Summary Luke Chapter 18 – Addendum

These chapters do not necessarily have theme. Very few of them do, except perhaps for Mark 5 and Mark 6. The former is mostly composed of the story of the Gerasene Demonaic, and the latter to the two stories of the Bleeding Woman and the Daughter of Jairus. Even then, the first perhaps doesn’t so much have a theme as it is almost wholly committed to a single story. I think that Chapter 6 can be said to have a theme of how faith can save/heal/make someone whole without too much danger of being gainsaid. Does this chapter have a theme? That is the question I always ask when I start writing a chapter summary like this. In the back of my mind was a lingering impression that the major theme was The Poor vs The Rich. This impression doubtless was left by the Rich Young Man and the Pharisee and the Publican. But the latter is not about wealth per se, as the story of the rich ruler is. The Pharisee and the Publican leads into Jesus telling his audience that the Kingdom must be accepted as a child: in innocence and humility. These are not traits the Pharisee exhibits. And even then the Rich Ruler follows the Children, so that the latter is sandwiched between two other stories that demonstrate exactly the wrong attitude for someone wishing to enter the Kingdom. The Pharisee and the Rich Ruler are too enamoured of this world with its trappings and its possessions; these are not the innocence and humility of the child that we are to emulate. So by sheer weight of words, the idea of innocence and humility would properly be taken as the theme; this assumes, of course, that it is proper to claim that the chapter has a theme. But three of the five stories thus form a unit to instruct us on the proper approach towards the goal of entering the kingdom.

And yet it feels like the idea of the poor is lurking there, just below the surface. It never quite leaves our consciousness even if it never takes center stage, which is how it leaves its imprint on our mind. Note that I’m using my own experience to generalize; this is the impression it left on me, and I can’t be unique in this assessment, can I? Some of it derives from the placement of the Rich Ruler at the end of the chapter, so it’s a rhetorical thing. But it feels like the idea of the poor is a more significant theme in Luke than it was for the previous evangelists.  This perception makes me question whether the concern for the poor evinced by Luke is this another example of Luke trying to ‘correct’ the record of Matthew, by bringing up the emphasis on social justice? This is a fairly bold suggestion, since Matthew is said to be the most “Jewish” of the gospels, and that Matthew was a Jew while Luke was, supposedly, a pagan. But this sort of goes away if Matthew, in fact, was a pagan as well. Then we could read this as Luke believing that the pagan Matthew rather lost sight of this part of Jewish tradition; as such, Luke attempted to re-invigorate the idea of social justice. I am convinced that Luke was deeply aware of Matthew, and that the construction & content of Luke’s gospel were a  response, or even a reaction to what he read in Matthew. They both read Mark, and each interpreted Mark in his own way. This is rather a complex and very difficult argument to make; it requires almost line-by-line comparison of Matthew and Luke. I’m not up to that task. Yet. Regardless, this is another example of a question that needs to be asked and brought into the open. If nothing else, it will help clarify the Q discussion as well, by forcing scholars to assess the relationship rather than simply assuming–on no real evidence–that there was no direct relationship between Matthew and Luke because the latter certainly had not read the former.

Let’s take this in a different direction. 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 in which one of the disciples says of giving the proceeds from the sale of the costly perfume to the poor. (He is named as Judas Iscariot, but only by John.) 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”. In contrast, 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 may not have been 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 its 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; as such, James’ group put more emphasis on the poor than Jesus did. This, in turn, highlights the earlier half of Mark in which Jesus was, first and foremost, a wonder-worker. A very elaborate theory; it’s most likely wrong, but it’s an interesting set of connexions. I can think of several problems immediately. It requires that they nascent church became more concerned with social justice as it became less Jewish, as the number and percent of pagan followers far outstripped Jewish followers. But viewing Jesus as primarily a wonder-worker would help account for the lack of social message in the first half of Mark.

