Author Archives: James, brother of Jesus

Luke Chapter 19:1-10

Jesus is traveling towards Jerusalem. To get to Jerusalem, the most direct route is to head almost due south from Galilee and follow the West Bank of the River Jordan; this route will take the traveler past Jericho. Looking at a map, it appears that the road to Jerusalem turns west at or around Jericho, because it appears there is a a pass, or valley between Jericho and Jerusalem. This bit of geography lesson all comes from a few minutes of looking at a map; people with more knowledge or actual experience can correct me if/where I’ve gone astray. At the end of the previous chapter, we have Jesus healing a blind man outside the walls of Jericho. That story is in the Triple Tradition, but in three rather different variants. Alone in Luke do Jesus and his posse enter the city and encounter a man named Zaccheus. At Catholic school, in grade 4 or 5 we sang a song about him that is with me to this day. Be that as it may, this story is only found in Luke. Why? One phenomenon that occurs as legends gain momentum is that stories about the main character or the main action are made up in different places. This is where Launcelot originates, as the tale of Arthur grew in popularity on the mainland, the French came up with their own hero, Launcelot, who played a major role in the central tale as the lover of Arthur’s queen. Another such character was Parzifal, created by Wolfram von Eschenbach in Bavaria. Or, if he didn’t create the character, e nihilo, then he greatly elaborated Parzifal’s role in the epic. And so we have the followers of Jesus in Jericho concocting a tale set on their home ground. We don’t know if Jesus went to Jericho, but he certainly could have, so we have an episode in Jesus’ life set in that town. If my scenario is correct, this may only be in Luke because the tale had not been created, or had not gained sufficiently wide currency until later in time, until Luke wrote. Or, for reasons we’ll never know, Luke may have invented it himself.


1 Καὶ εἰσελθὼν διήρχετο τὴν Ἰεριχώ.

2 καὶ ἰδοὺ ἀνὴρ ὀνόματι καλούμενος Ζακχαῖος, καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν ἀρχιτελώνης καὶ αὐτὸς πλούσιος.

And entering, he was passing through Jericho. (2) And behold a man called by name Zaccheus, and he was a chief tax collector and he was rich.

Don’t think I was aware that our man Zaccheus was a chief tax collector. I’m not entirely sure how that would work. I suppose he was like the head contractor, who then subcontracted out the actual collection of the taxes and taking a cut of what was collected. This sounds like a pretty good formula for getting rich. Recall that the Romans did not have government officials to collect taxes. There was no equivalent to the IRS or the Inland Revenue (which apparently merged into HM Revenue and Customs as of 2005); rather, individuals, or syndicates, contracted with the government representatives to collect the tax. Rome would set the amount to be paid to them, and anything above that figure was retained by the contractor as profit. Talk about creating incentives for extortion. This is why tax collectors were so thoroughly hated. And in the provinces, these contractors were often natives who spoke the language, etc. This offered Rome a layer of insulation against popular hatred of these figures. The anger at high taxes was directed to the locals, and not towards the actual oppressors. Perhaps you’ll recall that the idea of privatizing the collection of taxes in the US was bandied about for a bit. Fortunately, it did not go far. 

1 Et ingressus perambulabat Iericho. 

2 Et ecce vir nomine Zacchaeus, et hic erat princeps publicanorum et ipse dives. 

3 καὶ ἐζήτει ἰδεῖν τὸν Ἰησοῦν τίς ἐστιν, καὶ οὐκ ἠδύνατο ἀπὸ τοῦ ὄχλου ὅτι τῇ ἡλικίᾳ μικρὸς ἦν.

4 καὶ προδραμὼν εἰς τὸ ἔμπροσθεν ἀνέβη ἐπὶ συκομορέαν ἵνα ἴδῃ αὐτόν, ὅτι ἐκείνης ἤμελλεν διέρχεσθαι.

And he(Zaccheus) sought (a way) to see who Jesus was, and he was not able (to do so) from the crowd, for he was of small stature. (4) And running ahead towards the front and climbed up a sycamore in order to see him, that he (Jesus) intended to pass.

The Greek for the tree transliterates to “sikamorean’. It’s interesting that the type of tree is specified. Why? Because this is an actual specific bit of local detail? Or to let us know it wasn’t a palm tree, which are hard to climb? Or is it the sort of detail that gets attached to provide realism? Interesting question, IMO. Luke didn’t bother with the name of bar Timmaeus in the story of healing the blind man outside the gates at the end of the last chapter, but he throws in the name of the tree? I’m guessing it was to let us know it wasn’t a palm tree. Regardless, the set-up, or concept of the story is also fascinating. The dude was vertically challenged, so he found a way? Actually, that kind of makes sense. Z-man wanted to see Jesus, he ran into an obstacle, so he figured out a way of getting around it. Shows some determination. Or, as my mother used to say, some gumption. Rather than whine, do something. And it was worth doing something to see Jesus. This is sort of a subtle way of telling us how popular Jesus was. Mark used to describe the mobs of people following Jesus, that the crowd often made it difficult to enter towns. This is sort of on those lines: Zaccheus had to go out of his way, and he wanted to go out of his way because Jesus had created such a stir. Of course, this is all fiction, but it gets a point across. This is Luke being the novelist; he shows us how much interest there was in Jesus whereas Mark the Journalist told us. This is a very nice, very effective literary device, or technique, which makes me suspect that the story originated with Luke himself. Why Jericho? Perhaps because it was outside the realm of the ‘normal’ places that Christians were familiar with, and so few could either verify or contradict details about the location.

But beyond all that, there is one thing to notice about this story: that it’s a story. You have a short guy trying to see the latest phenomenon over the crowd of taller people, so what does he do? He climbs a tree. It’s practical and rather humorous all at the same time. That is to say, it’s a catchy little story. It’s a nice human touch. This is one great example of why I refer to, or think of, Luke as a novelist. 

3 Et quaerebat videre Iesum, quis esset, et non poterat prae turba, quia statura pusillus erat. 

4 Et praecurrens ascendit in arborem sycomorum, ut videret illum, quia inde erat transiturus. 

5 καὶ ὡς ἦλθεν ἐπὶ τὸν τόπον, ἀναβλέψας ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτόν, Ζακχαῖε, σπεύσας κατάβηθι, σήμερον γὰρ ἐν τῷ οἴκῳ σου δεῖ με μεῖναι.

And as he came to the spot, looking up Jesus said to him, “Zaccheus, hastily come down, for I must remain at your house.

Just a quick note on this. Again the novelist shines through. One dictum of good fiction is to show rather than tell. Luke sets this up so that Jesus does show us. ‘…Reaching the spot, he looked up…’ Why did Jesus look up? By pure chance? Or because Jesus knows he’s there? IOW, because, being divine, Jesus just knows stuff. Like Zaccheus’ name. It’s subtle, and I’d have passed it by if not for the kicker at the end. Jesus has to tarry a bit in Zaccheus’ house. And mind you, he has to. The Greek implies obligation, if not compulsion; the idea of fate can also be implied. The cognate root is “to bind/fetter”; hence, one can be bound to the obligation to do…whatever.  Saying that, here is where one has to step back and remember that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. That is, just because Luke uses a word that can mean ‘it is fated’, doesn’t mean he means to say that it’s been fated. People say things that have unintended implications. Of course, that goes back to Freud and his cigar, but even the master of the unconscious realized that not everything carried some deep hidden meaning. He smoked a lot of cigars not because of some deep, unconscious oral/phallic impulse, but because he was addicted to nicotine. This is the problem we run into when reading any text: how much did the author mean, and how much just sort of happened?

5 Et cum venisset ad locum, suspiciens Iesus dixit ad eum: “ Zacchaee, festinans descende, nam hodie in domo tua oportet me manere”. 

6 καὶ σπεύσας κατέβη, καὶ ὑπεδέξατο αὐτὸν χαίρων.

7 καὶ ἰδόντες πάντες διεγόγγυζον λέγοντες ὅτι Παρὰ ἁμαρτωλῷ ἀνδρὶ εἰσῆλθεν καταλῦσαι.

And he (Zaccheus) came down hastily, and rejoicing received him (Jesus).  (7) And knowing (lit = seeing) muttering saying that “With (lit = beside, next to) a sinning man he goes to be a guest in his house.    

A couple of things. First, the verb translated as ‘to be a guest in his house’ in about 95% of the times it gets used means, ‘to destroy’. Buried way down there, in definition seven, we get the ‘be a guest’ thing. I’m sure there is some sort of logical progression to get from one to the other, but I’ll leave that for you to figure it out. Second, note the muttering people in the crowd. We’ll come back to them because I don’t want to tarry longer than necessary at this point.  

6 Et festinans descendit et excepit illum gaudens. 

7 Et cum viderent, omnes murmurabant dicentes: “ Ad hominem peccatorem divertit! ”. 

8 σταθεὶς δὲ Ζακχαῖος εἶπεν πρὸς τὸν κύριον, Ἰδοὺ τὰ ἡμίσιά μου τῶν ὑπαρχόντων, κύριε, τοῖς πτωχοῖς δίδωμι, καὶ εἴ τινός τι ἐσυκοφάντησα ἀποδίδωμι τετραπλοῦν.

9 εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς αὐτὸν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ὅτι Σήμερον σωτηρία τῷ οἴκῳ τούτῳ ἐγένετο, καθότι καὶ αὐτὸς υἱὸς Ἀβραάμ ἐστιν: 

10 ἦλθεν γὰρ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ζητῆσαι καὶ σῶσαι τὸ ἀπολωλός.

Standing, Zaccheus said towards the lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, lord, I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone I will give back fourfold. (9) Jesus said to him that “This day salvation became in your house, due to that and you are a son of Abraham. (10) For the son of man came to seek and save those having been lost.”  

A few technical details about the Greek. The word here rendered as “defrauded” transliterates to sykophant. Switch the k for a c, and the English derivation is pretty obvious: sycophant. The problem is that the definitions in Greek & English seem to be more or less contradictory. And the Greek is odd. It seems to be a compound word “fig-speaker”. Of course, just because the initial few letters seem to be the word for ‘fig’ may be coincidental. Most likely this is a word that came out of Greek but was misunderstood and taken too literally early in its English usage. “Fig-talker” could be taken as “sweet-talker”, meaning one who tells people things they want or like to hear. The Latin is more or less ‘defrauded’, so I went with that.

Then Jesus closes with the bit about salvation, and saving the lost. This brings up the notion of salvation, and whether we are truly talking about salvation as Christians generally think of the word. I just learned that the word “Soter”, “Saviour” was not used of Jesus until the term occurs in Luke/Acts. Luke used it in Chapters 1 & 2, and then twice in Acts. It does not become commonly used until the later epistles, and even then we’re talking about a dozen or so usages. This strikes me as telling; after all, “saviour” is one of the key concept associated with Jesus. In the “ICTHUS” fish emblem, the final S stands for “Soter/Saviour”. And yet, he is never called that by Mark or Matthew, and it’s only found once in the entire corpus of the authentic letters of Paul. It’s in Phillipians, and it could very easily be an interpolation. Bear that in mind the next time you get annoyed because I’m parsing what is meant by “saved” when we encounter the word. Luke could easily be the first to so designate Jesus. In Chapter 1, it occurs in the Magnificat, and in Chapter 2 the shepherds are told that a saviour is born to you this day. This ties back with the discussion we had in Chapter 18:24-27(ish) where we get the first real nexus of the terms ‘saved’, ‘kingdom of God’ and ‘eternal life’, the first time they are essentially equated and treated as synonyms. 

Now let’s talk about the story of Zaccheus as a whole. What do we have? We have a rich man, a tax-collector who merits* salvation by promising to give half of what he owns to the poor, and to repay fourfold if he has cheated anyone. And it’s not just Zaccheus personally; it’s his household. So, as with Saviour, so the concern for the poor seems to be something that Luke felt especially strongly about, and so he created opportunities to bring this out. And the story as a whole seems to bear this out. Why else invent this story, unless to teach the lesson about the problem of wealth? Remember that the last chapter ended with the tale of the Rich Ruler who went away sad because Jesus told him to sell all his possessions; in contrast, Zaccheus here volunteers to give away half (perhaps not the whole, but still pretty good). Upon making the promise, he is saved. Cause >>> Effect. Luke here demonstrates that the wealthy can attain heaven, but only if they divest. I can think of a whole lot of “Christians” who would do well to take this lesson to heart.

