Luke Chapter 4:21-30

Chapter 4 continues. I did a bit of hanging you all from a cliff by breaking this passage where I did. Recall, Jesus has just read the passage from Isaiah talking about the blind seeing and the broken people being delivered. Having finished, and closed the book, when last we saw our hero, all eyes in the synagogue waiting…for something. My inference was that he was expected to comment on the text he has just read. Why this one would create an air of pregnant expectation the way it supposedly did is sort of left to our imagination. Remember that Isaiah did not have pride of place among the Jews that we Christians would like to suppose. And in addition, the section that Christians most often cite comes from Deutero-Isaiah, someone writing in the prophet’s name who wasn’t the prophet. In the same way Paul’s disciples wrote letters from Paul that the apostle did not write. I have even heard it suggested that there was a third author of Isaiah; I’m not sure I’d put a lot of faith in that one. The point is, for the Jews, Elijah is sort of the headliner of the prophets.  As such, I’m not sure why Jews would be stretched on tenter-hooks at the prospect of hearing Isaiah discussed. This is a great example of Christians reading stuff back into the HS that was not entirely (at all?) there.


21 ἤρξατο δὲ λέγειν πρὸς αὐτοὺς ὅτι Σήμερον πεπλήρωται ἡ γραφὴ αὕτη ἐν τοῖς ὠσὶν ὑμῶν.

22 Καὶ πάντες ἐμαρτύρουν αὐτῷ καὶ ἐθαύμαζον ἐπὶ τοῖς λόγοις τῆς χάριτος τοῖς ἐκπορευομένοις ἐκ τοῦ στόματος αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἔλεγον, Οὐχὶ υἱός ἐστιν Ἰωσὴφ οὗτος;

(21) He began to speak towards the that “This day this writing is fulfilled in the ears of you.” (22) And all witnessed him and were amazed upon his words of grace that issued from his mouth, and they said, “Is this not the son of Joseph?”

“The ears of you” is completely literal; “in your hearing” is probably a bit less jarring. And to be just as jarring, I left it as “words of grace”, since the standard translations is “gracious words”. But honestly, I’m trying to figure out how to render this in context. As the next part of the verse indicates, the people listening are a bit put off by what Jesus said. I don’t get the idea that they would consider the words “gracious” in any sense of the term. The outrage felt will become even more clear as the passage proceeds.

Remember that Jesus is in his hometown, and that Luke specifically names the town as Nazareth. So he names the father of Jesus to go with this. So what Luke has done here is combine Mark Chapter 6 and Matthew Chapter 11. Why? Let’s recall that Luke adds a lot of material to his gospel. So it’s possible he he felt he could not recount all that Matthew said and then add his own material and not have a text that runs to a hundred pages or more. So he chose to compress where and as he can. But note that the corresponding episode in Mark does not occur until Chapter 6. As such, he’s Luke is drastically rearranging the order of Mark. This is significant because one of the primary arguments for Q is the notion that Luke would not possibly have messed with Matthew’s “masterful” arrangement of the Q material. In fact, only a “fool or a madman” would do something so ludicrous. But nary a word that Luke felt free to rearrange Mark. Since Mark laid down the basic storyline, it would seem to be more of a problem that Luke felt free to copy and paste different episodes into different places; however, such appears not to be the case. So once again, the “argument” for Q turns out to be very situational: order of arrangement is hugely important, except when it’s not. Or, it’s important for some stuff, but not for other stuff. And these are the people who demand an editorially consistent explanation for every time Luke rearranges Matthew’s “masterful” order of the Q material.

One other thing that Luke does–or, actually, doesn’t do–here is to recite the names of Jesus’ siblings. Matthew truncated the list provided by Mark, but still gave us four of his brothers, most notably James. Here, Luke gives us none of them. The reason for this is likely to be the desire to let Jesus’ siblings–perhaps most notably James–fade into the background at this time. Many scholars have suggested that the list of siblings was embarrassing for the later Church with its insistence on the virgin birth. Mark had no such problem, since he did not tell us that Mary was a virgin who conceived by the sacred breath. Matthew apparently felt no constraint at what could be seen as a contradiction. Luke, in culmination, just eliminates the list completely. Also, by the time he wrote, James had been dead for several decades, his role in the early church becoming largely forgotten. So Luke perhaps judged it best to let sleeping dogs lie, and not awaken the memory. And let’s not forget that Luke may have been aware of Galatians, in which Paul meets with the brother of the lord. Maybe this suggested to Luke the wisdom of not reawakening that role of James and the conflict he had with Paul. After all, Luke very much downplayed this meeting when he recounted the event in Acts.

