Luke Chapter 7:18-35

This starts with the messengers from John the Baptist. This story is interesting because it technically only exists in Matthew and Luke, so it should be Q material. And perhaps it is classified that way. However, there is an echo of the story in Mark as well; perhaps a better description would be a foreshadowing. We can take a look at these three stories and see what there is to be seen.


18 Καὶ ἀπήγγειλαν Ἰωάννῃ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ περὶ πάντων τούτων. καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος δύο τινὰς τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ ὁ Ἰωάννης

19 ἔπεμψεν πρὸς τὸν κύριον λέγων, Σὺ εἶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος ἢ ἄλλον προσδοκῶμεν;

And his (John’s) disciples announced to John about al this. And John, having commanded two of his disciples, he sent them to the lord, saying, “Are you the one who is coming, or do we expect another?”

This is very similar to Matthew’s introduction, except we are not specifically told here that John is in prison. This is why John has to send his disciples and doesn’t come himself. The incongruity of this scene with the baptism of Jesus is striking. Think about it: in Matthew, John refuses to baptise Jesus because he knows who Jesus is. Here, John has to send his people to find out. And Luke isn’t much better: recall that Jesus and John are cousins, and that John recognized that Mary would (or had) conceive the Saviour while John was still in utero. So now we’re supposed to believe that John doesn’t know? The juxtaposition of these scenes is such excellent evidence showing that the evangelists were not writing history, and they weren’t even terribly concerned whether their stories were internally consistent. In the case of this story about John, and one each from Matthew and Luke that just don’t square with this story, we have a rather glaring inconsistency inside of each of the two gospels.

What this tells me is that this story did actually come from a third source. That is, while Luke repeated what he found in Matthew, I don’t think Matthew originated the story. This feels like something that was found more or less whole and entire that came down to Matthew as more or less a unit. Now, this could easily be used against me in my anti-Q stance; more, it should be used against me because I’m conceding the existence of outside sources. So why not Q? That is a long and complicated discussion, and it’s not one to be undertaken here and now. But I will discuss it, and soon, as a special topic. It’s something that ought to be–but isn’t–part of the discussion about Q. But then, there really is no discussion about Q; it’s a lot of posturing and sniffing down of ones’ noses.

Here’s the thing: most of the stories in Mark are also such units. I know that I commented on this at the time, but the story of the Gerasene Demoniac–my name is Legion, and we are many–is a great example. Mark came across that story and swallowed it whole, with a minimum of digesting. And if Mark encountered such set-pieces that were not part of Q, then how is Q necessary? It’s similar to what I said in the last section about the widow of Nain; it feels like Luke found the story more or less complete, perhaps composed by residents of Nain who wanted their piece of the Jesus tradition. This is the sort of thing that happens all the time; again my favorite–and the best–example is King Arthur. Wolfram von Eschenbach composed Parzifal in Germany and it became part of the Arthurian corpus. It’s important to remember that there was not one oral tradition, but probably dozens, and each of them created their own little units, little self-contained stories. The evangelists came across these building and chose to include them or not for reasons of their own, for reasons that we can only speculate about; however, the main reason a story was included or not would have been whether it fit the evangelist’s conception of Jesus. We saw how Matthew scrubbed out all of the magical practices–the use of saliva to make mud being the best, IMO–out of his version of the stories in Mark because these bits didn’t fit Matthew’s understanding of Jesus. Matthew, also IMO, included this story despite the fact that it did not square perfectly with his version of the baptism because he liked the way it let Jesus proclaim his identity, which had been “hidden”–however badly–by Mark’s Jesus. And Luke included it for much the same reason. Probably. That’s the best we’re going to get. The idea that we can come up with a consistent editorial policy for any of these guys is ridiculous and, quite frankly, hybris.

18 Et nuntiaverunt Ioanni discipuli eius de omnibus his.

19 Et convocavit duos de discipulis suis Ioannes et misit ad Dominum dicens: “ Tu es qui venturus es, an alium exspectamus? ”.