The final element is the mumblers in the crowd. We are not told who they are. I had to go back and check that because I was pretty much certain that these mumblers had been Pharisees. Well, not in this case. But that is somewhat my point. By this stage of the narrative, after having read through Mark AND Matthew, perhaps Luke didn’t feel the need to beat a dead horse. Perhaps it didn’t seem necessary for him to repeat who the mumblers were because the other two gospels had made this point abundantly clear. So here, once again, we get a back-handed argument against Q. Luke, again, does not need to go into the details because those details were sufficiently covered by the other two gospels. IOW, he was fully aware of the existence AND the content of Matthew’s gospel. Now, assuming that to be true, this would help explain the “son of Abraham” quip there at the end. If the mumblers were Pharisees, and if they are condemned by their mumbling, Luke throws in the bit about the son of Abraham to remind us that anyone, whether Jew or pagan, can be saved. At this point in the development of the church, perhaps the pagan followers needed to be reminded of this: it’s not too late for even the Jews.

*As a bit of an aside, note that I said Zaccheus has merited salvation. This really flies in the face of the predestination argument, that we cannot hope to merit salvation, wretched and foredoomed sinners that we are. The predestination argument is ever so clever, but it also feels a bit forced, like Augustine and his later followers were reaching for it, and by a lot. Predestination, IMO, makes sense if one assumes the Double-O deity: one that is both omniscient, omnipotent. Such a deity can create any universe it desires because it is omnipotent, and said deity will know how it will all turn out in the end because it is omniscient. Therefore, it knows whether or not someone will be damned even if the prevenient grace is bestowed as the free gift of that deity. But that is the theological, or ontological, or simply logical case for Pre-D. It is not the case built on scripture; IMO, there are many, many more passages like this that imply–or state–that salvation is the result of our efforts, and not due to the gift of God. In fact, even Romans, which is the primary text Augustine used, is decidedly ambivalent about this. 

8 Stans autem Zacchaeus dixit ad Dominum: “Ecce dimidium bonorum meorum, Domine, do pauperibus et, si quid aliquem defraudavi, reddo quadruplum ”. 

9 Ait autem Iesus ad eum: “Hodie salus domui huic facta est, eo quod et ipse filius sit Abrahae; 

10 venit enim Filius hominis quaerere et salvum facere, quod perierat”.


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.


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

Luke Chapter 18:31-43

We just came from a couple of scenes in which Jesus preached about humility and salvation. The material in this verse represents a break from that narrative line. The first part of the chapter sort of held together thematically, but here we run into a discontinuity of sorts. As far as context, of time and location, there is no real bond between any of the topics; perhaps the story of the Judge and the Pharisee & Publican are sort of a unit, but that is not necessarily so. And the story of the rich man going away sad sort of segues into the last section where Jesus promises a reward to those who follow him.


31 Παραλαβὼν δὲ τοὺς δώδεκα εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς, Ἰδοὺ ἀναβαίνομεν εἰςἸερουσαλήμ, καὶ τελεσθήσεται πάντα τὰ γεγραμμένα διὰ τῶν προφητῶν τῷ υἱῷ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου:

32 παραδοθήσεται γὰρ τοῖς ἔθνεσιν καὶ ἐμπαιχθήσεται καὶ ὑβρισθήσεται καὶ ἐμπτυσθήσεται,

33 καὶ μαστιγώσαντες ἀποκτενοῦσιν αὐτόν, καὶ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ ἀναστήσεται.

34 καὶ αὐτοὶ οὐδὲν τούτων συνῆκαν, καὶ ἦν τὸ ῥῆμα τοῦτο κεκρυμμένον ἀπ’ αὐτῶν, καὶ οὐκ ἐγίνωσκον τὰ λεγόμενα.

Taking beside himself the twelve he said to them, “Look, we’re going to Jerusalem, and all things written according to the prophets will be completed/fulfilled by the son of man. (32) For he will be handed over to the peoples and mocked and despised and spat upon. (33) And scourging they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise. (34) And they will not understand, and this writing/these words will be hidden from them, and they will not know the things having been said. 

Written according to the prophets: Can anyone explain or enumerate exactly to which writings Jesus is referring? We are told this frequently, but I have never run across the texts or citations. I’ve found vague references to the Suffering Servant of Deutero-Isaiah, but not much beyond that. So I ask that as a legitimate question.

The Greek word for “to spit” is “ptuō.” Say it out loud. A bit of onomatopoeia– which is a tough word to spell. Greek, for “making a name” or something such.

Three points are to be made of this. First, we have the prediction that Jesus will suffer. Second, we have the assurance that this suffering was itself predicted by the HS. This is very important because it gives Jesus a pedigree. He is not a novelty or a new thing; he is the fulfillment of a prophecy made long ago. I’ve said this many times, but having an ancient lineage was how one acquired or maintained credibility in the ancient world. So this is why the evangelists kept harping the fulfillment of them. And this is Luke, so we get the Road to Emmaus scene after the Resurrection. Of course, there again we will be told that Jesus explained all of the parts of the HS that foretold Jesus, but once again we are never really told what they are. Apparently many or most of the references to messengers (angels; the Hebrew word behind angels apparently also means messenger), and there are other places where Jesus is to be substituted for whomever is the subject of the text. He’s the voice in the burning bush, the one who redeemed Israel by leading them out of Egypt, he’s the ram that God provided to Abraham so that he doesn’t have to sacrifice Isaac AND the voice telling Abraham not to sacrifice Isaac. So there you have it. I’m sure many of you can supply a whole bunch of other such foreshadowings. Obviously, there is a lot of retrograde justification and interpretation occurring in these cites. My heathen reading of this is that the evangelists and Paul told us about these foretellings, but had not entirely worked out the particulars. Otherwise, would they not have been a little more specific?

Epiphany. Think back to the birth narrative of Matthew; he set Jesus’ home town as Nazareth, “so he would be called a Nazarene”. He tells the story of the Slaughter of the Innocents to insert the prediction of weeping in Ramallah, and then sends Jesus to Egypt to fulfill the prophecy that “I called my son out of Egypt”. So we have Matthew specifically starting this process of interpretation. And we have Matthew pretty much fabricating events to make the “predictions” come true. The Slaughter of the Innocents is not attested anywhere else. Josephus is completely silent on this, which is significant because Josephus is not a fan of Herod the Great. In fact, Josephus seems to derive great pleasure in describing the diseased nature of Herod’s body as he aged. The implication, if he doesn’t flatly state this, is that this physical corruption of Herod’s flesh was retribution for Herod’s many, many sins that Josephus recounts in tedious detail and enumeration. It beggars belief to think that Josephus would omit something as heinous as the Slaughter of the Innocents. And this is not the sort of thing that would be forgotten. The murder of all of the males born in Galilee in a two year period is not something that would have been forgotten, or overlooked, or shrugged off. Given this, we have to believe it did not happen. The implication of this is Matthew concocted the event, and then used it as the basis for his use of the quotes about Ramallah and the son being called from Egypt.

Luke was not averse to making up stuff. He came up with the whole census story. There was a census while Augustus was emperor, but the idea that everyone had to travel back to the land of their ancestors is simply not credible. Such journeys could have taken years and would have thoroughly disrupted the economic life of the empire, and no civic official of any kind would cripple the collection of taxes by having people moving all over the Mediterranean. Besides, while we know of the census, no one else even suggests something like the widespread disruption of everyday life that would have occurred under such circumstances. But note the big difference in the way the invented histories are used: Luke does not use his fabrication to introduce speciously interpreted quotes from the HS to demonstrate the foreshadowing of Jesus. What does this imply? It would be easy to say simply that there are no implications. There is no reason why inferences should necessarily be drawn from this difference in approach. But is it so simple? 

As with everything else, we need to look at this in terms of Q. Why? Because Q is such a fundamentally important concept for NT studies. The existence of Q–or, rather, the non-existence of Q would change everything about the way we look at the NT. And I mean everything. Without Q, we have to question whether Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount or said the Lord’s Prayer. As such, we cannot simply accept its existence based on no real evidence and bad suppositions. This is the basic difference that I see between the way Classicists approach their texts and the way NT scholars (or perhaps biblical scholars in general) approach theirs. The former do all they can to wring out every possible implication from the words we have. Thus, a Classicist would ask the question: why does Matthew provide examples of the prophecies while Luke mentions them, but does not provide examples? This is surely an important question, especially as it pertains to the question of whether Luke was aware of Matthew. For Mark rather vaguely hints a couple of times about things having been written; the most of explicit of these is the passage in Isaiah used in conjunction with John the Dunker. It would seem that Matthew spent a lot of time doing his research into the HS to uncover– or interpret– passages that could be taken to refer to Jesus, even if this meant more than a little stretching of definitions.

Luke, I would argue, rather falls somewhere in between. He states that prophecies have been made which are specifically about the Son of Man. He states that the prophecies will be/have been fulfilled; the verb tense depends on whether we are present with Jesus as he supposedly uttered them, or with Luke as he writes about the events afterward. So the question with Luke is whether it’s more credible that he is extending Mark or shorting Matthew. By this I mean Luke more or less follows Mark’s lead with allusions that are not made specific, or is he following Matthew by stating the existence of numerous specific examples, which he does not provide. Why not? Because he knows that the acolyte can read these in Matthew’s gospel. Once again, Luke chooses not to repeat Matthew because there is no point. That would seem to be one choice, the other being that Luke does not provide the quotes because he does not know what they are. Which of those is more likely?

We’ll follow up on this in the chapter summary.

31 Assumpsit autem Duodecim et ait illis: “ Ecce ascendimus Ierusalem, et consummabuntur omnia, quae scripta sunt per Prophetas de Filio hominis: 

32 “tradetur enim gentibus et illudetur et contumeliis afficietur et conspuetur; 

33 “et, postquam flagellaverint, occident eum, et die tertia resurget”. 

34 Et ipsi nihil horum intellexerunt; et erat verbum istud absconditum ab eis, et non intellegebant, quae dicebantur.

35 Ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν τῷ ἐγγίζειν αὐτὸν εἰς Ἰεριχὼ τυφλός τις ἐκάθητο παρὰ τὴν ὁδὸν ἐπαιτῶν.

36 ἀκούσας δὲ ὄχλου διαπορευομένου ἐπυνθάνετο τί εἴη τοῦτο:

37 ἀπήγγειλαν δὲ αὐτῷ ὅτι Ἰησοῦς ὁ Ναζωραῖος παρέρχεται.

38 καὶ ἐβόησεν λέγων, Ἰησοῦ, υἱὲ Δαυίδ, ἐλέησόν με.

39 καὶ οἱ προάγοντες ἐπετίμων αὐτῷ ἵνα σιγήσῃ: αὐτὸς δὲ πολλῷ μᾶλλον ἔκραζεν, Υἱὲ Δαυίδ, ἐλέησόν με.

40 σταθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐκέλευσεν αὐτὸν ἀχθῆναι πρὸς αὐτόν. ἐγγίσαντος δὲ αὐτοῦ ἐπηρώτησεν αὐτόν,

41 Τί σοι θέλεις ποιήσω; ὁ δὲ εἶπεν, Κύριε, ἵνα ἀναβλέψω.

42 καὶ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἀνάβλεψον: ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε.

43 καὶ παραχρῆμα ἀνέβλεψεν, καὶ ἠκολούθει αὐτῷ δοξάζων τὸν θεόν. καὶ πᾶς ὁ λαὸς ἰδὼν ἔδωκεν αἶνον τῷ θεῷ. 

It happened in his approach to Jericho that a certain blind man sat by the side of the road begging. (36) Hearing the crowd approaching he asked who it was. (37) It was announced to him that Jesus of Nazareth was approaching. (38) And he shouted saying, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” (39) And those proceeding before rebuked him so that he would be quiet, but he cried out, “Son of David, have mercy on me”. (40) Standing, Jesus called out to him (the blind man) to approach him (Jesus). To him (the blind man) approaching, he (Jesus) asked him (the blind man), (41) “What do you wish I will do for you?” He (the blind man) replied, “Lord, in order that I will recover my sight”. (42) And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight. Your faith has saved you/made you whole.” (43) And immediately he recovered his sight, and followed him (Jesus) praising God. And all the people seeing (this) gave praise to God.

For anyone familiar with the Latin mass, “have mercy on me” would translate to eleison. Then, in Verse 41, we get kyrie. Put them together in reverse order and you get kyrie eleison. This is the opening prayer of all the Catholic and some forms of the High-Church Episcopalian masses. The version which opens Bach’s B-Minor Mass is breathtaking. My younger daughter, age 13, was in the Royal School of Church Music program at our Episcopal Church and over her six years they sang a number of versions of the Kyrie, but never this one. She was duly impressed, and knew which line she would have sung based on her vocal range (mezzo). I own the John Elliott Gardner version, but this one is pretty good, too. (continued below) 

Anyway, both parts of this particular section are part of the Triple Tradition. Of course, this did not prevent me getting into the Q debate, but I believe the point is relevant. More on that later. In both sections, Luke’s version is shorter than Mark’s, but longer than Matthew’s. In both cases, Luke puts back a couple of details that Matthew omitted. This pattern exists throughout the NT, another example being the story of the Gerasene Demonaic. It should also be noted that this pattern is complemented by Luke providing a shorter version when both Mark and Matthew present a full version. A great example of this is the Death of John the Baptist. Both Mark and Matthew go on at some length, while Luke clocks in at a half-dozen or so verses. He doesn’t so much as mention Herodias’ name. These are the sorts of things that have to be looked at if we are to have a legitimate discussion about Q. 


