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Blessed are the Merciful

Matthew 5:7 (ESV) … “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”

This beatitude is best interpreted in light of a passage such as the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer (“forgive us the wrongs that we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done us”) or of Jesus’ prayer on the cross in Luke 23:34 (“Forgive them, Father! They don’t know what they are doing”). The same teaching is also reflected in other New Testament passages, as well as in a familiar rabbinic saying: “as God is merciful, so you must be merciful.”

This beatitude is in contradiction to traditional Pharisaic theology, which would have affirmed “Happy are those who are righteous, for God will be merciful to them.” For Matthew, the point is that a person who does not show mercy cannot count on God’s mercy. Occasionally this verse has been wrongly understood to mean that the believer is to be merciful towards others so that they will treat him in the same way. This is not the meaning, and no Jew of Jesus’ day would have understood it in this way; it is imperative for the translator to make the meaning explicit, as TEV has done (“God will be merciful to them!”).

Mercy is defined as having a feeling of sorrow over someone’s bad situation and trying to do something about it. People who are merciful can be said to be “kind” or “forgiving,” or to be “people who take pity on others,” “people who show mercy to others.”

Similarly, then, “God will take pity on them,” “will forgive them,” or “will show mercy to them.” Some translators may have to specify when people will obtain this mercy from God; for example, “on the Judgment Day.” In that case the translation can be “on the Day when he judges the world, God will show mercy to them.”[1]

[1] Newman, B. M., & Stine, P. C. (1992). A handbook on the Gospel of Matthew (p. 112). New York: United Bible Societies.


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