Grace Theological Journal 6.2 (1985) 305-314

                Copyright © 1985 by Grace Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.



                        THE "POOR" IN THE BEATITUDES

                               OF MATTHEW AND LUKE


                                                            GARY T. MEADORS


      The identification of the poor in Luke 6:20 has been disputed.

  Some have seen them as the economically impoverished. However, it

  must be noted that Jesus was specifically addressing his disciples when

  he uttered the beatitude of the poor. Furthermore, Luke (6:20-26)

  stands in the literary tradition of an eschatological reversal motif

  found in Psalm 37, Isaiah 61, and in certain Qumran materials. A

 comparison of Luke 6:20-26 with these materials indicates a

 connection between ptwxoi< Luke 6:20 and the Hebrew term Myvnf which

 had become metaphorical for the pious. This connection is supported by the fact

 that Matthew records the same logion of  Jesus as ptwxoi<, thus the term “poor"

 in Luke 6:20 is used in reference to the pious.


                                                             *         *         *



Do the "poor" in Luke's account of the beatitudes refer to the

economically impoverished whereas the "poor in spirit" in

Matthew's account refer to the pious? It has become quite common to

answer such a question in the affirmative and thus to see a dichotomy

between the two accounts. Indeed, redactional studies have correctly

observed that Luke's gospel contains more unique material concerning

the poor and oppressed than the other gospels. However, the reason

for this has been much debated. This study argues that the "poor" in

both accounts of the beatitudes refer primarily to the pious. (This is

not to deny, however, that they may also have been economically

oppressed.) Thus, in the beatitudes Jesus sought the spiritual reversal

of life situations.


                                THE BEATITUDES IN LUKE


            NT scholarship today generally recognizes that underlying the

Matthean Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5- 7)1 and the Lukan


            1Cf. the helpful survey by Warren S. Kissinger, The Sermon on the Mount: A

History of Interpretation and Bibliography (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1975).

306                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:20-49; cf. 6: 17 -19) is "one basic piece of

tradition."2 However, the two recountings of this tradition are not

identical. Nevertheless, I believe that Matthew and Luke are faithful to

the ipsissima vox of Jesus (i.e., 'the same voice”, meaning that the

essential meaning is maintained although the very words may not be).

Although the gospel writers may have altered the words of an

individual logion or discourse of Jesus to emphasize a particular

aspect, they retain the essential meaning. For example, the beatitude of

the poor (Matt 5:3; Luke 6:20) is generally considered to have its

source in. the same logion of Jesus. Its meaning, therefore, in both

Matthew and Luke should correspond although its use in.context may

reveal individual emphases.


 A Word About Audience Analysis in Context


            It is essential in determining the teaching intent of a passage to

ascertain to whom it was addressed. Matthew and Luke both indicate

that the primary recipients of the sermon are the disciples, including

more than just the twelve (Matt 5:1-2; Luke 6:20a). It is interesting,

however, that while Matthew's statement is clear, Luke's is strikingly

specific. Luke pictures Jesus' delivery of the beatitudes as an eye to eye

encounter with his disciples and uses the second person rather than the

third person throughout his beatitude pericope. The statement in Luke

6:20b concerning their present possession of the kingdom further

supports the assertion that Jesus was addressing a restricted audience

although the curious multitudes were surely present (6: 19) and were

privileged to eavesdrop and to consider what import Jesus' teaching

might have for themselves.

            To understand Jesus' teaching intent, two additional factors are

important within the general and immediate context. The resentment

and deepening rejection of Jesus by the religious leaders are quite clear

in Luke's context (6:1-11). The conflict would result in harassment

and eventually murder (6:11). Immediately after revealing the vicious

intent of the religious leaders, Luke records the beatitude pericope

which centers upon the theme of conflict, rejection and persecution.

This conflict and persecution theme is stated in terms of poor and rich

within an eschatological reversal motif.

            In light of these initial observations of the general and immediate

context, it may well be that poor and rich primarily serve a literary

function and that "the expressions rich and poor function within the


            2 I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text

(NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978) 243; cr. Raymond Brown, "The Beatitudes

According to Luke," in New Testament Essays (Garden City: Doubleday, 1968) 265-66;

and Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke (I-IX) (AB; Garden City:

Doubleday, 1981) 627.

