Why Are There Eight Beatitudes in Matthew and Only Four in Luke?

The Sermon on the Mount related in Matthew 5-7 has much in common with the teaching of Jesus related in Luke 6.

It is widely recognized that Luke 6 teaches in an abbreviated form what Matthew 5-7 teaches in greater detail. But there are also some significant differences.

The sermon of Luke 6 takes place on a plain, whereas the sermon of Matthew 5-7 takes place on a mountain.

There are also differences between the Beatitudes themselves in the two accounts. Luke recounts only four Beatitudes and follows them with four corresponding woes, whereas Matthew recounts eight Beatitudes and offers no complementary woes (though he does pronounce some woes in chapter 23).

Moreover, the four Beatitudes pronounced in Luke are all addressed immediately to the crowd, “Happy are you,” whereas the eight Beatitudes pronounced in Matthew are announced in the third person, “Blessed are they”.

St. Augustine provides two possible explanations for these differences.

One possibility is that although only one sermon was delivered, its location was described under different aspects by Matthew and St. Luke. For it is possible that the place was a level spot along the slope of the mountain, which at once was part of the mountain and might also be described as a plain in relation to the peak of the same mountain. According to this account, the sermon as related by Matthew included a number of our Lord’s words that Luke omitted and omitted some of the words that Luke included.

A second solution is that Jesus actually gave two sermons that were closely related: for his purpose was to promulgate the New Law, yet not all were prepared to receive that law in its most perfect form. Therefore, since the first promulgation was given only to his close disciples on the mountaintop, it was lengthier and more proportioned to the spiritual-minded; and since the second was given to the multitudes on the plain, it was shorter and more proportioned to the carnal-minded.

We hope you enjoyed this excerpt from Heart of the Gospel. Order your copy today!

Mar 13th 2023 Fr. Sebastian Walshe, O. Praem.

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