Luke Chapter 14:7-15

The break between the last piece and this is not entirely sharp. In Verses 1-6, Jesus was at dinner with some Pharisees. There was some contention about whether it was lawful to heal on the sabbath. Presumably the “those” in Verse 7 still refers to the group that is gathered at the table—or the group reclining on couches, as was the standard means of eating in much of the ancient Mediterranean. This was true to the point that “reclining” was more or less a synonym for “eating a dinner”. Hence we come to the term translated “first couches”. The word is compound, the second part being a place to lie down; hence, a place to recline, or a couch.


7 Ἔλεγεν δὲ πρὸς τοὺς κεκλημένους παραβολήν, ἐπέχων πῶς τὰς πρωτοκλισίας ἐξελέγοντο, λέγων πρὸς αὐτούς,

8 Οταν κληθῇς ὑπό τινος εἰς γάμους, μὴ κατακλιθῇς εἰς τὴν πρωτοκλισίαν, μή ποτε ἐν τιμότερός σου ᾖ κεκλημένος ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ,

9 καὶ ἐλθὼν ὁ σὲ καὶ αὐτὸν καλέσας ἐρεῖ σοι, Δὸς τούτῳ τόπον, καὶ τότε ἄρξῃ μετὰ αἰσχύνης τὸν ἔσχατον τόπον κατέχειν.

10 ἀλλ’ ὅταν κληθῇς πορευθεὶς ἀνάπεσε εἰς τὸν ἔσχατον τόπον, ἵνα ὅταν ἔλθῃ ὁ κεκληκώς σε ἐρεῖ σοι, Φίλε, προσανάβηθι ἀνώτερον: τότε ἔσται σοι δόξα ἐνώπιον πάντων τῶν συνανακειμένων σοι.

He said to those who had been called (= invited) a parable, having beheld how they chose the first couches, speaking to them, (8) “When having been called ( = invited) by someone to a wedding, do not recline yourself on the first couches, lest, someone in higher honor ( = social rank) having been invited, (9) and coming the one who invited you and the other says to you, ‘Give (up) this place’, and then you may begin with shame the last place to have. (10) But when invited, go to and fall into the lowest place, so that when the inviter may come (and) will say to you, ‘Friend, march up towards a higher (place)’. Then there will be glory to you in front of all of those having been invited together with you.

Let’s pause for some Greek. First, this is a fairly complex bit of writing, that takes some real gymnastics to put into decent English. This borders on Classical Greek, and is another demonstration that Luke (as in, the author of –) was rather well educated. The other thing is the word for going up to the higher table is ‘prosanabethi’, containing the word ‘anabasis’. This is the title of a famous work of Xenophon, who was a Greek mercenary, fighting for one of the claimants to the Persian throne. The claimant was killed, so there were 10,000 (or so) Greek soldiers at loose ends in the middle of Asia Minor. This was a difficult situation, so they had to “march up country” to the south shore of the Black Sea. The title thus is “Anabasis”, which I’ve seen rendered as “The March Upcountry” and the “March of the Ten Thousand”. I point this out to demonstrate how multi-purposed a lot of Greek words are. This can make translation difficult, since the same word can be rendered to mean a number of different things. My particular bête noir in this is “logos”. The opening of John is “in the beginning was the Logos’; which got translated into Latin as “Verbum” which is more or less “Word”. This translation, while correct, is unfortunate, because the Greek word ‘logos’ has so many other meanings not included in the English ‘word’. It is, after all, the -ology ending of the-ology, or psych-ology, or soci-ology. “Word” doesn’t come close to covering that. Finally, the word rendered as “glory” is a bit overstated here. It is the word that is used for “glory”, as in “glory to God…”  I gave it the elevated translation to make the same point. Feel free to substitute your own modified synonym. The KJV gives this as ‘worship’; the NASB, NIV, and ESV all use ‘honor’. The problem with that Greek has a separate word for ‘honor’. It was used in Verse 8.

7 Dicebat autem ad invitatos parabolam, intendens quomodo primos accubitus eligerent, dicens ad illos:

8 “Cum invitatus fueris ab aliquo ad nuptias, non discumbas in primo loco, ne forte honoratior te sit invitatus ab eo,

9 et veniens is qui te et illum vocavit, dicat tibi: “Da huic locum”; et tunc incipias cum rubore novissimum locum tenere.

