Luke Chapter 13:1-9

We have crossed into the second half of the gospel, when counting by the number of chapters. Whether the remaining chapters have more, less, or the same amount of text as those preceding is another story to which I do not know the ending.

I do know that, as we progress through this second half, we will begin to encounter more of the material unique to Luke and less that is part of the triple tradition part of the alleged Q gospel. This unique material is often, or usually, said to belong to the L material. This is simply shorthand for labeling this text that is unique to Luke. That is simple enough. However, the implication is that L represents a source that Luke tapped into, or used. That is, the L material existed before Luke, who then copied it down verbatim, or at most, shaped it a bit. The same is said about material unique to Matthew, the so-called M material. Matthew supposedly copied this down from earlier sources, too. This attitude, or belief, represents a colossal failure of understanding of the evangelists and the composition of the gospels. These guy were not taking dictation; they were not transcribed oral stuff as they found it; they were not copying down–and then destroying–older sources. To suggest this does a grave injustice to those people who composed these gospels. Each author was so much more than a copyist or an amanuensis. Nor were any of them, but Matthew & Luke especially, interested in telling the same story as their predecessor(s). Rather, each author was just that: an author. Each evangelist had his own particular story to tell, his own particular understanding of what the material and the traditions he inherited from the past meant, and he believed that this material needed to be told in a certain manner. That is, each one was creating the story, if not quite from scratch, then as it had developed to that point.

We return to the question: why does someone choose to undertake such an odd undertaking as to write a gospel? The answer is because that individual believes he has something that needs to be said. Another way to put this is to say that he believed the story, as received, wasn’t quite correct, or was at least incomplete. Mark saw the distinction between the wonder worker and the messiah stories and felt a powerful need to demonstrate that Jesus was actually both of those men. Matthew saw that Mark hadn’t gone far enough in insisting that Jesus was a divine entity, and was divine from birth, so he took Mark’s gospel and added new material to show exactly this. Some of this may have been, and probably was, extracted from stories he heard repeated, stories that had grown up in between the time Mark wrote and the time he did. But some of this new material was, I strongly believe, his own creation. The birth narrative would be the prime example of material that Matthew composed himself; the Sermon on the Mount is likely an amalgam of material that he heard and material that he created himself. Luke wrote because the conception of Jesus had been undergoing a change since Matthew wrote; the degree to which this change was in the larger community itself, or was the peculiar understanding of Luke, is another issue. He believed that the behaviours that led to salvation needed to be further explained and clarified. He believed we needed to see the common humanity that we share with our neighbours, and to define who those neighbours are. He believed that the poor–and not the poor in spirit–were blessed.

Realizing that there was no one, single, unitary Truth, a single story to be told, is to take a huge step in understanding the thought process behind the gospels, and to understand the intent of the authors. It is very important to keep in mind that there was no single version of many Greek myths. They were told and retold with different aspects and emphases. If Matthew and Luke were both pagans, such an understanding would have been integral to their world-view. They would have felt no need to retell the same story that Mark (and Matthew) had already told. What is the point of that? If you’re going to write a gospel, you’re going to write a different gospel; otherwise, why bother?

So anyway, let’s get on with this by actually reading the


1 Παρῆσαν δέ τινες ἐν αὐτῷ τῷ καιρῷ ἀπαγγέλλοντες αὐτῷ περὶ τῶν Γαλιλαίων ὧν τὸ αἷμα Πιλᾶτος ἔμιξεν μετὰ τῶν θυσιῶν αὐτῶν.

2 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Δοκεῖτε ὅτι οἱ Γαλιλαῖοι οὗτοι ἁμαρτωλοὶ παρὰ πάντας τοὺς Γαλιλαίους ἐγένοντο, ὅτι ταῦτα πεπόνθασιν;

3 οὐχί, λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀλλ’ ἐὰν μὴ μετανοῆτε πάντες ὁμοίως ἀπολεῖσθε. 

“Some were at that time reporting  about those of Galilee of whom the blood Pilate mixed with their sacrifices. (2) And answering he said to them, “Does it seem that these Galileans were sinners besides (i.e., when compared to) all Galileans, that they suffered these things? (3) No, I say to you, but except if you repent, you will all perish this way.

