Monthly Archives: January 2019

Luke Chapter 15:11-32 The Prodigal Son

This is a very long piece of Greek. I try not to do sections that are too long so I can keep the posts moving along, but this is all a single story, and breaking it into arbitrary pieces would only complicate matters.

This follows hard on the heels of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin. All three are unique to Luke, and most likely created by him. There is no sound historical reason to doubt or question that he is the author. The idea of an “L” source is just creating bodies needlessly, and there is no evidence of any such thing. At some point it will be necessary to take a step back and attempt to create a likely series of events that occurred after Jesus’ death. The interesting thing is that what happened after his death is more important than what actually happened when he was alive. We have nothing written about him before the 50s, which comes from Paul. It is key to note that Paul showed pretty much no interest in anything Jesus did before rising from the dead.

The common theme of these three stories is repentance. The lost is found. This is a very important, indeed crucial topic. As such, it’s probably best to save the discussion & comparison for the chapter summary. With that expectation, here is the



11 Εἶπεν δέ, Ἄνθρωπός τις εἶχεν δύο υἱούς.

12 καὶ εἶπεν ὁ νεώτερος αὐτῶν τῷ πατρί, Πάτερ, δός μοι τὸ ἐπιβάλλον μέρος τῆς οὐσίας. ὁ δὲ διεῖλεν αὐτοῖς τὸν βίον.

(11) And he said, “There was a certain man who had two sons. (12) And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share being thrown on me (= inheritance, apparently) of the things existing (= your possessions, apparently). He (the father) divided his life to them.

Have to note the Greek vocabulary here. I’ve given the literal translations along with the “standard” meaning in parentheses. “Share being thrown on me” is rather colorful. But the word meros means portion or share, usually used with the allotment of land given to someone, as when a colony was founded and the land divided, or the portion of an inheritance. It’s the “being thrown upon me” that is a bit…odd, but the Greek word is that for “to throw”. And here is where the Greek verb tenses get a little funky. “Being thrown” is a present participle, so the published translations say something like, “that comes/falls to me”. Maybe it’s just me, but I think of the estate being divided at the death of the father, so I would put this in the future. But this may be my lack of understanding of how inheritance worked at the time. Next, the things divided are ousias; this is a participle of the verb “to be”. It gets used a lot in philosophy for “existence”, but it does stretch to “possessions” in pagan Greek as well. So not too much of a mental leap. One thing I note is that Greek uses a lot of participles when we would use nouns. A participle is the -ing form of a verb. So, rather than being just something static, possessions, the thought behind is active, existing. These things don’t just sit there and exist; they are performing an action by existing. Finally, “divided his life”. That is, the father divided the things that make up his life; hence, his possessions. We call it the estate. Peeking at the Latin, we have substantia, which = “resources”. The cognate shows it means ‘things of substance’, but the form of the word is a noun, so much closer to our way of thinking. Actually, can’t recall where I read it, but someone commented that using the Latin Bible for a millennium or more really had a profound impact on the Western Church, and that much of the theological history of the Western Church was the result of translating Greek thoughts into Latin language. The two languages do look at the world differently.

11 Ait autem: “ Homo quidam habebat duos filios.

12 Et dixit adulescentior ex illis patri: “Pater, da mihi portionem substantiae, quae me contingit”. Et divisit illis substantiam.

13 καὶ μετ’ οὐ πολλὰς ἡμέρας συναγαγὼν πάντα ὁ νεώτερος υἱὸς ἀπεδήμησεν εἰς χώραν μακράν, καὶ ἐκεῖ διεσκόρπισεν τὴν οὐσίαν αὐτοῦ ζῶν ἀσώτως.

“And after not many days gathering all the younger son went abroad to a distant country, and there he squandered his existing things in a life unsaved.

The last word is interesting. It’s from the root of “to save”, and is very close to the word for “saviour”. But it has the a- prefix, which is negation, such as a-moral. It’s an adverb, describing how he was living: in a manner not saved, or perhaps ‘not safe’. The ESV translates as “reckless”, and that’s much better than “riotous” or “loose”. The Latin is luxuriose, which probably needs no translation. Again, a difference in the way the two languages approach the concept. 

13 Et non post multos dies, congregatis omnibus, adulescentior filius peregre profectus est in regionem longinquam et ibi dissipavit substantiam suam vivendo luxuriose.

14 δαπανήσαντος δὲ αὐτοῦ πάντα ἐγένετο λιμὸς ἰσχυρὰ κατὰ τὴν χώραν ἐκείνην, καὶ αὐτὸς ἤρξατο ὑστερεῖσθαι.

15 καὶ πορευθεὶς ἐκολλήθη ἑνὶ τῶν πολιτῶν τῆς χώρας ἐκείνης, καὶ ἔπεμψεν αὐτὸν εἰς τοὺς ἀγροὺς αὐτοῦ βόσκειν χοίρους:

16 καὶ ἐπεθύμει χορτασθῆναι ἐκ τῶν κερατίων ὧν ἤσθιον οἱ χοῖροι, καὶ οὐδεὶς ἐδίδου αὐτῷ.

“Having squandered all of his (money), there became a strong famine upon that country, and he began to fall behind (= to be left behind = to want, as in being at the end of the line and there’s nothing left). (15) And going/departing he glued himself to a citizen of that country, and the citizen sent him to his fields to feed the swine. (16) And he wished to eat of the husks of which the pigs fed, and no one gave anything to him.

