3. Law and Grace, 5:1-7:29
i] The blessingsSynopsis
Seeing a large crowd, Jesus moves up a "mountain" with his disciples and begins to teach them.
Happy / fortunate are those children of God who, in union with Jesus, possess the qualities which facilitate the inheritance of the promised covenant blessings.
i] Context: See 1:1-17. Matthew now presents his 1st. Discourse, Law and Grace, 5:1-7:29. This teaching unit, known as the Great Sermon / the Sermon on the Mount, is partnered with the 1st. Narrative section, 8:1-9:34, salvation by grace through faith. In the narrative section, Matthew presents Jesus' healing ministry as a paradigm of salvation, providing the solution to the problem posed by the failure of God's people to obey the Law. The solution provided by the Narrative is that the promised blessings of the covenant are a gift of grace appropriated through faith in Christ, apart from obedience to the law.
The 1st. Discourse opens with a defining statement which identifies the true nature of God's covenant people, the new / true Israel - they are a people founded on grace, 5:3-12. The nature and function of this community is defined in v13-16, and the eschatological validity of covenant Law is confirmed in v17-20. The demanding requirements of the Law are revealed in v21-48, so establishing the total allegiance to God that is required of covenant members. The impossible nature of these requirements is answered by means of a personal relationship with God, 6:1-18, which is both loyal / focused, v19-24, and faith-dependent, v25-34. Covenant standing is then tested by the ethic of judgmentalism, 7:1-12. Finally, Matthew concludes his covenant renewal document with a selection of four parables / sayings of Jesus which serve as a challenge to the reader to determine whether they stand under Law and thus cursed, or grace and thus blessed. The two ways, two trees, two claims and two builders serve to confront the reader with the fact that if they stand under Law they are inevitably a Law-breaker, and therefore face God's curse rather than his blessing. Having established that a person's full appropriation of God's promised blessings cannot be attained by works of the law, the partnered Narrative, 8:1-9:34, reveals that the blessings of the covenant are received on the basis of divine grace through faith.
ii] Structure: True happiness:
The beatitudes, 3-10;
A model exposition of the last beatitude, v11-20:
Suffering persecution, v11-12;
Righteous living in a corrupt world, v13-16;
Righteousness and the law, v17-20.
The beatitudes present as two sets of four, with v11-12 a model exposition of the last rather than a ninth beatitude. The first four seem to be inward looking, the next four outward looking (v8, ?). Hatton and Clark have argued that the first four concern attitudes and the second four deal with resulting actions.
The Beatitudes are a declaration of the happy, or fortunate state, of the child of God who possesses particular qualities, and who, because of them, will inherit divine blessings. Only Jesus properly possesses these qualities, but through identification with him they become ours as well - by grace through faith.
It is often argued that the beatitudes are either ethical requirements for the present, or eschatological blessings for the future, yet it is more likely that they are statements of present fact - they identify the qualities of a child of God and the consequent blessings that follow. The disciples, representing faithful Israel in their association with Christ (the one faithful child of God / Israelite), as opposed to the crowd which represents unfaithful Israel, are pronounced "fortunate" for being what they are. In Christ, the disciples share in the realization of the Abrahamic covenant with all its promised blessings.
A similar set of beatitudes is found in Luke 6, the source usually identified as Q, although mutual independence should not be discounted. About half the material in the Great Sermon is found in Luke, and less in Mark. Some of the pericopes are similar, others less so.
v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage can be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.
