Luke Chapter 12:24-34

This is rather a jump back into the middle of the story from the last section. Jesus had just said that life is more than what we shall eat, and that the body is more than clothing. This followed after the story of the rich man who made plans for his surplus output without realising he was going to die that night. The theme is not to be concerned with things of the world, but to turn our eyes to heavenly things. So the extended metaphor continues.


24 κατανοήσατε τοὺς κόρακας ὅτι οὐ σπείρουσιν οὐδὲ θερίζουσιν, οἷς οὐκ ἔστιν ταμεῖον οὐδὲ ἀποθήκη, καὶ ὁ θεὸς τρέφει αὐτούς: πόσῳ μᾶλλον ὑμεῖς διαφέρετε τῶν πετεινῶν.

25 τίς δὲ ἐξ ὑμῶν μεριμνῶν δύναται ἐπὶ τὴν ἡλικίαν αὐτοῦ προσθεῖναι πῆχυν;

Consider the ravens, that do not sow nor harvest, to whom (dative of possession) there is neither store-house nor barn, and God feeds them. To how much more do you matter than the birds? (25) Who of you is able to increase upon your age or add a cubit? (Presumably meaning to add to one’s height. A cubit is 18 inches; growing by a foot and a half would be a prodigious accomplishment.)

I would have been willing to wager actual hard currency that the sentiments expressed here and in the following set of verses appear elsewhere in the gospels. Well, I would have lost that bet because this material, pretty much the entire chapter, is unique to Luke. At some point a comment was made that Luke seemed to be compressing much of the material of the Triple Tradition, in a manner to suggest that Luke was hurrying to get through as much of the material as quickly as possible to leave room for his own unique material. IIRC from flipping through the rest of the gospel, we should get a fairly high percentage of this unique material in the remainder of the gospel. I’m going to defer comment in detail until after the next section.

That is, I will defer except to point this out. The word for “adding to” one’s life, is prostheinai.  This is the root of the word “prosthesis”, which is an artificial recreation of part of the human (or other) body.

24 Considerate corvos, quia non seminant neque metunt, quibus non est cellarium neque horreum, et Deus pascit illos; quanto magis vos pluris estis volucribus.

25 Quis autem vestrum cogitando potest adicere ad aetatem suam cubitum?

26 εἰ οὖν οὐδὲ ἐλάχιστον δύνασθε, τί περὶ τῶν λοιπῶν μεριμνᾶτε;

“Therefore if you are not able to do the least thing, Why would you be concerned about the rest?

Adding a cubit to one’s height isn’t a particularly small thing, IMO. I’d be 7’8″ tall, or thereabouts, and may have made it in the NBA. That’s quite a difference in outcome based on being able to change this aspect of my physique.

26 Si ergo neque, quod minimum est, potestis, quid de ceteris solliciti estis?

27 κατανοήσατε τὰ κρίνα πῶς αὐξάνει: οὐ κοπιᾷ οὐδὲ νήθει: λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν, οὐδὲ Σολομὼν ἐν πάσῃ τῇ δόξῃ αὐτοῦ περιεβάλετο ὡς ἓν τούτων.

28 εἰ δὲ ἐν ἀγρῷ τὸν χόρτον ὄντα σήμερον καὶ αὔριον εἰς κλίβανον βαλλόμενον ὁ θεὸς οὕτως ἀμφιέζει, πόσῳ μᾶλλον ὑμᾶς, ὀλιγόπιστοι.

“Consider how the lilies grow, they neither toil nor spin. I say to you, that Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as these are. (28) But if the grass in the field being today, and tomorrow God throwing it into the furnace dressed such, how much better you, being of little faith.

The last word is highlighted. It is a compound word, oligo-pistoi, literally translated “little-faith”. It’s an interesting word. It does not occur in secular or pagan Greek. Thus it is a very unusual word, of very low frequency. How low, exactly? It occurs four times in Matthew, and here. That is a total of five instances. Now, the five instances we have does not mean it did not occur in other places; after all, so much Greek writing was lost, the stuff of literary quality, but also the lesser stuff. Think of something you wrote a decade ago, then threw away when the purpose had been served. Or perhaps something you wrote as a student, say in university. When those days ended (if they have) did you throw all that stuff away? I did. And some of it I had on floppy disks–the original 5″ versions that were floppy–even if I have the disks (which I doubt), the info on them may as well have been burned a decade ago. The point is that this word may have been more common than the five extant examples we have may indicate. 

