Blessed are the pure in heart

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.

What does this mean?

Does this mean that God doesn’t reveal himself to sinners? In that case, the Gospel is meaningless and our faith ought to be in our own ability to do right. If purity of heart means simply a heart which has no sin in it, a heart which does not harbour bitterness or conceit, lust or envy, then if one is self-disciplined, they should have direct access to the very throne of God.

I understand Jesus’ blessing to be an announcement of his kingdom. Apparently then, in this kingdom, those who work their hardest earn the right to see God. This would have terrible implications for the rest of the blessings, which then become equally as harsh demands on our souls.

What is this purity of heart to which Jesus refers, and how does it logically follow that the pure in heart see God?

The Psalmist declares:

Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.
He will receive blessing from the LORD
and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob.
(Psalm 24:3-6)

Here we see ‘purity of heart’ paralleled with not worshipping idols and also with not cheating or harming others. This seems to be the essence of the Law of God: Those who may stand in his holy place are those who are obedient to the law, loving God and loving others.

This still does not help me. Israel’s history in the Bible records the abject failure of the people of God to be ‘pure in heart’. What hope do I have?

I think the issue here is that I have made purity of heart the goal, when the promise is that I would see God. Which, then, is more important to God? Seeing him, or adhering to a set of rules?

Maybe if the daily question becomes ‘where can I see God’ rather than ‘how can I be pure in heart’ that heart-purity will become second nature.

It’s not as though God has hidden himself behind a wall of laws and rules which one must climb over in order to behold him.

I think one’s impure heart will prevent one from seeing the obvious.

That is, God.

Heart -purity is what prevents a person from seeing God.

One of the key aspects of Jesus’ life is that he was often surrounded by the religious, the law-keepers and the zealous who, despite being very good at being holy, had completely missed the face of God in Christ.

So then these must not be ‘pure in heart’

Not everyone saw God in Jesus. There were a few, though. His disciples, for one. Those who walked with him saw him for who he really was.

Is it possible then, that it is the act of following Jesus which purifies one’s heart. Or even being called to follow which purifies the heart?

Maybe purity of heart is visible when Jesus followers see God’s hand in the lives of others, performing miracles of transformation.

Or maybe that’s just imagination.

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23 Comments

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  1. fascinated by the use by Jesus of the word katharos for pure (which seems to have the meaning of having been purified through fire, pruned like a vine etc ie: having had an action carried out to make it pure) rather than the other greek word for pure hagnos which seems more to have the meaning of already sacred and already pure, So could it be that Jesus is saying – once again – as a result of trusting me – you get these things as a gift – we are made pure when we become a new creation – rather than having to obtain purety of heart which as you quite rightly point out is an impossibility when left to our own devises.

    That God requires purity of heart isn’t in doubt – how we get that purity Jesus seems to be saying is let me give it to you (along with all the other virtues of the Holy Spirit he gives us when we are born again?)

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    • That notion of pure as in purified would seem to indicate there must be a purifier. However, this has the danger of falling into ‘word-study fallacy’ where we interpret a phrase based on the other ways that word has been used. We must of course be aware that every instance of a word does not conjure up every possible meaning of the word in every instance.

      The lack of reference to being purified doesn’t cause me to leap to the assumption that Jesus means pure in that sense. However, the greater context of these blessings at the very least tells me that it is something to do with meeting God and beholding him, which surly must be grace.

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  2. As conservative as I am I try not to put God in a box by saying those who are pure in heart cannot see God. Romans 1:20: For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. He can be seen, I think God wrote this to tell us He will more clearly reveals himself to those pure in heart.

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  3. ?? I don’t understand – these are two different words not the same word with different meanings? Two different greek words either of which Jesus knew the meaning of, either of which he could have used and he chose to use the one that indicates the need for a purifier – don’t you find that interesting?

