48. The Beatitudes

Matthew 5: 3-12

3.    “Happy[1] are the poor in spirit, as theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.[2] 4.    “Happy are the ones mourning, as they will be comforted.” [3] 5.    “Happy are the gentle,[4] for they will inherit the earth.[5] 6.    “Happy are the ones hungry and the ones thirsty for righteousness, as they will be satisfied.[6] 7.    “Happy are the compassionate, as they will have compassion.[7] 8.    “Happy are the pure in heart, as they will see God.[8] 9.    “Happy are the peacemakers, as they will be called sons of God.[9] 10.    “Happy are the ones persecuted for righteousness’ sake, as theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.[10] 11.    “Happy are you whenever they may insult you and may persecute and may say every evil against you falsely for my sake. 12.  Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, since your reward in heaven is much; for such[people] persecuted the prophets before you.[11]

[1] Important Words

Μακάριοι (makarioi) – Adjective, nominative plural, masculine of Μακάριος (makarios) meaning: blessed; happy; fortunate; lucky; better off (Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Friberg, Miller). The Matthean Scholar Ulrich Luz argues that the term in ancient (Koine) Greek can hardly be distinguished from εϋδαιμων meaning happy. He argues that the term blessed as used by most other translations is a religious term often associated with the hereafter, while these beatitudes refer to people here and now (Ulrich Luz Hermeneia Commentary Series of Matthew).

[2] This is the first verse which begins Matthew’s Beatitudes. Jesus is blessing or giving glad tidings to the poor, and to them he is promising the kingdom of heaven. This is supported by its parallel in Luke’s Gospel, who writes the poor rather than poor of spirit in Matthew. Such a teaching is also present in the Hadith (sayings) of the Prophet of Islam (may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him):

Narrated Sahl bin Sa’d As-Sa’id: A man passed by Allah’s Apostle and the Prophet asked a man sitting beside him, “What is your opinion about this (man)?” He replied, “This (man) is from the noble class of people. By Allah, if he should ask for a lady’s hand in marriage, he ought to be given her in marriage, and if he intercedes for somebody, his intercession will be accepted. Allah’s Apostle kept quiet, and then another man passed by and Allah’s Apostle asked the same man again, “What is your opinion about this one?” He said, “O Allah’s Apostle! This person is one of the poor Muslims. If he should ask for a lady’s hand in marriage, no one will accept him, and if he intercedes for somebody, no one will accept his intercession, and if he talks, no one will listen to his talk.” Then Allah’s Apostle said, “This (man) is better than such a large number of the first type (i.e. rich men) as to fill the earth” (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 76, Number 454).

There is another possible interpretation of the term poorit may actually refer to the community and followers of Jesus. The Ebionites were early Jewish Christians who acknowledged Jesus as Messiah, but did not believe him to be a divine being, but rather a mortal man. They are described by fourth century Christian historian Eusebius:

“There were others whom the evil demon, unable to shake their devotion to the Christ of God, caught in a different trap and made his own. Ebionites they were appropriately named by the first Christian, in view of the poor and mean opinions they held about Christ. They regarded him as plain and ordinary, a man esteemed as righteous through growth of character and nothing more, the child of a normal union between a man and Mary, and they held that they must observe every detail of the Law – by faith in Christ alone, and a life built upon that faith, they would never win salvation.

A second group went by the same name, but escaped the outrageous absurdity of the first. They did not deny that the lord was born of a virgin and the Holy Spirit, but nevertheless shared their refusal to acknowledge his pre-existence as God the Word and Wisdom. Thus the impious doctrine of the others was their undoing also, especially as they placed equal emphasis on the outward observance of the Law. They held that the epistles of the Apostle ought to be rejected altogether, calling him a renegade from the Law, and using only the ‘Gospel of the Hebrews’, they treated the rest with scant respect. Like the others, they observed the Sabbath and the whole Jewish system, yet on the Lord’s Day they celebrated rites similar to our own in memory of the Saviour’s resurrection” (Eusebius, History of the Church, Book 3, 26:2).

The explanation provided by Eusebius for the name of the community is absurd and rather insulting, since no community would refer to itself as such. The name probably originates from Jesus, who is referring to his community, as the Hebrew is אביןים (Ebyonim) which means: Poor Ones. Throughout the gospels Jesus makes mention of the poor: Matthew 11:5, 19:21, 26:11; Luke 6:20, 14:13, 19:8; John 13:29.

