Luke Chapter 6:1-11

Chapter Six begins with the story that usually falls under the rubric of “Lord of the Sabbath”. It’s common to all three Synoptic Gospels.

Text

1 Ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν σαββάτῳ διαπορεύεσθαι αὐτὸν διὰ σπορίμων, καὶ ἔτιλλον οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἤσθιον τοὺς στάχυας ψώχοντες ταῖς χερσίν.

2 τινὲς δὲ τῶν Φαρισαίων εἶπαν, Τί ποιεῖτε ὃ οὐκ ἔξεστιν τοῖς σάββασιν;

3 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς πρὸς αὐτοὺς εἶπεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Οὐδὲ τοῦτο ἀνέγνωτε ὃ ἐποίησεν Δαυὶδ ὅτε ἐπείνασεν αὐτὸς καὶ οἱ μετ’ αὐτοῦ [ὄντες];

4 [ὡς] εἰσῆλθεν εἰς τὸν οἶκον τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ τοὺς ἄρτους τῆς προθέσεως λαβὼν ἔφαγεν καὶ ἔδωκεν τοῖς μετ’ αὐτοῦ, οὓς οὐκ ἔξεστιν φαγεῖν εἰ μὴ μόνους τοὺς ἱερεῖς;

5 καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς, Κύριός ἐστιν τοῦ σαββάτου ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου.

It became on the Sabbath that he was crossing through the wheat field, and plucked his disciples from it (the grain field) and ate the kernels rubbing (them) in their hands. (2) Some of the Pharisees said, “Does he not do what is not allowed on Sabbaths?” (3) And answering to them Jesus said, “Are you unaware of what David did that he was hungry and those with him? (4) [As] they went to the house of God and the loaves of the offerings taking he ate and he gave to those with him, which was not allowed to eat unless alone for the priests”. (5) And he said to them, “Lord of the sabbath is the son of man”.

The translation is a bit clunky, or even more than a bit clunky, but it works very well here when rendered in a very literal fashion that retains the word order of the original. This is not always possible given that case languages do not rely so much on the order of the words to get the message across. The one part that is nearly impossible to render faithfully is the <<εἰ μὴ>>; this is literally “if not”, which is more or less “unless”, but here it’s particularly nasty because it’s coupled with a negative. Unlike Greek, Latin, French, or Spanish, English has the rule about the double negative. (I’m really not familiar enough with German grammar to know the rules there.) In the other four languages, the negatives reinforce, rather than negate, each other. So it is here. Literally, it would be “unless not”, which in English would constitute a double negative. The idea is that only the priests could eat these loaves which had been offered to God. Note that the priests ate the stuff given to God; this was a perk of being a priest, regardless of the religion, whether pagan or Jewish. Christian practice remained essentially the same, even if the offerings of the faithful became money rather than food. This was how the priests were supported in temples or churches: give to God/the god, the priests were then entitled to the food. So for David to step in and eat food meant for God, and then to give said food to his warrior (bandit) band was cause to raise eyebrows.

As this story appeared in both Mark and Matthew, we’ve discussed the implication of how this situates Jesus in the place of David. One thing I didn’t realize until just now is that Jesus as the seed of David is almost exclusively a theme that occurs in the gospels. Paul mentions David three times, all of them in Romans, the last written of the authentic letters that we have from Paul. Of these three, exactly one states that Jesus, in the flesh, is a descendant of David. And in Mark, we have essentially perhaps two or references to Jesus as being in the line of David. The only direct one is in Chapter 10 when the blind bar Timeaus calls out to Jesus as the son of David. The other two are oblique. The reason for mentioning this out is to point out that Jesus as the son/descendant of David does not become firmly entrenched in the record in the first two or three generations after the death of Jesus. It is Matthew, with his genealogy, who fixes the idea of Jesus being a lineal descendant of David into Christian dogma.

What does this mean? Truly, the appropriate place to discuss this would be in a commentary on Paul. However, it didn’t occur to me that we weren’t seeing this because, well, because we weren’t seeing it. For all of Paul’s talk of the Christ, the Messiah, that the messiah was somehow related to David never came up in the three books of Paul that we read. While Paul refers to David’s words, or to his legend, the sole mention of Jesus being related to David, a descendent of David comes in Romans 1:3. And even there, he simply mentions that Jesus, through the flesh, was of David’s line. There is no really explicit statement that the Messiah had to be of David’s line or anything such. Had Paul been writing to Jews, we could probably assume that Jews would know this as a matter of course; but he was not writing to Jews. He wrote to Galatians, Thessalonians, and Corinthians, and only mentions this connexion in Romans–more pagans–and then only once. That somehow seems odd. And the one explicit reference in Mark is part of a story that could have been swallowed whole by Mark, so this may not have been a central part of Mark’s theology. Remember, the first half of Mark is the story of Jesus the Wonder-Worker; the Messiah part comes in later, and is easily the smaller of the two “halves” of Mark’s narrative.  