Text - 5:1
Jesus' covenant renewal statement: i] Setting, v1-2. The description of Jesus going "up on a mountainside" probably images Moses going up Mount Sinai to receive the law - Jesus is the new law-giver who comes to complete ("fulfill") the law. Although a crowd has gathered, Jesus moves up the mountainside to speak with his disciples.
de "now" - but/and. Transitional; indicating a step in the narrative.
idwn (eidon) "when he saw [the crowds]" - having seen [the crowds]. The participle is adverbial, best treated as temporal, as in the NIV, but it is possible that it forms a causal clause; "Jesus went up the mountain because he saw the crowds."
to oroV "a mountainside" - [he went up to] the hill, mountain. Definite article may indicate a particular hill, but most likely prompting us to think of that most particular of mountains, Mount Sinai.
kaqisantoV (kaqizw) gen. aor. part. "sat down" - [and] sitting down. The genitive absolute participle is adverbial, temporal; "when he sat down his disciples came to him." A teacher sits down to teach.
oiJ maqhtai "the disciples" - the disciples [of him]. Nominative subject of the verb "to come to." Given the context, the beatitudes are for the disciples, but are the disciples the "poor in spirit", etc.? Donald Robinson, an oft contributor to RTR, takes the view that the beatitudes are statements of grace directed to the disciples, "blessed are you, the poor in spirit ...." The text is not that specific, although v11-12 does move to "you", meaning "you disciples." Davies & Allison notes that the beatitudes properly apply to Jesus the messiah in the terms of Isaiah 61:1-3. Jesus is the one "poor in spirit", and of course, in union with Christ, the disciple becomes "the poor in spirit."
proshlqan (prosercomai) aor. "came" - came to. "The disciples gathered around Jesus to hear his teaching."
autw/ dat. pro. "to him" - Dative of direct object after the proV prefix verb "to come to."
anoixaV (anoigw) aor. part. " -" - [and] opening [the mouth of him]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "teach"; "he opened his mouth and taught them", ESV = "he began his teaching by saying to them", Phillips.
edidasken (didaskw) imperf. "he began to teach" - he taught [them]. The imperfect may be used here to make the point that the sermon on the mount is a summary of Jesus' teachings, "this is what he used to teach", Barclay, although the NIV treats it as an inceptive imperfect. Of course, teaching involves a process and it would be natural to express the action in an imperfective tense.
legwn (legw) pres. part. "saying / he said" - saying. The participle is adverbial, modal, expressing the manner in which the action of the verb "he taught" is accomplished. See "saying", 4:14.
ii] The beatitudes, v3-10:
Fortunate are you, the humble ones. Such people are not the "poor" in this world's things. Jesus is speaking of the person who is broken before God. This person throws themselves on the mercy of God, they put their trust in him, depend on him. They stand in contrast to the "wicked". It is the humble who possess the kingdom of God.
Fortunate are you who mourn over the damage and loss caused by sin. Those who weep for such loss will be comforted with God's intimate love.
Fortunate are you who rely on God for vindication. Those who do not try to take for themselves, but rather rely on God to fulfill his promises, will inherit the promised land (eternity), Ps.37:11.
Fortunate are you who desire to stand approved in the sight of God. Those who desire to be right before God will indeed find ultimate satisfaction in their relationship with Him.
Fortunate are you who know God's mercy, and in that mercy find that they can show mercy to others.
Fortunate are you who desire to know God, to love him, for in that desire you will find him.
Fortunate are you who are at peace with God.
Fortunate are you who find yourselves confronted by the darkness of this age. The world may reject the child of God, but suffering only evidences a far greater treasure, God's eternal kingdom.
makarioi adj. "blessed" - Predicate adjective. The word "blessed" is not the best translation. "Fortunate" or "well off", possibly "happy are you" (in Australia we would say "you lucky bastards" - although not from the pulpit!!!). Jesus is telling his disciples that they are fortunate to be this way, they are fortunate to possess these qualities of life, because in possessing them they inherit God's promised kingdom blessings. Davies & Allison make the point that the blessings are not earned, the beatitudes are not imperatives. Some translations give this impression, eg. "God blesses those people who depend only on him", CEV. Better, "O the bliss of those who realize the destination of their own lives", Barclay.
oiJ ptwcoi adj. "the poor" - Nominative subject of an assumed verb to-be; "the poor in spirit are blessed." The word refers to those in total poverty, possessing nothing and with no means to earn a living other than by receiving alms, although here used metaphorically.
