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«Gro('t' Theological Journo/6.2 (1985) 305-314 THE POOR IN THE BEATITUDES OF MATTHEW AND LUKE T. GARY MEADORS The identification of the poor in Luke ...»

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Gro('t' Theological Journo/6.2 (1985) 305-314

THE "POOR" IN THE BEATITUDES

OF MATTHEW AND LUKE

T.

GARY 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 6/. and in certain Qumran materials. A comparison of Luke 6:20-26 with these materials indicates a connection between 7lTwxof in Luke 6:20 and the Hebrew term O'1lY. which had become metaphoricalfor the pious. This connection is supported by thefact that Matthew records the same logion of Jesus as 7lTwxoi tv 7lvevtlun (5:3). Thus, the term "poor" in Luke 6:20 is used in reference to the pious.

* * *

INTRODUCTION

D o 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)' and the Lukan 'Cf. 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: II). 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 'I. Howard Marshall. The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978) 243; cf. 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, 198 I) 627.

MEADORS: THE " POOR" I N TH E BEATITUDES

story as metaphorical expressions tor 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 6:20h" 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.' 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 nHoxoi (Luke 6:20b; cf. Isa 61: la), hunger (Luke 6:21a; cf.

Isa 61 :5, 6), and mournfulness as implied in weeping (Luke 6:2Ib; cf.

Isa 61:1b, "brokenhearted"; 61:2b; 61:3; 61:7) reflect Isaiah.' Theologically, the motifs of eschatological release (Jubilee) and reversal are dominant in both Isaiah and Luke.'

T. Johnson, The Literary Function of Possessions in Luke-Acts (Mi ssoula:

3Luke Scholars. 1977) 140.

4Cf. 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.

'Marshall, The Gospel of Luke. 246.

'David Flusser, "Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit," IEJ 10 (1960) 9: cf. Ernest Best, " Matthew v. 3," NTS 7 (1961) 255-58.

'Asher Finkel, "Jesus' Sermon at Nazareth (Luk. 4, 16-30)," in Abraham Ullser Valer: Juden und Christen in Gesprach uber die Bihel. Fest schrift fUr Otto Michel (Leiden: Brill, 1963) 113; and Asher Finkel, The Pharisees and the Teacher of Na=areth (Leiden: Brill, 1964) 156-58.

' Robert B. Sloan. The Fal'orable Year of the Lord: A Study of Jubi/ary 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 C'1l17 or 1t't(llxoi, 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. lo 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 interchangeable terms. I I 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 'Thomas Hoyt, The Poor in Luke-Acts (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1975) 115.

lOGary 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.

IIF. C. Grant, The Economic Background of (he Gospels (New York: Russell & Russell, reprint 1973) 119-20.

MEADORS: THE "POOR" IN THE BEATITUDES

on the Mount in Matthew are found elsewhere in Luke (cr., 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. I3 The beatitude of the poor is recorded by Matthew and Luke as

follows:

–  –  –

Line two in each is equivalent in word order but with some rather interesting differences. Matthew uses the third personal pronoun alniiiv while Luke uses the second person possessive pronoun u~E'tEpa.

Luke's use of the second person gives his beatitude a more personal flavor. I4 Matthew's use of oupaviiiY rather than BEOU with ~acnAda 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 1:0 1tvEu~an/,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. l5 Flusser, however, asserts that Matthew has faithfully preserved the original logion and Luke abbreviated it without altering its meaning. I6 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,' 12See Kurt Aland, Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum (revised ed.; Stuttgart: Wurttembergische Bibelanstalt, 1967) in. lac.

"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.

14Robert Gundry, Matthew: A Commentar}' 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.

I!;Joachirn Jeremias, The Sermon on the Mount (London: Athlone, 1961) L7.

16Flusser. "Blessed are the Poor in Spirit," II.

310 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL e.g., meant more than economically dependent; the word had a religious connotation, which Matthew's elucidation, 'poor in spirit', more accurately represents."" Flusser's assertion is based primarily on the conflation of Isa 61: I and 66:2 in the Dead Sea Scrolls (lQM xiv. 7). The result of his m" m, comparisons render "ll7 'N:l' C"ll7 and C"ll7 as interchangeable and synonymous expressions. Consequently, rrnoXD; and m(JlXo; 'tiii rrvEu~an would be the interchangeable Greek equivalents. I' W. D.

Davies makes a similar observation on the basis of Qumran:



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