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 Ro 4:6 where, with reference to Ps 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 (Ps 32:1-2; 41:1; 65:4, etc.), and Jesus on various occasions threw His utterances into this form (Mt 11:6; 13:16; 16:17; 24:46, with the Lukan parallels; Joh 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 Mt 5:3-12 and Lu 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 Mt 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 (Mt 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 Lu 6:38 ff, that of the merciful with Lu 6:43 ff, that of the pure in heart with Lu 6:27 ff, that of the peacemakers with Lu 6:23 ff. 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 Mt 5:9. But though the blessing pronounced on the persecuted in Mt 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 Lk (Mt 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 (Mt 5:3,10), but in most cases has a future or even (compare Mt 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 (Php 2:6 ff), 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 ff; Adeney in Expositor, 5th series, II, 365 ff; Stanton, The Gospels as Historical Documents, II, 106 ff, 327 f; Gore, Sermon on the Mount, 15 ff; Dykes, Manifesto of the King, 25-200.
J. C. Lambert