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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Beatitude

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BEATITUDE

i. Derivation and Meaning.

ii. Significance of μακάριος.

iii. The NT Beatitudes.

1. Single Sayings.

2. The Group of Sayings.

iv. The ‘Beatitudes’ in Matthew and Luke.

1. Their number in Matthew.

2. The relation of the two versions.

3. Order and connexion of thought.

i. Derivation and Meaning.—The Latin word beatitudo is derived from beâtus, the past participle of beâre, ‘to make happy,’ ‘to bless’ (cf. bene and bonus). Trench says that beatitas and beatitudo are both words of: Cicero’s coining; yet, ‘as he owns himself, with something strange and unattractive about them.’* [Note: The only passage in which Cicero appears to use the two words is de Natura Deorum, i. 34: ‘Ista sive beatitas, sive beatitudo dicenda sunt (utrumque omnino durum, sed usu mollienda nobis verba sunt).’] On this account they ‘found almost no acceptance at all in the classical literature of Rome. Beatitudo, indeed, found a home, as it deserved to do, in the Christian Church, but beatitas none’ (Study of Words18 [Note: 8 designates the particular edition of the work referred] , p. 210).

The primary meaning of ‘beatitude’ is blessedness. In the earliest example of its use quoted in Murray’s Dictionary (1491, Caxton), it signifies supreme blessedness; hence it was frequently used to describe the bliss of heaven. Cf. Milton, Par. Lost, iii. 62–

‘About Him all the Sanctities of Heaven

Stood thick as stars, and from His sight received

Beatitude past utterance.’

Trapp applies the word to ‘such as are set out of the reach of evil in the most joyous condition, having just cause to be everlastingly merry as being beati re et spe, “blessed in hand and in hope.” ’ But there is nothing in the connotation of the word itself to suggest whether the blessedness is enjoyed on earth or in heaven; the context must show whether it refers to an experience in the present or to a hope for the future.

The secondary meaning of ‘beatitude’ is a declaration of blessedness. This declaration may be made of glorified saints in heaven, as in the Beatitudes of the Apocalypse; or of disciples on earth, as in nearly all the Beatitudes of the Gospels. But the word is unduly restricted in its significance when it is used as a synonym for beatification,—a Roman Catholic ceremony wherein an inferior degree of canonization is conferred on a deceased person. The Pope considers his claims to beatitude; and if these are approved, proclaims his admission to the Beatific Vision, and sanctions the ascription to him by the faithful of the title ‘Blessed.’

ii. Significance of μακάριος.—In our Lord’s declarations of blessedness He used a word (μακάριος) which has an instructive history, and passed by the pagan word for ‘happiness’ or ‘well-being’ (εὐδαιμονία) which is not found in the New Testament. In Homer the gods are the blessed (μάκαρες) ones, because they excel mortal men in power or in knowledge rather than in virtue. ‘As compared with men, in conduct they are generally characterized by superior force and intellect, but by inferior morality’ (Gladstone, Homer and the Homeric Age). The Greek despair of attaining blessedness on earth led to the frequent use of ‘blessed’ as synonymous with dead; Aristotle also distinguishes between μακαρισμός or Divine blessedness, and εὐδαιμονία or human blessedness (Ethic. Nicom. x. 8). It is therefore suggestive that the Christian conception of beatitude should find expression in a word closely associated with descriptions of the blessedness of the gods and ‘originally stronger and more ideal than εὐδαίμων.… This is manifest in Aristotle, with whom the μακάριος as opposed to ἐνδεής is he who lacks no good’ (Cremer, Biblico-Theol. Lex. of NT Greek, p. 776).

