Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Oxymoron of Meriting a Blessing

One of the passages I chose for the boys as they're dipping their toe into the waters of studying Greek was the Beatitudes. I figured the repetition of the same words and the repeated pattern would teach them something as they puzzled through. (And besides, I get that thrill that I used to get so often when they were little, the thrill that comes to the teacher when they start to discover and piece together things that were previously a jumble. "Hey, didn't we have that word before??" Yes, we did! Woo hoo!)

So one of the words Paul asked about was oti. I told him it means because. Well, I guess in our translations it says for. "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God." Y'know, blessed are the pure in heart because they shall see God. But that's not how we usually think of it, is it?

We think it's the other way around. BECAUSE you are merciful, therefore you will be shown mercy. BECAUSE you are meek, God will let you inherit the earth. That's what our sinful flesh hears. That's what we so often hear the Beatitudes twisted into: "You better be a peacemaker so that you can be called a son of God."

But that's not what it says!

It says the peacemakers are blessed because they are called sons of God. In other words, the blessing is being called a son of God. The way that the meek are blessed is that they inherit the earth.

Blessings aren't earned. Blessings aren't merited. If they were, they wouldn't be blessings! (This really should be a no-brainer. Dang that sinful flesh which tricks us into thinking that blessings are what we deserve for following the rules.)

I wonder if translating the oti as for instead of because contributes to the misunderstanding, or it is just that our unfaith causes us to see it wrongly, no matter how it's translated?


  1. I think the answer to your question is the latter part - I doubt it'd matter HOW we translated it. I was thinking about that in regard to 1 Peter 2:21. When I was in high school, I would go round and round in circles with friends over that first. Did it actually mean that baptism saves you? Well, the way they chose to read it, baptism was the symbol, and no matter how I tried to translate it, it never made the slightest bit of difference.

    I have a hunch that it won't matter how you translate the Beatitudes. I think it matters more if we want to earn our blessings or if we we've been driven to a point that we know we can't. Because I used to read the Beatitudes and panic - how could I possibly do all of this?! Some might read them, though, and think, "Yep, that's me. I'm good to go." In which case... well... it's kind of hard to give that up.

    Sort of reminds me of, "Good master, what can I do to inherit eternal life?" "Good master, what can I do to earn your blessing." Hmm...

    Also, for repititious Greek, John 1 is very, very good.

  2. Er - 1 Peter 3:21; though 2:21 is a good one, too...