August 12, 2020

The Beatitudes: Virtues or Proclamations?

By Chaplain Mike

I am working through N.T. Wright’s exhilarating book on Christian growth and character, After You Believe. I hope to post a full review soon. First, I’d like to interact with one small aspect of something he presents.

Wright’s chapter on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) communicates some wonderful insights about how how Jesus commends the practice of genuine “virtue” from a uniquely eschatological perspective:

God’s future is arriving in the present, in the person and work of Jesus, and you can practice, right now, the habits of life which will find their goal in that coming future. (p. 103)

According to the author, the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount are not:

  • Mere laws or rules of behavior. Jesus did not set forth his teaching to be taken in a legalistic sense—that by behaving this way, we will gain rewards from God.
  • Mere instructions to believers. Jesus did not present his teaching as, “I’m doing my work, and now that you believe in me, here are the works you must do in response.”

Instead, Wright puts Jesus’ instructions in the Sermon in their proper salvation-historical context.

What Jesus is saying, rather, is, “Now that I’m here, God’s new world is coming to birth; and, once you realize that, you’ll see that these are the habits of heart which anticipate that new world here and now.” These qualities—purity of heart, mercy, and so on—are not, so to speak, “things you have to do” to earn a “reward,” a “payment.” Nor are they merely the “rules of conduct” laid down for new converts to follow…They are, in themselves, the signs of life, the language of life, the life of new creation, the life of new covenant, the life which Jesus came to bring. (p. 106)

It is Jesus’ coming to inaugurate God’s kingdom and the dawning of God’s new creation in him, that makes it possible for his followers to begin to practice a new life now, in anticipation of the future consummation when all will be made new.

So far, so good. I just have one problem with Wright’s analysis.

My problem has to do with his take on 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 5:3-11, ESV)

Like many commentators on Matthew and even some NT translations, N.T. Wright takes the Beatitudes as a list of virtues. He doesn’t so much argue as assume this in his book. For him, Jesus’ moral teaching begins right at the outset of the Sermon, setting forth how those who enter the Kingdom may now live.

  • So then, “poor in spirit” means “humble,” and “meek” is seen as a positive character quality (perhaps something like “gentle”).
  • This interpretation appears to work seamlessly with “pure in heart,” “the merciful,” and “peacemakers.”
  • It doesn’t work so well with “those who mourn,” “those hungry for righteousness,” and “those who are persecuted.”

Nevertheless, despite the difficulties in making each Beatitude fit, in Wright’s view they form a list of virtues which Jesus uses to commence his moral teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.

In my opinion, however, he misses the real point of the Beatitudes, a point which would actually strengthen his presentation of the eschatological nature of the Sermon on the Mount and the now/future ethic that Jesus is teaching within it.

The Beatitudes are better heard as Jesus’ announcements of the dawning of the Kingdom. They are the introduction to the Sermon, not the moral teaching which forms its body. They form the preface to this discourse which subsequently presents the “righteousness” of that Kingdom, giving specific examples of the virtues and actions that exemplify the life of the new creation. The Beatitudes are not those virtues, rather they describe the new state that has now arrived in Jesus in which those virtues may be practiced. It is a state in which even the most unlikely may receive the gift of divine blessedness and become the “light of the world.”

One who has a better handle on the Beatitudes and what they teach is Dallas Willard. In his classic book on spiritual formation, The Divine Conspiracy, Willard analyzes the Sermon on the Mount in more detail and sets forth a revelatory approach to these familiar teachings. For Willard, the Beatitudes…

…are explanations and illustrations, drawn from immediate setting, of the present availability of the kingdom through personal relationship to Jesus. They single out cases that provide proof that, in him, the rule of God from the heavens truly is available in life circumstances that are beyond all human hope. (p. 106)

Taking this general approach, I hold that the Beatitudes are pronouncements of grace. They announce that:

  • those who have little or no hope,
  • those who appear to have little to offer to the world,
  • those who are on the fringes of society (and religious society in particular),
  • those who live in ways that the world considers weak, unproductive, and unsuccessful,
  • those who are considered the “losers”—

—all are welcome to share in the Kingdom blessings that Jesus brings. There is no human situation that excludes one from being blessed in Jesus. The world and its evaluation of who wins and who loses will not have the final say. In Jesus, God has the last word.

