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No. 4: The Beatitudes and Woes

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 4
May, 1989
Copyright 1989, Biblical Horizons

Mrs. Marguerite Lane of Grand Rapids writes to ask if I have ever noticed a correlation between the eight beatitudes of Matthew 5 and the eight woes of Matthew 23. I confess that I have not. A glance at various commentators reveals that such a correspondence does not seem to have occurred to any of them either.

We do find both blessings and curses in Luke 6, in a sermon that parallels the sermon on the mount of Matthew 5-7. This may or may not be the same occasion. If it is the same, we have to bear in mind that both Matthew and Luke are condensing what Jesus said, since He doubtless spoke at length. Matthew stresses some things, and Luke others. On the other hand, this might be basically the same sermon delivered on another occasion. At any rate, if the woes in Matthew 23 correspond to the blessings of Matthew 5, then we find Matthew making the same point as Luke, but doing so in a different way.

One problem with Matthew 23 is that the second woe (v. 14) does not appear in some texts. If the parallel between Matthew 5 and Matthew 23 stands up, this will also shed light on this textual problem.

The first woe of Matthew 23 (v. 13) condemns the Pharisees because they "shut off the kingdom of heaven from men." This agrees with the first beatitude, which blesses the poor in spirit, "for their is the kingdom of heaven."

The second (and textually disputed) woe of Matthew 23 (v. 14) condemns the Pharisees because they "devour widows’ houses." This agrees with the second beatitude, which blesses "those who mourn."

The third woe of Matthew 23 (v. 15) condemns the Pharisees because they "travel about on sea and land to make one convert," but then "make him twice as much a son of Gehenna as yourselves." This agrees with the third beatitude, which blesses the meek, "for they shall inherit the earth."

The fourth woe of Matthew 23 (vv. 16-22) condemns the Pharisees for their unrighteousness. They make the Temple and the Altar of less importance than the gold of the Temple and the sacrifice on the Altar. This seems to go with the fourth beatitude, which blesses "those who hunger and thirst for righteousness."

The fifth woe of Matthew 23 (vv. 23-24) condemns the Pharisees for ignoring "justice and mercy and faithfulness." This agrees with the fifth beatitude, which blesses "those who are merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."

The sixth woe of Matthew 23 (vv. 25-26) condemns the Pharisees for being concerned with externals more than with the heart. They "clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence." This agrees with the sixth beatitude, which blesses "the pure in heart."

The seventh woe of Matthew 23 (vv. 27-28) condemns the Pharisees because, though they look honorable to men, inside they are dead, and "full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness." This seems to agree with the seventh beatitude, which blesses peacemakers as "sons of God."

Finally, the eighth and climactic woe of Matthew 23 (vv. 29-36) condemns the Pharisees because they persecuted and killed the prophets. This agrees with the eighth beatitude, which blesses "those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness," and which goes on to bless those who are reviled, persecuted, and lied about for the sake of the Kingdom.

The reward of the eighth beatitude (Matt. 5:10, 12) is to receive the Kingdom of heaven. Opposite this, the judgment on the Pharisees is the destruction of Jerusalem (Matt. 23:35–24:34).

This looks like a pretty good set of correlations to me. It indicates that Matthew 23:14 does indeed belong in the text where it is found in the King James Version.