Understanding Jesus’ Beatitudes in Matthew 5

The gospel lectionary reading for All Saints’ Day in Year A is Matthew 5.1–12, which is mostly composed of the set sayings of Jesus known as the Beatitudes, a name derived from the Latin translation of the opening term of each, ‘blessed’ or ‘happy’.

(If you are using the alternative reading for the Fourth Sunday before Advent, which is Matthew 24, then you need this article here.)

These sayings are very well known, often being cited as favourite texts, and yet there are some serious puzzles that they present us with. Why are there nine, with the last one seemingly tagged on at the end? Why is there a mixture of future and present tenses in the sayings? Why is one of the promises (about the kingdom of heaven) repeated—did Jesus run out of other good things to say? Are they encouragements under pressure, or commendations of virtue? More to the point, are they realistic, or are they (with the rest of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’) setting out an unattainable ideal?

Some of these questions are answered by paying careful attention to the structure and ordering of the sayings. Here is the central part of the passage, laid out with a view to its structure:

(The structure is slightly clearer in the Greek text, because of the simpler structure of the verb forms.) This leads to a number of observations:

1. The ‘ninth’ beatitude does not really belong to the pattern of the first eight, since it is expressed in the second (rather than third) person, and lacks the pattern of ‘Blessed…for…’ We should therefore consider the other eight as a whole.

2. The eight beatitudes can be viewed as two stanzas: the first four beatitudes are 36 words in the Greek (and all begin with the letter pi), the second four are also 36 words. (This contributes to the evidence that Jesus might well have taught in Greek, especially in the bilingual region of Galilee; future blog post to come on this.)

3. The first beatitude has a promise in the third person ‘For theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ and so does the last beatitude. It is wholly unlikely that this repetition is the result of editorial fatigue with the speaker or writer having run out of promises, and very likely that it is deliberate, creating an inclusio. This suggests the not very surprising conclusion that the beatitudes and indeed the Sermon on the Mount, to which they are a prelude, are about the kingdom of heaven.

4. The other six beatitudes have a variety of promises with a future tense, so that we have in the first half, one present tense + three future tenses, and in the second half the mirror image with three future tenses + one present tense. This makes sense given what we have already suggested about the first and the last forming an inclusio. It also suggests that in fact all the beatitudes are promising the kingdom of heaven to people, with beatitudes 1 and 8 making the promise in general terms, beatitudes 2-7 unpacking that general promise in concrete ways appropriate to the people concerned (hence most clearly ‘those who mourn…will be comforted’, ‘the merciful…will receive mercy’. The kingdom of heaven belongs now to the people whom Jesus describes, but fully entering into the inheritance and experiencing the practical blessings of the kingdom, i.e. the comforting, the seeing God, etc., still lie in the future. So the Beatitudes reflect what we see elsewhere of NT ‘partially realised’ eschatology.

5. The emphatic focus of the Beatitudes is that of ‘righteousness’, which in Matthew means holy and ethical action, and is a non-negotiable sign of the kingdom of God—see, for example, two key texts: 5:20 ‘Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven’ and 6:33 ‘Seek first the kingdom and his (i.e. God’s) righteousness’. This is a distinctive theme of Matthew, who repeats the term seven times in all.

David Wenham, in his study of the Beatitudes, (‘How do the Beatitudes Work? Some Observations on the Structure of the Beatitudes in Matthew’ in The Earliest Perceptions of Jesus in Context LNTS, 2019) comments on the significance of the two halves of the structure, and justifying his view:

The conditions described in beatitudes 1-4—poor in spirit, mourn, meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness—all suggest need of some sort, with the possible exception of no 3, ‘the meek’, which could be seen as more ethical; the conditions described in beatitudes 5-8 all suggest people living positive kingdom lives—being merciful, pure in heart, peace-makers, and righteous.

And out of all this analysis David notes that ‘the beatitudes are carefully constructed and are a prologue and introduction to the Sermon that is to follow,’ though there is much debate about how closely the sayings here related to the teaching that follows. And he also observes how these sayings accord with the NT’s theology of grace:

The argument for the two stanza structure has been made, and is strong. But still how do the two stanzas relate to each other? They are both about people to whom the kingdom of heaven is given and belongs. The first stanza portrays them as people who are under pressure and hungry for God’s righteousness and justice to come, i.e. for his kingdom to come and his will to be done; the second portrays them as people whose lives are already demonstrating the kingdom and the will of God being done – by being merciful, pure and peace-making. The relationship of the two stanzas has often been explained in terms of dependence on God and his grace on the one hand, the starting-point of kingdom of heaven membership, and of transformation and kingdom living in love on the other. The Sermon on the Mount will develop and explain the second theme at length – living kingdom righteousness – but before that it is important to recognize the starting point of grace.