  • Even if you are spiritually bankrupt (poor in spirit),
  • Even if you are overwhelmed by the sadness of life in this world (those who mourn),
  • Even if you are the kind of person who doesn’t stand up for yourself or assert your rights (meek),
  • Even if you are fed up with and broken by injustice (those who hunger and thirst for righteousness),
  • Even if your heart is soft, you are always giving to others, and easily taken advantage of by needy people (merciful),
  • Even if you are so concerned with having a clear conscience that others think you a prude (pure in heart),
  • Even if you are always trying to pacify others and care more about diffusing conflict than any other objective (peacemakers),
  • Even if your convictions and actions get you in constant trouble with those who set the rules (persecuted),

God’s blessings may be yours in Jesus! No human condition, no matter how hopeless it may appear, no matter how despised by the world, no matter how “unsuccessful” or insignificant others may deem it, disqualifies anyone from God’s grace in Christ. The last shall be first.

The Beatitudes are pronouncements of pure grace. Like other great passages, such as Mary’s Magnificat, they announce the inbreaking of God’s upside-down Kingdom. God is not bound by the current, fallen, corrupt value system that expects him to shower blessings on rich, successful, and powerful people, on “worthy ones” who are universally recognized and applauded by the world.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:52-53)

Seeing the Beatitudes in this light strengthens rather than weakens N.T. Wright’s case about the nature of the Sermon on the Mount. Before Jesus teaches the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees (Matt 5:20), he first sets the eschatological context in which that righteousness may be lived out. The Kingdom is dawning! Jesus is inaugurating the God’s long-awaited rule in the world, a reign that will culminate in a new creation.

Those who follow Jesus may participate in that new creation reality now, no matter what their present condition. God’s grace is available to all. All are welcome. All may come. The blessings are here for you in Jesus.


  1. I think the Sermon on the Mount is pure law (not grace).

    Jesus is re-presenting the law that Moses gave, but in a much harder way. A way that leaves us no wiggle room at all towards our efforts to gain righteousness by anything that we do, sau, feel, or think.

    “Your righteousness must EXCEED that of the scribes and Pharisees.”

    “If you even LOOK at a woman in that (sexual) way.”

    “If you are angry with your brother then YOU ARE a murderer.”

    “You must be PERFECT as your father in Heven is perfect.”

    Where’s the grace in all of that?

    The grace comes immediately AFTER the Sermon on the Mount (chapter 8 in Matthew) when the leper says to Jesus, “Lord, make me clean if you will.” And Jesus says, “I will; be clean.”

    There it is. Law/Gospel.

    Sermon on the Mount is Law…to kill us off to our own project. Then Jesus shows us the only place we can go to be healed…Himself.


    • Steve,

      I respectfully disagree. I know that Lutherans have traditionally understood the Sermon on the Mount as pure law (to show us that God requires absolute perfection in righteousness that no sinful human can meet). However, there is a growing number of biblical scholars, both mainline and conservative, that find this view problematic (which I agree with). What Jesus is presenting in this Sermon is what characterizes those who belong to the Kingdom (i.e., those who are born again). The righteousness that must exceed the scribes and Pharisees is a righteousness that comes from the heart and not merely from the outside. This doesn’t mean Christians earn their salvation by their good deeds of the heart but that good deeds of the heart are evidence that one truly belongs to the Lord. Jesus pretty much puts a death nail on the heresy of antinomianism here – that justification and sanctification are not connected whatsoever.

      • Hmm… That’s interesting… But isn’t that perspective still compatible with the basic Lutheran idea about what the Sermon on the Mount does?

