Luke Chapter 18:15-30

We have not been told that the place or circumstances have changed since the beginning of Chapter 17. As mentioned in the last section, it seems that Luke is not terribly concerned with such. This could be taken to indicate that he’s not trying to write a biography or create any sort of historical context; instead, he’s putting down what he wants us to think that Jesus said. That is an interesting statement, if one considers it. We could take this as a hint that “sayings gospels” like the so-called Q or the Gospel of Thomas were not early; instead, they came later. The whole Q/Thomas thing is a glaring exercise of circular reasoning, which is the correct use of the expression “begging the question”. How do we know that Thomas is early? Because it resembles Q in form. How do we know that Q existed? Because Thomas proves the early existence of sayings gospels. Collections of teachings of the sort that we find in Thomas were not a common feature in ancient writings. The more or less contemporary Plutarch wrote Lives of Noble Greeks And Romans, quasi-biographies that were intended to impart the wisdom and the example of noble Greeks and Romans. They were meant as exempla, examples. A closer parallel may be Diogenes Laertius, who wrote biographies and recorded the the teachings of prominent philosophers and renowned sages, but even this included biography, and he did not write his magnum opus until after 200 CE. Rather, it would seem that Thomas deliberately stripped out the biographical information in the gospels and recorded only what they regarded as the true the teachings of Jesus.

So we can– indeed we have to– assume that Luke intended this next section to be a continuation of the teaching session that Jesus began at the opening of Chapter 17. As such, we have no idea where we are, nor to whom Jesus is speaking. So, as we’re left wondering about such details, let’s get on to the

Text

15 Προσέφερον δὲ αὐτῷ καὶ τὰ βρέφη ἵνα αὐτῶν ἅπτηται: ἰδόντες δὲ οἱ μαθηταὶ ἐπετίμων αὐτοῖς.

They carried to him also the babies in the womb (children; babies) so that he might touch them. Seeing, his learners castigated them.    

This is interesting. According to the NT Lexicon I use at TheBible.org website, Jesus lit the children on fire. That seemed a bit strange so I checked the Latin. The verb is to touch. My curiosity piqued, the handy-dandy Liddell & Scott. Lo and behold, the word used means to touch (among other things, including to lay hands upon, and the cites are Classical authors.) Once again, the NT Lexicon fails. Unless the word I’m checking is very common, like “goat”, I almost always use the L&S. Had a debate about this on another site with someone advocating the NT lexica, but I find that these are too often self-referential. Also, the word used here for children actually means babies in the womb. There are no cites of it meaning children anywhere. Oddly, this reference is not in the L&S, even though peculiar Christian uses of a word are cited. After all, it was the Reverent Doctor Scott who made up the back half of Liddell & Scott. And, as a reminder, Liddell was the father of a child named Alice, whom the Rev Charles Dodgson allegedly used as the model for his Alice in Wonderland.

15 Afferebant autem ad illum et infantes, ut eos tangeret; quod cum viderent, discipuli increpabant illos. 

16 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς προσεκαλέσατο αὐτὰ λέγων, Ἄφετε τὰ παιδία ἔρχεσθαι πρός με καὶ μὴ κωλύετε αὐτά, τῶν γὰρ τοιούτων ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ.

17 ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ὃς ἂν μὴ δέξηται τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ ὡς παιδίον, οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθῃ εἰς αὐτήν.

Jesus called to them (the children) saying, “Allow the children to come to me and do not forbid them, for of such as these is the Kingdom of God. (17) Amen I say to you, who does not receive the Kingdom of God as a child, that one may not enter into it (the kingdom).

Quickly, we’re back to the standard word for child, pais. This was the term used for the child/slave that the Centurion asked Jesus to heal. Second, note that Jesus calls out to them; however, he is not calling the disciples. The word for disciples, mathetai, is masculine gender, whereas the word used for them is neuter. The only neuter available are the babies in the womb. so it appears Jesus is calling the children.

As an aside, the essence of this story is in Mark, so it is not part of Q. Which is interesting, because we have another example of where Luke agrees with Matthew against Mark. In the latter, Jesus felt a violent irritation (L&S definition). In Matthew and Luke, he does not. He rebuked the disciples in all three, but Matthew and Luke leave out the indignation. And, it is in this setting that Mark places the “first shall be last” aphorism, where both Matthew and Mark place it elsewhere; however, this shouldn’t be counted as a separate agreement of Matthew & Luke. Still, considering that Matthew and Luke never agree against Mark, we’ve had two examples of this in the same chapter. 