This reading connects the Beatitudes in Matthew with Is 61, which is more explicitly connected with the Beatitudes in Luke—though of course Matthew does cite Is 61 later in Jesus’ answer to John the Baptist (in Matt 11). ‘The parallels are not total, but there is what we could call an Isaianic logic to the shift of focus in beatitudes 5-8, which also prepares us for the Sermon on the Mount, which is going to describe much more fully what kingdom righteousness and following Jesus look like.’ David concludes his paper (to be published in a collection in honour of John Nolland in LNTS):

We are now in a position to answer our question about the purpose of the beatitudes: what are these blessed sayings doing? What does Matthew think Jesus is doing? The answer is threefold: first, he is proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, identifying and congratulating those who are coming to him and coming into the kingdom and who will receive its amazing blessings. Jesus is thus fulfilling Isaiah 61 with its description of the Spirit-filled one proclaiming good news to the poor and to those of God’s people who mourn. Secondly, he is describing those to whom the kingdom of heaven is given, and their characteristics. The beatitudes highlight first their need, their sadness and their longings for justice, but then sum up what their lives as disciples and kingdom people will (and should) look like – merciful, pure in heart, peace-makers. Thirdly, the beatitudes form a brilliant preface to the Sermon, putting it in the context of the good news, introducing us to the key themes of kingdom of heaven and of righteousness, which the sermon will then expound.

The central term of the Beatitudes is both hard to express well and yet connects with a basic human longing—how might we live ‘the good life’, or find happiness? The question has proliferated in our Western culture of comparative leisure and wealth, which has left many people wondering (in the words of the slogan for the Alpha course) ‘Is there more to life than this?’ Jonathan Haidt’s research (in The Happiness Hypothesis) points out that happiness and true contentment are most often an indirect result of focussing on other things, and there is certainly an indirectness in Jesus’ teaching about what is important here.

Some English translations do indeed render the word makarios as ‘happy’, but this introduces a rather unhelpful sense of emotional satisfaction here, and makes the juxtaposition of happiness with mourning in the second Beatitude seem trivial or even offensive. The other main alternative is to use ‘blessed’, but this both suggests that the state promised has already been achieved, and confuses the term with another, eulogetos, which does indeed have this meaning.

A better translation might be ‘fortunate’; if the two halves of the list relate to those yearning for the kingdom of heaven and those living out the kingdom of heaven in their lives, then the full realisation of the blessings of the kingdom are both experienced in part and still to be fully realised. The life of the kingdom, in every respect, points forwards to future hope when God’s blessing will be fully experienced.

The term is found elsewhere in the gospels (Matt 11.6, 13.16, 16.17, 24.46) often with this sense of yet-to-be-fully realised promise. And it has a long pedigree (in the Hebrew term ‘ashre) in the psalms (Ps 1.1, 32.1–2, 40.4, 119.1–2, 128.1 and numerous other places). In fact, several of the Beatitudes have strong OT precedents or even take up the language of OT texts.

Those who are ‘poor in spirit’ are, in the OT narrative, those who are God’s faithful people, humbly aware of their dependence on God in the face of challenges of every kind. One version (I forget which!) translates this as ‘those who know their need of God’. In the OT, this is sometimes connected with material poverty or the threat of a powerful enemy, but here it is the inner attitude, rather than the outer situation, that is the focus. ‘Poverty of spirit’ is nothing to do with weakness of character, but concerns our relationship with God. It is surely the meaning of the requirement to ‘change and become like little children’ in dependence before we can ‘enter the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt 18.3). We find this language in Is 66.2 and it is closely related to David’s description of the right attitude before God in Ps 51.17.

The language of ‘mourning‘, following mention of ‘the poor’, offers a strong echo of the promise of God’s anointed one bringing good news in Is 61.1–3. This suggests that, whilst the mourning of personal loss might be included, this is not the main focus. Rather, it is those who ‘grieve in Zion’ who will be given a ‘garland’ instead of ashes when they see Israel restored and God’s just reign come to pass.

The quality of being ‘meek‘ is closely related to being ‘poor [in spirit]’; both Greek terms are used to translate the same Hebrew term in the OT. Again, this is not about a character flaw or being a ‘doormat’ (as in ‘The meek shall inherit the earth…if that is alright with the rest of you!’) but is the opposite of the arrogant and presumptuous who defy God. Jesus’ saying here is an almost exact quotation of Ps 37.11; in that context, the ge might be understood as the land of Israel, but with the cosmic vision of the kingdom, we should understand it now as ‘the earth’. After all, the promise to those who ‘conquer’ through humble faithfulness to the slain lamb in Revelation is that they will ‘reign with him on the earth’ (Rev 5.10).

