Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. - KJV Matthew 5:3

How can the "poor in spirit" get the kingdom of heaven? Is there a similar usage else where?

  • I bet many of Jesus' audience at the time had just the same questions! Aug 3, 2012 at 15:24
  • As an aside, this is normally understood to be a Matthean addition considering the more plain reading in Luke's parallel. However, the point still stands.
    – swasheck
    Aug 6, 2012 at 21:38
  • This is the link to my discussion about this verse on B-Greek: ibiblio.org/bgreek/forum/viewtopic.php?f=46&t=157#p582
    – Ruminator
    Oct 19, 2018 at 21:55

6 Answers 6


Poor in spirit means that you feel you have no moral riches and are in need.  You feel you need 'spiritual' life. 'Poor' (πτωχός) used in this verse means 'reduced to being a beggar'.  This makes sense and we can confirm its meaning by comparing other statements of Jesus, for he often said the same things in many ways.

One good match that seems to bring light to the phrase is:

When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (NIV Mark 2:16-17)

Those who feel they are sinful or 'morally sick' and so cry out to Jesus to be saved, are 'poor in spirit' thus they are the ones and only ones that inherit God's kingdom. Those who are self righteous are morally confidant and rich, these Jesus can not save.

This makes sense that Jesus would make this the first attitude of a Christian because it is by being poor in spirit or 'reduced to being a beggar'. That you actually 'begin' the Christian life with this explains why it is the first be-attitude. It also fits and explains the second attitude of mourning which is the other side of the same coin. It naturally follows for a Christian once recognizing his poverty due to sin, he will mourn on account of it.  

God will make happy, or 'bless' such people with inexpressible spiritual riches and joy. This is the core message of the gospel.

  • 2
    I am not sure that the core message of the gospel is to bring happiness.
    – MetaGuru
    Aug 7, 2012 at 15:03
  • @libertas: We have to be careful about the way it's phrased, but John Piper makes a strong case for that position. Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics, by the way. Aug 7, 2012 at 20:56
  • @JonEricson Thanks for the welcome, I think that happiness is something that can come and go on this earth, joy of course is a fruit of the Spirit. But the core message of the gospel, that is, the ultimate cosmic purpose, is the marriage of Christ and the Church after the destruction of earth, happiness will be there for sure, but it's far from the main point.
    – MetaGuru
    Aug 7, 2012 at 21:11
  • @libertas: If you'd like to continue this conversation, let's do it in The Library. (I don't mean to cut the discussion off, but it's getting off-topic. ;-) Aug 7, 2012 at 22:08
  • @JonEricson agreed, I'll drop by sometime soon :)
    – MetaGuru
    Aug 8, 2012 at 13:29

There are a few presumptions we have to put into question.

Blissful are the poor in spirit.

Which is the cause and which is the effect?

  • The blissful are consequently poor in spirit?
  • Or, are the poor in spirit consequently blissful?

  • Is blissfulness a reward for being poor in spirit?

  • Or is being poor in spirit the reward for being blissful

Perhaps, more accurately, the poor in spirit are the two sides of the same coin. The apparent duality of particle and wave properties of a photon even though they are but a singularity. The seeming duality of works vs faith, even though they are but a singularity in phenomenon.

Will this perception of mutual predisposition descend into arguments of predestination. It should not. They are the spontaneous rewards and consequences of each other. Just like saying "bright is the sunlight". It's an observation.

Diogenes' apparent perception that Civilisation's pomposity is a degenerative trait. Pomposity has no useful function to the purpose and existence of the human race. Pomposity unnecessarily consumes resources that could otherwise further fuel the progress of the human race. One should deny oneself the unnecessary luxuries and rituals in order to attain progress.

If you see someone in need, provide help. If you see someone's feet smelling wash them - don't wait for a ritual to begin, don't wait for a special holiday to do it. If you see a package fallen off the supermarket shelf, pick it up and put it back onto the shelf. Don't wait for the supermarket associate to have to do it themselves.

But, I'm afraid that some unfortunate souls may have turned the washing of feet into a pompous ritual.

For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

People who have found singularity in being poor in spirit and being blissful, who have found the singularity of having faith and exhibiting works have already created the kingdom of heaven.

As Alexander the Great supposedly said, that if he were not Alexander he would be Diogenes. Apparently, Alexander knew that Diogenes was blissful in the heaven that he demonstrated in his style of living to the people around him, that they too could create to find the true happiness within themselves.

Diogenes denying himself of unneccesary luxuries and unneccesary burdens of so-called "civilization" to eliminate the clutter in one's life, to be able to enjoy the core values of life and be blissful. And found the kingdom of heaven therewith.

Being poor in spirit affords oneself the neglect of expectations from neighbours and friends or strangers, allowing the freedom to pursue one's course of life unhindered - and that is bliss.

The argument of predestination is a skewed view due to a misaligned perception of predisposition. Predestination's validity depends on the concept of temporal sequence and consequence. If time did not exist or existed in another way, the Calvinist would never have perceive the unneccesary concept of predestination. The term "predispostion" would be replaced by the term "mutual disposition".