I like the “glued himself”. I also could have chosen “cemented himself”; the concept of “attaching” is pretty clear. Second, the man was probably a pagan. There are two clues for this. First, if the man is raising swine, chances are, he was pagan. This is interesting, because Luke is supposed to be the pagan of the four (but I suspect Matthew was, too). The idea of feeding pigs would have been the lowest of the low to Jewish sensibilities, since pigs were unclean. I suppose Jews may have owned pigs, but I don’t think we’re supposed to go that direction. Rather, ties in with second clue, which is the “far country” in Verse 13. If one left Judea or Galilee and went any distance– even a short one, really– one would pretty much be in pagan territory. There were places that had large Jewish populations, like Alexandria and Babylon, but still the territory would have a pagan majority. Finally, is he working for free? Why does he not have a paycheck to purchase food? Wasn’t that the point? Or even if he were working for room & board, he should, theoretically, be recompensed for his labor. That’s kind of how it works, and that is why he got himself a job. Now, maybe the board provided was insufficient to keep him full; in times of famine, one would expect a surplus of labor, which would drive down the wages labor can command. This would mean that the wage paid may not have been sufficient for keeping a working person. And the odd thing is that slaves actually fared better than hired hands. Slaves represented an investment of capital, and the owner understood that it worked to his favor to maintain the slave at a level that kept the slave productive. A hired hand, OTOH, was completely expendable. Hire them when needed, fire them when not.

14 Et postquam omnia consummasset, facta est fames valida in regione illa, et ipse coepit egere.

15 Et abiit et adhaesit uni civium regionis illius, et misit illum in villam suam, ut pasceret porcos;

16 et cupiebat saturari de siliquis, quas porci manducabant, et nemo illi dabat.

17 εἰς ἑαυτὸν δὲ ἐλθὼν ἔφη, Πόσοι μίσθιοι τοῦ πατρός μου περισσεύονται ἄρτων, ἐγὼ δὲ λιμῷ ὧδε ἀπόλλυμαι.

18 ἀναστὰς πορεύσομαι πρὸς τὸν πατέρα μου καὶ ἐρῶ αὐτῷ, Πάτερ, ἥμαρτον εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ ἐνώπιόν σου,

19 οὐκέτι εἰμὶ ἄξιος κληθῆναι υἱός σου: ποίησόν με ὡς ἕνα τῶν μισθίων σου.

“Coming to himself, he said, ‘How much abundance of bread the hired hands of my father (have); but I in hunger in this way am destroyed (I perish). (18) Standing, I will go to my father and say to him, (19) “Father, I have sinned against the sky and before you, I (am) no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hirelings”.’

The ‘coming to himself’ is an interesting usage. It sort of took me by surprise that the Greek would use an expression like this; it seems too modern. The Latin is “reversing to himself”, or “turning back to himself”, which is similar if not quite exact. Also, the word for ‘hireling’ is also the word often used for ‘reward’. Perhaps the common ground is ‘recompense’; so those recompensed will be paid, or they will receive their recompense in the sky as in Mt 5:12. “Great is your recompense in the heavens”. Looking at this from Matthew, the shading of recompense/reward becomes very clear. The concept behind “great is your reward in the heavens” carries a rather different set of connotations. And, BTW, the Latin for “hirelings” is mercennarii, the root of “mercenary”. It simply means “doing it for pay”.

17 In se autem reversus dixit: “Quanti mercennarii patris mei abundant panibus, ego autem hic fame pereo.

18 Surgam et ibo ad patrem meum et dicam illi: Pater, peccavi in caelum et coram te

19 et iam non sum dignus vocari filius tuus; fac me sicut unum de mercennariis tuis”.

20 καὶ ἀναστὰς ἦλθεν πρὸς τὸν πατέρα ἑαυτοῦ. ἔτι δὲ αὐτοῦ μακρὰν ἀπέχοντος εἶδεν αὐτὸν ὁ πατὴρ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐσπλαγχνίσθη καὶ δραμὼν ἐπέπεσεν ἐπὶ τὸν τράχηλον αὐτοῦ καὶ κατεφίλησεν αὐτόν.

21 εἶπεν δὲ ὁ υἱὸς αὐτῷ, Πάτερ, ἥμαρτον εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ ἐνώπιόν σου, οὐκέτι εἰμὶ ἄξιος κληθῆναι υἱός σου.

22 εἶπεν δὲ ὁ πατὴρ πρὸς τοὺς δούλους αὐτοῦ, Ταχὺ ἐξενέγκατε στολὴν τὴν πρώτην καὶ ἐνδύσατε αὐτόν, καὶ δότε δακτύλιον εἰς τὴν χεῖρα αὐτοῦ καὶ ὑποδήματα εἰς τοὺς πόδας,

23 καὶ φέρετε τὸν μόσχον τὸν σιτευτόν, θύσατε καὶ φαγόντες εὐφρανθῶμεν,

24 ὅτι οὗτος ὁ υἱός μου νεκρὸς ἦν καὶ ἀνέζησεν, ἦν ἀπολωλὼς καὶ εὑρέθη. καὶ ἤρξαντο εὐφραίνεσθαι.

“And standing he came to his father. Yet while he was still far away at a distance his father saw (him) and was moved to compassion and running fell upon his neck and kissed him. (21) The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against the sky and before you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ The father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring forth a robe first and dress him, and give rings to his fingers and sandals to his feet. (23) And bring the fatted calf, sacrificing eating we will rejoice. That this my son was dead and is (now) up living, was lost and is found’. And they began to celebrate. 