But the word which describes the blessedness of those who lack no good is ennobled by our Lord’s use of it. He turns the thoughts of His disciples from outward to inward good; He teaches that blessedness is determined not by fortune, but by goodness, and that it is attainable on earth by all who put themselves into right relation to God. In His Beatitudes, therefore, it is desirable to translate μακάριοι ‘blessed’ rather than ‘happy.’ (Cf. the saying of Carlyle that those who ‘find blessedness’ can ‘do without happiness’). Since the word ‘blessed’ fell from the lips of Christ, His Beatitudes have worthily set forth an ideal of character loftier than the aristocratic virtue of the Platonists, a joy unknown to the most noble-minded of the pleasure-seeking Epicureans, a satisfaction of soul beyond the reach of the self-sufficient Stoic. Like the chiming of sweet bells, the Beatitudes call men to enter the kingdom in which to be righteous is to be blessed; they appeal to a universal longing of the human heart, and they promise a satisfaction of soul which can be found only in obedience to the law which the Son of Man proclaims in order that His brethren may be blessed. Beatitude is the final purpose of the most perfect law; beatitude is the experience of the humble in whose heart there reigns the grace which came by Jesus Christ. The Beatitudes of our Lord bring the word ‘blessed’ down to earth and there set up the kingdom of heaven; they portray no remote bliss, nor even a pleasure near at hand, but a fulness of joy within the soul. Henceforth blessedness is seen to be the privilege not only of those who are exalted above all earthly care and suffering, but also of those who still share the limitations of this mortal life; it depends not on outward conditions such as wealth or education (cf. Plato, Republic, 354 A, 335 E [Note: Elohist.] ), but on inward conditions such as meekness of spirit and purity of heart; it is not the prerogative of the few who have been initiated into the secrets of a Divine philosophy, but the privilege of all who become loyal disciples of Him in whose life the perfect Law was perfectly fulfilled.

iii. The NT Beatitudes.—‘Beatitude’ is not a Biblical word, but it is properly applied to all the sayings of our Lord which contain a declaration of the conditions of human blessedness.

1. Single Sayings.—Isolated Beatitudes are recorded in Matthew, Luke, and John. They describe a blissful state which is the accompaniment of certain conditions of soul, or the reward of virtuous acts; but the blissful state is almost always represented as attainable in this life. (The exceptions are Luke 14:14-15). The following is a list (omitting Luke 14, 15) of the single sayings of Jesus in which He declares the blessedness of those who possess spiritual graces, or who exemplify some quality of virtue in their actions:—

‘Blessed is he, whosoever shall find none occasion of stumbling in me.’ (Matthew 11:6, cf. Luke 7:23).

‘Blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear.’ (Matthew 13:18, cf. Luke 10:23).

‘Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.’ (Matthew 16:17).

‘Blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it.’ (Luke 11:28).

‘Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord when he cometh shall find watching.’ (Luke 12:37; cf. Luke 12:38; cf. Luke 12:43, Matthew 24:46).

‘If ye know these things, blessed are ye if ye do them.’ (John 13:17).

‘Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.’ (John 20:29).

[In Matthew 25:34 a different word (εὐλογημένοι) is used]. These scattered sayings suffice to indicate how often our Lord’s teaching was expressed in words of blessing. With these Beatitudes in the canonical Gospels should be compared one preserved by St. Paul, and one found in the Codex Bezae—

‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (Acts 20:35).

‘If thou knowest what thou doest, thou art blessed; but if thou knowest not, thou art under a curse, and a transgressor of the law.’ (Luke 6:4 D [Note: Deuteronomist.] ).

The latter saying is addressed to a man who was working on the Sabbath; probably it embodies a genuine tradition, but certainly it bears witness to the early recognition of the Beatitude as one of our Lord’s favourite methods of imparting truth. In the fifth of the New Sayings of Jesus (see Grenfell and Hunt’s ed. 1904) the word μακάριος can be restored, although the subject of the Beatitude has been lost. Prof. Adeney directs attention to the presence in the Acts of Paul and Thekla of a number of fresh Beatitudes. St. Paul is represented as giving utterance not only to some of the Beatitudes of Jesus, but also to such sayings as these—

‘Blessed are they that keep themselves chaste, because they shall be called the temple of God.’

‘Blessed be they who keep the baptism, for they shall rest in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.’

The writer of this apocryphal book imitates our Lord’s Beatitudes, and expresses in this form both Pauline teaching and his own ascetic doctrine (Expositor, 5th series [1895], vol. ii. p. 375).

2. The Group of Sayings.—When the word ‘Beatitude’ is used in the plural, it refers as a rule to those sayings of Jesus, grouped at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, in which He solemnly announces who are the blessed in the Kingdom of heaven. Early examples of its use in this significance are—‘The eight beatitudes that … spryngeth of grace’ (1531, Pilgr. Perf.); ‘This qnhilk S. Ambrose callis our Lord’s beatitudes’ (1588, H. Kiug Canisius’ Cateeh.). In his de Offie. (i. 6) Ambrose says: ‘Hae oeto Christi Beatitudines sunt quasi Christi Paradoxa.’

iv. The Beatitudes in Matthew and Luke.