The language of the fourth Beatitude is in some ways the most remarkable. Although the language of ‘righteousness‘ in the OT is related to the victory of God’s justice and salvation as he intervenes on behalf of his people (which is surely the major idea behind Paul’s use of this language), within Matthew it has an ethical focus in relation to the disciple’s response to right living in obedience to God (the word occurs seven times in this gospel, of which five are in the Sermon on the Mount: Matt 3.15, 5.6, 5.10, 5.20, 6.1, 6.33, 21.32). The metaphor of eating and drinking (‘hunger and thirst’) parallels John 4.34: ‘My food is to do the will of the one who sent me’ as well as Jesus’ refusal to turn stones into bread, again drawing on the OT text of feeding on God’s words from Deut 8.3. The term for ‘satisfied’ is chortazomai, and is a graphic word used for fattening animals ready for slaughter. The image is that of a person sitting at the end of a magnificent feast, who has eaten as much as they possibly can and cannot manage another mouthful. Imagine being so satisfied with a life of complete obedience to God—and seeing his ways enacted in the world—that you could not manage another mouthful!

Mercy‘ is one of the ‘weightier matters of the law’ in Matt 23.23, and something required of God’s people.

Mercy is closely linked with forgiveness, but is broader here than just the forgiveness of specific offences: it is a generous attitude which is willing to see things from the other’s point of view and is not quick to take offence or to gloat over others’ shortcomings (1 Cor 13.4–7) (R T France, NICNT, p168).

That we will be treated as we have treated others is filled out in the ‘measure for measure’ epigram in Matt 7.2 and the ‘golden rule’ of Matt 7.12.

The notion of being ‘pure in heart‘ alludes to Ps 24.4, which asks who may approach the holy presence of God in Zion. The holiness of inner purity is matched by holiness of outer action in ‘having clean hands’. Purity also suggests a singleness of purpose and direction in life, the opposite of duplicity, and in the letter of James reflects in the life of the disciple the unity and integrity of God’s own nature (James 1.17). ‘Seeing God’ is a privilege that will be realised for the citizens of the New Jerusalem (Rev 22.4), something that we grasp only partially now in anticipation of fulfilment then (1 Cor 13.12).

It is characteristic of God’s people to ‘seek peace and pursue it’ (Ps 34.14), and Paul commands his readers to ‘live at peace as far as it is up to you’ (Romans 12.18). Peace-making and reconciliation are central to the proclamation of the good news, especially in Luke and Paul, and there is a good case for seeing ‘reconciliation’ as the central idea in Paul’s understanding of what God has done for us in Christ (2 Cor 5.19). The wisdom of God which is ours in Jesus by the Spirit is ‘peace-loving’ and ‘peacemakers sow in peace for a harvest of righteousness’ (James 3.17–18).

But anyone who seeks the kingdom of God and his righteousness will face opposition just as Jesus did, not least because his proclamation of God’s kingdom will always ‘bring division and a sword‘ (Matt 10.34), a paradox because people do not want to be called from their own insularity and conflict into God’s peace.

All this, then, offers a challenging but inviting vision of another way to live. It is striking, in the introduction to this teaching, that Matthew has noticed the presence of the crowds, gathering around to listen to the teaching of Jesus. They clearly can overhear this—but it is in the first instance directed to the disciples themselves (Matt 5.1). As we hear and live out this teaching of Jesus, the crowds will both see and hear the good news of the kingdom, so that they too might become disciples.

(The picture at the top is a detail from James Tissot’s ‘The Sermon of the Beatitudes‘ (1886). Tissot had a religious experience, and went to the Levant to paint these pictures, researching the landscape and authentic clothing of the area. The only thing he has got wrong is Jesus standing to teach, when he would normally have sat, as described in Matt 5.1.)

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27 thoughts on “Understanding Jesus’ Beatitudes in Matthew 5”

  1. What an excellent piece. Thank you.
    Thank you for leading us to the sunny uplands of the Gospel with our beautiful Saviour.
    It has long been seen that the Beatitudes represent what a Christian IS before God, a self-recognition of inability and need.
    But that has also been occluded in the church, preaching and teaching, as works; how to become a Christian. Humanly impossible.
    Yesterday, I happend to dip into a book by Gordon Fee, in which he links st Paul’s teaching with the Beatitudes and the Beatitutes with the OT, citing the psalms and a longing and need for God.
    With your forebearance, it could be cited when I get home.

  2. Thanks again, Ian. I could have done with this a month ago. While preaching on all the Beatitudes in one go seems a tough call, I did wonder whether, when asked to preach on ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted’, there would be enough to comment on. As it happens there was.