A number of things in here. First, in Verse 21, a minority of mss traditions add “make me as one of your hirelings”, which was in the speech the son practiced in Verse 21. The ESV, NIV, NASB, and KJV all exclude this extra bit of wording. It’s easy to see how it got into the text; some scribe somewhere was sort of going by wrote from what he had written a few verses before, and just kept going and added the part about the hireling. Or, it got truncated. Generally, the majority opinion represents the most likely explanation, and that could easily hold here. Offhand, I would say that the second set of circumstances would be more likely, so I would tend towards it getting left out rather than added to; however, that then requires explaining how the left out became the majority opinion and is found in the largest number of mss traditions. So, once again, I will plead agnostic on this; textual stuff is the realm of specialists, and I do not have the chops to have an opinion that’s worth anything.

Still, it’s an interesting style point to note how we get the practice speech and then the actual speech separated by a few verses. What does this say? Most notably the reader/listener really understands what the son’s message to the father is. That he is not worthy to be called son. This would be an argument in favor of the shorter version that we have here: this ends the son’s address to the father with “I am not worthy”, thereby giving this part of the message a greater rhetorical impact. And this then becomes more or less the theme of this whole parable. Despite not being worthy, we can all still be reconciled with God. This is a significant part of the Christian message, albeit one that some, perhaps, would like to ignore. We’ll get back to that when we discuss the overall message of this parable at the end of this section.

Just a bit on “up living’. The word here was coined by Luke; at least, this is the only recorded use of the word in any sort of literary context that has survived to our day. It is composed of the word “to live” with the prefix “ana”, which means “up”. So, “up to live”. The Latin is revixit, literally “to live again”, or, actually, “to re-live”. Can we stretch this to “resurrection”? It’s not out of the question. Is this a reference to being saved? Most likely, since he was lost but now has been found. More on this in a bit.

20 Et surgens venit ad patrem suum.

Cum autem adhuc longe esset, vidit illum pater ipsius et misericordia motus est et accurrens cecidit supra collum eius et osculatus est illum.

21 Dixitque ei filius: “Pater, peccavi in caelum et coram te; iam non sum dignus vocari filius tuus”.

22 Dixit autem pater ad servos suos: “Cito proferte stolam primam et induite illum et date anulum in manum eius et calceamenta in pedes

23 et adducite vitulum saginatum, occidite et manducemus et epulemur,

24 quia hic filius meus mortuus erat et revixit, perierat et inventus est”. Et coeperunt epulari.

25 ην δὲ ὁ υἱὸς αὐτοῦ ὁ πρεσβύτερος ἐν ἀγρῷ: καὶ ὡς ἐρχόμενος ἤγγισεν τῇ οἰκίᾳ, ἤκουσεν συμφωνίας καὶ χορῶν,

26 καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος ἕνα τῶν παίδων ἐπυνθάνετο τί ἂν εἴη ταῦτα.

27 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτῷ ὅτι Ὁ ἀδελφός σου ἥκει, καὶ ἔθυσεν ὁ πατήρ σου τὸν μόσχον τὸν σιτευτόν, ὅτι ὑγιαίνοντα αὐτὸν ἀπέλαβεν.

28 ὠργίσθη δὲ καὶ οὐκ ἤθελεν εἰσελθεῖν. ὁ δὲ πατὴρ αὐτοῦ ἐξελθὼν παρεκάλει αὐτόν.

29 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν τῷ πατρὶ αὐτοῦ, Ἰδοὺ τοσαῦτα ἔτη δουλεύω σοι καὶ οὐδέποτε ἐντολήν σου παρῆλθον, καὶ ἐμοὶ οὐδέποτε ἔδωκας ἔριφον ἵνα μετὰ τῶν φίλων μου εὐφρανθῶ:

30 ὅτε δὲ ὁ υἱός σου οὗτος ὁ καταφαγών σου τὸν βίον μετὰπορνῶν ἦλθεν, ἔθυσας αὐτῷ τὸν σιτευτὸν μόσχον.

31 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Τέκνον, σὺ πάντοτε μετ’ ἐμοῦ εἶ, καὶ πάντα τὰ ἐμὰ σά ἐστιν:

32 εὐφρανθῆναι δὲ καὶ χαρῆναι ἔδει, ὅτι ὁ ἀδελφός σου οὗτος νεκρὸς ἦν καὶ ἔζησεν, καὶ ἀπολωλὼς καὶ εὑρέθη.

“And his older son was in the field. And as he was coming nigh to the house, he heard symphonies and choruses, (26) and calling one of the boys (slaves) he asked what these things would be. (27) He (the slave) said to him (the elder), ‘Your brother arrived, and your father sacrificed the fatted calf, that healthy he received him back’. (28) He was angered and did not wish to come in. His father coming out called to him. (29) He (the son) answering said to his father, ‘Look, how so many years I slave for you and never circumvented your commandments and never did you give me a kid so that with my friends I may have celebrated. (30) But that your son came, he who having eaten your possessions with harlots returned, you sacrificed for him the fatted calf’. (31) He (the father) said to him (the elder), ‘Son, you always are with me, and all that I have is yours. (32) But look, rejoice and be happy that your brother who was dead and now lives (again; same verb as in Verse 23) and was lost, and has been found’.”

First, I just want to note that this is the end of the chapter. There is no further lesson, no explanation of the lesson, and no rebuttal by a Pharisee. Rhetorically and stylistically, this is the last word on the topic. It just stands.