1. Their number in Matthew.—The ‘Beatitudes’ are recorded in Matthew 5:3-11 and Luke 6:20-22. In regard to the number of Beatitudes in Matthew there have been diverse opinions; the decision depends upon the view taken of Luke 6:10-12

Luke 6:10. ‘Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’

Luke 6:11. ‘Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.’

Luke 6:12. ‘Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.’

The seven Beatitudes in Luke 6:3-9 describe the graces of the Christian character; these are followed in Luke 6:10 by another Beatitude which assumes that those who possess these graces, and are, therefore, not of the world, will, so long as they are in the world, be exposed to its hatred. This general truth is first expressed; it is immediately afterwards brought home to the disciples as our Lord, using ‘ye’ instead of ‘they,’ reaffirms (Luke 6:11) the blessedness of His hearers, should they endure reproach for His sake. If this interpretation be correct, there are eight Beatitudes in Matthew. In the first seven we behold the several rainbow hues of the light which reflects in human conduct the glory of the heavenly Father (Luke 6:16); in the eighth that light is seen in conflict with the darkness it is destined to overcome.

If Matthew 5:10-12 is not counted as a Beatitude, the number of perfection—seven—is obtained. This course is followed by some because the eighth Beatitude is not a declaration of the blessedness of character, and by others because its promise of the Kingdom of heaven merely repeats what has already been said. Augustine speaks of a ‘heptad of Beatitudes,’ and regards the eighth as returning upon the first (‘octava tanquam ad caput redit’). Bruce refers to the ‘seven golden sentences’ which sum up the felicity of the Kingdom, though he afterwards enumerates eight classes of the blessed (The Training of the Twelve, p. 42). Wordsworth (in loc.) prefers the mystical significance of eight to similar interpretations of seven; for if seven is the number of rest after labour, ‘eight is the number of blessedness and glory after rest’; he also dwells on the annexing of the promise of the Kingdom of heaven to the eighth Beatitude as well as to the first: ‘This is the consummation of blessedness; the recurring note of the beatific octave; also in the eighth Beatitude the word “blessed” is repeated for the sake of greater certainty and emphasis.’

This repetition of the word ‘blessed’ in what is here called the eighth Beatitude is the ground assigned by some for dividing it into two Beatitudes. Wright (Synopsis of the Gospels in Greek, p. 161) speaks of nine Beatitudes. In his judgment, however, the ninth, which is longer and in the second person, is an ‘explanatory enlargement’; he is also disposed to regard the eighth short Beatitude as ‘an editorial compilation, for the second half of it is repeated from the first Beatitude, and the commencement is an abbreviation of the ninth.’ The so-called ninth Beatitude is best regarded as an enlargement of the eighth, but no sufficient reason is given for rejecting the eighth.

Delitzsch is alone in holding that there are ten Beatitudes in Matthew to correspond with the Decalogue. To obtain the number ten he not only counts Matthew 5:10-11 as the eighth and ninth Beatitudes respectively, but also treats Matthew 5:12 as the tenth Beatitude. The words ‘rejoice and be exceeding glad’ (Matthew 5:12) are regarded as equivalent to ‘blessed.’

2. The relation of the two versions.—Only four Beatitudes are given in Luke 6:20-22; the relation of these to the eight Beatitudes in Matthew is one of the unsolved problems in NT criticism. The difference between Matthew and Luke is shown in the following table, the variations in Luke being printed in italics:—

‘Blessed are

1. ‘the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’

(1.) ‘ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.’

2. ‘they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.’

(3.) ‘ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh.’

3. ‘the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.’

4. ‘they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.’

(2.) ‘ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled.’

5. ‘the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.’

6. ‘the pure in heart: for they shall see God.’

7. ‘the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God.’

8. ‘they that have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.’

(4.) ‘ye when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake.

Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy: for behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the same manner did their fathers unto the prophets.’

The chief elements in the problem to be solved are: the presence in Matthew alone of Beatitudes 3, 5, 6, 7; Luke’s variations from Matthew’s wording of Beatitudes 1, 2, 4, 8, especially (a) the absence from 1 and 4 of words which make blessedness depend upon spiritual conditions, and (b) the use of the second person throughout. This problem is part of a larger problem, viz., Do Matthew and Luke report the same discourse? and if they do, which account is the more primitive? (See art. Sermon on the Mount).