MEADORS: THE "POOR" IN THE BEATITUDES                             307


story as metaphorical expressions for those rejected and accepted

because of their response to the prophet.”3 The poor are those who

follow Jesus as do the disciples and the rich are the religious leaders

who oppress those who are followers of God. Jesus' teaching is not in

response to economic conditions but is a result of the deep felt

rejection of his teaching and claims. Actual poverty which might exist

is merely the attendant circumstance of those who follow Jesus.

Audience analysis leads to at least one initial conclusion which

must be remembered in the following analysis. The interpreter cannot

go beyond the intended audience in the identification of the poor in

Luke 6:20. The poor cannot be the unbelieving hungry of the Third

World. Such assertions border on universalism in light of Luke 6:20b.4

As I. Howard Marshall has observed,


            the description of them as being persecuted for the sake of the Son of

            Man shows that the thought is not simply of those who are literally poor

            and needy, nor of all such poor people, but of those who are disciples of

            Jesus and hence occupy a pitiable position in the eyes of the world. Their

            present need will be met by God's provision in the future. The effect of

            the beatitudes is thus both to comfort men who suffer for being disciples

            and to invite men to become disciples and find that their needs are met

            by God.5


The Presence of Isaiah 61 in Luke 6:20


            In his study of Matt 5:3-5, David Flusser asserts that "the first

three beatitudes as a whole depend on Isa. lxi, 1-2.6 The Lukan

pericope also evidences the influence of Isaiah 61. Linguistically, the

presence of ptwxoi<  (Luke 6:20b; cf. Isa 61:10), hunger (Luke 6:210; cf.

Isa 61:5, 6), and mournfulness as implied in weeping (Luke 6:21a; cf.

Isa 6:2lb, "brokenhearted"; 61:2b; 61:3; 61:7) reflect Isaiah.7 Theo-

logically, the motifs of eschatological release (Jubilee) and reversal are

dominant in both Isaiah and Luke.8


            3 Luke T. Johnson, The Literary Function of Possessions in Luke-Acts (Missoula:

Scholars, 1977) 140.

            4 Cf. Ron Sider, "An Evangelical Theology of Liberation," in Perspectives on

Evangelical Theology, eds. Kenneth S. Kantzer and S. N. Gundry (Grand Rapids:

Baker, 1979) 130-32.

            5 Marshall, The Gospel of Luke, 246.

            6David Flusser, "Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit," IEJ 10 (1960) 9; cr. Ernest Best,

"Matthew v. 3,n NTS 7 (1961) 255-58.

            7 Asher Finkel, "Jesus' Sermon at Nazareth (Luk. 4, 16-30)," in Abraham Unser

Vater: Juden und Christen in Gesprach uber die Bibel. Festschrift fur Otto Michel

(Leiden: Brill, 1963) 113; and Asher Finkel, The Pharisees and the Teacher of Nazareth

(Leiden: Brill, 1964) 156-58.

            8 Robert B. Sloan, The Favorable Year of the Lord: A Study of Jubilary Theology

in the Gospel of Luke (Austin: Schola, 1977) 123-27.

308                   GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


            What would be the significance of the influence of Isaiah 61 on the

Lukan beatitude? Assuming Jesus' audience was familiar with Isaiah 61

and its promises, the catchwords, such as Myvnf or ptwxoi<  and the

eschatological themes "would have been recognized as having more

than economic significance.”9 My earlier study on the vocabulary of

the poor in the OT, Qumran, and the first century pointed out that the

poor motif had historically taken on religious nuances particularly as

evidenced in Isaiah and the Psalms.10  Jesus' audience was Jewish, not

the twentieth century Western world. The significance of his teaching

must be reconstructed in terms of his first century audience. F. C.