    I have found Rebekah Eklund’s The Beatitudes through the Ages helpful. She notes that until the Reformation the mourning in question was almost universally seen as mourning for personal sin. Only as the Reformers reacted against the idea of penance as a scrament did a different understanding emerge – ‘mourning as natural state of human existence arising from the trials of everyday life.’ The exception to this universality appears to be Aquinas who saw three types of mourning: ‘repentance, or grief over “the continual conflict between our flesh and our spirit”; “the grief caused by our sojourning in this life with all its wretchedness”; and dying to the world by abandoning its joys for the sake of Christ…’

    • Thanks for the comments John. You should have searched my site when in need, as I have published on this before!

      Even without the influence of the Reformers, I think I would struggle to read this as *only* a mourning over personal sin—though surely it must include this? Even the Reformers would admit to that; Puritan theology makes a big deal of this, which we see evidence of in the prayers of confession in the BCP.

      But ISTM that the framing of all these by the language of the kingdom makes its theological context of partially realised eschatology unavoidable.

      Thus the mourning cannot be only for personal sin, but for the broken state of the world. Does that make sense?

      • Perfectly – and largely accords with my sermon.

        I should perhaps have been clearer that Eklund does not argue that the Reformers (and she is mainly dealing with Luther and Calvin) completely dropped mourning for personal sin, rather they changed the emphasis. She also makes the point about the Puritans, citing Burroughs, who she understands to have seen it as referring only as mourning for personal sin. The Puritans I have read make quite a bit of grieving over personal sin.

        FWIW grieving for personal sin, over the broken nature of the world and, as, a subset grief over personal loss, featured in my sermon as did realised eschatolgy (although not the term!).

        The aspect I particularly appreciated from your post was the comment about structure which none of my Matthew commentaries mention – or if they do, I missed it.

        Memo to self – search Psephizo and/or keep time machine in good working order.

        • The structure of texts often holds lots of clues, and I think commentators should be more careful. I find myself doing it more and more as part of realising how slowly and carefully these texts were composed, the natural result of living in a world with many fewer texts than we have now…

          We all need to talk about eschatology more—whatever words we use. ‘God will one day transform the world—but that transformation has started to happen already. it has broken into our world, and you can experience it for yourself…’

          Keep that memo in view…!

  3. Thank you for this article Ian. Very grateful for bringing out the importance of peace and reconciliation.
    I am preparing a series of prayer and study resources on reconciliation apprpos the Middle East conflict and how we as Christians can provide another way forward. I noted on your previous post on Reconciliation in Paul you mentioned you were editing your chapter in a book to be published autumn 1995. Please could you provide details of the volume,and any other resources would be much appreciated.

  4. The beatitudes seem to me to be foundational principles of the Kingdom of God which Jesus further delineated in the following sermon. Along with Matthews focus on the king and the Kingdom
    They are not just about what the kingdom would be like but a now lived characteristic of the fellow-citizen [along with Christ] of the Kingdom.
    The main characteristic being the happiness and to be envied [AV] state of the citizens.
    Not just occasionally or spasmodically but a condition of “rejoicing evermore”
    This aligns with the Fruit of the Spirit which is not something that we are to try to reproduce, aspire to or do our best to imitate.
    “The fruit of the Spirit are [produced]by Christ Jesus to the glory of God” says Paul.

    God was always admonishing His people to rejoice before Him. and serve Him with gladness
    His sons are the richest happiest people alive.
    In the absence of this gladness and concurrent features of the citizens there is something radically wrong with your experience of the kingdom of God. You may not even be in it. Your fruit will always be bitter.
    Mat 7:17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
    A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.

  5. For those who have access to it, I would recommend an article by Bill Domeris (W Domeris), a South African theologian, “Meek or oppressed? Reading Matt 5:5 in context”, in Acta Theologica 2016. There is a previous more general article by him, “Exegesis and Proclamation” from JTSA 1990 which covers the Beatitudes more generally. He challenges the idea that the first Beatitudes are about a spiritual poverty, a mourning for sins, and rather that they are much more earthy, offering blessing to the poorest, to the grieving, to the landless (a better translation of ‘meek’ in Ps 37), to those who are hungry and thirsty where justice is denied – radical and challenging and earthed in the reality.

    The second four Beatitudes are, I think, addressed to a different group, those of us who have more, and we are called to be merciful, pure in heart etc.

    Domeris working in a context of direct poverty, oppression and injustice, argues that this first summary of Jesus’ teaching tells the most wretched and struggling that God has not forgotten them, even if the promise is fulfilled in the future not immediately.

