Vincent's Word Studies
And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:
A mountain (τὸ ὄρος)
The Rev. recognizes the force of the definite article, and renders "the mountain," that particular mountain in the place where Jesus saw the multitudes. The mountain itself cannot be identified. Delitzsch calls the Mount of Beatitudes "The Sinai of the New Testament."
When he was set (καθίσαντος), following Tyndale
Rev., more literally, when he had sat down (compare Wyc., when he had sete). After the manner of the rabbis, he seated himself ere he began to teach.
And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,
The imperfect signifies began to teach.
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
As this word and its cognates occur at least fifty-five times in the New Testament, it is important to understand its history, which is interesting because it is one of those numerous words which exhibit the influence of Christian association and usage in enlarging and dignifying their meaning. It is commonly rendered blessed, both in the A. V. and Rev., and that rendering might properly be given it in every instance.
Its root is supposed to be a word meaning great, and its earlier meaning appears to be limited to outward prosperity; so that it is used at times as synonymous with rich. It scarcely varies from this meaning in its frequent applications to the Grecian gods, since the popular Greek ideal of divine blessedness was not essentially moral. The gods were blessed because of their power and dignity, not because of their holiness. "In general," says Mr. Gladstone ("Homer and the Homeric Age") "the chief note of deity with Homer is emancipation from the restraints of moral law. Though the Homeric gods have not yet ceased to be the vindicators of morality upon earth, they have personally ceased to observe its rules, either for or among themselves. As compared with men, in conduct they are generally characterized by superior force and intellect, but by inferior morality."
In its peculiar application to the dead, there is indicated the despair of earthly happiness underlying the thought of even the cheerful and mercurial Greek. Hence the word was used as synonymous with dead. Only the dead could be called truly blessed. Thus Sophocles ("Oedipus Tyrannus"):
"From hence the lesson learn ye
To reckon no man happy till ye witness
The closing day; until he pass the border
Which severs life from death, unscathed by sorrow."
And again ("Oedipus at Colonus"):
"Happiest beyond compare,
Never to taste of life:
Happiest in order next,
Being born, with quickest speed
Thither again to turn
From whence we came."
Nevertheless, even in its pagan use, the word was not altogether without a moral background. The Greeks recognized a prosperity which waited on the observance of the laws of natural morality, and an avenging Fate which pursued and punished their violation. This conception appears often in the works of the tragedians; for instance, in the "Oedipus Tyrannus" of Sophocles, where the main motive is the judgment which waits upon even unwitting violations of natural ties. Still, this prosperity is external, consisting either in wealth, or power, or exemption from calamity.
With the philosophers a moral element comes definitely into the word. The conception rises from outward propriety to inward correctness as the essence of happiness. But in all of them, from Socrates onward, virtue depends primarily upon knowledge; so that to be happy is, first of ail, to know. It is thus apparent that the Greek philosophy had no conception of sin in the Bible sense. As virtue depended on knowledge, sin was the outcome of ignorance, and virtue and its consequent happiness were therefore the prerogative of the few and the learned.
The biblical use of the word lifted it into the region of the spiritual, as distinguished from the merely intellectual, and besides, intrusted to it alone the task of representing this higher conception. The pagan word for happiness (εὐδαιμονία, under the protection of a good genius or daemon) nowhere occurs in the New Testament nor in the Scriptures, having fallen into disrepute because the word daemon, which originally meant a deity, good or evil, had acquired among the Jews the bad sense which we attach to demon. Happiness, or better, blessedness, was therefore represented both in the Old and in the New Testament by this word μακάριος. In the Old Testament the idea involves more of outward prosperity than in the New Testament, yet it almost universally occurs in connections which emphasize, as its principal element, a sense of God's approval founded in righteousness which rests ultimately on love to God.
