“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God,” reads the seventh beatitude.
It is significant that such follows what has come before it, for “only after ascending the first six rungs of the ladder…do we reach the beatitude of the peacemaker” (Forest 108). In other words, only after one 1) recognizes and seeks to change one’s state of spiritual impoverishment; 2) seeks help and in seeking help, gives help; 3) is gentle and humble; 4) longs for that which one cannot live without; 5) gives to those in need; and 6) purifies one’s heart to hear God does one become a peace-maker.
But what does peace mean here?
Peace in the biblical context means more than the absence of conflict as we may so commonly think of peace today. Shalom in the Hebrew and shalama in Jesus’s Aramaic (as well as the Arabic salam) “derive from a verb that means to be fulfilled or complete, to surrender or be delivered, or to die” (Douglas-Klotz 168). Other meanings of shalom include “welfare, serenity, prosperity, happiness, and peaceful relationships between people” (Forest 109).
Eirene is the term by which shalom is primarily translated as in the Bible whereas eirénopoios is the word for “peace-maker” as found in Matthew’s beatitude where we read the sole use of the term in the entire Bible. In particular, eirénopoios, the peace-maker, “bravely declares God’s terms which makes someone whole” (biblehub.com). Such accords with Verlyn Verbrugge who, in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, writes “the biblical concept of peace is primarily that of wholeness” (166).
Most people, I would assume, want peace. But those who simply want peace will not be called the children of God. Jesus is very clear on this point: those who will be called as much are those who make peace. In other words, it requires “an active rather than a passive role” (Forest 112). Taking the above definitions of “peace,” what we have here is this: Jesus seems to be saying that to make peace, one must be active in helping others achieve a state of serenity, happiness, completion, wholeness as well as one who establishes such between people.
So those who do as much are called the children of God.
Modern psychology in his various forms has been fascinated with the concept of the “inner child” in the past 40 plus years and one may be tempted to read “children of God” through that idea. A simple googling of “inner child” will generate websites dedicated to “healing” the inner child, “embracing” and “getting in touch with” the inner child. To get in touch with that inner child may involve rekindling a relationship with one’s former self and the inner child is often associated with freedom, innocence, trust, and fun-loving–just being a kid again.
But applying such to the seventh beatitude (let alone any time Jesus mentions becoming like children) would be an exegetical mistake.
The first element to note in the second half of this beatitude is the relational quality: as much as “Blessed are the peace-makers,” those who act to make peace within oneself and between others, implies inter-personal relations, so too does the term “children” suggest a relationship.
However, even the translation of the original Greek hyiós as children is misleading, for the word is more accurately translated as “son,” whether by birth or adoption and how much more enlightening it is to look at the term in the Greek as it means: “anyone sharing the same nature as their Father…emphasizes likeness of the believer to the heavenly Father...the (legal) right to the Father’s inheritance” (biblehub.com). And just in case anyone is wondering, the term hyiós “equally refers to female believers (ibid.)
So the beatitude better reads, “Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the sons of God.” And we were to, just for shits and giggles, put it in the singular, it would read as follows: “Blessed is the peace-maker, for he shall be called the Son of God.”
Wait. Didn’t…um…(scratching my head)…wasn’t that, um, wasn’t that what Jesus was called?
Now back to why reading this beatitude through the modern perspective of what it means to be a child is a mistake. Since Jesus was a Jew we must consider what Jews thought children. Children, especially sons, were gifts from God. Children required upbringing, that is discipline, and “were to respect their parents” (Verbrugge 569). Moreover, “The idea of the original innocence of children, widespread among us, is foreign to the Old Testament” as “children were considered unwise and helpless” (ibid).
So what does it mean to be called a Son of God? Well, I won’t go into all the theological implications of such a title in relation to the title Son of God as was given to Jesus–such would take this post far afield. Considering the Greek term used in the text coupled with the Jewish understanding of children, a few conclusions can be made.
First, the notion that children were considered unwise and helpless highlights the notion of dependence as much as children are dependent upon their parents and their parents bear the responsibility of teaching their children. Again, the notion of relationship is underscored. Applied to this context, the notion of dependence is transferred to God. A son of God is dependent upon God and, if I may, if children are unwise and need to be taught, God, the “object” of one’s respect, also becomes the teacher, the source of wisdom.
Moreover, this son, or child, shares the same nature as God and has the right to the God’s inheritance, that is, the Kingdom of Heaven, the very “thing” that is promised in the first and last beatitude.
Now what does it mean “to be called?” Does it mean they will be given a new identity? Being called, as in being referred to as something different, something else?
Here the term is klēthēsontai, derived from kaleo, which means, variously. “to call, invitation, appeal to, summon” in the Greek (Verbrugge 285). As with other terms, such is a subtly nuanced term. When kaleo is used in the passive, at it is in this beatitude, it is frequently “an expression of the character and existence of a person or thing” (Verbrugge 286), much as Jesus is “called” the Son of God and, according to Matthew 5:9, so too will the peace-makers be “called the sons of God.” So yes, being “called” the sons of God does “express a new existence Granted by an act of God” (ibid) as kaleo “often means naming” (285).
Kaleo and its cognates are the terms most often used to translate the Hebrew qara and in the Old Testament, this call was understood as follows: it “describes a call from those higher in rank to individuals or groups under them, e.g., parents and children” (285). Such an understanding would no doubt apply, for in this case God is the one doing the calling. There is more: in the Old Testament such a call as just described “was always a summons or a command, never a mere invitation” (ibid).
But “before a person can answer God’s call, one must realize that the call has indeed come from God” (285). Now one may argue against applying this understanding to the current context, for it seems the beatitude is referring to the notion of calling in terms of the naming of a new identity and thus does not appear to imply the notion of a “calling” as, say, Abraham and Moses were called. But let us not be too hasty in disavowing such, for the beatitudes must be understood in relationship with one another. This beatitude, it should be remembered, follows “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.” As I discussed in my previous post on the subject of the beatitudes, that while the Greek religion was a religion of seeing, Judaism was a religion of hearing and only those whose hearts were clean, pure, could “see,” that is hear God. Such is why the seventh beatitude is as it is and follows what it follows: to be a peace-maker, one’s heart must first be clean, and in being clean, one can hear God.
As to these Old Testament calls from God, such were “always a summons or a command, never a mere invitation” (285). Again, the call comes from a higher authority and considering the relational quality of this beatitude, we must remember respect and dependence qualify the relationship with this authority and in submitting to that authority (as would be expected of any Jewish child) one, according to Jesus here, shares in the same nature and likeness as God.
Thus, if those who are the children of God are the peace-makers and the children of God share in the same nature of God, it follows that God is the peace-maker. And here we go full circle, for it is important to recall what is meant by peace in both the Hebrew and the
To be fulfilled or complete.
To surrender or be delivered.
Welfare and serenity.
Prosperity and happiness.
Peaceful relationships between people.
A question to ask: Can you identify one person from your own life experience who you would call a peace-maker as peace is defined above?