir 34: 15).

In the New Testament, however, the beatitudes are not related to earthly goods and values. They are relates to Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom, to God’s definitive salvation which is inaugurated in the person and ministry of Jesus and which awaits its fullness at the end of time. This is why the New Testament beatitudes occur for the most part in the synoptic gospels and in the Apocalypse (cf. Mt 11: 6; 13: 16; 16: 17; 24: 46; Lk 1: 45; 11: 27-28; 12: 37, 43; Rev 14: 13; 16: 15; 19: 9; 22: 7, 14 etc). The supreme value of the Kingdom is such that no earthly goods can be compared to it. In fact the proclamation of the Kingdom brings with it a reversal of all human standards and values. This is clearly seen in the evangelical beatitudes in Matthew 5: 3-12 (cf. Lk 6: 20-23) which speak of the blessedness in a paradoxical way. Jesus declares the poor, the hungry and the thirsty, the meek and the pure, the hated and the persecutes as blessed and he promises them the end-time blessings of the Kingdom.

Before concluding these introductory remarks let us also take a look at the Matthean understanding and interpretation of the beatitudes. Matthew 5: 3-12 contains nine beatitudes whereas the Lukan parallel (Lk 6: 20-23) has only four. The four woes that follow in Luke 6: 24-26 are proper to Luke. A comparison between the beatitudes in Matthew and Luke shows the the basic text, common to both, contains four beatitudes which presumably come from the source “Q.” These four beatitudes are about the poor, the mourners, the hungry, and the persecuted. The other beatitudes concerning the meek (Mt 5: 5), the merciful (Mt 5: 7), the pure in heart (Mt 5: 8), the peacemakers (Mt 5: 9), and the persecuted (Mt 5: 10) are proper to Matthew and thereofer they belong to his special source “M.” The Matthean beatitudes (Mt 5: 3-10) are framed by the saying, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5: 3, 10) which probably points to Matthew’s understanding of the theme of the beatitudes. Matthew seems to have “spiritualized” the beatitudes (cf. “in spirit” and “for righteousness sake”) applying them to the life and spiritual needs of his community. He has also generalized the beatitudes by using the third person plural whereas in Luke 7: 20-23 the beatitudes are addressed directly to the disciples in the second person plural. The long beatitude on the persecuted in Matthew 5; 11-12, however, is an exception. The Matthean arrangement of the beatitudes is also noteworthy. He has two sets of four beatitudes each (Mt 5: 3-6, 7-10) and an additional one on the persecuted (Mt 5; 11-12). Each set of beatitudes climaxes with a references to “righteousness.” While the emphasis in the first set seems to be on passive attitude, in the second set of beatitudes it is on activity and active virtues.

By introducing certain stylistic features and by expanding the “Q” version of the beatitudes Matthew has also interpreted Jesus’ beatitudes. In the Matthean version of the beatitudes the emphasis falls on the qualities or virtues to be practised in order to share the blessings of the Kingdom. Expressions such as, “poor in spirit,” “meek,” “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” “merciful,” and “pure in heart” refer to qualities or virtues required of Jesus’ followers. Matthew’s concern is eminently pastoral and parenetic. In Matthew 5: 3-12 the beatitudes have become almost a description of the virtues to be practised by the Christian community. The Christological foundation of the beatitudes is also clear because the beatitudes describe what Jesus himself is. All these virtues are pre-eminently realized in Jesus who is the supreme model for his followers.

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4 thoughts on “Matthew 5: 3-12 – Beatitudes

  1. I know we are to take the Bible as a whole but one of my heresies is that only the red letters(words attributed to Jesus only) like Beatitudes and entire Sermon on Mount and parables are the only true scripture for the Christian. Just a statement as I know there exist a million words to contradict my heresy.

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