There is one aspect in which Luke provides a unique take on this. In Mark, Jesus was called “Mary’s son”; in Matthew, he was the “son of the carpenter, Mary’s son”. Here, he is the son of Joseph. This is especially notable, IMO, since in his genealogy he said that “it was supposed” that Jesus was the son of Joseph. Now I cannot stress enough the level of significance that attaches to Luke naming Joseph as Mary’s husband. This and the virgin birth, and the annunciation by an angel, etc. are all ways that Luke follows Matthew, and in material that no one says was in Q. It did not occur to me at the time, but Matthew’s “son of the carpenter” is sort of a step back from his own genealogy in which he states that Joseph begat Jesus. Honestly, it would be more appropriate for Luke to say that Jesus was the son of the carpenter and leave Joseph unnamed, since it was only “supposed” that Joseph was the father of Jesus.

The point of this, however is significant, and perhaps a crucial piece of the puzzle of Luke’s relation to Matthew. Was the relation only incidental, passing through Q? Or was it more than that, a relationship of direct affiliation? Here again, the contrast between Luke’s treatment and what came before him seems so disconnected that at least the suspicion of intent has to creep in here. Could he honestly have been so related to, and yet so distinct from the other evangelists that he did not plan this relationship of distinction very deliberately? And again, we have to look at this inside of, or as part of, the general trend. He’s done this before with the birth narrative. Echoing parts of Matthew without actually repeating Matthew. Draw your own conclusions, of course. My complaint is that these are aspects of the relationship between the two evangelists that are never discussed. Q is assumed, it’s stated, and it’s never really questioned. And the Q proponents have been so successful in establishing belief in Q that they have managed to force the anti-Q people to fight the battle on the Q people’s terms by insisting on an editorially consistent explanation for every time Luke differs from Matthew in the treatment of the alleged Q material. That is, they are rather forcing the Q opponents to prove that Q did not exist. That is truly masterful.

21 Coepit autem dicere ad illos: “ Hodie impleta est haec Scriptura in auribus vestris ”.

22 Et omnes testimonium illi dabant et mirabantur in verbis gratiae, quae procedebant de ore ipsius, et dicebant: “ Nonne hic filius est Ioseph? ”.

23 καὶ εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς, Πάντως ἐρεῖτέ μοι τὴν παραβολὴν ταύτην: Ἰατρέ, θεράπευσον σεαυτόν: ὅσα ἠκούσαμεν γενόμενα εἰς τὴν Καφαρναοὺμ ποίησον καὶ ὧδε ἐν τῇ πατρίδι σου.

24 εἶπεν δέ, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐδεὶς προφήτης δεκτός ἐστιν ἐν τῇ πατρίδι αὐτοῦ.

25 ἐπ’ ἀληθείας δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν, πολλαὶ χῆραι ἦσαν ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις Ἠλίου ἐν τῷ Ἰσραήλ, ὅτε ἐκλείσθη ὁ οὐρανὸς ἐπὶ ἔτη τρία καὶ μῆνας ἕξ, ὡς ἐγένετο λιμὸς μέγας ἐπὶ πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν,

26 καὶ πρὸς οὐδεμίαν αὐτῶν ἐπέμφθη Ἠλίας εἰ μὴ εἰς Σάρεπτα τῆς Σιδωνίας πρὸς γυναῖκα χήραν.

27 καὶ πολλοὶ λεπροὶ ἦσαν ἐν τῷ Ἰσραὴλ ἐπὶ Ἐλισαίου τοῦ προφήτου, καὶ οὐδεὶς αὐτῶν ἐκαθαρίσθη εἰ μὴ Ναιμὰν ὁ Σύρος.

And he said towards them, “Surely you will say to me this parable, “Physician, heal thyself. How much we hear being to Caphernaum you have done, and this much in your home town. (What you have done in Caphernaum, also do here in your home town). (24)  “Amen I say to you, that no prophet is accepted in his own home town. (25) In truth I say to you, that many widows there were in the days of Elijah in Israel, when the sky was closed up for three years (“closed up” = “no rain“) and six months, so that there became a great famine in the whole land, (26) and towards no one was sent Elijah if not of the Sarepta of Sidon, to the widow woman. (27) And many lepers there were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and no one of them was cleansed if not Naiman the Syrian”.

