Luke Chapter 9:18-27

This next section is the lead-up to the Transfiguration and includes the confession of Peter. This is where Mark fully made the transition from wonder-worker to Christ. As such, the passage, especially Peter’s confession, has a staged feel to it. The section has the sensibility of being created because it was necessary. So even though this was in Mark, that does not imbue this with any halo of authenticity. The question of who made this up is completely open; did it start with Mark, who needed it for the transition to the Christ narrative? Or did it come about earlier, and Mark recorded what he found. Of the three evangelists that we’ve read, I give Mark the least credit for creativity. His narrative feels too much like reporting; in fact, I’ve often categorized Mark as the journalist of the evangelists. Likewise Matthew was the rabbi (albeit of pagan origin), Luke is a novelist, and John is a theologian. Each tells more or less the same story, but from a very different perspective, uisng a very different toolkit.


18 Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ εἶναι αὐτὸν προσευχόμενον κατὰ μόνας συνῆσαν αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταί, καὶ ἐπηρώτησεν αὐτοὺς λέγων, Τίνα με λέγουσιν οἱ ὄχλοι εἶναι;

19 οἱ δὲ ἀποκριθέντες εἶπαν, Ἰωάννην τὸν βαπτιστήν, ἄλλοι δὲ Ἠλίαν, ἄλλοι δὲ ὅτι προφήτης τις τῶν ἀρχαίων ἀνέστη.

And it happened therein he praying by himself the disciples came to him and he asked them saying, “Who does the crowd say me to be?” (19) Answering, they said, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, others that (you are) some prophet of old who rose (from the dead).”

Note that this is pretty close to a verbatim repetition of what Herod said about Jesus. Given all of Luke’s creativity, he surely could have come up with another set of speculative answers, couldn’t he? The answer, probably, is “probably”; ergo, that he didn’t is likely to be significant. At least to some degree. Really, it is, IMO, a case of doubling down for emphasis. These were the prevalent speculations about Jesus–at least, after the fact–so let’s repeat them twice to ensure that no one misses the point here. And since we’ve only just discussed the implications of each of these, ther is no reason to belabor the point any further.

The unique twist, albeit a minor one, that Luke gives is that he asks what “the crowd” says of him. It bears to remember that “the crowd” was not exactly a term of endearment back then, with all sorts of negative connotations. The aspiration was to be one of the best (aristoi, optimates), and “common” is still rather a term of disparagement in England. 

18 Et factum est, cum solus esset orans, erant cum illo discipuli, et interrogavit illos dicens: “Quem me dicunt esse turbae?”.

19 At illi responderunt et dixerunt: “ Ioannem Baptistam, alii autem Eliam, alii vero: Propheta unus de prioribus surrexit”.

20 εἶπεν δὲ αὐτοῖς, Ὑμεῖς δὲ τίνα με λέγετε εἶναι; Πέτρος δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν, Τὸν Χριστὸν τοῦ θεοῦ.

21 Ὁ δὲ ἐπιτιμήσας αὐτοῖς παρήγγειλεν μηδενὶ λέγειν τοῦτο,

22 εἰπὼν ὅτι Δεῖ τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου πολλὰ παθεῖν καὶ ἀποδοκιμασθῆναι ἀπὸ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων καὶ ἀρχιερέων καὶ γραμματέων καὶ ἀποκτανθῆναι καὶ τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ ἐγερθῆναι.

He said to them, “Who do you say me to be?” Peter answering said, “The anointed one of God”. (21) He rebuking commanded them no one to tell this, (22) saying that “The Son of Man must suffer much and to be handed over to the elders and the high priests and scribes and to be killed and on the third day be raised”.

A word about the Greek. << τίνα >> means “who”. << τινα >> means “anyone”. Can you tell the difference? It escaped me, too, but then I cheated and looked at the Latin. The difference is that the former has an accent over the iota. I missed that at first.

There is a serious case of compression here. Luke has squeezed out every possible bit of extraneous information to get right down to the hard, crystalline crux of the matter here. That is, this is another example of the abridgement of a story told by the other two evangelists. Is this a coincidence? If we but take a moment to look at the context, something really jumps out. In the other gospels, this passage comes directly before the Transfiguration, and so it does here, too. But–and this is a big “but”–the other two gospels have several stories in between: walking on water, feeding the 4,000, eating with unclean hands, et alia.  All of them are in both gospels. IOW, Luke felt it unnecessary to include them because they had been adequately covered in both the other gospels. This, of course, implies–indeed requires–that Luke knew Matthew’s gospel. So we’ve collected a number of examples by this point. How many others are like this? And what does Luke do when Matthew doesn’t give a full account of Mark? A run through the Harmony is called for to examine this issue a bit more closely. I have a theory of what we’ll find, but it needs testing.

