Luke Chapter 4:14-20

We move onward into Chapter 4. Jesus has just been tempted by the slanderer, but he is still moved by the spirit just as he was when he went into the desert at the beginning of the last section. There is a longish quote from Isaiah that was not found in Matthew, and certainly not in Mark. In all, much of the material here is new and unique to Luke. This section started out to be longer, but the commentary ran on more than anticipated, so it seemed best to cut it into two parts.


14 Καὶ ὑπέστρεψεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐν τῇ δυνάμει τοῦ πνεύματος εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν. καὶ φήμη ἐξῆλθεν καθ’ ὅλης τῆς περι χώρου περὶ αὐτοῦ.

15 καὶ αὐτὸς ἐδίδασκεν ἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς αὐτῶν, δοξαζόμενος ὑπὸ πάντων.

16 Καὶ ἦλθεν εἰς Ναζαρά, οὗ ἦν τεθραμμένος, καὶ εἰσῆλθεν κατὰ τὸ εἰωθὸς αὐτῷ ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῶν σαββάτων εἰς τὴν συναγωγήν, καὶ ἀνέστη ἀναγνῶναι.

And Jesus turned back in the power of the spirit to Galilee. And the news of him went out to all the surrounding country around him. (15) And he taught in the synagogues of them [ i.e., those in the surrounding country ], being extolled by all. (16) And he came to Nazareth, where he was reared, and he went in according to the custom to him (dative of possession) and in the day of the Sabbaths (he went) into the synagogue, and stood read.

This emphasis on the power of the spirit, or being filled by the spirit is unique to Luke. When we came across it previously, Jesus was at the end of his forty days, and he was full of the spirit. I didn’t mention it because I was under the (obviously mistaken) impression that Matthew had said something similar. He did not. The point of this is that, after fasting alone in the wilderness for forty days, Jesus was feeling very close to God who had breathed into him, and this breath was a potent bit of inspiration (pun intended). It was so potent that Luke reminds us of this state of mind of Jesus a second time. 

Aside from that, we get a several of echoes from Mark that passed through Matthew as well in here. The first is Jesus teaching in the synagogues of Galilee; the second is the way his fame spread about into the surrounding countryside, and the third is the amazement of those hearing him. Luke is a bit more circumspect than Mark was, for whom the astonishment of the audience was a point made frequently, and those hearing Jesus were astonished, rather than simply extolling his virtues as Luke says.

What we don’t get in here is Jesus moving to Caphernaum, which is present in both Mark and Matthew. Rather, he returns to Nazareth. Mark mentions Nazareth exactly once, in 1:9, when he is introduced. Matthew mentions it three times; once when they leave Bethlehem to return to Nazareth, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry when he leaves Nazareth for Caphernaum, and a final time later, when Jesus is said to be from Nazareth. Luke mentions Nazareth five times. I suggested that the incidence in Mark could easily be an interpolation; either way, here is a great example of how an idea becomes fixed in a legend, and the role of that idea grows with time. For Mark, it was worth a brief mention and no more, even though in Chapters 3 and 6 he has Jesus surrounded by his family, and returning to his (unnamed) home town. Matthew acknowledges Nazareth, but gets Jesus out of there ASAP. Luke culminates by taking the theme and running with it. John doesn’t really count, since he’s not writing a narrative of Jesus’ life the way the synoptics do. Mark, IMO, really didn’t know where Jesus was from, or perhaps he didn’t much care. The circumstances of Chapters 3 & 6 really don’t fit together all that well, and it’s highly possible that he got the two stories from two different sources. By Luke’s time, Nazareth has become indelibly fixed in the record, so he brings it up early and often.

Caphernaum comes up a few times in Luke, but Jesus does not move there. It’s worth noting that these sorts of dissonances between Luke do have some significance in the argument about Q. Luke obviously knew Mark’s take on Caphernaum, but chose not to follow it. That Luke chose not to follow Mark makes it less odd when Luke disagrees with Matthew. Luke can disagree with Matthew without this being used as evidence that Luke must–MUST! I tell you–have been unaware of Matthew. Because if Luke knew Matthew, well of course he would have followed Matthew to the letter. Which he pretty much did in the story of the Temptation of Jesus that we just read.

