(Lat. beatitudo). Condition or statement of blessedness. In the Latin of the Vulgate, beatus, the word for blessed, happy, or fortunate, begins certain verses such as Psalm 1:1: "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked." Old Testament beatitudes begin with the Hebrew word asre and the New Testament beatitudes with the Greek word makarios [makavrio"]. They are used of people, not of God. Some English Bibles translate eulogetos [eujloghtov"] as "blessed" ("Blessed be the Lord God of Israel" [ Luke 1:68 , KJV] ), but without the characteristic makarios [makavrio"], phrases containing this term are not beatitudes. Old Testament beatitudes, found most frequently in the psalms (e.g., 2:12 ; 32:2 ; 40:4 ; 41:1 ; 65:4 ; 84:4-5 ; 106:3 ; 112:1 ; 128:1 ), are also located in Proverbs 8:32; Isaiah 32:20; 56:2; and Daniel 12:12. The plural proper noun, the Beatitudes, is the common designation for Matthew 5:3-10. Luke's parallel ( 6:20b-26 ), with four statements of blessedness and four maledictions, is called the Beatitudes and Woes. Statements of blessing are also found in Matthew 13:16; John 20:29; and Revelation 1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7, 14.

The classical New Testament beatitude has three parts: (1) the adjective "blessed"; (2) the identification of the "blessed" person(s) by a descriptive clause or participle; and (3) the condition assuring "blessedness." Thus in Matthew's first beatitude ( 5:3 ), "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, " the "blessed" persons are identified as the "poor in spirit" and are "blessed" because "theirs is the kingdom of heaven." As the first word in the psalms (1:1), blessed is applied generally to all those within God's redemptive covenant established with Abraham. The believer praying Psalm 1:1 becomes the beatitude's subject. His blessedness comes within his relationship to God in which he accomplishes the divine will and keeps himself separate from God's enemies (1:1-2). The Torah, God's written revelation, is his constant occupation (v. 2). Unbelievers are destined to destruction (vv. 4-6), but the "blessed" is promised life with God (v. 3). Psalm 32 sees the "blessed" as one "whose transgressions are forgiven" and "whose sin the Lord does not count against him." The sinner's iniquity is imputed by God to the Suffering Servant ( Isa 53:6 ).

The concept of blessedness is not easily translated into English. "Happy, " "fortunate, " and "favored" have all been offered as less than completely satisfactory translations. "Happy" focuses narrowly on emotional well-being, not taking into account that within relationship to God sin is confessed ( Psalm 32:3-5 ). "Fortunate" is derived from the Latin word for chance or luck and was used also for the Roman goddess who determined arbitrarily and capriciously each person's destiny. It still means a haphazard random selection, success, collective possessions and wealth, not given others. Since the poor ( Luke 6:20 ), those who confess sin ( Psalm 32:3-5 ), and the dead ( Rev 14:13 ) are subjects of the beatitudes, "happy" and "fortunate" seem inappropriate. Favor is the Latin word for grace; to avoid confusion "favored" should not be used. "Blessed" should be used in all cases, so that the English reader will recognize that these passages are related as beatitudes. Blessedness should not be seen as a reward for religious accomplishments, but as an act of God's grace in believers' lives. Rather than congratulating them on spiritual or moral achievements, the beatitude underscores the fact that sinners stand within a forgiving relationship made possible by Christ's atonement.

Scholars debate the connections between Matthew's and Luke's beatitudes. The two-source (Mark and "Q", standing for Quelle, the German word for source) hypothesis holds that there are "Q" beatitudes, from which Matthew and Luke took theirs. These "Q" beatitudes are a reconstructed abridgement of Luke's four statements, which Matthew expanded with five additional ones. Another view suggests that each independently took over oral tradition, as he knew it directly (Matthew) or obtained it from others (Luke). Still another holds that one evangelist was first and that the other worked with his beatitudes. This issue cannot be resolved to everyone's satisfaction. It should be noted that Matthew's version was most widespread in the postapostolic fathers and remains the best known. Luke's use of the second person plural in each of his four beatitudes may suggest a dependency on Matthew's ninth beatitude, where he introduces this form for the first time ( 5:11 ).

The similarity between Matthew's Sermon on the Mount (5-7) and Luke's Sermon on the Plain ( 6:17-49 ), in which both place their beatitudes, points to a specific occasion in Jesus' ministry, probably near Capernaum, without ruling out the possibility that they were basic to his ordinary preaching at other times (see Matt 4:23-25 ). Matthew's arrangement, matching the first and eighth of his nine beatitudes and Luke's four beatitudes and four woes, points to each evangelist's arrangement of the material.