35 Factum est autem, cum appropinquaret Iericho, caecus quidam sedebat secus viam mendicans. 

36 Et cum audiret turbam praetereuntem, interrogabat quid hoc esset. 

37 Dixerunt autem ei: “ Iesus Nazarenus transit ”. 

38 Et clamavit dicens: “ Iesu, fili David, miserere mei! ”. 

39 Et qui praeibant, increpabant eum, ut taceret; ipse vero multo magis clamabat: “ Fili David, miserere mei! ”. 

40 Stans autem Iesus iussit illum adduci ad se. Et cum appropinquasset, interrogavit illum: 

41 “Quid tibi vis faciam? ”. At ille dixit: “Domine, ut videam”. 

42 Et Iesus dixit illi: “ Respice! Fides tua te salvum fecit ”. 43 Et confestim vidit et sequebatur illum magnificans Deum. Et omnis plebs, ut vidit, dedit laudem Deo.

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


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 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 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”.

Luke Chapter 18:1-14

This chapter starts with more instruction. In truth, the content of this opening scene appears to be a continuation of the last chapter rather than the start of something new. I honestly do not know the rationale behind the designation of chapters & verses. The system is a bit different from the way it’s done for a Classical author like Herodotus. Whatever the logic behind the chapter/verse breaks, the result is that we get chapter breaks that don’t always make much sense. The most glaring example is Mark 9:1, which clearly should be part of Chapter 8. It may have something to do with scrolls, but I don’t think so. IIRC, part of the argument for Matthew having been written first is that Mark is a summary, a text that can fit on a single scroll. My response to this is, have they read Mark? So if all of Mark can fit on a single scroll, how does that impact the chapter divisions? And, btw, I’m not saying definitively that Mark can fit on a single scroll; I’m saying that my (admittedly often faulty) memory has a vague recollection of something such.


1 Ἔλεγεν δὲ παραβολὴν αὐτοῖς πρὸς τὸ δεῖν πάντοτε προσεύχεσθαι αὐτοὺς καὶ μὴ ἐγκακεῖν,

He spoke a parable to them with the intention ( πρὸς.= pros = towards) the necessity of them all to pray and not to omit it. 

Let’s take a brief pause. The last word in the verse is a tad problematic. It’s a verb formed from kakos, which is a very broad word with the essential meaning of bad. And it can mean bad in many different ways. Opposed to kalos, beautiful, kakos can mean ugly. In Greek thought, daimon was a neutral term, but a kakodaimon was a bad one. Here the verb form could simply mean “do something bad”, but the second definition is to “culpably omit a thing”. The Latin is sufficiently similar as to require no comment; the KJV, however, renders this as “not to faint”. More modern translations opt for “that they not lose heart”. The idea of fainting is present in the Latin, but it’s completely absent from the Greek. So, once again, rather than going back to the original, a lot of English translations only get as far back as the Vulgate.

To make the pause not so brief, let’s note that we do not know whom he is addressing. It could be his disciples; it could be a crowd in general. It’s not specified. What this means, I think, is that Luke does not feel that the audience is particularly important. That, of course, is obvious; the real question is why does he feel this way? What comes immediately to mind is that, by the time he wrote, Luke didn’t believe that the setting was all that crucial. He was not terribly concerned about the placement, etc., which means, I think, that Luke isn’t concerned with the historicity of the stories any longer. He doesn’t seem to care if Jesus was on a mountain, or on a plain, or in a boat, or speaking to a crowd or in a synagogue or any of these things. He’s concerned about the what, and not the who, where, or how. The why, of course, is obvious; to spread the message. But this is something to note. IIRC, Luke is very short on these contextual details; however, that is something to verify rather than trust my faulty memory.

1 Dicebat autem parabolam ad illos, quoniam oportet semper orare et non deficere,

2 λέγων, Κριτής τις ἦν ἔν τινι πόλει τὸν θεὸν μὴ φοβούμενος καὶ ἄνθρωπον μὴ ἐντρεπόμενος.

saying “There was a judge in a certain city not fearing God (the judge did not fear God) and did not hold humans in regard.  

This probably requires no comment or explanation, but this line had always struck me as odd. It simply (?) means that the judge was a very strong-willed man who thought himself capable in matters divine and human. It occurred to me that he may not fear God because he knew in his heart that he was righteous, but that reading is completely undercut by “not regarding people”. The judge does not care for anyone, human or divine. He is a bada$$ dude. It’s worth noting that the Latin is more clear on this: the judge did not honour God and he did not revere men”. 

2 dicens: “Iudex quidam erat in quadam civitate, qui Deum non timebat et hominem non reverebatur. 

3 χήρα δὲ ἦν ἐν τῇ πόλει ἐκείνῃ καὶ ἤρχετο πρὸς αὐτὸν λέγουσα, Ἐκδίκησόν με ἀπὸ τοῦ ἀντιδίκου μου.

4 καὶ οὐκ ἤθελεν ἐπὶ χρόνον, μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα εἶπεν ἐν ἑαυτῷ, Εἰ καὶ τὸν θεὸν οὐ φοβοῦμαι οὐδὲ ἄνθρωπον ἐντρέπομαι,

5 διά γε τὸ παρέχειν μοι κόπον τὴν χήραν ταύτην ἐκδικήσω αὐτήν, ἵνα μὴ εἰς τέλος ἐρχομένη ὑπωπιάζῃ με.

6 Εἶπεν δὲ ὁ κύριος, Ἀκούσατε τί ὁ κριτὴς τῆς ἀδικίας λέγει:

7 ὁ δὲ θεὸς οὐ μὴ ποιήσῃ τὴν ἐκδίκησιν τῶν ἐκλεκτῶν αὐτοῦ τῶν βοώντων αὐτῷ ἡμέρας καὶ νυκτός, καὶ μακροθυμεῖ ἐπ’ αὐτοῖς;

8 λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι ποιήσει τὴν ἐκδίκησιν αὐτῶν ἐν τάχει. πλὴν ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐλθὼν ἆρα εὑρήσει τὴν πίστιν ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς;

“There was a widow in that town and she came before him (the judge) saying, ‘Give me justice from the injustice I receive’. (4) And he did not wish for a time; after which he said to himself, ‘(For) if I do not fear God, nor do I regard men, (5) for what cause does that widow hand over trouble to me? I will avenge/provide a legal remedy to her so that she will not come to me in the end (and) weary me’.” (6) And the lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge says. But will God not avenge/give satisfaction of the cries of his elect of the cries to him day and night, and will he be patient upon them? (8) I say to you that he will  avenge/give satisfaction quickly. However, the son of man coming, will he find such faith on earth?

The word <<ἐκδίκησιν>> presents a bit of a nuance. At base, the concept is “avenge”, but this quickly trails into “satisfaction” and “provide legal remedy”. Which is the intent here? I used “avenge” when the judge is having his rumination on what to do about the widow; I provided the range of avenge/give satisfaction when talking about God. One of the epithets of the god Mars– the notorious god of war, known as Ares by the Greeks– was Mars Ultor, Mars the Avenger. Is God in his Christian guise a god of vengeance? I would hope most people would answer this in the negative since Jesus preached a God of love and forgiveness. In the HS, YHWH can certainly be called a god of vengeance; there is no doubt a thread of vengeance running through the scene when pharaoh’s army is destroyed by the Red Sea. But didn’t the message of Jesus supersede that? Maybe. To anyone saying that the God of the NT was not interested in vengeance, I would suggest that person read Revelations. That is a revenge fantasy, which is sort of the point of all apocalyptic literature. Honestly, in this scene, the translation of “legal remedy” arguably makes the most sense. He is a judge, after all, and that is what judges are supposed to do. But when we’re talking about redressing the cries of the elect, “legal remedy” doesn’t really make sense. In that case, we have to ask ourselves if there is any real difference between giving satisfaction and wreaking vengeance? One can quibble about this, but look deep; since this is set in a context of apocalyptic writing, the idea of vengeance is not really out of place. The KJV chose to render this as God will avenge his elect; more modern translations opt for “give justice to his elect”.

We need to talk about the judge, but before getting to that, there is something I want to note. The word for “widow” used here does not appear in Matthew. This parable is unique to Luke, so of course we don’t find it in Matthew’s version of the story. The same is true of the story of the widow of Nain, whose son Jesus raised from the dead back in Chapter 4. The other two notable examples are the parable of the Widow’s Mite, and Jesus castigating the Pharisees as men who devour the houses of widows, etc. I find this a tad puzzling; of all the downtrodden and hopeless people in the ancient world, the poor widow was among those with the least chance of bettering her lot in life. Slaves could be freed, and if they were not, they were usually provided for so they might provide a valuable economic return. Orphaned children had it bad, but they could end up with some means of providing for their physical needs of food and shelter. The widow, OTOH, especially an older widow was in dire straits, especially if she were the widow of a man who worked for a living, because wealthy widows were, well, wealthy, to the point that they were courted by Paul to provide economic support for his fledgling assemblies. Why does Matthew omit them? Could this be part of the reason he blessed the “poor in spirit”? Was he, perhaps, not as concerned with the economically downtrodden? Did Luke remove the “in spirit” to correct this lack of emphasis he found– or didn’t find– in Matthew? 

Now for the judge. In the harmony I just consulted, he is referred to as the “unjust judge”. Why is that? Because he neither fears God nor respects people? Or because he continuously refused to provide justice to the widow? Of course, one could easily argue that the latter was a function of the former. Jewish morality as expressed throughout the HS was very keen on protecting the weak. [As an aside, is this another clue that Matthew was, indeed, a pagan?] My point is that he is labeled “unjust” without any real background on why he was so, but this is the fault of later commentators and interpreters rather than of the gospel itself. My point is that Luke’s description is understood in a certain way even though there isn’t a lot of supporting evidence. Not fearing God and not granting justice, it seems, are short-hand which is meant to be stand in for a larger context. Trying to come up with a modern analogy, I might suggest an expression like ‘fairy-tail ending’, which elicits a set of circumstances and values and implications without further explanation. Do the expressions used by Luke function in the same manner? This may not be a merely idle speculation; it possibly calls into question who Luke’s audience was. But then again, it has to be reiterated that labeling the judge “unjust” is a later phenomenon. We get the idea from the story itself. He is possibly unjust for not giving the widow satisfaction in the first place. So we come back to the question of whether he is giving her satisfaction or extracting revenge.

The point isn’t whether we can answer these questions. The point is that the questions have to be asked.

In the end, the judge is not to be taken too literally. The purpose he serves is to represent justice or vengeance delayed. It doesn’t come immediately for the widow, and neither will it come immediately for God’s chosen. But it will come. So we are getting much more deliberate promises that all will receive their due at some point. Here and now that point is undefined, but I think the idea of a post-mortem judgement where each individual is punished or rewarded on merits accumulated– or not– while living is becoming more and more settled. It is very, very important to continue to emphasize the pagan background of this concept. I’ve been reading a lot of Pre-Socratic philosophy of late, and the idea of reward/punishment in the afterlife was largely established in Greek thought half a millennium before Jesus made it a Christian thing. It was not an integral part of the HS; recall that the Pharisees were controversial because they believed in the resurrection of the body. Josephus tells us this, but nowhere does he talk about the immortality of the soul. If one reads the Apocrypha, there are (apparently; I admit I haven’t read them thoroughly) indications that the idea of the immortal soul had been incorporating itself into mainstream Jewish belief; however, I’m not sure this is has been settled in Jewish teaching. A quick Google search of “Do Jews Believe in an Afterlife” brought back a bunch of ambivalent answers; as such, I feel able to put forth the answer of “not definitively”. It seems, rather, that this idea really became a central tenet of Christianity only after the new sect became predominantly pagan in origin. And even then, it probably was not fully worked out for a century or so after Jesus. Many core beliefs of Christianity were not fully established as orthodox until the second or third centuries, if not later. A great example of this is the Trinity; this wasn’t worked out until the mid-200s. As such, translating it as “sacred breath” is meant to serve as a reminder that the author was decidedly not writing about the Holy Spirit.