20 παραγενόμενοι δὲ πρὸς αὐτὸν οἱ ἄνδρες εἶπαν,Ἰωάννης ὁ βαπτιστὴς ἀπέστειλεν ἡμᾶς πρὸς σὲ λέγων, Σὺ εἶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος ἢ ἄλλον προσδοκῶμεν;

21 ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ὥρᾳἐ θεράπευσεν πολλοὺς ἀπὸ νόσων καὶ μαστίγων καὶ πνευμάτων πονηρῶν, καὶ τυφλοῖς πολλοῖς ἐχαρίσατο βλέπειν.

22 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Πορευθέντες ἀπαγγείλατε Ἰωάννῃ ἃ εἴδετε καὶ ἠκούσατε: τυφλοὶ ἀναβλέπουσιν, χωλοὶ περιπατοῦσιν, λεπροὶ καθαρίζονται καὶ κωφοὶ ἀκούουσιν, νεκροὶ ἐγείρονται, πτωχοὶ εὐαγγελίζονται:

23 καὶ μακάριός ἐστιν ὃς ἐὰν μὴ σκανδαλισθῇ ἐν ἐμοί.

Coming towards him the men said, “John the Baptist sent us to you saying, ‘Are you the one who is coming, or should we expect another?'” (21) In this hour he cured many from diseases and illnesses and wicked spirits, and to many blind he gave to see. (22) Ad answering he said to them, “Going back announce to John what you have seen and heard: the blind look about, the lame walk around, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor are evangelized. (23) And blessed is the one if he does not stumble on me.”   

The idea in the first two verses is that Jesus is performing these wonders in front of John’s disciples. This live and in-person demonstration is not part of Matthew’s version. So, did Matthew find this in Q, and leave it out? Or did Luke add it to Q? Which is it? Q people really have to answer that question, and explain why they made that choice. Or did Luke find Matthew’s version of Jesus’ response a bit wanting, so he added this bit to Matthew? That is really the simplest explanation. And it’s interesting that Kloppenborg sort of pulls a weasel move here and neglects to include the demonstration in his quote of Luke, so he just refuses to call attention to this variation. Why? That is also a legitimate question that he needs to answer. I guess we are to take this as his assertion that the demonstration was not in Q. So what is the point of adding this? The point of the story overall is to declare Jesus’ identity. The addition of this extra bit is to serve as an underscore or an exclamation point to this revelation of Jesus. And, in a way, the extra emphasis is not even so much for us as it is for John’s disciples. There is no way, Luke is telling us, that John’s disciples–and so, presumably, John–could have doubted this

I’ve just come to understand that these story-units are called pericopae, singular pericope. When I tried to get the etymology, Google kept giving me the etymology for “periscope”. No, I’d already looked it up in Liddell & Scott, but wanted to make sure that it was a direct flow into English. It is. Unlike periscope, which comes from the Greek for and means “a looking around”, pericope comes from the Greek for “cutting around”. The idea is that the story-unit has been clipped around and extracted whole, much as one might clip out a newspaper article–assuming one still knows what a newspaper is, and that people used to clip these out. Oh, I’ve been exposed to the term for a long time, and I’ve had an idea what it means, but I finally nailed it down. I can see the point of the term; it has a pretty technical meaning, but it also seems a bit pretentious to me. Of course, that’s a total hoot because I’m one of the more pompous and pretentious people I know, especially about language. 

20 Cum autem venissent ad eum viri, dixerunt: “ Ioannes Baptista misit nos ad te dicens: “Tu es qui venturus es, an alium dexspectamus?””.

21 In ipsa hora curavit multos a languoribus et plagis et spiritibus malis et caecis multis donavit visum.

22 Et respondens dixit illis: “ Euntes nuntiate Ioanni, quae vidistis et audistis: caeci vident, claudi ambulant, leprosi mundantur et surdi audiunt, mortui resurgunt, pauperes evangelizantur;

23 et beatus est, quicumque non fuerit scandalizatus in me ”.