Think about that, however. How often does this word get used in a secular context? No, it’s not impossible to do that, but the times I’ve used it there has been a level of facetiousness in the use, meant to reflect back onto its scriptural provenance. IOW, I’ve used it assuming that my audience would get the allusion to the NT. The point of all this is that it is not a word that Luke would likely have encountered very often. It’s not a common word. It occurs in Matthew–four separate times, in Chapters 6, 8. 14, & 18–and here. How plausible is it that this word just sort of occurred to Luke? Or, rather, is it more likely that Luke got this on his own, from some unknown source (which means we have another unknown source; they seem to be piling up thick and fast), or more likely that he got it by reading Matthew? This is a very serious question, and it’s not the first time we’ve asked it. Unfortunately, I haven’t been taking notes of these instances. Making these sorts of cross-comparisons seems to offer a much more fruitful avenue of pursuit than counting the occurrences of kai vs de. Those are such common words, and can come out more or less unconsciously; choosing a word like oligopistos, OTOH, is very deliberate and very conscious. This is especially true if there are several examples of this sort of borrowing of words from Matthew by Luke. And there have been several examples. I need to go back and collect them.

As for the actual content of these five verses taken collectively, they fit very nicely with another theme that we’ve mentioned in Luke. We’ve found it in the gospel as a whole, but it has been especially prominent in this particular chapter. It’s yet more on the theme of poverty. In this set of verses, the idea of not caring about riches is put in terms of letting God provide. This is, essentially, an admonition to asceticism. This was hardly a new concept, especially among Jews who were familiar with the Essenes. But by the time of Luke the Christian community was doubtless overwhelmingly pagan in origin. Among the pagans, asceticism was not quite as prominent as it was among Jews, and even there the Essenes were something of a fringe movement. Again, there is a pervasive sense among Christians–or amongst some Christian groups, anyway–that asceticism is sort of an expected ideal. This played a huge role in heretical movements of the High & Late Middle Ages, when the Waldensians, the Cathars, the Poor Friars wing of the Franciscans, and dozens of smaller groups advocated for what became termed “apostolic poverty”. But as we’ve been reading along, this sort of asceticism, or even the idea of asceticism was was practically nonexistent in Paul and Mark, and given short shrift in Matthew. It only begins to flourish now that we’ve come to Luke. He is the first strong proponent of asceticism as something to be embraced. Oh, we had the “eye of the needle” metaphor, but precious little else on this line. It is only now that it’s becoming incorporated into the mainline of Christian thought and practice. And of course, let us not forget the evolution from “blessed are the poor in spirit” to “blessed are the poor”. Far from being the more primitive version, Luke’s reading is the more developed of the two. The failure to recognise this goes hand in hand with kai/de counting; by getting too hung up in the details of the text, the overall message, and how it developed, get lost.

27 Considerate lilia quomodo crescunt: non laborant neque nent; dico autem vobis: Nec Salomon in omni gloria sua vestiebatur sicut unum ex istis.

28 Si autem fenum, quod hodie in agro est et cras in clibanum mittitur, Deus sic vestit, quanto magis vos, pusillae fidei.

29 καὶ ὑμεῖς μὴ ζητεῖτε τί φάγητε καὶ τί πίητε, καὶ μὴ μετεωρίζεσθε:

“And you do not seek what to eat and what to drink, and do not raise up.

Another highlighted word. I probably should have thought of this technique earlier. I have translated it according to its strictly technical, base meaning, which is to raise up. The word can also mean to elevate, especially with false hopes, and it can mean to be suffering from flatulence (I am not making that up). It can also mean to be anxious. By cross-referencing with the Latin, it’s a good bet that this latter is the intent in this particular passage. But the notation in Liddell & Scott is  “also, to be anxious, POxy. 1679.16 (iii A.D.), perh. in this sense Ev Luc 12:29″.

