Luke Chapter 10:17-24

In this short section we have the return of the Seventy(-two) and then a brief private discussion between Jesus and his gang of followers. With luck we’ll be able to get through this relatively quickly, but who knows what the text will actually turn up? There is a strong argument that I should read this stuff ahead of time; however, I prefer the spontaneity, but I especially like the immediate reaction free from preconceived notions of what to expect. If the text is surprising, let’s be surprised and deal with it on those terms.


17 Ὑπέστρεψαν δὲ οἱ ἑβδομήκοντα [δύο] μετὰ χαρᾶς λέγοντες, Κύριε, καὶ τὰ δαιμόνια ὑποτάσσεται ἡμῖν ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί σου.

18 εἶπεν δὲ αὐτοῖς, Ἐθεώρουν τὸν Σατανᾶνὡς ἀστραπὴν ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ πεσόντα.

The Seventy(-two) returned with joy, saying, “Lord, and the demons were arranged under us in your name”. (18) He said to them, “Behold Satan as lightening from the sky falling “. 

This is really interesting. Contrary to popular belief, most elements of the Satan myth are extra-biblical. Those aspects that are in the canonical Scripture are largely found in Apocalypse. One key fact to remember is that the name Lucifer is found nowhere in the Bible. Bear in mind that the etymology of “Lucifer” is Latin; satannos is Hebrew and diabolos is Greek. The Latin base for Lucifer is a priori evidence of its late entry into the myth. However, this throwaway line had a completely outsized role in the development of the myth, Everyone knows the story of Satan/Lucifer’s rebellion against God and his subsequently being overthrown and cast into the deepest part of Hell. This line helped create that story. What happened with the NT is that, once it was written and accepted, subsequent generations kept re-reading the words. When they came across something like this–and this line in particular–they had to explain what it meant and make it work with other parts of the NT–and the OT–so that the whole thing fit together to tell a single, complete, story. Of course it didn’t all fit; there are discrepancies, inconsistencies, and downright contradictions all over the place. Which version of Paul’s conversion is correct? But it was lines like this that spurred the growth of the stories about Satan/Lucifer. Why did he fall? That question had to be answered. Thus was born the great body of inferential knowledge that led to things like Mary Magdalene being a prostitute, Purgatory, and the entire myth of Fallen Lucifer. In this development, as with the stories of people like St Phillip, we see a really clear parallel to the way the Arthur legend grew, accumulating characters and deeds as it progressed forward through time.

17 Reversi sunt autem septuaginta duo cum gaudio dicentes: “ Domine, etiam daemonia subiciuntur nobis in nomine tuo! ”.

18 Et ait illis: “ Videbam Satanam sicut fulgur de caelo cadentem.

19 ἰδοὺ δέδωκα ὑμῖν τὴν ἐξουσίαν τοῦ πατεῖν ἐπάνω ὄφεων καὶ σκορπίων, καὶ ἐπὶ πᾶσαν τὴν δύναμιν τοῦ ἐχθροῦ, καὶ οὐδὲν ὑμᾶς οὐ μὴ ἀδικήσῃ. 

20 πλὴν ἐν τούτῳ μὴ χαίρετε ὅτι τὰ πνεύματα ὑμῖν ὑποτάσσεται, χαίρετε δὲ ὅτι τὰ ὀνόματα ὑμῶν ἐγγέγραπταιἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς.

“Look, I gave to you the power to trample upon serpents and skorpions, and upon all the power of the enemy, and nothing disrespected you. (20) Except in this do not be glad that you placed the spirits under you, but be glad that the name of you (plural) has been written in the heavens.   

