Beatitudes: structure

This coming weekend is the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time. The gospel is the beginning of Matthew’s well known “Sermon on the Mount.” In yesterday’s post we covered the nature and alternative outlines of the Sermon. Today we go a little deeper into the nature of the first part of the Sermon known as the Beatitudes.

Internal Structure 

Altogether there are nine beatitudes in 5:3–12, the ninth (5:11–12) is really an expansion of the eighth (5:10). Some scholars opt for a structure with three sets of three, the first eight exhibit such a tightly knit parallel structure that it is more likely that we should understand them as two sets of four. This is most consistent with Hebraic poetry forms which seem to be the literary background of the Beatitudes. Still there is an internal consistency within each “stanza/verse” as seen in the form of each pronouncement

Blessed are they who… (a quality/activity in the present tense)
for they will be…. (a verb in the future; except vv. 3 and 10)

This form is repeated each time with minor variations.  The first and last beatitude have the same ending: “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Some see an internal chiastic structure of the poetic based on the grammar of the text:

However interesting, this perhaps is a bit over analyzed. It would seem a simpler model (vv. 3 and 10 in the present with the intervening verses in the future) is adequate to point to a “realized eschatology”  and the “two-groups of four” is adequate to retain the underlying poetic.

Mark Allen Powell (119-38) suggests that the text can be outlined in the following way:

This outline is simpler and retains a central idea that the kingdom has begun to break into the world but will only be complete (fulfilled) in a future time.

Image credit: Cosimo Rosselli Sermone della Montagna, 1481, Sistine Chapel, Public Domain 

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