Criswell Theological Review 6.1 (1992) 29-42
Copyright © 1992 by The
WHOM DOES GOD APPROVE?
THE CONTEXT, STRUCTURE,
PURPOSE, AND EXEGESIS OF
DAVID L. TURNER
Whom does God approve? I suspect that Jesus' answer to this
question goes against the flow of American evangelical "pop theol-
ogy." For instance, in certain evangelical circles it seems to be as-
sumed that widespread popularity is tantamount to divine approval.
But the Sermon on the Mount (hereafter SoM) indicates otherwise,
teaching that those whom God approves may be a persecuted minor-
ity (5:10-12; 7:13-14). In other evangelical contexts one gathers that at-
tention to human rules and traditions insures God's blessing, but
Jesus' denunciation of pharisaic externalism applies equally well to
evangelical legalism (5:20). Elsewhere the focus is on material posses-
sions as proof of divine endorsement, but Jesus strictly prohibits that
sort of priority in values (6:19-21, 33). Another current teaching sees
divine approval in extraordinary displays of power, but Jesus' chilling
words about what might eventuate on judgment day refutes this no-
tion (7:22-23). And there are those today whose emphasis on spiritual
knowledge implies that God must inevitably congratulate those who
have memorized the most Bible verses. But knowledge alone is a
foundation of sand if it does not lead to ethical obedience (7:26-27).
No--being popular, keeping the rules, having possessions, doing
miracles, and acquiring knowledge are not necessarily marks of God's
approval. According to Jesus, God approves those who turn to Him
when they hear the message of His rule (Matt 3:2; 4:17; 10:7; 13:19; 24:14).
Their turning is marked by the character traits summarized by Jesus in
30 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
the beatitudes, Matthew 5:3-12. These character traits are gracious
gifts which result from God's approval (cf. Matt 11:25-27; 13:11; 16:17),
not requirements for performance which merits God's approval. How-
ever, those who have repented should cultivate these characteristics
(cf. Matt 11:28-29; 13:23; 16:24). Each beatitude contains a pronounce-
ment concerning who is blessed backed up by a promise concerning
why they are blessed. The qualities which God does approve are ex-
plained in two sets of four, describing relating to God and relating to
other people respectively (cf. Matt 22:37-40). He approves those who
relate to Him by, admitting their spiritual poverty and mourning over
their sin, humbly seeking spiritual fulness (5:3-6). He approves those
who relate to others mercifully and purely as peacemakers, even
though they may be persecuted for their righteous behavior (5:7-10).
Such is the argument of this study in brief. It is developed by
addressing the context, structure, purpose, and exegesis of the be-
atitudes. But before these main issues can be developed three prelim-
inary matters--the complexity, historicity, and familiarity of the
beatitudes--call for brief comments. .
An immense amount of scholarly material has been written on
the SoM in general and on the beatitudes in particular. Harrington
does not exaggerate when he says, "The history of the sermon's inter-
pretation is a miniature history of Christianity.”1 Kissinger's bibliogra-
phy of materials on the SoM published by 1975 ran to nearly 150
pages, and over thirty pages of this bibliography are devoted to the
beatitudes.2 A computerized data base I recently consulted listed 90
1 D. J. Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, Sacra Pagina vol. 1 (
Liturgical, 1991) 76.
2 W. S. Kissinger, The Sermon on the Mount: A History of Interpretation and Bib-
liography (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow/ATLA,1975) 128-275. Among more notable studies
of the beatitudes are I. W. Batdorf,
Interpreting the Beatitudes (
ster,I966); M. Black, 'The Beatitudes," ExpTim 129(1953) 125-26; J. W. Bowman, "Trav-
"Matthaean Beatitudes and Traditional Promises," in New Synoptic Studies, ed. W. R
Farmer (Macon, GA: Mercer, 1983) 161-84; C. H. Dodd, 'The Beatitudes: A Form-critical
Study," in More New Testament Studies (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968) 1-10; J. Du-
pont, Les Beatitudes, 2d ed., 3 vols. (Paris: Gabalda, 1969, 1973); D. Flusser, "Some Notes
on the Beatitudes," Immanuel 8 (1978) 37-47; V. C. Grounds, "Mountain Manifesto,"
BSac 128 (1971) 135-41; R A Guelich, The Matthean Beatitudes: 'Entrance-Require-
ments' or Eschatological Blessings?" JBL 95 (1976) 415-34; G. L. Lawlor, The Beatitudes
are for Today (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1974); N. J. McEleney, "The Beatitudes of the Ser-
mon on the Mount/Plain," CBQ 43 (1981) 1-13; B. M. Newman, "Some Translational
Notes on the Beatitudes," BT 26 (1975) 106-20; and C. M Tuckett, "The Beatitudes: A
Source-Critical Study," NovT 25 (1983) 192-207. Tuckett's study is followed by a re-
sponse by M. D. Goulder, 208-16.
