Criswell Theological Review 6.1 (1992) 29-42

                          Copyright © 1992 by The Criswell CollegeCited with permission.    



                    WHOM DOES GOD APPROVE?

                     THE CONTEXT, STRUCTURE,

                     PURPOSE, AND EXEGESIS OF

                       MATTHEW'S BEATITUDES


                                                   DAVID L. TURNER

                                          Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary

                                                Grand Rapids, MI 49505




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





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 (Collegeville, MN:

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 (Philadelphia: Westmin-

ster,I966); M. Black, 'The Beatitudes," ExpTim 129(1953) 125-26; J. W. Bowman, "Trav-

elling the Christian Way: The Beatitudes," RevExp 54 (1957) 377-92; G. W. Buchanan,

"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!

klai<ontej . . . gela<sete is similar to Matthew's second beatitude (5:4) which has oi[ pen-

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-

ers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1987) especially 138-46.

            6 E.g. R A Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount (Waco, TX: Word, 1982) 33-36, 112-18.

            7 E.g. D. A Carson, "Matthew," The Expositor's Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids:

Zondervan, 1984) 8.122-26.



            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 Kingdom of Heaven (7:28-29;

8:8-9; 9:6-8).

            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 (Minneapolis:

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


                                                Chart One:

                                    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

            arrival of

            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.


                                                Literary Structure


            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



people.12 The beatitudes may be displayed chiastically and summa-

rized as follows:


                                                Chart Two

                        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 (Edinburgh: Clark,

1988) 1.429-31.

            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.


                                                Chart Three

                                    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> diw<cwsin

                                    kai> ei@pwsin pa?n ponhro>n kaq ] u[mw?n [yeudo<menoi ]

                                                            e!neken e]mou?.

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>





                                    Theological Purpose


            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

kingdom of God. Though some have attempted to make a distinction

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

York: Harper, 1960). Cf. Kissinger's discussion of the history of interpretation in The

SoM, 1-125.

            15 Cf. J. A Martin, “Dispensational Approaches to the Sermon on the Mount," in

Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost, ed. S. D. Toussaint and C. H. Dyer (Chicago:

Moody, 1985) 35-48.

            16 Carson is certainly correct in “Matthew,” 127, that it is not how many times

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 with the kingdom of God in parallel pas-

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 Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids/Exeter:

Eerdmans/Paternoster, 1986) 162. In dialogue with C. L Blomberg recently, Beasley-

Murray reaffirmed this position. See his study "The Kingdom of God in The Teaching of

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 (Portland, OR: Mult-

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.



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

4:20-5:2; Col 3:1-4). With this theological perspective in mind, it is

now time to examine the individual beatitudes.


                                    Exegetical Comments


            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 (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed,

1962) 78.

            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)





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 (Cam-

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

2:14-15; Col 1:20). Those who will be called His children already bear

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




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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