As sort of an interesting side-bar to this, we should note one of the elements Luke left our of one of the stories– pericopae– in the chapter. After the “eye of the needle” proclamation, in Verse 28 Peter asks what will happen to them who have given up all to follow Jesus. In fact, we get the sense that Peter is rather uncomfortable about this, he’s feeling a little unsure of himself. In the other two gospels Jesus is quick to assure a return of a hundredfold to those who have followed him, AND will inherit eternal life. Mark is even more interesting because his version of Jesus promises a return of a hundredfold in this age AND eternal life in the age to come. IOW, following Jesus was to be a money-making proposition. Matthew toned this down, and Luke holds out only the promise of a reward to come. This is a fascinating little bit of doctrine and its evolution. Mark’s promise, again, seems more appropriate for a wonder-worker than for an ascetic follower of Jesus. So once again Luke sort of stresses the idea of poverty as an ideal much more so than his predecessors. And the three-step process from Mark to Matthew to Luke again helps reinforce the suggestion that Luke is writing with Matthew very much in mind. Yes, he could have eliminated the idea of a return in this age without knowing Matthew, but it seems to make more sense if Luke had read Matthew. However, note that this is a stylistic judgement and not one based on real textual evidence.

Finally, in this chapter we take a very big step towards finalizing the Christian meaning of being “saved”. For the first time we have a very clear connexion drawn between the Kingdom of God, eternal life, and being saved. There has been a fair bit of transitive-property* equating of the three terms, but I believe this is the first time the this equivalence is made as explicitly clear as it has been in this chapter. I don’t want to make too big a deal of this because the degree of significance is very much in the eye of the beholder. However, I have been watching this develop, and for the first time I am convinced all three terms are meant to be used interchangeably, as synonyms. Remember that John the Dunker also preached the Kingdom; given the ambivalence of Jewish belief in an afterlife, we cannot dismiss the idea that this was an earthly kingdom. Here we are very clearly, and finally, told that it is not.

Addendum

I completely neglected to discuss the story of the blind man receiving his sight. Technically, this story is part of the Triple Tradition, since Jesus restores sight outside of Jericho in all three gospels. However, there are significant differences. Mark names the man healed a bar-TImmaeus (often conflated aa Bartimmaeus, even though the “bar” is an indicator of the father’s name, as the “Mc” in Scottish names and is technically not part of the name; see also Barabbas). In Matthew’s version, two men, neither of them named, have their sight restored. Luke is back to a single individual, even though the man’s name is not recounted. This, I think, is a great example of how each evangelist molded the stories they chose to include, sort of picking and choosing what to include, what to omit, and what to add. Luke omitted the name. Why? Because he thought it was redundant, since the man was named in Mark? Possibly. Everyone (well, almost everyone) agrees that Mark wrote first and that Matthew and Luke were well aware of Mark’s gospel. So it’s unlikely that Luke omitted the name because he simply didn’t know what it was. The bigger question is why did Matthew omit the name AND add a second blind man? The speculations are potentially endless and I doubt a single answer will ever be considered convincing. But we’re not discussing Mark or Matthew, so we’re concerned with why Luke has a single person who is not named. That is sort of a compromise between the previous two, no? One man as in Mark, unnamed as in Matthew.

Of course this flies in the face of Q. Per that theory, Luke only had one man because Mark only had one man, and Luke was unaware that Matthew had two. Then the question is why didn’t Luke include the man’s name? What is the basis for this editorial choice? The Q proponents never even address the question, let alone answer it. My theory is this. In other cases, the Gerasene Demonaic being my favorite example, Matthew’s version is abbreviated from Mark’s version. Luke restores Mark’s length, and some of the details Matthew omitted. In the story of the Woman Anointing Jesus, both Matthew and Mark provide a full account, and Luke has the short version. It seems that Luke makes decisions based on the comparison of the previous two gospels. Do M&M treat the story fully? Then provide a short form and move on. Does Matthew not handle Mark’s version properly? Then add more back. Here, Luke found no compelling reason to add the man’s name since that was supplied by Mark, but he also “corrected” Matthew by having Jesus heal only a single individual. This, I think, is the basis for a theory of Luke’s editorial choices that is “redactionally consistent” as demanded by the Q proponents.

 

*If a=b, and b=c, then a=c

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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 September 15, 2019, in Chapter 18, gospel commentary, gospels, Luke's Gospel, Summary and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Very interesting how you are showing the editorial decisions of Luke responding to Matthew. Wow.

  2. Thanks for the comment!

    Here’s the thing. My technique is sort of shoot from the hip with a sawed-off shotgun to get maximum scatter. Get this stuff out there. If I have to retract later, oh well, but at least make people realize there are a lot of questions that need to be asked.

    This is a blog, after all, not a dissertation. Provocative is good.

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