Each of the nine Beatitudes begins with the word “μακάριοι” (the plural of μακάριος) which is variously translated “blessed are…” “happy are…” “to be congratulated are…”
Greek Linguistic History
The word “μακάριος” has a rich history in Greek. The earliest usage of μακάριος in Greek was to describe the life that the gods and goddesses of the Greek pantheon enjoyed among themselves as deities. Over time, when certain humans appeared to be especially gifted, endowed, blessed, and favored by the gods, they were described as μακάριος, human beings who were granted the privilege of sharing something of the life that ordinarily only gods and goddesses enjoyed. Hence, these people were to be congratulated, they were expected to be happy, because they were blessed by the gods.
Blessed are the…Poor?
Given the cultural values of the first century world, whether Greco-Roman or Jewish, the word μακάριος was associated with a certain richness of life, a measure of prosperity that would have jolted the ears and sensibilities of people listening to Jesus talk about who was truly blessed. Μακάριος was not a word to be used in the same sentence with words like poor, mourning, meek, hungry, thirsty, and persecuted! The first listeners would have been shocked at what they heard. Part of understanding the Beatitudes in particular—and the Kingdom of God as a whole—is to grasp that Jesus brought to this earth a profoundly different way of approaching life. The Kingdom of God is nothing like the kingdoms of this world which are based on raw power that subdues, demands, coerces, and consumes the masses for the benefit of the few. Jesus’ words were revolutionary…but not as an overthrow of external structures of power in the first (and subsequent) centuries…Jesus’s words were to bring about a revolution of heart and mind, and that begins with the Beatitudes.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:3-12)
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second post in a series exploring the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12. Read the first post on “The Beatitudes: Gateway to Life in the Kingdom of God.”
The series is based on Dr. Bill Fowler’s Gilhousen Lecture given July 14, 2020 at YTI. Watch the entire lecture on Facebook here.