Grant's analysis of the mentality of the first century pious Jew in light

of the Magnificat and the beatitudes makes the following observation:


            If we may judge from the first two chapters of the Gospel of St. Luke,

            assuming that we have here, at the very least, an authentic example of

            first-century Jewish piety and a suggestion of the atmosphere of our

            Lord's boyhood, it would seem probable that those among whom He

            grew to manhood were not political enthusiasts, but pious, humble

            devotees of the ancestral religion. The Messianic hope, as they cherished

            it, was conceived "in its more transcendent and less political form: pacific,

            priestly, traditional, and non-militaristic....[The Magnificat] was the

            hope of 'the poor in the land', for whom their poverty had come to have

            a religious value since they hoped for salvation through none save God.

            It was a confidence nourished by the Psalms, (as in Psalm "xxxvii), 'the

            poor' and 'the humble' (aniim and anawim) become almost inter-

            changeable terms.11


            The question of economic status is not the issue in Isaiah nor in

Luke. The emphasis is upon following God and for the faithful

Israelite and for the disciples of Jesus in the present era it will often

result in being oppressed.




            The Matthean and Lukan Sermons are quite divergent in form

and some general comparative observations would be helpful before

considering the beatitude concerning the poor. Matthew's version

(chaps. 5-7; 109 verses) is over three times longer than Luke's account

(6:20-49; 30 verses). However, sayings recorded as part of the Sermon


            9 Thomas Hoyt, The Poor in Luke-Acts (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms,

1975) 115.

            10 Gary T. Meadors, "The Poor in Luke's Gospel" (unpublished Th.D. dissertation;

Winona Lake, IN: Grace Theological Seminary, 1983); cf. Raymond Brown, The Birth of

 the Messiah (Garden City: Doubleday, 1977) 350-51.

            11 F. C. Grant, The Economic background of the Gospels (New York: Russell &

Russell, reprint 1973) 119-20.

                        MEADORS: THE "POOR" IN THE BEATITUDES              309


on the Mount in Matthew are found elsewhere in Luke (cf., e.g., Matt

5:13 with Luke 14:34-35; Matt 5:14-16 with Luke 8:16 and 11:33; and

Matt 5:17-20 with Luke 16:16-17).12

There are also many similarities between Matthew and Luke. The

sermons are both addressed to Jesus' disciples in proximity to a

mountain. They both begin with a beatitude pericope and end with an

exhortation to receive God's truth as communicated by the words of

Christ. The same sequence is followed by both even though Luke omits

much material. Many other similarities and dissimilarities have been

delineated in the literature on the sermons but it is not necessary to

repeat them in the present discussion.13

The beatitude of the poor is recorded by Matthew and Luke as


                Matt 5:3                                                     Luke 6:20b

Maka<rioi oi[  t&?  pneu<mati,                       Maka<rioi  oi[  ptwxoi<, 

o!ti  au]tw?n  e]stin  h[  basilei<a  tw?n        o!ti  u[mete<ra  e]stin  h[  basilei<a

      ou]ranw?n                                        tou?  qeou?


Line two in each is equivalent in word order but with some rather

interesting differences. Matthew uses the third personal pronoun

au]tw?n while Luke uses the second person possessive pronoun u[mete<ra.

Luke's use of the second person gives his beatitude a more personal

flavor.14  Matthew's use of  ou[ranw?n rather than qeou? with basilei<a is

probably a metonymy since heaven is the place of God's abode.

The most discussed aspect of the beatitude of the poor, however,

has to do with the dative of relation t&?  pneu<mati/’spirit' in line one.

Unless Jesus gave the same basic logion in the two different forms,

then either one or the other is more original. Jeremias has suggested

that the brevity of Luke's Sermon indicates that it represents the earlier

form. 15  Flusser, however, asserts that Matthew has faithfully preserved

the original logion and Luke abbreviated it without altering its

meaning.16  F. C. Grant long ago suggested a mediating position. He

wrote, "it is probably that the Lukan version is more accurate,

verbally; but it must be understood in a more Matthaean spirit. 'Poor,'


                12 See Kurt Aland, Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum (revised ed.; Stuttgart: Wurt-

tembergische Bibelanstalt, 1967) in. loc

            13 Cf. Hoyt, The Poor in Luke-Acts, 99-102; Fitzmyer, Luke (I-IX), 627-29; and

C. H. Dodd, "The Beatitudes: A Form-Critical Study," in More New Testament Studies

(Manchester: Manchester University, 1968) 1-10.