Thus the word passed up into the higher region of Christian thought, and was stamped with the gospel signet, and laden with all the rich significance of gospel blessedness. It now takes on a group of ideas strange to the best pagan morality, and contradictory of its fundamental positions. Shaking itself loose from all thoughts of outward good, it becomes the express symbol of a happiness identified with pure character. Behind it lies the clear cognition of sin as the fountain-head of all misery, and of holiness as the final and effectual cure for every woe. For knowledge as the basis of virtue, and therefore of happiness, it substitutes faith and love. For the aristocracy of the learned virtuous, it introduces the truth of the Fatherhood of God and the corollary of the family of believers. While the pagan word carries the isolation of the virtuous and the contraction of human sympathy, the Gospel pushes these out with an ideal of a world-wide sympathy and of a happiness realized in ministry. The vague outlines of an abstract good vanish from it, and give place to the pure heart's vision of God, and its personal communion with the Father in heaven. Where it told of the Stoic's self-sufficiency, it now tells of the Christian's poverty of spirit and meekness. Where it hinted at the Stoic's self-repression and strangling of emotion, it now throbs with a holy sensitiveness, and with a monition to rejoice with them that rejoice, and to weep with them that weep. From the pagan word the flavor of immortality is absent. No vision of abiding rest imparts patience and courage amid the bitterness and struggle of life; no menace of the destiny of evil imposes a check on human lusts. The Christian word blessed is full of the light of heaven. It sternly throws away from itself every hint of the Stoic's asserted right of suicide as a refuge from human ills, and emphasizes something which thrives on trial and persecution, which glories in tribulation, which not only endures but conquers the world, and expects its crown in heaven.
The poor (οἱ πρωχιὸ)
Three words expressing poverty are found in the New Testament. Two of them, πὲνης and πενιχρός, are kindred terms, the latter being merely a poetic form of the other, and neither of these occurs more than once (Luke 21:2; 2 Corinthians 9:9). The word used in this verse is therefore the current word for poor, occurring thirty-four times, and covering every gradation of want; so that it is evident that the New Testament writers did not recognize any nice distinctions of meaning which called for the use of other terms. Luke, for instance (Luke 21:2, Luke 21:3), calls the widow who bestowed her two mites both πενιχρὰν and πρωχὴ. Nevertheless, there is a distinction, recognized by both classical and ecclesiastical writers. While ὁ πένης is of narrow means, one who "earns a scanty pittance," πρωχός is allied to the verb πτώσσειν, to crouch or cringe, and therefore conveys the idea of utter destitution, which abjectly solicits and lives by alms. Hence it is applied to Lazarus (Luke 16:20, Luke 16:22), and rendered beggar. Thus distinguished, it is very graphic and appropriate here, as denoting the utter spiritual destitution, the consciousness of which precedes the entrance into the kingdom of God, and which cannot be relieved by one's own efforts, but only by the free mercy of God. (See on 2 Corinthians 6:10; and see 2 Corinthians 8:9.)
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
They that mourn (πενθοῦντες)
Shall be comforted
See on John 14:16.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
The meek (οἱ πραεῖς)
Another word which, though never used in a bad sense, Christianity has lifted to a higher plane, and made the symbol of a higher good. Its primary meaning is mild, gentle. It was applied to inanimate things, as light, wind, sound, sickness. It was used of a horse; gentle.
As a human attribute, Aristotle defines it as the mean between stubborn anger and that negativeness of character which is inescapable of even righteous indignation: according to which it is tantamount to equanimity. Plato opposes it to fierceness or cruelty, and uses it of humanity to the condemned; but also of the conciliatory demeanor of a demagogue seeking popularity and power. Pindar applies it to a king, mild or kind to the citizens, and Herodotus uses it as opposed to anger.
These pre-Christian meanings of the word exhibit two general characteristics. 1. They express outward conduct merely. 2. They contemplate relations to men only. The Christian word, on the contrary, describes an inward quality, and that as related primarily to God. The equanimity, mildness, kindness, represented by the classical word, are founded in self-control or in natural disposition. The Christian meekness is based on humility, which is not a natural quality but an outgrowth of a renewed nature. To the pagan the word often implied condescension, to the Christian it implies submission. The Christian quality, in its manifestation, reveals all that was best in the heathen virtue - mildness, gentleness, equanimity - but these manifestations toward men are emphasized as outgrowths of a spiritual relation to God. The mildness or kindness of Plato or Pindar imply no sense of inferiority in those who exhibit them; sometimes the contrary. Plato's demagogue is kindly from self-interest and as a means to tyranny. Pindar's king is condescendingly kind. The meekness of the Christian springs from a sense of the inferiority of the creature to the Creator, and especially of the sinful creature to the holy God. While, therefore, the pagan quality is redolent of self-assertion, the Christian quality carries the flavor of self-abasement. As toward God, therefore, meekness accepts his dealings without murmur or resistance as absolutely good and wise. As toward man, it accepts opposition, insult, and provocation, as God's permitted ministers of a chastening demanded by the infirmity and corruption of sin; while, under this sense of his own sinfulness, the meek bears patiently "the contradiction of sinners against himself," forgiving and restoring the erring in a spirit of meekness, considering himself, lest he also be tempted (see Galatians 6:1-5). The ideas of forgiveness and restoration nowhere attach to the classical word. They belong exclusively to Christian meekness, which thus shows itself allied to love. As ascribed by our Lord to himself, see Matthew 11:29. Wyc. renders "Blessed be mild men."
