Blessed are the Pure in Heart – Matthew 5:8

Although purity can refer to ritual cleanliness, Jesus refers to a person who is actually pure in their inner being. The adjective pure (καθαρός) is the word used frequently in the Septuagint to translate “clean” in the Law. For example, Numbers 8:7 refers to “waters of purification” or clean animals (Gen 7:2). A Jewish worshiper going up to the Temple would wash themselves in one of the many pools leading up to the Temple entrances. This was a ritual performed to symbolize purity and the person could be said to have “clean hands” the waters could not make the person actually pure.

Is Psalm 24 in the background of this saying? R. T. France (Matthew, 204) and McKnight both suggest the possibility since the answer to the psalmist’s question “who may ascend the holy hill of God?” is the one with a pure heart.

In Matthew 5:8, the heart of the follower of Jesus is called clean. The heart is the center of a person in the ancient world so the one who is “pure in heart” (οἱ καθαροὶ τῇ καρδίᾳ) has been really been made pure. In Psalm 26:6-7, the worshiper says “I wash my hands in innocence and go around your altar, O Lord, proclaiming thanksgiving aloud, and telling all your wondrous deeds.” Similarly, 2 Timothy 2:22 uses the same phrase, those who call on the Lord from a “pure heart.”

What is a “pure heart”? In the immediate context of the Sermon on the Mount, the followers of Jesus are the ones who keep the Law internally. In 5:21-26 the follower of Jesus not only avoids murder, but also controls their anger and inner thoughts. In 5:27-30 they not only avoid adultery, but control their lustful thoughts. In both cases, the inner life of the true disciple of Jesus is pure.

The followers of Jesus also stand in contrast to the hypocrites, those who do their acts of worship in public to be seen by people (Matthew 6:1-18). The actions of hypocrites make them to be pure in heart, but in fact “are like whitewashed tombs” (Matt 23:27).

The result in the beatitude is remarkable: they will see God. Exodus 33:20 says no one can see the face of God. After God allows his glory to pass by Moses, God himself writes the Ten Commandments on two stone tablets and then he announces he is the gracious and compassionate God (Exodus 34:5-7). Yet Moses himself cannot see God. In Isaiah 6 the prophet sees the throne room of God and glimpses only the train of God’s robe. Yet he says ““Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isa 6:5).

In contrast to these two examples of Moses and Isaiah, the true disciple of Jesus will see God. It is possible Matthew intends for us to remember the sign of Emmanuel (Matt 1:23), Jesus is “God with us,” but perhaps the force of the metaphor is judicial. In Psalm 11:7 “the Lord is righteous and loves righteous deeds, the upright shall behold his face.” Remember righteousness is not a state of inner holiness, but real social justice (Matt 5:6). Therefore the person who acts justly will behold God’s face is a metaphor for vindication before a judge. When Joseph interpreted the dream of the butler, he said the pharaoh would “life up his head” and render justice (he would be restored to his position and the chief butler). In the context of a trial, for an ancient Near Eastern king to allow someone to look up is a sign the person has been found innocent.

Once again this beatitude has some persecution and a (future) vindication of the persecuted followers of Jesus. The ones who are pure in heart (the disciples) will look upon the face of God and be vindicated when the king renders justice. There is eschatology here as well, since seeing God may hint at the future coming of the son of Man to render justice when he establishes his kingdom.

15 thoughts on “Blessed are the Pure in Heart – Matthew 5:8

  1. So, the main point That I think I got out of all of the blog, and the reading was that it is not what you do as a person staying true to the law or things like that, it is about knowing that it is nothing that we have done that can get us to heaven except for us to except the Lords call on our life. it is sort of like the old sang “we do not obey the law to become part of the family of God, we do them because we already are in the family of God. like you were saying they talk about in Mathew5:8 that Jesus has made there hearts clean, the key word here is Jesus, it was no law we kept that made us clean it was all Jesus. I also know McNight feels the same when he says “I believe in salvation through faith, and not of works.

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  2. “Blessed is the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matt 5:8) What seems like such a simple statement, can be broken down and analyzed in so many different ways. I believe that being pure in heart has a different meaning today than it did to the disciples when Jesus spoke this. Because of Christ’s blood, we are made pure. The disciples believed Jesus by following his commandments and believing in what He taught was to come. This includes making sure their “inner selves” were pure by making sure they did not lust not just avoid committing adultery as you mentioned. I definitely think that the Scriptures give enough proof that seeing God is a foreshadowing of seeing God in Heaven. I love your theory of the persecuted lifting their heads to see God’s face as he vindicates for them as the Judge. McKnight also agrees with this theme of eschatology as He points out that the word “blessed” refers to future blessings although the work we do to “earn” those blessings starts now.

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    • Mary I really like the way that you broke down and defined what it means to be pure in heart in todays world. We were made pure when Jesus died on the cross for our sins. I also really like the way that McKnight describes the pure of heart as not only being pure in following the law, but also as seeing, “God asa person to be loved, so their first priority is God, and this love leads to loving others well” (McKnight, 44). For someone to be pure in heart does not only mean their actions. It is also their motives behind their actions. Someone that is pure in heart loves God first and foremost, and their actions follow this love by obeying God in everything they do.

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  3. As mentioned above, the pure in heart are those who keep God’s word internally. Looking at the context surrounding this passage in Matthew 5:8 is critical to understand the pureness of heart. I find it interesting how Jesus has laid out his teaching in this section of Matthew. Jesus starts off the lesson with discussing how blessed those pure of heart, humble and so on are blessed. I can almost imagine a few Pharisees standing at the back of the crowd getting their chests puffed up as they hear these first few statements. Then Jesus goes on to explain what the pure of heart truly is and the true meaning of the law. I can see as this chapter goes on the pride and air slowly being let out of those Pharisees’ balloon as Jesus explains how all sin is equal and being pure of heart does not mean seeing yourself above others. Jesus goes beyond stating that those who wish to have eternal life and see God (Matt 5:8) need to be pure of heart. Jesus explains the meaning of pure heartedness and how to achieve it as well.