This actually serves as a great segue into the question in the last verse: will the son of man find such faith on earth? Faith in what? In God? Sure, that’s the easy answer, but does it actually address the question that has been asked? Because there are two questions asked: (1) will God ignore the cries?; and (2) will the son of man find the faith? The answer to the first is assumed to be affirmative. Of course God won’t ignore the cries; after all, the hard-hearted judge finally gave in, so God most definitely do the same. The fact that Luke puts the second question into Jesus’ mouth refers back to the discussion about the afterlife. Will people on earth believe that they will be given satisfaction in the end? Now, technically, there is no reference to an afterlife. Jesus does not say when the satisfaction/vengeance will be meted out; it could be here on earth, which is, apparently, not an alien concept to Jewish thought, even today. From my quick search, it seems that this is still current in Jewish beliefs, and remains so because there is no general consensus, let alone single dogma, on the topic. 

However, the emphasis on the eventual nature of the justice, the fact that it took so long for the judge to do the proper thing seems to be an indication that this justice will not necessarily happen soon, and so could be understood to be something that occurs in the afterlife. This is the pagan understanding, one that stretches back to the Egyptians a thousand or more years or more prior to Jesus. And note that the question is not about whether the Son of Man is God, and whether the Son of Man will return, but about the eventual coming of justice/vengeance. Apparently this was an important question for Luke: had the idea of eventual justice truly taken hold among the assemblies? This has all the earmarks of an insider question; of course there will be such faith because of course all those hearing the question believe that it will come. This nudge-nudge-wink-wink expectation of an affirmative answer most likely follows if the followers were largely pagan  In other words, this question marks a significant milestone in the development of Christian doctrines and beliefs. That there will be eventual justice is, as of Luke’s writing, a standard belief of the Christian community. At least, that is one way to read this, but I think (at the moment, anyway), that it has a lot of merit and so is likely to be the most correct interpretation.

We have to mention, at least, the elect.  In Greek, elect and chosen are synonyms. Elect is most properly translated as chosen. A candidate is elected because she is the one chosen by most people. This word, in all its implications, will run like a thread through Christian theology and come to full fruition in the theology of Calvin. We must remember, however, that the word with its attendant baggage was first used by Paul, most particularly in Romans, which is the foundation document for belief in predestination. Of course, it is a natural continuation of the idea that the Israelites were God’s chosen people, God’s elect people. The two ways of expressing the thought are identical. So the word will spur real acrimony among Christian thinkers for a couple of millennia.  

3 Vidua autem erat in civitate illa et veniebat ad eum dicens: “Vindica me de adversario meo”. 

4 Et nolebat per multum tempus; post haec autem dixit intra se: “Etsi Deum non timeo nec hominem revereor, 

5 tamen quia molesta est mihi haec vidua, vindicabo illam, ne in novissimo veniens suggillet me”.” 

6 Ait autem Dominus: “Audite quid iudex iniquitatis dicit; 

7 Deus autem non faciet vindictam electorum suorum clamantium ad se die ac nocte, et patientiam habebit in illis? 

8 Dico vobis: Cito faciet vindictam illorum. Verumtamen Filius hominis veniens, putas, inveniet fidem in terra?”.

9 Εἶπεν δὲ καὶ πρός τινας τοὺς πεποιθότας ἐφ’ ἑαυτοῖς ὅτι εἰσὶν δίκαιοι καὶ ἐξουθενοῦντας τοὺς λοιποὺς τὴν παραβολὴν ταύτην:

10 Ἄνθρωποι δύο ἀνέβησαν εἰς τὸ ἱερὸν προσεύξασθαι, ὁ εἷς Φαρισαῖος καὶ ὁ ἕτερος τελώνης.

11 ὁ Φαρισαῖος σταθεὶς πρὸς ἑαυτὸν ταῦτα προσηύχετο, Ὁ θεός, εὐχαριστῶ σοι ὅτι οὐκ εἰμὶ ὥσπερ οἱ λοιποὶ τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ἅρπαγες, ἄδικοι, μοιχοί, ἢ καὶ ὡς οὗτος ὁ τελώνης:

12 νηστεύω δὶς τοῦ σαββάτου, ἀποδεκατῶ πάντα ὅσα κτῶμαι.

13 ὁ δὲ τελώνης μακρόθεν ἑστὼς οὐκ ἤθελεν οὐδὲ τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς ἐπᾶραι εἰς τὸν οὐρανόν, ἀλλ’ ἔτυπτεν τὸ στῆθος αὐτοῦ λέγων, Ὁ θεός, ἱλάσθητίμοι τῷ ἁμαρτωλῷ.

14 λέγω ὑμῖν, κατέβη οὗτος δεδικαιωμένος εἰς τὸν οἶκον αὐτοῦ παρ’ἐκεῖνον: ὅτι πᾶς ὁ ὑψῶν ἑαυτὸν ταπεινωθήσεται, ὁ δὲ ταπεινῶν ἑαυτὸν ὑψωθήσεται.

And he said to certain ones having been persuaded upon themselves (ie., they had taken it upon themselves to believe) that they were just and spurned the others this parable. (10)  Two men going up to the Temple to pray, one was a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector (publicanus, in Latin). (11) The Pharisee standing towards himself prayed, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humankind, greedy, unjust, adulterers, or even (kai) this publican. (12) I fast twice of the Sabbath (apparently = twice in the week), I give a tenth of all so much I possess’. (13) But the publican having stood far off did not wish either to raise his eyes to the sky, but beat his breast saying, ‘O God, may my sins be forgiven’. (14) I say to you, the latter went down having been set right to his home from this (i.e., act/action). That all raising himself will be humbled, the one humbling himself will be lifted.”

If you’ll recall, we noted out at the beginning of the section that we were not given any sort of indication of who the audience for this was. We still do not really know. I think this reinforces what I said at the beginning: that the context and the who and where don’t really matter any more. What matters is the message. 

As far as the content of the story itself, my feeling is that it requires no comment. But is that true? The exalt/humble thing is not a new message, having been found in both M&M. But the dramatis personae of this version are very different from the characters in Matthew’s version, where the words are spoken in the “Woes” speech. By this point you should be able to guess at my next question: how does this impact the Q debate? Assuming we get the concept of the aphorism from Mark, even if the set-up and wording are slightly different,* the thought is the same: the earthly roles will be reversed, the mighty and powerful and those taking precedence will be brought low and put in their places. (Yes, it can be argued that the thoughts expressed are not the same, but that argument will likely not be convincing.) As such, what we have is Luke siding with Matthew against Mark. Per the Q proponents, this “never” (a quote) happens. And Kloppenborg does not include this humble/exalted aphorism in his the reconstruction of Q. So there you have it. Yes, the argument will be that this doesn’t count since it really came from Mark, but that is precisely the point: Luke following Matthew rather than Mark. Else, how to explain how Luke managed to come up with the same wording, using the same words, as Matthew did? This says that the non-existence of Q is pretty much Q.E.D., IMO. 

*Mark 9:35: the first will be last, and the last will be first. 

9 Dixit autem et ad quosdam, qui in se confidebant tamquam iusti et aspernabantur ceteros, parabolam istam: 

10 “Duo homines ascenderunt in templum, ut orarent: unus pharisaeus et alter publicanus. 

11 Pharisaeus stans haec apud se orabat: “Deus, gratias ago tibi, quia non sum sicut ceteri hominum, raptores, iniusti, adulteri, velut etiam hic publicanus; 

12 ieiuno bis in sabbato, decimas do omnium, quae possideo”. 

13 Et publicanus a longe stans nolebat nec oculos ad caelum levare, sed percutiebat pectus suum dicens: “Deus, propitius esto mihi peccatori”. 

14 Dico vobis: Descendit hic iustificatus in domum suam ab illo. Quia omnis, qui se exaltat, humiliabitur; et, qui se humiliat, exaltabitur ”.

Summary Luke Chapter 17

Doing a review of the text in preparation for writing this, I noted that it was difficult to find any sort of common theme running between the various episodes. These include an admonition about not corrupting the little ones, telling a mulberry tree to throw itself into the sea, the cleansing of ten lepers, all ending with sort of a trailer for the coming prediction of the apocalypse. It would be possible to suggest that the common thread is faith, and it would not be difficult to argue against such a conclusion; however, the theme of faith is so generic, and so common to so much of the NT that claiming this as the central theme is almost meaningless. It’s simply too broad of a concept. So let’s return to the metaphor of the thread; perhaps we should thing of it as a string, as in the connecting thread used to create a string of pearls. I’ve used this analogy before in describing the text of the various gospels. They are only loosely connected around the theme of Jesus preaching and then taking the fatal trip to Jerusalem. As such, they do not form a coherent whole; rather, they are more reminiscent of a string of beads, each distinct and possibly unique, only connected to the other beads by the string.

This tells us something about how the stories of Jesus came about, how they came into existence. There was no unifying narrative at first. What happened was that individual stories popped up here and there, sort of like mushrooms: each one is unique, each one is separate, and the sole unifying common denominator is that they are all mushrooms. They might not even be the same species: some could be button mushrooms, others porcini, others portobello. And so it is, I truly believe, with stories about Jesus. They popped here and there. Some were about his healing powers. Some were about the kingdom. Some were about faith. Different stories featured, or emphasized different aspects of Jesus’ life and career. But note the difference: was he a teacher? A wonder worker? A preacher of repentance? Or of salvation? The answer, of course is “yes”, he was each of these things; at least, that’s what the stories tell us. And this, I think, is the key to the eventual “success” of Christianity as a religion: Jesus was– or could be made to be– all things to all people. We discussed how Mark seemed to be a concerted effort to converge the two primary traditions, the two main threads of the Jesus cult in his gospel. These are stories of Jesus the Wonder-Worker, and Jesus the Christ.

In addition, recalling that Luke adds a lot of rich detail to the tapestry, one could argue that he represents another tradition: What it means to be a Christian*. And it is wholly appropriate to describe the people Luke was writing for as Christians*. These are the stories of The Prodigal Son, The Good Samaritan, and Dives and Lazarus. Here we get the story of the Ten Lepers, which, while novel, doesn’t quite fit the category I’m describing.

As far as the stories in this chapter, given the lack of thematic connexion, it seems difficult to summarize the chapter as a whole. We get a little of this and a little of that. The apocalypse will recur later, so perhaps the two most salient features of the chapter are the returning leper was a Samaritan, and the idea that just doing your duty is not enough. The former fits in with the Good Samaritan parable in two ways. It does demonstrate how we should behave as Christians. In addition, it is a not-so-subtle disparagement of the Jews. Who was the neighbor? The Samaritan. Which of the lepers returned? The Samaritan. We are now at the point when Christians start doing the doublespeak on their Jewish heritage. On the one hand, writers like Hippolytus Romanus (circa 200 CE) stress the connexion, even while disparaging certain leaders of “heretical” sects as introducing “novel” ideas and doctrines. I have said this repeatedly, but it bears repeating even more: to the mind of someone in the Roman world of Jesus, novelty was not a good thing. One respected ideas that were old, that had withstood the test of time. Egypt is the premiere example of this. Even half a millennium before Jesus, the Greeks were in awe of the civilisation of Egypt. Many teachings, Pythagoras being an outstanding example, were said to trace back to Egypt. So in order to fit into this, Christians needed– almost desperately– to claim the centuries-old heritage of the Jews. At the same time, however, they had to explain why the Jews had rejected Jesus. This was a bit of an awkward, or inconvenient fact. Stories like the Good Samaritan and the Ten Lepers do not, in fact, explain why the Jews rejected Jesus, but they do emphasize that the Jews did reject Jesus. And the way they rejected him leads us into the story of the lepers.

The first section we discussed ended with Jesus using the metaphor of the slave. He has returned from working all day in the fields, but the master does not wait on the slave. Rather, the slave is then expected to wait on the master while the latter is at his meat. This leads Jesus to ask if we are not grateful for such slaves, but adds the admonition that doing what we are told is not enough. We must go, in modern parlance, over and above mere duty. When read, this seems a bit of a non-sequitur. Jesus makes a logical jump, and the landing on the other side is a bit jarring. The slave was told to wait on the master; how was this going the extra mile? I’m not sure. This admonition to do more is what leads us into the Ten Lepers. These lepers approached Jesus as a group. Jesus healed all ten, and then gave them instructions to go show themselves to the priests, to show that they were now ritually cleansed, and then they were to make the sacrifices as prescribed by Moses. Again as a body, the ten trundle off to do what they were told. At least, ten of them started to do this; nine of them continued, but the tenth returned, groveled before Jesus, and gave thanks. In other words, he did more than just what he was told to do. He took the extra step, went the extra mile, went over and above mere duty.  This is how the Christian is expected to act. And, as a personal note, I’ve always felt this way. Think about situations when you’ve done something for someone and they are thankful, and say “you didn’t need to do this”. Well, of course not; that is exactly the point. Doing only what is expected is good, but it’s expected. Not doing this, of course is bad; but the point is, what is expected is necessary, but it’s not sufficient.