10 Sed cum vocatus fueris, vade, recumbe in novissimo loco, ut, cum venerit qui te invitavit, dicat tibi: “Amice, ascende superius”; tunc erit tibi gloria coram omnibus simul discumbentibus.

11 ὅτι πᾶς ὁ ὑψῶν ἑαυτὸν τα πεινωθήσεται καὶ ὁ ταπεινῶν ἑαυτὸν ὑψωθήσεται.

12 Ἔλεγεν δὲ καὶ τῷ κεκληκότι αὐτόν, Οταν ποιῇς ἄριστον ἢ δεῖπνον, μὴ φώνει τοὺς φίλους σου μηδὲ τοὺς ἀδελφούς σου μηδὲ τοὺς συγγενεῖς σου μηδὲ γείτονας πλουσίους, μήποτε καὶ αὐτοὶ ἀντικαλέσωσίν σε καὶ γένηται ἀνταπόδομά σοι.

13 ἀλλ’ ὅταν δοχὴν ποιῇς, κάλει πτωχούς, ἀναπείρους, χωλούς, τυφλούς:

14 καὶ μακάριος ἔσῃ, ὅτι οὐκ ἔχουσιν ἀνταποδοῦναί σοι, ἀνταποδοθήσεται γάρ σοι ἐν τῇ ἀναστάσει τῶν δικαίων.

15 Ἀκούσας δέ τις τῶν συνανακειμένων ταῦτα εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Μακάριος ὅστις φάγεται ἄρτον ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ.

“That all of those raising themselves will be humbled, and the one humbling him/herself will be raised”. (12) And he said to the one inviting him, “When you make the best meal, do not call your friends, nor your brothers, nor your relatives, nor your rich neighbors, and never those having invited you and having become inviters of you. (13) Rather, when you make a reception, call the poor, the the crippled, the lame, the blind. (14) And you will be blessed, that they do not have (i.e. have the means) to return to you, for you will be repaid in the resurrection of the just”. (15) Hearing, someone of those reclining with (him = Jesus) said these things to him (Jesus), “Blessed is the one who eats bread in the kingdom of God.”

Here we get a tying-together of several strands of what we think of as basic Christian belief. We get the humble/exalted contrast which was made in Mark and Matthew, and this is yoked together with the resurrection of the just and the kingdom of God. No doubt we’ve covered this before, but the idea of humility is very non-pagan. I cannot speak with authority on whether this was considered a positive attribute, or the degree to which it was considered positive, in Judaism to this point; however, given the consistent message of social justice that pervades Judaism, I would suspect this is not entirely novel with Jesus. There may–emphasis on may— be a difference in degree, but this may be very standard in Jewish thought and teaching. I suspect I may be guilty of Christian-centric thinking to suggest there is much of a change. If there is one thing I’ve learned through this exercise, it’s that there wasn’t a drastic change in the message of social justice between Judaism and Jesus. Thus the admonition to invite the poor, the blind, and the physically challenged is not something new or unique to Jesus’ message. Given that, it’s possible to see this as something that may very well trace back to Jesus’ teaching*.

Not only that, I’ve been doing more reading on early Greek thought. One discovery is that the idea of reward–or at least punishment–in the afterlife was not a Christian invention, either. The Greek philosopher Herakleitos believed that shady magicians would be/should be punished in the afterlife. What is intriguing here is the idea of the Resurrection of the Just, and particularly the way it seems to be synonymous with the Kingdom of God. It should be noted that there appears to be a distinction between the former idea and what became Christian orthodoxy. The raising of the “Just” carries the distinct implication that only the good people will rise on the last day. There have been allusions to this idea before, but I did not make a sufficiently careful record of when they occurred, and by whom they were voiced. My apologies. But here, using this term, this possible differentiation is more clear than it has been previously, clear enough even to get through to me. However, while this differentiation is possible, or possibly inclined, it is still not stated explicitly. If the Just are to be raised up, what happens to the bad people? Do they remain mouldering in the grave? How does that square with the parable of the (presumably poor) wedding guest who got thrown into the outer darkness, where there was wailing and gnashing of teeth because he was improperly dressed? This latter, I think, can safely be taken as a metaphor for ‘having lived a blameful life’. There another reference to a fiery Gehenna. What does that mean, and how does it square with the “Resurrection of the Just”?

