Luke Chapter 4:1-13

Here starts Chapter 4. It begins with the story of Jesus’ temptation by the slanderer. It occurs to me that “diabolos” is another of those words to which we have assigned a very specific meaning. Worse, in this case, the meaning we assign to it was simply not part of the original meaning of the word. Nor is it a terribly common word in the NT; Matthew uses it six times, and four of them are in his version of this story in Chapter 4. Luke uses it eight times; five are here, there is another instance in Chapter 8, and it’s used twice in Acts. Mark does not use the word at all. In his brief account, it’s ‘satanos’, which usually gets capitalized by modern translations. “Satanos” is the Greek form of the Hebrew word for “adversary”, which Mark uses close to a dozen times. What we are seeing with Matthew and Luke is the laying of the foundation for the concept of the Devil with which we are all familiar, but it’s important to realize that the concept was still in the early stages of its development. In fact, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that there is no word for “devil” in Greek at the time the NT was written. Matthew and Luke did much to coin the term in Greek, which was transliterated directly into Latin, becoming the root of diablo, diable,  Teuffel and other words in other European languages.

1 Ἰησοῦς δὲ πλήρης πνεύματος ἁγίου ὑπέστρεψεν ἀπὸ τοῦ Ἰορδάνου, καὶ ἤγετο ἐν τῷ πνεύματι ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ

2 ἡμέρας τεσσεράκοντα πειραζόμενος ὑπὸ τοῦ διαβόλου. καὶ οὐκ ἔφαγεν οὐδὲν ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις ἐκείναις, καὶ συντελεσθεισῶν αὐτῶν ἐπείνασεν.

Jesus, full of the sacred breath, turned away from the Jordan, and he was led in the spirit into the desert for forty days being tempted by the slanderer. And he did not eat anything in those days, and at the conclusion of them he was hungry.

I think one point to begin is to make sure we’re putting this episode into context. This occurs immediately after the baptism, when the sacred breath descended from the sky and took on bodily form and, apparently, filled Jesus. Now, each evangelist has a slightly different take on the impetus used to get Jesus into the wilderness. Mark says the spirit “threw out” (ekballei) Jesus; it’s an active verb, and Jesus is the direct object of the throwing. Matthew is having none of that; rather, Jesus was led (anagō) by the spirit. The verb is passive; Jesus is the subject and the spirit is in the dative even though it’s the actual agent. That’s how the passive works. Here, once again, the subject Jesus was led (agō) by the spirit, that is grammatically in the dative. Note that Matthew and Luke agree grammatically, and even use the same verb, agō, even though Matthew adds a prefix to make it an-agō. So, what we have here is Matthew and Luke agreeing against Mark, even though that never happens.

But there is more, to be discussed shortly.

1 Iesus autem plenus Spiritu Sancto regressus est ab Iordane et agebatur in Spiritu in deserto

2 diebus quadraginta et tentabatur a Diabolo. Et nihil manducavit in diebus illis et, consummatis illis, esuriit.

3 Εἶπεν δὲ αὐτῷ ὁ διάβολος, Εἰ υἱὸς εἶ τοῦ θεοῦ, εἰπὲ τῷ λίθῳ τούτῳ ἵνα γένηται ἄρτος.

4 καὶ ἀπεκρίθη πρὸς αὐτὸν ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Γέγραπται ὅτι Οὐκ ἐπ’ ἄρτῳ μόνῳ ζήσεται ὁ ἄνθρωπος.

Said to him the slanderer, “If you are the son of God, tell to the stone in order that it becomes bread”. (4) And answered towards him Jesus, “It is written that ‘not upon bread alone will live man’.” 

OK, unlike the first two verses, this is not in Mark. If you’ll recall, Mark has the barest outline of events, completely lacking in details; the conversation between Jesus and the slanderer is solely found in Matthew and Luke. So, once again, we have Matthew and Luke agreeing against Mark. Except we don’t. The solution to this situation as well as the apparent agreement of verb (agō) and voice (passive) is that this whole section is found in Q! How clever! Now, it may be clever, but it’s not entirely simple. Recall that Q was, supposedly, a collection of the sayings of Jesus. Except when it also includes stuff said by John. Or now, when it includes things said by the Devil, too, both in this verse and subsequent ones. And, if we are to be logically consistent, then we have to believe that Q had just what Jesus and the devil said, but not the narrative setting the scene; that narrative, after all, is found in Mark. So we have disembodied dialogue. And, behold! if you check the critical version of Q at this site:      (then proceed to this link:)