*The term “Christian” came into existence sometime in the period of Matthew, so by the time of Luke it was probably not uncommon. In particular, Tacitus uses the term writing in or around 112 CE.

Luke Chapter 17:20-39

There is a lot of text to cover here. Here we get to a prelude to Luke’s version of the coming “apocalypse”, or day of wrath, or however you wish to describe it. This is kind of an odd bit coming here, or at least an odd place to put something like this. It follows hard on the heels of the Ten Lepers. I suppose one could argue that the intent of this passage in this location is meant to illustrate what will happen to those like the nine who did not return to give thanks, although their place is taken over by Pharisees. They are the ones who initiate the conversation about the arrival of the Kingdom of God. Is that question unique to Luke? Is he the only evangelist who puts this question into the mouths of people around Jesus? I don’t recall it, at least not in so many words, but I suppose there are different versions of it, or many and various ways to couch the implication of the question to evoke Jesus’ response.

What is, perhaps, more interesting is the placement of the reference to Noah. This occurs in Matthew as well, and Kloppenborg includes this as part of Q. But there is a “but” here; Matthew has this reference in the context of his version of the coming wrath, and it’s all together in his Chapter 24. Luke, OTOH, splits this off from his main narrative of the apocalypse. which will come in Chapter 21. This is sort of a teaser, or perhaps the trailer for the main story that is to come. What this means is that one of them, Matthew or Luke, changed the order of the Q material. It may have been Matthew moving it to be part of the longer apocalypse story, or Luke who removes it from the longer apocalypse and places it here. I mention this because the handling and organization of the Q material presented in the Sermon on the Mount is a major prop for the pro-Q argument. Why would Luke mess with this masterful arrangement if he’d read Matthew? Perhaps because Luke tended to rearrange the material he had, whether in the form of Q, or in Matthew’s gospel. More will be said on this later.

As a final note, I forget who said it, whether Ehrman, or Crossan, or someone else, but apocalyptic writing is the last resort of the downtrodden. Sure, we’re your chattel now, but just you wait. OUR GOD is gonna come and clean your clock and teach you a lesson. Him and my big brother. So you better watch it, buster. Honest. I mean it. So anyway, here what Luke has to say about the End Times, or the Time of Retribution, or whatever you wish to call it.


20 Ἐπερωτηθεὶς δὲ ὑπὸ τῶν Φαρισαίων πότε ἔρχεται ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ἀπεκρίθη αὐτοῖς καὶ εἶπεν, Οὐκ ἔρχεται ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ μετὰ παρατηρήσεως,

21 οὐδὲ ἐροῦσιν, Ἰδοὺ ὧδε: ἤ, Ἐκεῖ: ἰδοὺ γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ἐντὸς ὑμῶν ἐστιν.

Having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God is coming, he answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with observable things (more literally, observations). (21) Nor will they say, ‘Look here’, or ‘look there’, for the kingdom of God is within you.”

This finishes Jesus’ response to the Pharisees, so we can pause here a moment.  “The kingdom of God is within you”. The problem with that perfectly legitimate translation is that “you” is plural. If Jesus had said, “within you(singular)” the meaning would be crystal clear, that each of us carries the kingdom within ourself, as in we carry it in our hearts, or in some such metaphorical manner. It is within me, it is within my friend and my sister and each of us individually. But it’s within us plurally, as a group, as a plural number of us. So do we take this in the distributive sense, as it’s within each of you and you and you? This, in fact, is how the Liddell and Scott understands this usage. They have a specific entry referring explicitly and specifically to this passage, rendering is as “within your hearts”. So where is the problem?

The problem, such as it is, is that this is most frequently rendered as “in your midst”. To me, this is sort of saying that there are three people sitting in a triangle, and the kingdom is sort of sitting there on the grass in between them all. It is in their midst, which is a way of saying “it is in the middle of the three of them, but not specifically within any one of them”. At least, that is how I would understand “midst”. Or is that a needlessly strict understanding of “midst”? What else does it mean, if not “in the middle of all of you”? So my point is that I really do not agree with the “in your midst” translation. It lacks, IMO, the personal implication of what is in the Greek. And if we check the Latin, the Vulgate says intra vos, which is a pretty literal rendering of the Greek. “Within you”, again as in, “within your heart”, i.e. And, for those keeping score at home, the KJV comes in with what I would consider the authoritative reading, of “within you”. It is the modern translations that go astray. I wonder why?

I will be quite honest: I’m more than half-way through the third gospel and like three epistles, and the number of times that reading the original has made a tremendous difference can probably be counted on two hands. Or at least two hands and two feet. But this, I think, is definitely one of them.

One last note. The idea of the kingdom being within us is an extension of the admonition not to look here, or look there, for it. Both are part of the same idea.

20 Interrogatus autem a pharisaeis: “Quando venit regnum Dei?”, respondit eis et dixit: “Non venit regnum Dei cum observatione,

21 neque dicent: “Ecce hic” aut: “Illic”; ecce enim regnum Dei intra vos est”.

22 Εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς τοὺς μαθητάς, Ἐλεύσονται ἡμέραι ὅτε ἐπιθυμήσετε μίαν τῶν ἡμερῶν τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἰδεῖν καὶ οὐκ ὄψεσθε.

23 καὶ ἐροῦσιν ὑμῖν, Ἰδοὺ ἐκεῖ: [ἤ,] Ἰδοὺ ὧδε: μὴ ἀπέλθητε μηδὲ διώξητε.

24 ὥσπερ γὰρ ἡ ἀστραπὴ ἀστράπτουσα ἐκ τῆς ὑπὸ τὸν οὐρανὸν εἰς τὴν ὑπ’ οὐρανὸν λάμπει, οὕτως ἔσται ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου [ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ αὐτοῦ].

He said to his disciples, “The days are coming that you will yearn for one of the days of the son of man to see and you will not see (you will long to see the son of man, but you will not see him). (23) And they will say you, ‘Look there’, or ‘look here’; but he will not come nor should you follow him. (24) For as the lightening lightens from the one under the sky to the one under the sky it shines, so will be the son of man on that day.

The Greek in that last verse is a bit odd. Nor is the Latin much help, because it follows the Greek pretty closely, and neither of them seem to match the English translations of (more or less) “lightening flashes from one part of the sky to the other”. There may be some sort of idiom involved that persons more adept in Greek & Latin can follow that are simply beyond me. Part of the confusion is that this verse is connected to the one before, with people saying “he’s here or there”, so it seems like the sense is that lightening flashes, and the son of man is seen here, and it flashes again the son of man is seen over there. Sort of a celestial strobe effect, with the son of man changing places in the time between the flashes. And “lightening lightens” is a very clumsy attempt to get across the fact that the words for both the noun and the verb are derived from the same root.

22 Et ait ad discipulos: “ Venient dies, quando desideretis videre unum diem Filii hominis et non videbitis.

23 Et dicent vobis: “Ecce hic”, “Ecce illic”; nolite ire neque sectemini.

24 Nam sicut fulgur coruscans de sub caelo in ea, quae sub caelo sunt, fulget, ita erit Filius hominis in die sua.

25 πρῶτον δὲ δεῖ αὐτὸν πολλὰ παθεῖν καὶ ἀποδοκιμασθῆναι ἀπὸ τῆς γενεᾶς ταύτης.

26 καὶ καθὼς ἐγένετο ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις Νῶε, οὕτως ἔσται καὶ ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου:

27 ἤσθιον, ἔπινον, ἐγάμουν, ἐγαμίζοντο, ἄχρι ἧς ἡμέρας εἰσῆλθεν Νῶε εἰς τὴν κιβωτόν, καὶ ἦλθεν ὁ κατακλυσμὸς καὶ ἀπώλεσεν πάντας.

28 ὁμοίως καθὼς ἐγένετο ἐνταῖς ἡμέραις Λώτ: ἤσθιον, ἔπινον, ἠγόραζον, ἐπώλουν, ἐφύτευον, ᾠκοδόμουν:

29 ἧ δὲ ἡμέρᾳ ἐξῆλθεν Λὼτ ἀπὸ Σοδόμων, ἔβρεξεν πῦρ καὶ θεῖον ἀπ’οὐρανοῦ καὶ ἀπώλεσεν πάντας.

30 κατὰ τὰ αὐτὰ ἔσται ἧ ἡμέρᾳ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἀποκαλύπτεται.

But first it must be that he (son of man) suffer much, and be rejected by this generation, (26) and accordingly it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the days of the Son of Man. (27) They ate, they drank, they married, they married until the day Noah went into the Ark, and the cataclysm (a straight transliteration of the Greek kataklysmos) came and destroyed everything. (28) It was similar in the day of Lot; they ate, they drank, they bought at the market, they sold, they planted, they built. (29) But on the day Lot went out of Sodom, it rained fire and brimstone from the sky (or, from heaven) and destroyed all. (30) Accordingly it will be on the day the Son of Man is revealed (apokalyptai).  

I mentioned the placement of this in the introduction. The references to Noah and Lot occur in Matthew, but as a part of his “complete” version of the apocalypse. Why is it separated out by Luke? As a prefiguration? Is it, as such, as a literary device? Or is Luke just slavishly following the layout of Q, putting stuff where the compiler of Q left it?

Such a suggestion should be seen as risible even at first glance. To suggest, to think, that the author of The Good Samaritan or The Prodigal Son didn’t have the literary chops to know how to organize his material is ridiculous. When Luke does something like this, he does it with purpose aforethought. This has to carry through to the discussion of Q, but, of course, it doesn’t. The focus is on how badly he mangled the Sermon on the Mount. Now, saying, that, I seem to recall Mark Goodacre, a prof at Duke, suggested something along the lines of Luke not liking long stories. Goodacre is one of the few people I’ve run across who is willing to take a stand against Q; but I do recall that his suggestion that Luke likes to keep things more concise was met with a wave of derision and what bordered on outright dismissal. This is a topic on which I need to do much more research; so, for this particular moment at least, I will drop the topic of Q and move on. Yes, I show forbearance. 

As for the actual content, this is a direct throwback to Jewish culture. As such, it fits in nicely with the Jewish slant that Matthew is said to have.  Thus, one has to admit, it is the sort of thing that a Jew like Jesus would be familiar with, and so would use as an example. As such, it is honestly very difficult to gainsay this inference and argue that it does not show Jewish heritage. One question this raises, however, is how often did Jesus actually make references to the HS in Mark? The quick answer is: not that many. The hard copy Greek NT that I have (wonderful little book, btw; Bible Society, ca 1912 or thereabouts; it’s still around) has book, chapter, & verse to all the HS cites that are made. In Mark, most of the cites are to other Gospels, some to Acts, and some to epistles. In the first half of the gospel, I came up with about a dozen refs; of those, perhaps eight are things Jesus said. That’s 75%, which is a high number; however, even a glance at the margins of the pages, the cites in Mark are sparse while the margins in the gospel of Matthew are crammed with cites. Which indicates, IMO, that the author of Matthew spent a lot of time poring through the HS to find relevant passages, or passages that could be made to fit in a Procrustean Bed* sort of way. It seems, for example, that Matthew made up the story of the Slaughter of the Innocents to use a passage from Jeremiah about the wailing coming from Rama. Or the fight to Egypt so he could use the line from Hosea that YHWH called his son from Egypt. Indeed, he placed Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem so he could use a quote from Micah. Or that he put Jesus in Nazareth because Isaiah said “He will be called a Nazarene”.

Now, all that being said, it is worth noting that Matthew did not include the bit about Lot. Regardless, there is no purchase to be gained by parsing this out in terms of Q; Luke added another example of destruction, whether he got the first from Matthew or from Q really can’t be deduced from the evidence. Luke is going one up on someone. To my mind, it makes more sense that he would go up on Matthew, who was familiar to some members of his audience, rather than going one-up on Q, because one has to wonder the extent to which the general public would have been familiar with Q, assuming it existed. Since it, allegedly, disappeared without a trace, we have to suspect the answer is that the general public– in the sense of those listening to the gospels–was not terribly aware of Q.

We shouldn’t pass this by without mentioning the fire and brimstone. In English, brimstone is another word for “sulphur”, the element. It’s yellow, and burns, and lets off a rather foul odor. Pitch has a high sulphur content, so it tends to smell pretty awful when it burns. If you check the Latin below, you will see that the Greek translates to sulphur. This is the only time this word is used in any part of the NT– with the exception Revelation. 

*Greek myth, exploits of Theseus. In his journey Theseus comes across a man named Procrustes who offered food and lodging to travelers on the road. The main selling point Procrustes offered was a bed, that was the perfect size for any and all. Well, turns out, if the traveler was too sort, Procrustes stretched the traveler until the latter was long enough. Too tall? No problem. Just lop of the excess. Of course Theseus overcame the man and left him a victim of his own bed. Not sure if he was too short or too tall.