David L. Turner: WHOM DOES GOD APPROVE 31
additional studies of the beatitudes published since 1975. The profun-
dity of the beatitudes and the plethora of discussions means that this
study can only introduce the complex issues at hand.
One of these complex matters is historicity. The SoM does not ap-
pear as such in Mark and appears only partially in Luke (6:17-7:1).
Luke 6:20-24 contains four beatitudes which more or less parallel
some of Matthew's nine beatitudes, with the notable exception that
Luke's version is second person and Matthew's version is third person
(except for 5:11).3 Several theories exist to explain this aspect of the
synoptic problem. Many believe that Matthew has created the SoM
from traditions, documentary sources, and his own ingenuity, so that
the SoM should not be attributed to the historical Jesus.4 Evangelicals
have properly rejected this dehistoricizing approach5 and have gener-
ally opted for one of the two following viewpoints. One is that Mat-
thew has created the structure of the SoM by collating various
teachings of the historical Jesus which were originally uttered in var-
ious contexts.6 The other is that Matthew accurately records the "gist"
(ipsissima vox) of a historical sermon which Jesus actually uttered on
a mountain, so that the structure of the SoM is dominical, not redac-
tional.7 The latter view will be assumed in the present study. The tra-
dition history of the beatitudes is generally viewed today from the
perspective that Matthew has redacted Luke or the traditions used by
Luke. Whatever the merit of this approach, the present study will
take a literary critical slant, focusing on Matthew's narrative as a
whole and the beatitudes as a part of it.
But another matter is more serious than complexity and even his-
toricity. It is the familiarity of the beatitudes:
The most dangerous passages of the Bible are the familiar ones, be-
cause we do not really listen to them. The sharp stone of God's word,
3 The first beatitudes in both Matthew and Luke (Matt 5:3/Luke 6:20) are parallel
passages. Luke's second beatitude parallels Matthew's fourth (Matt 5:6/Luke 6:21a).
Luke's third beatitude (6:21b) has no direct parallel in Matthew, though Luke's oi!
. . .
qou?ntej. . . paraklhqh<sontai. Luke's fourth and final beatitude is parallel to Matthew's
ninth (Matt 5:11-12/Luke 6:22-23). Luke's four woes (6:24-26) which follow the four be-
atitudes have no parallel in Matthew 5, though the woes present antithetical situations
to some of the beatitudes.
4 E.g. F. W. Beare, The Gospel According to Matthew (New York: Harper, 1981) 125.
5 See in particular C. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Down-
6 E.g. R A Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount (Waco, TX: Word, 1982) 33-36, 112-18.
D. A Carson, "Matthew," The
Expositor's Bible Commentary (
Zondervan, 1984) 8.122-26.
32 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
smoothed down by the river of time, no longer cuts. Instead of being
challenged by hard thought or hard choices, we lean back and savor
pretty words. . . spiritual bonbons.8
When reflecting on the beatitudes, one runs the risk of missing the
impact of their radical message because of their commonplace occur-
rence and pretty packaging. In this manner dominical beatitudes can
become hackneyed cliches. Shaking the beatitudinal kaleidoscope9 yet
one more time in this study must lead beyond mere visual and intel-
lectual gratification to a realignment of our fundamental values with
those of Jesus.10
After his unique story of Jesus' infancy (1-2), Matthew develops
the body of his gospel as five blocks of Narrative/Discourse material
(3-7, 8-10, 11-13, 14-18, 19-25) and concludes with Jesus' death, resur-
rection, and mission mandate (26-28).11 The narratives focus on Jesus'
works, the discourses on his words. The five sections of Jesus' works
and words are divided by the key phrase kai> e]ge<neto o!te e]te<lesen o[
]Ihsou?j . . ("and it came about when Jesus had finished. .."; 7:28; 11:1;
13:53; 19:1; 26:1). The discourse which has been called the SoM since
the time of Augustine (Matt 5-7) should be seen as the representative
ethical teaching of Jesus. It unpacks the summary statement of 4:23
which presents a words/works complex. Thus 4:23 and the similar
summary in 9:35 provide an inclusio, which envelops or Jesus' minis-
try of teaching (5-7) and doing miracles (8-9). Both the words and the
works demonstrate the authority of the
The SoM is summarized and displayed in Chart One as follows.
