The title given to the locale where Jesus delivered the Beatitudes during his Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:1–12). The exact site is not known. Older tradition favored the Horns of Hattin as the precise spot. Current tradition has located the area on a hill southwest of Capernaum.
A view of the Sea of Galilee from the Mt of Beatitudes, the place usually identified as the scene of the Sermon on the Mount. Also seen are the Horns of Hattin (called Qurun Hattin), where a great battle occurred on July 4, 1187, in which Crusaders were crushed by Saladin.
Beatitudes, The. Term derived from Latin beatitudo, it is not used in the English Bible. Technically it means “blessedness” as described in the OT and NT. “Blessed” is translated from both Hebrew and Greek words, to refer to divine favor conveyed to man. It is used more particularly of the Sermon on the Mount, where differing literary forms are used in the two versions of Matthew (5:3–12) and Luke (6:20–23). However, the theological and V 1, p 272 p 272 ethical concept of “beatitude” has a long history in the interpretations of the church of the sense of well-being before God’s presence.
The formal utterance “happy is,” or “blessed is,” is a common declaration in the Book of Psalms (used 26 times) and Proverbs (8 times). It is used 10 times in the other books of the OT and 13 times in the apocryphal books. These beatitudes are pronounced upon the person who is righteous, having faith and hope in God. They are signs of a life lived in proximity to Yahweh, in the experience of forgiveness, and in the love and favor of God. Such life is a totality, so such blessings are expressive of holistic enrichment, harmony, and fecundity, whether in family life, in temple worship, in public life, or in the interior of one’s own being. The person so blessed is in touch with the fruitfulness of the Creator himself. Such a one lives a fulfilled life, life as God intended it to be lived before him. Only God can bless, for he alone is holy, so when the Scriptures speak of humans “blessing” God, the term has another connotation, that of acknowledgment of God’s mercy, forgiveness, love, and glory.
In the NT, references to “blessing” occur seven times in the Book of Revelation, three times in the Epistle to the Romans, and once in John’s Gospel. The prominence of “blessedness” in Matthew and Luke gives rise to the technical term, “beatitudes.” There are interesting contrasts between Luke’s “sermon on the plain” (Lk 6:20–23) and Matthew’s “sermon on the mount” (Mt 5:3–12). The pronouncement of the blessings in Luke is done immediately after the selection of the 12 disciples (Lk 6:12–16). Yet the sermon is addressed to the crowd generally and speaks of the advent of God’s kingdom as the reversal of the social conditions of the human race. So Luke balances four blessings with four woes—changing from the present tense to the future tense—to heighten the contrast of the impending reversal of social conditions. His purpose is eschatological consolation.
In Matthew’s account, the advent of the kingdom has already commenced, indicated by the use of the present tense. It is addressed to the disciples particularly and is not a general proclamation. The sermon is set within two statements of Jesus: he has not come to destroy but to fulfil the Mosaic law (Mt 5:17); and it is necessary to have a kind of righteousness that “exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees” (v 20). So these beatitudes are more concerned with the interior life of the disciple, to activate here and now the kind of life Jesus communicates in those who follow him. For Jesus has already inaugurated the kingdom. These eight beatitudes reflect on the traits of those who belong to that kingdom and who therefore reflect Christ’s own life. The people and situations described may seem pitiable by human standards, but because of God’s presence in their lives, they are actually blessed and should be congratulated and imitated.
As a charter for sanctity, the beatitudes have had a long and controversial history in the church. First, there have been numerous attempts from Augustine onward to interpret the sequence of the beatitudes in Matthew’s account in some moral progression of thought. There have been the varying interpretations of the beatific life, from the concept of deification, or becoming God-filled, as in Eastern Orthodox thought, to the vision and experience of God described by Western mystics. Especially since the 19th century, there have been several ethical interpretations of the beatitudes in the thought of Søren Kierkegaard, Leo Tolstoy, Albert Schweitzer, Johann Weiss, Hans Winchisch, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Jacques Dupont. Some thinkers have evaded the challenge altogether by relegating the beatitudes to another “dispensation” and not intended for the church today. One of the most reasonable positions is what T.W. Manson and others would call “an ethic of response.” “In Christ” we read the ethic of the beatitudes, so we respond to his fulfilment of the Law, and “in Christ” we relate to God and his righteousness. As Christ is the content and context of the beatitudes, so as our lives are in Christ, the beatitudes express our character also.
James M. Houston
Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Beatitudes, Mount of The. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, pp. 271–272). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.