Monday, January 27, 2014

Honoring the Dishonored

Below is a rough translation and some initial comments regarding Matthew 5:1-12, known familiarly as "the Beatitudes" and the Revised Common Lectionary gospel reading for Sunday, February 2, 2014. As usual, your comments are welcomed. 

1 Ἰδὼν δὲ τοὺς ὄχλους ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος: καὶ καθίσαντος αὐτοῦ προσῆλθαν 
αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ: 
Yet having seen the crowd he went up into the mountain; and having been seated, his disciples came to him;
ἀνέβη: AAI 3s, ἀναβαίνω, 1) ascend  1a) to go up 
καθίσαντος: AAPart gms, καθίζω, 1) to make to sit down  1a) to set, appoint, to confer a kingdom on one  2) intransitively  2a) to sit down 
1. The last chapter ended with great crowds, “And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.” The purpose of this introductory verse, then, seems to be that Jesus has withdrawn from the larger crowd to a more intimate group, although it is not clear who, exactly, Matthew includes under the name ‘disciples.’

2 καὶ ἀνοίξας τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ ἐδίδασκεν αὐτοὺς λέγων, 
And having opened his mouth he was teaching them saying,
ἀνοίξας: AAPart nms, ἀνοίγω, 1) to open 

3 Μακάριοιοἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι, ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν  βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν. 
How honored poor in the spirit, because of them is the reign of the heavens.
1. The word Μακάριοιοἱ is familiarly translated “blessed are …” or “happy are….” Collectively they are called by the transliteration ‘makarisms’.  In Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain,” the makarisms are followed immediately by reproaches, often translated as “Woe to you ….” Matthew also has some reproaches, but not until c.23:13-33.
2. See below K.C. Hanson’s argument for placing the makarisms and reproaches within a 1st century Mediterranean honor/shame framework. I am following Hanson’s argument with my translation of “How honored.”
3. However one translates the word Μακάριοιοἱ, there is no verb in the pronouncement, before the “because.” In fact, if v.3 were the only makarism we had, I would translate it “Honored poor in the spirit…” because there is no definite article for “poor” either. There are articles in following makarisms, although none of them has a verb. Most translations supply the verb “are.”
4. I think the translation of Μακάριοιοἱ and the question of how to understand the missing verb is part of the conversation about how to read the makarisms for believers today. Is this an ethical call for how one ought to live? Is it a paradoxical disclosure of what truly is, despite all appearances, in God’s sight? Is it an eschatological vision of how the “poor in spirit,” etc. will be honored when the Reign of the heavens is fully come?  

4μακάριοι οἱ πενθοῦντες, ὅτι αὐτοὶ παρακληθήσονται. 
How honored the ones who mourn, because they will be comforted.
πενθοῦντες: PAPart nmp, πενθέω, 1) to mourn  2) to mourn for, lament one
παρακληθήσονται: FPI 3pl, παρακαλέω, 1) to call to one's side, call for, summon  2) to address, speak to, (call to, call upon), which may be done in  the way of exhortation, entreaty, comfort, instruction, etc.  … 2c) to console, to encourage and strengthen by consolation, to  comfort 
1.    There is a verbal shift between the makarism of v.3 and 4.
Here is how I see the verbs:
v.3 - ἐστιν is present active indicative.
vv.4-9, the verbs are future –
4 is passive
5 is active
6-7 are passive  
8 is middle
9 is passive
v.10 is back to the present active indicative
vv. 11-12 break with the form of the other makarisms dramatically.

5μακάριοι οἱ πραεῖς, ὅτι αὐτοὶ κληρονομήσουσιν τὴν γῆν. 
How honored the meek, because they will inherit the earth.
πραεῖς: πραΰς, 1) mildness of disposition, gentleness of spirit, meekness
κληρονομήσουσιν: FAI 3p, κληρονομέω, 1) to receive a lot, receive by lot  1a) esp. to receive a part of an inheritance, receive as an  inheritance, obtain by right of inheritance  

6μακάριοι οἱ πεινῶντες καὶ διψῶντες τὴν δικαιοσύνην,ὅτι αὐτοὶ 
How honored the ones who hunger for and thirst for the righteousness, because they be will be satiated.
πεινῶντες: PAPart nmp, πεινάω, 1) to hunger, be hungry  1a) to suffer want  1b) to be needy  2) metaph. to crave ardently, to seek with eager desire 
διψῶντες: PAPart nmp, διψάω, 1) to suffer thirst, suffer from thirst  1a) figuratively, those who are said to thirst who painfully feel  their want of, and eagerly long for, those things by which the  soul is refreshed, supported, strengthened 
χορτασθήσονται: FPI 3p, χορτάζω, 1) to feed with herbs, grass, hay, to fill, satisfy with food,  to fatten  1a) of animals  2) to fill or satisfy men  3) to fulfil or satisfy the desire of any one

