For a thousand years the Church has called them ‘beatitudes’. So, I started asking people what in the world a beatitude was (nothing scientific, just asking around). Most folks answered, “You know, those things that Jesus talked about in that Sermon.” One person even told me, “It’s the attitude that we should be, or have, or do!” My informal survey has prompted me to go ahead and clarify ancient Greek and Latin when leading people through the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5. Most of the printed Bibles I use include the editorial heading over Chapter 5, “ The Beatitudes”. Then, as we English speaking folk read through the chapter, we discover that the term ‘beatitude’ never occurs in the text of our translation of Scripture!
So how did such an anachronism occur? The ancient Latin translations often included the editorial heading ‘beatitudines’ at the beginning of Matthew 5. That was the term that meant the collected statements about happiness, because the verb ‘beati’ occurs nine times in the passage. That was the expression that the Latin translators selected to convey the older Greek term makarioi, which I would convey in English as ‘how blissfully happy are the ones who . . .” Please don’t be misled by that definition. We usually consider happiness as something we feel, something quite subjective based upon our emotions. As a grandfather, I honestly cannot express the happiness I feel when one of those little people scream out “Papa” while running into my arms. As great as that feeling of happiness is, the word of Jesus recorded by Matthew in the Greek text moves into another dimension. In this passage, Jesus is making an objective statement about what God thinks of his followers. Modern psychologists seek paths for mental health, while the Lord Jesus spelled out how to have strong & healthy personalities. Nobody knows better than our Creator how we may become truly happy human beings. He made us. He knows how we work best. It is through obeying his own moral laws that we find ourselves in Him & fulfill ourselves. All Christians should be able to testify from experience that there is a close connection between holiness & happiness – between deep devotion and a deep sense of well-being.
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn: for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake:
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you . . . for great is your reward in heaven . . .
What Jesus gives us are nine statements of condition (or character), followed by the resultant divine blessing which rests upon those who exhibit these marks. If a person reacts to his environment in the spirit of these characteristics, his life will be a happy one. Therefore, in this context, I suggest these mean "blissfully happy due to a deep rooted condition". The condition receives blessing from God, and each blessing is described in the quality of the impact on the life of the disciple, and each blessing is appropriate to the condition of the believer. Maybe, instead of ‘Beatitudes’, we could call this passage the ‘Blessednesses’. Then again, rather than struggling with what to call them, just pursue these character traits in the spirit in which Jesus blesses you, and be amazed!
Suggested reading: The Message of the Sermon On The Mount, John Stott, IVP, 1985