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    • It is interesting to me the way that you described the Pharisees that could have been standing in the back of the crowd listening to Jesus speak. Yeah, they probably did not like what he was saying and may have puffed out their chests, but in reality, many people today can be like the Pharisees in this situation. There is a sense of pride that today’s culture brings, which goes against being pure of heart like Jesus was telling the crowds that day. It’s hard for them to properly love others because they are not striving after God’s love first. Their first priority is not God, therefore they fall short on loving people. The concept of having a “pure heart” would have probably been foreign to the Pharisees like it is foreign to many today. Jesus states though that those with a pure heart will see God.

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  4. This beatitude was the first verse of memory that I have known since the young age of nine. It is my favorite and I appreciate your interpretation. To look upon the face of God is the deepest and utmost desire of ones heart.

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  5. This is a big one. Specifically within the modern day Church because there is so much that tries to continually corrupt our hearts which ultimately corrupts our beings even more than what we already are. The Bible says to think and dwell on things from above and not of this world because the world as fallen is not of God. McKnight had much to say in that to be pure in heart as believers we must love God as our first priority and then others and in doing this we will be pure in heart because loving a pure God we will be focused and center our life around pure and righteous things. Striving to love a God who is and already loves us will hold us to a way of living that will mold us and our hearts into something that only God can do in us. Which is His goal for believers, His children, to give us clean hearts and new bodies.

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  6. Pure of heart. I believe has a ver different meaning than it did when Jesus was still walking the earth. Jesus died and made us pure of our sins and transgressions. We ask for forgiveness and it is given. Yet we fall back on trying to be pure. We have gotten a mindset where the Bible does not apply to us today. Yet it still does. I believe an example of pure of heart was when Jesus was anointed in Bethany, everyone was mad at the women who poured the perfume on Jesus head. Yet Jesus said its the best thing she could have done. She had a pure intention. Jesus received it. We are losing the battle in which we go out of our way to do what the Lord called us to do. Lets us have pure intentions when we worship the Lord or go and reach out to the lost. “Let us not being conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”Romans 12:2

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  7. What is a pure heart? As stated above, the inner disciples of Jesus are the pure and also the ones who contrast the hypocrites. McKnight states that the pure of heart worship so that they can engage with God. They should not be worrying about the people around them. It should be strictly between them and God. I believe this to be 100 percent true. Being pure is practicing what you preach from a Biblical standpoint. As Christians, we should strive for pure hearts. Only by the Grace of God can this happen. So, as Christians, why do we act the way we do? Do we actually mean it? Are we actually pure? I find these as very good questions to ask. Not only ask the questions, but actually be able to answer them for yourself.

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    • I was having such a hard time grasping the concept of pure heart and blessing. These two things are so hard to wrap our minds around. I was trying to think of what blessings come when one has a pure heart. Do they feel happier than everyone else? Are they lives easier, or less stressful? I know that when I do things for others I do get a feeling of satisfaction, but am I doing it with a pure heart? I think you did a great job explaining how one obtains a pure heart!

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      • Yes I love your post and my biggest thing to understand was when you have a clean pure heart blessing often want to come your way. God wants our hearts too be pure so we have no evil intentions with the blessings that he gives us. Also what you said its less stressful and makes your environment better .

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  8. “The pure in heart see God as a person to be loved, so their first priority is God, and this love leads to loving others well” (McKnight, 2013, p. 45). I think McKnight’s definition of the pure in heart resembles a very meaningful portion of Jesus’ teachings, found in Matthew 22:36-40. This teaching is about the two greatest commandments: love God and love others. With this in mind it is almost a given that the person who does this will see God, because it would mean following what He has called us to do. Therefore keeping McKnight’s definition of those pure in heart will lead to the assurance of seeing God, whether this is a judicial or literal statement.

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  9. Having a pure heart allows a person to see who God truly is as well as how he loves us in order to love one another. Since God is love, Jesus again reminds us here that those who have a pure heart are blessed and are able to see God (Matthew 5:8) when we strive to have a pure heart, we are then in turn striving after God’s will. Jesus then give us “the best commentary on ‘pure heart’ [in] 6:1-18, where religious actions are done not for the praise of others but in order to engage with God” (McKnight 45). When striving to have a “pure heart” one must engage with God. Paul also informs us to “not conform to the patterns in this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” and in doing this, one is able to engage with God and develop a “pure heart.” (Romans 12:2)

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  10. In my, the statement “Blessed are the pure in heart” needs to be broken down. What does it mean to be blessed, and giving blessings? Does it mean life will go smoother? Or maybe it means having a better or a less frustrating life. How can a person know what true blessing mean? Is it based on whatever feelings or emotions one correctly feels, or is it more of an ongoing thing? In my opinion, people feel “more blessed” when they have the materialist things they wish to have. You hear things like “I’m so blessed to have this house” but what would happen if you lost that house? Are you unblessed? The second part of the statement talks about a pure heart. How does one obtain a pure heart? This is not a literal saying, for no one can physically clean their heart. This is talking about having a heart that serves our Creator instead of our desires. I think “blessed are the pure in heart” is talking about how those who serve God and others and they are blessed because what they are doing is pleasing to God. The blessing is feeling at peace with their actions and satisfaction because they are doing what God created them to do.

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