The “poor” in the verse “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven[,]” (Mat. 5:3 NIV) is the An.Gr. “ptōchoi”. While this word does refer to poor people Strong’s Concordance says that the word means of or like the beggars, defining it as “(of one who crouches and cower, hence) beggarly, poor” that the word denotes extreme destitution. Now, strong suggests we should take this to mean “humble devout persons” when it is a good thing, but this is not something I can confirm in usage outside the Bible.

Are they really just the “humble devout persons” in spirit? Are they people who live spiritually focused (in the spirit) and are oppressed into cowering and crouch because of their devotion? Are they people who are pauper of spiritual wealth, not people of the Christian world see it today but we’re lacking the flesh and legalism spiritual purity of Sadducees and Pharisees, for because they were not self imposed earthly spiritualism they were open to the redemptive forgiveness and acceptance of the kingdom of heave? Is the begging; that is are the “ptōchoi” spirit beggars, who are asking pleading, yearning, begging for any amount of spiritual wealth to give them enough to trudge on just a little bit longer, will receive the kingdom of heaven and thus the true spiritual wealth they cry out for? Lastly, how can we know?

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  • Poor is not a matter of how much money we have or don't have, but a matter of how much money we owe. To be poor in spirit is to recognize that we owe everything to Christ.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Jun 26, 2019 at 0:14
  • Possible duplicate of What is the meaning of "poor in spirit" in Matthew 5:3
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jun 30, 2019 at 22:41

8 Answers 8


Thayer says that the word πτωχος, 'poor', comes from πτωσσω, to be thoroughly frightened or to hide oneself in fear. Which word may originally come from, or be related to, πτυσσσω, to fold together or to roll up.

The three related words - πτωχος, 'poor', πτωχευο, 'become poor', and πτωχεια, 'poverty' - are used a total of forty times in the New Testament writings which is a significant number and such significant numbers often (if not always) point to a spiritual context.

Ten is the number of completeness and four is the number of the earth (north, south, east and west) and I think that would convey to us that humanity, as such, is poor, globally.

Or, at least, should regard itself as such.

Mary expresses to Elisabeth, and, thereby, to us all :

He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. Luke 1:53 KJV.]

Not to realise and not to accept the fact of one's own spiritual poverty by nature and by first birth and by origin in Adam, is to render oneself unsuitable for spiritual enrichment and is to provoke the sending away of oneself because one esteems oneself (and feels oneself) to be - personally - 'rich'.

Jesus says :

Woe unto you that are rich ! For ye have received your consolation. [Luke 6:24, KJV.]

If worldly things, material wealth and carnal possessions are sufficient to console someone in this present life, then they have not (yet) discovered their true, inward spiritual poverty towards God.

But to his own, Jesus says :

Blessed poor (the 'be' and the 'ye' are in italics) : for yours is the kingdom of God. [Luke 6:20, KJV.]

It is a blessed thing to discover one's own spiritual poverty and to find that nothing in this present world can enrich oneself. That one remains 'folded together' 'rolled up' 'thoroughly frightened' and 'hides oneself in fear' because of sin, because of past sins, because of a felt distance from God, because one has no righteousness of one's own, because one is bereft of a sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit within one's own soul.

Blessed poor.

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

This is the first Beatitude. This is the first of all blessings : the discovery of one's own spiritual poverty. And with that very discovery comes a blessing -

  • for to be in such a state . . .

. . . is to be already in the kingdom of heaven.


"Blessed are the poor in spirit." That they are blessed and that theirs is the kingdom of heaven shows that these are not people whose being "poor in the spirit" alludes to "spiritual bankruptcy." Rather, they are people who are not complacent in spiritual matters. A poor person will always think about wealth and if given a chance to work his ways into riches, he would work hard to get the riches.

If we borrow that characteristic into the spiritual matters, then the poor here will always think about spiritual wealth and when exposed to the grace and the provision of the pursuit of godliness, they will 'work' hard in the pursuit of righteousness.


In Matt 5:3 πτωχοὶ (ptōchoi) comes from the root word πτωχός (ptóchos) which Friberg's Analytical Lexicon defines literally as "one who is dependant on others for support, poor, destitute". This could be in either the financial sense or spiritual sense.

BDAG lists four fundamental meanings of the word πτωχός (ptóchos) as follows:

  1. Economically disadvantaged, that is dependant upon others for support, eg, Mark 12:42, 43, Luke 21:3, 6:20, Rev 13:16, Matt 26:11, etc.
  2. being thrust upon divine resources. [a number of examples in non-Biblical literature are given pertaining to Zeus], eg, Mark 11:5, Luke 4:18, etc.
  3. lacking in spiritual worth. [a number of examples in non-Biblical literature are given] eg, Matt 5:3, Rev 3:17
  4. being extremely inferior in quality, miserable, shabby. eg, Gal 4:9, 1 Cor 15:10, etc.

In all these cases the central idea is that the person's state of destitution makes them dependant on others for necessities. This might be friends, Zeus, or God. (See BDAG for non-Biblical references.)