As can be seen above, from the description of this community or sect, they considered Jesus to be a mortal man and not God; and they rejected the doctrine of Trinity, death and atonement of Jesus. They paid special attention to the Laws of Moses and fully abided by them. St Jerome of the fourth century was convinced that the Ebionites were the same as the Nazarenes (Letter 112), and it has already been established that the early Christians were called Nazarenes (see Matthew 2:23). The Ebionites rejected the epistles of the Apostle, that is the letters of Paul, and according to Epiphanius some would gossip that Paul was a Greek who converted to Judaism in order to marry the High Priest’s daughter, and then apostatised when she rejected him (Panarion 16:9).

It is likely that this in fact was the original community set up by Jesus himself. As can be seen from their description, they seem to follow Jesus closely, in that they were Jews and held very little (if any) of the doctrines of the later church. For their rather ‘Islamic’ view of Jesus they were declared heretics by the later Church. They are named directly by Jesus in the gospels, and they revered James the brother of Jesus, who headed the Jerusalem Church after Jesus’ departure. All of this points to the obvious, that this was the community of Jesus, which practised what Jesus really taught; which was completely at odds with the teachings of Paul and for this reason were shunned and declared heretics.

[3] Jesus’ teaching of complete reliance on God, and separation from family may be linked to mourning.

[4] Important Words

πραεῖς (praeis) – Adjective, nominative plural, masculine of πραΰς (praus) meaning: gentle; kind; considerate; meek (Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Friberg, Miller). I prefer the translation of gentle over meek as recorded in the majority of other Bible translations. The meanings are very similar, but meekness often carries weak and submissive attributes as well, which I do not think Jesus meant above. One can describe Jesus himself as gentle, but I would not refer to him as a meek person.

[5] Jesus is echoing David here: “But the meek shall possess the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity (Psalms 37:11).

The Prophet of Islam (may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) also taught the same: “Haritha b. Wahb al-KhuzaIi reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: May I not inform you about the inmates of Paradise? Every gentle person is considered to be humble and if they were to adjure in the name of Allah, Allah would certainly fulfil it. May I not inform you about the inmates of Hell-Fire? They are all proud, mean and haughty” (Sahih Muslim, Book 040, Number 6835).

[6] The above verse does not seem to refer to those who are hungry and thirsty for food, i.e. the poor, but rather to those who are hungry and thirsty to attain righteousness and closeness to God. These people will find that their struggles and strivings will soon come to an end where they will attain their goal and will be satisfied, if not in this world, in the next.

[7] This is a universal teaching, which the Prophet of Islam (may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) also stressed: “The Prophet said, ‘He who is not merciful to others, will not be treated mercifully’” (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 73, Number 42).

[8] Jesus is giving glad tidings to the pure in heart, who are able to control their desires and not be tempted by evil which perverts the heart. Their reward will be that they will see God, again if not in this life, in the next. This verse is interesting for another reason as well; the Syriac version of the Bible, dated to the mid-fourth century or early fifth century, records the above passage as follows: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see l’alāhâ.” The final word being verse similar to the personal name of God according to Islam: Allah.

Numerous modern Christian interpreters have attempted (very poorly) to argue that the Islamic name of God, Allah, was the moon god for the pagans. The fact that no ancient manuscript, artefact, nor any historical data exists to support this, nor is there any evidence that Arab pagans even referred to their moon god as Allah, should in itself demolish this absurd point of view. The ignorant interpreters still attempt to push this idea forward; the strongest argument being the presence of the crescent moon on some mosques and the flags of Pakistan and Turkey, which of course would not hold up to any historical critical scrutiny.  Arguments against such a theory are numerous however, the above being one such; the fact that the name Allah or a close variant exists in Syriac gospels centuries before the coming of Islam shows that the name of God was Allah to many Arabs.

The Quran itself clarifies and refutes the theory that Allah was the previous moon god as well; the Quran quotes the pagans themselves in their reply when asked who was it who pressed the moon and the sun into service: “And if you ask them; ‘Who created the heavens and the earth and subjected the sun and the moon?’ They surely say; ‘Allah.’ How then they are deviating [from the truth]?” (Holy Quran, 29:61)

As the above verse was revealed in the Meccan period of the prophet’s (may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) life, disbelievers would have cried out: “No, Allah is the moon god, and so we would never say that He pressed the moon into service!” But since Allah was never the moon god, but the supreme god of the pagans too, they would reply in the same fashion as the above verse states.

With the lack of strong evidence, the Quranic verse above and the Syriac gospel naming God as Allah, it can be argued without any doubt that the absurd claim that Allah was the pagan moon god is only the invention of some modern Christian interpreters.