14 Et regressus est Iesus in virtute Spiritus in Galilaeam. Et fama exiit per universam regionem de illo.

15 Et ipse docebat in synagogis eorum et magnificabatur ab omnibus.

16 Et venit Nazareth, ubi erat nutritus, et intravit secundum consuetudinem suam die sabbati in synagogam et surrexit legere.

17 καὶ ἐπεδόθη αὐτῷ βιβλίον τοῦ προφήτου Ἠσαΐου, καὶ ἀνα πτύξας τὸ βιβλίον εὗρεν τὸν τόπον οὗ ἦν γεγραμμένον,

18 Πνεῦμα κυρίου ἐπ’ ἐμέ, οὗ εἵνεκεν ἔχρισέν με εὐαγγελίσασθαι πτωχοῖς, ἀπέσταλκέν με κηρύξαι αἰχμαλώτοις ἄφεσιν καὶ τυφλοῖς ἀνάβλεψιν, ἀποστεῖλαι τεθραυσμένους ἐν ἀφέσει,

19 κηρύξαι ἐνιαυτὸν κυρίου δεκτόν.

20 καὶ πτύξας τὸ βιβλίον ἀποδοὺς τῷ ὑπηρέτῃ ἐκάθισεν: καὶ πάντων οἱ ὀφθαλμοὶ ἐν τῇ συναγωγῇ ἦσαν ἀτενίζοντες αὐτῷ.

And he was given the book of the prophet Isaiah, and opening the book he found the place where it was written, (18) “The sacred breath is on me, on account of which (it) anointed me to preach to the poor, (and) sent me to announce deliverance to the captive, and to (give to) the blind, sight, to send those having been broken in deliverance, (19) to announce the accepted year of the lord”. (20) And closing the book and giving it back to the official he sat. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were gazing earnestly at him. 

The one thing that most jumped out at me is the bit about all eyes being upon Jesus. Why? Was there something so remarkable about this passage? Or did those in the synagogue generally look expectantly upon whomever had just finished reading? This would seem to be what we would expect; you read, people then want to hear what you have to say about the passage. It would be helpful to have an idea of standard practice in the synagogues; was it normal for people to read and then interpret? Or was this act reserved for a few–for those who could read? Are they watching him so closely because he is not one of the usual readers? I simply don’t know. Something like that would be a reasonable inference based on what Luke says here, but do we have any reason to believe that Luke had any clue about standard practice in Galilee fifty, or closer to sixty, years prior to his own time?

Personally, I don’t see any reason to suppose that he did. Which helps explain the “all eyes on him”: it’s simply a dramatic ploy. This, I think, is important because it indicates the degree to which Luke is willing to go in order to make his point, that he’s willing to cut loose even more from the moorings of history and float into the world of legend and myth. As such, there is much less to tether him to the previous gospels, which is why he makes up so many of his own stories. To argue, or even to suggest that the Prodigal Son came from a source dating back to Jesus that had been unknown to both Matthew and Mark is borderline ludicrous; Luke crafted this parable, and pretty much all the others that are unique to his gospel. Yes, it’s possible that there are bits here and there that somehow passed through to Luke without intermediate stops in Matthew or Mark, but these would be just that: bits. So if Luke is creating his own version of the legend, why should we expect him to stick close to Matthew?

BTW. I seriously doubt that we know much, if anything, about standard practice in the synagogues of Galilee ca 30 CE. What do we have for sources on this? For all I know there could be a trove of sources describing what went on in synagogues at the time when the Second Temple was still standing. But I doubt it. These sorts of homey, quotidian details of everyday life are usually exactly what we don’t know about life in the ancient world. They were ordinary; why record them? Now, this is where things like Apuleius are invaluable: they do record these sorts of details in the same way that Tolstoy preserves the details of life in Russia of 1812 that he’d heard from his father. Are there comparable sources of Jewish life? I don’t know, but I don’t thinks so. If I’m wrong, please let me know.

