Matthew 5:3a

How do I work out the meaning of a Greek text? How can I best understand the forms and vocabulary in this particular text?
Forum rules
This is a beginner's forum - see the Koine Greek forum for more advanced discussion of Greek texts. Please quote the Greek text you are discussing directly in your post if it is reasonably short - do not ask people to look it up.

When answering questions in this forum, keep it simple, and aim your responses to the level of the person asking the question.
Oun Kwon
Posts: 5
Joined: June 3rd, 2011, 12:31 pm

Re: Matthew 5:3a

Post by Oun Kwon » June 4th, 2011, 6:38 pm

Lee Moses wrote:So, Oun, to put it a little more succinctly, "Blessed in spirit are the poor"? Interesting take. So τῷ πνεύματι would modify μακάριοι rather than οἱ πτωχοὶ? One problem with that would be that the beatitudes are formulaic. So if you want to be consistent, and if you want τῷ πνεύματι to modify μακάριοι, you also will need τῇ καρδίᾳ to modify μακάριοι in verse 8--"Blessed in heart are the pure."
In essence, yes. However, I don't think the phrase has to be there to come right after MAKARIOI to read the text that way. Originally the text must have been as in Luke with G-Matthew adding the phrase as 'explanatory' - that's how I tried to phrase in English to read the text.
  • 'Blessed are the poor' - how? - As to their spirit, not in the material sense (as in prosperity gospel).
As to the entrenched tradition of spiritualized reading of G-Mt in contrast (or contradictory to) the straight-forward social reading of G-Luke, we have a problem of finding 'poor in spirit' no where in the Bible. I think it's only in our modern mind. It's also not about humbleness, which is covered separately in the Beatitudes. Anyway, what does it mean to say that ones' spirit is poor (or Jonathan says 'spiritually destitute')? It does come to our mind as nothing but 'broken spirit', 'lacking in spirit', 'in despair' etc. Then, we are facing another problem of understanding what 'spirit' means.

I don't think we can read the expression 'in need of grace' in the G-Mt. There is nothing Pauline about the Gospels, which actually do not belong to the New Testament dispensation, but still in the Old Testament dispensation. G-Mt is especially addressed to the Judaic people. [Ref: Tom Weaver, The Gospel Solution (True Light Press 1999)] What we know as grace-based Gospel comes into existence only after the Pentecost event and, esp. through Pauline teaching. So much for this, if I have to stay within the bound of B-Greek.

As to the TWi PNEUMATI, it should help us to properly read as 'their spirit'. Otherwise it would be equivalent to a bland word 'spiritually', the word which I tend not to like anywhere within and without the Bible text. To me, it carries a nuance of saying 'in spiritual style' 'in spiritual fashion' 'in line with spirituality practice', etc.

When hOI PTWKOI is read as 'the poor ones' rather than 'the poor', it helps to avoid [almost automatic] reading it as 'poor in spirit', a KJV style Biblish idiom.
0 x

Jonathan Robie
Posts: 3489
Joined: May 5th, 2011, 5:34 pm
Location: Durham, NC

Re: Matthew 5:3a

Post by Jonathan Robie » June 4th, 2011, 6:47 pm

Oun Kwon wrote:Anyway, what does it mean to say that ones' spirit is poor (or Jonathan says 'spiritually destitute')? It does come to our mind as nothing but 'broken spirit', 'lacking in spirit', 'in despair' etc. Then, we are facing another problem of understanding what 'spirit' means.
I see three groupings here. Here's the first grouping:

οἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι,
οἱ πραεῖς,
οἱ πενθοῦντες,

All three of the above are related, if we interpret οἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι as I do.