The thing to notice in this is the perhaps. Even Rev Scott did not completely feel completely confident in his rendering. Now, that translation makes sense, and it does square with the Vulgate, but boy howdy, it sure should serve as a cautionary tale on just how tentative and shaky a lot of these translations are.

29 Et vos nolite quaerere quid manducetis aut quid bibatis et nolite solliciti esse.

30 ταῦτα γὰρ πάντα τὰ ἔθνη τοῦ κόσμου ἐπιζητοῦσιν: ὑμῶν δὲ ὁ πατὴρ οἶδεν ὅτι χρῄζετε τούτων.

31 πλὴν ζητεῖτε τὴν βασιλείαν αὐτοῦ, καὶ ταῦτα προστεθήσεται ὑμῖν.

32 Μὴ φοβοῦ, τὸ μικρὸν ποίμνιον, ὅτι εὐδόκησεν ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν δοῦναι ὑμῖν τὴν βασιλείαν.

“For these things all the people of the kosmos seek; the father of you knows that you have need of them. (31) Unless you seek the kingdom of him, and these things increase you. (32) Do not fear, o little flock, since (lit = that) the father of you is pleased to give you the kingdom.

A couple of quick notes. Jesus is addressing the disciples as, “o little flock”. This means, technically, that the noun is in the vocative case. This case is used to address someone, or something–as in this case. For a neuter second declension noun, the nominative and the vocative cases have the same ending, so it’s impossible to discern the difference w/o the context. The site that has my crib translations parses this as a nominative. A very minor detail. I bring it up, really, to clarify the translation.

And it strikes me that Luke is just referring to it as “the kingdom”. Not “of God” or “of heaven”, but just the kingdom. It strikes me, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily meaningful. It could just be one of those things. Or it could mean that Luke feels the reader is well aware that it is the kingdom of God, or of Heaven, and so it doesn’t need to be mentioned. Again, this would only be true, IMO, if Luke knew that there were two other gospels who had already and effectively made the point.

30 Haec enim omnia gentes mundi quaerunt; Pater autem vester scit quoniam his indigetis.

31 Verumtamen quaerite regnum eius; et haec adicientur vobis.

33 Πωλήσατε τὰ ὑπάρχοντα ὑμῶν καὶ δότε ἐλεημοσύνην: ποιήσατε ἑαυτοῖς βαλλάντια μὴ παλαιούμενα, θησαυρὸν ἀνέκλειπτον ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς, ὅπου κλέπτης οὐκ ἐγγίζει οὐδὲ σὴς διαφθείρει:

34 ὅπου γάρ ἐστιν ὁ θησαυρὸς ὑμῶν, ἐκεῖ καὶ ἡ καρδία ὑμῶν ἔσται.

(33) “Sell the things (that are) of you and give the charity/alms. Make for yourselves purses which do not age, (and) treasure unfailing in the heavens, where thieves do not approach nor moths destroy. (34) For where your treasure is, there also is the heart of you”.

This last part, to some degree, is present in the other gospels. In Mark and Matthew, this injunction is spoken to a rich young man, prefatory to the “eye of the needle” maxim, which is missing here. So we have another instance where Luke has read something in Mark and then condensed much of it out. In fact, it could be argued that by removing the “eye of the needle” punchline Luke has cut out the most salient point of the lesson. Why would he do that? Because, once again, he is leaving out material that was covered completely by Mark and Matthew, and that retelling it a third time would gain nothing. Once again, he seems to be very much aware of what Mark AND Matthew have to say in this context, so he does not have Jesus direct this quip at some anonymous fellow who surfaces and disappears completely within a few verses. In those two tellings, Jesus tells the rich young man to follow the commandments, etc, and then, to be perfect, to sell what he has and give it all away. Here, he tells this to his disciples. I hope the distinction is clear: in M&M, it’s a one-off, instructions given to a stranger. Here, OTOH, the instruction is given to his disciples, to those most close to him. The implication is, as a result, very different. Jesus tells the young man to do this knowing (of course) that he will not. Here, I think, he tells his disciples to do this, knowing that they have already left everything behind and come to follow Jesus. Because in M&M, after the “eye of the needle”, the disciples ask how they can be saved if the rich cannot, and Jesus tells them that anyone who has left all he has to follow him has won a place in the kingdom. So in this section, Luke is compressing, and by a lot.

