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Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology [1]

(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 [   Luke 1:68 , KJV] ), but without the characteristic makarios [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 (  Isaiah 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 ( Revelation 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  Matthew 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" ( Matthew 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 ( Matthew 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 .

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [2]

BEATITUDES . This word comes from the Latin abstract beatitudo , used in Vulg. [Note: Vulgate.] of   Romans 4:6 , where David is said to ‘pronounce the beatitude’ or blessedness of the forgiven soul. Since the time of Ambrose the term has been used to describe the particular collection of sayings (cast in the form of which   Psalms 32:1 is an OT specimen) in which Christ depicts the qualities to be found in members of His kingdom as an introduction to the discourse known as the Sermon on the Mount (  Matthew 5:3-12 =   Luke 6:20-23 ). Each of these sayings follows the form ‘Blessed (happy) are …, because …’ Mt. records eight of these general declarations, with a special application of the last of them; Lk. has only four, to which are added four corresponding Woes. There is no guarantee that even Mt. gives all the Beatitudes pronounced by Jesus on different occasions, or again that those he does give were all pronounced on that occasion. It is at least possible that in other parts of the NT we have quotations from sayings of the same kind. Thus   1 Peter 4:14 ,   James 1:12 ,   Revelation 14:13 might easily be supposed to rest on words of Christ.

According to the prevailing view of the history of our Gospels, the Beatitudes are derived from an early collection of Logia , or sayings of Jesus, in the original Aramaic language. To a very large extent the authors of Mt. and Lk. seem to have used identical translations of this document; but in the Beatitudes there is a considerable divergence, together with some significant agreements in phraseology. Putting aside Nos. 3, 5, 6, 7 in Mt., which have no counterparts in Lk., we see the following main lines of difference (1) Lk.’s are in the second person, Mt.’s in the third, except in the verses which apply No. 8 (  Matthew 5:11-12 ); (2) Lk.’s are apparently external: the poor, the hungry, those that weep, receive felicitation as such, instead of the commiseration (‘Woe’) which the world would give them. But since in Lk. disciples are addressed, the divergence does not touch the real meaning. A theodicy is proclaimed in which the hardships of the present, sanctified to the disciple as precious discipline, will be transformed into abiding blessedness. Such a reversal of the order of this life involves here, as elsewhere, the casting down of those whom men count happy (cf.   Isaiah 65:13-14 ,   Luke 1:52-53;   Luke 16:25 ,   John 16:20 ,   James 1:9-10 ). The paradoxical form of the sayings in Lk. produces a strong impression of originality, suggesting that here, as often elsewhere, Mt. has interpreted the words which Lk. has transcribed unchanged. Mt. has arranged them according to the form of Hebrew parallelism: observe how the first and last have the same refrain, the poem beginning and ending on the same note cf.   Psalms 8:1-9 . His No. 8 sums up in the form of the other Beatitudes the principle of the appendix Psa 8:11, 12, which   Luke 6:22-23 shows to be original: he then inserts this as a comment, much as he appends a sentence of comment to the Lord’s Prayer (  Luke 6:14-15 ). It may perhaps be doubted whether the Beatitudes peculiar to Mt. are in their original context. No. 3, proclaiming the triumph of those who do not ‘struggle to survive,’ is quoted from   Psalms 37:11; No. 5 is found as early as Clement of Rome, in the form ‘Show mercy, that mercy be shown to you’; No. 6 reproduces the sense of   Psalms 24:4; No. 7, echoed in   James 3:18 , may have been altered in form to fit the appropriate context. We seem to be justified in conjecturing that Lk. inserts all the Beatitudes he found in his source under the same context, and that he faithfully preserved the words as they stood: the Woes likewise belonged to the same discourse. (Note the support given to them by   James 5:1 , and the use of the commercial technical term ‘have received,’ so characteristic of the Sermon; cf.   Matthew 6:2;   Matthew 6:5;   Matthew 6:16 ). The gloss with which Mt. interprets the Messing on the poor was not apparently known to St. James (  James 2:5 ), whose very clear allusion to the Beatitude in its Lukan form determines the exegesis. The rich man could bring himself within the range of the blessing by accepting the ‘humiliation’ that Christian disciple-ship brought (  James 1:10 ); so that Mt.’s interpretation is supported by the writer, who shows us most clearly that the exact words have not been preserved by him. In No. 2 Mt. seems to have slightly altered the original (  Luke 6:21 ). under the influence of   Isaiah 61:1 the prophecy from which Jesus preached in the synagogue at Nazareth, and the obvious suggestive cause of the appearance of the poor at the opening of the Beatitudes. It should be observed, however, that all attempts to ascertain the original form of sayings of Jesus have at best so large a subjective element that we cannot afford to dogmatize. There are scholars of great weight, reinforced most recently by Harnack, who regard Mt. as generally preserving the lost Logia -collection in a more exact form than Lk. Moreover, we must always allow for the probability that modifications introduced by Mt. or Lk. may often rest on early traditions, so that elements not included in the principal Gospel sources may nevertheless be derived from first-hand authority.