And this lesson is similar to that of the Lost Sheep. There the shepherd leaves the 99 in the wilderness to find the one lost. Now, a sheep may have been an expensive loss, but I doubt the cost-benefit analysis on regaining the one outweighs the potential of the loss of the 99. The latter are left to fend for themselves. In similar manner, here the older brother is miffed that the younger is restored to good graces and– to the elder’s mind– so easily. In these stories the good people, the just (dikaios) as they are called here, seem to get short shrift. And, unfortunately, this is one of the hardest lessons for some Christians to learn. With whom do we identify in this story? Perhaps you were the riotous youth, but I was generally the sober one, studying and learning Greek whereas my older brother was, shall we say, a bit of a party animal. So yeah, I understand the chagrin of the just. We want the rotten kid to suffer. At least some, and even if we never admit it to ourselves, let alone anyone else. This is the innate and slightly counterintuitive appeal of Calvinism. All those “good folk” are convinced of which side they are on, so why bother with the reprobates? They’re just damned, and there’s nothing we can do for them. And since all God’s friends are rich, well, it’s easy to tell who’s on which team.

Many cultures in the ancient world had a concept that one’s soul would be judged post-mortem, and that the judgement would be something of a balancing act. Did your good outweigh your bad? The Egyptians believed our heart would be put on one side of the scale, and a feather on the other. If your heart outweighed the feather, you flunked the test. Catholicism is sort of in the mindset of the good/bad scale. Do something wrong, and you have to do penance for it, and it’s usually impossible to atone for all your sins in a single lifetime. Hence, the need for Purgatory, which the nuns assured us, we would all experience. Now, that’s not to argue for or against Purgatory, but it demonstrates very effectively the mindset of the ancient world. It’s also one of the most egregious things that Martin Luther saw as wrong with Catholic thinking. And there is good reason to argue that this was not the intent of this story, or that of the Lost Sheep. The Latin says do penance. The Greek says, be penitent, or repent. I can assure you that the penance that must be done for one’s sins was meted out at the end of confession. There are Mediaeval handbooks of penance that were intended as how-to manual for priests. Sin X should be atoned by Penance Y. That is not the message here.

Interestingly, this concept described here better reflects the Jewish attitude than the pagan attitude. After all, repentance was the word that the Baptist used in Mark. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement, when devout Jews spend the whole day in Temple praying and asking forgiveness. [Full disclosure: I have never been in a Temple on Yom Kippur, so I cannot specify exactly what happens. That is the inference I’ve drawn from things I’ve heard.] 

The point here is that Jesus tells us that we don’t need to make up for all those misdeeds by trying to counterbalance them with good works, or works of penance. Rather, we need to repent, to be penitent. The word in Greek literally means “change (as in redirect) your mind”. When you have that change of mind, Luke says, and of heart, you will be given your full reward. 

25 Erat autem filius eius senior in agro et, cum veniret et appropinquaret domui, audivit symphoniam et choros

26 et vocavit unum de servis et interrogavit quae haec essent.

27 Isque dixit illi: “Frater tuus venit, et occidit pater tuus vitulum saginatum, quia salvum illum recepit”.

28 Indignatus est autem et nolebat introire. Pater ergo illius egressus coepit rogare illum.

29 At ille respondens dixit patri suo: “Ecce tot annis servio tibi et numquam mandatum tuum praeterii, et numquam dedisti mihi haedum, ut cum amicis meis epularer;

30 sed postquam filius tuus hic, qui devoravit substantiam tuam cum meretricibus, venit, occidisti illi vitulum saginatum”.

31 At ipse dixit illi: “Fili, tu semper mecum es, et omnia mea tua sunt;

32 epulari autem et gaudere oportebat, quia frater tuus hic mortuus erat et revixit, perierat et inventus est” ”.



Luke Chapter 15:1-10

This is the famous story of the Lost Sheep. It is unique to Luke. There is no real legitimate reason to believe that Luke did not compose this story himself. To the best of my knowledge, most scholarship would attribute this to a tradition that somehow preserved this story intact, but bypassed Mark & Matthew. Now, being honest and blunt, this is entirely possible. Since nothing was written about Jesus until the 50s, but, truly about Jesus, until the 70s, there were doubtless numerous strands of tradition about him. Paul tells us as much when he decries the Thessalonians for succumbing to “another gospel”. Indeed, that was part of the contention with James, brother of the lord: they had different messages, which, I suspect, went beyond Jewish dietary laws and circumcision.

So why not attribute this to the L Source? This is how the Q proponents account for the material unique to Luke; the material unique to Matthew has been dubbed M. While this is possible, it seems unlikely that there was a trove of material floating about that only Luke discovered. And part of the argument is that L and M were oral traditions; only Q was written. It is possible, indeed probably, that such traditions existed. What is unlikely, and highly so, is that these traditions actually traced back to Jesus. Much more likely is that different communities came up with their own set of stories, just like different areas came up with their own episodes for the Arthurian legends. However, while possible, I believe this does a disservice to both Matthew and Luke. Both evangelists were men of some erudition, and each crafted a gospel that fit in with his particular view of Jesus. These views were not always entirely consistent, but they worked towards consistency; I suspect the process reaches apotheosis with John, but we’ll find out when we get there. For now, let’s turn to the



1) ησαν δὲ αὐτῷ ἐγγίζοντες πάντες οἱ τελῶναι καὶ οἱ ἁμαρτωλοὶ ἀκούειν αὐτοῦ.

2 καὶ διεγόγγυζον οἵ τε Φαρισαῖοι καὶ οἱ γραμματεῖς λέγοντες ὅτι Οὗτος ἁμαρτωλοὺς προσδέχεται καὶ συνεσθίει αὐτοῖς.

There were approaching to him the tax-collectors and sinners to hear him. (2) And muttering were the Pharisees and the Scribes, saying that, “He receives sinners and eats with them.”