The beatitudes are descriptive of all Christians and do not single out separate groups as distinct from each other. Thus the blessings are applicable to all. The "poor in spirit" are also "those who mourn" ( Matt 5:4 ) or "hunger and thirst for righteousness" ( 5:6 ). Each beatitude looks at the Christian life from a different perspective. Matthew's first beatitude with its "the poor in spirit" ( 5:3 ) is the best known and perhaps the most difficult to interpret. With the omission of "in spirit" ( 6:20 b), Luke points to the economically poor, a recognized theme in his Gospel. He includes the personal "yours" in promising them "the kingdom of God, " his substitute for Matthew's "kingdom of heaven." Matthew's "in spirit" indicates that these "poor" make no claim on God. The tension between Matthew's spiritual poor and Luke's economic poor should not be overdrawn, since the latter uses those who are financially deprived as examples of those who depend on God, a common theme of all the beatitudes. Matthew's remaining eight beatitudes expand on the first. The mourners will experience God's comfort (v. 4). The meek demonstrate a Christ-like attitude that demands nothing for itself. Thus the meek with Jesus shall inherit the earth (v. 5). Those who "hunger and thirst for righteousness" (v. 6) desire God's saving righteousness in Christ. The mercy Christians show to others (v. 7) must be that of Christ, who showed mercy to his tormentors ( Luke 23:34 ). In the fifth petition of the Lord's Prayer Christians pray that God will forgive them, just as they forgive others ( Matt 6:12 ). Seeing God is reserved to Christ ( John 1:18 ), but now the pure in heart will see God with him (v. 8). The Gospels reserve the phrase "Son of God" to Jesus alone, but the peacemakers show themselves to be reconciled to God, and all people are now entitled to a like honor in being called the sons of God (v. 9). The eighth beatitude follows the first with its promise of the kingdom of heaven, Christ's pledge that they will participate in his suffering and glory. Here the "poor in spirit" are defined as "persecuted because of righteousness" (v. 10). The ninth and final beatitude (v. 11), by adding the specific "you" and "account of me, " places Christ in the center of the Beatitudes and sees the believers' state of blessedness in their persecution for his sake. The Beatitudes are christological because he spoke them and they reach their perfection in him. In his perfection they are descriptive of the church's promised holiness.

lu 1:48 and Matthew 16:17 differ from other beatitudes in singling out specific persons. The recognition of Mary's blessedness by succeeding generations rests in the Lord's selection of her as his mother and not in the morally superior accomplishment of her will. Peter is blessed because God has revealed to him that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, a faith unobtainable through his own effort. Thus he becomes a prototype of all believers in Christ. The beatitudes of the Book of Revelation concentrate on the victory promised Christians dying in the faith. Their condition is certain: "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them" ( 14:13 ). Their blessedness is seen that in death God gives them rest.

David P. Scaer

See also Jesus Christ; Sermon on the Mount

Bibliography. I. W. Batdorf, Interpreting the Beatitudes; D. Hamm, The Beatitudes in Context; J. Lambrecht, The Sermon on the Mount. J. M. Boice The Sermon on the Mount.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Beatitudes'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.



1. The Name:

The word "beatitude" is not found in the English Bible, but the Latin beatitudo, from which it is derived, occurs in the Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A. D.) version of Romans 4:6 where, with reference to Psalms 32:1,2, David is said to pronounce the "beatitude" of the man whose transgressions are forgiven. In the Latin church beatitudo was used not only as an abstract term denoting blessedness, but in the secondary, concrete sense of a particular declaration of blessedness and especially of such a declaration coming from the lips of Jesus Christ. Beatitudes in this derivative meaning of the word occur frequently in the Old Testament, particularly in the Psalms (Psalms 32:1,2; 41:1; 65:4, etc.), and Jesus on various occasions threw His utterances into this form (Matthew 11:6; 13:16; 16:17; 24:46, with the Lukan parallels; John 13:17; 20:29). But apart from individual sayings of this type the name Beatitudes, ever since the days of Ambrose, has been attached specifically to those words of blessing with which, according to both Matthew and Luke, Jesus began that great discourse which is known as the Sermon on the Mount.

2. The Two Groups:

When we compare these Beatitudes as we find them in Matthew 5:3-12 and Luke 6:20-23 (24-26), we are immediately struck by the resemblances and differences between them. To the ordinary reader, most familiar with Matthew's version, it is the differences that first present themselves; and he will be apt to account for the discrepancy of the two reports, as Augustine did, by assigning them to two distinct occasions in the Lord's ministry. A careful comparative study of the two narratives, however, with some attention to the introductory circumstances in each case, to the whole progress of the discourses themselves, and to the parabolic sayings with which they conclude, makes this view improbable, and points rather to the conclusion that what we have to do with is two varying versions given by the Evangelists of the material drawn from an underlying source consisting of Logia of Jesus. The differences, it must be admitted, are very marked.

(a) Matthew has 8 Beatitudes; Luke has 4, with 4 following Woes.

(b) In Matthew the sayings, except the last, are in the 3rd person; in Luke they are in the 2nd.

(c) In Matthew the blessings, except the last, are attached to spiritual qualities; in Luke to external conditions of poverty and suffering.