If you check the critical version of Q, that is exactly what you find. The devil’s temptation and Jesus’ retort. And then we get the other two exchanges between the two. However, does anyone else find this a bit…peculiar? Disembodied speech lacking in setting? Or are we supposed to flip back and forth between Mark and Q to get the scene and the speech. Oh wait, Mark doesn’t have any of these three scenarios, just that he went into the desert for forty days, he fasted, was hungry, was tempted, and the angels waited on him. So, IOW, Q has nowhere to hang these exchanges. The peculiarity of this will be even more apparent when we get to the next temptations, in which the physical setting is even more important. 

So, realizing this peculiarity, Burton Mack’s translation of Q includes not only stuff the devil says, but also how the physical action that occurred here, and the additional action that will occur in the next little bit.

Link at Early Christian Writings as above, then here:

So, Q has the sayings of Jesus. Except when it has stuff John said. Or stuff the Devil said. Or stuff that Jesus and the Devil did, apart from their vocal exchanges. This is what I meant about how the content Q changes with the problem to be solved. This is borderline intellectual dishonesty, except I believe that the Q people believe what they say, and that they simply do not see any contradictions or inconsistencies in what they say. Part–most–of the problem is that the Q people, and most NT scholars & academics have their backgrounds in scripture–or perhaps more accurately, Scripture. Articles of faith are not foreign to their worldview. 

Yes, the very close similarities between the words used here and in Matthew could be well-explained by the existence of Q. And certain dissimilarities in treatment could be easily explained by the existence of Q. But aside from some inferential suggestions, there is no evidence that Q existed, and most of the similarities can be explained by Luke having read Matthew, and the differences can be explained by Luke not copying Matthew directly.  

And,  more or less FYI, the quote Jesus cites is from Deuteronomy. Matthew was big on digging out quotes from HS to show their relevance to Jesus and his mission. Hence the creation of the story of the Flight to Egypt so he could work in the quote from Hosea, and the story of the Slaughter of the Innocents just so he could use the quote about the weeping in Rama from Jeremiah. So the question becomes “who first used the quote about bread alone? Jesus or Matthew?” We have no real indication from Paul or Mark that Jesus went about quoting HS; we have evidence in Matthew that he did pull a bunch of quotes from the HS. So which is more likely in this case? The other thing is that Luke here only uses about half the quote, leaving off the part about living off every word issuing from the mouth of God. According to the Q people, this means that Luke, who wrote second, preserves the more “primitive” version of what Q contained. Matthew, who wrote first, elaborated and added the rest of the quote.

In fact, all in all, Luke almost always preserves the more primitive form of Q, the less elaborate; think, “blessed are the poor” (Luke) vs. “blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew). Now, I need to be careful here, because I’m the one who is saying “always”, but the words “always”, “never”, and such always (!) set me en garde. Aside from stuff like gravity, nothing (!) always works a certain way. The Q advocates can always (!) get around my objection by saying Luke usually preserves the more primitive version. Usually, reconstructions of Q are based on Luke’s wording for exactly this reason: it’s supposed that he is more faithful to Q than Matthew was. Now, in the first three chapters, we have seen where Luke added a number of stories not present in either of the other two gospels. Luke, in fact, is very creative; we’ll come across a whole bunch of stories that he (likely) created. And yet, he almost always maintained the more pristine version of Q. Does this strike anyone else as a bit contradictory? 

3 Dixit autem illi Diabolus: “Si Filius Dei es, dic lapidi huic, ut panis fiat”.

4 Et respondit ad illum Iesus: “Scriptum est: ‘Non in pane solo vivet homo’.”

5 Καὶ ἀναγαγὼν αὐτὸν ἔδειξεν αὐτῷ πάσας τὰς βασιλείας τῆς οἰκουμένης ἐν στιγμῇ χρόνου:

6 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷὁ διάβολος, Σοὶ δώσω τὴν ἐξουσίαν ταύτην ἅπασαν καὶ τὴν δόξαν αὐτῶν, ὅτι ἐμοὶ παραδέδοται καὶ ᾧ ἐὰν θέλω δίδωμι αὐτήν:

7 σὺ οὖν ἐὰν προσκυνήσῃς ἐνώπιον ἐμοῦ, ἔσται σοῦ πᾶσα.

