Luke Chapter 12:49-59

We were discussing the way the Gospels of Matthew and Luke fit together, and what this says about the likelihood of Q’s existence. Naturally, I was dubious, or skeptical, or whichever word most suits this particular set of circumstances. Since I never read ahead before I start translating, I have no real clue of what’s coming up. Perhaps more of the same; perhaps not.

Text

49 Πῦρ ἦλθον βαλεῖν ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν, καὶ τί θέλω εἰ ἤδη ἀνήφθη.

“Fire I came to throw upon the earth, and what I wish if indeed it were already (…kindled..)

There’s a bit of a problem with the last word. The NT Greek dictionaries–including Strong’s Words–tell us that the word means “to kindle”. As such, Jesus wishing the fire were already kindled. There is no (well, not much) doubt that the form is intended to be read as an aorist passive. The problem is the root word. The root is ana-apō, elided to be anapō. This, however, is not to be found in Liddell & Scott. OK. So let’s try it without the prefix ana which leaves us with apō. Hmmm…That doesn’t exist per L&S either. OK, when all else fails, let’s check the Vulgate. What did St Jerome do with this? OK, he’s bailed us out, giving us the very rare Latin form accensus, which does mean “kindled”. The implication is that we really do not know what the Greek word actually is. It appears twice in the NT; here, and again in Acts 28:2, where it has a similar usage, that the pyre has been lighted. There is a cognate use in James 3:5, but there the Latin is in the form incedit, which is standard. Think, incendiary. I bring this up to show how even the Latin is dicey; there is no form cendo, to which the prefixes a- and in- are added, so taking the Latin as our pole star isn’t exactly a sure thing, either. The form used here, accensus is very rare in Latin. I suppose back filling from the use in James where the Latin is secure, and then replacing the very odd Greek based on a similar Latin translation is valid enough. The point remains, however, that there are still a bunch of different places where we are not wholly and 100% certain of the meaning of the Greek.

49 Ignem veni mittere in terram et quid volo? Si iam accensus esset!

50 βάπτισμα δὲ ἔχω βαπτισθῆναι, καὶ πῶς συνέχομαι ἕως ὅτου τελεσθῇ.

“I have the baptism to be baptised and how do l hold together until this is completed?

These two verses form an interesting couplet as regarding the content. First, it is unique to Luke. But not only is the action or speech unique but the sense of the words is unique as well. Even if I went with the standard “how stressed am I?” rather than my much more literal, but also very telling, “how do I hold (it?) together?”, this sort of exclamation from Jesus is a bit unexpected, to say the least, IMO. It truly hearkens back to Mark, where Jesus not infrequently gets exasperated. What do we make of this? Is there some deep, theological message here? Or is Luke simply having a bit of fun? The commentaries, of course explain this as a cry of anguish at the coming trials Jesus knows he must face. And this is a fully justified interpretation. Part of my reading is that I prefer the more literal meaning of “sunechomai”, which literally means “hold together”. As such there is a very modern feel to the idea of Jesus “holding it together”. Perhaps that colloquial undertone (which is purely accidental, of course) is what makes it sound less than serious coming from Luke. Most render the word as “I am constrained”, which kinda sorta makes sense as the verb is passive, but it wanders a bit from the more basic root, which is sun-echo, “hold with” (reversed in English), as in “hold with”. “To constrain” is a legitimate translation, with a proper Classical pedigree, but it is definition #5. 

As for content, these two verses serve as the introduction to the rest. These verses are unique to Luke, but the rest (most of it, at least the general drift) is shared with Matthew and so categorized as Q material. More on that shortly.

50 Baptisma autem habeo baptizari et quomodo coartor, usque dum perficiatur!

51 δοκεῖτε ὅτι εἰρήνην παρεγενόμην δοῦναι ἐν τῇ γῇ; οὐχί, λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀλλ’ ἢ διαμερισμόν.

52 ἔσονται γὰρ ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν πέντε ἐν ἑνὶ οἴκῳ διαμεμερισμένοι, τρεῖς ἐπὶ δυσὶν καὶ δύο ἐπὶ τρισίν,

53 διαμερισθήσονται πατὴρ ἐπὶ υἱῷ καὶ υἱὸς ἐπὶ πατρί, μήτηρ ἐπὶ τὴν θυγατέρα καὶ θυγάτηρ ἐπὶ τὴν μητέρα, πενθερὰ ἐπὶ τὴν νύμφην αὐτῆς καὶ νύμφη ἐπὶ τὴν πενθεράν.

“Do you expect that I am here to bring peace to the earth? Not so, I say to you, but division. (52) For they will be of five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. (53) The father will be divided agains son, and son against father, mother against daughter, daughter against mother, the mother-in-law against the bride, the bride against the mother.”