16 Iesus autem convocans illos dixit: “ Sinite pueros venire ad me et nolite eos vetare; talium est enim regnum Dei. 

17 Amen dico vobis: Quicumque non acceperit regnum Dei sicut puer, non intrabit in illud ”.

18 Καὶ ἐπηρώτησέν τις αὐτὸν ἄρχων λέγων, Διδάσκαλε ἀγαθέ, τί ποιήσας ζωὴν αἰώνιον κληρονομήσω;

19 εἶπεν δὲ αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Τί με λέγεις ἀγαθόν; οὐδεὶς ἀγαθὸς εἰ μὴ εἷς ὁ θεός.

And some leader asked him saying, “Good teacher, what will I do to inherit eternal life?” (18) And Jesus said to him, “Why do you say I am good? No one is good except God.”

A couple of things. We are told that some “ruler” asked the question. The Greek word is archon. This word is sort of a generic term for leader, or ruler. Jairus was called an archon of the synagogue. Some commentators suggest he was the ruler of a synagogue on the analogy of Jairus, and this is entirely possible. Regardless, the title is probably not to be taken as a specific office the way say, a consul was the chief office of Rome during the Republic. (Of course, Rome being Rome, the office continued under the Empire, but all the actual power was vested in the Emperor.) For most of fifty or a hundred years, there were three archons who were in charge of Athens for a year. There was the Archon King, the Archon Polemarchos, and the Archon Eponymous. The first was sort of like a chief priest who facilitated at certain old religious ceremonies that required a king to officiate. The second was the war leader; the most famous of these was Miltiades, who commanded the Athenian & Plataian armies on the day of the Battle of Marathon in which the first Persian invasion of Greece was repulsed. The last was the chief executive, and his name was given to the year. So later dates were given as the year when Chilon was archon…However, here there is no specific anything attached. Luke alone uses this term in this story. I suspect it was to indicate that the man was of what would be classified as a noble family, whatever that meant at the time. The Latin is princeps, prince. This was also one of the titles of the Emperor, but at root it refers to a foremost individual, a leader, one who is in front of the rest. It is the root of principal, and if you can divorce that from the educational setting where it is most often used, it’s a pretty good translation. Anyway, in M&M, he is referred to as wealthy, and he will be so called in a moment; Luke adds this extra layer of importance to the man.

The other thing is the “why do you call me good? No one is good but God”. This has always struck me as borderline bizarre. However, this originates in Mark, so I have some thoughts on this. Mark represents the uneasy marriage of the Wonder-Worker to the Christ traditions. Somehow, I expect that this may be a holdover from the Wonder-Worker tradition, which is why it doesn’t quite make sense. Yes, it could be from the Christ tradition, wherein Jesus demurs his goodness because he wasn’t born the Christ but only became the Christ at his adoption. That could possibly be the easier case to make, but only because we have some knowledge of how the Christ-idea played out over time. Or maybe I’m just a bit thick and don’t get it. Never dismiss that possibility. Then again, the commentary in the Cambridge Bible for Schools & Colleges says that rabbis were not supposed to be called “good”, and so this was a transgression against Jewish practice. It also points out that the ruler would not have looked upon Jesus as divine, so…I’m not sure what the implication is. One of them would be that Jesus credited his ability to work wonders to God, possibly to YHWH, and so this was his way of avoiding the credit– or the blame– for his works. Indeed, if twenty or thirty people were executed by Tiberius for sorcery, then denying that one has power would be a defence mechanism.

18 Et interrogavit eum quidam princeps dicens: “Magister bone, quid faciens vitam aeternam possidebo?”. 

19 Dixit autem ei Iesus: “Quid me dicis bonum? Nemo bonus nisi solus Deus. 

20 τὰς ἐντολὰς οἶδας: Μὴ μοιχεύσῃς, Μὴ φονεύσῃς, Μὴ κλέψῃς, Μὴ ψευδομαρτυρήσῃς, Τίμα τὸν πατέρα σου καὶ τὴν μητέρα.

21 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν, Ταῦτα πάντα ἐφύλαξα ἐκ νεότητος.

(Jesus is still speaking from Verse 19) “You know the commandments. Do not commit adultery, do not kill, do not steal, do not give false witness, honor your father and mother.” (21) He (the ruler) replied, “I have done (lit = I have guarded) all these since childhood”.

Just a quick note: the Ninth Commandment is not “Thou Shalt Not Lie”. It’s literally as written above: do not provide false testimony, as in court, but that’s not how we were taught it at Maple Grove St Michael’s elementary school. So it has a very definite legal context, and it means that there is no real prohibition against lying in the Ten Commandments. For example, saying ‘I didn’t take that money’ when, in fact, you did is not a sin. Taking the money is a sin, but not lying to cover your tracks. An interesting bit of social and judicial history?

20 Mandata nosti: non moechaberis, non occides, non furtum facies, non falsum testimonium dices, honora patrem tuum et matrem ”. 