8 J. P. Meier, “Matthew 5:3-12," Int 44 (1990) 281-85.
9 This phrase is suggested by McEleney, "The Beatitudes," 13.
10 For challenging expositions built on careful exegesis see F. D. Bruner, The
Christbook (Waco: Word, 1987) 133-59; D. A Carson, The Sermon on the Mount (Grand
Rapids: Baker, 1978) 16-29; D. M Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon the Mount
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971) 32-148; and J. R W. Stott, Christian Counter-Culture
(Downers Grove, IL.; InterVarsity, 1978) 30-56.
11 This approach to Matthew is often connected with B. W. Bacon, Studies in Mat-
thew (London: Constable, 1930). It is favored by many today, including Carson, “Mat-
thew," 50-57 and J. P. Meier, Matthew (Wilmington, DE: Glazier, 1980). For a rival
approach, see J. D. Kingsbury, Matthew: Structure, Christology, Kingdom
Fortress, 1989) 1-39; and D. R Bauer, The Structure of Matthew's Gospel JSNTSS 31
(Sheffield: Almond, 1988) 73-108.
David L. Turner: WHOM DOES GOD APPROVE 33
Display and Summary of the SoM
Introductory narrative framework (5:1-2): Jesus is prompted to teach
by the crowds and his disciples gather around him to hear his
Introduction to the sermon: Beatitudes (5:3-16); The beatitudes
the divinely approved lifestyle of those who have repented at the
the rule of God in Jesus' words and works.
Body (5:17-7:12): Jesus announces (5:17-20) and then explains,
his / and his disciples' relationship to the law with six con-
trasts (5:21-48)./ Then he turns to hypocritical versus genuine
religious practice (6:1-18), / materialism and anxiety (6:19-34),
and relating to people (7:1-12).
The reference to the law (7:12) provides another enveloping
inclusio which completes the theme of obeying the law and
prophets which began in 5:17.
Conclusion (7:13-27): Here three contrasts challenge the listeners
to make the correct response to the teaching. They are to take the
narrow way (13-14), to avoid fruitless false prophets (15-23), and
to build their lives on the words they have heard (24-27). Are
their lives marked by the traits of the beatitudes? Do they view
the law and the prophets as Jesus does?
Concluding narrative framework (7:28-29): The crowds are amazed at
Jesus' authoritative teaching.
Each of the beatitudes is composed of a statement of who is
blessed ("blessed are the poor in spirit. . .") followed by a statement of
why the person is blessed ("for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"). First
the character of the blessed person is highlighted, and then the prom-
ise of God to that person is explained. Altogether there are nine beat-
itudes (5:3-12), the ninth (5:11-12) being an expansion of the eighth.
The first eight beatitudes may be divided into two groups of four, with
the first group emphasizing the disciple's vertical relationship to God,
the second emphasizing the disciple's horizontal relationship to
34 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
people.12 The beatitudes may be displayed chiastically and summa-
rized as follows:
Display and Summary of the Beatitudes .