tw/ pneumati (a atoV) dat. "in spirit" - The dative is local, of sphere, although Zerwick suggests it is adverbial, reference / respect; "the poor, with respect to their spiritual self, are blessed." Irrespective of its classification, the prepositional phrase seems to specify the poverty. To be poor in spirit is to be totally destitute spiritually and so recognize the need for a total dependence on God; "who know their need for God", Phillips. This beatitude has nothing to do with physical poverty.
oJti "for" - because. Introducing a causal clause explaining why the poor in spirit are blessed. Note repeated use of this conjunction throughout the beatitudes.
autwn "theirs [is]" - Olmstead suggests that this genitive pronoun modifies an assumed predicate nominative basileia, "kingdom"; "the kingdom of heaven is the kingdom of them", it is their kingdom. The genitive may be classified as adjectival, possessive, although not so much in ownership, as in participation; see France. Probably in the sense of consequence, not reward. Those who are dependent on God possess the riches of his reign.
twn ouranwn (oV) gen. "[the kingdom] of heaven" - The genitive may be classified as adjectival, possessive, but given that the use of "heaven" is deferential, "heaven" being used instead of "God", and that "kingdom" is used in the sense of the eschatological reign of God, then the genitive would be classified as verbal, subjective. See "kingdom of heaven", 3:2.
oiJ penqounteV (penqew) part. "those who mourn" - [blessed] the ones mourning. The participle serves as a substantive. The only clue to this not being physical is that the mourners will be comforted. It is likely that the mourning is over sin; "fortunate are those who are broken before God."
paraklhqhsontai (parakalew) fut. pas. "will be comforted" - [for they] will be comforted. Possibly a divine passive, although many scholars question this classification; "God will comfort them", TEV.
oiJ praeiV (prauV) adj. "the meek" - [blessed] the humble, gentle, the self-effaced. The adjective functions as a substantive. "Gentle", seems the best meaning of the word here; gentle in the sense of not demanding of God, "submissive to the will of God" and therefore willing to look to him for vindication.
klhronomhsousin thn ghn "will inherit the earth" - [for they] will inherit the earth. "Inherit", lit. receive by lot, therefore "possess." Again identifying the consequence of covenant inclusion through submission to the divine. Here in the terms of Psalm 37:11, inheriting the promised land. "They will receive what God has promised", TEV.
oiJ peinwnteV (peinaw) pres. part. "those who hunger" - [blessed] the ones hungering [and thirsting for]. As with "thirsting", the participle serves as a substantive.
thn dikaiosunhn (h) "righteousness" - righteousness, justice. Accusative direct object of the verb "to thirst for." Jesus is not speaking of those who strive for social justice, nor really those who desire it. He is referring to a desire for personal vindication, of being set-right before God, of being "judged in the right with God", Dumbrell. Therefore, Jesus is speaking about "justification", the self same justification expounded by Paul. So, the sense is, "those who desire to be set-right before God." This view is disputed by many scholars who argue that Matthew never really addresses the Pauline doctrine of a justification, a being set right with God grounded on the faithfulness of Christ appropriated through faith. Yet, the truth is, the gospels are alive with the doctrine of justification. Jesus comes at justification in a typically parabolic way, such that only those with eyes to see, see. Paul takes Jesus' teaching and exegetes it for us, such that Jesus is the source of the doctrine, not Paul. The Sermon on the Mount is a perfect example of how Jesus introduces us to a righteousness that is apart from obedience to the law. In the sermon we are confronted by our state of being right before God in Christ, of a righteousness apart from works. This fact is reinforced, as it was in the Sinai covenant, by the demand for a righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and the Pharisees, a righteousness, without which, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven. By the end of the sermon we should realize that the righteousness of the new covenant is beyond us and that therefore our house faces destruction (ie., our righteousness is but filthy rages). This fact reinforces the truth that only one person has built their house on rock (ie., heard and applied God's perfect law, the law of the heart) and that we need to knock on his door and ask to come in (incorporate with Christ and his righteousness) before we get swept away by the great flood. In the end, it is only those who hunger and thirst for God's approval who are satisfied.
cortasqhsontai (cortazw) fut. pas. "will be filled" - [for they] will be filled, fed, satisfied. "Satisfied to the full", Barclay.