7μακάριοι οἱ ἐλεήμονες, ὅτι αὐτοὶ ἐλεηθήσονται.
How honored the merciful, because they will receive mercy.
ἐλεήμονες: nmp, ἐλεήμων 1) merciful
ἐλεηθήσονται: FPI 3p, ἐλεέω 1. compassion of (have) to show mercy (more than have compassion), to have the desire of relieving the miserable, to show kindness by beneficence or help.
1. I don’t know how to make ‘mercy’ a passive verb except for something like ‘receive mercy.’ I like ‘be mercified,’ but my computer does not. Hmmph.

8μακάριοι οἱ καθαροὶ τῇ καρδίᾳ, ὅτι αὐτοὶ τὸν θεὸν ὄψονται. 
How honored the pure in the heart, because they will behold God.
ὄψονται: FMI 3p, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know.
1. Since this verb is in the middle voice, isn’t something like “behold” be better than just ‘see’? Maybe my inner poet is overtaking my inner grammarian.

9μακάριοι οἱ εἰρηνοποιοί, ὅτι αὐτοὶ υἱοὶ θεοῦ κληθήσονται. 
How honored the peacemakers, because they will be called children of God.
κληθήσονται: FPI 3p, καλέω, 1) to call 

10μακάριοι οἱ δεδιωγμένοι ἕνεκεν δικαιοσύνης, ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν  
βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν. 
How honored the ones who have been persecuted on account of righteousness, because of them is the reign of the heavens.
δεδιωγμένοι: PerfPPart nmp, διώκω, 1) to make to run or flee, put to flight, drive away  2) to run swiftly in order to catch a person or thing, to run after  2a) to press on: figuratively of one who in a race runs  swiftly to reach the goal  2b) to pursue (in a hostile manner)  3) in any way whatever to harass, trouble, molest one  3a) to persecute  3b) to be mistreated, suffer persecution on account of something
ἕνεκεν: ἕνεκα, 1) on account of, for the sake of, for  2) for this cause, therefore
1. Note the parallel with v. 3 (ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν  βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν).

11μακάριοί ἐστε ὅταν ὀνειδίσωσιν ὑμᾶς καὶ διώξωσιν καὶ εἴπωσιν πᾶν 
πονηρὸν καθ' ὑμῶν [ψευδόμενοι]ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ: 
How honored are (you) when (they) revile you and persecute you and say all evil against you [falsely] on account of me;
ἐστε: PAI 2p, εἰμί 1) to be 
ὀνειδίσωσιν: AASubj 3p, ὀνειδίζω, 1) to reproach, upbraid, revile  1a) of deserved reproach  1b) of undeserved reproach, to revile  1c) to upbraid, cast (favours received) in one's teeth 
διώξωσιν: AASubj 3p, διώκω, 3a) to persecute  3b) to be mistreated, suffer persecution on account of something
εἴπωσιν: AASubj 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
1. The dramatic change in this verse is the object going from the 3rd person “they” to the 2nd person “you” (plural and implied in the verb).

12χαίρετε καὶ ἀγαλλιᾶσθε, ὅτι  μισθὸς ὑμῶν πολὺς ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς:
οὕτως γὰρ ἐδίωξαν τοὺς προφήτας τοὺς πρὸ ὑμῶν. 
Rejoice and be glad, because your reward great in the heavens; for likewise they persecuted the prophets before you.
ἐδίωξαν: AAI 3p, διώκω, 3a) to persecute  3b) to be mistreated, suffer persecution on account of something

Be sure to visit K.C. Hanson’s work on the makarisms at

Among other things, Hanson argues that the Hebrew ashrê and the Greek makarios  do not refer to ritual “blessings,” nor should they be translated to mean “happy.” Furthermore, Hanson points out that Matt 5:3-12 provides the introduction to Jesus' public ministry and Matt 23:13-31 its conclusion. Consequently, he argues, they form honor/shame brackets around Jesus public teaching. 


  1. Thanks Mark, I don't always add a comment, but always appreciate your good exegetical work. I wonder about the connection of the dishonored ones with the list of all those Matthew identifies in Matt. 4.24. Are these the ones the disciples have been called to fish for?

  2. Thanks Mark, I don't always add a comment, but always appreciate your good exegetical work. I wonder about the connection of the dishonored ones with the list of all those Matthew identifies in Matt. 4.24. Are these the ones the disciples have been called to fish for?


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