    Some pious Jews claimed the language of being “poor” in the centuries before Jesus, but this should not cover the root meanings found in earlier passages where God is directly concerned for the poor and about those who do or do not help. I fear we have further spiritualised the gospels, and spiritualised the message of Jesus, and made it more comfortable for those of us who have more than is sufficient. “Poor in spirit” is a poverty that destroys the spirit, a wretchedness, not a religious state to be attained, even if Qumran claimed it as such. We should seek out the OT roots of this phrase. We should pray we never fall into such a state. It is the world at its darkest.

    • Thanks, that is interesting.

      I think I would like to counter that this kind of reading might be in the opposite danger—hitching the Beatitudes to a liberation theology which is ultimately rooted in Marxist materialism.

      Sean du Toit put me onto the article Matthew’s Beatitudes: Reversals and Rewards of the Kingdom by Mark Allen Powell from Catholic Biblical Quarterly which agrees with Wenham on structure but challenges this kind of reading.

      • It certainly could be in danger of trying to make Jesus a this-world revolutionary, just as all readings are necessarily lensed through some world-view or other. The Church has maybe made Jesus too churchy in too many cases.
        I think it is also too easy to write off “Marxist materialism”; there is much force in a Marxist critique of capitalism, even if you don’t accept his materialist premise, and there are many liberation theologies, and several approaches. Ched Myers was a Mennonite who used Marx’s critique of what is, without surrendering his exegetical skills; Gerald West has written extensively without reducing arguments to Marxist materialism.
        The greater problem with Marx was (and is) his unproven and unbased belief that the proletariat would win through and the world would come good, for which he had no evidence! That does not mean his critique of this world is faulty or un-Christian, just his solution was unfounded (and tragically incited fearsome violence in some of his followers). Nicholas Lash, “A matter of Hope”, is I think, an astute critic of Marx from a Christian standpoint, though the book is probably 40 years old now.
        The dominant Western approach to theology and hermeneutics tends to think it is more objective and less ideological than the liberation theologies, and does not always (often?) see its captivity.
        In South Africa some of the most penetrating critique of apartheid and injustice came from Reformed scholars, and for whom the Confessing Church of Germany in the 1930s was an example to learn from. Some others then widened this thinking to question whether our current liberal capitalist system might not also be a fundamental challenge to the integrity of the Church. Amos would probably agree! The main divide was and remains between those who think incremental change and a prioritising of charity is the way to go, and those who say it is time to take a stand. Taking a stand does not necessarily mean espousing force or violence, but it may mean condemning state force and violence more strongly – Scripture = be a witness.
        The state claims a right to force, and accuses others of violence! Christians should pray for leaders AND call out any abuse of power; they should be alert to the prominence of malign principalities and powers (modern translation – structures and systems). The radical voices have all too often not been heard against the weight of the centre. I suspect Jesus’ may well be more truly found at the edge, somewhere I find too uncomfortable. I think that is what the Beatitudes are saying.

        • Peter writes:
          “The greater problem with Marx was (and is) his unproven and unbased belief that the proletariat would win through and the world would come good, for which he had no evidence! ”
          – No, that is entirely wrong. The fundamental problem with Marx is his atheism. The criticism of religion is the foundation of communism. Marx learned that from Feuerbach. The second error here is the belief in the ‘goodness’ of ‘the proletariat’ and the ‘evil’ of capital. A completely fallacious view of human nature that no Christian should endorse.
          “That does not mean his critique of this world is faulty or un-Christian, just his solution was unfounded (and tragically incited fearsome violence in some of his followers). ”
          – Yes, it does mean his critique of this world is fundamentally wrong, and his ‘solution’ (a classless society where you go “hunting in the morning and criticise after dinner”) was bogus and unreal. ‘Fearsome violence’ is not a foible in some of his followers; it is absolutely fundamental to an evil ideology based on class conflict. Violence and coercion lie at the heart on Soviet socialism and Chinese communism. I hope it is not too late for South Africa, which is one of the most crime-ridden societies in the world. The evil of apartheid is gone, but other evils have risen in its place, and no amount of socialist rhetoric can conceal that.

          • It is questionable if it is helpful to label Marx as a Marxist; Marx’s writings are the precursor of forms of Marxism, but rather more nuanced and arguably less integrated; many of us have not read his writings, only criticisms of Marxism.
            Marx was no friend of the established church and tended to lump religion as if it was one thing. He was no theologian, but I suspect he may have understood “Mammon” more clearly than many of us.
            As a Christian I have to be deeply alert to ideologies in the world around, whether Marxist or capitalist, those I am in thrall to, without knowing, and those I kick against when maybe they have something in them that needs hearing. James writes above that violence and coercion lie at the heart of Soviet socialism and Chinese communism. Many would also say they lie at the heart of British Imperialism, and modern capitalism, especially in the USA, albeit in different forms and in different ways. Where compliance has been obtained the violence and coercion can be dialled down, but you see it when the vested interests are threatened.
            The debate about whether or not the Beatitudes are primarily “spiritual” is not disconnected. Barth was grounded in his ministry from his time in the mining community of Safenwil and in the horrors of WW1 which shaped his first commentary on Romans. What has shaped the writers we tend to turn to?

