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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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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.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Beatitudes'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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