8 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Γέγραπται, Κύριον τὸν θεόν σου προσκυνήσεις καὶ αὐτῷ μόνῳ λατρεύσεις.

And (the slanderer) leading him (Jesus) he (adversary) showed to him (Jesus) the kingdoms of the inhabited world, in that point of time. And said to him the slanderer, “To you I will give all this power and glory of these, that to me was given over, and to whom I may wish I give it. (7) And you therefore readily should grovel before me, all will be to you”. (8) And answering Jesus said to him, “It is written, ‘The lord your God you will worship and to him alone you will serve’.”

First, a word on “grovel”. We’ve discussed this before, but bears repeating periodically: the word is “proskynesis”. Literally, it’s “towards a dog-like action”, or something like that. The idea is to assume a ritual submissive posture the way a dog will lie on its back and show its belly to a superior dog. The word came into popularity with the conquests of Alexander. As king of Macedon, he was a first among equals, and the idea of bowing to him, or performing any of the other ritual abasements we associate with royalty was a foreign concept. The Persians, OTOH, following in the footsteps of other West Asian monarchs, like the Babylonians or the Assyrians, insisted that subjects fall flat on their face before the king. The Greeks gave this the name of  “proskynesis”. One of the things that Greeks felt separated them from the Asians–including Persians–was that Greeks did not abase themselves before another person. The Greeks were a free people who did not perform such demeaning acts. This changed when Alexander, who had assumed the Persian throne, started requiring this of his Greek/Macedonian allies, who found the act not only distasteful, but an outrage. For those who argue that Alexander was poisoned, this requirement by Alexander and the reaction of his generals to this requirement was a key reason why they plotted–and succeeded–in killing him off. Of course, the Diadochoi who took the thrones of Egypt and Persia implemented the policy and required it of their subjects. Overall, the “orientalization” (which is not a proper term, either grammatically or culturally) of the Greek, and subsequently the Roman rulers is a large topic. The ultimate end of this was the concept that the Greek king (Seleukos or Ptolemy, e.g.) and then the Roman Emperor was actually a god on earth.

The point is that this word entered religious usage from secular politic; at least in theory. Since the king/emperor was a god on earth, one could easily argue that this is a distinction without a difference.

It’s very interesting to note that the slanderer has been given power over the kingdoms of the earth. This is unique to Luke. Was it not in Q? Was it in Q, and Matthew ignored it? I ask because, if Luke retains the more primitive version of Q, why is it more elaborate here? How does that make sense? How do the Q people explain this aberration? Answer: they don’t. They conveniently overlook this, just as they overlook Luke taking up the virgin birth, Joseph, and that whole complex of themes that I’ve repeated quite frequently.

I’m prone to see this in context of what is to come. “Prince of this World” will become a title for the Devil within a few centuries. Or by the time John wrote his gospel. Just did a quick Google, and John the evangelist calls the devil the ruler of this world. And Paul implies as much in 2 Corinthians. Since we know that Luke was aware of Paul, had he read 2 Corinthians, or the component piece of what has become 2 Corinthians? That’s not out of the question. In the larger context, the idea that the material world is inherently corrupt is latent in Christian thought, just as Plato believed the immaterial world to be the “real” world, of which the world of matter was a lousy copy. This idea that the material world was corrupt to the point of evil became a foundational premise of a lot of dualist religions that held to the sharp difference between material (bad) and immaterial (good). To some extent, these religions could be considered Christian heresies, which is how they were treated by the institutional church; others argue that this sharp distinction actually pushes such dualistic beliefs into the category of another religion; I belong to this later camp. These dualistic beliefs can, and do, overlap with Christianity, but the idea of a creator-god that is not the supreme (or all-good) God takes us out of the realm of Christian belief, orthodox or not. Paul displays an impulse to dualism as he excoriates the ways of the flesh, but he does not take those final steps and leave Christian thought behind. So Luke’s assertion here that the kingdoms of the world belong to the slanderer belong to that school of thought that, time and again, would leave Christianity behind, and become a different belief. The Cathars of southern France in the late 12th & early 13th centuries are perhaps the most famous example.