          • Peter: It would be a waste of time (for anyone who can read and was alive before 1989) detailing the manifest failures of communism, as well as the dreadful harm it has caused to the human race (100 million dead, destruction of human rights, its war on Christianity, economic backwardness, environmental destruction). Trying to equate it with American capitalism, even in its grosser forms, is absurd. I know which system makes for more wealth and freedom in the world, and which is open to Christian critique and correction. American capitalism has always been (at least in theory) ‘democratic capitalism’ (in Michael Novak’s terms), subject to the rule of law and the political processes. The danger we see today is crony capitalism (the Chinese Communist variety) and globalism – corporations so large that they begin to own political parties. Ironically in America today, it is the left that is in thrall to globalism, which has suited them well (Facebook, Google, Big Pharma). That is why they were so stung and upset when Elon Musk bought Twitter.
            As for Marxism: an economic theory Marxism is profoundly wrong.
            As an anthropology it is deeply mistaken.
            As an ideology it is anti-God.
            The Christian who can’t see these things isn’t paying attention to the very things under his nose. Marxism doesn’t get a pass because it claims to care about the poor. It doesn’t. It only leaves its victims poorer and less free than they were before.
            (For a true understanding of economic history based in hard facts, the best one-stop-shop is ‘The Wealth and Poverty of Nations’ by David Landes, professor emeritus of history and economics at Harvard.)

  6. Spot – on James. Marx, took no account of human nature. ( From my undergraduate Jurisprudence head of my LL.B when I were a lad. Sure, there was more but that is something that sticks half a century later.

    • Marx saw the power of capital within one country; today we see the power of global capital.
      The rich and powerful few have always been there – whether Crassus, Rockefeller, Rupert Murdoch or Mark Zuckerberg, with their vested interests and controls on levers of power and or communication. 4000 millionaires in the USA in 1890 held 20% of the nation’s wealth. In Britain the top 1% have 25% of the nation’s wealth. Around the world the richest get richer, and more control.
      Democratic capitalism is collapsing into something more ugly not least as the Christian values which undergirded it, and gave it some moderation – honesty, integrity, truthfulness, service -have been corroded away. The gap between rich and poor gets wider.
      We would all do well to reflect on what “Mammon” might mean today; I suspect Marx’s critique of capital and inequality might be fairly accurate. We can also read Revelation, especially the second half, for a scathing critique of a capitalist economy.
      I agree with what is said above about the failures of Marxism, but that is not the same as reading Marx’s critiques of the world around him as it was then, and learning from them.
      Theology is an ideological literacy, which is more than a condemnation of an ‘ism’ we don’t like, rather a careful critique of whatever ‘ism’ is pervasive. To critique the dominant capitalism does not make us slaves to Marxism; not to critique it probably does make us worshippers of Mammon – discuss!

      • Peter: you won’t find a more severe critic of contemporary capitalism than me. My complaint is that it is oligarchic, corrupt and actually anti-democratic, especially in the United States where the big corporations are infested with DEI thinking; where they seek to own the Democratic Party; and where they use their immense power to ensure government funding (based on borrowing from China); and the coercion we saw during the pandemic, which immiserated the population but made billionaires out of some. Small businesses – the backbone of democratic capitalism – were destroyed while the multinationals and big pharma pulled in the cash. It was like a rigged casino.
        The way Youtube, Facebook and Google have lined up with China and against free speech tells you all you need to know about how this California set operates.
        Teddy Roosevelt was a hero to many because of his anti-trust activity. We need today to break up the oligarchs, especially in the internet world.