Assuming that both Evangelists derived their reports from some common Logian source, the question arises as to which of them has adhered more closely to the original. The question is difficult, and still gives rise to quite contrary opinions. One set of scholars decides in favor of Matt hew, and accounts for Luke's deviation from the Matthean version by ascribing to him, on very insufficient grounds, an ascetic bias by which he was led to impart a materialistic tone to the utterances of Jesus. Another set inclines to theory that Luke's version is the more literal of the two, while Matthew's partakes of the nature of a paraphrase. In support of this second view it may be pointed out that Luke is usually more careful than Matthew to place the sayings of Jesus in their original setting and to preserve them in their primitive form, and further that owing to the natural tendency of the sacred writers to expand and interpret rather than to abbreviate an inspired utterance, the shorter form of a saying is more likely to be the original one. It may be noted, further, that in Matthew 5:11,12 the Beatitude takes the direct form, which suggests that this may have been the form Matthew found in his source in the case of the others also. On the whole, then, probabilities appear to favor the view that Luke's version is the more literal one. It does not follow, however, that the difference between the two reports amounts to any real inconsistency. In Luke emphasis is laid on the fact that Jesus is addressing His disciples (Luke 6:20), so that it was not the poor as such whom He blessed, but His own disciples although they were poor. It was not poverty, hunger, sorrow or suffering in themselves to which He promised great rewards, but those experiences as coming to spiritual men and thus transformed into springs of spiritual blessing. And so when Matthew, setting down the Lord's words with a view to their universal application rather than with reference to the particular circumstances in which they were uttered, changes "the poor" into "the poor in spirit," and those that "hunger" into those that "hunger and thirst after righteousness," he is giving the real purport of the words of Jesus and recording them in the form in which by all men and through all coming time they may be read without any chance of misunderstanding.

As regards the Beatitudes of the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, which are given by Matthew only, they may have been spoken by Jesus at the same time as the rest and have been intended by Him in their association with the other four to fill out a conception of the ideal character of the members of the Kingdom of God. In view, however, of their omission from Luke's list, it is impossible to affirm this with certainty. That they are all authentic utterances of Jesus Himself there is no reason to doubt. But they may have been originally scattered through the discourse itself, each in its own proper place. Thus the Beatitude of the meek would go fitly with Luke 6:38, that of the merciful with Luke 6:43, that of the pure in heart with Luke 6:27, that of the peacemakers with Luke 6:23. Or they may even have been uttered on other occasions than that of the Sermon on the Mount and have been gathered together by Matthew and placed at the head of the Sermon as forming along with the other four a suitable introduction to our Lord's great discourse on the laws and principles of the Kingdom of God.

3. Number, Arrangement, Structure:

With regard to the number of the Beatitudes in Matthew's fuller version, some have counted 7 only, making the list end with Matthew 5:9. But though the blessing pronounced on the persecuted in Matthew 5:10-12 differs from the preceding Beatitudes, both in departing from the aphoristic form and in attaching the blessing to an outward condition and not to a disposition of the heart, the parallel in Lu (Luke 6:22 f) justifies the view that this also is to be added to the list, thus making 8 Beatitudes in all. On the arrangement of the group much has been written, most of it fanciful and unconvincing. The first four have been described as negative and passive, the second four as positive and active. The first four, again, have been represented as pertaining to the desire for salvation, the second four as relating to its actual possession. Some writers have endeavored to trace in the group as a whole the steadily ascending stages in the development of the Christian character. The truth in this last suggestion lies in the reminder it brings that the Beatitudes are not to be thought of as setting forth separate types of Christian character, but as enumerating qualities and experiences that are combined in the ideal character as conceived by Christ--and as exemplified, it may be added, in His own life and person.

In respect of their structure, the Beatitudes are all alike in associating the blessing with a promise--a promise which is sometimes represented as having an immediate realization (Matthew 5:3,10), but in most cases has a future or even (compare Matthew 5:12) an eschatological outlook. The declaration of blessedness, therefore, is based not only on the possession of the quality or experience described, but on the present or future rewards in which it issues. The poor in spirit are called blessed not merely because they are poor in spirit, but because the kingdom of heaven is theirs; the mourners because they shall be comforted; those that hunger and thirst after righteousness because they shall be filled; those who are persecuted because a great reward is laid up for them in heaven. The Beatitudes have often been criticized as holding up an ideal of which limitation, privation and self-renunciation are the essence, and which lacks those positive elements that are indispensable to any complete conception of blessedness. But when it is recognized that the blessing in every case rests on the associated promise, the criticism falls to the ground. Christ does demand of His followers a renunciation of many things that seem desirable to the natural heart, and a readiness to endure many other things from which men naturally shrink. But just as in His own case the great self-emptying was followed by the glorious exaltation (Philippians 2:6), so in the case of His disciples spiritual poverty and the bearing of the cross carry with them the inheritance of the earth and a great reward in heaven.


Votaw in HDB, V, 14; Adeney in Expositor, 5th series, II, 365; Stanton, The Gospels as Historical Documents, II, 106, 327; Gore, Sermon on the Mount, 15; Dykes, Manifesto of the King, 25-200.

J. C. Lambert

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'BEATITUDES'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.