    What has this got to do with “falling into the word-study fallacy……….” I am not interpreting a phrase based on the other ways that word has been used!! I am looking at two completely different greek words and which one Jesus chose to use.

    We have one word – pure – Greek has more than one word for pure. Just because our english is limited doesn’t mean the greek is.

    We have one word for love – the greek has more than one – and we all know the significance of which word Jesus chooses to use when talking to Peter – and the significance of why he then changed that word – something that completely escapes our notice unless we look at the greek.

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    • Oh! My mistake, I missed that sentence in your previous comment.

      All the same, I’m not sure how much emphasis I’d place on similes. I remember a short rant from my NT lecturer about how we get all tied up in the different words for ‘love’ at the end of John’s Gospel, when that use of similes is actually a very common feature of John’s Gospel – he does the same thing when talking about the ‘sheep’ in the same passage.

      Just something to think about.

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  4. ?? you are not surely suggesting that Jesus didn’t actually know what he was doing when he used different words are you? You seem to be suggesting that John in his gospel was just using some form of literary technique rather than reporting the actual words of God?

    God’s Word clearly tells us that God knows exactly how and when and why he is using certain words – I certainly don’t think that I would question Jesus’s words like this?

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    • Does it matter whether John is recording an actual conversation which occurred? In fact, if one were to read it, it seems a little surreal which might indicate that John had streamlined the conversation to make a specific point. Namely, giving Peter the opportunity to be reconciled after his earlier denial.

      Now, I don’t doubt such a conversation occurred, but did it have such a formulaic flow? Possibly not.

      Why must literary technique be the antithesis of the ‘words of God’? In fact the use of technique and grammar and structure and genre are all very important to understanding what the Scriptures mean. Whether one understands that meaning to be God’s meaning…. well that’s a matter of faith.

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  5. Of course it matters – it’s the word of God – if we are to start dissecting the word of God instead of digesting the word of God then anything is up for grabs – did God actually speak the ten commandments to the israelites, did God really tell Abraham to go to Canaan, did God really say this is my beloved son, did the angel really tell Mary she was to conceive by the holy spirit, did Mary really speak to Jesus outside the tomb, did Jesus really tell the disciples to wait for the holy spirit, did Paul really talk to Jesus on the road to emmaseus, did stephen really see heaven –

    See the problem? The bible is very clear and straight forward – it is very obviously when it is conversation, speach or poetry – and as we read the bible the only revelation we need is that of the holy spirit not a lecturer telling us whether or not in his opinion John is using a literary technique rather than the very words of Jesus.

    (Also – why are we supposing that these very ordinary disciples suddenly went for some literary training in order to write a good yarn? Why would they? Why did they need to? Why would they bother? )

    I totally disagree that the use of tecdhnique grammar and scrutre and genre are any more important than how it appears – we don’t need to delve into literary techniques to understand the word of God – God has made it abundantly clear how he wants us to understand it.

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    • ‘If we start dissecting the word… then anything is up for grabs’

      That’s simply untrue. Just because a literary scholar claims Isaiah was written by 2 or 3 separate authors, or that the parts of Daniel after chapter 9 were later additions, or that there were four sources for the Torah does not change the fact that I believe it to be the word of God. Whether the scholars are right or not really doesn’t change the status of Scripture: that it is the document God has chosen to reveal himself to the world through.

      If a person is looking for excuses to not listen to God, they will undoubtably find them.

      I’m not disagreeing that the Bible is clear. I would submit that the Bible was very clear…. to it’s original readers. Today interpretation is made difficult (not impossible) and requires a bit more work on our part. Thankfully, God has blessed us with some amazing insights into the history and context of the scriptures as well as studies of the scriptures themselves in commentaries.

      These commentaries help us understand the genres and techniques which would have been common to the original reader, but have since been lost to us. For example, when was the last time you read an ‘apocalyptic’ text? That’s a genre we seldom use, yet in Daniel and Revelation (as well as elsewhere) it is commonplace.