That Jesus consorted with publicans and sinners is found in all three gospels. It is very tempting to see this as authentic tradition. It does not exactly square with the idea of Jesus being a magician; these latter usually sought out the more substantial members of society who were able to pay for their services. Then, OTOH, it does not say that Jesus was consorting with the poor, but with sinners. Publicans were notoriously wealthy, attaining this wealth by squeezing taxpayers for more than the required amount. The Roman Empire outsourced tax collection to private contractors in the free market. Would-be publicans bid on how much they would collect, and Roman officials accepted the highest bidder. The contractor then had to squeeze the public for an amount over and above the contract amount in order to realize a profit. That these successful contractors were generally wealthy indicates their efficiency and ruthlessness in collection activities. IOW, if you think the government is rapacious, see what happens if this gets outsourced. And there are proposals out there that this should happen. 

So is this an an accurate description of Jesus’ behavior? That may strike many people as an absurd question. Of course he acted this way. That’s what the NT tells us he did. It’s one of the bases of the Christian ideal. The problem with this assessment, of course, is that we have no evidence for Jesus’ behaviour. The NT does not provide anything close to an actual historical record. Matthew and Luke both tell whopping big lies in their birth narratives*; so, from the start, we should be very selective about taking anything they say at face value. Because what kind of sinners were these people? Well, Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. Except nowhere are we told this in the NT. This was part of later tradition. There was the woman who anointed Jesus with the perfume, who the Pharisees tut-tutted was a sinner, by which *nudge-nudge wink-wink* we’re supposed to infer a prostitute; however, nowhere is this woman called Mary Magdalene, and she is not called a sinner in any of the other versions. Matthew uses the word “sinner” five times, and three of them are canned phrase “publicans and sinners”. It’s enough to make one wonder if part of the reason Jesus was reviled by the Jewish establishment (if, indeed, he was) had more to do with him hanging out with tax collectors than ‘sinners’ per se. And interestingly, hanging out with publicans would have been pro-Roman behavior; IOW, instead of railing against Rome, he was chummy with the collaborators. Makes one wonder about the whole zealot thing. Or, it should.

This is a huge topic.

1 Erant autem appropinquantes ei omnes publicani et pec catores, ut audirent illum.

2 Et murmurabant pharisaei et scribae dicentes: “Hic peccatores recipit et manducat cum illis”.

3 εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς αὐτοὺς τὴν παραβολὴν ταύτην λέγων,

4 Τίς ἄνθρωπος ἐξ ὑμῶν ἔχων ἑκατὸν πρόβατα καὶ ἀπολέσας ἐξ αὐτῶν ἓν οὐ καταλείπει τὰ ἐνενήκοντα ἐννέα ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ καὶ πορεύεται ἐπὶ τὸ ἀπολωλὸς ἕως εὕρῃ αὐτό;

He said to them this parable, saying (4) “What person of you having one hundred sheep and losing of them (a single) one does not leave the 99 in the wilderness and seek upon the lost one until he may find it?

Have to pause a moment for a couple of minor issues. The first is verb tense. “Which of you does not leave…until he may find…” The tense of the first is present indicative active. IOW, standard present tense. In English, we would be more apt to say, “which of you would not leave…” That is subjunctive to express unreality or uncertainty that such a thing has or will happen. The second, “may find”, is a subjunctive and has been rendered as such here. The point is that Greek verb tenses do not always translate one-for-one into English. There are frequently times when the tenses within the narrative are inconsistent, switching back and forth between present and aorist. There are rules about this…sort of. The purpose of all of this is to be careful when someone starts lecturing on how the verb is an aorist and uses this as justification to trot out a whole bunch of implications. Be very wary of any conclusions about meaning based on a disquisition of an aorist tense.

The second point is the word “wilderness”. This is the word used of the Baptist to tell us he was “in the wilderness”. The root is “herm–“, as in “hermit”. The first Christian hermits lived in the wilderness. The base meaning in Greek is “alone”. The “lone individual lived an alone life in a lonely place”. Translated: “the hermit lived a solitary life in the wilderness”. Aside from the KJV, all my crib translations render this as “open pasture” or something such. In our world, “pasture” has certain connotations that are wholly lacking in the Greek word. The point is that there was a lot of empty space between towns or settlements, and it was common practice to take your herd into this empty space. This is the sort of historical information that a text like the NT can provide very reliably because it’s so inadvertent. This is why we can discuss things like whether Jesus was a collaborator with the Romans. Or, if he was seen as something along those lines by some of the Jews. 

3 Et ait ad illos parabolam istam dicens:

4 “Quis ex vobis homo, qui habet centum oves et si perdiderit unam ex illis, nonne dimittit nonaginta novem in deserto et vadit ad illam, quae perierat, donec inveniat illam?

5 καὶ εὑρὼν ἐπιτίθησιν ἐπὶ τοὺς ὤμους αὐτοῦ χαίρων,

6 καὶ ἐλθὼν εἰς τὸν οἶκον συγκαλεῖ τοὺς φίλους καὶ τοὺς γείτονας λέγων αὐτοῖς, Συγχάρητέ μοι, ὅτι εὗρον τὸ πρόβατόν μου τὸ ἀπολωλός.

7 λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι οὕτως χαρὰ ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ ἔσται ἐπὶ ἑνὶ ἁμαρτωλῷ μετανοοῦντι ἢ ἐπὶ ἐνενήκοντα ἐννέα δικαίοις οἵτινες οὐ χρείαν ἔχουσιν μετανοίας.

“And finding, he places it on his shoulders rejoicing, (6) and coming home he calls together his friends and relatives saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, that I have found the sheep having been lost’. (7) I say to you that in this way there will be rejoicing in the sky upon the sinner having repented than upon the 99 just ones who did not need repentance”.

