Disclaimer: I have no formal education in Koine.

NASB/GNT Matthew 5:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

3 Μακάριοι οἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι, ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.

Pardon me if this is a stupid question but,

Might it be a locative with the sense of:

"The poor are blessed [with blessings] in the spiritual realm..."

Or is is necessarily connected to "the destitute" as in "The destitute in spirit are blessed..."?

  • Discussed on B-Greek here: ibiblio.org/bgreek/forum/viewtopic.php?f=46&t=157
    – Ruminator
    Commented Oct 19, 2018 at 23:52
  • It may be of interest that I looked this post up in comparison with two other verses: Act 19:21 and John 4:24. Originally I was researching thew use of dative without a preposition but only a definite article. Things like this always brings up more questions and research!
    – Fredd
    Commented Sep 12, 2021 at 3:28

4 Answers 4


With reference to verse 8 :

... the pure in heart, τη καρδια

(which is also a dative) Daniel B Wallace ascribes it to be a 'dative of reference', of which he says :

... the dative is the most common case used for reference ...

[Page 145, 1996 edition Beyond the Basics]

He translates the words as 'blessed are the pure with reference to the heart'. But he adds that this place could also be considered to be the dative of sphere, that is to say the expression of the realm in which the key word operates.

These two uses of the dative, he says on other pages, are close and sometimes inseparable.

So I would see the OP text as the same, that is to say :

Blessed are the poor with reference to spirit.

Or :

Blessed are the poor in the realm which is spiritual.

However that still leaves a matter of interpretation (as always with the word πνευμα pneuma) as it must be determined by context and by comparison with other places as to whether the spirit of humanity is being referred to or whether it is another spirit.

The text is translated as 'poor in spirit' by the KJV, by Tyndale, by the Douay-Rheims, by the EGNT, by Young's Literal, by Green's Literal and by J N Darby.

However I think it is quite clear that the condition of spiritual poverty is being blessed. It cannot be construed that 'the poor are blessed with spirit'. The grammar and the syntax cannot bear that meaning, nor does the context and nor do the other contextual statements agree with it.

The blessing is to 'the poor' and the poverty of these poor is defined by being referenced by the dative case (or by being placed in a certain realm or sphere by the dative case).

The predicate of the sentence, the poverty, is therefore being defined by the dative case of the words τῷ πνεύματι - in spirit. These words do not define the subject of the sentence, that is the blessing.

The nature of the blessing is stated in the following clause : 'for theirs is the kingdom of heaven'.

This is the blessedness of the spiritually poor - they already possess a heavenly kingdom by being spiritually poor within themselves.


The Greek text of Matt. 5:3 according to the Textus Receptus:

Γʹ μακάριοι οἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν TR, 1550

Should the Greek phrase «μακάριοι οἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι» be understood as “Blessed in the spirit are the poor,” in which τῷ πνεύματι modifies μακάριοι, or should it be understood as “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” in which τῷ πνεύματι modifies οἱ πτωχοὶ? I argue for the latter: “blessed are the poor in spirit.”

  1. There is a similar phrase in the Epistle of Barnabas: «πλούσιος τῷ πνεύματι»—“rich in spirit.”2
  2. There is a precedence in the Tanakh of people being “poor in spirit.” In Psa. 34:18, the LXX has the phrase «τοὺς ταπεινοὺς τῷ πνεύματι». The word ταπεινοὺς is an adjective declined from the lemma ταπεινός. According to LSJ on ταπεινός,


  1. of persons, humbled, abased in power, pride, etc., Hdt.7.14; σὺ δ᾽ οὐδέπω τ. A.Pr.322, cf. 908; “τ. παρέχειν τινά” X.An.2.5.13; “τά τοι μέγιστα πολλάκις θεὸς ταπείν᾽ ἔθηκε” E.Fr.716, cf. Hec.245, Andr.979; submissive, X.Hier.5.4 (Comp.), etc.; αἱ τ. τῶν πόλεων small, poor, weak, Isoc.4.95, cf. 7.7, X.Cyr.7.5.69 (Sup.); “τ. δύναμις” D.4.23; of low intelligence, “αἱ τῶν ἀσυνέτων καὶ τ. ἀνθρώπων ψυχαί” Gal. 19.220; “τὴν μικρὰν καὶ τ. [ἰατρικὴν θεωρίαν] ὁ Ἱπποκράτης ηὔξησεν” Id.16.550. Adv., ταπεινῶς (or ταπεινὰ) πράττειν to be in low estate or obscurity, Isoc.5.64, Plu.Thes.6; “-νῶς ζῆν” Philem.227; “ὁμιλεῖν” Arist.Pol. 1313b41.

  2. of things, mean, low, poor, “τ. καὶ ἄπορος δίαιτα” Pl.Lg.762e, cf. Phld. Oec.p.48 J.: Sup., “-οτάτη περίστασις” Id.Vit.p.26 J.; θεωρία -οτέρα, opp. τιμιωτέρα, Arist.PA639a1; of style, low, poor, τ. λέξις, opp. κεκοσμημένη, Id.Rh.1404b6. Adv., -νῶς λέγειν in a submissive manner, ib.1408a19.

In the LXX, πτωχός is predominately used to translate the Hebrew adjective עָנִי (ani),1 which itself is often translated into English as “poor.” However, sometimes the word ταπεινός is used instead to translate עָנִי (ani).3 Hence, ταπεινός and πτωχός may be considered synonymous. Thus, in Psa. 34:18 in the LXX, the phrase «τοὺς ταπεινοὺς τῷ πνεύματι» may be synonymous with «οἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι» in Matt. 5:3.

All that being said, I would classify the dative as a dative of reference. The people are poor with respect to their spirit (spiritually poor), just as those in Matt. 5:8 are pure with respect to their heart.


1 Lev. 19:10, 23:22; 2 Sam. 22:28; Job 29:12, 34:28, 36:6, etc.
2 Epistle of Barnabas 19.2
3 Isa. 66:2: עָנִי וּנְכֵה—«τὸν ταπεινὸν καὶ ἡσύχιον»

  • Lots of good stuff, so +1. What I don't get is what "spiritually poor" means. Does it mean not having enough spirit?
    – Ruminator
    Commented Nov 3, 2018 at 18:03
  • "Blessed are those begging for the things of God"?
    – Ruminator
    Commented Nov 3, 2018 at 18:35
  • Okay, can you update your post? Thanks.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Nov 3, 2018 at 19:34

Concerning the use of ptokhos in this text, M. R. Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament (1957, Vol. I, p. 36) says that “it is very graphic and appropriate here, as denoting the utter spiritual destitution, the consciousness of which precedes the entrance into the kingdom of God, and which cannot be relieved by one’s own efforts, but only by the free mercy of God.”

Here is an example of the above:-

Isaiah 57:15 (NIV) "For this is what the high and exalted One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite."


I take it as a dative of sphere. IE: In the spirit (construed as "attitude") is the "sphere" in which they are "poor". I believe some grammarians also call this a "locative".

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.

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