oiJ elehmoneV (wn onoV) "the merciful" - [blessed] the merciful [for they shall be shown mercy]. The adjective serves as substantive, subject of an assumed verb to-be, "blessed the merciful are." The reciprocal nature of mercy and forgiveness is stressed in the New Testament and finds strong support in the Old Testament, Ps.18:25-26, Jo.22:9-10, Pr.21:13..... The Lord's Prayer gives us the classic example, "forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us." This beatitude is not saying that those who show mercy will have mercy shown to them, ie., a salvation by works idea. The fortunate are those who have experienced God's mercy, and as a consequence, find themselves merciful toward others. Such people know God's mercy. Mercy and forgiveness can never be perfectly applied by a believer, but the little we do illustrates the much that God does for us in Christ.
th/ kardia/ (a) dat. "[the pure] in heart" - [blessed the pure] in heart. The dative may be treated local, of sphere, or reference / respect, "the pure with respect to their heart", so Olmstead. The purity of heart referred to here may be the righteousness of Christ, or even the regenerate nature which is ours through the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is certainly not some moral or sexual purity. The desire to touch the divine probably best describes this quality, and those who possess it will "be like him" and see the one "who is invisible."
oyontai (oJraw) fut. "will see [God]" - "Will find themselves in God's presence."
oiJ eirhnopoioi (oV) "peacemakers" - [blessed] the one who makes peace between warring sides. Again the adjective serves as a substantive, nominative subject of an assumed verb to-be. A hapax legomenon, once only use in the NT. Clearly, Jesus is not thinking of those who are conflict-resolution councillors. Nor is he speaking about the peaceful. He may be thinking of the peace that comes through the gospel, or even of evangelists as peacemakers, cf. Isaiah 52:7. In the end, it is likely that Jesus is speaking of those who have themselves made their peace with God.
qeou (oV) gen. "[sons] of God" - [for they will be called sons] of god. The genitive is adjectival, relational; an idiomatic phrase expressing membership of God's family. Note that "called" sons of God probably means something like "ranked" sons of God, so Barclay, or "recognized as" God's children, so Junkins.
oiJ dediwgmenoi (diwkw) perf. pas. part. "those who are persecuted" - [blessed] the ones being persecuted. The perfect tense indicates persecution that began in time past, the consequences of which continue into the present, although with participles, aspect takes precedence over tense, so duration is probably intended. The participle serves as a substantive, subject of an assumed verb to-be. The meaning of the word is usually "persecute" in the NT, "to put to flight", "to drive away", but also carries a positive sense, "to follow with haste, and presumably with intensity of effort, in order to catch up with, for friendly or hostile purpose - to run after, to chase after, to pursue. to hasten, to run, to press forward, to press on, to follow without hostile intent"*. This meaning certainly fits with the other beatitudes; "blessed are you who pursue the living God." The trouble is v10 and 11 would indicate that the sense is "persecute": "blessed are you when people persecute you because of your standing with God." There is every likelihood that the blessing to the ones being persecuted is only theirs in that they vicariously experience persecution in Christ, the only righteous man. Only Christ, when forsaken, praised God rather than cursed him. None-the-less, as Jesus warned his disciples, a servant is not grater than his master; if they persecute the master they will persecute the servant.
eneken + gen. "because of" - because of, for the sake of. Causal.
dikaiosunhV (h) gen. "righteousness" - The sense here is open to debate. Hill suggests "faithfulness to God's law", ie., ethical righteousness. This is certainly something that prompts a negative reaction from those whose ethics have much to be desired, particularly if they strive to present as ethically righteous; so Fenton, Carson, D&A, etc. Schnackenburg is more specific with "fidelity to Jesus Christ and his gospel", cf., Lachs, "because of the Righteous One."
twn ouranwn "[the kingdom] of heaven" - [the kingdom] of the heavens [is of them / theirs]. For this genitive see v3. Matthew ends with a typical inclusio, rounding of the beatitudes as a package by ending where he started.