20 Dixit autem illis: “Vos autem quem me esse dicitis?”. Respondens Petrus dixit: “ Christum Dei”.

21 At ille increpans illos praecepit, ne cui dicerent hoc,

22 dicens: “Oportet Filium hominis multa pati et reprobari a senioribus et principibus sacerdotum et scribis et occidi et tertia die resurgere”.

23 Ἔλεγεν δὲ πρὸς πάντας, Εἴ τις θέλει ὀπίσω μου ἔρχεσθαι, ἀρνησάσθω ἑαυτὸν καὶ ἀράτω τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ καθ’ ἡμέραν, καὶ ἀκολουθείτω μοι.

He spoke to all of them, “If someone wishes hereafter to follow me, let him deny himself and take up his cross each day, and follow me”.

Is it just me, or is this a rather sharp discontinuity from the previous verse? It may have something to do with the numerous pericopes that are in the other gospels that are omitted in between here. Or, I suppose the real break comes before Verse 18 that opens this section. Here’s the real issue: this is what I find so annoying about the Q people and their non-existent argument for the existence of Q. It’s the whole issue of these discontinuities. For all the world, what they feel like is a collection of disparate, unrelated sayings; that is, they sound like a collection of sayings that have nothing to do with one another. This is what a real argument for Q looks and sounds like. Lord knows that I find it reasonable to suppose the existence of such a collection based on the textual evidence. It has not so much to do with the arrangement of the material–which is a subjective measure at best–but the fact that we are dealing with pericopes in the first place. Mark famously makes almost no attempt to smooth the transitions between pericopes; in a very large number of verses, especially those beginning a new story, the first word is simply “and”. The same is so with a number of these sayings, or these stories that have Jesus making a statement. So why do the Q people insist on the “argument” from arrangement? I have no idea.

We’ve discussed this before, so I’ll point it out and move along. The injunction to “take up one’s cross” is, of course, a later invention, added after Jesus had been crucified. It simply makes no sense before then, and it’s a reference to the tribulations that came with the destruction of Jerusalem.

23 Dicebat autem ad omnes: “ Si quis vult post me venire, abneget semetipsum et tollat crucem suam cotidie et sequatur me.

24 ὃς γὰρ ἂν θέλῃ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ σῶσαι, ἀπολέσει αὐτήν: ὃς δ’ ἂν ἀπολέσῃ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ, οὗτος σώσει αὐτήν.

25 τί γὰρ ὠφελεῖται ἄνθρωπος κερδήσας τὸν κόσμον ὅλον ἑαυτὸν δὲ ἀπολέσας ἢ ζημιωθείς;

“For he who would save his life must lose it. But he who might lose his life because of me, that one will save it. (25) For what should it profit a man should he gain the whole world but himself he should destroy or cause to lose (himself).

Oh, now this is interesting for a couple of reasons. To begin, this is is another example of compression; this compresses sentiments that are expressed in two separate places in Mark & Matthew. So, once again, Luke “just happens” to edit down pericopes* or sayings* that get full treatment in the two previous gospels. How many examples of that do we now have? 

Then, there is no way to render psyche as “soul”. …”He who would save his own soul will lose it“…doesn’t really work. The tendency to us “soul” for psyche reflects, IMO, the later Christian interpretation with which we are all familiar; so saving your soul should be the goal, and losing it by trying to save it doesn’t really make sense. And, to be fair, in the save/lose part of the saying, it is pretty much always translated as “life”. We have also seen how the combination of pysche and “to save” occur together in a context which makes it pretty clear that what is being saved is the physical life of the person in question, and not her immortal soul. Here, this could not be more clear.

The most interesting feature of this compression, however, comes in the last half. In its two previous incarnations, it is often rendered as “what shall it profit…to gain the world and lose one’s psyche“, which is almost always rendered as “soul”. At least in the discussion of Mark, I argued that the translation more attuned to the sense of the Greek word would be “life”. Here, Luke is forced to deal with this in a novel way, and for novel reasons. Because he has just used psyche twice, to avoid redundancy he uses an entirely different word in the back end. Here, he says, but should lose himself, using this word in all its glorious ambiguity. We can ask if this is more apt to shade towards soul or towards life? Or towards something that is neither? My sense is that it shades more towards “soul”. This is, IMO, why Luke chose to write it the way he did, to remove that ambiguity.