        In other words, assume that the Sermon is about “what characterizes those who belong to the Kingdom (i.e., those who are born again).” If we have to reach the Kingdom of God by somehow acquiring those characteristics, then we could only despair. We couldn’t do it. The Sermon shows us the way of Christ–it shows up steps that we’re powerless to walk in.

        Instead, the way that we enter the Kingdom is by grace, through faith, being born again by the Spirit, which then transforms us to look like the Kingdom.

        So, grace is perhaps pronounced in the Beatitudes; the characteristics of the Kingdom (i.e. the Law) are described in the rest of the Sermon; the way that we enter the Kingdom is hinted at in Matt 8:1-4.

    • Jonathan Hunnicutt says

      So a sermon that starts with: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” is all about law?

    • Steve, though I love Lutheran theology, I think this understanding of the Sermon on the Mount is based completely on dogmatic presuppositions (Law/Gospel) rather than the actual reading of the text.

      Of course the “righteousness” presented in the Sermon convicts us of our sin, but we can’t reduce it to that one narrow purpose.

      The Beatitudes are pure grace—the announcement that God’s blessings from heaven are available to anyone, no matter what their position in life. This is even clearer in Luke’s version (chapter 6):

      ‘Blessed are you who are poor,
      for yours is the kingdom of God.
      Blessed are you who are hungry now,
      for you will be filled.
      ‘Blessed are you who weep now,
      for you will laugh.

      And on the other hand:

      ‘But woe to you who are rich,
      for you have received your consolation.
      ‘Woe to you who are full now,
      for you will be hungry.
      ‘Woe to you who are laughing now,
      for you will mourn and weep.’

      These statements are not “laws” designed to convict us of sin, but announcements of a complete change that is coming into the world through Jesus. God’s project of turning the world “right side up” has dawned in Jesus.

  2. Chaplain Mike,

    I am surprised that you like N. T. Wright’s stuff. Did you know that he believes that the sharp distinction between law and gospel that Lutherans have traditionally made is unscriptural?

    • Wright affirms the heart of Reformation teaching, and also wisely reminds us that their doctrinal formulations were designed to address specific theological concerns in the late Medieval period. These concerns were not the same specific concerns Jesus and Paul addressed in their day.

      Wright has done the church an invaluable service by encouraging us to read the NT in its original historical context first and only then ask how it should be applied in later historical contexts.

      • Chaplain Mike wrote: “Wright affirms the heart of Reformation teaching…”

        With all due respect Chaplain, that is one of the most crockiest things I have heard from you on this forum. I laughed out loud inside just reading that short line. I guess you haven’t carefully read his stuff on Paul’s view of the law and his response to Piper on justification. LOL!

        • I have carefully read it. And I just listened to Wright affirm exactly what I said at the Wheaton conference. His book on Justification says it as plainly as the nose on your face.

  3. Mark,

    I don’t see your point of view as being correct, Mark.

    Even though we are believers, we still don’t live as Jesus tells us how we ought live.

    We don’t hunger and thirst for righteousness. We are not meek and mild. We assert ourselves. We put ourselves first, so much of the time.

    I think the Lutheran view on this one is right on. The S.O.M. condemns all of us. If it doesn’t, then we have a pride problem. No, this ought paint us all into the corner where the only place to go is to the person of Jesus and His cross and His forgiveness.

    Thanks, my friend.

    • Isn’t this just about the already/not-yet manifestation of the Kingdom? We don’t always look like the Kingdom, but the Spirit does progressively sanctify us in this life. We are being transformed by the renewing of our minds, looking more like Christ.

    • Absolutely it condemns us. But we can’t take an antinomian attitude about it either. It condemns us, but we absolutely OUGHT to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect.
      If we think for one second that it is OK for us not to be perfect, then we love only ourselves and despise God’s holy decrees.

      Even though we recognize that it seldom/never is perfectly obeyed, the S.O.M. OUGHT to be obeyed.