 Not much to say here. This we encountered this in Matthew. Kloppenborg does not indicate whether Q read “bring division”, per Luke, or “the sword” as per Matthew. Burton Mack, OTOH, has the courage of his convictions and posits the original reading as “sword”. And honestly, if you are going to contrast “peace”, something related to war would be my first impulse. So once again, Luke is the more “primitive” version, except when he’s not. When we read this in Matthew, we discussed how this is an ex-post-facto “prediction”, a “foretelling” of what happened to the movement some time after Jesus’ death. At least, we are lead to believe that this happened. Was it an actual persecution? If so, when did it happen? Before the destruction of the Temple? In the 40s, when it was led by Paul? Then why doesn’t Mark dwell on this a bit more? Or is this a folk memory of the Jewish Revolt, in which Josephus tells us there were a number of factions, and there were two or three inside Jerusalem duking it out with each other and at the same time trying to fight off the Romans. No doubt there was a lot of this sort of thing going on: betrayal, treachery, internecine fighting. Mark does have the section where Jesus tells the disciples that not one stone of the Temple will be left standing on another stone. The scenario he described there was terrible, but it doesn’t have anything of the enmity among families that we get here and in Matthew. And I wonder why? 

And here is another instance where the content of the words is wholly ignored when deciding whether something belongs in Q. I skimmed a few commentaries, and they all seemed to dance around the “predictive” aspect of all of this. Sound historical judgement pretty much demands that this passage, and those similar, be read as backward-looking, a description of what did happen, rather than what will happen. As such, it is all-but certain that Jesus never uttered these words. Given that, we have to ask what this passage is doing in a collection of sayings of Jesus. It simply does not fit the criteria to be included as something Jesus said. So, once more, so much of the “argument” for Q proves to be specious. 

And quickly, he mentions the mother-in-law vs the bride. I believe this relationship is specified because the wife would come to join the husband’s family, so the bride would be in contact with her in-law, whereas the husband would not be set against his father-in-law. So the relationship described by Jesus would be much more common, and much more deleterious to the smooth functioning of the household if the relationship went sour.

51 Putatis quia pacem veni dare in terram? Non, dico vobis, sed separationem.

52 Erunt enim ex hoc quinque in domo una divisi: tres in duo, et duo in tres;

53 dividentur pater in filium et filius in patrem, mater in filiam et filia in matrem, socrus in nurum suam et nurus in socrum”.

54 Ἔλεγεν δὲ καὶ τοῖς ὄχλοις, Οταν ἴδητε [τὴν] νεφέλην ἀνατέλλουσαν ἐπὶ δυσμῶν, εὐθέως λέγετε ὅτι Ὄμβρος ἔρχεται, καὶ γίνεται οὕτως:

55 καὶ ὅταν νότον πνέοντα, λέγετε ὅτι Καύσων ἔσται, καὶ γίνεται.

56 ὑποκριταί, τὸ πρόσωπον τῆς γῆς καὶ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ οἴδατε δοκιμάζειν, τὸν καιρὸν δὲ τοῦτον πῶς οὐκ οἴδατε δοκιμάζειν;

And he said to the crowd, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say that ‘rain is coming’, and so it becomes this way. (55) And when the south (wind) blows, you say, ‘It will be hot’, and it happens. (56) Hypocrites, the countenance of the earth and sky you know how to discern, this season how do you not know how to interpret?

54 Dicebat autem et ad turbas: “Cum videritis nubem orientem ab occasu, statim dicitis: “Nimbus venit”, et ita fit;

55 et cum austrum flantem, dicitis: “Aestus erit”, et fit.

56 Hypocritae, faciem terrae et caeli nostis probare, hoc autem tempus quomodo nescitis probare?

To be honest, I’m not sure how we go from civil war that divides families to (mis)judging the weather, and this inability to judge the weather makes one a hypocrite. I mean, of course I understand that this is all very metaphorical and all that, but it seems a bit of a stretch. Another example of one of the evangelists sticking a couple of things together that really were separate thoughts, but they had to be worked in somewhere, somehow. I should have more to say on this in the chapter summary.

57 Τί δὲ καὶ ἀφ’ ἑαυτῶν οὐ κρίνετε τὸ δίκαιον;

58 ὡς γὰρ ὑπάγεις μετὰ τοῦ ἀντιδίκου σου ἐπ’ ἄρχοντα, ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ δὸς ἐργασίαν ἀπηλλάχθαι ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ, μήποτε κατασύρῃ σε πρὸς τὸν κριτήν, καὶ ὁ κριτής σε παραδώσει τῷ πράκτορι, καὶ ὁ πράκτωρ σε βαλεῖ εἰς φυλακήν.

59 λέγω σοι, οὐ μὴ ἐξέλθῃς ἐκεῖθεν ἕως καὶ τὸ ἔσχατον λεπτὸν ἀποδῷς.