First, let’s note that Luke is acknowledging the connexion of Jesus to Caphernaum. Mark simply says that Jesus and Peter, James, and John went to Capheranaum; Matthew explicitly says Jesus relocated there. If you’ll recall, when reading Mark I argued that Jesus was actually from Caphernaum and not from Nazareth. It is Matthew, with his quote that “He will be called a Nazarene” that identifies Nazareth as the the town where Jesus grew up. Then, to square with Mark, he has Jesus move to Caphernaum. Here, however, Luke seems to be correcting the compromise forged by Matthew which, in effect, gave Jesus two separate “home towns”, as it were. So here again, it is at least plausible that Luke is directing this at Matthew, without explicitly saying so. Because recall Luke’s statement that he verified the traditions in order to provide an accurate account, because many have undertaken to tell the tale. Now, it is not necessary to include Matthew in that “many”, but…really? And this certainly seems to be another of those situations that seem to indicate that Luke was certainly aware of Matthew, as in the case of “son of Joseph” above.

As for why the record needed to be corrected, Luke likely believed it was difficult to say that he was “Jesus of Nazareth” if he lived in Caphernaum. By the time Luke wrote, the “Jesus of Nazareth” had become lodged in the tradition, and he intended to cement it there. Recall: Mark mentioned Nazareth once, Matthew three times, and Paul, never. Matthew likely is the one who situated Jesus in Nazareth to begin with, but then he waffled by moving him to Caphernaum. Luke, OTOH, mentions Nazareth early and often, and with the aim of clarifying the situation once for all. So, yes, I’d say this indicates he was fully aware of Matthew.

As for the actual bulk of the passage, the meaning is probably clear enough. A prophet is not respected in his home town/land; but note that we are given examples of when the prophet chose to do good to someone aside from one of his fellow citizens. Rather than go to an Israelite widow, Elijah* goes to a widow in the territory of Sidon. Rather than cure an Israelite leper, Elisha* cures Naiman the Syrian. The beauty of this is that Luke does double duty with these examples. Not only does he show the prophet dishonored, but he shows how, even in the days of Elijah, non-Jews were shown the benefits of God. If it were true even back then, why not even more so at the time Luke wrote. Luke is supposed to be Gentile-friendly; I guess this would be an example.

* I have no idea what the historical orthodoxy on this is, but the Elijah/Elisha seems like such an obvious example of twinning that it should be simply accepted at this point. Of course, if you believe in the literal meaning of the Bible, this sort of confusion is impossible. But in the realm of historical research, such an identity of the two would at the very least be a point of discussion.

23 Et ait illis: “ Utique dicetis mihi hanc similitudinem: “Medice, cura teipsum; quanta audivimus facta in Capharnaum, fac et hic in patria tua” ”.

24 Ait autem: “ Amen dico vobis: Nemo propheta acceptus est in patria sua.

25 In veritate autem dico vobis: Multae viduae erant in diebus Eliae in Israel, quando clausum est caelum annis tribus et mensibus sex, cum facta est fames magna in omni terra;

26 et ad nullam illarum missus est Elias nisi in Sarepta Sidoniae ad mulierem viduam.

27 Et multi leprosi erant in Israel sub Eliseo propheta; et nemo eorum mundatus est nisi Naaman Syrus ”.

28 καὶ ἐπλήσθησαν πάντες θυμοῦ ἐν τῇ συναγωγῇ ἀκούοντες ταῦτα,

29 καὶ ἀναστάντες ἐξέβαλον αὐτὸν ἔξω τῆς πόλεως, καὶ ἤγαγον αὐτὸν ἕως ὀφρύος τοῦ ὄρους ἐφ’ οὗ ἡ πόλις ᾠκοδόμητο αὐτῶν, ὥστε κατακρημνίσαι αὐτόν:

30 αὐτὸς δὲ διελθὼν διὰ μέσου αὐτῶν ἐπορεύετο.

And all were filled with the breath of life/anger in the synagogue hearing these things, and standing up they threw him from the town, and led him to the edge of the hill (cliff) on which the city of them was built, so that to throw him down.  (30) But he going through the middle of them went away.

The word << θυμος >> (“thumos”) presents an interesting lesson in the difference between pagan Greek and so-called “NT Greek”. In the Great Scott, the Middle Liddell, and one of my NT Greek lexica, following their lead give the primary definition of this word as “breath of life”, or something such. The definition of “anger” does not show up until definition #4 in part B. This latter derives from “thumos” as the “seat of the emotions”, which is another usage of the term in Classical and Homeric Greek. Two other NT lexica give “anger” as the primary definition. Now, this is not a case of the word starting off being used for one thing and then gradually coming to mean something else, the way “entrepreneur” started off as “undertaker” and now means something rather different. Rather, “thumos” is used both as “breath of life” and as “anger” in The Iliad. Rather, it’s a case where NT authors use it (apparently) in the latter sense, so that is the only sense in which the NT lexica translate the word. Now, in one sense, this is fine; presumably one is consulting an NT lexicon because one is reading the NT. In this way the translator gets the way the word is used in the limited number of passages where it occurs: Luke/Acts, Paul, and Revelations. The problem is that the translator does not get the full range of the word; that has been done for the reader by previous generations of NT scholars who have come to agree on what the word means. This is how “baptize” has come to have one specific meaning. And there have been a few places in which I have not agreed with the “consensus” translation. Unfortunately, I can no longer recall any of these passages, but I do know I coined the term “consensus translation” already when we were reading 1 Thessalonians and Galatians. For the record, the context of this passage pretty clearly indicates that “anger” is the proper way to render the word, but I dislike–very much–the way it’s handled by NT lexica. There is no such thing as NT Greek.