24 Ἀπελθόντων δὲ τῶν ἀγγέλων Ἰωάννου ἤρξατο λέγειν πρὸς τοὺς ὄχλους περὶ Ἰωάννου, Τί ἐξήλθατε εἰς τὴν ἔρημον θεάσασθαι; κάλαμον ὑπὸ ἀνέμου σαλευόμενον;

25 ἀλλὰ τί ἐξήλθατε ἰδεῖν; ἄνθρωπον ἐν μαλακοῖς ἱματίοις ἠμφιεσμένον; ἰδοὺ οἱ ἐν ἱματισμῷ ἐνδόξῳ καὶ τρυφῇ ὑπάρχοντες ἐν τοῖς βασιλείοις εἰσίν.

26 ἀλλὰ τί ἐξήλθατε ἰδεῖν; προφήτην; ναί, λέγω ὑμῖν, καὶ περισσότερον προφήτου.

27 οὗτός ἐστιν περὶ οὗ γέγραπται, Ἰδοὺ ἀποστέλλω τὸν ἄγγελόν μου πρὸ προσώπου σου, ὃς κατασκευάσει τὴν ὁδόν σου ἔμπροσθέν σου.

28 λέγω ὑμῖν, μείζων ἐν γεννητοῖς γυναικῶν Ἰωάννου οὐδείς ἐστιν: ὁ δὲ μικρότερος ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ μείζων αὐτοῦ ἐστιν.

Having gone away the angels of John, he began to speak to the crowd about John. “What did you come to the desert to see? A reed shaken by the wind? (25) What other did you come to see? A man in soft garments dressed? Behold, those in glorious and delicate clothing being in the palaces are. (…those being in…clothing…are in palaces…) (26) What other did you come to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. (27) He is (the one) about whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my angel before your sight (lit = face) who will prepare your way before you.’ (28) I tell you, greater than John of (those) born of woman no one is. But the least in the kingdom of God is greater than him”.

Just to note: the word that I have rendered as “angels” is angellon“, which means “messenger”. It’s the same word used for Gabriel and the member of the heavenly host who brought glad tidings of great joy to the shepherds abiding in the fields with their flocks. It means messenger; except when it goes untranslated and remains as angels, which is another word transliterated from Greek to have a special theological meaning.

Much of this is verbatim in Matthew. One thing I’ve recently discovered is that it’s seems difficult to find anyone willing to present an argument for Q. Most of the Q people take Q as proven and self-evident, and spend their time talking about Q as if it is indisputable and authoritative, or sniping at the non-Q people in a supercilious tone. The number of those arguing against Q seems to be growing; either that, or my awareness of them is growing. Now, one thing I’ve just run across is someone arguing that there is no definable literary relationship between any of the gospels, and particularly between Matthew and Luke.

Her conclusion is based on statistical studies of word recurrence, and her point is well taken that an overlap of words in the range of 20-30% is not terribly convincing proof that such an overlap occurred. However, I find this position as untenable as the Q position; she does not look at the which words overlap as I have been doing. Sharing of very unusual words is much more significant, IMO, than whether the two evangelists use the same word for “he went”. And what the words are saying, I believe, carries more weight than whether exactly the same words or sentence structure was used. It continually seems to escape the notice (there is a Greek verb for that sentiment) of Biblical scholars that Matthew and Luke are…how to put this…different authors. Luke did not set out to create a faithful copy of Matthew, just as Matthew was not interested in creating a faithful copy of Mark. These were different people; they wanted to tell the story in a way different from the ways it had been told before. This is why the whole, “why would Luke mess with the order of Matthew?” question strikes me as so hollow. Luke would mess with it precisely because he wasn’t Matthew, and that in and of itself is a sufficient reason that is redactionally consistent. However, I’ve done a word-for-word comparison of Matthew and Luke on their respective passages. They are darn near identical. It’s impossible that these did not come from the same source, whether it be Matthew or Q–or something else.