Here's a second grouping:

οἱ πεινῶντες καὶ διψῶντες τὴν δικαιοσύνην,
οἱ ἐλεήμονες,
οἱ καθαροὶ τῇ καρδίᾳ,
οἱ εἰρηνοποιοί,

And a third:

οἱ δεδιωγμένοι ἕνεκεν δικαιοσύνης
ἐστε ὅταν ὀνειδίσωσιν ὑμᾶς καὶ διώξωσιν καὶ εἴπωσιν πᾶν πονηρὸν καθ’ ὑμῶν ψευδόμενοι ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ·
0 x
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;

Posts: 13
Joined: May 28th, 2018, 11:28 am

Re: Matthew 5:3a

Post by m_bauer » June 7th, 2018, 2:27 am

Hi there,
tried to contribute to the issue, too, and find now that this one is the right forum thread.
In the "Greek language experts discussions"-only forum, from where I was send here to the beginners forum,
I link: ... =30#p29980
There I wrote:
Hi Everybody, the direct, direct translation (Dative object) should be still the best: "Blessed be the poor (given, sacrificed= done as such) to ghost!"

This is my first post. I got a different opinion on the first sentences, thus highly meaningful, radical and erosive, of a or the Christian base text, their is another thread about the same topic early and:
this is a little late to connect to this thread, maybe I should open a own post, with a reference to the questioner's thread.

Μακάριοι οἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι, ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.
is the sentence in question. I think we are misled.
I am not the first one who detects this: Th. Adorno, member of the Frankfurt School, in Minima Moralia, Aphorism 127 Wishful Thinking. - Intelligenz ist eine moralische Kategorie. Die Trennung von Gefühl und Verstand, die es möglich macht, den Dummkopf frei und selig zu sprechen ...
He criticises, that it is found an ideology effort: to turn it some how as Greeks did: You are herd, we are the shepherds. Keep stupids but harmless.
m_bauer wrote: ↑May 28th, 2018, 5:59 pm
..., hypostasiert die historisch zustandegekommene Aufspaltung des Menschen nach Funktionen.
Here comes my translating of it:
Intelligence is a moral category. The separation of feeling and mind, makes it possible, to speak the simple minded free and blessed, .. and historically goes along with the hallowing of the functional splitting of a person.
Best wishes and Good Bye
0 x

Jonathan Robie
Posts: 3489
Joined: May 5th, 2011, 5:34 pm
Location: Durham, NC

Re: Matthew 5:3a

Post by Jonathan Robie » June 8th, 2018, 10:19 am

m_bauer wrote:
June 7th, 2018, 2:27 am
Hi Everybody, the direct, direct translation (Dative object) should be still the best: "Blessed be the poor (given, sacrificed= done as such) to ghost!"
To ghost? I'm not sure what you mean by that.

In Μακάριοι οἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι, the phrase τῷ πνεύματι is dative. τῷ is the article, it does not mean to, but I assume you know that. So I'm trying to think of a plausible way the dative could be translated 'to' here. Are you thinking of it as an indirect object, like "I gave the book to him"? If so, there's no transitive verb here, so it cannot be an indirect object.

I understand this as a dative of respect:
Respect: Denotes the respect or attendant circumstance in which an action is true. Smyth 1516
“ἀσθενὴς τῷ σώματι” Dem. 21.165; weak in body
Incidentally, you'll notice that we often add prepositions when we translate to English. Greek prepositions also have cases that often correspond to the cases of phrases like this. We add 'in', which corresponds to έν, which is dative. This page on prepositions gives a very good overview of cases and directionality of prepositions.

Prepositions-image-1.png (47.72 KiB) Viewed 644 times

If you find yourself translating by adding a preposition, and the case of the corresponding Greek preposition does not agree with the preposition you added, be careful.

You might also find it helpful to look at how the dative form πνεύματι is used elsewhere in the New Testament.


