Luke Chapter 9:37-45-Updated

Update: I added a comment to Verse 45 at the bottom of the page. I realized I completely neglected this.

Here we continue with yet another abridged version of a Triple Tradition story.  In between sections, I took a few minutes to go through the first bit of my Harmony. So far, my theory is holding. Luke is generally the shortest version when all three gospels have a story. It’s not always by a lot, but it is pretty consistent. And I haven’t gotten to Chapters 8 & 9 where I believe the phenomenon becomes more pronounced. Conversely, when Matthew significantly shortens Mark, Luke’s version comes somewhere in between. There are a few times when Luke has the longest version. Having glanced ahead (spoiler alert!) I saw that we will be coming onto the material unique to Luke, including (in no particular order) The Good Samaritan, The Prodigal Son, Zaccheus, etc. My sense in reading Chapter 9 has been that Luke is trying to hurry through the required bits of the Triple Tradition so that he can get to his own original material. And yes, I fully suspect Luke is the author of most of his unique material. With that, on to the


37 Ἐγένετο δὲ τῇ ἑξῆς ἡμέρᾳ κατελθόντων αὐτῶν ἀπὸ τοῦ ὄρους συνήντησεν αὐτῷ ὄχλος πολύς.

38 καὶ ἰδοὺ ἀνὴρ ἀπὸ τοῦ ὄχλου ἐβόησεν λέγων, Διδάσκαλε, δέομαί σου ἐπιβλέψαι ἐπὶ τὸν υἱόν μου, ὅτι μονογενής μοί ἐστιν,

39 καὶ ἰδοὺ πνεῦμα λαμβάνει αὐτόν, καὶ ἐξαίφνης κράζει, καὶ σπαράσσει αὐτὸν μετὰ ἀφροῦ καὶ μόγις ἀποχωρεῖ ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ συντρῖβον αὐτόν:

40 καὶ ἐδεήθην τῶν μαθητῶν σου ἵνα ἐκβάλωσιν αὐτό, καὶ οὐκ ἠδυνήθησαν.

It became on the next day they having come from the mountain a multitudinous crowd met him. (38) And behold, a man from the crowd shouted, saying, “Teacher, I need you to look upon my son, that is my only born, and behold, a spirit seized him, and he suddenly cries out, and he makes him retch with foam, and scarcely goes away from him it bruises him, (40) and I asked your disciples in order they cast it out, and they were not able”.

Let’s start with a comment on the Greek. I was always puzzled by the translation of “tore him with foam”. That doesn’t entirely make sense. So I check the Great Scott and, behold! one of the other meanings of the word rendered as “tore” is “to retch, w/o being able to vomit”. Now that makes sense. The kid goes into spasms where he convulses with dry heaves and, subsequently or consequently, he foams at the mouth. I do not know much about epilepsy or other afflictions that may cause this, so I shan’t speculate. I will, however, take credit for taking a deeper look at this. Then, taking a look at my crib translations, I noticed that, while the KJV does render this as “teareth”, more modern translations change this to “convulse”, as I did. It’s also worth pointing out that the KJV uses the same word in the versions of Mark and Matthew, saying that the demon “tears” at the boy with foam. I point this out because the KJV is most often the closest to the original Greek; it’s considered the definitive work in English, IIRC, among fundamentalists who take the words literally. I’m not sure what they may have to say about this.

Note that we are dealing with a sprit, not a demon. Mark always refers to it as such, but later in the story Luke will call it a demon, and then an unclean spirit. This is linguistic evidence that, by the time Luke wrote at least, these terms were interchangeable. I believe that they were in the earlier gospels, but I never really noted, or noticed the use of these different words in the same story. Also note that Mark alone calls the spirit “mute” (alalon). Neither Matthew nor Luke does so. But let us recall that Matthew did not say that the boy was possessed by a spirit, or demon, or anything else. Matthew says that the boy was a lunatic, which is a fairly literal translation of the Greek word he used. “To be lunaticking”, or something like that, would be even more literal. The root of Matthew’s Greek word is selene, “moon”. The root of lunatic is luna, which is “moon” but in Latin.

This discrepancy should, I believe, be considered in conjunction with noting the term used to address the father in the various gospels. Luke agrees with Mark against Matthew is in the word used; here and in Mark it’s didaskelon, teacher. In Matthew it’s kyrios, lord. All three evangelists use both words frequently, so I would be reluctant to draw any conclusions from this difference. Now, the Q people would zealously use this as an example of Lk + Mk <> Mt, and they have a point.