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Shall be filled (χορτασθήσονται)
A very strong and graphic word, originally applied to the feeding and fattening of animals in a stall. In Revelation 19:21, it is used of the filling of the birds with the flesh of God's enemies. Also of the multitudes fed with the loaves and fishes (Matthew 14:20; Mark 8:8; Luke 9:17). It is manifestly appropriate here as expressing the complete satisfaction of spiritual hunger and thirst. Hence Wycliffe's rendering, fulfilled, is strictly true to the original.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
See on Luke 1:50.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
The peacemakers (οἱ εἰρηνοποιοί)
Should be held to its literal meaning, peace-makers; not as Wyc., peaceable men. The founders and promoters of peace are meant; who not only keep the peace, but seek to bring men into harmony with each other. Tynd. renders, the maintainers of peace.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.
Have lost his savour (μωρανθῇ)
The kindred noun (μωρός) means dull, sluggish; applied to the mind, stupid or silly; applied to the taste, insipid, flat. The verb here used of salt, to become insipid, also means to play the fool. Our Lord refers here to the familiar fact of salt losing its pungency and becoming useless. Dr. Thompson ("The Land and the Book") cites the following case: "A merchant of Sidon, having farmed of the government the revenue from the importation of salt, brought over a great quantity from the marshes of Cyprus - enough, in fact, to supply the whole province for many years. This he had transferred to the mountains, to cheat the government out of some small percentage of duty. Sixty-five houses were rented and filled with salt. Such houses have merely earthen floors, and the salt next the ground was in a few years entirely spoiled. I saw large quantities of it literally thrown into the road to be trodden under foot of men and beasts. It was 'good for nothing.'"
Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
A bushel (τὸν μόδιον)
Rev., rightly, "the bushel;" since the definite article is designed to indicate a familiar object - the grain-measure which is found in every house.
A candlestick (τὴν λυχνίαν)
Rev., the stand. Also a part of the furniture of every house, and commonly but one in the house: hence the article. The word, which occurs four times in the Gospels and eight times elsewhere, means, in every ease, not a candlestick, but a lamp-stand. In Hebrews 9:2, the golden "candlestick" of the tabernacle is called λυχνία; but in the description of this article (Exodus 25:31, Exodus 25:39), we read, "Thou shalt make the seven lamps thereof;" and in Zechariah 4:2, where the imagery is drawn from the sanctuary, we have a "candlestick" with a bowl on the top of it, "and his seven lamps thereon, and seven pipes (for the oil) to the lamps which are upon the top thereof."
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
So shine (οὕτως)
Often misconceived, as if the meaning were, "Let your light shine in such a way that men may see," etc. Standing at the beginning of the sentence, it points back to the illustration just used. "So," even as that lamp just mentioned, let your light shine. Wycliffe has apparently caught this correct sense: So shine your light before men.
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
To destroy (καταλῦσαι)
Lit., to loosen down, dissolve; Wyc., undo.
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
Jot, tittle (ἰῶτα κεραία)
Jot is for jod, the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Tittle is the little bend or point which serves to distinguish certain Hebrew letters of similar appearance. Jewish tradition mentions the letter jod as being irremovable; adding that, if all men in the world were gathered to abolish the least letter in the law, they would not succeed. The guilt of changing those little hooks which distinguish between certain Hebrew letters is declared to be so great that, if such a thing were done, the world would be destroyed.
Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:
But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
Hell-fire (τήν γέενναν τοῦ πυρός)
Rev., more accurately, the hell of fire. The word Gehenna, rendered hell, occurs outside of the Gospels only at James 3:6. It is the Greek representative of the Hebrew Ge-Hinnom, or Valley of Hinnom, a deep, narrow glen to the south of Jerusalem, where, after the introduction of the worship of the fire-gods by Ahaz, the idolatrous Jews sacrificed their children to Molech. Josiah formally desecrated it, "that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire to Molech" (2 Kings 23:10). After this it became the common refuse-place of the city, into which the bodies of criminals, carcasses of animals, and all sorts of filth were cast. From its depth and narrowness, and its fire and ascending smoke, it became the symbol of the place of the future punishment of the wicked. So Milton:
"The pleasant valley of Hinnom, Tophet thence
And black Gehenna called, the type of hell."
As fire was the characteristic of the place, it was called the Gehenna of fire. It should be carefully distinguished from Hades (ᾅδης), which is never used for the place of punishment, but for the place of departed spirits, without reference to their moral condition. This distinction, ignored by the A. V., is made in the Rev.
Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.
Agree with (ἴσθι εὐνοῶν)
Lit., be well-minded toward; inclined to satisfy by paying or compromising. Wyc., Be thou consenting to.
Denoting a subordinate official, as a herald or an orderly, and in this sense applied to Mark as the "minister" or attendant of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:5). It furnishes an interesting instance of the expansion of a word from a limited and special meaning into a more general one; and also of the influence of the Gospel in lifting words into higher and purer associations. Formed with the verb ἐρέσσω, to row, it originally signified a rower, as distinguished from a soldier, in a war-galley. This word for a galley-slave comes at last, in the hands of Luke and Paul, to stand for the noblest of all offices, that of a minister of the Lord Jesus (Luke 1:2; Acts 26:16; 1 Corinthians 4:1).
Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.
And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
The word offend carries to the English reader the sense of giving offence, provoking. Hence the Rev., by restoring the picture in the word, restores its true meaning, causeth to stumble. The kindred noun is σκάνδαλον, a later form of σκανδάληθρον, the stick in a trap on which the bait is placed, and which springs up and shuts the trap at the touch of an animal. Hence, generally, a snare, a stumbling-block. Christ's meaning here is: "If your eye or your hand serve as an obstacle or trap to ensnare or make you fall in your moral walk." How the eye might do this may be seen in the previous verse. Bengel observes: "He who, when his eye proves a stumbling-block, takes care not to see, does in reality blind himself." The words scandal and slander are both derived from σκάνδαλον; and Wyc. renders, "If thy right eye slander thee." Compare Aeschylus, "Choephori," 301,372.
And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:
But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.
Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:
But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne:
Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.
Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.
But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.
Coat, cloke (χιτῶνα, ἱμάτιον)
The former, the shirt-like under-garment or tunic; the latter, the mantle, or ampler over-garment, which served as a covering for the night, and therefore was forbidden by the Levitical law to be retained in pledge overnight (Exodus 22:26, Exodus 22:27). To yield up this without resistance therefore implies a higher degree of concession.
And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
Shall compel thee to go (ἀγγαρεύσει)
This word throws the whole injunction into a picture which is entirely lost to the English reader. A man is travelling, and about to pass a post-station, where horses and messengers are kept in order to forward royal missives as quickly as possible. An official rushes out, seizes him, and forces him to go back and carry a letter to the next station, perhaps to the great detriment of his business. The word is of Persian origin, and denotes the impressment into service, which officials were empowered to make of any available persons or beasts on the great lines of road where the royal mails were carried by relays of riders.
Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.
Properly, to borrow at interest.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
Neighbor (τὸν πλησίον)
Another word to which the Gospel has imparted a broader and deeper sense. Literally it means the one near (so the Eng., neighbor equals nigh-bor), indicating a mere outward nearness, proximity. Thus a neighbor might be an enemy. Socrates (Plato, "Republic," ii., 373) shows how two adjoining states might come to want each a piece of its neighbor's (τῶν πλησίον) land, so that there would arise war between them; and again (Plato, "Theaetetus," 174) he says that a philosopher is wholly unacquainted with his next-door neighbor, and does not know whether he is a man or an animal. The Old Testament expands the meaning to cover national or tribal fellowship, and that is the sense in our Lord's quotation here. The Christian sense is expounded by Jesus in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29 sqq.), as including the whole brotherhood of man, and as founded in love for man, as man, everywhere.
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.