25 Primum autem oportet illum multa pati et reprobari a generatione hac.

26 Et sicut factum est in diebus Noe, ita erit et in diebus Filii hominis:

27 edebant, bibebant, uxores ducebant, dabantur ad nuptias, usque in diem, qua intravit Noe in arcam, et venit diluvium et perdidit omnes.

28 Similiter sicut factum est in diebus Lot: edebant, bibebant, emebant, vendebant, plantabant, aedificabant;

29 qua die autem exiit Lot a Sodomis, pluit ignem et sulphur de caelo et omnes perdidit.

30 Secundum haec erit, qua die Filius hominis revelabitur.

31 ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ὃς ἔσται ἐπὶ τοῦ δώματος καὶ τὰ σκεύη αὐτοῦ ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ, μὴ καταβάτω ἆραι αὐτά, καὶ ὁ ἐν ἀγρῷ ὁμοίως μὴ ἐπιστρεψάτω εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω.

32 μνημονεύετε τῆς γυναικὸς Λώτ.

33 ὃς ἐὰν ζητήσῃ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ περιποιήσασθαι ἀπολέσει αὐτήν, ὃς δ’ ἂν ἀπολέσῃ ζῳογονήσει αὐτήν.

34 λέγω ὑμῖν, ταύτῃ τῇ νυκτὶ ἔσονται δύο ἐπὶ κλίνης μιᾶς, ὁ εἷς παραλημφθήσεται καὶ ὁ ἕτερος ἀφεθήσεται:

35 ἔσονται δύο ἀλήθουσαι ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτό, ἡ μία παραλημφθήσεται ἡ δὲ ἑτέρα ἀφεθήσεται.

36 καὶ 37 ἀποκριθέντες λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Ποῦ, κύριε; ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Οπου τὸ σῶμα, ἐκεῖ καὶ οἱ ἀετοὶ ἐπισυναχθήσονται.

On that day, one will be upon the (ie, roof of) the house, and his belongings will be in the house, do not go down to take it up, and one will be in the field (and) in the same way let him not turn back. (32) Recall the wife of Lot. (33) The one seeking to preserve his life it will be destroyed, and the one who will destroy it will live it. (34) I say to you, that night will be two upon a single couch; one will be taken up and the other will be left behind.  (35) Two (women) will be grinding upon the same (millstone?), the one will be taken you and the other will be left.” (36) And (37) responding, they said, “Where, lord?” He said to them, “Where the body, there also the eagles will be gathered.”

Numerous points to discuss. Let’s get some of the minor ones out of the way. Due to the gendered grammar of Greek, we know there are two men on the couch; presumably they are eating because that is how they dined. In the same way, we know that there were two women grinding– presumably at the same millstone, but I don’t know enough about how these tasks were done in First Century Galilee. Eventually, this became a specialized profession, resulting in the surname “Miller”, but at the time of Jesus my impression is that a village would have numerous smaller ones that were used in common. But don’t cite me as an expert who knows that kind of thing.

More interesting is the verse before: the one seeking to save his life. The word used is psyche, which we are told means “soul”. Well, it does, but it often means life. We saw this in both Mark and Matthew, both of whom have this axiom in their gospels. I know we discussed this when we ran across it in Mark; I have always seen it translated in that context as soul: what shall it profit…gain the world, lose one’s soul? We discussed whether “soul” was the proper translation. In English, there is a very big difference between losing one’s life and losing one’s soul; not so much in Greek. where the same word can– and does– have both meanings. In Mark, translating as “soul” had metaphysical, or salvation aspects whereas it obviously gains one nothing to acquire the world and die a physical death. In all three gospels, when Jesus says, as he does here, that whoever would save his psyche will lose it, all the translations render it as “life”. Context is everything. And, btw, back in Luke 9, when he gives his version of Mark’s question about gaining the world, Luke renders it as “what shall it profit…gain the world…and lose oneself?” That very much eliminates the ambiguity, and makes me wonder if we have to rethink the consensus translation of Mark’s question.

The idea of one being taken while the other was left is the basis for the idea of the Rapture. The title of the series of novels called Left Behind, will certainly corroborate that. Beyond that, we’ve discussed much of this when we read Matthew, and we will discuss more when we get to Luke Chapter 21.

31 In illa die, qui fuerit in tecto, et vasa eius in domo, ne descendat tollere illa; et, qui in agro, similiter non redeat retro.

32 Memores estote uxoris Lot.

33 Quicumque quaesierit animam suam salvam facere, perdet illam; et, quicumque perdiderit illam, vivificabit eam.

34 Dico vobis: Illa nocte erunt duo in lecto uno:

unus assumetur, et alter relinquetur;

35 duae erunt molentes in unum: una assumetur, et altera relinquetur ”.

(36) 37 Respondentes dicunt illi: “ Ubi, Domine? ”. Qui dixit eis: “ Ubicumque fuerit corpus, illuc congregabuntur et aquilae ”.

Luke Chapter 17:11-19; with Addendum

This is a short section of text. I’m never sure how long these will take, whether it will be a straightforward piece of translation and commentary, or if something will come up that sends me off onto a very long tangent. Time will tell. But the one after this definitely will be a long piece of text, so let’s try to keep this one on-track, shall we?

When last we saw our hero, he was telling stories about servants and mulberry trees. The general sense is that Jesus is progressing towards Jerusalem. That is sort of the general, ambient setting for the Synoptics as a whole: Jesus teaching in and around Galilee, even up to Tyre & Sidon, but then making the fateful trek to Jerusalem, where he will meet his doom. Doom? Funny you should ask. It doesn’t necessarily mean ‘death’, although that is a strong undercurrent. Rather, it’s synonymous with ‘fate’, rather than simply ‘to die’. However, in Christian terms, meeting one’s fate is what happens when you die and are subject to the Last Judgement. So, in order to meet your fate, your doom, you have to die first. So, saying “We’re doomed” became a euphemism for dying, but it skipped the bit about actual physical death and went straight to the part about the Judgement. And, btw, once we die and our soul is released from our physical, temporary, and temporal body, we step into the realm of the eternal. Hence when we die we go straight to the Last Judgement, because we are no longer bounded by time. Now, there are all sorts of problems with this, but let’s not get into them. That’s more the realm (now, anyway) of theoretical physics.


11 Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ πορεύεσθαι εἰς Ἰερουσαλὴμ καὶ αὐτὸς διήρχετο διὰ μέσον Σαμαρείας καὶ Γαλιλαίας.

And it came into being in the journey towards Jerusalem and he passed through Samaria and Galilee. 

Geography lesson. In the time of Jesus, Samaria sat smack in between Galilee and Judea. The city of Samaria was the capital of Israel after the split of the United Kingdom after the death of Solomon. The problem with this is that I do not believe there ever was a United Kingdom ruled from Jerusalem. This latter city does not provide clear archaeological evidence for such an exalted position in the 9th or 10th Century BCE. Rather, it seems more likely that Israel was the power, was a significant kingdom in a period when neither Egypt nor any other power was able to exert control over Israel/Judea. The latter was likely, or possibly, a client state; perhaps nominally independent with its king (who could easily have been men named David, Solomon, etc), but who owed fealty– that is, tribute– to Israel. Then, when Israel was captured by Assyria, Judea asserted a claim to the lands that had been Israel. Hence was the “United Monarchy” born, several centuries after the fact. Much of the OT was sort of a foundation myth meant to prove that Judea and Jerusalem was rightwise ordained as the divine kingdom of the Chosen People.

There is also this: much of the books of Kings is about how wicked the kings of Israel were, always chasing after the baals, and worshipping in the high places. This would translate, roughly, to meaning that Israel did not recognise YHWH as their primary deity. Israelites worshipped Ba’al and Ishtar and the rest because they were still mostly what we would call pagans. YHWH, OTOH (!) was the tribal god of the hill people in Judea; IOW, a local deity for a  very petty state. This would help explain the animosity the Judeans felt for the Samaritans: the latter did not accept the Judean version of history, and so did not acknowledge the primacy of the Temple in Jerusalem. A nice little theory, no? But that’s all it is. And I have no ready explanation for why Galilee, which was separated from Judea by Samaria, did recognise the Temple in Jerusalem. There are all sorts of possible explanations of varying degrees of plausibility, but this is neither the time nor the place. I’m a verse into this section, and I’ve already had my first tangent.

What I’m about to say is semi-risible; but that won’t stop me, because it’s the sort of things that historical analysts– especially those studying ancient history– will bring up. They will do this because there is so little evidence for ancient history that every last drop of implication has to be wrung out of every word. Dead horses are still beaten, over and over. Looking at a map as I just did, I noted that Galilee is uppermost north of the three provinces. So, if I were writing this verse, I would say he passed through Galilee and Samaria to indicate the geographic progression. But what if I didn’t have Google, or even a decent library, and could not pull up a map? What if I were writing somewhere else, and only had the vaguest idea of how the three territories were arranged? Then I might easily have written as Luke did here. The point is that this is the sort of thing that lets historians piece together the derivation of these works, and to conclude that they were not written by someone familiar with the geography of the area, thereby inferring that they were written somewhere else.


There is something to be added to this. In Matthew 10:5, when he is sending out the Twelve, he specifically instructs them not to preach to pagans, nor to enter any Samaritan town. When writing the commentary above, I had forgotten about this instruction; this is what happens when one is not well-versed in Scripture, and I am certainly not. The upshot here is that I’m not entirely sure what to do with this. Or, perhaps I do know, but don’t want to get into it. My initial impulse is that, to some degree, Matthew was trying to counteract the influx of pagan thought; that is, he was trying to re-Judaize (to coin a term? Are there enough syllables?) the belief system that had developed. And this would actually play well with my idea that he was a pagan himself; as a convert, he had the zeal of a convert and was bending over backwards to be as Jewish as possible. Hence, his assertion that not an iota of the Law was to be superseded.

Of course this is speculation. There are a thousand ways to look at this, and probably ten thousand questions to be addressed before this can even reach the level of theory, let alone hypothesis. It would require weighing such attempts to reinstitute Jewish ideas against those places where he shows his pagan background. Why, for example, use the Greek Hades instead of the Aramaic Gehenna? Of course, this choice could easily be explained as he was using the term he thought his readers would best understand. But then, that is the issue. Matthew was aware of how far he was going to paganize the vocabulary, and so the concepts and thought-world of the emerging religion. So he counteracted where and when he could. Then why include the story of the centurion and his slave? I don’t know the answer. But I am asking the question. That is a huge step forward.

11 Et factum est, dum iret in Ierusalem, et ipse transibat per mediam Samariam et Galilaeam.

12 καὶ εἰσερχομένου αὐτοῦ εἴς τινα κώμην ἀπήντησαν [αὐτῷ] δέκα λεπροὶ ἄνδρες, οἳ ἔστησαν πόρρωθεν,

13 καὶ αὐτοὶ ἦραν φωνὴν λέγοντες,Ἰησοῦ ἐπιστάτα, ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς.

And he, coming into a certain village, ten lepers met [him]. they stood from afar, and they called out in a loud voice, saying, “Jesus, overseer, have mercy on us!” 

The word rendered as “overseer” is almost universally translated as “master”. This isn’t wrong, but it’s misleading. Even the Latin doesn’t truly support “master”. So we get “overseer”, or maybe “boss” would work…or maybe not. But it’s more of a word that refers to someone appointed by the master/lord to supervise the underlings. 

12 Et cum ingrederetur quoddam castellum, occurrerunt ei decem viri leprosi, qui steterunt a longe

13 et levaverunt vocem dicentes: “ Iesu praeceptor, miserere nostri! ”.

14 καὶ ἰδὼν εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Πορευθέντες ἐπιδείξατε ἑαυτοὺς τοῖς ἱερεῦσιν. καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ ὑπάγειν αὐτοὺς ἐκαθαρίσθησαν.

15 εἷς δὲ ἐξ αὐτῶν, ἰδὼν ὅτι ἰάθη, ὑπέστρεψεν μετὰ φωνῆς μεγάλης δοξάζων τὸν θεόν,

16 καὶ ἔπεσεν ἐπὶ πρόσωπον παρὰ τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ εὐχαριστῶν αὐτῷ: καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν Σαμαρίτης.

And seeing he said to them, “Going, show yourselves to the priests”. And it happened in the going they were cleansed. (15) One of them, seeing that he was healed, turned around (and) in a loud voice thought about (in Christian usage only = praised) God, and (16) fell on his face before his (Jesus’) feet giving thanks (euchariston) to him. And he was a Samaritan. 