5:3 Poor in spirit blessed because theirs is the kingdom of heaven
5:4 Mourners blessed because they will be comforted
5:5 Meek blessed because they will inherit the earth
5:6 Hungry blessed because they will be filled
5:7 Merciful blessed because they will be mercied
5:8 Pure blessed because they will see God
5:9 Peacemakers blessed because they will be called sons of God
5:10 Persecuted blessed because theirs is the kingdom of heaven13
This chiastic layout of the beatitudes is indicated by several fac-
tors. First there is the enveloping present tense inclusio au]tw?n e]stin h[
basilei<a tw?n ou]ranw?n in 5:3, 10. The similar future divine passives par-
aklhqh<sontai and klhqh<sontai occur in 5:4, 9. A future active verb
with direct object occurs in 5:5 (au]toi< klhronomh<sousin th>n gh?n), an-
swered by the future middle verb with direct object in 5:8 (au]toi> to>n
qeo>n o@yontai). In the center of the chiasm, 5:6-7 both utilize future di-
vine passives (au]toi> xortasqh<sontai . . . au]toi> e]lehqh<sontai). It may
also be noted that the both halves of the chiasmus conclude with the
concept of righteousness (5:6, 10), and that there is alliteration with
the letter p in Matthew's description of the blessed in the first half
(ptwxoi> . . . penqou?ntej . . . praei?j . . . peinw?ntej; 5:3-6). Thus the envel-
oping idea of the blessedness of presently possessing of the kingdom
(5:3, 10) is developed primarily by stressing what God's gracious initia-
tive will do for disciples (future divine passives; 5:4, 6, 7, 9), and sec-
ondarily by mentioning what disciples will do in response to that
initiative (future active and middle; 5:5, 8).
12 Another approach, alluding to Matthew's penchant for triads, posits three sets
of three beatitudes. For this see W. D. Davies and D. C. Allison, A Critical and Exegeti-
cal Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew, ICC (
13 The inverted parallelism or chiasm shown here is adapted from McEleney,
“The Beatitudes,” 12.
David L. Turner: WHOM DOES GOD APPROVE 35
The Greek text of Matthew 5:3-12 may be laid out similarly. In
Chart Three the chiastic structure and the supporting o!ti clauses are
prominent. Also the elaboration of the eighth beatitude (5:10) by 5:11-
12 is clarified.
Display of Matthew 5:3-12
3 Maka<rioi oi[ ptwxoi> t&? pneu<mati,
o!ti au]tw?n e]stin h[ basilei<a tw?n ou]ranw?n.
4 maka<rioi oi[ penqou?ntej,
o!ti au]toi> paraklhqh<sonati.
5 maka<rioi oi[ praei?j,
o!ti au]toi> klhronomh<sousin th>n ghn.
6 maka<rioi oi[ peinw?ntej kai> diyw?ntej th>n dikaiosu<nhn,
o!ti au[toi> xortasqh<sonati
7 maka<rioi oi[ e]leh<monej,
o!ti au]toi> e]lehqh<sontai.
8 maka<rioi oi[ kaqaroi> t^? kardi<%,
o!ti au]toi> to>n qeo>n o@yontai.
9 mak<rioi oi[ ei]rhnopoioi<,
o!ti au]toi> ui[oi> qeou? klhqh<sontai.
10 maka<rioi oi[ dediwgme<noi e!neken dikaiosu<nhj,
o!ti au]tw?n e]stin h[ basilei<a tw?n ou]ranw?n.
11 maka<rioi< e]ste
o!tan o]neidi<swsin u[ma?j
kai> ei@pwsin pa?n ponhro>n kaq ] u[mw?n [yeudo<menoi ]
12 xai<rete kai> a]gallia?sqe,
o!ti o[ misqo<j u[mw?n polu>j e]n toi?j ou]ranoi?j:
ou!twj ga>r e]di<wcan tou>j profh<taj tou>j pro>
36 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
The theological purpose of the beatitudes cannot be understood
apart from the theological purpose of the SoM as a whole, and there
are many divergent approaches to this.14 Albert Schweitzer's konse-
quente Eschatologie approach saw the SoM as an interim ethic de-
signed only for what Jesus mistakenly believed would be the brief
time before the inbreaking of the apocalyptic judgment. Needless to
say, evangelicals find little common ground with a view which posits
a mistaken Jesus. Lutheranism tends to take the SoM as a teaching of
the high standards of the law which is intended to drive the audience
to the gospel. Traditional dispensationalism similarly tends to view
the SoM as law, not grace, but postpones its primary applicability to
the future millennium. But many dispensationalists today are not dis-
posed to the traditional approach.15 Classic liberal theology took the
SoM as a bulwark of the “social gospel” of human kindness and
progress and in the process drastically overestimated human ability to
live by the SoM apart from divine grace. The anabaptist tradition
somewhat simplistically absolutizes the SoM as the standard of ethics
for all times and places. Though the above views contain elements of
truth, it seems much better to view the SoM in general and the beati-
tudes in particular as an ethic for disciples who live between the two
advents of Jesus the Messiah. The disciples' character traits are the re-
sult of the saving rule of God inaugurated through the kingdom mes-
sage preached at Jesus' first advent. The disciples long for the full
manifestation of that saving rule in the future (cf. 6:10).