      If we allow ourselves to think God’s law too strident, then we are impennitant antinomians. In Romans 7, the pennitant Paul is FIGHTING against his flesh. He LOVES God’s holy decrees and HATES the sin he does. David, in Psalm 119, also gives us a perfect picture of Christian repentance:
      My soul clings to the dust;
      give me life according to your word!
      When I told of my ways, you answered me;
      teach me your statutes!
      Make me understand the way of your precepts,
      and I will meditate on your wondrous works.
      My soul melts away for sorrow;
      strengthen me according to your word!
      Put false ways far from me
      and graciously teach me your law!
      I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
      I set your rules before me.
      I cling to your testimonies, O LORD;
      let me not be put to shame!
      I will run in the way of your commandments
      when you enlarge my heart! (Ps 119 Daleth)

  4. Mike, I believe you are dead on.

    We are set free to obey, not by obeying. Grace comes first. The Beatitudes announce the gospel of the kingdom, which set the stage for the kingdom blueprint of the rest of the Sermon. Only in a kingdom where the “spiritually poor” and humble are blessed can one love his enemy and bless those who persecute him.

    Yes, our righteousness is to exceed the Pharisees. But anyone who thinks we accomplish this by our hard work has already failed.

    Unless Jesus and Paul preach different gospels, Jesus himself is driving us to see our spiritual poverty in such standards, making us yearn for His righteousness.

    Either his yoke is easy and his burden light . . . or they’re not.

  5. Hi Chaplain Mike,

    Excellent post. My question is, how then do you understand the present and future differences that we see in the beatitudes? The “shall be” versus the “is”.

    • Michael, I have not really thought about that part. If I were to answer off the top of my head, I might say they reflect something of the “already/not yet” tension. Because Jesus is here, announcing these blessings, people are already tasting the new creation, though its fullness will only be realized in the future.

      • Brigitte says

        Mourning takes a long time, a very long time, and when you think things are better, it comes back to bite you again. We are comforted with a hope for the future. When all tears are wiped away, then we’ll be ok in that place.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          I have spent 25 years grieving over the loss of the only love of my life. (Not dead, just left me. I think it would have been easier for me to handle if she had died.) 25 years AA (After Ann), and it still hurts like it just happened. It’s still an open wound.

  6. Bob Young says

    I’m with Chaplain Mike & Dallas Willard on this one. The Baptist tradition I grew up with (and am still recovering from) holds the SOM and other of Jesus’ teachings as pre-church and strictly law; I no longer buy into that, and think that kind of approach totally misses the kingdom Jesus was proclaiming, one that brings good news to the poor, liberty to the captives and imprisoned, sight to the blind, etc. He wasn’t bringing more the bad news of a stricter interpretation of the law in which we are all condemned (and which misses the shalom intended by the law in the first place) – he was bringing GOOD NEWS, especially to the misfits and outcasts.

    Think about it – the main bad news he brought was for the self-assured Pharisees who were certain their traditional interpretations were the correct ones… there will be many on that day who say “Lord, Lord – did we not do in your name?” And he’ll say, “I never knew you”. What a dreadful day, especially for self-assured religious folk who never really followed what Jesus actually taught.

  7. Well, I for one found Chap Mike’s interpretation to be a real encouragement to me today. The list of “Even If” statements gives me hope to persevere in the faith. Sometimes even a believer who’s been a Christian for 40 years just wants to lay down and die; it’s good to know that, through Jesus, God still wants to accept and bless a person.

    And those are my thoughts on this, for what it’s worth…

  8. I don’t know any Christians who follow what Jesus actually taught.

    “Love God and your neighbor as yourself…”

    We all fail. Not just by what we do that we shouldn’t be doing, but even more so by what we should be doing…that we refuse to do.

    When Jesus was asked, “What must we do to do the will of the Father?” Jesus answered them, “Believe in the one whom He has sent.”

    The question that I like to ask (and that I like asked of myself) to folks in the obedience game, is “How are you doing?”

