Luke’s Beatitudes

There are two Beatitudes in the Bible, Matthew 5:3-12 and Luke 6:20-23. Both are similar in that they contain a guide for the conduct of the disciples on this earth. Of these shared beatitudes, Luke has written the equivalent of Matthew’s first, fourth, second and ninth beatitudes, in that order.

Similarities. Here is a beatitudes comparison using a table of the two accounts

1  Poor –. Matthew “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” and Luke “Blessed are you who are poor.” They will inherit the Kingdome of Heaven (Matthew) or God (Luke” Luke’s account contains some woes – “But woe to you who are rich,for you have received your consolation.”

2 Hungry – Matthew “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” and Luke “Blessed are you who are hungry”. In both cases you will be filled. The rejoinder from Luke – “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry

3  Hate/Persecution – Matthew “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” And Luke “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.”  In both cases your reward is in heaven. Luke’s “woe” – Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their  ancestors did to the  false prophets.

There are common contexts between the beatitudes. The sayings are in the context of discipleship, which Luke has been emphasizing in various ways since Jesus’ visit to Nazareth. He will continue dealing with the nature of discipleship through the conclusion of the Galilean ministry (ch. 9), and then set the tone for the journey to Jerusalem by opening that trip with a discussion of discipleship and the sending of the seventy (9:51ff). The sayings are also in the context of the nature of the Kingdom,

There are a number of major differences between these four beatitudes, which firstly includes the point of view where Luke writes in second person plural “yours” and Matthew in third person plural “theirs”.

Luke balances the four beatitudes of his text with four woes, a reversal of roles which living in the kingdom of God inevitably ushers in at the eschaton. Scholars are not sure whether Luke is totally responsible for them

The Matthew beatitudes sees the world with a Jewish lens, where groups of people are identified as the righteous and the unrighteous. Two primary themes run throughout the Matthean beatitudes. The first theme is the kingdom, where the blessed are promised the kingdom of heaven in the present tense. The second theme is the ethical requirements for righteousness within the community of Jesus, telling the Jewish church reading Matthew’s Gospel how to conduct themselves in the attitudes and relationships typical of the people of God.

Whereas Matthew identifies with Jewish thought, the Lukan beatitudes identify humanity as the poor and the rich. Gentiles typically considered to be Luke’s audience. The law, rightousness and piety found in the Matthean text is all but absent from Luke and the Jewish background so distinctive of Matthew is less obvious. In fact, Luke neither links nor even mentions the Mosaic law within the text. The main theme running through the Gospel of Luke is the universality of Jesus. Although His mission is first to the Jews, Lukan theology includes Jesus’ concern for the Gentiles and social outcasts, such as immoral women, tax collectors, Samaritans and the poor. It is especially clear from the Gospel of Luke that the author has a special concern for the economic poor of his world and much of the content of the beatitudes and the Gospel at large reflects this.

The inclusion of the woes should serve as an encouragement for them to continuing living with the values of the kingdom in view despite their struggles in the world. In the context of Luke, the poor are not only those who are in need but also includes the humble believers who are loved by God. The author does not feel the need to spiritualise the poor in the text, which makes the text more broadly inclusive of the economic poor.

The geography is different. The book of Matthew was closely connected with Jewish elements in the early church, so he presented Jesus in the imagery of Moses. As Moses had once brought the torah from a mountain (Sinai), so Jesus now brought the new authoritative torah (“it has been said . . .but I say”) from a mountain. The theological purpose of the geographical setting was to establish the authority of Jesus as a lawgiver in the tradition of Moses.

For Luke, the geography serves a different theological role here. The mountain was the place of piety and worship, the place Jesus retreated to pray (6:12) and the place where God was encountered (9:28). For Jesus to be on the mountain to pray, and then return to “a level place” was a way to anchor his actions in communion with God, yet to identify him with crowds on the level of ordinary, everyday human existence. The issue for Luke was not authority, but the outworking of the implications of the Kingdom in everyday life. Prayer and piety are crucial to provide a basis in God’s presence for Jesus work, but the message of the Kingdom and the arena for Jesus’ work is the “level place” where the crowds are milling. That is a central element in Luke’s Gospel.

David Bratcher identifies three groups in Jesus crowd in Luke. “First, there are the just-chosen group of Twelve disciples who would carry on the ministry of Jesus. Much of what unfolds in the next chapters will revolve around these twelve. Next, there are the larger crowds of disciples who are followers of Jesus, who have responded to his ministry, but who have not received a special call from Jesus. And then there are the others, both Jews and Gentiles, who are there for various reasons but who have not yet become disciples. It is this mixed group that provides the setting for the “sermon.”

Luke is again careful, as he has before, to emphasize Jesus’ actions in connection with his words and so he places the sermon in the context of reports about healing (v. 19). It is part of the central message of Luke that the proclamation of the word of God must also be accompanied by faithful response worked out in real life. For Jesus, as well as for the apostles in Acts, his words of teaching were affirmed by his deeds (vv. 18-19); the actions gave authority to the words. And for those who would follow him, hearing alone would not be enough. This connection between hearing the words and acting on them will become the climax of this entire sermon in Luke (6:46-49).

Luke has carefully paired four blessings with four woes or curses, even to using the same words in corresponding pairs. Luke draws the contrast in the pairs between groups of people: (1) poor-rich, (2) hungry-full, (3) those who weep-those who laugh, and (4) those who are hated-those of whom people speak well

David Bratcher contents that “Matthew’s version of the blessings are much more “spiritual” than Luke’s. Where Matthew speaks of “poor in spirit” (5:3), Luke has simply “poor” (v. 20); where Matthew says “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (5:6), Luke clearly means simply those “who are hungry” in a physical sense (v. 21). It has usually been assumed that this reflects Luke’s social agenda, that he is presenting a Gospel for the poor and oppressed. There is certainly this dimension in Luke, a concern for the powerless and outcast of society. And since there is little question that Luke is talking about real physical needs here, we dare not spiritualize away those physical needs. We must take seriously the fact that this is real poverty, real hunger, real weeping, and real hatred.”