These two verses are unique to Luke, although the bit about snakes is implied in Mark. This is all very interesting in its content, but the what catches me short is the bit about “no one disrespected you”. The Greek is <<adikese>>, which is formed from the root <<dikē>> with the prefix of negation <<a>>. Now, this is all very fine and good, but the root of the word in Greek has an entirely different connotation than the English translation. Even the Latin comes from an entirely different direction. The root forms <<δικαιοσύνη>>, which is one of Paul’s favourite words; it is usually translated as “justify”. The problem is that all the Latin words are built from the root of ius, which is “law”. <<dikē>> does not have this connotation whatsoever. The Greek word for “law” is nomos, which is the ending of words like astro-nomy. The Latin is noceo, which implies physical harm, which is how the word is usually rendered in English. But the Greek word, in Classical usage, generally lacks the idea of physical harm. Of course, “NT Greek” (whatever that is) recognizes that doing physical harm is a legitimate meaning of the word; but let’s recall that NT Greek was created by people who had been steeped in the Latin tradition for a millennium, and that this is an instance where that very deep tradition demonstrates its continued influence.

OK, so how should the word be translated here? I have chosen “disrespected”, and a good case could be made that my rendering is no better than the standard one. I chose this because it reflects an attitude rather than physical confrontation, like torches and pitchforks, or cudgels and stones, and I chose this because the reflection of an attitude is, IMO, closer to the original word. Granted, the idea that “nothing” disrespected them may feel a bit awkward, I think that is more a reflection of English rather than Greek. And it could be argued that “disrespect” just doesn’t make as much sense in the context, and that the word had come to include physical harm, and I would have to respect those positions, because they are certainly valid. But, again, one of the intentions of this blog is to provide a tool for anyone wishing to learn (or brush up on) Greek. So I’m hewing more closely to the original than might be poetic or euphonious, or even common-sensical. Oh well.

One last word. The final verse, which tells them to rejoice because their names are written in the heavens is interesting. In Judaism, on Rosh Hashanah, the idea is that God writes your name in the Book of Life, and you will live to see the next new year. One can find the influence of that attitude here. But I would suggest that it also carries the residue of pagan astrology. This suggestion is especially potent if we choose to translate it as “in the heavens” rather than as “in Heaven”, or even “heaven” as it usually is rendered. Luke’s word is plural just as it was in Matthew. In the pagan sense, the idea of a name being written in the heavens is astrological. So which is it? The idea of names written in the heavens is unique to Luke; does this represent the developing Christian doctrine of salvation? Or a hangover from paganism? I just did some looking through the Great Scott and noticed something peculiar: among pagan Greek authors in the cites provided, the word is always singular. However, in the LXX, we get ouranoi, the heavens, as we get here. That would explain why Matthew uses the plural form, and probably accounts for the usage here. So, based on this bit of research, I would say it’s Christian. 

19 Ecce dedi vobis potestatem calcandi supra serpentes et scorpiones et supra omnem virtutem inimici; et nihil vobis nocebit.

20 Verumtamen in hoc nolite gaudere, quia spiritus vobis subiciuntur; gaudete autem quod nomina vestra scripta sunt in caelis ”.

21Ἐν αὐτῇ τῇ ὥρᾳ ἠγαλλιάσατο [ἐν] τῷ πνεύματι τῷ ἁγίῳ καὶ εἶπεν, Ἐξομολογοῦμαί σοι, πάτερ, κύριε τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καὶ τῆς γῆς, ὅτι ἀπέκρυψας ταῦτα ἀπὸ σοφῶν καὶ συνετῶν, καὶ ἀπεκάλυψας αὐτὰ νηπίοις: ναί, ὁ πατήρ, ὅτι οὕτως εὐδοκία ἐγένετο ἔμπροσθέν σου.

“In that hour he rejoiced [in] the sacred breath and said, ‘I confess to you, father, lord of the sky and the earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and sagacious and revealed (apokalypsas) them to your childish ones. Yes, oh father, that in this way it became good will before you’.

Who is doing the rejoicing? That is not entirely clear. It is what the Latin says, and how all four of my crib translations render this. Hmmm…did some closer checking. All the translations I checked close the quote of Jesus talking at the end of the previous verse (20), and this verse marks a shift. Strictly speaking, it’s not part of the discourse above, but it’s apparently Jesus rejoicing that the names of the 70(2) have been written in the heavens. I guess that makes sense enough. But it’s a great example of how reading the straight Greek, w/o the intervention of centuries of editors, can give one a different perspective on all of this. So this is an example of what happens when one ventures into this terra incognito without a guide. Am I missing things? Of course. But I think I’m also seeing things that the standard guides do not, since they largely stopped looking long ago.