The perception of time is due to the 2nd law of Thermodynamics. That our perception of consequentiality must progress in the path of increasing entropy. Throw away all the unneccesary burdens of "civilization", and then justce will flow as a naturally flowing stream as time flows towards increasing entropy. And then you will clearly see the interplay and balance between the potential energy of faith with the kinetic energy of work. And then you would not have to worry if either works or faith is a predestined path towards heaven.

And you would realise that one asymptotic day the increase of entropy will come to a rest - at which point you will achieve the nirvana of Sabbath and you will see your Creator. And being meek is to dispense away with non-necessities and non-essentials, like clouds blocking your view of the stars, to allow you to look at that point in "time" straight into the face of your Creator.

Blissful are the peacemakers, theirs is the enjoyment of the land wherein they dwell.

The whole beatitudes is a singularity of mutual natural response blissfulness and an existence of heaven. Not of any mono-directional vectors of consequentiality. But a whole continuum where each verse is but an intrapolative dot of a sphere. Undeterred by the consequence of time.

Perhaps, my explanation is a little pompous but I feel the allegories were essential.


Yes, it is those people who do not mistake material wealth (kinghood) for spiritual wealth (priesthood). Priestly obedience must always come first (Abel before Cain). We believe (as obedient, priestly servants), and then we understand (as kingly sons).

"For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, ublind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and wwhite garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, uso that you may see." Rev 3.


John 6:47-63 records Jesus as saying to his liseners:

Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.


It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.

Jesus, here, distinguishes two aspects of being -- flesh and spirit, and he explains that the words he speaks are food for the spirit, such that whoever consumes them has eternal life, i.e. HAS apprehended the kingdom of heaven, and WILL BE be raised up on the last day.

With regard to whether Matthew has made an addition or not, the form οι πτωχοι is only found in Matthew 5:3 and Luke 6:20, so we can pretty safely say that what is assumed (omitted) by Luke, was stated by Matthew, i.e. that οι πτωχοι are "the poor in spirit"

Who are they? They are those who hunger for Jesus' words. The ones prepared to stay to enquire about a parable, or a hard saying like "Whoever eats my flesh ....". The ones who would hear the Gospel preached and not be offended by it (Matthew 11:5-6), allowing it to find its way to the good ground at the core of their being, such that it would move them to walk a new and fruitful path (Matthew 13:23).



Note: Since writing the answer below (marked "Original Answer" in the heading) I came across what appears to be the background for the Beatitudes. While I believe my original answer is still relevant I believe this Update section, with the allusion to Isaiah 61 is the more important insight for understanding the Beatitudes.

Before the Beatitudes are given Jesus quotes from Isaiah 61 to explain his mission (or at least one facet):

[Luk 4:14-21 KJV] (14) And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about. (15) And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all. (16) And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. (17) And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, (18) The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, (19) To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. (20) And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. (21) And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.

Notice that the theme of the chapter is the anointing that the Messiah receives in order to be a comforter to God's faithful troubled people by announcing that the day of their liberation, vindication and gladness has officially arrived:

1 The spirit of the sovereign Lord is upon me, because the Lord has chosen me. He has commissioned me to encourage the poor, to help the brokenhearted, to decree the release of captives, and the freeing of prisoners, 2 to announce the year when the Lord will show his favor, the day when our God will seek vengeance, to console all who mourn, 3 to strengthen those who mourn in Zion, by giving them a turban, instead of ashes, oil symbolizing joy, instead of mourning, a garment symbolizing praise, instead of discouragement.

Among other things he is alluding to the new covenant which will make of these elect Jews of Zion (Jerusalem) "trees planted by the LORD to reveal his splendor":

They will be called oaks of righteousness, trees planted by the Lord to reveal his splendor. 4 They will rebuild the perpetual ruins and restore the places that were desolate; they will reestablish the ruined cities, the places that have been desolate since ancient times.

Prosperity and a double inheritance

5 “Foreigners will take care of your sheep; foreigners will work in your fields and vineyards. 6 You will be called, ‘the Lord’s priests, servants of our God.’ You will enjoy the wealth of nations and boast about the riches you receive from them. 7 Instead of shame, you will get a double portion; instead of humiliation, they will rejoice over the land they receive. 8 For I, the Lord, love justice and hate robbery and sin. I will repay them because of my faithfulness; **I will make a permanent covenant with them ... 11 For just as the ground produces its crops and a garden yields its produce, so the sovereign Lord will cause deliverance to grow, and give his people reason to praise him in the sight of all the nations. NET: New English Translation ↪ NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

[Mat 5:3-5 KJV]

(3) Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (4) Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. (5) Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

So to answer the question:

"Blessed are those in a desperate situation, spiritually".


"Because yours is the kingdom of heaven".

Jesus' mandate was to announce that the time of God's favor had arrived and that God, through his Anointed would reverse things, making the weak strong and the strong weak, the rich poor and the poor rich, etc.:

[Jas 1:9-10 NLT] (9) Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. (10) And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field.

