Luke Chapter 12:13-23

To start, much of the rest of the chapter does not provide any truly clean breaks into manageable sections. This is itself interesting; does Luke present a more unified, unitary account of some of these teachings? One that doesn’t seem just to be a bunch of separate sayings strung together like beads of different stones?

We last saw Jesus telling the disciples not to worry about what to say when arrested and hauled before the magistrates. What was not said about this is that the episode is probably anachronistic. This more likely relates to a period after Jesus’ death, when the nascent movement was under some “pressure” from authorities. So this was one of those post-eventum “prophecies”. We discussed this at some length when this story occurred in both Mark and Matthew, so it didn’t seem worth repeating. However, it should be borne in mind. One thing that just occurred to me is that it may have been James who gave an admonition in this vein. He may not have, but it would have been appropriate during the time when he was the leader of the movement in Jerusalem. Even the concept of the sacred breath as expounded demonstrates a level of development that goes beyond the simple understanding and use of the term. However, all of this is looking backwards; rather, let us look forward to the rest of the


13 Εἶπεν δέ τις ἐκ τοῦ ὄχλου αὐτῷ, Διδάσκαλε, εἰπὲ τῷ ἀδελφῷ μου μερίσασθαι μετ’ ἐμοῦ τὴν κληρονομίαν.

14 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἄνθρωπε, τίς με κατέστησεν κριτὴν ἢ μεριστὴν ἐφ’ ὑμᾶς;

15 εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς αὐτούς, Ὁρᾶτε καὶ φυλάσσεσθε ἀπὸ πάσης πλεονεξίας, ὅτι οὐκ ἐν τῷ περισσεύειν τινὶ ἡ ζωὴ αὐτοῦ ἐστιν ἐκ τῶν ὑπαρχόντων αὐτῷ.

Someone from the crowd said to him (Jesus), “Teacher, tell my brother to apportion with me our inheritance”. (14) He (Jesus) said to him (the speaker) “Dude, who designated me judge of which is the portion upon you (plural)? (15) Then he said to them, “See and guard from all covetousness (lit = something like ‘filling up’) that in the overabundance is the life of him is not from those (things) ruling over him. ( less literally = that the overabundance [of possessions] is not the ruling [principle] in his life )

I was dead certain that this exchange was in both of the other two gospels; as it turns out, it’s in neither. This is unique to Luke. As such, I’m simply going to note the admonition against greed, and move on to the next sections, in which Jesus develops the theme.

I do just want to comment on the set-up question. Is this an indication of how Jesus–or more likely James–had come to be seen by contemporaries? As a person who brings justice by insisting that inheritances be shared equally among heirs? As a cultural Christian who went to a Catholic elementary school, I have to say that this is not the sort of role I would think of when considering my stereotypical Jesus. I don’t have any sort of answer, or even any sort of resolution to this question. But I think it’s important that it be asked.

13 Ait autem quidam ei de turba: “ Magister, dic fratri meo, ut dividat mecum hereditatem ”.

14 At ille dixit ei: “ Homo, quis me constituit iudicem aut divisorem super vos? ”.

15 Dixitque ad illos: “ Videte et cavete ab omni avaritia, quia si cui res abundant, vita eius non est ex his, quae possidet ”.

16 Εἶπεν δὲ παραβολὴν πρὸς αὐτοὺς λέγων, Ἀνθρώπου τινὸς πλουσίου εὐφόρησεν ἡ χώρα.

17 καὶ διελογίζετο ἐν ἑαυτῷ λέγων, Τί ποιήσω, ὅτι οὐκ ἔχω ποῦ συνάξω τοὺς καρπούς μου;

18 καὶ εἶπεν, Τοῦτο ποιήσω: καθελῶ μου τὰς ἀποθήκας καὶ μείζονας οἰκοδομήσω, καὶ συνάξω ἐκεῖ πάντα τὸν σῖτον καὶ τὰ ἀγαθά μου,

19 καὶ ἐρῶτῇ ψυχῇ μου, Ψυχή, ἔχεις πολλὰ ἀγαθὰ κείμενα εἰς ἔτη πολλά: ἀναπαύου, φάγε, πίε, εὐφραίνου.

20 εἶπεν δὲ αὐτῷ ὁ θεός, Ἄφρων, ταύτῃ τῇ νυκτὶ τὴν ψυχήν σου ἀπαιτοῦσιν ἀπὸ σοῦ: ἃ δὲ ἡτοίμασας, τίνι ἔσται;

21 οὕτως ὁ θησαυρίζων ἑαυτῷ καὶ μὴ εἰς θεὸν πλουτῶν.

22 Εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς τοὺς μαθητάς [αὐτοῦ], Διὰ τοῦτο λέγω ὑμῖν, μὴ μεριμνᾶτε τῇ ψυχῇ τί φάγητε, μηδὲ τῷ σώματι τί ἐνδύσησθε.

23 ἡ γὰρ ψυχὴ πλεῖόν ἐστιν τῆς τροφῆς καὶ τὸ σῶμα τοῦ ἐνδύματος.