Then we come to the issue of the quote itself. Matthew has a very similar passage that is also ascribed as a citation of Isaiah (61:1-2 & c) even though it’s probably more correct to call Matthew’s version a paraphrase. After all, here Jesus is reading directly from the text, so we should expect a higher level of faithfulness; in Matthew, however, Jesus is using the quote off-the-cuff, so paraphrase is to be expected to some degree. Regardless of the differences in wording, Jesus’ use of this passage is included in the reconstructed Q. A quick check indicates that Luke’s quote is much closer to the original, as found in the LXX; I cannot vouch for the original Hebrew. This fits with the idea that Luke is the “more primitive” version of Q, the idea that Luke, writing later, changed the verbiage of Q much less than Matthew did. However, in the critical edition of Q, it is Matthew’s version that is included as the consensus of the original  text of Q. Here, once again, is the redefining the contents of Q to fit the circumstances required. In Matthew’s version, this passage comes when disciples of the imprisoned Baptist come, at John’s behest, to Jesus to ask him if he is The One, or if they should expect another. To answer, Jesus recites the paraphrase. So the circumstances are entirely different. This is not seen as a problem for, since it records only what Jesus said, except when it doesn’t as in the case of the Temptations. Why the discrepancy?

Of course for the Q position, there is no real difficulty. Each evangelist read what was in Q and each chose to couch it in his own particular context. But then you have to explain why Luke chose to go back and insert the original text of Isaiah. To the best of my knowledge (which is extremely limited, I admit), the Q people never do this. Rather, they insist that non-Q people explain every time Luke varies from Matthew, because if we are to argue that Luke read Matthew, then why did Luke change Matthew’s “masterful” arrangement of the Q material. I find this position rather tendentious, to put it mildly. Regardless, the question is legitimate; why did Luke feel the need to go back to the original?

My suggestion is that this is another time that Luke, fully aware of the text of Matthew, decided he needed to amplify, or underscore Matthew more effectively. In Matthew’s use, the attribution to Isaiah is not at all obvious. Someone without a background in HS (like me) would perhaps sense that it’s a quote, or a textual reference, without really knowing what that reference is specifically, in the way that western “cultural” Christians get the analogy of the Prodigal Son while being mostly unaware of the actual story. Luke felt the need to fix this by making the quotation both literal and obvious. This is especially noticeable since Matthew is the one who dug up so many HS citations, like the explanation of Jesus’ move to Caphernaum (Mt 1:13-20). Matthew cited that whole; why not have Jesus do the same? And I mean that as a question: why not? Were the reasons theological? Or artistic? The latter because it would have been stilted for Jesus to start expounding Scripture off-the-cuff, making him seem like a know-it-all? Or the former, for…some reason? It would be incumbent on the Q people to 1) explain why the less primitive version appears in the text of Q; or 2) why Matthew chose to deviate from the Q text by paraphrasing instead of quoting the whole text. As far as I can tell, they do neither; instead, they insist that the Q skeptics prove that Q did not exist.

As for the quote itself, it’s hugely important. This is, in effect, Jesus declaration of his identity But, since we haven’t heard that declaration, we’ll save that for the next section.

17 Et tradi tus est illi liber prophetae Isaiae; et ut revolvit librum, invenit locum, ubi scriptum erat:

18 “ Spiritus Domini super me; / propter quod unxit me / evangelizare pauperibus, / misit me praedicare captivis remissionem

et caecis visum, / dimittere confractos in remissione,

19 praedicare annum Domini acceptum”.

20 Et cum plicuisset librum, reddidit ministro et sedit; et omnium in synagoga oculi erant intendentes in eum.


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 16, 2017, in Chapter 4, gospel commentary, gospels, Luke's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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