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Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology

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Beatitudes
Beatitudes

(Lat. beatitudo). Condition or statement of blessedness. In the Latin of the Vulgate, beatus, the word for blessed, happy, or fortunate, begins certain verses such as Psalm 1:1: "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked." Old Testament beatitudes begin with the Hebrew word asre and the New Testament beatitudes with the Greek word makarios [μακάριος]. They are used of people, not of God. Some English Bibles translate eulogetos [εὐλογητός] as "blessed" ("Blessed be the Lord God of Israel" [Luke 1:68, KJV] ), but without the characteristic makarios [μακάριος], phrases containing this term are not beatitudes. Old Testament beatitudes, found most frequently in the psalms (e.g., 2:12; 32:2; 40:4; 41:1; 65:4; 84:4-5; 106:3; 112:1; 128:1), are also located in Proverbs 8:32; Isaiah 32:20; 56:2; and Daniel 12:12. The plural proper noun, the Beatitudes, is the common designation for Matthew 5:3-10. Luke's parallel (6:20b-26), with four statements of blessedness and four maledictions, is called the Beatitudes and Woes. Statements of blessing are also found in Matthew 13:16; John 20:29; and Revelation 1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7, 14.

The classical New Testament beatitude has three parts: (1) the adjective "blessed"; (2) the identification of the "blessed" person(s) by a descriptive clause or participle; and (3) the condition assuring "blessedness." Thus in Matthew's first beatitude (5:3), "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, " the "blessed" persons are identified as the "poor in spirit" and are "blessed" because "theirs is the kingdom of heaven." As the first word in the psalms (1:1), blessed is applied generally to all those within God's redemptive covenant established with Abraham. The believer praying Psalm 1:1 becomes the beatitude's subject. His blessedness comes within his relationship to God in which he accomplishes the divine will and keeps himself separate from God's enemies (1:1-2). The Torah, God's written revelation, is his constant occupation (v. 2). Unbelievers are destined to destruction (vv. 4-6), but the "blessed" is promised life with God (v. 3). Psalm 32 sees the "blessed" as one "whose transgressions are forgiven" and "whose sin the Lord does not count against him." The sinner's iniquity is imputed by God to the Suffering Servant (Isa 53:6).

The concept of blessedness is not easily translated into English. "Happy, " "fortunate, " and "favored" have all been offered as less than completely satisfactory translations. "Happy" focuses narrowly on emotional well-being, not taking into account that within relationship to God sin is confessed (Psalm 32:3-5). "Fortunate" is derived from the Latin word for chance or luck and was used also for the Roman goddess who determined arbitrarily and capriciously each person's destiny. It still means a haphazard random selection, success, collective possessions and wealth, not given others. Since the poor (Luke 6:20), those who confess sin (Psalm 32:3-5), and the dead (Rev 14:13) are subjects of the beatitudes, "happy" and "fortunate" seem inappropriate. Favor is the Latin word for grace; to avoid confusion "favored" should not be used. "Blessed" should be used in all cases, so that the English reader will recognize that these passages are related as beatitudes. Blessedness should not be seen as a reward for religious accomplishments, but as an act of God's grace in believers' lives. Rather than congratulating them on spiritual or moral achievements, the beatitude underscores the fact that sinners stand within a forgiving relationship made possible by Christ's atonement.

Scholars debate the connections between Matthew's and Luke's beatitudes. The two-source (Mark and "Q", standing for Quelle, the German word for source) hypothesis holds that there are "Q" beatitudes, from which Matthew and Luke took theirs. These "Q" beatitudes are a reconstructed abridgement of Luke's four statements, which Matthew expanded with five additional ones. Another view suggests that each independently took over oral tradition, as he knew it directly (Matthew) or obtained it from others (Luke). Still another holds that one evangelist was first and that the other worked with his beatitudes. This issue cannot be resolved to everyone's satisfaction. It should be noted that Matthew's version was most widespread in the postapostolic fathers and remains the best known. Luke's use of the second person plural in each of his four beatitudes may suggest a dependency on Matthew's ninth beatitude, where he introduces this form for the first time (5:11).