James Hope Moulton.

Holman Bible Dictionary [3]

The word “Beatitude” comes from a Latin word meaning “happy” or “blessed.” Various forms of the word “bless” are used many times in both the Old and New Testaments, but this passage alone is known as the Beatitudes. The Sermon on the Mount ( Matthew 5-7 ) sets forth the spiritual principles of the kingdom of God. They define the character of a child of the King. The Beatitudes are not to be seen as separate blessings for different believers. All the Beatitudes are to be applied and developed in all disciples both now and in the future. The eight Beatitudes have continuity. 1. “The poor in spirit” denotes the fact of sin ( Matthew 5:3 ).  2 . “They that mourn” means to repent of sin ( Matthew 5:4 ).  3 . “The meek” describes not the weak, but rather strength that is surrendered to God in a new birth experience ( Matthew 5:5 ).  4 . To “hunger and thirst after righteousness” signifies the strong desire to become more Christ-like ( Matthew 5:6 ).  5 . “The merciful” show an attitude of forgiveness ( Matthew 5:7 ).  6 . “The pure in heart” strive daily for clean living ( Matthew 5:8 ).  7 . “The peacemakers” exert a calming influence in the storms of life ( Matthew 5:9 ).  8 . “They which are persecuted” denotes faithfulness under stress ( Matthew 5:10-12 ). Each Beatitude carries with it a strong promise of ultimate good for those who develop the blessed life.

Lawson Hatfield

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [4]

bē̇ - at´i - tudes  :

1. The Name

The word "beatitude" is not found in the English Bible, but the Latin beatitudo , from which it is derived, occurs in the Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible , 390-405 ad) version of  Romans 4:6 where, with reference to   Psalm 32:1 ,  Psalm 32:2 , David is said to pronounce the "beatitude" of the man whose transgressions are forgiven. In the Latin church beatitudo was used not only as an abstract term denoting blessedness, but in the secondary, concrete sense of a particular declaration of blessedness and especially of such a declaration coming from the lips of Jesus Christ. Beatitudes in this derivative meaning of the word occur frequently in the Old Testament, particularly in the Psalms (  Psalm 32:1 ,  Psalm 32:2;  Psalm 41:1;  Psalm 65:4 , etc.), and Jesus on various occasions threw His utterances into this form ( Matthew 11:6;  Matthew 13:16;  Matthew 16:17;  Matthew 24:46 , with the Lukan parallels;  John 13:17;  John 20:29 ). But apart from individual sayings of this type the name Beatitudes, ever since the days of Ambrose, has been attached specifically to those words of blessing with which, according to both Matthew and Luke, Jesus began that great discourse which is known as the Sermon on the Mount.

2. The Two Groups

When we compare these Beatitudes as we find them in  Matthew 5:3-12 and   Luke 6:20-23 (24-26), we are immediately struck by the resemblances and differences between them. To the ordinary reader, most familiar with Matthew's version, it is the differences that first present themselves; and he will be apt to account for the discrepancy of the two reports, as Augustine did, by assigning them to two distinct occasions in the Lord's ministry. A careful comparative study of the two narratives, however, with some attention to the introductory circumstances in each case, to the whole progress of the discourses themselves, and to the parabolic sayings with which they conclude, makes this view improbable, and points rather to the conclusion that what we have to do with is two varying versions given by the Evangelists of the material drawn from an underlying source consisting of Logia of Jesus. The differences, it must be admitted, are very marked. ( a ) Matthew has 8 Beatitudes; Luke has 4, with 4 following Woes. ( b ) In Matthew the sayings, except the last, are in the 3rd person; in Luke they are in the 2nd. ( c ) In Matthew the blessings, except the last, are attached to spiritual qualities; in Luke to external conditions of poverty and suffering. Assuming that both Evangelists derived their reports from some common Logian source, the question arises as to which of them has adhered more closely to the original. The question is difficult, and still gives rise to quite contrary opinions. One set of scholars decides in favor of Matthew, and accounts for Luke's deviation from the Matthean version by ascribing to him, on very insufficient grounds, an ascetic bias by which he was led to impart a materialistic tone to the utterances of Jesus. Another set inclines to theory that Luke's version is the more literal of the two, while Matthew's partakes of the nature of a paraphrase. In support of this second view it may be pointed out that Luke is usually more careful than Matthew to place the sayings of Jesus in their original setting and to preserve them in their primitive form, and further that owing to the natural tendency of the sacred writers to expand and interpret rather than to abbreviate an inspired utterance, the shorter form of a saying is more likely to be the original one. It may be noted, further, that in  Matthew 5:11 ,  Matthew 5:12 the Beatitude takes the direct form, which suggests that this may have been the form Matthew found in his source in the case of the others also. On the whole, then, probabilities appear to favor the view that Luke's version is the more literal one. It does not follow, however, that the difference between the two reports amounts to any real inconsistency. In Luke emphasis is laid on the fact that Jesus is addressing His disciples (  Luke 6:20 ), so that it was not the poor as such whom He blessed, but His own disciples although they were poor. It was not poverty, hunger, sorrow or suffering in themselves to which He promised great rewards, but those experiences as coming to spiritual men and Thus transformed into springs of spiritual blessing. And so when Matthew, setting down the Lord's words with a view to their universal application rather than with reference to the particular circumstances in which they were uttered, changes "the poor" into "the poor in spirit," and those that "hunger" into those that "hunger and thirst after righteousness," he is giving the real purport of the words of Jesus and recording them in the form in which by all men and through all coming time they may be read without any chance of misunderstanding.