14 Robert Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His literary and Theological Art

(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982) 68. Gundry asserts that in the OT beatitudes the 3rd

person is used more than the 2nd.

            15 Joachim Jeremias, The Sermon on the Mount (London: Athlone, 1961) 17.

            16 FIusser, "Blessed are the Poor in Spirit," 11.



e.g., meant more than economically dependent; the word had a

religious connotation, which Matthew's elucidation, 'poor in spirit',

more accurately represents."17

FIusser's assertion is based primarily on the conflation of Isa 61:1

and 66:2 in the Dead Sea Scrolls (IQM xiv. 7). The result of his

comparisons render yynf Hvr yxkv Myvnf and Myynf as interchangeable and

synonymous expressions. Consequently, ptwxo<j and  ptwxo>j  t&?

pneu<mati would be the interchangeable Greek equivalents.18  W. D. Davies

makes a similar observation on the basis of Qumran:


The Lucan 'poor' need not be regarded as necessarily more primitive than

the Matthaean 'poor in spirit'. But it is still more likely that Matthew

made the term 'the poor' more precise by the addition of 'in spirit' than

that Luke deleted the latter, although, as we indicated in the text, 'the

poor' and 'the poor in spirit' have the same connotation.19


            The conclusion to the whole matter, if one is faithful to the

religious sitz im leben of pietistic Judaism, is that regardless of the

ipsissima verba (the actual words) of Jesus, the ipsissima vox is the

same. The ptwxoi< are the Anawim.20  In the case of the Sermon the

ptwxoi< are the disciples as a class of followers. In Luke 6:20 it

designates a group; it does not describe a social state of being. A social

state of being may be attendant (cf. Luke 6:21-22), but it is not the

focus of the term ptwxoi<. If it were merely a social state of being, then

all of those who are in such a state would 'own' the kingdom (6:20c).

This would be soteriological universalism. Guthrie rightly cautions on

this point, "since possession of the kingdom of God is the consequence

of this 'poverty', it seems to suggest a spiritual element, for the

'kingdom' cannot be understood in any other way.”21




The unique theme which is present in Luke's but not in Matthew's

beatitude pericope is the theme of reversal. This theme is present

elsewhere in Luke in the Magnificat (1:46-56), the parable of Lazarus

and Dives (16:19-31), and in the 'first shall be last' logion (13:30;

cf. 9:48; 14:11; 18:14). This theme of reversal of conditions may


            17 Grant. Economic Background, 118, n. I.

            18 Flusser, "Blessed are the Poor in Spirit," 1-13; cf. E. Bammel, "ptwxo<j"

TDNT6 (1968) 896-92, W. F. Albright and C. S. Mann, Matthew (AB; New York:

Doubleday, (1971) 46.

19 W. D. Davies, The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount (Cambridge: Cambridge

University, 1964) 251, n. 2.

            20 Anawim is a transliteration of the Hebrew term for poor. It has become

 a term to refer to the class of pious Jews.

            21 Donald Guthrie, New Testament Theology: A Thematic Study (Downers Grove:

InterVarsity 1981) 900

            MEADORS: THE "POOR" IN THE BEATITUDES                      311


be observed in the OT in Psalm 37 and Isaiah 61. The reversal

is often stated in an antithetic formulation, such as rich/ poor or


A similar reversal was known in the Classical Greek world as a

peripe<teia.22  The reversal of human fortune was a dominant motif in

Attic drama and was discussed as a reversal of roles in philosophic

literature.23  The peripe<teia motif in Scripture has a particularly moral

overtone. It is also a divine reversal which is apocalyptic in nature. The

reversal comes by the action of God not the revolutionary efforts of the

proletariat. C. H. Dodd clearly describes the ethical nature of the

Lukan peripe<teia:


On the face of it, the Lucan pericope might appear to contemplate a

catastrophic revolution in which the proletariate achieves a signal

success at the expense of the privileged class. As such, it would fit into a

contemporary pattern of thought in the Hellenistic world. But it is clear

that it is a sublimated or 'etherialized' kind of peripe<teia that is here in

view: the reward is e]n  ou]ran&?, and that clause conditions all the rest. If

the parable of Dives and Lazarus is allowed as an illustration, the

'etherialized' character of the reversal of conditions is emphasized.24


The structure of Luke 6:20-26 is best seen by comparing the four

couplets25 The antithetical parallelism is not formal26 but it is

conceptually present. Reveral motifs are by nature dichotomous.