5 Et sustulit illum et ostendit illi omnia regna orbis terrae in momento temporis;

6 et ait ei Diabolus: “Tibi dabo potestatem hanc universam et gloriam illorum, quia mihi tradita est, et, cui volo, do illam:

7 tu ergo, si adoraveris coram me, erit tua omnis”.

8 Et respondens Iesus dixit illi: “Scriptum est: ‘Dominum Deum tuum adorabis et illi soli servies’.”

9Ἤγαγεν δὲ αὐτὸν εἰς Ἰερουσαλὴμ καὶ ἔστησεν ἐπὶ τὸ πτερύγιον τοῦ ἱεροῦ, καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Εἰ υἱὸς εἶ τοῦ θεοῦ, βάλε σεαυτὸν ἐντεῦθεν κάτω:

10 γέγραπται γὰρ ὅτι Τοῖς ἀγγέλοις αὐτοῦ ἐντελεῖται περὶ σοῦ τοῦ διαφυλάξαι σε,

11 καὶ ὅτι Ἐπὶχειρῶν ἀροῦσίν σε μήποτε προσκόψῃς πρὸς λίθον τὸν πόδα σου.

12 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς ὅτι Εἴρηται, Οὐκ ἐκπειράσεις κύριον τὸν θεόν σου.

13 Καὶ συντελέσας πάντα πειρασμὸν ὁ διάβολος ἀπέστη ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ ἄχρι καιροῦ.

He (the slanderer) led him (Jesus) to Jerusalem and they stood upon the pinnacle of the temple, and he (the slandered) said to him (Jesus), “If you are the son of God, throw yourself hence below. (10) It is written that ‘to his angels he will command about you to guard you’, (11) and that ‘they will take you in hand lest you ever stumble on a stone your foot’.” (12) And answering said to him Jesus that “Begone. Do not tempt the lord your God.” And the temptations being completed, the slanderer went away from him until a [more opportune] season.

As an insert, I should point out that the Greek very neatly sidesteps the whole antecedent problem. The subject of the verb is unspoken, referring to the slanderer, whereas the object, whether direct or indirect, is spelled out. This very neatly keeps things separated. But then, in Verse 12, the subject is identified as Jesus, and the slanderer is simply referred to as a pronoun. So it works to obviate the need to repeat the slanderer’s name as well.

Notice that this time it’s the slanderer who is quoting scripture. The quotes cited are from Ps 91:11 & 18. This citation is most likely somewhat ironic, showing that the slanderer, too, knows his scripture. It’s moments like this that also helped contribute to later views of the power of The Devil/Satan/Lucifer. If you’ve ever seen The Exorcist, you may recall that the old priest (Max von Sydow, one of my favourite actors) told the younger priest that Satan was the “Prince of Lies”. He knows things, including God’s plans and God’s Scripture. 

One final point. The order of these last two temptations is reversed here from the order of Matthew. There, the climax is Jesus being offered the kingdoms of the earth. I’ve always sort of felt that Matthew’s made more sense, that the temptation of power was more seductive than the idea of proving that angels would catch you if you jumped. Maybe that says more about me than it does about Luke and Matthew. Now, it’s interesting to note that the first three versions of reconstructed Q that are to be found on the Early Christian Writings website all put the temptations in Matthew’s order, with the kingdoms of the world as the climax. And yet we are told, repeatedly, that Luke preserves a more primitive version of Q. But here these versions of Q seem to state the opposite, that Matthew’s is the more accurate version. In and of itself, this is not a particularly big deal, but it’s just another inconsistency in the case for Q. There is a fairly large number of these piling up now. Somehow, they have managed to avoid having to account for them because…because Matthew’s version of the Sermon the Mount was so masterful. 

9 Duxit autem illum in Ierusalem et statuit eum supra pinnam templi et dixit illi: “ Si Filius Dei es, mitte te hinc deorsum.

10 Scriptum est enim:

“Angelis suis mandabit de te,

ut conservent te”

11 et: “In manibus tollent te,

ne forte offendas ad lapidem pedem tuum” ”.

12 Et respondens Iesus ait illi: “ Dictum est: “Non tentabis Dominum Deum tuum” ”.

13 Et consummata omni tentatione, Diabolus recessit ab illo usque ad tempus.


About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on April 9, 2017, in Chapter 4, gospel commentary, gospels, Luke's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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