        • I am interested in the examples you give. Oligarchs and billionaires (or their equivalent) have always manipulated power and structures, and wooed politicians. In the US today we see Supreme Court Justices receiving huge gifts from some. You target Youtube, Facebook and Google, but omit the rightwing news programmes, owned by the wealthy and which feed distortions of the facts to their followings. Newspaper owners have wielded huge power and influence for decades but now it is the screen media who rule. The oil industry lobbies, all major businesses do. The language is interesting: oil barons, media barons etc.
          Capitalism is built on the premise of profit and return – the church being complicit, in dropping its antipathy to usury several hundred years ago! Without a social net, the poorest will be exploited and / or excluded, those in the middle will jostle for a bit more, and the rich get richer. Charity might be one lever for a partial restoration of resources, and church members often lead the way, but the poor have a right to justice not just to be recipients of charity.
          Marx saw the corrosive effects of capitalism and the inequalities, though he did not foresee global capitalism where wealth is hidden in offshore places, businesses protected by layers of dubious shell companies, and various small groups of people do well from the process (including the City of London and offshore islands within the UK and over which the UK has some sovereignty lest we be too quick to point the finger at others).
          To buy or sell means to be marked with the mark of the beast – one reading of Revelation says this is inevitable, rather than that we saints are somehow exempt because we are sealed. it seems to me self-evident that we are caught up in the system, whether as “ordinary shoppers” or as lawyers and bankers for the wealthy – yes to a different degree, but too often I want my bananas or milk or coffee or clothes as cheap as possible, without thought to the wages paid to workers, or the working conditions. Again Marx saw this albeit with regard the workers in this country, rather than in today’s global economy.
          For me the Beatitudes are spoken in this sort of context, not an overly spiritualised one, and I think the first four and the second four do relate to different groups of people, but who are brought together.
          The worship of Mammon is current and pervasive and corrosive.
          And yes, I agree wholeheartedly that the Communist countries have mostly been utterly authoritarian, wielded centrist control, brought suffering and misery, and persecuted opposition.

    • Indeed. John Stott gave a sermon many (many) years ago called ‘The Believer’s Portrait’ and the basic idea is that the Beatitudes portray the believer seen from eight different angles.
      Note: Jesus is not talking about eight different sorts of people, but one sort, the believer, seen from eight different angles.
      And the believer, of course, is meant to be a reflection of the One who is believed in.

  7. Interesting comments Peter, November 1, 2023 at 7:48 pm , almost Barthian in flavour, it was he who said that his” Marxism informed his theology.” Acclaimed by some a brilliant theologian, to me, somewhat double minded.
    This is a problem with theologians, who to me often “strain at a gnat and swallow a camel”[Matt.23 v 24-26] .

    Better to read Paul who “ceased not to declare unto you the Whole counsel of God” To many I fear worship strange gods
    Unfortunately, there is a great deal of idolatry amongst us; an idol is simply a misrepresentation of God [think Golden Calf]. The characteristic of the citizens of the kingdom is their purity of heart.
    I take purity to mean having no other ingredient, no foreign matter, not contaminated.
    James warned the church concerning the double minded [yes, they appear in our churches too, as cuckoos]]
    “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8, ESV ]
    “Purify your hearts, you double-minded” was James’ clear and distinct call to inner purification—to recognize and confess our sins and receive God’s forgiveness. His language closely resembles that of the psalmist: “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god” (Psalm 24:3–4).

    James branded the believers “double-minded” because they continued to live with one foot in the world while claiming to love and worship God. Their vacillating was dividing their loyalties. A similar charge was issued against the people of Isaiah’s time: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13). Earlier, James noted that double-minded people are “unstable in all they do” (James 1:8).

    The apostle John acknowledged that the true children of God who look forward to Christ’s return “purify themselves, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:3)
    . The Lord Jesus Himself said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8). The term pure here indicates the absence of impurity, contamination, or filth. It suggests a single-mindedness of purpose that is free of distractions.
    The greatest commandment, Jesus said, is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37)
    The apostle Paul explained that God looks for servants who commit their entire being to Him: “If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work. Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts” (2 Timothy 2:21–22, NLT).

    . A pure heart is evidenced by openness, clarity, and an uncompromising desire to please the Lord in everything we think, say, and do. Purity goes beyond just cleaning up our outward behavior (“cleanse your hands”) to the internal purification of heart, mind, and soul (“purify your hearts”).

    In reality, humans are incapable of purifying their own hearts. David prayed, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). God is the only one who can make us pure in heart and single in mind. It is the shed blood of Jesus Christ His Son that “purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7) and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit that cleanses our lives. Christ provided the necessary sacrifice for sin so that we could receive God’s forgiveness

    God’s Word commands us: “Purify your hearts, you double-minded.” And God’s Word—the Logos, who is Jesus Christ—makes the command possible. Since we can enter God’s presence “by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:19–22, Yes all political movements and governments have their benefits and flaws; witness Germany and Hitler, who was idolized as a Saviour by the people , however sin is a reproach to any nation. Presenting God as all love and grace without recognising His Holiness, or His terrible wrath is to rob the people of the whole counsel of God.

  8. Saint Augustine in his Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, begins with the proclamation that “anyone who piously and earnestly ponders the Sermon on the Mount — as we read in the Gospel according to Mathew — I believe he will find therein… the perfect standard of the Christian Life.”