In Matt 5:3, the text explicitly defines poverty in the spiritual sense. That is, the thrust of Jesus' saying is: People are happiest when they recognise their spiritual needs and their complete dependence on God. This is the whole key to life with Jesus and is brought into sharp focus in His message to Laodicea (Rev 3:17) whose people refused to recognise their poverty but arrogantly believed themselves rich.



When the Lord comes to open up the Scriptures to our understanding as He opens His mouth to teach us, then blessed (happy) are those who will be “poor in spirit”……poor in breath….that is, poor in words towards that opened mouth.

Matthew 5:1-3 KJV (1) And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: (2) And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, (3) Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The poor in breath (poor in words) will be swift to hear, slow to speak and slow to wrath. Sin is present when one speaks a multitude of words (being "rich" in words so to speak) in their wrath towards the opened mouth that speaks His Word in truth and sincerity.

James 1:19-20 KJV (19) Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: (20) For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.

The poor in breath shall hear His opened mouth and tremble at the Word that comes out of it and will not be found speaking a multitude of words in contention of what they hear.

Isaiah 66:2 KJV (2) For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.

They will use “little strength” in their breath and speak few words as they hear Him open His mouth and teach the Word.

The key to understanding is to shut the mouth towards the opened mouth that teaches His Word. The Lord opens the door of utterance that no man can shut as it teaches His knowledge and those who would listen and enter in to His understanding shall shut their mouths and not open them. They will be able to rejoice in what they hear....happy are the "poor in spirit".

Revelation 3:7-8 KJV (7) And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; (8) I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.


I believe that AA succinctly nails "poverty of spirit" in their first four steps.

Jesus provides a contrast to spiritual poverty by teasing a pharisee about his unwashed cup and He describes the path to spiritual poverty as removing the log from one's eye and seeing oneself clearly. Strong's translations for "eye" include conceit (hubris); humility is the result of spiritual conceit exposed.

An internet search indicated that "poverty of spirit" might feel like "spiritual destitution". Destitution is the feeling of hopelessness. But poverty is given hope in the beatitude and the vessel is ready to be filled. Nothing but joy!

Interpreting "poverty of spirit" as anosognosia distinguishes it from "meekness"

  • Hi Eselpee, welcome to the site. The AA observation is insightful, +1. This answer could be strengthened with a little more detail. Please be sure to take the site tour, and thanks for contributing! Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 18:16
  • Rod, I took the tour at my initial post and have the badge to support this claim ;) I am curious about the request for more detail. What kind of details would be helpful? the tour specifically states, "There's no chit-chat."
    – QuestJan
    Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 17:46
  • that's great, thanks! I'd recommend in place of "an internet search" you point to a specific source. Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 18:26

If you are satisfied with the progress in cultivating and developing divine gifts, talents and this satisfaction leads you to a self-conceited stagnation, then you are "rich" in a wrongful way, you lose that blessed vision/understanding coupled with a feeling of deficiency and imperfection in comparison with Divine fulness and perfection, and then this horrible sentence will be fit to you: "who has, to him will be given, but who does not have, from him will be taken away also that which he has" (Matthew 13:12).

But the "poor" who understand that cultivation of virtues and of the God-given talents can have no end and more and more is to be achieved with the same intensity of striving and diligence, such wise "poor" are indeed blessed.


“Poor in spirit” Is the figure of speech “idiom,” and is an idiomatic way of saying “humble in their attitude.” To fully understand the idiom, we must examine both “poor” and “spirit.” The Greek word “poor” is ptochos, and it means poor in wealth, but can refer to being “poor” in other ways. For example, the people Christ addresses in Revelation 3:17 are technically wealthy in material goods, yet Jesus says: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” In this verse, “poor” refers to being poor in godliness and in the treasure that will be bestowed at the Judgment. Similarly, the word “poor” can refer to being poor or humble in one’s attitude. This is reflected in Isaiah 66:2, which mentions the person to whom God will pay attention: “but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.” This verse mentions a “poor and contrite spirit” but many versions correctly understand that the word “poor” refers to “humble,” and translate it that way (ESV; HCSB; NASB, NIV, NRSV). Kenneth Bailey (Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes (IVP Academic, 2008, pp. 68, 69, 158, 159) does a good job in showing from the Old Testament, the Qumran texts, and even early Christian sources, that “poor” was used idiomatically for “humble.”


I was looking over this and tried to find other verses that are talking about being poor, humbled, and cast down in your spirit. If you have time, please look at Isaiah 57: 15 and 66: 2, Proverbs 29:23, Psalm 51: 7 and of course the main scripture, Matthew 5: 3. I believe they're talking about the way God is looking at these types of people. If you read these scriptures, you'll see that He intends to bless these people, to lift them, regardless of their lowly state. I don't think the point of this beatitude is to know if this poorness lowly state is a material one or not, but know our Father's heart. I hope somebody will be blessed by reading these scriptures and will believe His heart is for you despite your condition.

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