20. Blessed are ye poor: for yours       24. But woe unto you that are 

       is the kingdom of God.                        rich! For ye have received your

21. Blessed are ye that hunger now:    25. Woe unto you, ye that are full

       for ye shall be filled.                            Now! for ye shall hunger.

       Blessed are ye that weep now:            Woe unto you, ye that laugh

       for ye shall laugh.                                now! For ye shall mourn and

22. Blessed are ye, when men shall     26. Woe unto you when all men

      hate you, and when they shall              shall speak well of you. for in

      separate you from their company,        the same manner did their

      and reproach you, and cast                   fathers to the false prophets.

      out your name as evil, for the

      son of man's sake.


            22 Cf. Arnold J. Toynbee, A Study of History (London: Oxford University, 1939)

4. 245-61.

            23 Ibid., 246.

            24 Dodd, "The Beatitudes," 5-6.

            25 The following translation is from the American Standard Version (1901).

            26 Fitzmyer, Luke (I-IX), 636.

312                            GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


The first question in determining significance is to ascertain to whom the

blessings and woes are spoken. Luke 6:20a clearly presents the primary

audience as a group of disciples within eye contact of Jesus. The blessings

are appropriate for this group, but the woes are incompatible for them except

as a warning not to neglect their commitment (Heb 2:1-4). Therefore, who is

 the "you" in the woe section? They must be the perimeter crowd of privileged

eavesdroppers. Who in that crowd would fit the description given? The key lies

 at the front door in Luke 6: 1-10.27 Jesus had just completed several Sabbath

controversies with the Pharisees and Scribes. This confrontation ended in a

deepening rift between Jesus and the contemporary leaders of Judaism (Luke

 6:11). This division will broaden as Luke's story progresses (cf. Luke 8; 11:14-13:9).

The language of the woe section applies well to this group. Luke 6:26 is especially

applicable as will be observed below.  A second area which confronts the reader

in Luke 6:20-26 involves the nature of the language used in the pericope. The

temporal implications are indicated by the contrasting use of    and the future

tense in 6:20-21; 24-25. The future aspect IS further indicated by "that day"

and "in heaven" in 6:23. The language of the pericope gives no hope for

reversal in the present age. At this point it is obviously not a call to revolution

but to hopeful resignation. It is divine realism for the present and divine

optimism for the future.

The language is also contrastive. It utilizes poetic extremes: hunger and

full, weep and laugh, hate and admire, and poor and rich. It is thoroughly semitic.

Psalm 37 is an OT example (cf. Isa 61:1-3 also) of the reversal of the poor and rich

under the rubric of wicked/evil and righteous. The language in reversal genre is

categorically symbolic. Poor and rich in Luke 6 are first of all categorical. The

social situation behind the language is real but not foundational. The close of

the sermon in Luke 6:46-49 illustrates this principle well from a different

perspective. The houses and their fate are symbolic of one's response to truth.

The symbolism of certain aspects of the language In 6:20-26 is well illustrated

by the expressions "hunger," "mourn," and "weep" in 6:25. In the eschatological

reversal, in what sense will the presently satisfied group experience lack? Will

they be huddled off into a corner without provisions? No. Rather the reversal

initiates their existence in hell in the eternal state. They are illustrated by

Dives in Luke 16, another Lukan reversal passage. Since we may safely assume that


            27 Cf. The implication in the closing of the Sermon in 6:46-49 to the fate of the

 religious status quo.