The view that Matthew and Luke narrate two different discourses is now generally abandoned. This theory accounts for all the variations, but it leaves unexplained the remarkable resemblances in the general purport of the teaching, the frequent identity of phraseology, and the close agreement of the introductory narratives and of the closing parables. Therefore, the question to be asked in regard to the two versions of the Beatitudes is part of the larger question: How is it that in two reports of the same discourse there are so many variations?

Some modern critics distinguish between primary and secondary Beatitudes, though different reasons are assigned in support of this distinction. (1) Wright (op. cit.) regards Beatitudes 1, 2, 4 as primary; they belong to ‘the proto-Matthaeus,’ because they are also found in Luke. The other Beatitudes have been ‘added at different dates as recollections occurred.’ But the non-occurrence of a saying in Luke is no proof that it is ‘secondary,’ unless it is certain that Luke is more primitive, and not a selection from the more original tradition in Matthew. (2) Weiss (in Meyer’s Com.) describes the same three Beatitudes as authentic, because they point to the righteousness of the Kingdom as the summum bonum; the first to righteousness as not yet possessed, the second to the want of righteousness as a cause of sorrow, and the fourth to righteousness as an object of desire. The reasoning is entirely subjective. Weiss tests the authenticity of a Beatitude by its accord with his theory that the theme of the discourse is the nature of true and false righteousness; on his own principles other Beatitudes might be proved authentic. The seventh might be said to point to the righteousness whose work is peace.

When the narratives in Matthew and Luke are taken as they stand, the question remains: Which version of the Beatitudes more correctly represents the actual words of Christ?

That the shorter form in Luke is more genuine is the opinion of many scholars. Dr. E. A. Abbott thinks ‘it is more probable that Luke represents the letter of the original words of Jesus more closely than Matthew, however much the latter may better represent the spirit of them’ (Enc. Brit9 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] x. 798a). But the words which better represent the spirit of the teaching may also rest on the authority of Jesus. Though the two versions represent the same discourse, the one discourse may not have been delivered with such formality as many theories imply. It is more than probable that the longer form in Matthew omits some of our Lord’s comments on these sayings. The different versions of the eighth Beatitude in Matthew point to this conclusion. The declaration of blessedness having been made in its most general form, it is then reaffirmed and expounded in its special bearing upon the men to whom our Lord was speaking. The Apostles will have the privilege of bearing ‘the reproach of Christ,’ and as sharers in the experience of the prophets they shall receive the prophets’ reward (cf. Hebrews 11:26). Other Beatitudes may in like manner have been restated in a more specific form. For example, all who would enter the Kingdom of heaven need to be told that its blessings are bestowed on the poor in spirit; but it is to His true disciples and not to the multitude that Jesus says, ‘Ye, in your poverty, are blessed.’ The argument for the primitive character of Luke is stated (Expositor, 5th series [1895], vol. ii.) succinctly and forcefully by Professor Adeney. The sayings of which Matthew gives a longer version than Luke are described as expositions of ‘the hidden truth contained in the shorter utterances.’ The Beatitudes peculiar to Matthew are not relegated to an editor, but are held to be the true teaching of our Lord, though probably not in their original context. The literary problem is complicated by the absence from Matthew of the four Woes, which in Luke (Luke 6:24-26) correspond to the four Beatitudes. The theory that Luke gives the more primitive form involves the assumption that Matthew omitted the Woes and inserted an equal number of Blessings. Yet Wright’s conclusion, after a thorough study of the Synoptic problem, is that the Woes in Luke are either ‘conflated from another source’ or ‘editorial inversions of the Blessings.’