21 Qui ait: “ Haec omnia custodivi a iuventute ”. 

22 ἀκούσας δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτῷ,Ἔτι ἕν σοι λείπει: πάντα ὅσα ἔχεις πώλησον καὶ διάδος πτωχοῖς, καὶ ἕξεις θησαυρὸν ἐν [τοῖς]οὐρανοῖς, καὶ δεῦρο ἀκολούθει μοι.

23 ὁ δὲ ἀκούσας ταῦτα περίλυπος ἐγενήθη, ἦν γὰρ πλούσιος σφόδρα.

Hearing, Jesus said to him, “Yet one thing remains to you: sell however so much (all one word in Greek: << ὅσα >>) and give to the poor, and then you will have treasure in the skies, and follow me.”  (23) And he hearing, he became very sad, for he was exceedingly wealthy.

Mark mentions the poor five times; in his much longer gospel, Matthew mentions them five times. In both evangelists, two of the uses of the word “poor” come in the single story, where one of the disciples says of giving the proceeds from the sale of the costly perfume to the poor.  Jesus more or less dismisses this by saying that the poor will always be with you. Also, another incidence in Matthew comes when he blesses the “poor in spirit”. Luke mentions them eleven times in his gospel, but not once in Acts. From these numbers it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Jesus and the earliest Christians were not all that concerned with the poor. In fact, John is even worse; he uses the word four times, three of which are in his version of the “poor will always be with you” story. The two who bring it up the most, especially as a percentage of their text, are Luke and the Epistle of James, and probably not in that order. The implication of this is that Christian concern for the poor, and so perhaps social justice as a whole, comes from and through it’s Jewish roots rather than through any increased emphasis on this by Jesus. 

More, all of Mark’s first use of the word “poor” comes in Chapter 10, and the others are later. This is the part of his gospel that emphasizes the Christ tradition rather than the Wonder-worker tradition. Paul uses the word sparingly, but one salient incidence comes in Galatians, where James, brother of Jesus, admonishes Paul to “remember the poor” as part of the deal James and Paul cut on what Paul’s message can and should include. This leads to the possible connexion between James and the Ebionites, which may be carried on to the Epistle of James, even though the general consensus is that this letter is not properly ascribed to James, brother of Jesus. The Ebionites got their name from the Aramaic (?) word for “poor”. And the assembly (ekklesia) led by James was likely more in line with mainline Judaism, which put more emphasis on the poor than Jesus did, because Jesus, first and foremost, was a wonder-worker. A very elaborate theory; it’s most likely wrong, but it’s an interesting set of connexions. We will revisit this discussion in the summary for this chapter.

22 Quo audito, Iesus ait ei: “Adhuc unum tibi deest: omnia, quaecumque habes, vende et da pauperibus et habebis thesaurum in caelo: et veni, sequere me”. 

23 His ille auditis, contristatus est, quia dives erat valde. 

24 Ἰδὼν δὲ αὐτὸν ὁ Ἰησοῦς [περίλυπον γενόμενον] εἶπεν, Πῶς δυσκόλως οἱ τὰ χρήματα ἔχοντες εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰσπορεύονται:

25 εὐκοπώτερον γάρ ἐστιν κάμηλον διὰ τρήματος βελόνης εἰσελθεῖν ἢ πλούσιον εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰσελθεῖν.

26 εἶπαν δὲ οἱ ἀκούσαντες, Καὶ τίς δύναται σωθῆναι;

Seeing this, Jesus [having become sad], said “How difficult (for) those having possessions to enter into the Kingdom of God. For it is easier a camel (to pass) through the eye of a needle than a rich person to enter into the Kingdom of God.” (26) And those hearing said, “So who can be saved?”  

First a word on a word. What I have translated as “possessions” is a bit of an oddity. At root, the word << χρήμα >> actually means “need”. From there, it becomes the things that one needs, which then becomes the thing one possesses, which then becomes “wealth”. All four of my crib translations (KJV, NIV, NASB, & ESV) render this as “wealth” or “riches”. The Latin is pecunia, which means “wealth” or “riches”, but in particular, “money”. Hence our word/phrase, “pecuniary interest”. I mention this to demonstrate a couple of things. First, how words change and evolve; second, the danger of using an NT Lexicon. The one attached to thebible.org simply translates this as “money” or “riches”; while these aren’t exactly wrong translations since the concept comes through clearly enough, they present a great demonstration of the concept of the lexical field. In this a word is not just what it means, but what it excludes. “Money” more or less excludes the idea of “need”, which is the base meaning of the Greek word. As such, “money” is a much, very much more narrow concept than what is included by << χρήμα >>. Reasons I like to use Liddell & Scott rather than an NT lexicon. Using the latter in some ways defeats the purpose of reading the original. What you get are the translations of words that occur in the English translations. So why bother with the original if you’re going to end up with someone else’s translation? Just read the NIV or ESV or whatever and save the time and effort.