As for the meaning of the passage, Luke here exaggerates the reaction Jesus got in some of the other stories of the other evangelists. Jesus caused consternation, and even outrage, but never (?) this degree of anger. They want to throw him from the cliff! IIRC, James the Just was executed in this manner in Jerusalem. I’m not saying Luke was aware of this and repeated the tradition. I’ve been told by priests for years now that this was a fairly common manner of execution; I suppose that Josephus could be regarded as having verified this fact.

The first really interesting aspect is the implication that “the Jews” wanted to kill him this early in his career, right from the outset. The other side of that is that the would-be executioners were not the powers-that-be, they were not the Temple officials or even the Pharisees or Scribes; they  were simply those present in the synagogue that day. If this story is conceived of as having happened on Sabbath, we would imagine that most of the men in the town would have been there. But it was the townspeople, those that had watched Jesus grow up now decided that what he had said was so heinous that he deserved to die. Wow. That is one tough crowd. Of course, it’s all academic since the event never occurred; the issue is rather what Luke was trying to convey through the episode. I suppose this would be to demonstrate that Jesus was upsetting people directly at the start. That’s obvious; the question is why Luke wanted to get across this anger at Jesus so soon? To justify the crucifixion, I suppose. Which leads us to ask whether we think 2M were insufficiently clear about this? And this leads to the question of how much difference there was between the first two evangelists; was one, or both of them insufficiently convincing? Then, of course, we have to ask if we can tell whether Luke knew about Matthew’s case for the crucifixion. This extremity of this episode may make more sense if Luke had not been aware of Matthew’s case.

Having checked, 2M approach this issue in similar ways. The animosity towards Jesus starts as muttering and grumbling from onlookers, usually because Jesus has transgressed some standard practice of Judaism. Here, there is no warm-up or warning: just straight to homicidal rage. Luke was obviously trying to make a point, but, what, exactly? 

The last thing is that I wonder if they could they kill him like that. Was it legal? So much is made in the Passion story about how the Jews have to beg the Romans to kill Jesus because they don’t have the authority. But then again, they executed James the Just–assuming that we can accept the testimony of Josephus as we have it, that this episode was not the interpolation of a later Christian copyist. And also, this was occurring in a provincial town out in the boondocks where there was no Roman presence to speak of. So, if it happened, who was going to complain? It’s not like the Romans were even going to notice.

The final last point is Verse 30: and passing through the midst of them he left. What Luke is describing is a supernatural event. It’s similar to the way he passed through solid walls and locked doors after the Resurrection in John’s telling of that sequence of events. Like the verse before it, one has to wonder what Luke’s point of this was. Presumably, he’s providing evidence that Jesus was a divine being, but to a level of divinity that is unprecedented. In the other gospels Jesus performs miracles and walks on water, but there is nothing like this. In fact, this could easily be read as borderline Docetism: that Jesus did not actually have a corporeal body. This, of course, is dualist theology of the sort that many sects would espouse. Many–but not all–Gnostics were also dualists, but there is no necessary connexion between the two. Most dualists were not Gnostics. The Cathars of the 13th Century were the last great dualist sect; the belief sort of died away after they were exterminated by Innocent III and the king of France.

I suppose the lesson to be drawn from these two verses is that Luke wants us to know, right up front, that Jesus was on the wrong side of Jewish public opinion and that he was truly divine, almost to the point of being non-corporeal. Or, at least, he was capable of becoming non-corporeal when the situation called for it. 

28 Et repleti sunt omnes in synagoga ira haec audientes;

29 et surrexerunt et eiecerunt illum extra civitatem et duxerunt illum usque ad supercilium montis, supra quem civitas illorum erat aedificata, ut praecipitarent eum.

30 Ipse autem transiens per medium illorum ibat.


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 19, 2017, in Chapter 4, gospel commentary, gospels, Luke's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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