Taking a contrary position, OTOH, it can also be pointed out that Luke agrees with Matthew against Mark by omitting that the spirit was mute. Of course, the Q people would object to that characterization; they would say something like this is not an active agreement, but a passive omission, which could have been omitted independently. And besides, there was no spirit in Matthew, so how could it be mute? This is certainly an accurate description of the situation, but other interpretations of these circumstances are certainly possoble. Recall that Luke very pointedly stressed that Jesus did not move to Caphernaum, as Matthew explicitly states. At the time, I suggested that Luke had deliberately corrected Matthew. I also think that returning back to the idea of a spirit was another deliberate decision by Luke to correct Matthew once again. Personally, I think there is a lot of this sort of “correction” of Matthew done in Luke, which is why these two “never” agree against Mark. Except for Joseph, Bethlehem, the angels…So I’m still going to put it on the Lk+Mt <> Mk. These little things are insignificant on their own, but the accumulated weight should be considered; enough of these small instances makes for telling evidence. In this way we shall steal a page from the Q peoples’ playbook: make the assertion, and then make them prove it’s wrong. This will put them on the horns of a dilemma: argue against the assertion, thereby crediting that it has merit and must be disproven; or, say the demand to prove a negative is ridiculous. In which case, they will be agreeing with me about the existence of Q.

Finally, the man asks about his “son”. He does not use the word pais that the Centurion did; rather, it’s huios, which is the standard word used for “son of God” or “son of man”. Perhaps this is the final bit of ‘proof’ needed to show that we were indeed, talking about the Centurion’s servant. Perhaps I’m the only one who still needed to be convinced of that.

There are a couple of other things to be discussed, like the disciples’ inability to cast out the spirit. That one in particular will be saved for later.

37 Factum est autem in sequenti die, descendentibus illis de monte, occurrit illi turba multa.

38 Et ecce vir de turba exclamavit dicens: “Magister, obsecro te, respice in filium meum, quia unicus est mihi;

39 et ecce spiritus apprehendit illum, et subito clamat, et dissipat eum cum spuma et vix discedit ab eo dilanians eum;

40 et rogavi discipulos tuos, ut eicerent illum, et non potuerunt”.

41 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν, *)=ω γενεὰ ἄπιστος καὶ διεστραμμένη, ἕως πότε ἔσομαι πρὸς ὑμᾶς καὶ ἀνέξομαι ὑμῶν; προσάγαγε ὧδε τὸν υἱόν σου.

Answering, Jesus said, “O faithless and twisted generation! How long shall I be towards you and shall I bear with you? Lead your son hither.”

Ha! Guess what? I just found a place where Matthew and Luke actively agree against Mark; this is despite the fact that this never happens according to the Q people. Mark has Jesus bewailing the “faithless generation”; Matthew and Luke add the second word, here rendered as “twisted”, but is perhaps more metaphorically (and commonly) rendered as “perverse”. So, the entire superstructure of the Q argument collapses.

Maybe. To be fair, if this is indeed the only such instance, one has to be prepared to acknowledge, if not necessarily accept, the possibility that the presence of this single word, in exactly the same case, is an interpolation. See how fair I am? I point out the weaknesses in my own position; ideally, I would then provide proactive refutation of arguments based on this hole in my theory. That is, after all, how proper scholarship is done. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to create an actual argument for whether this is or is not an interpolation. It’s a single word, used in the same context and in the same case, etc. We have to ask whether this degree of exactitude argues for, or against, interpolation. The simplest explanation is, after all, that Luke simply copied Matthew. But why would Luke choose this one time and place to become a passive scribe, transcribing exactly what he found? To which a good response is, “why not here and now?” Would a later copyist of either gospel be likely to get it so perfectly? He would have to physically have to get the other text and write it in. Or, perhaps he remembered the text of the other. None of these, strictly speaking, is much of an actual argument. Rather, they are simple binary choices not terribly amenable to an argument. 

For now, we will leave it as noted that this agreement did occur, and see what happens later.

41 Respondens autem Iesus dixit: “O generatio infidelis et perversa, usquequo ero apud vos et patiar vos? Adduc huc filium tuum”.