The theological purpose of the SoM in general and of the beati-
tudes in particular centers in the kingdom of heaven. The phrase h[
basilei<a tw?n ou]ranw?n occurs in 5:3, 10, 19, 20; 7:21. The word kingdom
also occurs in 6:10, 13 (text?), 33.16 At least three major theological is-
sues surround the kingdom of heaven. The first of these is the rela-
tionship of Matthew's characteristic term “kingdom of heaven” to the
here,17 none is warranted. This is clear from a comparison of the king-
14 H. K. McArthur lists 12 views in Understanding the Sermon on the Mount (New
15 Cf. J. A Martin, “Dispensational Approaches to the Sermon on the Mount," in
Essays in Honor of J.
ed. S. D. Toussaint and C. H. Dyer (
Moody, 1985) 35-48.
kingdom" occurs but where it occurs that matters.
17 Traditional dispensationalists have often done this. E.g., J. F. Walvoord, Mat-
thew: Thy Kingdom Come (Chicago: Moody, 1974) 30. M. Pamment attempts to prove a
David L. Turner: WHOM DOES GOD APPROVE 37
dom of heaven in Matthew
sages in the synoptic gospels (e.g. Matt 5:3; Luke 6:20). Apparently
Matthew uses the term as a metonymy of God's dwelling place for
God's name, due to the sensitivity of his audience.18
Another question concerns whether the kingdom is God's present
rule and/or God's future realm. Here the answer is certainly conjunc-
tive rather than disjunctive. To handle all the data adequately19 one
cannot resort to simplistic theories which identify the kingdom either
with the future millennium or with the present church. Both tradi-
tional dispensational theology and traditional covenant theology need
to nuance their respective positions along the lines suggested by
George Ladd and others.20
A third question about the kingdom of heaven is its relationship
to the church. Traditional dispensationalism's tendency has been to
separate the two and traditional covenant theology's to equate them.
Neither of these positions will do in view of the data in Matthew, es-
pecially 16:18-19. Again Ladd's articulation is a beneficial place to be-
gin discussion of a more nuanced position.21
Now the question of how all of this impacts the interpretation of the
beatitudes must be considered. The first and eighth beatitudes contain
the same enveloping promise, o!ti au]tw?n e]stin h[ basilei<a tw?n ou]ranw?n
("theirs is the kingdom of heaven). Just how significant is the fact that the
verb is present tense? Scholars as diverse as Beasley-Murray and Tous-
saint attempt to minimize any emphasis on the presence of the kingdom
here. Beasley-Murray argues from the future orientation of the context22
and Toussaint views the present tense as futuristic or proleptic.23
distinction for other reasons in "The Kingdom of God According to the First Gospel,"
NTS 27 (1980-81) 211-32.
18 Perhaps this is based on such OT passages as 1 Kgs 8:12, 23, 27, 30, 32, 34, 36, 39,
43, 45, 49; Dan 2:28, 37, 44; 4:26, 35, 37; 5:23; 6:27; 7:2, 13, 27. Cf. Matt 6:9, 10, 20; 7:11;
21:25; Mark 11:30; Luke 15:18, 21.
19 The presence of the kingdom is emphasized in texts like Matt 3:2, 4:17; 5:3, 10;
6:33; 12:28, 16:19; 23:13 and its future in texts like 13:41; 25:34.
20 G. E. Ladd, The Presence of the Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974) 122-48.
21 Ladd, Presence, 262-77. Ladd argues that the church is not the kingdom, the
kingdom creates the church, the church witnesses to the kingdom as its instrument and
22 G. R. Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the
Eerdmans/Paternoster, 1986) 162. In dialogue with C. L Blomberg recently, Beasley-
Jesus," JETS 35 (1992) 19-30. This is followed by Blomberg's response (31-36, see espe-
cially 34) and Beasley-Murray's comments on the response (37-38).