Second, no doubt I pointed this out when we read Mark or Matthew, or both, that the question posed by those hearing has an interesting implication. If the wealthy cannot be saved, then who can be? This implies that attached to the idea of wealth was the idea of a moral superiority. IOW, all God’s friends are rich. This has had, and continues to have, a horribly pernicious history in the western world. It came through the Jewish tradition and the Graeco-Roman tradition and remains in full force in early 21st Century USA. This is why the poor can be discounted by so many people: God does not love them, so why should I care? 

24 Videns autem illum Iesus tristem factum dixit: “ Quam difficile, qui pecunias habent, in regnum Dei intrant. 

25 Facilius est enim camelum per foramen acus transire, quam divitem intrare in regnum Dei”. 

26 Et dixerunt, qui audiebant: “ Et quis potest salvus fieri?”. 

27 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν, Τὰ ἀδύνατα παρὰ ἀνθρώποις δυνατὰ παρὰ τῷ θεῷ ἐστιν.

28 Εἶπεν δὲ ὁ Πέτρος, Ἰδοὺ ἡμεῖς ἀφέντες τὰ ἴδια ἠκολουθήσαμέν σοι.

29 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐδείς ἐστιν ὃς ἀφῆκεν οἰκίαν ἢ γυναῖκα ἢ ἀδελφοὺς ἢ γονεῖς ἢ τέκνα ἕνεκεν τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ θεοῦ,

30 ὃς οὐχὶ μὴ [ἀπο]λάβῃ πολλαπλασίονα ἐν τῷ καιρῷ τούτῳ καὶ ἐν τῷ αἰῶνι τῷ ἐρχομένῳ ζωὴν αἰώνιον. 

But he said, “Things impossible for humans are possible for God.” (28) And Peter said, “Look, having left everything personal we followed you.” (29) And he said to them, “Amen I say to you that no one who has left home or wife or siblings or parents or children due to the Kingdom of God (30) that one has not taken not much more in her/his share in the age to come (in taking) the eternal life.”

That last bit was really difficult to get the English to correspond to the Greek, and I really didn’t succeed all that well. First, it’s a double negative: they will not not get much more = they will get much more. Greek, like most other languages I’ve learned, does not have the aversion to double negatives that English does. In these other languages the double negatives emphasize rather than contradict (or negate) the negative. Second, one is taking both much more and eternal life. Both phrases are accusative, which indicates direct object, what is being taken. Third, ‘taking’ is an aorist subjunctive, which indicates uncertainty or unreal condition or something similar in the past. To begin, the idea of the subjunctive in English is vague on a good day; then, since it’s in the past, the unreality or uncertainty has resolved itself, hasn’t it? It’s already happened so we know what happened and thus we know what is real. But if you think about it, I think the point is clear. No one who has left all, or any of, these things has not not received so much more. Clear?

But the real meat here is the way several concepts are linked; indeed, not only are they linked, they are equated. The man asks how to receive eternal life; Jesus equates this with the Kingdom of God, which is then equated by Peter with being saved. So all three terms are used as synonymous and interchangeably. Again, modern Christians all know that these are the same thing; but do we? Where, exactly, is the scriptural basis for this? Or is it something inferred or deduced from verbiage that is actually less than definite, like the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is sort of there, but not really. Just as Jesus became divine, so the Holy Spirit came into existence only after some time. A couple of centuries, to be (more or less) exact. Substituting “sacred breath” for “holy spirit” any time the latter is used does not change the meaning of the passage*. The three terms here are used frequently, but most often in isolation. This is the smoking gun proof that the three were meant as synonymous by the time of Luke. Before that, the equation of the terms is perhaps not so obvious. In particular, the idea of the Kingdom of God in Mark, and especially not as part of the message preached by John the Dunker, which was then taken up by Jesus when John was arrested.

In short, the linkage of the terms here may be something of a landmark; however, some retrograde searching is required to verify this one way or the other.

*At least, not most of the time. One could plausibly argue that the idea of “sins against the sacred breath” doesn’t make sense. But is that true a priori? Or only because we are so accustomed to the reification of the sacred breath as the Third Person of the Trinity?

27 Ait autem illis: “ Quae impossibilia sunt apud homi nes, possibilia sunt apud Deum ”. 

28 Ait autem Petrus: “ Ecce nos dimisimus nostra et secuti sumus te ”. 

29 Qui dixit eis: “ Amen dico vobis: Nemo est, qui reliquit domum aut uxorem aut fratres aut parentes aut filios propter regnum Dei, 

30 et non recipiat multo plura in hoc tempore et in saeculo venturo vitam aeternam”.

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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 25, 2019, in Chapter 18, gospel commentary, gospels, Luke's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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