    If we can be brutally honest with ourselves, we won’t like the answer. But we will like Jesus’ answer…”Your sins are forgiven”

  9. Luther’s commentary on the sermon on the mount can be found here:

    Here is a little bit. The beatitudes are, Luther calls a “sweet and genial beginning”. Christ comes in a “friendly manner” , not like Moses. He would agree with Mike, the Chaplain, I think.

    To me it reads like a theology of the cross, not glory.
    Read a little below. Sorry, if it’s too long.

    V. 3. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

    This is a delightful, sweet and genial beginning of his sermon. For he does not come, like Moses or a teacher of law, with alarming and threatening demands; but in the most friendly manner, with enticements and allurements and pleasant promises. And indeed, if it had not been thus recorded, and if the first uttered precious words of the Lord Christ had not been given to us all, an over-curious spirit would tempt and impel everybody to run after them even to Jerusalem, yes, to the end of the world, if one might hear but a word of it all. Then there would be plenty of money forthcoming to build a good road, and every one would boastingly glory how he had heard or read the very words that the Lord Christ had spoken. O what a wonderfully happy man would he be held to be who should succeed in this! That is just the way it surely would be if we had none of our Savior’s words written, although much might have been written by others; and every one would say: Yes, I hear indeed what St.

    Paul and his other apostles have taught, but I would much rather hear what he himself said and preached. But now that it is so common, that every one has it written in a book, and can read it daily, nobody regards it as something special and precious. Yes, we grow tired of them and neglect them, just as if not the high Majesty of heaven, but some cobbler, had uttered them. Therefore we are duly punished for our ingratitude and contemptuous treatment of these words by getting little enough from them, and never feeling or tasting what a treasure, force and power there is in the words of Christ. But he who has grace only to recognize them as the words of God and not of man, will surely regard them as higher and more precious, and never grow tired or weary of them.

    Kindly and sweet as this sermon is for Christians, who are our Lord’s disciples, just so vexatious and intolerable is it for the Jews and their great saints. For he hits them a hard blow in the very beginning with these words, rejects and condemns their doctrine and preaches the direct contrary; yes, he denounces woe against their way of living and teaching, as is shown in the sixth chapter of Luke. For the substance of their teaching was this: If it goes well with a man here upon earth, he is happy and well off; that was all they aimed at, that God should give them enough upon earth, if they were pious and served him; as David says of them in Psalm 144: “Our garners are full, affording all manner of store; our sheep bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our streets; our oxen are strong to labor; there is no breaking in or going out; there is no complaining in our streets.”

    These they call happy people, etc.

    Against all this Christ opens his mouth and says there is something else needed than having enough here upon earth; as if to say: You dear disciples, if you come to preach among the people, you will find that they all teach and believe thus: He who is rich, powerful, etc., is altogether happy; and again, he who is poor and miserable is rejected and condemned before God. For the Jews were firmly fixed in this belief: if it went well with a man, that was a proof that God was gracious to him; and the reverse. This is explained by the fact that they had many and great promises from God of temporal and bodily good things that he would bestow upon the pious. They relied upon these, and supposed that if they had this they were well off. This is the theory that underlies the book of Job. For in regard to this his friends dispute with and contend against him, and insist strongly upon it that he must have knowingly committed some great crime against God, that he was so severely punished. Therefore he ought to confess it, be converted and become pious, then God would take away the punishment again from him, etc.

  10. Mike I think your right on in your analysis. I think wright is right about the sermon on the mount as a whole – But I think Dallas willards understanding of the beatitudes is better.

  11. I’ve always seen the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus’ efforts to systematically dismantle the stifling religious culture built up by the teachings of Pharisees and Sadducees (who had their own systematic theology). I see a parallel between John preparing the people for the arrival of Jesus and then Jesus preparing the people for the arrival of the kingdom. So I would say the Beautitudes are proclamations and Jesus is a town crier: “Hear ye! Hear ye! The kingdom of God has arrived!”

  12. Isaac Rehberg (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

    About a year or so ago I took a class in biblical Greek. The professor’s understanding of the beatitudes was very similar to yours, Chaplain Mike, based on the grammar of the Greek itself. It’s definitely given me something to think about.