23 S. D. Toussaint, Behold the King: A Study of Matthew (
nomah, 1980) 96-97; and "The Kingdom and Matthew's Gospel," in Essays in Honor of
J. Dwight Pentecost, ed. S. D. Toussaint and C. H. Dyer (Chicago: Moody, 1986) 25.
38 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
However, one wonders why a futuristic present would be used since the
context is already dominated by the future tenses. More than this, the
whole thrust of the beatitudes is upon the present blessedness of the dis-
ciples, and this blessedness is rather hollow if their actual experience of
this blessings is postponed until millennial times. Therefore it is better
to take the present tense as a simple statement of the disciples' present
experience of the kingdom. Granted, their present experience of the
kingdom is partial, but it is genuine. Granted, the disciples' hope is pri-
marily in the future eschaton, but they have already experienced its sav-
ing power.24 God has already begun His eschatological work of blessing
those who acknowledge their spiritual bankruptcy and hunger for spiri-
tual fulness. In the eschaton they will be filled full.
In all this it becomes clear that the beatitudes are primarily the
eschatological blessings of the kingdom, not requirements for en-
trance into the kingdom.25 One should not view the beatitudes as
God's challenge for disciples to perform up to a certain standard in
order to earn His approval. That would lead either to hopeless despair
or to self-congratulation and spiritual pride, qualities which are anti-
thetical to the character traits which are blessed. Instead one must
view these character traits as visible fruit of the work of God through
the dynamic of the good news of God's saving rule. Beatitudes are not
imperatives, though they implicitly call upon those blessed by God's
gracious initiative to cultivate the character traits which have become
theirs by God's grace. This is not unlike the more explicit "be what
you are" pattern often noted in Pauline ethical teaching (e.g., Eph
now time to examine the individual beatitudes.
Foundational to the exegesis of the beatitudes is the meaning of
maka<rioj, "blessed." The word "beatitudes" is related to the Latin bea-
tus, "happy." Sometimes the beatitudes are called "macarisms," based
on maka<rioj. In the LXX maka<rioj; often translates yrew;xa, an emphatic
exclamation meaning "oh the happinesses of " Beatitudes have
their background in both wisdom and apocalyptic literature and are
found regularly in the Bible (e.g., Ps 1:1; 32:1; Prov 3:13; Dan 12:12; Rom
24 This position is favored by Carson, "Matthew," 132; Davies and Allison, Mat-
thew, 1;446; Guelich, Sermon, 76; Ladd, Presence, 206-7; and H. N. Ridderbos, The Com-
ing of the Kingdom, trans H. de Jongste
25 This is the thesis of R A Guelich, "The Matthean Beatitudes: 'Entrance-
Requirements' or Eschatological Blessings?" JBL 95 (1976) 415-34.
David L. Turner: WHOM DOES GOD APPROVE 39
14:22; Rev 1:3).26 To be blessed is to receive God's approval, favor, en-
dorsement, congratulations. "Blessed" should not be understood
merely in the sense of "happy," since happiness is a vague idea often
with a shallow, emotional ring to it. No doubt divine blessing pro-
duces deep joy and genuine happiness in its human recipients, but
the focus is on the originator of the blessing. God initiates blessing by
graciously condescending to save His people. His people respond to
His initiative by blessing Him in thanks and praise for that grace and
by living obediently.
As noted in the discussion of literary structure, the beatitudes are
best viewed as two sets of four (5:3-6; 5:7-10), plus an expansion of the
final one (5:11-12). Evidently 5:13-16 is meant to show that those who
manifest the character traits of the beatitudes will impact their world as
salt and light The first set (1.1-4 below) seems to describe those quali-
ties which assure one of approval in relating to God (awareness of spir-
itual poverty, mourning over sin, humility, desire for deeper experience
of righteousness). The second set (2.1-4 below) describes the qualities
which assure one of divine approval in relating to people (extending
mercy, internal integrity, making peace, and enduring persecution.
1.1 "Blessed are the poor in spirit,27 for theirs is the kingdom of
heaven" (5:3). God's approval does not come to those who boast of
their spiritual riches. Rather his endorsement is for those who admit
their poverty. In the Old Testament there is repeated reference to the
MyvinAfE people whose economic distress left them with nothing to rely
upon except God (Lev 19:9-15, 32-33; Deut 15:4, 7, 11; Ps 37:10-17; Prov
16:18-19; Isa 66:1-2; Jer 22:15-17; Amos 2:6-8). Their distress was due
to such problems as death in the family, physical handicap, advancing
age, military defeat, social injustice, or alien status. This seems to be
the OT background of Jesus' words, but spiritual poverty should be
acknowledged by everyone, not just those who have adverse circum-
stances. Material prosperity should not deaden one's sensitivity to
spiritual poverty. Those who realize that they have nothing spiritually
are the only ones who really have anything.