                                       MEADORS: THE "POOR" IN THE BEATITUDES                   313


mealtimes do not exist in the eternal state, the language is symbolic of

a real experience.28

The conclusions to the blessings (6:22,23) and woes (6:26) sections

provide crucial information concerning the intended significance of

this pericope. The theme which permeates these concluding verses and

consequently the whole unit may be summarized by the word "identi-

fication." The devout followers are clearly identified with their Lord as

the e!neka phrase indicates, being better translated "because of the Son

of Man" (NIV). It is because of their identification with Christ that

they suffer in the present age. If o@noma refers to the name which

signifies them as followers, whatever that name of identification may

be (cf. James 2:7; I Pet 4: 14), rather than signifying their personal

reputation, the point of identification is strengthened.29

But with whom are those of 6:26 to be identified? The key lies with

the phrase oi[  pare<rej  au]tw?n. This phrase is doubly emphatic. It is

attributive and it is placed at the end of each section. One wonders if

Jesus' eyes did not glance away and gaze at the religious leaders for a

moment. The pate<rej theme recurs in Luke 11:47-48, where Jesus

reveals the deeds of the Pharisees' forefathers. Luke 11 falls within a

lengthy polemic between Jesus and the religious leaders (11:14-13:9)

and contains six woes upon the Pharisees.

Not only is oi[  pate<rej  au]tw?n emphatic, it is also unique

 to Luke's structure (cf. Matt 5: 12),30 thus emphasizing further the crucial point

of identification within the Lukan context. Furthermore, Luke 6:26

uniquely emphasizes the "false prophets" in contradistinction to

Matthew, who only refers to the godly prophets. The contrasting

symbolism of identification, therefore, may be that "just as the

persecuted disciples are the representatives of the true Prophets, so the

wealthy hierarchy whom all men flatter are the representatives of the

false (Jer v.31; Comp xxiii. 17; Isa xxx. 10; Mic. ii. 11)”31 This

hierarchy within the context of Luke's gospel is constituted by the

Pharisees and their crowd.




The teaching intent of Luke 6:20-26 centers in the theme of

identification with God's messenger and program. Such identification


            28 This language may be reminiscent of the future banquet as seen in

 Luke 14: 12-24.

            29 Marshall, The Gospel of Luke, 253.

            30 Fitzmyer, Luke (I-IX), 635.

            31 Alfred Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel

According to St. Luke (ICC; Edinburgh: Clark, 1896) 183.

314                            GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


will entail persecution, including physical, mental, and social ramifica-

tions. But the transitory nature of life and its problems are not to be

compared to the eschatological hope (6:23). Conversely, to refuse to

identify with God's program and pursue worldly ambition has disastrous

consequences. These consequences are intensified when they relate to

oppressing God's people and program. The religious leadership of

Judaism, whether ancient or contemporary, was perennially guilty of

not recognizing and following God's true prophets. This confrontation

in the earthly ministry of Jesus led to a fiery polemic in Luke's gospel

between Jesus and the religious leaders, a polemic which plagued the

It: apostles after Jesus was gone as the book of Acts so clearly portrays.

The greater context of Luke 6 seems to imply that the unique structure

of Luke's beatitude pericope may well be an early expression of this

polemic via the acceptance and rejection motif.

The signification of ptwxoi< in Luke 6:20 is similar to that of a

developing usage of Myvnf in the Psalms, Isaiah, and Qumran. It

symbolically relates to religious attitude. Matthew makes this quite

clear by the emphasis on e]n  pneu<mati, and the sense of Luke's simple

ptwxoi< was the same in the ears of his auditors. On the other hand,

social and economic oppression are attendant to a faith commitment.

Jesus wanted his followers to know that they were getting into a

situation of oppression for the duration of their earthly sojourn; he was

not instructing them on how to get out of oppression. The only way

out is up (cf. e]n  ou]ran&?, Luke 6:23)32  To assert that Luke's pericope

is merely "an essay on social concern" is to miss the point.


32 This solution is the essence of the reversal motif throughout its usage. Cf.

 Bammel, “ptwxoi<,” 6, 893, 895, 898, 906, 910.

            33 Grant Osborne, "Luke: Theologian of Social Concern," TJ 7 (1978) 136.



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