42 ἔτι δὲ προσερχομένου αὐτοῦ ἔρρηξεν αὐτὸν τὸ δαιμόνιον καὶ συνεσπάραξεν: ἐπετίμησεν δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς τῷ πνεύματι τῷ ἀκαθάρτῳ, καὶ ἰάσατο τὸν παῖδα καὶ ἀπέδωκεν αὐτὸν τῷ πατρὶ αὐτοῦ.

43 ἐξεπλήσσοντο δὲ πάντες ἐπὶ τῇ μεγαλειότητι τοῦ θεοῦ. Πάντων δὲ θαυμαζόντων ἐπὶ πᾶσιν οἷς ἐποίει εἶπεν πρὸς τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ,

44 Θέσθε ὑμεῖς εἰς τὰ ὦτα ὑμῶν τοὺς λόγους τούτους, ὁ γὰρ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου μέλλει παραδίδοσθαι εἰς χεῖρας ἀνθρώπων.

When he (the lad) having come up, the daimonion dashed him (the lad to the ground]) and tore him. But Jesus censured the spirit the unclean, and he healed the boy and gave him to his father. (43)  They were astounded upon the magnificence of God. All marveling upon all the things he did, he said to his disciples, (44) “Put these words into your ears, for the son of man is fated to be given over to the hands of men”. (45) They did not understand these things he said, and which having been hidden from them in order that they would not perceive him, and they feared to ask him about these words.

Before getting to the main event, let’s have a bit from the warm-up act. “Put these words into your ears” is a perfectly novel, probably unique, turn of phrase. I can’t just pass over that without noting it.

The first thing to note is what is not in here. Both Matthew and Mark have Jesus say that, after being handed over, the son of man will be killed, and on the third day will rise. Why? Why not include this? First of all, we have to acknowledge that this was a conscious decision on Luke’s part. He chose not to include it for whatever reason. This seems obvious, of course, but maybe only after it’s been pointed out. This is an aspect of gospel writing that too often is overlooked, or given insufficient  thought. It may seem strange to say this, given the Q proponents’ insistence on providing a “redactionally consistent” explanation of Luke that explains every single instance where he varies from Matthew. However, I would suggest that this is not a legitimate thing to demand from the Q-naysayers; that it is not a legitimate argument, or even a legitimate aspect of an argument. Luke varies from Matthew because he is Luke, and not Matthew. Matthew is largely consistent with Mark in the placement of the so-called pericopes; Luke differs from both in placement, and largely because Matthew follows Mark’s placement so consistently. This is, once again, another of those instances where Luke felt it unnecessary to add the bit about rising because it was adequately treated in his two predecessors. Luke, once again, truncates a story of Mark because Matthew did not. 

As an aside, the Harmony I consulted separates this last part from the story of the boy with the spirit. This is sensible; the two are not related. 

There is one final trope to be discussed in this piece. We have noted that the father of the boy asked why Jesus’ disciples were not able to expel (ekballei) the spirit. This is common to all three gospels, and they all report Jesus remonstrating about the faithless (and perverse) generation. This has always seemed a bit…odd. This cry of disgust makes sense in the context of the Pharisees (or others) asking for a sign, as occurs in Mark 10. Here, perhaps, not so much. Railing about a lack of faith, OTOH, does make sense. The implication is that faith is required to make wonders happen, and that certainly makes sense. In fact, Matthew explicitly says that the reason the disciples could not cast out the demon was their “little faith”, and supplements this by adding that having faith the size of a mustard seed can give you the power to move a mountain. 

There is a caveat to this, however. 

In Mark, after this event, the disciples privately (kat’ idian) ask Jesus why they were not able to drive out the demon. Matthew repeats this, using exactly the same phrase, (kat’ idian). However, the two evangelists give very different answers. Mark said it’s because this kind (to genos) can only be expelled by prayer. I pointed this out at the time as an example of Mark’s interest in, and description of, the “magical practices” Jesus employed to effect some of his miracles. In Mark this interest has the feel of a how-to guide to exorcism or other wonders. It’s what gets called a “coaching opportunity” in the business world, a chance for Jesus to give the disciples on-the-job training. Another notable example of magical practices was Jesus spitting into some dirt to make mud that he then applied to the eyes of a blind man. Matthew, OTOH, eliminates this part of the story. Instead, he blames the failure on the disciples’ lack of faith. This is not surprising that Matthew provided a different answer, since he eliminated all descriptions of magical practice from his gospel. As an aside, it is interesting to note that some mss traditions have added the “this kind can only be driven out by prayer” into the text of Matthew. The consensus is that this is indeed a later interpolation, intended to bring Matthew more closely into line with Mark. This is an excellent example of how stories grow and the tradition becomes enlarged, and is a great cautionary tale not to be too skeptical of suggestions of interpolation.