1.2 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted"
(5:4). Here Jesus indicates that those who mourn receive God's ap-
proval. People mourn over such things as disasters, injustice, unbelief,
and persecution. But here the context indicates mourning over one's
26 For helpful overviews of the nature of beatitudes see Allison and Davies, Mat-
thew, 1.431-42; Guelich, SoM, 63-66.
27 The distinction between Luke's simple oi[ ptwxoi> (6:20) and Matthew's oi[ ptwxoi>
t&? pneu<mati has been exaggerated. See Carson, “Matthew,” 136-37; Guelich, SoM, 75;
and G. T. Meadors, “The 'Poor' in the Beatitudes of Matthew and Luke,” GTJ 6 (1985)
40 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
own sinfulness, whether in thoughts or actions, omissions or commis-
sions. So this beatitude fits with the testimony of such great saints as
Isaiah (Isaiah 6) and Job (Job 42). At first this may sound like some
sort of cruel, sadistic joke, appealing only to masochistic types. It is as
if Jesus is saying that those who are unhappy are happy. But in reality
Jesus is exposing the error of superficial, self-centered living. Genuine
realism, not false optimism, is true bliss for the follower of Jesus, for
it will lead to ultimate comfort.
1.3 "Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth" (5:5).
"Meekness is not weakness," so goes the cliche. But true meekness is
an unassuming humility which places total dependence upon God
and renounces self effort to achieve one's wants and needs. It is this
kind of person who will inherit the earth (see also 19:28-29; 25:34).
Once again Jesus goes against the grain of human pride and modern
culture by asserting that the meek, not the yuppies, the militarists,
the financial tycoons, or the holier-than-thou types, will inherit the
1.4 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled" (5:6). God approves those who long for right re-
lationship with him, not those who mistakenly think they have already
achieved it. Righteousness here should not be viewed in the Pauline
sense (Rom 5:1-2, etc.) of legal innocence before God based on faith in
Jesus' vicarious sacrifice. Rather the emphasis is on ethical rightness,
the upright lifestyle (see also 1:19; 3:15; 5:10, 20, 45; 6:1, 33).28 Those who
realize their lack in this area rather than those who boast of their at-
tainments will receive what they long for. We should think here not
only of personal righteousness but also of social righteousness.
2.1 "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy" (5:7).
God's approval comes to those who relate to others with pity plus action.
While grace pardons the guilty, mercy relieves the miserable. Matthew
repeatedly stresses that the theme of mercy is important for the disciple
of Jesus (6:2; 9:27, 36; 15:22; 17:15; 20:30). In contrast, mercy is not present
where isolationism (9:13), legalism (12:7), and trivialism (23:23) are the
rules of life (cf. Hos 6:6; Mic 6:8). Those who have experienced God's
mercy will show it to others (cf. Matt 18:21-35), and thus demonstrate
their destiny as those who will yet receive mercy at the last day.
2.2 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (5:8).
Purity of heart involves integrity, transparency, and freedom from
corruption. It is crucial to note that the purity which God approves is
heart purity. The Pharisees were models of an external, rule-onented
28 cr. B. Przybylski, Righteousness
in Matthew and His World of Thought (
bridge: University Press, 1980). Cf. Guelich, SoM, 84-87.
David L. Turner: WHOM DOES GOD APPROVE 41
purity which Jesus utterly rejected and condemned. His disciples have
experienced the power of the kingdom which purifies from the inside
out. Thus they must cultivate integrity in their private intellectual, emo-
tional, and volitional lives (see Matt 5:28; 6:21; 9:4; 11:29; 12:34; 13:15, 19;
15:8,18,19; 18:35; 22:37; 23:26). Only such people may expect to see God.
2.3 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of
God" (5:9). God in Christ is the ultimate peacemaker (cf. Rom 5:1; Eph
a filial likeness or family resemblance to their heavenly Father (see
5:43-48). The experience of peace with God enables Jesus' disciples to
seek the cessation of their hostilities with people. While the gospel it-
self may offend some people and lead to hostility (10:34), Jesus' disci-
ples actively seek harmonious relationships with others. In this age of
individual, ethnic, and national aggression, Jesus' reminder that
peacemakers, not warmongers, have God's approval is sorely needed.