I’ll be honest: gaining the world and losing one’s soul has more literary impact that gaining the world and losing one’s life. Despite this, we have to ask if we are not seeing this expression as the result of two millennia of dualist tradition, in which the body and the soul are believed to be separate entities. We think it makes more sense as soul because that is how we think. The question becomes whether Mark saw things that way. Luke could very likely share something closer to our perspective. Everyone has always pretty much agreed that Luke was a pagan rather than a Jew, and I have seen no reason to doubt that, even if I haven’t seen all that much evidence that he was a pagan. He’s rather more of a continuation of Matthew in that way; the break between Jew and pagan comes, I believe, between Mark and Matthew. That was my position pretty much throughout Matthew’s gospel. 

So if Mark meant life and Luke meant soul, what did Matthew mean? If he were a pagan, why did he not clarify the ambiguity? One could answer that Matthew did not see the ambiguity; for him, Mark’s psyche meant more or less what it did to Luke, so Matthew saw no need to make the change. Luke, being a bit more educated–and let’s not kid ourselves, Luke is the most educated of the three–did understand the potential ambiguity and so made the change. These gospels were written in Greek, but in what language were they preached? Did the people who read the Greek address speakers of Aramaic in Greek? This is rather a profound question, and not one that is amenable to a quick and simple answer. My immediate reaction is that those preaching would have done so in the language of the audience. This only makes sense. Given this, it is not unreasonable to suggest that Luke made the change because this passage had caused problems due to the potential ambiguity. I don’t know that, but it’s a fairly apparent explanation. Whether it’s the correct explanation is rather a different issue.

24 Qui enim voluerit animam suam salvam facere, perdet illam; qui autem perdiderit animam suam propter me, hic salvam faciet illam.

25 Quid enim proficit homo, si lucretur universum mundum, se autem ipsum perdat vel detrimentum sui faciat?

26 ὃς γὰρ ἂν ἐπαισχυνθῇ με καὶ τοὺς ἐμοὺς λόγους, τοῦτον ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐπαισχυνθήσεται, ὅταν ἔλθῃ ἐν τῇ δόξῃ αὐτοῦ καὶ τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τῶν ἁγίων ἀγγέλων.

27 λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν ἀληθῶς, εἰσίν τινες τῶν αὐτοῦ ἑστηκότων οἳ οὐ μὴ γεύσωνται θανάτου ἕως ἂν ἴδωσιν τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ.

“For he who is ashamed of me and my words, this one the son of man will be ashamed of, when he should come into his judgement and of the father and the holy angels. (27)  I say to you truly, there are some of those standing he who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.

At first glance, the transition from Verse 25 to Verse 26 seemed to be a non-sequitur. A bit more reflection, and a bit less rigidity of thinking made me think otherwise. Now that I’ve relaxed my perspective, I almost wonder if I made the break in translation at the proper place. This does seem to go with the bit about losing oneself. After all, losing oneself seems like a fairly predictable consequence of facing the judgement of the father, a judgement in which the son of man disowns the person standing in the dock. But does one lose one’s soul? Or one’s life? Or both, since one’s eternal soul is lost to a negative judgement? This last is not a contradiction; there are hints throughout the NT where those who attain The Life will continue, the implication being that without entering The Life, one is no more. This, I suspect, is sort of the direction Jewish thought

Being ashamed of “the son of man”–whoever that might be–and facing judgement have only a peripheral connexion to losing oneself. The loss presumably could come from the adverse judgement. This would tie in with the idea of being condemned to death–if only in the negative sense of not being able to enter into The Life. So this does work. It must be said, however, that, in the final analysis, this very much preserves the sense of Mark’s original intent. The idea of the eternal soul is still binary: enter The Life and persevere, or don’t enter The Life and cease existence. Later Christian dogma will change the latter choice to suffering eternal damnation. That is, the choice is still binary, but the second, less pleasant, option changes, and arguably becomes much less pleasant. 

The final verse, in contrast, really does not fit here at all. This is due to its having been ripped pretty much completely out of context. In the other two gospels, this comes during the predictions of apocalypse, the “prediction” of the “coming” destruction of the Temple and perhaps the “coming persecutions” conducted by Saul. So sticking it in here simply doesn’t truly work.

26 Nam qui me erubuerit et meos sermones, hunc Filius hominis erubescet, cum venerit in gloria sua et Patris et sanctorum angelorum.

27 Dico autem vobis vere: Sunt aliqui hic stantes, qui non gustabunt mortem, donec videant regnum Dei”.

* (from above) Really, the proper word for these is logoi. This captures the sense of wording rather than the overall story. “Saying” is the closest English equivalent, but that does not quite capture the full extent of how a logos implies the full meaning of the saying. Too frequently the latter term is used almost independently of what it means; it’s a short-hand for the expression that is then used to compare where the various evangelists place said saying, Sure, the idea of the meaning is implicit in these discussions, but it’s most often only implicit. Any discussion of the meaning is wholly secondary.

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 December 18, 2017, in Chapter 9, gospel commentary, gospels, Luke's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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