Finally, there is the concluding verse. John is the greatest of woman born. Does that include Jesus? It doesn’t say “greatest of those without a divine father”. But that is really picking nits. Or is it? Have to think about it. Truly, though, ‘born of women’ is an extended synonym for ‘human’; regardless of what any hypercritical examination may turn up, the thought is plain enough. What does it mean? Why is this here? And it came from Matthew, so the whole first-cousin-of-Jesus thing hadn’t been invented. But here’s a thought: is this why Luke came up with the story of John’s heritage? Intriguing, no? But not really a point in favour of non-Q; it could have come from Matthew, or it could have come from Q, or it could have come from another source. There is no way of telling, at least, not when trying to glean from an individual newspaper clipping (i.e., pericope).

The thing is, there are also the words of Josephus to consider. He gave John a much longer story than he gave to Jesus. This tells me that, in Judea at least, John was more recognizable than Jesus, and Josephus was writing in the very late First Century. That’s another topic I’d like to see someone explain. It deserves some examination. The problem, I think, is that it rather falls between two stools: the biblical people aren’t interested in suggesting that John was the more popular of the two, while there really isn’t much for historians to go by. We have the evidence of later Roman writers that there were Christians, but nothing about Baptistians. Outside of the NT, we have the one cite from Josephus and nothing else. Still, even some informed speculation would be preferable to the black void that we have.

The end result is that I’m spinning my wheels. My not-so-informed speculation is that Matthew added this because there were still Baptistians about, because he was tapped into the same sources as Josephus. That’s not much of a conclusion, but it’s got some support. Otherwise, why is this here? The question to ask is when this would have been written? Is this something Jesus possibly said? That’s just it; while the exact words are speculative, there is no reason why Jesus couldn’t have referenced John. And there’s no reason to think that this can’t be from the 40s, or really even the 30s. In fact, earlier is better because the memory of John would have been fresher. So Q? Could be. This could be something going back far enough to end up in Q as it’s conventionally conceived. The only thing is, why isn’t this in Mark? And Paul never mentioned the Baptist. He refers to baptism, but never mentions the source of the practice. IOW, more questions. As always.

24 Et cum discessissent nuntii Ioannis, coepit dicere de Ioanne ad turbas: “ Quid existis in desertum videre? Arundinem vento moveri?

25 Sed quid existis videre? Hominem mollibus vestimentis indutum? Ecce, qui in veste pretiosa sunt et deliciis, in domibus regum sunt.

26 Sed quid existis videre? Prophetam? Utique, dico vobis, et plus quam prophetam.

27 Hic est, de quo scriptum est:

“Ecce mitto angelum meum ante faciem tuam, qui praeparabit viam tuam ante te”.

28 Dico vobis: Maior inter natos mulierum Ioanne nemo est; qui autem minor est in regno Dei, maior est illo”.

29 {Καὶ πᾶς ὁ λαὸς ἀκούσας καὶ οἱ τελῶναι ἐδικαίωσαν τὸν θεόν, βαπτισθέντες τὸ βάπτισμαἸωάννου:

30 οἱ δὲ Φαρισαῖοι καὶ οἱ νομικοὶ τὴν βουλὴν τοῦ θεοῦ ἠθέτησαν εἰς ἑαυτούς, μὴ βαπτισθέντες ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ.}

31 Τίνι οὖν ὁμοιώσω τοὺς ἀνθρώπους τῆς γενεᾶς ταύτης, καὶ τίνι εἰσὶν ὅμοιοι;

32 ὅμοιοί εἰσιν παιδίοις τοῖς ἐν ἀγορᾷ καθημένοις καὶ προσφωνοῦσιν ἀλλήλοις, ἃ λέγει, Ηὐλήσαμεν ὑμῖν καὶ οὐκ ὠρχήσασθε: ἐθρηνήσαμεν καὶ οὐκ ἐκλαύσατε.