2.4 “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteous-
ness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (5:10). With the second men-
tion of the phrase "theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (see 5:3), the
beatitudes have come full circle. The chief marks of those who al-
ready live under God's rule are humility toward God and mercy to-
ward people. One might expect such humble, merciful people to be
valued highly by their fellow human beings, but such is not the case.
Jesus preeminently displayed these characteristics, and he was vi-
ciously persecuted to the point of death (23:31-32). He warns his disci-
ples that they will receive similar treatment (10:16-42; 24:9-14).
3.1 Now Jesus explains that the disciples described in 5:3-10 will
have a definite influence upon this world. This should put to rest any
notion that discipleship is merely a private matter between a person
and God. First, in 5:11-12 Jesus expands his beatitude on persecution
(5:10) by pointing out that insults and slander may occur because of His
disciples' connection with Himself. When this occurs, the disciples are
in good company with the prophets and may expect a great reward.
Thus the disciples' influence on the world may be unappreciated.
3.2 Second, in 5:13-16 Jesus uses two vivid pictures to speak of
His disciples' influence. They are salt (5:13) and light (5:14-16). As salt
they will purify and preserve their society if only they retain their
saltiness. As light their good deeds will result in praise going to their
Father if only they display that light prominently for all to see.
The character traits of kingdom rule are chiefly humility toward
God and mercy toward people. By God's grace these traits are present
in principle in the lives of His people. Yet God's people must cultivate
42 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
these traits so that they are present in fact. In a world which values
pride over humility and aggression over mercy, Jesus' disciples are, in
the words of Stott, Christian counter-culture. As Jesus' disciples culti-
vate the counter-cultural qualities of the beatitudes, they have not
only the teachings of their Lord but also his life to consider. It has
been suggested by Waltke that Jesus the Messiah is in reality the
blessed man of Psalm 1.29 In the encomium of Hebrews 11-12 the au-
thor of Hebrews viewed Jesus as the ultimate example of the life of
faith.30 Peter likewise did not hesitate to speak of Jesus as the disci-
ple's example (1 Pet 2:21).
Similarly, in Matthew Jesus is the one whose life models king-
dom values in relating to God and people. Matthew 5:3-12 has several
echoes of Isa 61:1-9, a text which extolls the work of the Messiah un-
der the power of the Spirit (cf. Matt 11:5; Luke 4:18). He identified with
those who were poor in spirit (e.g., Matt 9:9-12). He mourned over Is-
rael's needs (Matt 9:36; 14:14; 23:37). He lived as the epitome of meek-
ness (Matt 11:29). He fulfilled the righteousness of the OT (Matt 3:15;
5:17). His relationships to people were similarly exemplary as he dem-
onstrated mercy (Matt 9:36; 14:14), integrity (Matt 27:59-60), and recon-
ciliation (Matt 4:23-24; 8:16-17). In spite of all Jesus' righteousness, he
was persecuted to the point of execution (Matt 9:34; 10:25; 12:14). In all
this he lived as well as taught the values of the kingdom, the beati-
tudes. Thus his disciples do not merely ascribe to an abstract theory of
values, they walk in the steps of one who practiced those values and
said lake my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and
humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matt 11:29).
Meier puts it like this:
In the end, then, the beatitudes are the autobiography of Jesus, a per-
fect self-portrait by the Master. Jesus the meek teacher of wisdom and
meek king of the universe, Jesus crucified and risen, is the only fully
happy man who ever lived. We disciples slowly learn his path to happi-
ness as we walk his way of wisdom, his way of the cross. Happy are those
who discover on the way, like a treasure hidden in a field, the Christology
hidden in the beatitudes.31
29 B. K. Waltke, "A Canonical Process Approach to the Psalms," in Tradition and
Testament: Essays in Honor of Charles Lee Feinberg, ed. J. S. and P. D. Feinberg (Chi-
cago: Moody, 1981) 3-18.
30 M. R. Miller, "What is the Literary Form of Hebrews 11" JETS 29 (1986) 411-17.
31 Meier, Matthew 5:3-12," 285.
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