This is really interesting. Josephus tells us of a couple of instances when Pilate was forced to confront an angry mob of Judeans. The first occurred upon Pilate’s arrival, when he installed Roman shields inside the Temple. They did not have images, but they did have inscriptions. Regardless, the placement of anything of pagan origin would likely have caused offense, so there was something of a tense stand-off between the governor and the populace. Not wishing to cause a riot–or worse–Pilate backed down and had the shields removed. The second is known as the Aqueduct Riot, which did actually result in bloodshed. I cannot find a date for when this event likely occurred. Luke tells us that Jesus was still alive when it happened, so if Luke were in any way reliable as a source for dates, Jesus’ death would be considered a terminus ante quem, an end-point after which the event could not have occurred. According to Luke, Jesus began his ministry in the 15th year of Tiberius’ reign; Tiberius ascended to the throne in 14 CE, so that would mean Jesus began preaching in 29 (give or take). Since he was preaching when this event occurred, the year 29 becomes a terminus post quem; the event could not have happened before 29. Pilate governed in Judea from 26 – 36, so Jesus died sometime before 36 if Pilate was in charge when Jesus was executed. So the Aqueduct Riot would have occurred in the period 29 – 36. But we have to add a very large caveat: it appears from the passage that the event is being announced as something that Jesus is just being told about, but this is by no means a sure thing. This means we can only date this securely to some point in Pilate’s term as governor; that is, between 26 – 36. The first of those dates is the terminus post quem; it had to be after Pilate became governor. The second is the terminus ante quem; it had to have happened before Pilate ended his term. The other big problem is that the Aqueduct Riot occurred in Jerusalem. The dead people are said to be Galileans. That means we have to explain why there were Galileans in Jerusalem. Josephus tells us that Pilate was in Jerusalem when this happened, which is taken as an indication that it happened during a festival. Pilate went to Jerusalem from his actual seat in Tiberias for festivals, which is why he was there for Jesus’ execution during the Passover. A festival would bring Jews from different places together, so it is likely that some of them would have Galileans.

So all of that can work. We can fit a chronology together. It is imperative to remember, however, that there are other possibilities. We only have Luke’s word that Jesus began his ministry in circa 29. We have no independent corroboration for this; Luke may simply have made it up. And if Pilate was in Jerusalem for festivals, there is no reason to accept that Jesus was executed during Passover. We only have the gospels’ authority on that and we have seen that Matthew and Luke had no qualms inventing historical events: the first being the Slaughter of Innocents, the second being the census that made everyone go back to their ancestral city. So it is not so wise to be overly confident of the historicity of the gospel accounts.

That’s all fine and good, but what is really interesting is the last verse. Jesus is threatening–er, warning–his listeners with a similar fate. What does Luke mean by this? My first take is that it is another post-fact prediction of coming persecutions: beware, or face martyrdom. Or is that correct? The listeners are told to repent; are we to assume that the subsequent martyrs did not repent? That doesn’t entirely make sense. According to some of the commentators, the thought process was that such that anyone who suffered such a fate must have been some kind of heinous sinner. In this case, I have to agree that this is likely the sentiment Luke was trying to put across: repent, or be killed. I’ve been trying to stretch this to make it into some kind of allegorical pronouncement, or some kind of metaphor for the persecutions that would “follow” this warning, but it doesn’t seem to work. Perhaps additional thought would turn up something, but there’s nothing that I can see at the moment.

1 Aderant autem quidam ipso in tempore nuntiantes illi de Galilaeis, quorum sanguinem Pilatus miscuit cum sacrificiis eorum.

2 Et respondens dixit illis: “ Putatis quod hi Galilaei prae omnibus Galilaeis peccatores fuerunt, quia talia passi sunt?

3 Non, dico vobis, sed, nisi paenitentiam egeritis, omnes similiter peribitis.

4 ἢ ἐκεῖνοι οἱ δεκαοκτὼ ἐφ’ οὓς ἔπεσεν ὁ πύργος ἐν τῷ Σιλωὰμ καὶ ἀπέκτεινεν αὐτούς, δοκεῖτε ὅτι αὐτοὶ ὀφειλέται ἐγένοντο παρὰ πάντας τοὺς ἀνθρώπους τοὺς κατοικοῦντας Ἰερουσαλήμ;

5 οὐχί, λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀλλ’ ἐὰν μὴ μετανοῆτε πάντες ὡσαύτως ἀπολεῖσθε.

“Or those eighteen upon whom fell the tower in Siloam and killed them, do you think that they became sinners from among all the men those persons living in Jerusalem? (5) No, I say to you, unless you repent, all in such a way will die.”

In case we missed it the first time, Jesus feels it beneficial to repeat it. Once again, “repent or you will die” really sounds like a metaphor for the Christian idea of salvation: repent, or the one who can throw the soul into Gehenna will do so, and you will not enter ‘the life’ (= will die). It is very flattering to interpret this injunction in this way. The only problem is the single word ὡσαύτως. This means ‘in such a way’; it’s hard not to understand this as a reference to physical death via a falling tower, or some other calamity. As such, it’s difficult to take this as anything other than physical death.  

