The Beauty of the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3-10)

The term beatitude is from a Latin word meaning “happy” or “fortunate.” In Matthew 5:3-10 there are eight beatitudes, eight statements beginning with “blessed are…”:

  1. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
  2. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted
  3. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth
  4. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied
  5. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy
  6. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God
  7. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God
  8. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

Are these eight beatitudes randomly arranged? No, they are thoughtfully and carefully organized, and several literary clues will help us admire Matthew’s arrangement of them. Below are six structural observations that some New Testament scholars have made about Matthew 5:3-10.

First, the first and eighth beatitude have the same promise (“for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”). These two beatitudes also give their promise in the present tense (“is”), whereas the other beatitudes are in the future tense.

Second, the first four beatitudes all start with a p-sound in Greek, which doesn’t come across in English translations. This design is apparently to divide the first four from the rest, creating two groups of equal number.

Third, the two groups (beatitudes 1-4 and 5-8) each have a total of 36 Greek words, further clarifying that we should view the eight beatitudes as two groups of four. There is no miscellaneous word in any beatitude.

Fourth, the last beatitude of each group (beatitudes 4 and 8) both concern “righteousness” in some fashion.

Fifth, the two groups appear to focus chiefly on our disposition toward God (beatitudes 1-4) and on our disposition toward others (beatitudes 5-8).

Sixth, the beatitudes fall into an interesting chiastic pattern according to tense:

  • Verb in present tense (v. 3)
  •           Future divine passive (v. 4)
  •                     Future active with object (v. 5)
  •                               Future divine passive (v. 6)
  •                               Future divine passive (v. 7)
  •                     Future middle with object (v. 8)
  •           Future divine passive (v. 9)
  • Verb in present tense (v. 10)

Any other structural observations to add?

The Central Section of the Sermon on the Mount

The structure of the Sermon on the Mount is debated among commentators. The following breakdown is the outline and literary structure I find most compelling among the suggestions they offer.

The Sermon on the Mount is from Matthew 5:1–7:29. Two occurrences of “the Law and the Prophets” (5:17; 7:12) appear to section off this large teaching block into three sections:

  1. Introduction to the Sermon (5:1-16)
  2. The main message of the Sermon (5:17–7:12)
  3. The conclusion of the Sermon (7:13-29)

The “main message” part (5:17–7:12) is also composed of three sections:

  1. Instances of “you have heard…but I say to you” (5:17-48)
  2. Disciplines susceptible to hypocrisy (6:1-18)
  3. Exhortations about trusting in God’s provision and seeking God’s kingdom (6:19–7:12)

The middle of the “main message” section is about “Disciplines,” and there just happen to be three of those also:

  1. Giving (6:1-4)
  2. Praying (6:5-15)
  3. Fasting (6:16-18)

The middle discipline–Praying–breaks into (wait for it…wait for it…) three parts:

  1. How not to pray (6:5-8)
  2. How to pray (6:9-13)
  3. The warning about not forgiving the trespasses of others (6:14-15)

Let’s recap. The Sermon divides into three sections (5:1-16; 5:17–7:12; 7:13-29), the middle section (5:17–7:12) divides into three more (5:17-48; 6:1-18; 6:19–7:12), then that middle part (6:1-18) also has three (6:1-14; 6:5-15; 6:16-18), and, finally, the middle of those Disciplines (6:5-15) has three parts as well (6:5-8; 6:9-13; 6:14-15). The most central section of the Sermon is 6:9-13.

If the Sermon on the Mount is a target, the bulls-eye is the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9-13).

A few (ahem: three) closing observations:

  • The arrangement of the Sermon seems to favor divisions of three.
  • The arrangement is a literary work of art.
  • The central piece–the Lord’s Prayer–is important for everything that precedes and follows it.

I’m currently preaching on this Sermon at Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and the introduction to Matthew 5–7 can be heard here.