By Dr Oliver Tearle
The quotation ‘blessed are the peacemakers’ appears in the Sermon on the Mount, the address made by Jesus Christ to his followers, and recorded in the Gospels. This one speech (although, as discussed in this analysis of Jesus’ sermon, it may well have been a collection of sayings and teachings from numerous speeches Jesus gave) is a bit like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, about which someone once quipped that ‘there are too many quotations in it’.
The Sermon on the Mount is widely regarded as representing a number of core aspects of Jesus’ teaching. This short text gave us many quotations still in common use, including ‘salt of the earth’, ‘serving God and mammon’, ‘blessed are the meek’, ‘turn the other cheek’, and ‘pearls before swine’. And it also gave us ‘blessed are the peacemakers’.
In chapter 3 of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus had been baptised by John the Baptist. The Sermon on the Mount occupies three chapters shortly after this: chapters 5, 6, and 7 of Matthew’s gospel. Jesus begins with a serious of blessings or ‘beatitudes’, which include the famous statement ‘blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth’ and ‘blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God’.
Let’s take a closer look at this particular section of the Sermon on the Mount. The text is from the King James Version of the Bible, the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 5, Verses 1-9:
And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:
And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
This is probably the other most famous Beatitude: as explored elsewhere, Jesus reassures his followers, who are persecuted for doing so in this life, that they will be repaid many times over in heaven when they die. The meek may not have much in the way of earthly reward for their meekness, but their meekness is a quality that will be rewarded in heaven, for God blesses them and will recognise their loyalty and faith.
The Beatitudes continue:
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
And here we come to ‘blessed are the peacemakers’: those who seek to end war and political conflict by trying to bring opposing parties together in peace.
But ‘peace’ here also refers to inner spiritual peace with God: the individual Christian’s willingness to accept God and not to fight with or resist him. By making their peace with God, believers can enter the kingdom of heaven. But they will also be the children of God because they are doing God’s work, by seeking to confront strife and conflict when it arises and to create peace between parties.
But of course, this conflict might be taking place within the individual human heart, where opposing emotions are at war with each other. By making peace within their hearts, Jesus’ followers are doing as he commands.
This is because ‘peace’ is the English translation of the Greek text, and this in turn looks back to the Hebrew idea of peace, shalōm. This word means not just the absence of war but a more general sense of goodness and wholeness: tranquillity, perhaps, or what we might call ‘peace of mind’, to borrow an English phrase.
The second part of this Beatitude, ‘for they shall be called children of God’, casts God in the role of the father, whose children must accept his authority and be at peace with him.
It is wrong to analyse the Sermon on the Mount as containing all of the key tenets of Christ’s teaching, or as Jesus’ legislation. It is not a summary of the entire gospel of Jesus, and the author of Matthew clearly didn’t view it as such: along with the Sermon on the Mount, we need to consider the Mission of the Disciplines (see chapters 9 and 10), the Hidden Teaching of the Parables (13:1-52), and several other passages.