  13. ouch! Sorry I typed that way too fast and was lazy in my proof reading [there was none!]

    Let me rephrase that:

    Being poor in spirit refers to us being so spiritually bankrupt of our own spiritual resources that we acknowledge that we need somebody elses.

    Meek does noe mean weak.

    • You are reading too much into “poor in spirit.” Meek does mean “powerless” in this context.

      These are not qualities Jesus is commending. He’s looking at the losers in the world and telling them that his blessings can be theirs no matter what their condition.

      • I would submit to you Mike that your take on this is incorrect .

        May I suggest youy read John Stott regarding this, as he has written some fantastic stuff on this.

        Meek does not mean powerless – it means a power under control.

        • Matthew, I have read Stott. He reads the Beatitudes as virtues.

          The problem is not just what one word means (words can mean different things in different contexts). The problem is that those who read the Beatitudes as virtues are missing the point of what they are about.

          A prime example is “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” In the “virtue” reading, Jesus is talking about someone who seeks God earnestly and longs to be righteous. The words can bear that meaning.

          However, if we understand the context as proclamation of the dawning Kingdom and not a list of virtues, the same words mean something like, “those who are sick of injustice and are longing for God to make things right.” In other words, the broken people of the world who have been treated unjustly and who cry out for vindication.

          • That is a strecth is is not Mike ?-

            To say that we can imply different meanings determined by what we percieve which context to choose?

            • Matthew, that is not what I said at all!

              I’m saying that if you don’t understand the context, you can come up with an entirely different meaning.

              • Okay – easy big fella.

                I misunderstood, this happens from time to time.

                I guess our contexts are different, thus our interpretations are different.

                Pretty crazy really.

        • That is what John MacArthur exactly says about meekness in the Beatitudes.

      • “He’s looking at the losers in the world and telling them that his blessings can be theirs no matter what their condition.”

        I would say that perhaps our definition of losers, those who lack any sort of afluence, fame or acceptance, might be a little different than what Jesus may have had in mind. A person can have the best in the world and still in his heart know that he is nothing more than dust. I see this in the rich young ruler who had everything and then falls before Jesus asking about eternal life.

        In our current time, we would treat him like a leper, tossing him aside, telling him to be silent, judging that because he was rich, young and popular, he was not fit for the kingdom of heaven, that he was not one of the “losers” Jesus came to reach.

        • MWPeak: while what you say is true, that’s a different passage of Scripture. I think you are missing the radical social ethic that is included in Jesus’ words. This is more thoroughly expounded in Luke, with the Magnificat, Jesus’ own “mission statement” in Luke 4, the parallel to the Sermon on the Mount, the story of the rich man and Lazarus, and so on. We mustn’t always “spiritualize” Jesus’ words. He hung with the poor (the truly, materially poor) in order to show us that no one is beyond God’s grace, in spite of the world’s evaluation of their “success.”

          • I’m with you, Mike. I do understand the social ethic and how it so challenged the civilized world of that time and challenges us today. My only concern is that humans tend to go to extremes on social ethics. Either there is favor for the rich and the poor are despised (the most common state) or the exact opposite, that the poor are virtuous and the affluent are devils in fine clothes, a trend I see today in churches.

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says

              …or the exact opposite, that the poor are virtuous and the affluent are devils in fine clothes, a trend I see today in churches.

              And that you saw in the French Revolution, the First Russian Revolution, and all their copycats from Paris to Phnom Penh and Pyongyang.

  14. When reading through the Gospels, it is impossible to put a finger on exactly how much of the coming Kingdom is already vs. not yet. It’s not something we can quantify. I certainly agree that the Beatitudes are talking about promises to be fully realized in the future that by God’s grace we can already take comfort in. The fulfillment is as sure as if it has already occurred. Perhaps we could think of it as in the process of occurring.

