You don’t need Greek to catch the big picture here: Jesus is turning the world upside down and is, well, happy about it! The Greek helps us wrestle with the thornier issues of
WHO are blessed;
WHEN are they blessed;
& WHAT does this blessing look like?
The Greek doesn’t change the radical nature of the passage but rather invites us into the rugged yet rejoicing terrain of Jesus’ thought. My most radical thought, the poor are blessed because we, who hear God’s Word, have the kingdom from God to give away to them!
A Warm up:
επαρας (from επαιρω, meaning "lift up", 6:20). Jesus did not simply look up, but he lifted his eyes into them. Luke begins this passage with emotional intensity!
μακάριος (‘blessed’ or ‘happy’: 6:20; 21; 22): The theological Lexicon of the New Testament (Spicq) helps us understand the striking nature of Jesus' use of this word. After a long summary of the Greek understanding of what it means to be blessed (pretty much what average Americans think), the Lexicon finally reviews Jesus' words: “It is impossible to insist too strongly on the meaning of this μακάριος …This is much more than contentment; it is an interior joy that becomes external, elation translated into shouts, songs, and acclamation. …Secondly, the new faith implies a reversal of all human values; happiness is no longer attached to wealth, to having enough, to a good reputation, power, possessions of the goods of this world, but to poverty alone.”
οι πτωχοι ("the poor", 6:20). Blessed are the poor. The Bible does not say, “Blessed are you who are poor.” It simply says, “Blessed are the poor.” I prefer talking about people as individuals first and adjectives second (the people who are poor vs the poor). But it brings up the question here -- is Jesus talking about the individuals who are poor or the whole group?
οὐρανος (‘heaven’: 6:23): It might be tempting to think of heaven as a “state of being” rather than a place. However, in Luke’s Gospel, heaven is not simply a relationship or a state of the world, but a place. Luke uses the word 35 times, almost exclusively to refer to the dwelling place of God, and in a very concrete way, namely, the space above us. According to Luke, Jesus is not saying: Well, you will be poor but you will have me. Jesus is saying, you are suffering now but have a reward (μισθός) in heaven. But we will return to this point!
μισθός (‘wages’ or ‘reward’: 6:23 also 6:35). This word literally means pay, as in a worker receives his pay for a day’s work (Luke 10:7; Matthew 20:8).
A Classic Theological Translation Problem
η βασιλεια του θεου (6:20)
η βασιλεια του θεου: “Kingdom of God” is tricky. The genitive case has a lot of possibilities. In English this ambiguity is preserved because the word “of” is ambiguous too. A few examples of possible translations:
a) “Kingdom belonging to God” (The house of my family)
b) “Kingdom from God” (Sound of water drops)
c) “Kingdom done by God” (Singing of a choir)
d) “Kingdom for God” (Love of money)
e) “Kingdom consisting of God” (as in “bag of money)
So, which is the right one? First, we can leave it ambiguous, as almost every translator does: “Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
But we could translate a bit more boldly: “Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom from God.”
In other words, the poor are blessed because we, who hear God’s Word, have the kingdom from God to give away to them!
In Greek, as in Hebrew, a sentence can occasionally lack a verb. For example, Psalm 25:8 is translated as, “Good and upright is the LORD.” The Hebrew simply reads "Good-upright LORD." Admittedly, Hebrew always seems to be missing words the English reader longs for. However, here Hebrew is simply putting the adjectives (good and upright) in predicate form. This is how grammar people, whose addiction to Latin is scary, describe the placement of the word “brown” in: “The cow is brown” instead of “The brown cow.” The point is that the author is saying that the rest of the stuff in the sentence (like in Psalm 25: Good and upright) describes the subject (God). Because of the rules of Hebrew, you don’t have to use a verb when you do this. You let the reader do the work.
Greek does this less frequently (far less frequently) but on occasion it still happens. In verse 6:23 we have such a construction:ιδου γαρ ο μισθος υηων πολυς εν τω ουρανω
or literally “Behold for your wages great in heaven.” A predicate adjective, meaning, the phrase “great in heaven” describes the wages (even though we lack the verb "is" or "will" or any form of "to be").
So has our grammar helped us derive meaning? Well, maybe. The point is that the wages are great and are in heaven. We know then, the WHAT (great) and the WHERE (in heaven). The question then is WHEN do we get them! The sentence grammar suggests they are in existence now. But do we have access to them?