Mangled “Message” of the Beatitudes

"Sermon on the Mount" by James Tissot, ca. 1890 (click image to enlarge)
“Sermon on the Mount” by James Tissot, ca. 1890 (click image to enlarge)

This morning, I was listening to a devotional based on a reading in the gospel of Matthew from The Message. Because of that, I wasn’t paying much attention, and at first, I couldn’t figure out what part of Matthew he was reading, but when the phrase “You’re blessed” was repeated a few times, I knew he was reading from the Beatitudes in Matthew 5.

This was the first time I heard The Beatitudes from The Message, and it was of course mangled and twisted beyond recognition like the rest of the paraphrase, as seen here:


English Standard Version The Message
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
5 Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are–no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. You’re blessed when you get your inside world–your mind and heart–put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

Let us briefly look at how badly The Message mutilated God’s Holy Word.

The Beatitudes is located in the context of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, where Jesus preaches on how his disciples must live as citizens of two kingdoms: the present everyday world and the kingdom of God. In the Beatitudes, Jesus teaches his disciples about the nature of kingdom living.

But first, a short explanation of the word “blessed” as used in Scriptures. The word includes the idea of being “happy,” but much more more than that, it means being under God’s approval, favor and pleasure when one lives according to these pronouncements. The antithesis of “blessed” is “cursed” or “woe to them,” as when Jesus pronounced seven “woes” against the Jews in Matthew 23:1-36 like a parallel to the seven “blessings” here.

Verse 3: Far from addressing those who are “at the end of their rope” or the economically poor, Jesus is saying that those who come to know their spiritual poverty are blessed because they come to know that God looks on the one “who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isa 66:2). They realize that the only way to spiritual wealth is Christ. Then they will be “blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:3).

Verse 4: “Mourning” in the Bible often is a picture of “mourning” over sin, not over the death of loved ones. And this repentance over sin is produced by the Holy Comforter, leading to the comfort that salvation brings, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret”
(2 Cor 7:10).

Verse 5: “Meekness” here has nothing to do with self-esteem, being “content with just who you are.” In fact, being content with just who you are would drive you away from realizing that God sees you and your self-righteousness as “filthy rags.” On the contrary, Jesus is quoting from Psalm 37:9,11, “those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land… the meek shall inherit the land.” In this chapter, the psalmist is exhorting God’s people not to fret about the prosperous wicked, but to trust and rest on the Lord. Our two greatest examples of the meek are Moses, who foreshadowed the meekest person on earth, Jesus, who was “meek and lowly in heart” and in whom “you will find rest for your souls” (Matt 11:29).

Verse 6: Those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” does not refer merely to those who “worked up a good appetite for God” as if God is a product to be bought by the consumer, and when the product is old and the consumer loses appetite for it, it is replaced by the “new and improved.” No, the sinner who belongs to God’s kingdom has an intense and continuing desire for the righteousness of Christ to be counted to him in order that he might be justified before a holy God. Jesus, the living water and the bread of life, invites us, “Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price… and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food” (Isa 55:1-2; Rev 22:17). He assures us that “whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” because “whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6:35, 54).

Verse 7: In the movie Evan Almighty, “God” told Evan that he would be pleased with just “one act of random kindness” at a time. And when we care about others, they will in return care about us. But this saying is not about receiving mercy and care from others, but from God. And how do we receive mercy from God? Not by our works-righteousness, but by faith alone in Christ alone. And because we receive mercy and forgiveness from God, we are to be merciful to others as well (Luke 6:36).

Verse 8: Here, The Message completely fails in its goal to bring the words of the Bible “current, fresh, and understandable” by saying that you can see God “in the outside world” by putting your “inside world” right. Huh? This translation sounds more like New Age than Christianity. The words in Greek and in the verbal translation are as plain as can be. The “pure in heart” is one “who does not swear deceitfully” (Psa 24:4), and who “flee[s] youthful passions and pursue[s] righteousness, faith, love, and peace” (2 Tim 2:22). It also means that you have “purified your souls by your obedience to the truth” (1 Pet 1:22). In short, one who has a pure heart has a relationship with God that is free from all our impurities. The promise that comes with this purity is “seeing God” in this life as he dwells with us now, and in the future when we dwell with him in eternity.

Verse 9: Lastly, being a “peacemaker” is not only breaking up fights, but being a means for reconciling sinners with God in order that they may have “peace with God through Christ” (Rom 5:1). And being a peacemaker between God and man is not the means by which you “discover who you really are”! Rather you come to know who you really are, a hopeless and helpless sinner, when the Spirit convicts you of your sin and points you to you Christ the Savior.

All in all, the Beatitudes of The Message is an eclectic combination of New Age “wisdom” and self-esteem psychotherapy: “you’re at the end of your rope”; “content with just who you are”; “when you get your inside world … put right. Then you can see God in the outside world,” and “discover who you really are.”

What’s important to remember is that when the focus of The Beatitudes becomes “you” instead of Christ and his kingdom, it merely becomes a moral lesson that is no different from all other religions that teach salvation by good works–helping the poor and those who grieve and are oppressed, being humble and honest, and promoting peace among people.


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