    Jesus says for instance that “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” He was standing right there; they could reach out and touch him. Jesus said his disciples did not fast while he was in their presence. But he told the Samaritan woman that the time was coming when God’s worshipers would worship in spirit and in truth, rather than this mountain or that temple. During his lifetime, Jesus lived as an observant Jew, but said some New Testament church things knowing that its formation was right around the corner. We are building the Kingdom, living like it’s here, and it’s coming. I can’t write an algebra equation for it, but we believe this to be true.

  15. I’m with proclamations … announcements of the blessings of the Kingdom … but of course the dispositions…(you might call them virtues) is what enables us to recieve of these inbreaking blessings … for instance being open handed i.e. “poor in spirit” … trusting God in faith… is what opens us to God’s work of His Kingdom in and around our lives. Bet commentary I’ve ever read on this is Bob Guelich’s commentary on the Sermon on the Mt .. 1981 …

    • David, I don’t think these are “dispositions…[that] enable us to receive these inbreaking blessings.”

      The people are described in terms of their situation in life, not spiritual characteristics. The Beatitudes are a longer eschatological pronouncement that is equivalent to “the last shall be first.”

      In that saying of Jesus, being “last” doesn’t describe a “disposition” that opens us up to God’s Kingdom; it simply says we’re “last,” we’re the ones no one would ever expect to come in first.

      We could summarize the Beatitudes by saying, “Blessed are the losers, for in my Kingdom they will be the winners.”

  16. ahumanoid says

    Interesting perspective, Chap Mike.

    Growing up within the realm of Independent Baptist Fundamentalism, I was told that the Beatitudes and the whole Sermon on the Mount are not applicable today. Rather, these teachings are for the kingdom age (millenial kingdom). Weird, I know. I’m glad I can now appreciate the beauty of these teachings without relegating them to a future age.

  17. Thanks, Chaplain Mike. This was a terrific post and an illuminating discussion for me. I guess I need to bump “The Divine Conspiracy” way up on my list of books I mean to read someday 🙂

    I had always been taught the Beatitudes as virtues, and it never made any sense to me, so this has been enormously helpful for me.

  18. Have you written to Wright to get his take on your thoughts? I had a question for him once and he got back to my email within a couple days. (

  19. Last year, Bishop Wright gave a lecture to Fuller Seminary on what he means by “virtues”. He somehow managed to make an analogy utilizing Capt. Sullenberger and the US Air flight that landed on the Hudson river to explain how virtues become “second nature”. It’s worth a listen. itunes link is here:

  20. Here’s an except vefrom a January interview of N.T. Wright by Trevin Wax.

    Wright: “…A virtue ethic isn’t so much telling you the detailed rules as showing you:

    (a) THAT you need to develop the “strengths” of character to live appropriately as the natural outflowing of the person you have become, and
    (b) HOW to develop those strengths.
    The illustration I sometimes use is that when you learn to drive a car, the idea is that you will quickly come to do most of the things “automatically”, changing gear, using the brakes, etc., and that you will develop the “virtues” of a good driver, looking out for other road users, not allowing yourself to be distracted, etc.; but that the highways agencies construct crash barriers and so on so that even if you don’t drive appropriately damage is limited; and also those “rumble strips”, as we call them in the UK, which make a loud noise on the tire if you even drift to the edge of the roadway.

    “Rules” and “the Moral Law” are like those crash barriers and rumble strips. Ideally you won’t need them because you will have learned the character-strengths and will drive down the moral highway appropriately. But the rules are there so that when you start to drift, you are at once alerted and can take appropriate action – particularly figuring out what strengths need more work to stop it happening again.”

    • Thanks. The point of the post isn’t so much Wright’s view of what virtues are, but rather his adoption of a common interpretation of the Beatitudes.

  21. Chaplain Mike,

    Though not Lutheran, I’ve long leaned toward the view that the SOTM is designed to “flatten out” our self-righteousness and push us towards the Cross. The idea of “proclamation” that you are proposing is the first time I’ve seriously rethought that.

    Just curious, do you think Jesus’ audience was aware of this proclamation? Or was it something that they really would not “get” until later on?