33 ἐλήλυθεν γὰρ Ἰωάννης ὁ βαπτιστὴς μὴ ἐσθίων ἄρτον μήτε πίνων οἶνον, καὶλέγετε, Δαιμόνιον ἔχει:

34 ἐλήλυθεν ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐσθίων καὶ πίνων, καὶ λέγετε, Ἰδοὺ ἄνθρωπος φάγος καὶ οἰνοπότης, φίλος τελωνῶν καὶ ἁμαρτωλῶν.

35 καὶ ἐδικαιώθη ἡ σοφία ἀπὸ πάντων τῶν τέκνων αὐτῆς.

 { “And the whole people hearing and the tax collectors justified God, having been baptised in the baptism of John. (30) The Pharisees and the lawyers the will of God set as naught towards themselves, lest they be baptised by him.} (31) So to what are the men of this generation the same as, and to what are they similar? (32) They are like children seated in the marketplace and speaking to each other, which one says, “We played the pipe for you and you did not dance. We mourned and you did not cry. (33) For John the Baptist came and did not eat bread nor drink wine, and you said, ‘He has a demon’. (34) The son of man came eating and drinking, and you said, ‘Look, that man eats and drinks, is a friend of the tax collectors and sinners. (35) And his wisdom was justified from all her children.”

First of all, there are a number of unusual words in there. Lawyer is odd, not being a real occupation in the Greco-Roman world. There were professional speakers, and professional speakers adept at the law, but to call them lawyers in any way that would resemble what we call lawyers is a stretch. The word is not quite unique to Luke; Matthew does use it once, but in a different context. Now the word for “mourned” occurs four times in the NT, twice in Luke, once in John, and once in Matthew, in exactly the same context as here. Again, these unusual words carried over into the same story setting are difficult to explain except on the basis that Luke read the same thing as Matthew. Or he read Matthew. Which takes us back to the question of where the unusual word is more likely to arise: in one of the early followers, or someone more educated, say, someone who read the LXX rather than the Hebrew? That’s like the fourth or fifth one of these words that we’ve come across. The weight of these words is starting to accumulate, n’est ce-pas?

Second, the part in the {} is not in all mss traditions. Frankly, it has the look and feel of a marginal gloss that got incorporated; part of the reason for this feel is that it doesn’t particularly make sense as part of the text, but it does as a marginal note someone scribbled on the scroll, or in the codex. And then there is the whole thing with the children; what is up with that? I’m totally missing the point on this little joke. Why do we have children saying these things? And how is it that the children are the ones playing the pipe? It seems to me that this is rather backwards. John an Jesus played the pipes, and no one danced. The contrast between John and Jesus, and the fact that diametrically opposed behaviours elicited the same result of rejection is just too ironic for words.

Finally, there is the last line about wisdom. Or should it be Wisdom? I ask because no Christian commentary will make the point that Wisdom, Sophia, was a significant member of the assemblage of divine beings of the Gnostics. One of my biggest problems with Gnostic thought is the way it got sidetracked into cosmology, with an endless array of archons and…can’t think of the other one. Outflowings, or something like that. Emanations? Anyway, Sophia was often the first child of either the Demiurge, or was the mother of the Demiurge, or…It doesn’t matter. A little research later, yes, the term is emanations: wave after wave of beings, or entities, or archons were propagated and filled up the heavens. It’s all very confusing. And Sophia most often is the mother of the Demiurge.

So this whole mention of Sophia is rather interesting. The Christian commentaries sort of gloss over this, but Wisdom having children is not a very Christian thought. It sort of exists out there on the perimeter of the boundary between orthodoxy, apocryphal, and downright heretical.