[9] Making peace is the central notion of all religions. This is the essence of this verse that glad tidings are given to those who make every effort to bring about peace in the world. The famous Jewish teacher Hillel would also exhort his followers to become peace lovers, and peace makers (Talmud, mAB 1:12). By doing so, the people would in effect become sons of God, which does not mean that they would become divine, but as already shown under Luke 1:32, they would be given the title son of God which was a title of extreme closeness to God.

[10] This Beatitude differs slightly to the others, and may point to the fact that it was narrated by Jesus after his crucifixion, as persecution of his followers did not begin until after he was proclaimed a criminal by the Jews and Romans. There is absolutely no hint of any persecution of Jesus and his followers thus far in Matthew’s Gospel, nor in fact any persecution of the disciples before Jesus is arrested, but only occurs afterwards in the beginning of Acts of the Apostles where there is plenty. Thus all the evidence points to the above Beatitude being a post crucifixion saying.

[11] The two last Beatitudes are linked with verse 10, and are all about the persecution of the Christians. There is also a sudden change in whom Jesus is addressing; from Happy are those to Happy are you. See previous note about the final Beatitudes being uttered by Jesus after the crucifixion and not before as the above portrays.

The Beatitudes are not wholly unique to Jesus, and do have parallels in other works outside the New Testament; the following are recorded in the Dead Sea Scrolls:

“Blessed is… with a pure heart and does not slander with his tongue.

Blessed are those who hold her (Wisdom’s) precepts and not hold to the ways on iniquity.

Blessed are those who rejoice in her, and do not burst forth in ways of folly.

Blessed are those who seek her with pure hands, and do not pursue her with a treacherous heart.

Blessed is the man who has attained Wisdom, and walks in the Law of the Most High” (Beatitudes, 4Q525).

It is likely that the style of speech, beginning with Happy are you or Blessed is was a common teaching method employed by Jewish teachers in and around the time of Jesus.

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Luke 6: 20-26

20.  And he lifted up his eyes to his disciples and was saying: “Happy are the poor,[12] as yours is the Kingdom of God.[13] 21.  Happy are the ones hungry now, as you will be satisfied. Happy are the ones weeping now, as you will laugh.[14] 22.  Happy are you whenever men may hate you and whenever they may separate you (from themselves) and may insult and cast out your name as evil because of the son of man. 23.  Rejoice in that day and leap with joy, and behold! Your reward[15] is great in Heaven; for their fathers did accordingly to the prophets.[16] 24.  Rather woe to you the rich, as you receive in full your consolation. 25.  Woe to you, the ones who have been full now, as you will hunger. Woe, the ones laughing now, as you will grieve and weep. 26.  Woe whenever all men may speak well of you, for their fathers did accordingly to the false prophets.[17]


[12]Important Words

The Greek words Μακάριοι οἱ πτωχοὶ (makarioi oi ptohkhoi) literally translate as above: Happy are the poor (plural). This is the literal rendering as opposed to the RSV and other translations which read: Blessed are the poor, which may add the word you since the second part of the sentence speaks in the second person.

[13] Luke’s version of the Beatitudes is similar to Matthew’s, but the context and setting is different. He continues on from Chapter 45: Jesus Heals Multitudes by the Sea; see notes under that chapter for the context. The first Beatitudes is almost identical to Matthew’s 5:3. Since both Matthew and Luke have similar accounts, they both copied from the same source, that being Q. See under Chapter 1: Introduction to the Gospels for more details.

[14] The above is about those who are hungry now, they will be satisfied, as will those who weep now. Its parallel is Matthew 5:6 above. It is also worthy to note that nowhere else in the gospels does the word laugh occur, except when certain people laugh at Jesus.

[15] Important Words

μισθὸς (misthos) – Noun, nominative singular, masculine meaning: pay; wages; payment due for labour; wages; reward; compensation (Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Friberg, Miller).

Commentary

The primary meaning of the above word is payment for a service. Jesus is thus informing his disciples that some sort of payment or reward awaits them in Heaven, which is given for some sort of service. Thus the faith that Jesus taught was a faith of belief and action, and that people will be rewarded for the actions and works they did in this world. It is not a religion based just on faith as many modern Christian interpreters state, following the teachings of Paul as opposed to Jesus and his brother James. (For the opinions of the latter, read the letter of James, which was written in opposition to the ideas of Paul and argues that faith without works is worthless.)

[16] Verses 22 and 23 are similar to Matthew’s 5:11-12, which were most likely spoken by Jesus after the crucifixion, since they speak of persecution and separation, i.e. the Jews removing the following of Jesus from their synagogues. See the commentary under Matthew’s 5:11-12 for more details.

[17] The three Woes are somewhat similar to the Beatitudes and fall under the same category.

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