{Word Study} Poor (In Spirit)


Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Poor – Greek: ptochos from the root ptoeo or pipto – a beggar, one who is destitute, a pauper, Spiritually poor, humble, devout. Aramaic – Miskaneh:  Aramaic idiom for one who voluntarily gives up all material things for a spiritual benefit. In other words becoming materially poor to become spiritually rich.
Had Jesus spoken these words in Greek we would have to assume he was indeed speaking of the unfortunate poor, those who are poor because of their circumstances, physical disability, and lack of opportunity or oppressed by the stronger.  These unfortunate will be given heaven when they leave this world.  Yet, to earn a place in heaven simply because you are poor does not fit the teachings of Jesus.  Besides the definition of poor varies greatly.
We would be forced to take the more extreme use of the Greek word ptochos which is humble or devout to really fit into the context of the teachings of Jesus. Practically all scholars agree that Jesus did not teach the sermon on the mount in Greek but in Aramaic and the Aramaic Bible uses the word Miskaneh which does not contradict the Greek word ptochos, but is more descriptive.  Miskaneh has the idea being voluntarily poor as a couple will make themselves less prosperous for the sake of having children.   They will be poor in the sense that they will not be able to purchase material things for themselves as they must use those resources for their children.  In Eastern culture the children provide for their retired parents and will make themselves poor for the sake of their parent’s wellbeing.  In our culture where parents generally have strong retirement funds, children may still make themselves poor in personal freedoms and lifestyle as they become caregivers for their parents.   This is really the type of poverty Jesus is referring to.  When he coupled this with the Aramaic word “brooh (spirit)” he was speaking a very common idiom of one who is so hungry to know God and have a relationship with Him that material things are of no value to him, hence he is poor because his spiritual desires.
The “kingdom of God” is also an Aramaic idiom for knowledge of God or knowing the deep secrets of God.   Thus, Jesus is saying: “Blessed are those who hunger more for spiritual things than material things, for they will know the secrets of God.”