Is there a ninth Beatitude?
I opened the series on the Beatitudes saying there were nine of them. It is true that, “blessed are” shows up nine times in the first part of Matthew chapter five. But is there really a ninth Beatitude?
The “Ninth Beatitude”
Matthew 5:11–12 says: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” While it seems obvious, it is worth pointing out how different this is from the previous blessings.
First, Jesus shifts from unspecified people who embrace a spiritual reality, like meekness or mercy, to the much more personal, you. We know for sure this “you” refers at least to the four disciples Jesus gathers in Matthew 4 … Peter, Andrew, James, and John. But given that there is a crowd following and listening to Jesus, it is hard to believe he limits his intent to just them. Whatever the case, this same directed “you” appears in the next two verses where Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth.” and “You are the light of the world.”
Moreover, Jesus changed the flow of the saying. If Jesus kept the same speech pattern, he would have said, “Blessed are you when people revile you for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” But instead he adds in two negative statements followed by two positive statements. The negative statements foreshadow, among other things, Jesus’ second major teaching, the missionary discourse in Matthew 10. The positive statements draw the people back to the blessings they just heard.
So is this a ninth Beatitude? Maybe. But if it is, it is not a summary or closure of one lesson before moving on to another. Rather, it is a transition that links the Beatitudes to everything that follows. And that is a point worth emphasizing.
What Comes Next
Jesus’ next words telling us we are salt and light are memorable. Something about them is powerful and affirming, even if we are not totally clear on what it means. Even if we did not have headings and subheadings dividing up our Bibles these words would leap off the page at us and invite us to consider them in isolation. This is especially true in a culture where we get news from headlines and philosophy from bumper stickers.
I am not sure how many times I have engaged in group discussions on what it might mean to be salt. Typically these conversations begin with explorations on ancient uses of salt. We notice how it adds flavor to food. There is also the use of salt as a preservative. It is not uncommon to talk about salt’s roll in religious ceremonies. And all this is fine. The problem is in what happens next.
These groups begin to debate how Christians might add flavor to society. Someone will toss out how the morality of Christians is a social preservative. Others will simply apply our modern idea of “salt of the earth” and assume that Jesus meant everyday hard working people. In essence, they point to the Protestant work ethic. But you know what I never recall coming up in one of those discussions? The idea that the Beatitudes tell us exactly what it means to be salt.
One of my seminary professors who taught Greek crafted a special desk for students who engaged in this kind of imaginative interpretation. He called it the hermeneutical harness. Hermeneutics is just a fancy word for interpretation. On the desk itself he bolted a Greek Bible. When a student sat in the desk he put a headpiece on them. This headpiece connected to a pulley system. When he pulled, the headpiece would guide the students head from looking up to the clouds, back to the text.
I like to think of these verses, whether they are a ninth Beatitude or not, as a written version of the hermeneutical harness. They aim to link the Beatitudes to everything that follows. The Beatitudes are not an introduction to the Sermon on the Mount, they are its foundation.
This post is part of an ongoing series. Link here for a list of every episode in this series.