That was the chore facing the early church. In order to create a set of beliefs that would be considered “orthodox”, it was necessary to reconcile such seemingly contradictory statements. If they could not be reconciled, they had to be papered over, or reinterpreted. I think that the Resurrection of the Just is the belief of the Pharisees, who said that there would be a resurrection of the body. This, as opposed to the Sadducees, who said there would be no resurrection. And that is where the kingdom of God comes in: what Luke is implying here is that the Kingdom will come when the just are raised bodily, and the reign of God will be eternal (although that is not stated here), and that what we think of as Heaven is actually a physical existence. In Christian orthodoxy, Heaven has become a place of disembodied spirits, which idea is very, very Greek. So where does a resurrected body come in? Or, is “resurrection” metaphorical, to mean that the Just will be raised, but only in spirit? Here is where it’s important to grasp the idea that the evangelists were story-tellers, myth-makers; they were decidedly not theologians. That term is wholly anachronistic for writers of the NT, and perhaps in general. The term is not a Greek concept; for them, the term philosophy covered it all, from natural science to the One of Plato which served as the basis for the Christian God of the Middle Ages. Theology was coined by the Christians, in order to distinguish it from secular philosophy. So the early thinkers who created The Church had to invent the term and then identify and define all its concepts, then decide which were, and which were not to be considered “orthodox”, literally “straight belief”. We need constantly to bear in mind that the doctrine (from the ‘dox’ root, which also spawned ‘dogma’) of the Trinity did not exist until well into the Second, or even the Third Century. That is, two- or three hundred years after Luke and even John. This is why I’m insistent about using “sacred breath” for “spiritus sanctus”; the term ‘holy spirit’ has too much accrued baggage, and Holy Spirit is just grossly anachronistic for the NT. I won’t go into the reasons why it was necessary to reify the sacred breath as the Holy Spirit because I really don’t remember them. Jaroslav Pelikan has a great discussion on this in Volume 1 of his The Christian Tradition series.

Back to the point, it is worth noting that what Luke is describing is not necessarily consistent what we have come to believe as the standard idea of the Christian afterlife. This sort of free-for-all in ideas is exactly why a group of Christian elders came together and decided it was time to define orthodox belief. But it is important to know that much of Christian belief came about, not through considered contemplation and study, but in the heat of controversy. Perhaps the first real spur to this came from Valentinus in the 30s of the Second Century. He was a Gnostic (to use terms very loosely), and he gathered a following large enough to make the non-gnostics feel threatened. So the latter banded together, and came up with reasons why gnosticism was not consistent with ‘true belief’ (since even the term ‘orthodox’ is still not quite appropriate).

In short, what Christians believe was not settled in NT times. As such, there are moments in the NT–like this one–where what we read is not consistent with what we are taught to believe now. Of course, this was the theological basis of the Reformation; but the Reformation was not “wholly, nor even primarily, a religious event”.

* But watch this space. I’m toying with a new theory about who Jesus was, and how he was seen by contemporaries. It’s too soon to broach the topic, but one of the implications would be that this message of social inclusion may actually, in fact, trace to James the Just, brother of Jesus, rather than to Jesus himself. Deciding that will depend on a much deeper understanding of the message of Paul. 

11 Quia omnis, qui se exaltat, humiliabitur; et, qui se humiliat, exaltabitur”.

12 Dicebat autem et ei, qui se invitaverat: “Cum facis prandium aut cenam, noli vocare amicos tuos neque fratres tuos neque cognatos neque vicinos divites, ne forte et ipsi te reinvitent, et fiat tibi retributio.

13 Sed cum facis convivium, voca pauperes, debiles, claudos, caecos;

14 et beatus eris, quia non habent retribuere tibi. Retribuetur enim tibi in resurrectione iustorum”.

15 Haec cum audisset quidam de simul discumbentibus, dixit illi: “Beatus, qui manducabit panem in regno Dei”.


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 December 9, 2018, in Chapter 14, gospel commentary, gospels, Luke's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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