And while we're at it, let's look at σώματι too:


One last suggestion: until you're very expert in Greek, odds are that the translators know better than you do. At any level of Greek, it's good to consider the range of existing translations and the reasons given for them first.
0 x
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;

Bill Ross
Posts: 24
Joined: August 12th, 2012, 6:26 pm

Re: Matthew 5:3a

Post by Bill Ross » November 30th, 2018, 12:47 pm

I'm grateful for all the responses but I'm still sort of left feeling that the various suggestions have this problem: The translation is good Greek but bad English. IE: It is legitimate Greek but what does it mean? Where's the OT background? Or a confirmatory NT usage?
The Outline of Biblical Usage ( ... 4434&t=KJV ) suggests this, which if the Greek is sound brings it more directly into the narrative of the whole of scripture:
destitute of wealth of learning and intellectual culture which the schools afford (men of this class most readily give themselves up to Christ's teaching and proved them selves fitted to lay hold of the heavenly treasure)
Perhaps the reference to "in the spirit" was deemed necessary because not every poor person is thereby "saved" but rather he is speaking of those whose minds and attitudes are those of the poor, ashamed even to speak. In both Deuteronomy and Ezekiel Israel is chided because God found them poor, prodigally enriched them and then watched as they became "fat" and proud:

[Deu 32:12-16 KJV] 12 [So] the LORD alone did lead him, and [there was] no strange god with him. 13 He made him ride on the high places of the earth, that he might eat the increase of the fields; and he made him to suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock; 14 Butter of kine, and milk of sheep, with fat of lambs, and rams of the breed of Bashan, and goats, with the fat of kidneys of wheat; and thou didst drink the pure blood of the grape. 15 But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered [with fatness]; then he forsook God [which] made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation. 16 They provoked him to jealousy with strange [gods], with abominations provoked they him to anger.

[Eze 16:2 CSB] 2 "Son of man, confront Jerusalem with her detestable practices. (See

This then links with, which Luke's version is very friendly with since he just says "Blessed are the poor":
[Luk 6:20-21 CSB] 20 Then looking up at his disciples, he said: Blessed are you who are poor, because the kingdom of God is yours. 21 Blessed are you who are now hungry, because you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, because you will laugh.

[Jas 2:1-9 KJV] 1 My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, [the Lord] of glory, with respect of persons. 2 For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; 3 And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: 4 Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? 5 Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? 6 But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? 7 Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? 8 If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: 9 But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.
[Mat 11:16-26 CSB] 16 "To what should I compare this generation? It's like children sitting in the marketplaces who call out to other children: 17 "We played the flute for you, but you didn't dance; we sang a lament, but you didn't mourn! 18 "For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon! ' 19 "The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners! ' Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds." 20 Then he proceeded to denounce the towns where most of his miracles were done, because they did not repent: 21 "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes long ago. 22 "But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 "And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until today. 24 "But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you." 25 At that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and revealed them to infants. 26 "Yes, Father, because this was your good pleasure.

So for me the bottom line seems to be:

"Blessed are the poor in attitude for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"

Or something close to that. IE: Basically I'm agreeing with the most straightforward reading and the translations as far as the grammar goes but interpreting it a tad differently where the "spirit" is the "attitude". Read that way it seems consistent with:

* Greek grammar and word usage (I think)
* Luke's version
* other references to the poor in Matthew
* Moses and the prophets
* James, etc. when speaking of the poor

BDAG has this usage for πνεῦμα:
ⓒ spiritual state, state of mind, disposition ἐν ἀγάπῃ πνεύματί τε πραΰτητος with love and a gentle spirit 1 Cor 4:21; cp. Gal 6:1. τὸ πν. τοῦ νοὸς ὑμῶν Eph 4:23 (s. νοῦς 2a). ἐν τῷ ἀφθάρτῳ τοῦ ἡσυχίου πνεύματος with the imperishable (gift) of a quiet disposition 1 Pt 3:4.

Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 833). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
If "attitude" doesn't work then I would resort to "destitute in their spirit" though that doesn't communicate that much to me, personally.
0 x
What I lack in youth I make up for in immaturity.

Post Reply