As far as I can tell, David is not part of Q. This would make sense. Jesus does not refer to himself as being of the seed of David, so why would we expect David to crop up in a collection of the sayings of Jesus (or whatever else it’s convenient to stick in there)? We shouldn’t expect it, I wouldn’t think. So it does not become a prominent part of the Jesus story until Matthew makes it so. And, writing later, Luke does exactly the same thing as Matthew. Interestingly, John only makes the David connexion in a single passage, in John 7:42. So this means that David plays a large role only in Matthew and Luke, even though David was not part of Q. Hmmm. If a=b, and b=c, then a=c. Or, rather, Matthew or Q. Not Q. Therefore Matthew. This is known as the Disjunctive Syllogism, and it’s one of the foundation pieces of formal logic. Luke and Matthew agree. Therefore Luke got David either from Matthew or from Q. David does not appear in Q. Therefore, Luke got the David references from Matthew, Q.E.D.

Well, it’s not quite demonstrated. There are, of course, other places that Luke could have gotten the David connexion, other sources, other traditions. But the funny thing is that David is largely absent from most of the NT, except for Matthew and Luke/Acts (assuming the same author). This is akin to the Virgin Birth, Bethlehem, the annunciation by an angel, and all the other motifs that were identified as peculiar to Matthew and Luke. So David is yet one more. The side of the scale with the Luke-Matthew connexions is starting to get pretty heavy.

One final word. Just because Jesus compares himself to David, that is not to say he necessarily implies that he is the Messiah. Yes, that is one interpretation; the connexion to David is perhaps sufficient to make this leap, but I don’t think it’s necessary. That position may require some serious hair-splitting, or a very finely nuanced way of looking at things, but IMO the distinction is real. Now, it’s another thing to say whether the conscious connecting to David would have been taken by most listeners as a direct correlation: Jesus = David = Messiah. To some degree, this would depend on how well-versed the audience was that heard/read this. If the audience was Jewish, then the likelihood goes up; if it was predominantly pagan, it goes down. But then, since this originated in Mark, is that question legitimate? Was Luke just keeping it for the sake of keeping it? Not necessarily. Luke has not been afraid to change or jettison stories or parts of stories, so why keep this? First, for it’s challenge to established religion, as it was being practised at the time. The Jews had gone astray, so Jesus was the Judaic Martin Luther leading a reform, not starting a revolution. Second, because once again this tied Jesus to that ancient line of religious practice. Jesus’ message was the wisdom of the ages, not a novel invention, and he was reminding his contemporaries about how it should be done. 

1 Factum est autem in sabbato, cum transiret per sata, et velle bant discipuli eius spicas et manducabant confricantes manibus.

2 Quidam autem pharisaeorum dixerunt: “Quid facitis, quod non licet in sabbatis?”.

3 Et respondens Iesus ad eos dixit: “Nec hoc legistis, quod fecit David, cum esurisset ipse et qui cum eo erant?

4 Quomodo intravit in domum Dei et panes propositionis sumpsit et manducavit et dedit his, qui cum ipso erant, quos non licet manducare nisi tantum sacerdotibus? ”.

5 Et dicebat illis: “Dominus est sabbati Filius hominis”.

6 Ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν ἑτέρῳ σαββάτῳ εἰσελθεῖν αὐτὸν εἰς τὴν συναγωγὴν καὶ διδάσκειν: καὶ ἦν ἄνθρωπος ἐκεῖ καὶ ἡ χεὶρ αὐτοῦ ἡ δεξιὰ ἦν ξηρά:

7 παρετηροῦντο δὲ αὐτὸν οἱ γραμματεῖς καὶ οἱ Φαρισαῖοι εἰ ἐν τῷ σαββάτῳ θεραπεύει, ἵνα εὕρωσιν κατηγορεῖν αὐτοῦ.

8 αὐτὸς δὲ ᾔδει τοὺς διαλογισμοὺς αὐτῶν, εἶπεν δὲ τῷ ἀνδρὶ τῷ ξηρὰν ἔχοντι τὴν χεῖρα, Ἔγειρε καὶ στῆθι εἰς τὸ μέσον: καὶ ἀναστὰς ἔστη.

9 εἶπεν δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς πρὸς αὐτούς, Ἐπερωτῶ ὑμᾶς, εἰ ἔξεστιν τῷ σαββάτῳ ἀγαθοποιῆσαι ἢ κακοποιῆσαι, ψυχὴν σῶσαι ἢ ἀπολέσαι;

10 καὶ περιβλεψάμενος πάντας αὐτοὺς εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἔκτεινον τὴν χεῖρά σου. ὁ δὲ ἐποίησεν, καὶ ἀπεκατεστάθη ἡ χεὶρ αὐτοῦ.

11 αὐτοὶ δὲ ἐπλήσθησαν ἀνοίας, καὶ διελάλουν πρὸς ἀλλήλους τί ἂν ποιήσαιεν τῷἸησοῦ.