Take a look at the Latin below and note the bolded words. They literally mean “doing penance”. This is a very different concept than the meaning of the Greek, which is to “repent”. The same distinction between the Latin and the Greek occurs very famously in Mark 1:15. There, in the Greek, the Baptist/Dunker calls on those hearing to “repent” or to “be penitent”. In the Latin, he calls upon them to “do/make penance”. This distinction in translation had serious implications for the development of the Western Church that read the NT in Latin. This translation into Latin led to the Catholic doctrine of Penance, of doing penance assigned in Confession. When Erasmus went back to the Greek in the 15th Century and corrected the translation, changing it from a noun to a verb, this had a major impact on Martin Luther. Recall that Luther was incensed about the practice of selling indulgences, which were a means of lessening the amount of penance that had to be done to atone for one’s sins. In Luther’s mind, there was no way one could keep up with the ongoing demands of doing penance for the constant stream of sins one committed. However, if the injunction was to repent, or to be repentant, then the whole equation changed. Overall, the development of the Church in the West had a lot to do with the Latin, rather than the Greek, NT. It’s a very different set of concepts. That the Church discussed the doctrine of gratia rather than charis had significant influence on the doctrine, since charis lacks the connotation of “free” that exist in the Latin gratia. And too, the Greek word “logos” has very different lexical field than the Latin word verbum. Language matters. To my mind, it’s not surprising that the schism between the Catholic and Orthodox churches occurred; the remarkable part is that they held together as long as they did. And even then, the final rupture was as much political as it was religious, or doctrinal.

Upon my first reading, the question of what “happened” to the lost sheep that is found again rose in my mind. How are we to understand the concepts of  being “lost”, and then being “found”? The awesome hymn Amazing Grace provides wonderful insight into the meanings of these words, but the song was written nearly two millennia later. It describes how we view being “lost” and “found”. Part of the purpose of this blog is to determine what the author may have meant when using the terms. Of course, the answer is, seemingly, provided in the last verse where Luke talks about rejoicing in the sky. Of course, “sky” is the immediate meaning of the word, which Christians will translate as “heaven”, or even “Heaven”; however, it’s always good to remind ourselves of what the Greek word used actually means. In this case, “heaven” is legitimate as it was used in that sense since the time of Homer, just as we use the term “the heavens” to mean simply the sky. Presumably the rejoicing in heaven will include the rejoicing of the father who is in the sky. So presumably, we are to understand “lost” and “found” in the sense that the awesome hymn Amazing Grace uses the terms. Or can we?

That degree of uncertainty is exactly the point. We think we know. We may think it’s blindingly obvious. But it’s really not. The lost sheep has been found, and it has reunited with the flock; but where? In heaven? Or on earth? The Jewish conception of salvation was corporate; the Chosen People; the flock, not the individual, and not necessarily in an afterlife. So a return to that corporate body would be a cause for rejoicing by the denizens of heaven, but that would have been true in Jewish thought several hundred years earlier, too. What has changed here? Perhaps nothing. Or perhaps the salvation of the individual was just assumed by this point. One thing that we must constantly remember when we read these texts is that we’re reading them. For the most part, Luke’s audience would not have done that. They would have listened, while someone else read. Then there likely would have been a follow-up discussion, perhaps including a Q&A period. That’s largely how learning worked, even through the Middle Ages, at the newly-founded universities. The Master read aloud and then the students discussed under the guidance of the Master. In both cases, there would have been additional exposition on the text. This is where the Catholics were horrified by the idea of vernacular Bibles, because then just anyone could read the thing without having the guidance of a learned teacher who understood what was “really” meant. This is why the Catholics insisted on the validity of The Tradition. These were the lessons handed down by Augustine and Tertullian and Clement, who, as Bishop of Rome, theoretically got it, ultimately, from Peter. The line of succession was Peter, Linus, (Ana)Cletus, Clement…The this was recited every Sunday during the Consecration part of the Mass. It’s interesting because I was having a FaceBook discussion with a friend I’ve never met about the number of times Jesus spoke of being saved, in the common, modern sense. I rattled off a few cites, and then mentioned a few more where it was understood. This was one of the examples I used. The thing is, I hadn’t translated and commented on this section fully, so I may have jumped to some unwarranted conclusions. 

So, what do we know? If by know, we mean as a certainty, the answer is all too often ‘not as much as we think’. The Protestants who rejected the tradition in favor of individual inspiration probably retained more of that tradition than they realized or intended.

We’ll come back to this shortly, when we get to the parable of the Prodigal Son, which is coming up shortly.

5 Et cum invenerit eam, imponit in umeros suos gaudens

6 et veniens domum convocat amicos et vicinos dicens illis: “Congratulamini mihi, quia inveni ovem meam, quae perierat”.

7 Dico vobis: Ita gaudium erit in caelo super uno peccatore paenitentiam agente quam super nonaginta novem iustis, qui non indigent paenitentia.

8 Ἢ τίς γυνὴ δραχμὰς ἔχουσα δέκα, ἐὰν ἀπολέσῃ δραχμὴν μίαν, οὐχὶ ἅπτει λύχνον καὶ σαροῖ τὴν οἰκίαν καὶ ζητεῖ ἐπιμελῶς ἕως οὗ εὕρῃ;

9 καὶ εὑροῦσα συγκαλεῖ τὰς φίλας καὶ γείτονας λέγουσα, Συγχάρητέ μοι, ὅτι εὗρον τὴν δραχμὴν ἣν ἀπώλεσα.

