Matthew 5:8 (KJV):
8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God
What did Jesus have in mind when he said "pure in heart"? What qualifies as being "pure in heart"?
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The root word is καθαρός (katharos), meaning:
clean, pure, unstained, either literally or ceremonially or spiritually; guiltless, innocent, upright...unmixed (see here)
The heart - the thinking organ
To the ancient Jews, the heart was the thinking organ.
Claude Tresmontant observed in his commentary on Deut. 6:
When we translate literally the Hebrew be-kol lebabeka as 'with all you heart,' we evidently cannot be faulted too badly. After all the Hebrew leb does mean 'heart.' Nevertheless because the 'heart' was considered by the ancient Hebrews to be the organ of the intelligence and not of affectivity, we fail to render the true meaning of the sentence when we translate leb literally. To love with all one's heart for us it to love with very great emotion and affection; understanding this command in that fashion, we are unlikely to realize that we were really commanded in this passage to love God with all our mind or intelligence. (The Hebrew Christ p. 190)
What you see is what you get
In the Jewish culture in which Jesus taught & Matthew wrote, "pure in heart" would call to mind (no pun intended) sincerity in thoughts or intentions--these things are not contaminated with sin or mixed with ulterior motive.
To use a modern expression, a person who is pure in heart is not two-faced; they are the same person in public as they are when they think nobody is watching.
The operative word, pure, in Matt 5:8 has come directly into English as catharsis - a purifying and purging. According to BDAG, καθαρός has the following meanings:
Thus, by this lexicon, being "pure in heart" is to be morally pure and free from sin. This is an attribute that we are encouraged to gain in imitating Christ:
• Be pure as He is pure. 1 John 3:3. [albeit using a different word in Greek]
Ellicott suggests this:
(Matt 5:8) Pure in heart.—Here, as with the poor in spirit, the noun determines the region in which the purity is to be found--the “heart” as representing desires and affections, as the "spirit" represents the will and higher personality. The purity so described is not that which was the ideal of the Pharisee, outward and ceremonial, nor, again, was it limited, as the common language of Christians too often limits it, to the absence of one special form of sensual sin; but it excluded every element of baseness—the impurity of hate or greed of gain, no less than that of lust. Not without cause, however, has the evil of the latter sin so overshadowed the others that it has almost monopolised the name. No single form of evil spreads its taint more deeply than that which “lets in contagion to the inward parts.”
Meyer is more succinct:
Matthew 5:8. Οἱ καθαροὶ τῇ καρδίᾳ] denotes the moral blamelessness of the inner life, the centre of which is the heart.
Barnes adds something else:
Blessed are the pure in heart - That is, whose minds, motives, and principles are pure; who seek not only to have the external actions correct, but who desire to be holy in heart, and who are so. Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.
The correlate of καθαροὶ Matthews 5:8 in Shem Tob's Hebrew Gospel of Matthew is "זַכֵּי" (Ezra 2:9; Nehemiah 3:20, 7:14)
From זָכַךְ (H2141) Outline of Biblical Usage: to be pure, be bright, be clean, be bright, clean (Qal) to be bright, be shining; to be clean, be pure; (Hiphil) to cleanse, make cleanse, make clean
That the Jews who sought external and internal purification would be justified.
The words καθαρός "clean" and καρδία "the heart" appear in Gen. 20:5-6; Ps. 23:4; 50:12; Prov. 20:9; Job 11:13; 33:3; Matt. 5:8; 1 Tim. 1:5; 2 Tim. 2:22; Heb. 10:22; 1 Pet. 1:22 LXX
The Hebrew correlate of the Gen. 20:5-6 is בְּתָם־לְבָבִ֛י which also appears in 1 Ki. 9:4; Ps. 78:72; 101:2 HEBREW.
So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands. (Ps. 78:72 KJV)
David cared for them with pure motives; he led them with skill. (Ps. 78:72 NET)
will behave myself wisely in a perfect way. O when wilt thou come unto me? I will walk within my house with a perfect heart. KJV Psalm 101:2
I will walk in the way of integrity. When will you come to me? I will conduct my business with integrity in the midst of my palace. NET Psalm 101:2
The term "תָם" "perfect" also appears in chapter 5 of Matthew ( Mattews 5:48; 19:21 ), playing on words in a specific semantic domain.
The terms בַּר and לֵבָב for καθαρός "clean" and καρδία "the heart" in Ps. 24:4; 73:1, and the interesting thing is that adjective בַּר has the meanings of: 1) pure, clean, 2) son, 3) grain, corn, 4) as open field.
The terms בַּר and לֵבָב were translated by "εὐθέσι τῇ καρδίᾳ" in Ps. 72:1 LXX Ps 73:1 Hebrew, which also appears in 2 Ki. 10:15; Ps. 7:11; 10:2; 18:9; 31:11; 35:11; 36:14; 63:11; 93:15; 96:11; 124:4 being translated by upright in heart (Ps. 36:10 KJV) and morally upright! (Ps. 36:10 NET).
The term בַּר is also found in Matthews 13:25 of the Shem Tob's Hebrew Gospel of Matthew and it is very interesting to know that in Hebrew, the term for wheat seed is equivalent to the term clean and purity:
But while everyone was sleeping, an enemy came and sowed darnel among the wheat and went away. NET free Matthews 13:25
The term בַּר is even more significant in John 12:24, where it is also interpreted as "son" or "pure" referring both to the Sacrifice of Isaac by Abram and in the form of grain the Egyptian roots.
I tell you the solemn truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains by itself alone. But if it dies, it produces much grain NET free John 12:24
It is an absolute expression that rings to the very essence of all humans and does not teach, but just awakens that, which is present in all humans as a Platonic “innate idea” or Kantian “transcendental a priori”, for of course everybody understands what purity of heart is without any formal education.
If you say “I love you” to a girl in order to have her body, how can you have a pure heart, for you have doubly tarnished it: by a lie and by a lust. Or, if you plagiarize your paper, how can you have a pure heart, for you have tarnished it by a stealth. Or if you say the Lord’s Prayer and do not mean really to forgive those who trespass against you, how can you have a pure heart when you have sallied it by lying to its very Creator. Does not Lord Himself in Matthew 15:18-19 clearly name those contaminations that defile heart and are to be avoided and cleansed?
Pure heart is God’s throne and dwelling place, eternal dwelling place, for that matter, but He can only knock there (Rev. 3:20), opening is on our free will and free love; but when He is in, He is not for a time being, but for eternity (John 8:35) and He can tolerate no dirty spot in His temple, which is our heart (1 Corinthians 3:16), until He blots it out altogether (Ephesians 5:27).