As regards the Beatitudes of the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, which are given by Matthew only, they may have been spoken by Jesus at the same time as the rest and have been intended by Him in their association with the other four to fill out a conception of the ideal character of the members of the Kingdom of God. In view, however, of their omission from Luke's list, it is impossible to affirm this with certainty. That they are all authentic utterances of Jesus Himself there is no reason to doubt. But they may have been originally scattered through the discourse itself, each in its own proper place. Thus the Beatitude of the meek would go fitly with  Luke 6:38 , that of the merciful with  Luke 6:43 , that of the pure in heart with  Luke 6:27 , that of the peacemakers with  Luke 6:23 . Or they may even have been uttered on other occasions than that of the Sermon on the Mount and have been gathered together by Matthew and placed at the head of the Sermon as forming along with the other four a suitable introduction to our Lord's great discourse on the laws and principles of the Kingdom of God.

3. Number, Arrangement, Structure

With regard to the number of the Beatitudes in Matthew's fuller version, some have counted 7 only, making the list end with  Matthew 5:9 . But though the blessing pronounced on the persecuted in  Matthew 5:10-12 differs from the preceding Beatitudes, both in departing from the aphoristic form and in attaching the blessing to an outward condition and not to a disposition of the heart, the parallel in Lk (  Luke 6:22 f) justifies the view that this also is to be added to the list, Thus making 8 Beatitudes in all. On the arrangement of the group much has been written, most of it fanciful and unconvincing. The first four have been described as negative and passive, the second four as positive and active. The first four, again, have been represented as pertaining to the desire for salvation, the second four as relating to its actual possession. Some writers have endeavored to trace in the group as a whole the steadily ascending stages in the development of the Christian character. The truth in this last suggestion lies in the reminder it brings that the Beatitudes are not to be thought of as setting forth separate types of Christian character, but as enumerating qualities and experiences that are combined in the ideal character as conceived by Christ - and as exemplified, it may be added, in His own life and person.

In respect of their structure, the Beatitudes are all alike in associating the blessing with a promise - a promise which is sometimes represented as having an immediate realization ( Matthew 5:3 ,  Matthew 5:10 ), but in most cases has a future or even (compare  Matthew 5:12 ) an eschatological outlook. The declaration of blessedness, therefore, is based not only on the possession of the quality or experience described, but on the present or future rewards in which it issues. The poor in spirit are called blessed not merely because they are poor in spirit, but because the kingdom of heaven is theirs; the mourners because they shall be comforted; those that hunger and thirst after righteousness because they shall be filled; those who are persecuted because a great reward is laid up for them in heaven. The Beatitudes have often been criticized as holding up an ideal of which limitation, privation and self-renunciation are the essence, and which lacks those positive elements that are indispensable to any complete conception of blessedness. But when it is recognized that the blessing in every case rests on the associated promise, the criticism falls to the ground. Christ does demand of His followers a renunciation of many things that seem desirable to the natural heart, and a readiness to endure many other things from which men naturally shrink. But just as in His own case the great self-emptying was followed by the glorious exaltation ( Philippians 2:6 ), so in the case of His disciples spiritual poverty and the bearing of the cross carry with them the inheritance of the earth and a great reward in heaven.


Votaw in HDB , V, 14ff; Adeney in Expositor , 5th series, II, 365ff; Stanton, The Gospels as Historical Documents , II, 106ff, 327 f; Gore, Sermon on the Mount , 15ff; Dykes, Manifesto of the King , 25-200.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [5]

the name frequently given to the first clauses of our Savior's Sermon on the Mount (q.v.), beginning with the phrase " Blessed," etc. ( Matthew 5:3-11). The present " Mount of the Beatitudes" on which they are said to have been delivered is the hill called Kurun Hattin, or "Horns of Hattin," on the road from Nazareth to Tiberias-a not unlikely position (Hackett, Illustr. of Script. p. 313).