10 οὕτως, λέγω ὑμῖν, γίνεται χαρὰ ἐνώπιον τῶν ἀγγέλων τοῦ θεοῦ ἐπὶ ἑνὶ ἁμαρτωλῷ μετανοοῦντι.

Or a certain woman having ten drachmas, if she should lose a single drachma, will she not light a lamp and sweep the house and search diligently until she found it? (9) And having found it, she calls her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, that I found the drachma that I lost’. (10) Thus, I say to you, be happy before the messengers of the lord upon one sinner having repented.

A couple of things. First, up until this point, I haven’t been as punctilious about getting the verb tenses to agree with the Greek. Shame on me, especially when I want to help new learners. Second, the word for “lighting”, as in “lighting a lamp” is aptō; perhaps the root of “apt” is apparent.

But the other thing is that this is where I’m supposed to tell you what a drachma was worth. My apologies, but my sense of currency exchange is lacking for this time and place. I do know that in Classical Athens, two obols was considered a day’s wages, and that there were ten obols in a drachma. Based on that rate, a drachma would represent a week’s wages– assuming a modern five-day week, which is simply anachronistic. The five-day week did not become the norm until the early 20th Century. Still, it was a decent amount of money; as a single sheep represented a decent amount of money. So in both cases, there was ample reason for the one having lost either to search. If you lost $100 USD bill, you would spend some time looking for it. And $100 USD would probably not buy you a sheep in today’s money. 

The minor economics lesson aside, the point is that, in either case, an individual sinner is worth a substantial amount to the denizens of heaven.

Now on to the Prodigal Son.

8 Aut quae mulier habens drachmas decem, si perdiderit drachmam unam, nonne accendit lucernam et everrit domum et quaerit diligenter, donec inveniat?

9 Et cum invenerit, convocat amicas et vicinas dicens: ‘Congratulamini mihi, quia inveni drachmam, quam perdideram’.

10 Ita dico vobis: Gaudium fit coram angelis Dei super uno peccatore paenitentiam agente”.

* Matthew: the Slaughter of the Innocents is not historical. Something this heinous would have left some mark in the historical record. Luke: that Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem to be counted in the census– which seems to have a pretty solid basis in history. The idea that people had to uproot themselves from their occupations and return to an ancestral home from centuries before is patently absurd on its own merits. Plus, once again, there is no historical corroboration.

Summary Luke Chapter 14

Once again we got a chapter that is largely to be seen as a single unit. Until Verse 25, all of the action takes place while Jesus is having dinner with some Pharisees. It’s odd, but much has been made about how Jesus consorted with the undesirable element of society, the poor, tax collectors, women, etc., and he certainly did. But it’s not often pointed out, or commented upon, that Jesus also spent a fair bit of time being entertained by the upright members of society as is happening here. This aspect of Jesus’ ministry has certainly escaped my notice up to this point by hiding in plain sight. The question then must be asked if this consorting with the establishment was accurate, or if it merely served as a setting whereby the audience served as foil for Jesus’ teaching. For example, in this chapter Jesus provides two lessons that are particularly apt for such an audience. The first is on the virtue of humility which comes in the admonition not to take the best seats at a dinner party, but the worst. This ends in the admonition that the first shall be last and the last shall be first, which helps establish humility as an ideal virtue. This was novel understanding of social behaviour, for pagans as well as for Jews. The setting of the story drives this latter home very effectively. In fact, it may be a little too effective.

By this I am implying that Jesus likely did not spend much time hanging out with Pharisees. Mark has a version of the last/first dichotomy, but his is set very differently. The first expression is after being questioned by a rich young man in Chapter 10:31, the second a dozen verses later when he admonishes the sons of Zebedee for asking to be seated at the right & left hand when Jesus comes into his kingdom. The wording there is not identical to the wording here. In Mark, Jesus says the first shall be last; in Matthew & Luke the wording is that those exalting themselves will be humbled. Different words, but the thought behind them is identical. The latter two turn it into self-exaltation, but that is what James & John attempted to do. And yet, despite the overwhelming similarity of the sentiment, this is considered to be part of Q because Matthew & Luke use the humbled/exalted language where Mark did not. However, fascinating as that is, the topic here is the authenticity. Since Mark does not include any instances of Jesus eating with the establishment while Matthew and Luke does, I believe it is safe to infer from this that the setting we find here is completely fictional. It runs against the grain of pretty much all of Mark, where Jesus is truly an itinerant preacher who encounters those listening to him as he moves from place to place. We have to ask where this all transpired, what the circumstances were that led to Jesus dining with Pharisees? Where is he? In Caphernaum? We were told in Chapter 7 that he had entered that town, but later we are told he went from town to town. At one point, he was at the house of Mary and Martha, which was in Bethany, hard under the walls of Jerusalem, but there is also reason to suspect he was still traveling. This is important for the question of who– or what– Jesus was, how he was seen by the various groups he encountered, or what his reputation was. In Mark, the itinerant nature of Jesus career is very consistent with that of a wonder-worker. They would travel about since staying in one place too long would probably result is an accumulation of failures; this would help explain why the prophet was not honored in his home town.

Just as a bit of a side note. Matthew places the humbled/exalted injunction in the speech when he casts woes onto the various social groups. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees, he says, love the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogue. Luke places the scene in the house of a Pharisee, where the guests are all angling for the places of honor. Coincidence? Do you still think that Luke hadn’t read Matthew?

