Blessed are the poor … or poor in spirit?


In his first recorded utterance at the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declares: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” At least that’s what Matthew’s gospel records Jesus as saying (at Matthew 5:3).

Luke offers a shorter version, with Jesus saying more simply: “Blessed are the poor” (Luke 6:20).

In a poll of readers, we asked: “Do you think Jesus is saying the same thing or something different in Matthew’s versus Luke’s versions?” So far, respondents have split about 50/50 on this opening question.

Possible Explanations for Differing Statements

The next question asked was: Before you lock yourself any further into a position, which of the following explanations for these two different statements do you think are possible?

Seven options were presented as possible explanations (and respondents were free to check as many as they thought applied). A majority of respondents picked (as possibilities) two explanations:

  • Matthew and Luke’s version mean very different things, but one text may be mis-translated so Jesus is being misquoted by either Matthew or Mark.
  • Matthew and Luke have very different views about the poor and individual responsibility, and each is paraphrasing Jesus in a way that best fits his own viewpoint.

A healthy minority endorsed two possible statements:

  • Jesus is like a politician – giving much the same stump speech over and over but altering it slightly each time.
  • Jesus actually believes that both the poor and the poor in spirit are blessed … and so is fully justified to deliver his message both ways depending on the audience.

About 20% picked the option: “Jesus actually believes that both the poor and the poor in spirit are both blessed … and so is fully justified to deliver his message both ways depending on the audience.”

Nobody so far has checked the option: “None of the above.” And a couple of additional responses have been offered. One surveyee suggested that “Jesus wants to bless those who are poor in material resources and those poor in spiritual resources.” Another said simply: “They are both nuts” – referring to both Matthew and Luke?

Which Statement is More Important?

Respondents to date tend to lean in the direction of “poor in spirit.” A sampling of responses:

  • “I like poor in spirit ’cause Jesus is giving hope!”
  • “‘Poor in spirit is more fundamental. Jesus came to reclaim the spirit as the body will always be subject to death and decay.”
  • “Poor in spirit because Jesus believes in and practices individual responsibility….”
  • “Jesus often made these various parallels to confound listeners. Either way you interpret it is ok with Jesus, He wants to catch your attention. It wasn’t written until later.”

Anything else?

Perhaps the most interesting response was:

“Good questions. Now I get it. What matters is that it was heard by the two differently, each one was affected by the statement. That’s ok with Jesus because he wants you.”


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