Luke, as we see, dropped the whole (kat’ idian) section. He does not have the disciples asking Jesus anything in private, about the demon or anything else. Of course, the question should be, ‘why not?’ What is Luke’s “redactionally consistent” explanation for eliminating the whole sequence? Well, if you’ve been keeping score at home, my consistent explanation has been that Luke has consistently eliminated sequences like this because they have been adequately covered by both Mark and Mathew. The instances of this redactional policy of Luke are starting to a accumulate, like snowflakes. A few snowflakes aren’t worth bothering about; when they start to accumulate, however, they become significant.

42 Et cum accederet, elisit illum daemonium et dissipavit. Et increpavit Iesus spiritum immundum et sanavit puerum et reddidit illum patri eius.

43 Stupebant autem omnes in magnitudine Dei. Omnibusque mirantibus in omnibus, quae faciebat, dixit ad discipulos suos:

44 “Ponite vos in auribus vestris sermones istos: Filius enim hominis futurum est ut tradatur in manus hominum”.

45 οἱ δὲ ἠγνόουντὸ ῥῆμα τοῦτο, καὶ ἦν παρακεκαλυμμένον ἀπ’ αὐτῶν ἵνα μὴ αἴσθωνται αὐτό, καὶ ἐφοβοῦντο ἐρωτῆσαι αὐτὸν περὶ τοῦ ῥήματος τούτου.

(45) They did not understand these things he said, and which having been hidden from them in order that they would not perceive him, and they feared to ask him about these words.

45 At illi ignorabant verbum istud, et erat velatum ante eos, ut non sentirent illud, et time bant interrogare eum de hoc verbo.

I have to say something about this last verse. It’s one that is in Mark and Luke, but not in Matthew. But before getting to the implications of that, let’s take a moment to appreciate what this verse says. The disciples did not understand what Jesus was talking about. That is fair enough. Jesus is making a prediction, so why would the disciples understand? I mean, on the one hand, it does seem pretty plain…but perhaps only if we assume that the disciples understood Jesus to be the son of man that Jesus is discussing. We get it, of course. When discussing Mark, one theme that kept recurring was the messianic secret; the term is not mine, but is part of the larger discourse, and it’s encountered often in the literature. My particular take on this is that Mark was trying to explain to later audiences why Jesus was not regarded as the messiah by his earliest followers. Or perhaps “make excuses” is a more appropriate description. Because the fact is, he wasn’t. Hence the bifurcation of Mark’s text into the earlier wonder-worker section, and the section on the anointed coming later. I mean, if Jesus’ own disciples didn’t fully understand who or what Jesus was, how could anyone outside the group be expected to get it? Then, as a corollary to this comes the bit about being afraid to ask. After all, if they didn’t understand, they could have asked, no? So why didn’t they? Because they were afraid. Why were they afraid? Well, that question is not even asked, let alone answered.

But let’s kept this lack of understanding in mind.

Now let’s talk about the Mark & Luke but not Matthew. On the whole, the disciples fare much better in Matthew than they did in Mark. Matthew presents them in a much, much more positive light. So it’s hardly surprising that Matthew omitted the contents of this verse. It fits with his portrayal of the disciples; IOW, it’s redactionally consistent*. So here we have yet another example of Luke putting back something that Matthew excised. 


*Honestly, some of the attributes that modern scholars demand of the evangelists are borderline ridiculous. These guys were not writing a thesis that was going to be graded and that they would have to defend before a panel of (possibly hostile–but, then again, maybe not) professors. They are writing about Divine Truth; the details didn’t always matter. Truth has a higher sense of vision than something that’s only striving for factual accuracy, or to be a reasonably coherent interpretation. Because one thing that’s often overlooked is that many of these same modern scholars are far from being “redactionally consistent” in their presentations.

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 30, 2017, in Chapter 9, gospel commentary, gospels, Luke's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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