[Jas 2:5 KJV] (5) Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?

Hence the pattern:

Blessed are ye...

Woe unto ye...

Original Answer

The various translations seem to have this problem: The translation is good Greek but bad English. IE: It is legitimate Greek but what does it mean? Where's the OT background? Or a confirmatory NT usage?

The Outline of Biblical Usage suggests this, which if the Greek is sound brings it more directly into the narrative of the whole of scripture:

destitute of wealth of learning and intellectual culture which the schools afford (men of this class most readily give themselves up to Christ's teaching and proved them selves fitted to lay hold of the heavenly treasure)

Perhaps the reference to "in the spirit" was deemed necessary because not every poor person is thereby "saved" but rather he is speaking of those whose minds and attitudes are those of the poor, ashamed even to speak. In both Deuteronomy and Ezekiel Israel is chided because God found them poor, prodigally enriched them and then watched as they became "fat" and proud:

[Deu 32:12-16 KJV] 12 [So] the LORD alone did lead him, and [there was] no strange god with him. 13 He made him ride on the high places of the earth, that he might eat the increase of the fields; and he made him to suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock; 14 Butter of kine, and milk of sheep, with fat of lambs, and rams of the breed of Bashan, and goats, with the fat of kidneys of wheat; and thou didst drink the pure blood of the grape. 15 But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered [with fatness]; then he forsook God [which] made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation. 16 They provoked him to jealousy with strange [gods], with abominations provoked they him to anger.

[Eze 16:49-50 CSB] 49 "Now this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters had pride, plenty of food, and comfortable security, but didn't support the poor and needy. 50 "They were haughty and did detestable acts before me, so I removed them when I saw this.

This then links with, which Luke's version is very friendly with since he just says "Blessed are the poor":

[Luk 6:20-21 CSB] 20 Then looking up at his disciples, he said: Blessed are you who are poor, because the kingdom of God is yours. 21 Blessed are you who are now hungry, because you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, because you will laugh.

[Jas 2:1-9 KJV] 1 My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, [the Lord] of glory, with respect of persons. 2 For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; 3 And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: 4 Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? 5 Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? 6 But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? 7 Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? 8 If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: 9 But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.

[Mat 11:16-26 CSB] 16 "To what should I compare this generation? It's like children sitting in the marketplaces who call out to other children: 17 "We played the flute for you, but you didn't dance; we sang a lament, but you didn't mourn! 18 "For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon! ' 19 "The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners! ' Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds." 20 Then he proceeded to denounce the towns where most of his miracles were done, because they did not repent: 21 "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes long ago. 22 "But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 "And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until today. 24 "But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you." 25 At that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and revealed them to infants. 26 "Yes, Father, because this was your good pleasure.

So for me the bottom line seems to be:

"Blessed are the poor in attitude for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"

Or something close to that. IE: Basically I'm agreeing with the most straightforward reading and the translations as far as the grammar goes but interpreting it a tad differently where the "spirit" is the "attitude". Read that way it seems consistent with:

  • Greek grammar and word usage (I think)
  • Luke's version
  • other references to the poor in Matthew
  • Moses and the prophets
  • James, etc. when speaking of the poor

BDAG has this usage for πνεῦμα:

ⓒ spiritual state, state of mind, disposition ἐν ἀγάπῃ πνεύματί τε πραΰτητος with love and a gentle spirit 1 Cor 4:21; cp. Gal 6:1. τὸ πν. τοῦ νοὸς ὑμῶν Eph 4:23 (s. νοῦς 2a). ἐν τῷ ἀφθάρτῳ τοῦ ἡσυχίου πνεύματος with the imperishable (gift) of a quiet disposition 1 Pt 3:4.

Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 833). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

If "attitude" doesn't work then I would resort to "destitute in their spirit" though that doesn't communicate that much to me, personally.


I believe you have found the key in Isaiah 61:1:

the Lord has anointed me to deliver good news to humble people (GW)

the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor (ESV)

The Hebrew word used here has a wider area of meaning compared to English "poor". The BDB dictionary explains: עָנָו n.m. poor, afflicted, humble, meek.

The word was often used to describe orphans and widows because they were in need of help and were willing to acknowledge their need and humble enough to ask for and receive help

We now know that Jesus as a Rabbi made his speeches in Hebrew and the original Matthew probably used this very word. The LXX translated the word with the Greek πτωχός. For this word, BDAG has two senses that are relevant here:

  1. dependent on others for support and 2. being thrust on divine resources

So what Jesus is saying is that people who are humble and acknowledge their need for help in the spiritual realm are Makarios (Blessed=in a good position), because they are the ones who will believe in Jesus, accept his forgiveness and enter the Kingdom of God.

Luke apparently just followed the Greek Septuagint tradition and said "poor" (πτωχός), but the one who translated Hebrew Matthew into Greek was an excellent translator, so he understood that the word "poor" alone would be understood in terms of money, and the spiritual and humble aspect would be lost, so he added "in spirit" to help with the correct understanding.

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