This last bit, of course, is the punchline. It was the Samaritan who did this. Note that we’ve already had the parable of the Good Samaritan, so Luke is apparently very keen on pointing out how the Jews have fallen by the wayside. It’s a bit more than that, actually. Since the Jews had such a low opinion pf Samaritans (despised, might be the proper term), to hold them up for praise is really kind of rubbing the Jews’ collective face in it. Sure, you were the Chosen People, but what about now? Except it’s more they were the Chosen People. I make this correction because at this point Luke is doubtless talking to an audience that’s north of 90% pagan; there probably just weren’t that many Jews left in the Jesus movement; there weren’t that many formerly Jewish Christians left, and probably barely a trickle of new converts from Judaism. This will culminate with John talking about The Jews in a very disparaging fashion.

Once again, this sort of raising other groups at the expense of the Jews is not terribly appropriate to Jesus’ lifetime. Paul became the first to attempt to convert pagans in any numbers; that means for twenty years (plus or minus), most new members of the assemblies (ekklesiai) were Jews. As such, a story like this would not have been great recruiting material. So the likelihood of this tracing back to Jesus is, IMO, pretty much nil. This is a point I’ve raised numerous times before, so it doesn’t require a whole lot of additional discussion at this point.

Of course we notice that Jesus tells them all to go show themselves to the priests. Why the priests? Why not a physician? Because they had been cleansed, not so much cured of a disease as cleansed of ritual pollution. It was a moral cleansing, not so much a physical one. This is something more entrenched in Jewish thinking than in Greek thought. The Greeks had notions of ritual pollution as the source of disease– check out the opening of The Iliad, for example– but that was a bit different. Hippocrates was a Greek, and not Jewish, or even Persian for a reason. However, this does lead to one question: are we to assume that the Samaritan was going off to show himself to the Jewish priests, too? Actually, this is a really interesting question. I have become more sure that much of the Bible (OT/HS) was likely written during the Exile in Babylon. This is more or less to say that the legends were worked up and compiled (stuff like the two versions of creation that appear in the first dozen verses of Genesis, for example) and shaped into something like final form in the 6th Century BCE. That is to say, the form was achieved several hundred years after Israel had ceased to exist after being crushed by the Assyrians. If the Kingdom of Israel did not honor YHWH above all others, then would they have held the Pentateuch as their foundational myth, too? Offhand, and at first glance, I would tend to doubt it. But I have never heard that discussed because no one (to the best of my knowledge) has ever asked that question, because it’s simply assumed that the United Monarchy actually existed, and that Israel worshipped YHWH. Of course, 2 Kings in particular tells us otherwise. So that was all a big roundabout to the question of whether the Samaritan would have understood Jesus’ instructions to show themselves to the priests. The Samaritan probably would not have understood because there is a real possibility that the Samaritans weren’t adherents to Mosaic Law. And this is all additional indication that the story does not date from the time of Jesus. 

14 Quos ut vidit, dixit: “ Ite, ostendite vos sacerdotibus ”. Et factum est, dum irent, mundati sunt.

15 Unus autem ex illis, ut vidit quia sanatus est, regressus est cum magna voce magnificans Deum

16 et cecidit in faciem ante pedes eius gratias agens ei; et hic erat Samaritanus.

17 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν, Οὐχὶ οἱ δέκα ἐκαθαρίσθησαν; οἱ δὲ ἐννέα ποῦ;

18 οὐχ εὑρέθησαν ὑποστρέψαντες δοῦναι δόξαν τῷ θεῷ εἰ μὴ ὁ ἀλλογενὴς οὗτος;

19 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἀναστὰς πορεύου: ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε.

Answering, Jesus said to him, “Were there not ten that were cleansed? Where are the (other) nine? (18) The ones not turning back were not found to give glory to God, except the person of another ethnicity?” And he (Jesus) said to him (the Samaritan), “Rising, go. Your faith has saved you.”

The translation of Verse 18 is a bit rough in English. Jesus is making the point that it was the Samaritan, and not the other nine who were, presumably, Jewish, that returned to give thanks. The use of <<ἀλλογενὴς>> is unique to this passage in the NT. I have been avoiding the term “gentile” at all costs for a very long time because it’s a made-up word that I suspect was derived from Latin rather than Greek. I could easily be wrong on that, given that the Latin root is gens, gentis, while the Greek genea lacks the “t” in declension.  Also, the Romans used the plural form gentes to mean foreigner. That is a very short step to gentile. If the word used here were the standard term, then I might be more inclined to consider using the standard word for “those other people”. Because I tend to use the term pagan where most English versions use gentile; but my choice is pretty much exclusively a Latin root. Oh well. So much for consistency and purity.

We mentioned above that this story is meant to explain why there weren’t many (any?) Christians of Jewish origin any longer. As such, there is no way this story dates to the 30s. Another question occurs to me: would Jewish lepers pal around with a Samaritan leper? All were outcast, of course, so perhaps their being outcast brought about camaraderie; however, it’s just as likely that the social barriers remained, even among the despised class. If Jewish lepers could still despise Samaritan lepers as somehow lesser, then I tend to believe that Jewish (or any other ethnicity; not singling out Jews) would have despised Samaritan lepers as lesser. People are funny that way, as we in the early 21st Century are still learning about ourselves.

The last point I want to cover (something else may yet occur) is the last bit. “Your faith has saved you”. Saved him from what? He’s already been cleansed of his disease. This is analogous to the situation with the paralytic lowered through the hole in the roof. Jesus first cures him, then tells him that his sins are forgiven. It’s the latter that sets off the sticklers in the crowd. So, given that the physical cure is already historical fact, it would seem that he is saved would mean something other than he has been healed physically. More, he has been saved by faith. Now, this is nothing new; the Bleeding Woman was healed by her faith, and Jesus tells her she has been saved by her faith. Most translations do not say that the woman has been saved; they tend to say she has been made whole; that is, she has been healed. This is the ambiguous nature of the Greek word for to save. In fact, the word means either to heal physically or to save a physical life. It is the Christians who add the extra dimension of meaning to the word, by thinking in terms of eternal salvation; id est, the saving of the immortal soul. In the case of the Bleeding Woman, is Jesus telling her that she has been healed, or that her soul has been saved by her faith? Which is Jesus saying here? Why do you think what you do? This is the beauty of being able to read this in the original: the translation to another language can/does mask when a single word in the original can have different meanings. It can/does blunt the impact of the text as written.

17 Respondens autem Iesus dixit: “ Nonne decem mundati sunt? Et novem ubi sunt?

18 Non sunt inventi qui redirent, ut darent gloriam Deo, nisi hic alienigena? ”.

19 Et ait illi: “ Surge, vade; fides tua te salvum fecit ”.

Luke Chapter 17:1-10

Since my production is down, I’m going to try the short-and-quick route by doing short sections. I’m also going to skip an intro and jump right into the


1 Εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ, Ἀνένδεκτόν ἐστιν τοῦ τὰ σκάνδαλα μὴ ἐλθεῖν, πλὴν οὐαὶ δι’ οὗ ἔρχεται:

2 λυσιτελεῖ αὐτῷ εἰ λίθος μυλικὸς περίκειται περὶ τὸν τράχηλον αὐτοῦ καὶ ἔρριπται εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν ἢ ἵνα σκανδαλίσῃ τῶν μικρῶν τούτων ἕνα.

He said to his learners, “It is not admissible that the stumbling not come, but woe to the one through whom it comes. It is more profitable for him if a millstone be hung around his neck (trachea) and he be thrown into the sea than to make stumble to one of these little ones.   

I deliberately made some idiosyncratic choices for translations here. The first is “learners” instead of “disciples”. That is a very literal translation of the Greek. “Disciple” comes from the Latin, which happens also to mean “learners”. Like “baptize”, disciple has taken on a very specific meaning in English that was not present in either the original Greek or the Latin translation. It is a good idea to throw a little sand in the gears once in a while to obviate the tendency for us, as modern readers, to get too comfortable with the standard rendering of a particular word. This is especially true for words like this that have become ossified in English into a specifically theological sense. These were just garden-variety words in Greek & Latin; that needs to be remembered. Jesus is just speaking; he is not uttering Holy Writ.

The second involves “skandala”. The English result of this word is transparent. The meaning in Greek is “to stumble”, from “stumbling block”. However, I notice that, while the KJV renders as “offenses”, several modern translations use “to stumble”. So I’m not being as weird as I had thought.

More interesting is the idea expressed. Of course we’re all going to stumble, because we’re human likely to be understood. Let’s think about that for a moment. Recall that Luke is (possibly/probably) the first evangelist to be aware of Paul’s writing. At least, he’s the first that we’re sure who knew about Paul as an apostle, even if he was not aware of Paul’s writing. I don’t see a lot made of this for whatever reason. Having read 1 Corinthians, we know that Paul was sort of hung up on sex. Reading this passage with that in mind, I wonder if perhaps some Christian communities went to extremes about sex, going full-bore puritanical. Of course, it doesn’t have to be about sex, but the next line seems to indicate that it is. At least, this admonition which is also in M&M, that is how this was presented to me back whenever. And let’s be honest: pederasty was a common practice in the Graeco-Roman world. Tacitus, and especially Suetonius have all sorts of lurid stories about the sexual depravity that Tiberius was (said to be) practising in his pleasure dome on Capri. And recall that Tiberius was on the throne when Jesus was executed, if the chronologies are to be believed–and there’s no really good reason not to believe them so far as I know; admittedly, however, that isn’t very far. OTOH, while this is the sort of thing historians would debate endlessly, it never seems to occur to biblical scholars to question it. Eusebios very confidently accepts the standard chronology, and places Jesus’ execution in the 15th year of Tiberius’ reign (IIRC. Might be off a bit on that).

So anyway, Luke, like Mark & Matthew before him, is telling us that it’s not the sin per se that is horrible; it’s the corrupting of “one of the little ones”. It’s certainly easy to interpret that as children, and it’s probably difficult to interpret it any other way, at least, not credibly. “Little ones” can refer to the downtrodden or the peasants, in the way that Oscar winners thank the “little people” who helped make their performance possible. Realistically, though, taking “little ones” to mean anything other than children is a stretch. To emphasize, this story in Mark is part of the story in which Jesus tells the disciples to become like the child he is holding in his arms (one envisions Jesus sitting with the child on his lap. Perhaps due to artistic depictions?). What is interesting about this version, IMO, is that Luke does not feel the need to give us the context like this. He just says, “these little ones”, but we have absolutely no context on where they are. At the end of the previous chapter, they–or at least Jesus–was in the company of Pharisees as he told the story of Dives and Lazarus. At the outset of this one Jesus is simply with his disciples. Where? Where are “these” little ones? The answer, I think, is that they are in the other two gospels. We have seen this before in Luke. In stories that have been well-told, and adequately handled by the other two, Luke shortens his version or leaves out details as he does here. In places where perhaps Matthew summarized Mark a bit too severely, Luke provides a long version to fill out the narrative omitted by Matthew. And yes, of course this ties back to Q; at least, it ties to the question of whether Luke had read Matthew. When there is a high level of correlation in situations as described, this comes down rather convincingly as evidence that Luke was very much aware of Matthew.  

1 Et ad discipulos suos ait: “Impossibile est ut non veniant scandala; vae autem illi, per quem veniunt!

2 Utilius est illi, si lapis molaris imponatur circa collum eius et proiciatur in mare, quam ut scandalizet unum de pusillis istis.

3 προσέχετε ἑαυτοῖς. ἐὰν ἁμάρτῃ ὁ ἀδελφός σου ἐπιτίμησον αὐτῷ, καὶ ἐὰν μετανοήσῃ ἄφες αὐτῷ:

4 καὶ ἐὰν ἑπτάκις τῆς ἡμέρας ἁμαρτήσῃ εἰς σὲ καὶ ἑπτάκις ἐπιστρέψῃ πρὸς σὲ λέγων, Μετανοῶ, ἀφήσεις αὐτῷ.

5 Καὶ εἶπαν οἱ ἀπόστολοι τῷ κυρίῳ, Πρόσθες ἡμῖν πίστιν.

6 εἶπεν δὲ ὁ κύριος, Εἰ ἔχετε πίστιν ὡς κόκκον σινάπεως, ἐλέγετε ἂν τῇ συκαμίνῳ [ταύτῃ],Ἐκριζώθητι καὶ φυτεύθητι ἐν τῇ θαλάσσῃ: καὶ ὑπήκουσεν ἂν ὑμῖν.

“Devote yourselves (as in, ‘pay attention!’). If your brother might sin against you, (rebuke) him, and if he repents forgive him. (4) And if he should sin against you seven times in a day, turn to him saying, ‘Repent,’ (and) leave him.” And his apostles said to the lord, “Put upon/within us faith.” (6) The lord said, “If you have the faith as a seed of mustard, if you said to [the/that] sycamine tree, ‘Uproot yourself and throw yourself in the sea’, and it would heed you.” 