Let’s go back to poverty. You may, or may not, recall some of Paul’s whining about how he tried not to be a burden on the communities where he was staying and preaching. And, in Galatians, he contrasts his salutary behaviour with that of some of the other apostles, who remain nameless. These other apostles, Paul implies, apparently traveled with something like a retinue, that may have included their wives. Think–or, as Luke says, consider–about that in relation to the idea, or ideal of “apostolic poverty”. The two don’t quite fit together very effectively, do they? And, if we reflect further, we can infer–or deduce–that the idea of poverty as something that may have become aspirational, or considered a good end-in-itself may not trace back to Jesus at all. It may have been something that Paul introduced, albeit in limited fashion. Aside from the story of the rich young man that culminates in the “eye of the needle” and Jesus promising a reward to those who left everything behind to become followers, poverty is barely mentioned at all in Mark. Instead, Mark is much more concerned with how Jesus realises his magical feats. Mark tells us more about spit and making mud than he does about poverty. Matthew takes it only slightly further, by telling us that the “poor in spirit” are blessed. There may be a few additional references, but none that immediately come to mind–not that I have the Matthean corpus ad digitos, at my fingertips. Interestingly, Luke is the first evangelist (sort of; assuming Luke/Acts is the product of a single author) that we can be certain was aware of Paul; AND, Luke is the first who presents poverty itself, as a blessed state. “Blessed are the poor“.

It must also be noted that the emphasis on, or the concern with poverty perhaps should be attributed to James, brother of Jesus. One of his conditions in the deal he cut with Paul was that the latter should “remember the poor”. Later tradition associated James with a non-orthodox group called The Ebionites, which is generally considered to mean “the poor”. (To be fair, I have a very low opinion of later tradition; they made stuff up. So it’s a bit disingenuous of me to trot out “later tradition” as an argument in my favour. And disingenuous might be too kind; hypocritical might be more accurate.) So, with Luke, do we have a confluence of the Pauline with the Jacobian traditions? Or did the former subsume the poverty doctrine of the latter? There are all sorts of sub-currents here, or cross-currents, or flat-out contradictions. The period between Jesus’ death and Luke’s gospel was one of constant flux as different ideas, different emphases were ebbing and flowing; it is with Luke, more or less, that something like an actual church, with a hierarchy and oversight of doctrine starts to take real form. Before this, not so much. Tradition states the succession of bishops of Rome to be Peter, Linus, (Ana)Cletus, Clement…In the days of my youth the recitation of these names was part of the Consecration of the Eucharist, and said at most masses in the Roman Rite. Clement is the first we can nail down because we have a letter he wrote to the church of Corinth; his dates are, traditionally, 88-99 (always, always, give or take). That would put him at the point when Luke was writing; and Luke’s writing (again, assuming Luke/Acts) ends with Paul traveling to Rome–not exactly of his own volition, of course. Hmmm. Interesting coincidences. And, correct me if I’m wrong, but nowhere in Acts does “Luke” say that Peter was the first bishop, or even a bishop, of Rome. 

No doubt I would have gotten marks off for that last paragraph. It started with poverty and ended with the bishops of Rome. The point is, or was, or should have been, that the fifty or so years between Jesus’ death and the time Luke wrote it is probably wholly inappropriate to think of a single, orthodox Christianity. After Luke, we have conscious attempts to create one, and these attempts were met with some success. The proto-orthodox doctrines included the idea/ideal of poverty whereas most earlier traditions probably did not. As such, this emphasis, or the peculiar blessed state of poverty, almost certainly does not trace back to Jesus.

32 Noli timere, pusillus grex, quia complacuit Patri vestro dare vobis regnum.

33 Vendite, quae possidetis, et date eleemosynam. Facite vobis sacculos, qui non veterescunt, thesaurum non deficientem in caelis, quo fur non appropiat, neque tinea corrumpit;

34 ubi enim thesaurus vester est, ibi et cor vestrum erit.

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 July 10, 2018, in Chapter 12, gospel commentary, gospels, Luke's Gospel, Paul's Letters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Nice writing, I even like reading the Latin, it’s beautiful.

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