Looking at it again, what this really feels like is a one-off, something stuck in here because Luke didn’t know where else to put it. Update: Having taken a glance back at Matthew, this pericope comes directly after the “Woes” speech. As such, the context is a bit more clear. This is actually one of those times where Luke messed a bit with the order, and Luke’s placement did not work nearly as well as Matthew’s did. Score one (very minor) point to the Q people.

“Childish ones” is sort of an irreverence on my part. The word is nepios, ultimately the root of “nepotism”. Interestingly, in Latin, nepos means “nephew”. In Greek it does mean “child”, particularly a child between birth and puberty. The Latin renders this as parvuli, “little ones”, the way the French might say mes petites, as Miss Clavell called Madeline and the other eleven girls in the children’s book. In Greek, the word also has the connotation of “childish”. Hence, this is the word Paul uses in 1 Corinthians when he says, “…when I was a child, I spoke as a child…” This is important to bring out here, I think, because it is so obviously contrasted with ‘the wise and sagacious ones’ in the sentence. So just rendering as “children” that contrast becomes, as they say, lost in translation. 

21 In ipsa hora exsultavit Spiritu Sancto et dixit: “ Confiteor tibi, Pater, Domine caeli et terrae, quod abscondisti haec a sapientibus et prudentibus et revelasti ea parvulis; etiam, Pater, quia sic placuit ante te.

22 Πάντα μοι παρεδόθη ὑπὸ τοῦ πατρός μου, καὶ οὐδεὶς γινώσκει τίς ἐστιν ὁ υἱὸς εἰ μὴ ὁ πατήρ, καὶ τίς ἐστιν ὁ πατὴρ εἰ μὴ ὁ υἱὸς καὶ ᾧ ἐὰν βούληται ὁ υἱὸς ἀποκαλύψαι.

23 Καὶ στραφεὶς πρὸς τοὺς μαθητὰς κατ’ ἰδίαν εἶπεν, Μακάριοι οἱ ὀφθαλμοὶ οἱ βλέποντες ἃ βλέπετε.

24 λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν ὅτι πολλοὶ προφῆται καὶ βασιλεῖς ἠθέλησαν ἰδεῖν ἃ ὑμεῖς βλέπετε καὶ οὐκ εἶδαν, καὶ ἀκοῦσαι ἃ ἀκούετε καὶ οὐκ ἤκουσαν.

“All was given to me by the father, and no one knows who is the son if not the father, nor (knows) who is the father if not the son, and to whom the son wishes to reveal”. (23) And turning towards his disciples, in private he said, “Blessed are the eyes (and) those seeing what you see. For I say to you that many prophets and kings wished to see what you see and did not see it, and to hear what you hear and did not hear it”. 

Both of these sentiments are expressed in Matthew, making them supposedly Q material. However, IMO, the sentiments herein expressed are decidedly post-Jesus. These go beyond anything Paul ever said about Jesus. He never claimed that Jesus had this kind of a relationship with God, and he certainly didn’t claim this about the living Jesus. The latter, in Paul’s view, only became the anointed at the Resurrection. So these kinds of statements really don’t fit with a living Jesus. Which is why suspect so much of Q to date not much earlier than Matthew, assuming that Matthew is not their author. And I believe Matthew is their author in some degree. In some large degree. So the idea that these sayings were preserved in a written source that bypassed Mark and was passed down faithfully for fifty years, IMO, strains credulity. But, I’ve said that before; however, just to be clear, I suspect that I’ll say it again. And probably a few more times after that. 

22 Omnia mihi tradita sunt a Patre meo; et nemo scit qui sit Filius, nisi Pater, et qui sit Pater, nisi Filius et cui voluerit Filius revelare”.

23 Et conversus ad discipulos seorsum dixit: “Beati oculi, qui vident, quae videtis.

24 Dico enim vobis: Multi prophetae et reges voluerunt videre, quae vos videtis, et non viderunt, et audire, quae auditis, et non audierunt ”.

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 March 3, 2018, in Chapter 10, gospel commentary, gospels, Luke's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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