While at the house, Jesus also cures a man of dropsy on the Sabbath. This gives him the opportunity to override the Jewish idea of what was allowed and not allowed to be done on the Sabbath. In theory, one was supposed to do little or nothing that wasn’t devoted to God. Hence the Puritan custom of spending a big chunk of time in church, and devoting the rest to scripture reading and psalm-singing. Jesus sort of says that this isn’t the way it needs to be. And this sentiment is found very early in Mark, where he cures a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, which causes some consternation. This reaction rather makes me suspect that this story did not trace back to Jesus; as with the supersession of the Jews– a parable about which we also get in this chapter– this seems more suited to a time after Paul. Recall that Paul tells us of his dispute with James, brother of the lord, concerned Jewish customs, or laws, such as dietary practice and circumcision; James thought their retention necessary, Paul did not. Exerting oneself on the Sabbath, or the extent to which this was permissible was another such custom. Bear in mind that the idea of a week, with a weekend, did not exist in the pagan world. The Roman calendar just numbered the days in a month without breaking them into weeks. This practice was an innovation of the Christin Empire, when celebrating the sabbath on a recurring basis became a priority. As such, early pagan followers of Jesus probably found it difficult not to work on one day out of seven. This would be particularly true of a follower of Jesus who was the slave of a pagan master. In fact, this habit of wanting one day in seven off was a major criticism of Christians by their pagan contemporaries, who found the Christians lazy. So not needing to be overly concerned about Jewish custom regarding the Sabbath would have been a real concern to pagan converts.

In addition, it is significant that the sentiment traces back to Mark. For something to be traceable back to Jesus, its presence in Mark is probably a necessary, but not sufficient condition to be considered as authentic. That this appears already in Mark indicates that the transition to pagan converts occurred much earlier than is generally assumed. At the very latest, my suspicion is that the destruction of Jerusalem was a major impetus to this transition; therefore, the inclusion of the story in Mark probably points to a date post-destruction for the writing of that gospel. It must be noted, however, that this is not conclusive; if the transition was underway already in the 50s, as a result of Paul’s evangelizing, then it would not be necessary for this to have come about after 70. So again, put all of this on a scale and weigh all the pieces as units to determine the date of Mark. As mentioned, the anachronistic nature of this story ties in with the parable of the man giving a banquet. This was clearly meant as an explanation of why the Jews hadn’t converted en masse; as such, it’s completely out of place in the 30s.

There is one aspect of the story of the banquet that was not discussed in the commentary section because the connexion had not occurred to me. So much ink has been spilled on the distinction between “blessed are the poor” and “blessed are the poor in spirit” that the topic has become cliché; normally, that would give me pause about discussing it further. The problem is that the focus of the topic has been, IMO, misplaced. The debate almost always centers on which of the two is “more primitive”, and this idea of “primitivity” is a core tenet of the Q debate. Since Luke’s version has two fewer words, this is taken as conclusive proof that Luke’s version is “more primitive”. Well, okay, that’s a bit harsh on my part. “Poor in spirit” is rather more of a subtle concept than “poor”; but then, that is really my point. The one is not necessarily more primitive; it’s just different. Luke’s version has a different emphasis than Matthew’s version. Matthew is talking about humility; Luke is talking about actual poverty. Being humble is a behaviour, or a tenet, of Christianity as we understand it, and Matthew speaks to this. Luke, OTOH, is talking about social justice. More, he underscores this message twice in this chapter. In the first, he admonishes his well-to-do audience that they should invite the downtrodden to the banquets they give; of this class of people, Jesus singled out the poor. He does not instruct the Pharisees to invite the poor in spirit. The second instance comes in the discussion of the wedding banquet. When the invited guests, which would have included the sort of people gathered at the actual dinner Jesus attended, demur their invitations, Jesus once again instructs the slave to invite those same downtrodden, and again among them are the poor.

I wanted to blow this into a big demonstration that Luke shows much more concern for the actual poor than Matthew; one avenue I pursued was to check the number of instances when the word “poor” (ptōchoi, and variants) occur in each gospel. This is a standard analysis. Luke shows an increase of usage of the word of 33% over Matthew; and that goes up to a 40% increase if we eliminate the “poor in spirit” cite in Matthew. Now, if you have any sense of statistics, you immediately realized that the elimination of a single occurrence resulting in such a large increase indicates that we are working from very low numbers. If I have a dollar and get another, my wealth has doubled, it has increased 100%. If I have a million dollars and have a 1% increase in my wealth, I’ve picked up a whole lot more money* than I did when I doubled from a single dollar. So it is here. Matthew uses the word six times; Luke uses it eight times. 8 – 6 = 2, and 2 is 33% of 6.

The results were less conclusive than I’d hoped, but still, I believe, significant. Despite the low numbers, it can be argued that the message in Luke is qualitatively– if not so much quantitively– different from the message in Matthew. There is nothing in the first gospel such as we have here. In fact, Matthew, in his version of what The Q Reader calls “the Great Supper”, does not specify whom his slaves should invite. In Matthew, the lord simply tells his slaves to go out to the roads & highways and invite whomever they might find. Luke, in contrast, specifies that the poor and others are to be those invited– or compelled. And then Matthew simply has no correlation to the passage about inviting the poor to one’s banquets as we find in Luke 14:12. In Matthew, the poor are more theoretical; sell your goods, or the expensive perfume and give to the poor; the poor will always be with you; the poor have the gospel preached to them. For those of you keeping score at home, you only counted four, not five uses of “the poor”. That is because the six cites of “the poor” in Matthew includes its use twice in the same passage. In the tale of the expensive perfume, the disciples say it could have been sold and the proceeds given to the, to which Jesus says “the poor will always be with you”. The contrast to Luke is sharp. Luke not only has the two passages in this chapter, he also has the searing tale of Dives and Lazarus. So the poor in Luke are real to a degree, or they have a presence, that does not appear in Matthew.


*$10,000, to be exact.