He spoke a parable towards them. “There was a certain wealthy man, the country of whom brought forth riches. (17) And he said within himself saying, ‘What shall I do, that I do not have where to gather my grain?’ (18) And he said, ‘I will do this. I will take down my storehouses and I will build bigger (ones), and I will gather there all the grain and (all) my good things. (19) And I will say to my inner self, “Inner self, you have many good things and laid out are many years (less lit = I have many years to live). Rest, eat, drink, and rejoice”.’ (20) But God said to him, ‘Fool! this very night your life I will take from you. Ready yourself, and to who will it (your wealth) be?’ (21) Thus was the treasure of him and not of God was his wealth”. (22) He said to his disciples, “Through this I speak to you, do not care in life what you eat, nor for the body what you wear. (23) For life is more than what you eat, and your body (is more than) its clothing”.

First, let’s talk about the uses of the word psyche. In Verse 19, we are told he spoke to his psyche, by saying, Psyche, I have much goods…Three of my four crib translations render this as …he said to his soul, “Soul…” I don’t know about you, but that does not sound like idiomatic English to my ear. This is where we run into all those problems with psyche = soul. The NIV renders it as “…he said to himself…” That is idiomatic English. And so it is with psyche. Soul is one possible meaning, and it may be the most common possible meaning, but the correlation between the Greek psyche and English soul is not very exact. There is some overlap; in English, while soul can have the sense of “oneself”, it almost never does. It can refer to a life, or more correctly, a person, as in the sense of a “lost soul”, but I have never run across someone saying, “O, soul” in the sense of speaking to oneself. Yet, that is how this passage is frequently rendered. Maybe it made sense when the KJV was printed, but that sense is long since lost. 

With that out of the way, let’s look at the overall sense of the passage. As noted, this is unique to Luke. The theme is wealth, and the disparagement of the wealthy. When we realize that the story of Dives (Wealth) and Lazarus is also in Luke, and unique to Luke, then maybe we can sense a theme? And this is why I don’t think it can be taken as a given that “blessed are the poor” is in any sense more “primitive” than “blessed are the poor in spirit”. The first is a reflection of the current conditions; the second is excusing those conditions. My apologies, but that’s what it does, even if that isn’t the intended point of the words–but I fully believe it is/was. On reflection, I need to step down from my statement. Of course there is a way in which Luke’s is more “primitive”, because casuistry is, necessarily, a sophisticated activity. And to classify Matthew’s aphorism as “casuistry” is another very strong statement; but this is not one I feel the need to calibrate more precisely. The point is that, taking this story, that of Dives and Lazarus, and “blessed are the poor” we have at least the framework of a theme. Luke is concerned about the poor, perhaps more so than the other two we’ve read. And Luke has the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan, so perhaps he has a bit more to say about how we should live overall. Because that is the other theme of this particular section, the reason I found it hard to split it up more. Do care about eating or clothing, or laying up treasure–again with the wealth–that is of this world. So don’t care about wealth, love your neighbour–who is, at least could be,  someone you despise–don’t worry about the trappings of life. This is an overall prescription for how to live, based on a non-admiration of money. So “blessed are the poor” isn’t primitive; it’s an imperative.

In fact, far from being the “primitive” version of this pericope Luke presents us with the more developed. The ending, that life is more than food etc is unique to Luke. So is the bit about the ravens. In an act of serious disrespect, Burton Mack includes Luke’s unique material as part of Q. Of course he does. So can a proponent of Q explain why Matthew omitted this? And it should be redactionally consistent with the reasoning for leaving all the other stuff out that is unique to Luke. To Mack’s credit, he does not include the parable of The Clueless Landowner; apparently, Luke is granted some credit for originality. Plus, it seems like this emphasis on poverty has developed since the time Matthew wrote, and even more so since Mark wrote. True textual analysis would not simply focus on just the words–like the kai/de occurrences–but should focus just as much–more?–on what the words are saying. How is what Matthew says different from what Mark says, and how is Luke different from both? Then we take these differences and see if the themes presented have changed at all. The biggest example is Jesus’ divinity in Mark vs in Matthew & Luke; the latter two are similar on this theme, but John takes it several steps further. That is, the theme has developed over time, and through time. The failure–more like refusal–of the Q proponents to have these discussions represents something akin to intellectual malpractice, and it makes it difficult to treat a lot of NT scholarship as serious scholarship.

16 Dixit autem similitudinem ad illos dicens: “Hominis cuiusdam divitis uberes fructus ager attulit.

17 Et cogitabat intra se dicens: “Quid faciam, quod non habeo, quo congregem fructus meos?”.

18 Et dixit: “Hoc faciam: destruam horrea mea et maiora aedificabo et illuc congregabo omne triticum et bona mea;

19 et dicam animae meae: Anima, habes multa bona posita in annos plurimos; requiesce, comede, bibe, epulare”.

20 Dixit autem illi Deus: “Stulte! Hac nocte animam tuam repetunt a te; quae autem parasti, cuius erunt?”.

21 Sic est qui sibi thesaurizat et non fit in Deum dives”.

22 Dixitque ad discipulos suos: “Ideo dico vobis: nolite solliciti esse animae quid manducetis, neque corpori quid vestiamini.

23 Anima enim plus est quam esca, et corpus quam vestimentum.


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 23, 2018, in Chapter 12, gospel commentary, gospels, Luke's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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