The Exegesis Of Matthew 5 By Phillip Bafana Phalane



The purpose of this paper is to look deeper at Matthew 5:3 and get the clear meaning of what Jesus is really saying about poor people. And it reads “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (NASB)[1]. The purpose of this paper is to explain what it means to be poor in spirit. This is one of the famous words uttered by Christ. Jesus as our spiritual leader and God, shouldn’t He advocate for our spiritual well-being? Shouldn’t He encourage us to reach Spiritual intelligence?


For ages Christianity has been teaching us to be spiritual giants. In contrary to the verse we are told that even when we are poor we should be rich spiritually. On this text Jesus is teaching a very contradicting teaching, or are we the ones that are misinterpreting the text. There are two definitions connected to this word (poor). “As might be expected, it is frequently applied to those who are economically disadvantaged”[2] In Greek, there are two words that are both translated to poor in our modern English bibles. The first word is penas, being penas poor means one is poor but can still afford some basic needs, but the ‘poor’ that Jesus is using on this text is ptochoi[3] .This is an extreme expression of poverty. This word was often used to refer to the beggars in the streets. To make things worse Jesus is using the same word (ptochoi poor), so Jesus says that they should not just be Penas poor but extremely spiritually impoverished.

Focal point

Thinking logically, being spiritually rich can mean that one is mature in almost everything that relates to spirituality. In the Jewish communities the people were classified according to their economic abilities. There were those who were the elite of the community those who were rich, the leaders of the nation and the teachers of the law. This is a group of people that were always against Jesus in everything He did or said. So the crowd that followed Jesus was a very poor crowd, the outcasts of the community. So Christ is saying to them, poor as you are, disadvantaged as you are, u need to be poor spiritually as well. To understand the condition Jesus is requiring here we should look at the passage about Lazarus. He was a poor man. He was so poor and diseased that he was looking for crumbs to fall from the rich man’s table to the floor. He did not expect loaves or slices of bread – he was just hoping for crumbs. That is poor! He had absolutely nothing (Luke 16:19-25). The word blessed is from the word Makarioi which can be translated best as ‘happy’[4]. Jesus is using a word that contradicts the condition He wants them to be in. It’s not easy for a beggar to be happy. Those who were elite are the ones thought to be blessed because of their economic status and their positions, but Jesus is twisting everything. According to Joseph Ratzinger “They are blessed as well as the content of that blessing is now spelled out. The promise is present it belongs to them now. And not just future; in keeping with the Matthean emphasis on inaugurated eschatology, there is a tension between the already and the not yet. The faithful disciples now belong to the new kingdom Christ has inaugurated and at the final judgment will inherit it in full. There is both an authority and a privilege, as the powers of the kingdom are available to its citizens”[5]. However this shouldn’t mean that Christ is speaking of the joy in the future and doesn’t say anything about their current situation. “When man begins to see and to live from God’s perspective, when he is a companion on Jesus’ way, then he lives by new standards, and something of the eschaton, of the reality to come, is already present. Jesus brings joy into midst of affliction.”[6]

The rich in the community could afford the sacrificial lambs, by this they depended on their economic abilities for their righteousness. So Christ says to the crowd you don’t have to be able to afford sacrifices in order to be in the Kingdom. The kingdom is theirs now; he doesn’t refer to the kingdom in the future. “The poor in spirit might be better if translated to spiritual destitute it denotes the opposite of spiritual self-sufficient”[7]. Unlike their religious who thought the kingdom of God is for those who can afford their spiritual needs. Christ says to them our economic status will not help them in anyway when it comes to their spiritual well-being. He is the only one able when it comes to the matters of our salvation. As they may have previously depended on someone higher in class for their survival Christ tells them to depend on him even in their spirituality.

“The beatitudes in the community of Jesus’ disciples in view, are paradoxes; the standards of the world are turned upside down as soon as things are seen in the right perspective, which is to say, in terms of God’s values, so different from those of the world. It is those who are poor in worldly terms, those thought of as lost souls, who are truly fortunate ones, the blessed, who have every reason to rejoice and exult in the midst of their suffering”[8].

The kingdom is recognized by power wealth and security. It is very intriguing to see how Christ gives an ownership of the kingdom to the outcast of the community. These are the people who cannot do anything for themselves, what more if they are given the kingdom. Christ’s definition of the kingdom is totally different to how we define the kingdom. He also urged His disciples to be children in order to be in the kingdom. Clearly according to Christ the kingdom of God belongs to those who cannot do anything for themselves. To be in the kingdom requires one to have a total dependence on God.


To be poor in spirit means total dependence on Christ, depend on Christ like a beggar depends on the mercy of those who passes by. Christ doesn’t refer to some incredible life that is lived some people. He stands as an example of the people who are less restricted. The only way to be poor in spirit is to have Christ in heart, like Paul we should say “it’s not I who live, but Christ who lives in me”[9].Jesus’ message is that one should be poor in spirit, and this means that one should have the poor Christ in heart. He is an exact model of a life with a poor spirit.













Bauer, W., 2001. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. s.l.:s.n.


France, R., 2007. Gospel of matthew. s.l.:Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.


Lowery, D. K., 2002. Bible Knowlegde Series. In: E. H. Merrill, ed. The Bible Knowlegde Word Study. Colorado: Cook Communications, p. 39.


Osborne, G. R., 2010. Exegetical Commentry on Newtestament. Michigan: Zondervan.


Ratzinger, J., 2007. Jesus of Nazareth. Milan: s.n.


Vos, H. F., 1979. Matthew study guide commentry. s.l.:Zondervan.


Revised Standart Version (RSV) 1952 Edition


New American standard Bible (NASB) 2012 Edition



[1] NASB

[2] Lowery, The Bible knowledge word study 51.

[3] Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament

[4] France, Gospel of Matthew, 160-161

[5] Grant R. Osborne Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament 166

[6] Joseph Ratzinger Jesus of  Nazareth

[7] Howard F. Vos a study guide commentary on Matthew 47

[8] Joseph Ratzinger Jesus of Nazareth 71

[9] RSV copyright 1952



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