      Considering Matthew and Luke were not penned by the disciples, but by investigators and editors it is easy to see the intentionality behind the writing of the text. Matthew has a very clear structure and intention and so does Luke. Mark’s gospel was likely mostly Peter’s words recorded by someone else. Most seem to disagree about who wrote John!

      Considering that, it is not surprising that we see fairly clear structure and purpose to the Gospels, as well as all the other books of the NT. Structure which becomes clearer with increased awareness of the context.

      You yourself even demonstrated this by offering greek words. If the Bible is SO clear, why even look at the original language?

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  6. whoops I mean the road to damascus not the road to emmaeus!!!

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  7. but where in the bible does it say that we need a bevy of literary geniuses to explain anything to us. The bible says all we need is the Holy Spirit. Who are we to declare that we need more than that. Who says Matthew and Luke weren’t written by Matthew and Luke? Were those people there at the time? Who says John didn’t write John? Who are we to arrogantly suggest that we know better than God – why do we debate who wrote – as opposed to what does God want me to learn and do – be hearers of the word and doers also – not dissectors! Perhaps if we all spent more time listening to God and less time dissecting his Word we might find ourselves in a much better place?

    Why isn’t it enough to allow the Holy Spirit to interpret scripture for us?

    Yes I do enjoy reading and looking at the Greek words – but actually if I just studied the whole of scripture more I wouldn’t need the greek words – because the bible comments on itself – if I studied enough and listened to the holy spirit enough – just reading and going through scripture would lead me to the same conclusion as looking at the greek. Often I find the greek just confirms what the HOly Spirit has already revealed to me – in fact I feel I need to apologise to God for not trusting him in the first place and for searching elsewhere to confirm what I feel he has already revealed to me – but hallelujah God is so loving and so patient and he loves me so much that he’s patient with me in my unbelief.

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  8. Well I think the Holy Spirit has been faithful to us to lead us towards the truth…

    Many faithful Christians have set as their life goal the study of the Scriptures and have written edifying books on the matter. If that isn’t the work of the Holy Spirit, I don’t know what is!

    It’s unlikely that Matthew and Luke were actual witnesses to Jesus, though they were writing so early they probably had many verifiable witnesses to check against.

    The reason people say John the ‘beloved disciple’ didn’t write John is because he was probably illiterate. Some submit that it was his disciples who wrote the Gospel, based on John’s teaching about Jesus.

    You need to apologise to God for…. studying the Scriptures?

    That’s rather… strange.

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  9. You guys started off discussing Greek word tautology at the top of this thread……I find it unlikely that Jesus used Greek words whilst delivering the beatitudes?

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  10. Something just leaped out at me:

    “[…]God is so loving and so patient and he loves me so much that he’s patient with me in my unbelief.”

    I’m sorry if it appears rude, but I distinctly remember you saying (in the post: “When a Pastor falls – response to Gospel Coalition”):

    “I couldn’t even consider what I would be like as a non believer since I believe”.

    Some clarification?

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  11. if the writers of the gospels wrote in greek – i think we can safely assume that they also spoke greek as well as aramaic – I doubt pontios pilot spoke much aramaic so we can certainly assume Jesus spoke greek to Pilot unless there was a handy interpretor present!! we don’t actually know which of Jesus’s words he spoke in greek and which he spoke in aramaic except on a couple of occasions – but we can be assured that his words – and the meanings of them were accurately portrayed by the writers of his words. We know that the greek words have specific meanings – how hot are you on aramaic and their specific meanings and how accurately they can be translated into greek? . We certainly know from scripture that Jesus read the greek septuatant and indeed spoke to the devil in greek quoting directly from the septuatant as opposed to hebrew or aramaic – how do you or I actually know how often he spoke in aramaic (expect on the specific occasions where the aramaic is quoted (ie’ on the cross and raising the girl from the dead) – have you not ever wondered why it was necessary to put these particular phrases in aramaic?