Then it happened on another sabbath that he came into the synagogue and taught. And there was a man there and his hand, the right one was withered. (7) And watching him were the scribes and the Pharisees if on the sabbath he would heal, so that the would find to accuse him. (8) He knew the dialogues of them, he said to the man the withered hand having, “Rise and stand in the middle”. And standing he stood. (9) Said Jesus to them, “I ask you if it is allowed on the sabbath to dogood (= do good; it’s a single word in Greek) or dobad (= do bad), a life to say or destroy (it)?” (10) And looking around at all of them he (Jesus) said to him (the man), “Stretch out your hand”. He did this and restored was his hand. (11) They were filled by not understanding, and they spoke to each other what they would do to Jesus.

A few minor things. “Dogood” and “dobad”: interesting constructions. There is a very nice extended accusative and infinitive construction in the first verse, encompassing both the “come in” and the “teach”. That’s a bit unusual, and shows a certain amount of comfort with a reasonably literary strand of the Greek language. The first biggish thing is the bit about saving a life. The word is psyche, or anima, in Latin. The latter should be recognisable as the root of “animate”, or “animal”. So it’s the breath of life. As we’ve no doubt mentioned, the base meaning of psyche is “life”; this, in turn, becomes associated with the breath of life, which is why it ends up as anima in Latin. Our word “soul”, which is how this word is most often translated, is from the German, seele. And here is where using an NT dictionary is problematic: one of the ones I use give “soul” as the base definition. Now again, the wrath of Achilles, that baneful wrath, sent the psyches of many heroes to Hades, and “lives” doesn’t quite give the proper sense of that phrase. Here, it is obviously “life”–at least it seems pretty obvious to me. And the four crib translations I use all render it as “life”. Now the more interesting aspect of this is that it is coupled with “to save”; here it’s plainly “to save a life”. But think about that: psyche sōsein; this gets Christianised very easily as “to save a soul”. Here is where we see the real danger in assigned hierocratic meanings to specific words in Greek; they end up warping the original into a construct that did not become dogma until some time later. The boundary between the uses of “soul” and “life” for psyche is very ill-defined. There have been, IIRC, a few instances when it should clearly read “soul”, and perhaps in sort of our concept of the meaning.

I also like that they were filled by “not-understanding”. The word is a-noia, which literally means “unminded”. Or something. The a- prefix is a  negation, like a-historical. The ‘noia’ means mind. So do your own construction of the two parts.  The reason I like the image is that, essentially,  Luke is saying their mind was filled by not-mind, which is something approaching a paradox: how can you fill something with nothing?

A version of this story appears in both Mk&Mt. What is remarkable about this version is that Luke has toned down the reaction of the scribes & Pharisees. They are not overtly plotting to kill Jesus as the other two say they are. They’re merely discussing what they will do. Why does Luke de-escalate like this? Since this is the first episode in the plot to kill Jesus, it’s pretty much impossible to say at the moment. Did he understand that provincial scribes & Pharisees really had no connexion with the authorities? We would have to come up with reasons why that would be true, and I doubt they exist. In fact, they almost certainly do not exist since we know nothing about the author of this (or any) gospel. Will he tone down the guilt of the Temple authorities? That could be taken to imply that he did understand–or suspect–the lack of connexion between this group and the group in Jerusalem, but the honest answer is that I don’t know. It is interesting to note that the Passion of Luke does not get read all that often in church services, whether the Roman or the Episcopalian rites (Correct me if I’m wrong). Why is that? Mark and John are the two that most come to mind, the two most often read in church, and Bach wrote a Matthew Passion & a John Passion, but not a Luke Passion. I don’t know why that is, so this becomes a question to be asked and considered as we move along through the rest of the gospel.

Just a final word. The next section is the calling of the Twelve, so I wanted to point out that the last part of Chapter 5 was the story of Jesus forgiving the sins of the paralytic, and we’ve had two instances so far in Chapter 6 about the Lord of the Sabbath and healing on the sabbath. All three of these constitute a challenge to the existing religious practice of the Jews. So that we end up with dark muttering against Jesus by the scribes and Pharisees. This was a definite theme in Mark; I have not done the analysis to see how much of a theme it was in Matthew. Regardless, it’s not new with Luke and we’ll see what he does with it.

6 Factum est autem in alio sabbato, ut intraret in synagogam et doceret; et erat ibi homo, et manus eius dextra erat arida.

7 Observabant autem illum scribae et pharisaei, si sabbato curaret, ut invenirent accusare illum.

8 Ipse vero sciebat cogitationes eorum et ait homini, qui habebat manum aridam: “Surge et sta in medium”. Et surgens stetit.

9 Ait autem ad illos Iesus: “ Interrogo vos, si licet sabbato bene facere an male; animam salvam facere an perdere? ”.

10 Et circumspectis omnibus illis, dixit illi: “ Extende manum tuam ”. Et fecit; et restituta est manus eius.

11 Ipsi autem repleti sunt insipientia et colloquebantur ad invicem quidnam facerent Iesu.

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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 June 3, 2017, in Chapter 6, Luke's Gospel. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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