The theory that Matthew gives the Beatitudes in their more primitive form has the support of Tholuck and Meyer among older writers, and more recently of H. Holtzmann and Beyschlag. On the authority of one who probably heard these words of Blessing, the Beatitudes peculiar to Matthew are regarded not only as authentic sayings of Jesus, but also as parts of the original discourse. Holtzmann also holds that Luke modified the language of Matthew in accordance with his own ascetic views (Hand-Comm., ‘Die Synop.,’ p. 100); but this supposition is not essential to the theory. The shorter form of some Beatitudes in Luke may faithfully represent the words of Christ, perhaps His own special application of a general truth to His disciples. Dr. Bruce, who has no bias in favour of ‘antiquated Harmonistic,’ suggests that, as a critical description of Matthew 5-7, ‘The Teaching on the Hill’ is probably more correct than ‘The Sermon on the Mount’; ‘teaching’ (διδαχή) as distinguished from ‘preaching’ (κήρυγμα) implies both the announcement of a theme and its expansion. It follows that two forms of a Beatitude may be authentic, ‘the one as theme, the other as comment.’ According to this view, the theme of the first Beatitude is given in Luke, but in Matthew ‘one of the expansions, not necessarily the only one.’ It is of little moment whether the shorter form is primary, i.e. the enunciation of a theme afterwards expounded by our Lord; or secondary, i.e. His own narrowing of a general assertion previously made. On either supposition, Luke, ‘while faithfully reproducing at least a part of our Lord’s teaching on the hill,’ may state that teaching ‘not in its original setting, but readapted so as to serve the practical purpose of Christian instruction’ (The Expositor’s Greek Test., vol. i. pp. 94 ff., 509).

3. Order and connexion of thought.—The order of the second and third Beatitudes is reversed in Codex Bezae and the Vulgate; so also Clem. Alex. [Note: Alexandrian.] , Aug., Orig., Eus., Greg, of Nyssa. Tholuck thinks that this change from the best authenticated order was made on mystical grounds; either because the promise of the lower good should immediately follow that of heaven (Orig.), or because γῆ represents mystically a higher stage of blessedness (Greg. of Nyssa).

In the generally accepted order of the Beatitudes a sequence of thought may be traced, though the ‘scale of grace and glory’ is perhaps not so carefully ‘graduated’ as some have supposed (cf. Amb. on Luke 6). The first grace—poverty of spirit—is the germ of all the rest; the first and last Beatitude is the all-comprising word—‘theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ The six Beatitudes that intervene unfold different aspects of Christian virtue and set forth its peculiar blessedness, for each blessing promised is the fitting reward of the inward grace, and each is included in the promise of the Kingdom. Dr. Fairbairn (Studies in the Life of Christ) divides the Beatitudes into two classes—‘those of resignation and those of hope’; the first four Beatitudes are placed in the former class, the last four in the latter class. This division is simple, and serves to emphasize the distinction between the passive and active graces of the Christian character. Yet it seems better to distinguish the eighth Beatitude from the other seven; it diners from them essentially, for it attaches blessedness to endurance of opposition and not to inward qualities, to conduct and not to character, to something a man does and not to what he is. In the seven Beatitudes on character, there are two triads. The first three, as Dr. Dykes points out (The Manifesto of the King, p. 101), are closely connected and refer to negative graces; in the last three, positive graces are intimately combined as elements of righteousness; the fourth or central Beatitude is the link between these first groups. ‘As the first three, the trilogy of spiritual humiliation, lead up to and produce that blessed hunger after Divine righteousness; so the second three, a trilogy of characteristic Christian graces, are the fulfilment of the soul’s hunger.’

With a ‘proposal of the end—blessedness,’ says Jeremy Taylor, ‘our excellent and gracious Lawgiver begins His sermon’ (The Great Exemplar, pt. 2, sec. xi.). Beatitude is the essence of Christianity, its beginning and end. The ‘Beatitudes’ reveal the nature of true blessedness and the conditions of its attainment; they reflect the light which shines from the Hebrew Scriptures that declare the blessedness of the righteous; but they are illumined not only by the Prophets and Psalmists who went before, but also by the Apostles and Teachers who come after. Wernle says with true insight: ‘Jesus Himself made of Christianity a religion of hope.… If Paul in a later age preaches the religion of longing in words of enthralling eloquence, he is merely continuing in his own language the Beatitudes of Jesus’ (The Beginnings of Christianity, i. 68).

Literature.—In addition to the works already quoted, see art. Sermon on the Mount, below; Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, Extra Vol. p. 14 ff.; Gore, Sermon on the Mount; Bruce, Galilean Gospel, 39–72; Leckie, Life and Religion, 209–270; Stanley, Serm. to Children, 95–131; Matheson, Landmarks of NT Morality, 143 ff.

J. G. Tasker.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Beatitude'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/b/beatitude.html. 1906-1918.

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