It’s also interesting to note two other things. First, the “wisdom is justified” is more or less verbatim from Matthew; however, whereas here it/she is justified by her children, in Matthew she is justified by her works. “Children”is taken to be the actual term used, but I’m not sure I’d agree with that.  The Demiurge, in Gnostic thought, was the creator of the material world, and so was inferior to God. The Demiurge was often equated with the YHWH of Genesis. Since the material world is lower than the spiritual, the Demiurge is considered the genesis of evil. Which means that Sophia, as the font of the Demiurge, can be said to be the genesis of evil. As such, in Gnostic terms it’s hard to understand how Sophia would be justified by her children. Of course, we cannot say that the sophia here is the Sophia of the Gnostics. Now, if the Christian commentators are correct to gloss this in Christian terms, this says a lot about the state of development of Gnosticism even s late as Matthew, and possibly Luke.

Much of my argument for a late date for Gospel Thomas is that the Gnostic thought is very highly developed there, much more so than I think is justified for a First Century authorship. Gnosticism was not a Christian phenomenon, but it seemed to get a major impetus after Christianity had begun to flourish. The dualist tendency shown in Paul’s distinction of flesh vs spirt is not close to the radical dualism to be found later, but it’s a step on the path. Mark seems to make allusions to knowledge hidden. But these threads have not really coalesced as they did in Valentinian in the middle quarter of the Second Century. Thomas fits better in that milieu than it does with the much less developed dualism or Gnosticism of Paul and Mark. Those lines of thought were latent in those two authors; Gnosticism is very strong in Thomas, even if dualism does not get the same emphasis as it does in some strains of Gnosticism. 

But this is really getting lost in the swamp of speculation. Chances are that given Matthew’s use of “works”, the intent of the passage was sort of a “by their fruits” sort of thing. The Vulgate Matthew reads “works” as well, and most modern translations render Matthew as “works”; the KJV, however, renders both Matthew and Luke as “children”. Now, two things: the first is this change from from the “works” to the “children” of Sophia is a pretty good indication that Matthew certainly did pre-date Luke. I’m not sure how much weight there is behind Luke writing before Matthew, but this would seem to be a good reason to discount the probability of that having occurred. Second, whatever the progeny, where did “wisdom” come from? Matthew used the word three times; Mark once; Luke about a dozen times between his gospel and Acts. Paul, used it a lot. But Paul used it in a very neutral sense; it was not personified, and there are no instances where it would seemingly be capitalized, as it could be here. This usage here (and its correlate in Matthew) really stands apart from the way it’s used elsewhere. It’s arguable that it’s sui generis in the NT. This really helps cement the fact that these two evangelists certainly did share a source, whether Q or no; the most likely scenario remains that Luke used Matthew. I keep coming back to the content of Q. A real one-off like this truly makes me question how people could think of this in terms of the 30s. It’s odd, it doesn’t fit. A much more likely explanation is that Matthew picked up on this new strain, Luke used it, and referred to “wisdom” a lot more than his predecessors because Luke is the first evangelist to be aware of Paul and Paul used it a lot. Luke also may have used it so much more because it was coming into circulation with proto-Gnostic thought. This combined with Paul would have provided Luke with rather a lot of stimulus.

And for now, that’s about all I can really say about the topic. It’s puzzling, to say the least. And it indicates an influence from outside the usual streams of Jesus lore.

29 Et omnis populus audiens et publicani iustificaverunt Deum, baptizati baptismo Ioannis;

30 pharisaei autem et legis periti consilium Dei spreverunt in semetipsos, non baptizati ab eo.

31 Cui ergo similes dicam homines generationis huius, et cui similes sunt?

32 Similes sunt pueris sedentibus in foro et loquentibus ad invicem, quod dicit:

“Cantavimus vobis tibiis, et non saltastis; lamentavimus, et non plorastis!”.

33 Venit enim Ioannes Baptista neque manducans panem neque bibens vinum, et dicitis: “Daemonium habet!”;

34 venit Filius hominis manducans et bibens, et dicitis: “Ecce homo devorator et bibens vinum, amicus publicanorum et peccatorum!”.

35 Et iustificata est sapientia ab omnibus filiis suis”.


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 August 8, 2017, in Chapter 7, gospel commentary, gospels, Luke's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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