The similarity between Matthew's Sermon on the Mount (5-7) and Luke's Sermon on the Plain (6:17-49), in which both place their beatitudes, points to a specific occasion in Jesus' ministry, probably near Capernaum, without ruling out the possibility that they were basic to his ordinary preaching at other times (see Matt 4:23-25). Matthew's arrangement, matching the first and eighth of his nine beatitudes and Luke's four beatitudes and four woes, points to each evangelist's arrangement of the material.

The beatitudes are descriptive of all Christians and do not single out separate groups as distinct from each other. Thus the blessings are applicable to all. The "poor in spirit" are also "those who mourn" (Matt 5:4) or "hunger and thirst for righteousness" (5:6). Each beatitude looks at the Christian life from a different perspective. Matthew's first beatitude with its "the poor in spirit" (5:3) is the best known and perhaps the most difficult to interpret. With the omission of "in spirit" (6:20b), Luke points to the economically poor, a recognized theme in his Gospel. He includes the personal "yours" in promising them "the kingdom of God, " his substitute for Matthew's "kingdom of heaven." Matthew's "in spirit" indicates that these "poor" make no claim on God. The tension between Matthew's spiritual poor and Luke's economic poor should not be overdrawn, since the latter uses those who are financially deprived as examples of those who depend on God, a common theme of all the beatitudes. Matthew's remaining eight beatitudes expand on the first. The mourners will experience God's comfort (v. 4). The meek demonstrate a Christ-like attitude that demands nothing for itself. Thus the meek with Jesus shall inherit the earth (v. 5). Those who "hunger and thirst for righteousness" (v. 6) desire God's saving righteousness in Christ. The mercy Christians show to others (v. 7) must be that of Christ, who showed mercy to his tormentors (Luke 23:34). In the fifth petition of the Lord's Prayer Christians pray that God will forgive them, just as they forgive others (Matt 6:12). Seeing God is reserved to Christ (John 1:18), but now the pure in heart will see God with him (v. 8). The Gospels reserve the phrase "Son of God" to Jesus alone, but the peacemakers show themselves to be reconciled to God, and all people are now entitled to a like honor in being called the sons of God (v. 9). The eighth beatitude follows the first with its promise of the kingdom of heaven, Christ's pledge that they will participate in his suffering and glory. Here the "poor in spirit" are defined as "persecuted because of righteousness" (v. 10). The ninth and final beatitude (v. 11), by adding the specific "you" and "account of me, " places Christ in the center of the Beatitudes and sees the believers' state of blessedness in their persecution for his sake. The Beatitudes are christological because he spoke them and they reach their perfection in him. In his perfection they are descriptive of the church's promised holiness.

lu 1:48 and Matthew 16:17 differ from other beatitudes in singling out specific persons. The recognition of Mary's blessedness by succeeding generations rests in the Lord's selection of her as his mother and not in the morally superior accomplishment of her will. Peter is blessed because God has revealed to him that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, a faith unobtainable through his own effort. Thus he becomes a prototype of all believers in Christ. The beatitudes of the Book of Revelation concentrate on the victory promised Christians dying in the faith. Their condition is certain: "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them" (14:13). Their blessedness is seen that in death God gives them rest.

David P. Scaer

See also Jesus Christ; Sermon on the Mount

Bibliography. I. W. Batdorf, Interpreting the Beatitudes; D. Hamm, The Beatitudes in Context; J. Lambrecht, The Sermon on the Mount. J. M. Boice The Sermon on the Mount.

 


Copyright Statement
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell Copyright 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Bibliography Information
Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Beatitudes'". "Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology".
<http://classic.studylight.org/dic/bed/view.cgi?number=T81>. 1897.

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