(57) And what is from yourselves that you do not judge what is just? (58) For as you lead your adversary before the magistrate (lit = ruler), on the way (there) be delivered of your work from him, lest he pull you down (by) the judgement, and the judge hands you over to the official who executes the judgement (all in the same word), and the official who executes the judgement throws you in the guard-house (gaol). (59) I tell you, you may not come out of there and your last small brass coin you may give over.”

Wow. There is a whole bunch of really unusual, or rather, specialised, vocabulary in this section. A lot of it is unique to Luke in the NT, but, for the most part, the vocabulary is not obscure in the corpus of Classical/pagan Greek. Rather the opposite. Let’s start with archontas/archon. It’s a generic word for “ruler”, but by this point “magistrate” is not a bad translation. The real ruler, of course, was the Emperor, so the various rulers of the towns, etc were local offices. Archaic Athens had three annual archons, the king archon, the eponymous (chief, as in primus inter pares) and war archon. From there the term became generic; Gnostic cosmology posits a sometimes bewildering number of archons, who rule various aspects of the universe. So, it’s kind of a generic term. I happened to notice that it gets translated as “prince of the devils” or “prince of the pagans”. I’m not crazy about using it in terms of royalty since the word is of very secular origin; however, there is no real equivalent in Greek–or Latin, for that matter–for our concept of “prince”. The word is Latin, and comes from princeps, which means “first”. It’s actually a combination of primus caput, literally “first head”. So it’s the first in line, etc. Then it comes to mean “distinguished”. Then Augustus becomes known as Princeps; the First Citizen, and so it became a title. But it did not become a rank until the Mediaeval period, when royalty became the norm in Europe, in those areas where Latin served as the root language.

“The official who executes the judgement” is all captured by a single word: praktor. If you look at it, the derivation of “proctor” is pretty obvious. Vowels are very malleable, and they transition easily as words evolve, especially when moving from one language to another. So many English words with Germanic roots have identical consonant groupings, but the vowels are different. An example is something like vergessen, “forgotten”. Remember that the German “V” is pronounced as an English “F”. 

Then there lepton, a small brass coin. Think, penny, or farthing–whatever the hell a farthing is. “Penny” is another good German-to-English example. Pfenning. The terminal “IG” in German almost always comes across as “-Y” in English. Again, though, the word is very rare in the NT. Aside from here, Mark uses it in the tale of the Widow’s Mite. 

I used to hate the term “gaol”. Times change. I’m more pretentious now.

The word “adversary” has been deliberately saved for last. In Hebrew, adversary is usually rendered as satan; in the OT, this is rarely a capital word. In fact, it’s used in 1 Kings to describe the military adversaries of…one of the kings. The word here is closer to a legal term, referring to an adversary in court. Is there an English term? The party of the first part vs the party of the second part? It is used in the same way in the same story by Matthew. Again, let’s ask ourselves: would an early, Jewish follower of Jesus know this word? Would Jesus know this word? It’s not out of the question. Justice, higher justice anyway, in the easter Mediterranean at the time would have been dispensed in Greek. Pilate spoke Greek, and all the educated Jews like Josephus spoke Greek. But would someone from a backwater like Caphernaum ever encounter Greek justice? Hard to say. So, once again, we have to ask if we should reasonably expect a word like this to be found in Q. Offhand, I would say “no”. It is much more likely that it originated with an educated individual like Matthew.

And then note what Luke does: he takes the basic story as told by Matthew and then throws in about a dozen (well, four or five) additional legal terms. As for the implications here, first and foremost we can toss any notion that Luke’s version is the more “primitive” version which more closely resembled what Q must have looked like. That is patently risible. Think about it: the attempt is to couple Luke with being the more primitive when his version here is clearly much–much–more sophisticated. And this is the second example of this that we’ve come across in this chapter. The sense I derive from this is that Luke, as he has done in the past, “improves” upon, or “corrects” Matthew. He’s seeing Matthew’s technical term–adversary–and raising him praktor and a few others. 

So much for the technical stuff. What about the meaning? This is blunted, to a certain extent, by having encountered it in Matthew. The tone feels slightly different here; in Matthew, this is part of the Sermon on the Mount, and it’s really meant to be an injunction to put aside your differences and come to a settlement before bad things happen to you. The bit about gaol is more of a metaphor, of course, but effective. Here there is more of a sense of menace, that the threat of jail is really that: a threat, and not one to be taken lightly. It’s tempting to see this as an allusion to Hell, and that’s possible, but just barely. And it’s much more likely here than it was in Matthew. I say that largely because of the change in tone, from admonishment something very close to a threat.

57 Quid autem et a vobis ipsis non iudicatis, quod iustum est?

58 Cum autem vadis cum adversario tuo ad principem, in via da operam liberari ab illo, ne forte trahat te apud iudicem, et iudex tradat te exactori, et exactor mittat te in carcerem.

59 Dico tibi: Non exies inde, donec etiam novissimum minutum reddas”.

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 27, 2018, in Chapter 12, gospel commentary, gospels, Luke's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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