    The modern tendency is to project the Beatitudes as calls to social reform, an external concern with lifting the poor and seeking a worldly peace. As external precepts, the Beatitudes may well better our society, but such a gain can only be superficial and temporary. St. Ambrose reminds us, “our own evil inclinations are far more dangerous than any external enemies.” The Beatitudes are meant to be directed inward towards our internal poverty and the attainment of spiritual peace as a preparation for the spiritual combat necessary to save our souls and to help “colonise” the “heavenly country”.

    Happy Jack was taught that God fulfilled the promise given by Ezekiel to Israel through Jesus Christ who gathers from all nations (kata holos) all who belong to God, and forms them into His New Israel through a New Covenant.

    “‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land … I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.” (Ezekiel 36: 24-27)

    The Beatitudes are the basic contours of this new spirit. Jesus, “writes” these on our heart; hearts prepared, changed and elevated by Divine grace. The new law is an interior law. A sharing in the supernatural life of God by entering into a relationship with the Person of Christ. By uniting with Him through our life, prompted, drawn and then sustained by grace, we gradually enter into His joy – into His kingdom.

    Each beatitude begins with makarios, a blessedness that is sufficient unto itself, complete. As a whole, they describe the spirit of the one who lives in Christ.

    Happy Jack considers the first to be the most fundamental one:

    “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit; the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”

    Those poor in spirit are aware of our spiritual lack, our utter need for God and we open ourselves up to Him. The result of this simple, yet often complex act of openness is the unmerited gift of the kingdom of heaven unfolding in our lives.

    Saint Augustine writes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” To be poor in spirit is not to be materially impoverished, but to be humble … whoever is puffed up is not poor in spirit.” The poor in spirit are strong enough to be detached from the material riches of this world.

    Do we have an acute awareness of our radical need for God, a poverty of spirit? Do we call out to God in the midst of our darkness? Or do we live in spirit of prosperity and spend our days fulfilling our every whim without an awareness of our need for God? Do we experience makarios?

  9. Thankyou Happy Jack.
    I wonder if the Question allows for moving from the general to the specifice components of the Beatitudes?
    For instance who are the Peacemakers and why designated “the sons of God”? – Christ like?

    • Yes, indeed, Christ like!

      Beatitude is a work of God when we humbly open and yield to Him and His saving grace. It describes what a human being might become when he is being transformed by Jesus Christ.

      God is the source of peace and He empowers us to be bearers of peace. We show ourselves to be “children/sons of God” when we actively work to reconcile with others, bring together adversaries, and work in harmony with one another.

      St. Augustine clarifies that “where there is no contention, there is perfect peace. And because nothing can contend against God, the children of God are peacemakers.” The peacemakers of God are the opposite of the peacemakers of the world. St. Augustine explains that “man is unable to rule over the lower things unless he in turn submits to the rule of a higher being. And this is the peace promised on earth to men of good will.” God’s peace, for us as individuals and for the world, is only possible when everything is in its proper order and oriented to Him.

      It follows that a peacemaker is not a “peacenik”; rather, he is one who is willing to ‘make’ peace, to work for it, even to fight for it. However, this is not “good disagreement” for its own sake! A priest or bishop may betray the duties of his office by refusing to speak out when necessary, by remaining silent on difficult moral matters because he loves his own “peace of mind”. So too lay members of the Church. We may be tempted to rationalise silence under the pretext of being a “peacemaker”, that is, one who does not wish to “divide.” This is an attitude contrary to Christ: “Do not suppose I have come to bring peace to the earth: it is not peace I have come to bring, but a sword.” (Mt 10, 34) A sword that divides Truth from lies.

  10. Thank you for this. Very helpful. Ian mentions that intercessory prayer seems to be embedded only in the Anglican church. Having recently retired from parish ministry and moving to Scotland, I decided to get involved with the local Church of Scotland, which is very Presbyterian. The regular Sunday service includes intercessions. Indeed, the latest prayer book from Church of Scotland (Common Order) includes Intercessions as part of all its Orders of Service for morning and evening worship.

    On intercessions, I find the picture of a child holding up a broken toy and bringing it to the attention of their father (or mother) a helpful one. Lamenting that this toy is not how it ought to be, but not sure how to fix it. So it is with the situations and people we pray for each Sunday.

  11. On intercessory prayer being a feature as a son of God [He Jesus ever lives to make intercession for us.]
    Sometimes attempting to be a peacemaker only results in both protagonists turning violently on the peacemaker.
    The epitome of Intercession/Peacemaking must be Moses.
    Who when God wanted to wipe out the Israelites’ argued that the nations would mock God and say “ He can bring them out but not able to bring them in,”
    An appeal to/ for God’s honour.
    Abigail in 1 Samuel 25 is a superb example of intercession, to leave the outcome to God and save David from ignominy.
    Her whole demeanor is a great example to followers.
    Peacemaking is also a warfare for those who would contend lawfully to the pulling down strongholds.


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