    Ben – if you study scripture you will see there is a difference between faith (a gift from God) and how you use that faith (belief verses unbelief) – “I believe, help my unbelief” So they aren’t opposites – it is perfectly possible to have faith and not be operating in it fully.

    It is perfectly possible to believe and still have some unbelief – take Peter walking on the water – certainly believed when he stepped out of the boat – then took his eyes off Jesus and stopped operating in faith and started operating in unbelief- this didn’t mean his faith disappeared – just that for a while he stopped operating in it – hope that clarifies it for you.

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  12. I’m afraid it doesn’t. Isn’t unbelief just unbelief? Surely you either believe or you don’t?

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  13. Not according to the bible. supernatural faith is a gift from God – Romans tells us that all Christians are given the same measure of it (it the same amount) but how much we choose to use that gift is up to us – and that is very evident in the bible and I am sure you can see that evident in Christians today. Some Christians live far more by faith than others – you only have to read testimonies of people who have lived through amazing events where miracles have happened – even on a simple basis you will find some Christians hoard money and some trust God willl provide, some leave decisiosn to God some will only bother God with the difficult things – the amount by which they choose to live by faith is the amount by which they either believe or are in unbnelief.

    By the way Ian I was thinking last night – what difference does it make if John was illiterate – the Holy Spirit can give the power to read and write. He certainly did for Smith Wigglesworth – if you get a chance to read about him that will blow your mind away – the power of God was amazing.

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  14. I am no language scholar, so have re-read a few things just to make sure I make sense here. Shoot me down Cliff students!

    NT Greek was the modern, state based, one size fits all country language. Scholars appear to debate a good deal on the language variations of individual NT books. In Jesus time there was also Aramaic, Hebrew and a bit of Latin being used in his backyard. It is interesting to note that only Luke and John tell us that the sign on Jesus’ cross was written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. Mark mentions the sign but Matthew does not.

    I’m happy with the wisdom of the ancients, from setting the canon of the NT to the patronage of the NT books. I don’t have much time for some of the ‘up to date’ literary analysis (indeed I caused chaos within Methodist Local Preacher training when I did my best to explain an alternative view to their training on who wrote the gospels) as it seems to start from a standpoint of disagreeing with the ancients.

    I’d say that Luke was written for a worldwide audience, a thorough and detailed examination of what happened in Jesus life. Hence writing the book to Theophilus. Hence using the one size fits all (Greek) language to write it.

    I’d say that Mark was written soon after the events of Jesus death and resurrection – maybe as a personal memoir, maybe dictated, maybe not in state language (Greek) originally. Perhaps an oral tradition which then got written down.

    I’d say that Matthew was written by a Hebrew in a Hebrew style, but at a time when the term Christian was getting used and the church was exploding underground in the Roman Empire and beyond. Acts tells us of some of the tensions between the Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. Scholars find more Hebrew style and Hebraisms here than in the other gospels but mostly feel it was written down first in Greek.

    I’d say John was writen down last of the 4 gospels – the disciple who Jesus loved and was allged to live until Christ returned – by the disciple himself: almost certainly dictated by John and worked on by a servant or team of servants, perhaps monks. A kind of old mans gospel for the children (of God) seen through a longer lens. Language? mmmm, probably written down in Greek but very doubtful it came from John’s lips in Greek.

    Some have tried to say bits were first written in Latin, Aramaic, Hebrew and made better cases for this than I could. Consensus (or peer review Ben!) is a funny thing and frankly I have no idea what the current consensus of any of this is.

    As I said, I fell out with Methodism over redaction criticism and the source of the gospels. So I accept my line may not be ‘mainstream’ but historical discoveries of texts in the last 100 or so years have tended to shoot down a lot of clever ‘recent’ thinking and show that the texts are more ancient and complete than scholars have argued.

    So…….having set the scene, what about the quotes of Jesus. I’m sure Jesus spoke the language of communication. Whoever was in front of him, He communicated – with silence sometimes.