4 Vel illi decem et octo, supra quos cecidit turris in Siloam et occidit eos, putatis quia et ipsi debitores fuerunt praeter omnes homines habitantes in Ierusalem?

5 Non, dico vobis, sed, si non paenitentiam egeritis, omnes similiter peribitis”.

6 Ἔλεγεν δὲ ταύτην τὴν παραβολήν: Συκῆν εἶχέν τις πεφυτευμένην ἐν τῷ ἀμπελῶνι αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἦλθεν ζητῶν καρπὸν ἐν αὐτῇ καὶ οὐχ εὗρεν.

7 εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς τὸν ἀμπελουργόν,Ἰδοὺ τρία ἔτη ἀφ’ οὗ ἔρχομαι ζητῶν καρπὸν ἐν τῇ συκῇ ταύτῃ καὶ οὐχ εὑρίσκω. ἔκκοψον [οὖν] αὐτήν: ἱνα τί καὶ τὴν γῆν καταργεῖ;

8 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς λέγει αὐτῷ, Κύριε, ἄφες αὐτὴν καὶ τοῦτο τὸ ἔτος, ἕως ὅτου σκάψω περὶ αὐτὴν καὶ βάλω κόπρια:

9 κἂν μὲν ποιήσῃ καρπὸν εἰς τὸ μέλλον εἰ δὲ μή γε, ἐκκόψεις αὐτήν.

He told this parable. “Someone had planted fig (trees) in his vineyard and he came seeking fruit in it (the fig trees) and he did not find (any). (7) He said to the vineyard worker, ‘Look, three years after which I have come seeking fruit in this fig tree and I have not found (any)’. [Thus] cut it down. Why let the ground be idle?’ Answering he (the worker) said to him, ‘Lord, leave it also this year, until this I dig around of it and I throw dung (fertilizer).’ (9) And then it will make fruit better, or if not, you will cut it down’.”

Here is another instance where Luke changes a story that is told in both M&M. In this case, he changed it radically. In its previous two incarnations, the fig tree without fruit is not the subject of a parable, but the object of Jesus’ anger. Mark is particularly caustic. In that version Jesus curses the tree because it has no fruit, even though we are specifically told that it was not the season for the figs to be ripe. This is sheer petulance on Jesus’ part, not entirely different from cursing a fig tree because it doesn’t produce oranges, the action of an exasperated man who is fed up by the world around him. In this case, the curse leads to the death of the fig tree; it is not stretching the situation too much to say that Jesus killed the tree unjustly; the tree could not bear fruit out of season, so it was completely unable to comply with Jesus’ wishes. So Jesus punished the tree for behaving in accordance with nature.

Matthew altered the scenario to soften it by deflecting the action from the tree itself to its untimely demise. In Mark, Jesus cursed the tree in the morning and it was dead upon the return of Jesus & company in the evening. In Matthew, the withering of the tree is instantaneous. This is what gets the disciples’ attention and they marvel at the action, that Jesus was able to cause a growing tree to die before their eyes. Jesus explains this as a matter of faith; with even a tiny amount of faith, they, too, could perpetrate defoliation at a whim, and even throw mountains into the sea. More, Matthew does not say that it was not the season for figs, which makes Jesus’ action less petulant & irrational than it was in Mark, but it’s still well down the path of extreme reaction.

This is yet another example of Luke changing a story found in the Triple Tradition. I have used the term “fully told” to describe these, when the pericope has received a complete telling in the previous two gospels. These are the times when Luke appears to feel free either to greatly condense the story–or, in some cases, combine two of them into a single story–or change it as he does here. In other cases, when Matthew has abridged one of Mark’s stories–as the Gerasene demonaic–Luke will restore much of the text that Matthew eliminated. Of course, this has implications for Q. Given that Luke never saw Matthew, it is uncanny that Luke seems to know exactly when to reduce and when to add to stories. For now, I will leave it at that. We’ve covered this ground before, and we will, no doubt, cover it again when the time is more appropriate.

6 Dicebat autem hanc similitudinem: “Arborem fici habebat quidam plantatam in vinea sua et venit quaerens fructum in illa et non invenit.

7 Dixit autem ad cultorem vineae: “Ecce anni tres sunt, ex quo venio quaerens fructum in ficulnea hac et non invenio. Succide ergo illam. Ut quid etiam terram evacuat?”.

8 At ille respondens dicit illi: “Domine, dimitte illam et hoc anno, usque dum fodiam circa illam et mittam stercora,

9 et si quidem fecerit fructum in futurum; sin autem succides eam’.”


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 August 26, 2018, in Chapter 13, gospel commentary, gospels, Luke's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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