Vol. 11 May-June, 1949 No. 3
The Poor in Spirit
(Matt. 5:3)
So accustomed have we been to the well-known rendering of this verse, "Blessed are the poor in spirit," that one gets a shock to read, in the Concordant Version, "Happy, in spirit, are the poor." "Happy" is quite correct for the Greek makarios, but why the change in the order of the words? And why, in verse 8, where the Greek construction is similar, not read, "Happy, in heart, are the clean"? One can see an objection to the Kingdom of the heavens being given to those who are deficient in spirit. No doubt, that lies behind the C. V. rendering. But, on the other hand, if the poor one (ptOchos) is one "lacking the means of subsistence" (as the C. V. Concordance defines the word), would it be correct to say that the Kingdom of the heavens is to go to those who experience this poverty? Is that to be the ground of their entrance into the Kingdom? Surely not. Wrongdoers are often brought to poverty, but this does not fit them for the Kingdom.

All the verses in Matt. 5, from verse 4 to verse 11, commence in the C. V. with "Happy are. .." Verse 3 is an exception, although it has the same beginning as the others in the Greek (makarioi hoi, "Happy they"), except verse 11, which begins with "Happy are you" (makarioi este).

The problem focusses attention upon the word for "poor." Does this word in English always mean lacking in means? The dictionary gives it other meanings, including needy, weak, dear. Such expressions as "Poor dear" and "Poor soul" speak of sympathy and endearment. While it is true that the Greek term in the New Testament generally appears to refer to those who were poor in this world's goods, that is not always the case. We must adjust the force of the word by its usage in a few passages. In Gal. 4:9 the C. V. reads "the infirm and poor elements," where the A. V. has "beggarly." Here the word brings before us the idea of being inferior or lowly. In 2 Cor. 8:9, the being rich and being poor cannot refer to means of subsistence, as we are by no means made wealthy (in money or goods) by any poverty of the Lord. That poverty consisted of humiliation, and our being made rich is in spiritual things. In Rev. 3:17, 18 we find the same sense. The Laodicean who thought he was rich was in reality the wretched, the forlorn, the poor, the blind one, and the naked one. In order to become rich, he was counselled to buy of the Lord gold refined in the fire. Indeed, in the latest edition of the C. V. the words poor and rich are here marked as figurative, as is the word rich in 2 Cor. 8:9.

This edition at Matt. 5:3 makes reference to various Scriptures in the O. T. and the N. T., but unfortunately does not cite Psalm 34:18, which, in the LXX reads, "Near is Jehovah to those crushed in heart, and the humble as to the spirit will He save." Here we have tous tapeinous to pneumati (the humble as to the spirit), as compared with hoi ptOchoi to pneumati (the poor as to the spirit) of Matt. 5:3. We suggest that Psalm 34:18 explains Matt. 5:3, while the latter verse explains Luke 6:20, "Happy are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God," just as Luke 6:21, "Happy are those hunger' ing now," does J;lot refer to those who are starving, but is to be explained by Matt. 5:6, "Happy are those who are hunger ing and thirsting for righteousness." James 2:5 is also cited: "Does not God choose the poor in the world, rich in faith ..." All these terms refer to those whose spirits have been crushed and oppressed by the evils of the world, who have lost their soul in this age.

We conclude, therefore, that Matt. 5:3 refers to those who have been, not impoverished in spirit, but laid low in spirit, . the lowly or humble in spirit. If you are among those who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness, then ponder well, truly happy is your state and your outlook.

ALEXANDER THOMPSON Last updated 4.10.2008