    Talking to Pilate is an interesting one: the priests were very Jewish and revered Hebrew, Pilate ‘was’ the state so used Greek as the official language but Latin as the Roman language. Hence the sign I mentioned earlier. No mention of Aramaic on the sign. I wonder why?

    I think most would see the crowd baying for blood who Pilate talked to as talking amongst themselves in Aramaic, street language. If you like, the language of anti-state. The language the people spoke before the Romans and before Alexander the Great. Pilate may even have spoken to the crowd in Aramaic and Jesus, when He finally spoke to Pilate, may have chosen to speak Aramaic.

    It would have been much more obvious to people who lived in the area under the Romans than to us. The writers of the gospels, for example. In the main, they chose not to get hung up on language. They do, occasionally, point out words in both Aramaic and Hebrew. I’d say this is because they wish to make a specific point, or because NT Greek is struggling to make a direct translation of what was said.

    I’m happy to go with the ancients and not get too hung up on language. Especially as using English takes things even further away from direct translation of what was written.

    If anyone has read this far (!) then please understand me – all of my words above are to set the scene and trying to explain myself. It would be rude to Ian to debate any of this greatly here.

    Conclusion? I think that in speaking to the masses Jesus would have used Aramaic. Not the language of the state. I think most scholars would agree. Clearly, Jesus was speaking to the masses ( we are told from Galilee and the Decapolis in Matthew 4:25 – Aramaic areas) in the Sermon on the Mount. As my earlier post on this thread said, I find it unlikely that Jesus delivered the beatitudes in Greek.

    Its telling that only Matthew (remember, I say he’s the Hebrew style writer) has the sermon on the mount as such. In no way does that devalue it to me…..but clearly there are some key points of the Gospel which appear in all 4 books.
    So if you want to do Greek tautology, its wise to consider that you are talking in English about Greek words written by a Jew who translated what was said to a large crowd in the open in Aramaic.

    Actually Beverly, I tend to agree with the point you started off with in regard to the Greek words, an ongoing process of purification rather that one which is already done……….however I really don’t feel you are glorifying anything with lots of rather agressive posts. You seemed to be asking my view on Greek/Aramaic in your post, so you have it in a nutshell – why try and disagree or be agressive about it? By all means share your views, but take on the the beatitude “blessed are the meek” at the same time please. Or start your own blog and see how it feels to have someone constantly standing in judgement on it.

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    • why would I need to start my own blog when people are constantly standing in judgement of me on this site!!

      Interesting Mike have you considered what the result would have been if you had simply said that you too thought that could be the meaning of Jesus’s words right in the beginning – would that have made a difference to the way Ian thought about the passage? I notice you have still chosen not to comment on the last points Ian raised that I asked where you stood on – why is this I wonder – could it possibly be you are worried it might upset Ian – even if it’s the truth?

      Ian I am presuming you didn’t launch this website so that you could just receive accolades about what a wonderful insite you have did you?

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      • No, I started this to share my experiences, thoughts, doubts and hopes to do with the Christian life. I think sometimes the comments descend like this because we all get away from the point of the article to bite back and forth over foundational issues.

        However, I’m not against discussing those foundational issues if they are wrong or misunderstood.

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  15. Sadly predictable…..I’m sorry that it seems the parable of the speck and plank in the eye is being lived out here in comments. Depends who you are as to how you see it….

    Actually, I did comment on how I might go about helping Ian…IF….. I thought he was in error. And it wouldn’t involve trying to treat him like a naughty child in public, raving on his blog. In fact we do communicate external to here and I don’t see the need for such interactions to be public.

    Like I said, present thoughts on here by all means but try not to judge….

    I applaud Ian’s honesty, candour and reluctance to pronnounce absolutes OTHER than backed up rationally thought Gospel. I enjoy having to go back and double check stuff myself but really would prefer to do it in a relaxed debate.

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