First, let’s talk about the tree. It appears there is a whole thing about the “sycamine” tree; “sycamine” is a straight transliteration, which means the English letters are substituted for the Greek letters and the word is pronounced (more or less) the same. “Logos” is a great example. I was going to translate as “sycamore” tree and leave it at that, but then I wanted to check to see what sort of tree it was that Zacchaeus will climb. Back in Catholic school, we sang a song about Zacchaeus, and how he climbed a sycamore tree, so it seemed wise to corroborate the genus and species across verses. The KJV renders the word as ‘sycamine’; modern translations render as ‘mulberry’. Well, it turns out that a sycamine tree is actually a mulberry tree. A Google search turns up a whole bunch of stuff on the mulberry tree mentioned here, of which two species are common to Palestine. Luther apparently translated the word as “mulberry tree.” Wikipedia says he made his German translation directly from Hebrew and Greek, so he would have encountered sycamine. However, Luther learned his Bible in Latin; going back to the Greek was still an unusual activity in his time and everyone in the west learned the Bible in Latin. And the word used in Latin is “morus”; and the genus of the mulberry trees common to Palestine is “morus”. This makes me wonder if the whole mulberry thing is based on Luther’s reading of the Vulgate, which means it may indeed have been the same tree that Zacchaeus will climb in 19:4. We’ll come back to this again, but, in the meantime, I will defer to St Jerome whose knowledge of Mediterranean flora was doubtless much superior to mine.

Perhaps of more interest to most is the admonition on forgiving your brother. Most of us recall that Matthew enjoined us to forgive seven times seventy, or seventy-seven times. Luke, here, only tells us to do it seven times. Per my Absolutely Official version of Q, the “correct” version of this, as found in Q, is the seven we find here. Ergo, Luke has the more “primitive” version. In this case, I would tend to agree with that assessment, assuming I actually believed in Q. Which I don’t. So this becomes problematic, which, in turn, sure makes it convenient to have a Q so that we don’t really have to weigh the two versions and decide why they are different. But is that true? If the more primitive version is seven, why did Matthew change it? Do we have a redactionally consistent explanation of every time Matthew varies from Q? That is what the Q people demand of those who do not accept Q, but it seems to me they’ve got that backwards, doesn’t it? The question isn’t– or shouldn’t be, really– why Luke deviates from Matthew, but why Matthew deviates from Q? What reason does Matthew have for changing it to “poor in spirit” or “seventy-seven” times? Because I will grant that it does seem curious that Luke only tells us to do it seven times. The “poor in spirit” change is easy enough to explain, but the seven, vs the seventy-seven, is a bit more difficult.

As a quick aside, I seriously doubt that one can come up with an redactionally consistent explanation for why Luke changed Matthew in this case. Luke disagreed. He had his own view, but is it realistic to believe that he had a consistent, abiding understanding, or re-interpretation of Matthew from which he never deviated? Really? What human being in the world is capable of that degree of consistency? None that I know of. Which is where and why the whole divine inspiration thing comes in handy. But I do think the Q people have, once again, managed to shift the burden of proof onto those who don’t accept the idea. The Q people should be made to prove that it did exist, and then explain every instance where Matthew diverged from the “original” text. Instead, they demand that we prove it didn’t exist– which is impossible, btw; one cannot prove a negative– and provide a redactionally consistent explanation for every time Matthew chose to ad lib.

But even more interesting is that Luke gives us leave to leave. Matthew’s ‘seventy-seven’ times is a sort of rhetorical short-hand for “ad infinitum”; that is, there is no limit to the number times we should forgive our sibling. (Practically speaking, however, if we are talking about a literal sibling, forgiving seventy-seven times over the course of a lifetime is hardly “infinite”.) So what this means is, if Q did exist, Matthew was being more lenient than Jesus. Luke tells, OTOH, that seven is enough, after which we can leave the sibling and go one’s own way. And, given Q, this is the original message of Jesus. Think about that. Jesus did not preach a forgiveness that was infinite. You get your set number of chances, but after that, you’ve proven yourself to be incorrigible and you’re on your own. So, this means that if Luke was less forgiving than Matthew, Jesus was also less forgiving than Matthew. Of course, this latter conclusion vanishes if we follow the evidence and accept that Q never did exist. This means that Luke was less forgiving than Matthew, and that’s the end of it. Jesus never enters the comparison. The commentaries don’t have a lot to say on the differences between the two versions. That is the problem with commentaries: they do not always cross-reference sufficiently; Rather, they focus too narrowly on the passage before us at the moment. An effective discussion would have to come from a theologian who is discussing the concept of forgiveness in the NT. Ellicott does provide an interesting insight. He says that the leave to leave is Luke enjoining the listener to get up and leave the moment after forgiving seven times rather than remain and lose your temper. That does make sense. 

The final point is one I’ll leave to you to determine the level of importance. It seems hugely significant to me, but then my perspective is usually a bit off-kilter. I’m like Pluto: I don’t lie on the same plane as the rest of the solar system. The point is that I cannot ever remember hearing any of this chapter read aloud as the gospel. That includes nineteen years growing up in the Roman Rite, and then another eighteen or nineteen as an adult in the Episcopal Church. Never. Of course, that’s not to say it never happened. One possibility is that this reading is done on a Tuesday in April or something when I wasn’t at church. Why is that? Of course, the most likely answer is that this would highlight the difference between this passage and the corresponding version in Matthew. That would lead to the uncomfortable questions about the appropriate number of times we should forgive our sibling.

3 Attendite vobis! Si peccaverit frater tuus, increpa illum et, si paenitentiam egerit, dimitte illi;

4 et si septies in die peccaverit in te et septies conversus fuerit ad te dicens: “Paenitet me”, dimittes illi ”.

5 Et dixerunt apostoli Domino: “ Adauge nobis fidem! ”.

6 Dixit autem Dominus: “ Si haberetis fidem sicut granum sinapis, diceretis huic arbori moro: “Eradicare et transplantare in mare”, et oboediret vobis.

7 Τίς δὲ ἐξ ὑμῶν δοῦλον ἔχων ἀροτριῶντα ἢ ποιμαίνοντα, ὃς εἰσελθόντι ἐκ τοῦ ἀγροῦ ἐρεῖ αὐτῷ, Εὐθέως παρελθὼν ἀνάπεσε,

8 ἀλλ’ οὐχὶ ἐρεῖ αὐτῷ, Ἑτοίμασον τί δειπνήσω, καὶ περιζωσάμενος διακόνει μοι ἕως φάγω καὶ πίω, καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα φάγεσαι καὶ πίεσαι σύ;

9 μὴ ἔχει χάριν τῷ δούλῳ ὅτι ἐποίησεν τὰ διαταχθέντα;

10 οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς, ὅταν ποιήσητε πάντα τὰ διαταχθέντα ὑμῖν, λέγετε ὅτι Δοῦλοι ἀχρεῖοί ἐσμεν, ὃ ὠφείλομεν ποιῆσαι πεποιήκαμεν.

“Who among you having a slave that having been ploughing or herding, who comes from the field says to him, ‘Immediately coming in, get off your feet’, (8) but does not say to him, (rather than saying to him) ‘Prepare the dinner, and gird yourself to minister to me while I eat and drink, and after that you will eat and drink’? (9) Do you not have thanks to/for the slave that performs the commands? (10) It is also this way for you, when you do all the commands (given to) you, you say that ‘We are useless slaves, we have done what we were obligated to do.”

Upon reading this the first time, I was beginning to question my reading comprehension. How did we go from the mulberry tree throwing itself into the ocean to having a slave who ploughs/herds? But the payoff does come at the end when it kinda sorta maybe relates to having faith. Or maybe not. The lesson is that just doing what you’re told is not sufficient; you have to go above and beyond that, and such a lesson makes sense. And so it’s by going above and beyond that you have the faith of a mustard seed and can move trees. At least. that’s how I’m reading this.

7 Quis autem vestrum habens servum arantem aut pascentem, qui regresso de agro dicet illi: “Statim transi, recumbe”,

8 et non dicet ei: “Para, quod cenem, et praecinge te et ministra mihi, donec manducem et bibam, et post haec tu manducabis et bibes”?

9 Numquid gratiam habet servo illi, quia fecit, quae praecepta sunt?

10 Sic et vos, cum feceritis omnia, quae praecepta sunt vobis, dicite: “Servi inutiles sumus; quod debuimus facere, fecimus’ ”.


Summary Luke Chapter 16

This was a long time in production. My apologies for the delay.

At first reading, the theme of this chapter is wealth; specifically, it is worldly wealth, how it compares to other-worldly wealth, and what the implications are for exalting the former over the latter. A few more readings, however, reveal that this is thematically more complex, and more subtle, than may first be apparent.

While the story of the unjust slave is unique to Luke, the summation is a quote also found in Matthew. This is the quote about God and Mammon. Since it’s in these two, it’s considered part of Q. But if the conclusion is part of Q, but the preceding story is not, whence came the story? Official answer: The L Source. Because there was not just Q, but also M and L, which account for the stuff unique to Matthew and Luke, respectively. So, not only was there one source that vanished without a trace, there were three. Oh, but M and L were oral. Oh? And the proof for that is…what, exactly? This is why Q becomes so problematic. Not only are we creating one body unnecessarily, we are creating three. It’s so much easier to credit the composition of this story to Luke’s particular brand of creativity. He took Matthew’s conclusion and composed a story to illustrate the moral more effectively.

And this story is particularly subtle. Think back to Mark. The longest single story in Mark is that of the Geresene demonaic, possessed by a demon or demons named Legion, for they were many (love that line). That is a great story, but subtle? Not so much. This story of Luke’s always puzzled me, probably because I never paid sufficient attention and didn’t hear or understand the lesson taught, or because the whole thing wasn’t read in church. I could never figure out why the master of the steward was impressed by the latter’s actions of cheating the master of debts owed; part of my failure to grasp the message was due to its subtlety. The master is impressed because the steward showed true cunning. It’s sort of like admiring the technique of a thief who has figured out a really clever way to steal something. Jesus tells the story and then agrees with the master’s assessment of the fraud. But! Jesus agrees for a specific and pretty narrow reason: the steward has demonstrated the sort of sharp practice that will get someone ahead in the chase of material wealth. This sort of practice, or behavior, will endear you to the practitioners of this age, to those who worship Mammon, so this will endear the steward and cushion his fall from grace when he is fired by the master he’s been cheating.

But then Jesus adds another twist. Yes, it shows cunning for worldly ends, but perhaps it can also help deal with other-worldly ends. For, he says, use it to prepare a place so that when wealth fails, you will be received into the tents of eternity. As an aside, tents is no doubt over-literal, but that is the basic meaning. It is prettied up as a metaphor in the various translations, and you are free to fashion your own metaphor, but, at its root, the word means tents. What are eternal tents? I rather skimmed over that in the commentary. Any time we encounter the word eternal, in any of its forms, we–at least I–start to think in terms of the afterlife, since that is the eternal realm of Christian thought. But how will riches help get you into the afterlife? Is Jesus, perhaps, being a bit ironic? How is that for a concept: Ironic Jesus. A quick glance at some of the commentaries indicate that I am perhaps being short-sighted, or too literal, or something such, since this is meant to imply that we use our material wealth for immaterial good such as giving to the poor. That is one possible interpretation, and “poor” is the translation of “friends”. Other commentaries suggest that the friends are angels, or even God. The point is that, should we be fortunate enough to have wealth, it should be used for the betterment of all in order to help ease us into the everlasting tabernacles. The problem that I have is that the very scattered approach to these interpretations clearly indicates a lack of consensus on this. No one, it appears, is all that certain what the intent of these few passages might be.

Because then we go on to the part about building trust: if you cannot be trusted in small things, who will trust you in great ones? That is a legitimate question, and one that every parent understands very well. We let our kids convince us to trust them in small ways, and then they eventually graduate to the car keys. But this seems to contradict the story we have. The steward proved himself not to be trustworthy, and then when caught he attempted more deceit to get him out of the jam. And the master was impressed. And the master was impressed? What this sort of muddle tells me is that Luke either did not sort this out in his head, or he wasn’t quite able to reconcile the various threads he was using, or that perhaps there are textual problems. By this I mean that the text got corrupted and some inappropriate words were inserted; however, the problem is that my text that is annotated for different mss traditions does not indicate any problems here. There is some quibbling about the exact form of the “received” word,  but nothing beyond that. The other possibility is that this jumble represents the bad seam between several similar, but not exactly the same, versions of this story. That means we have to ask how likely it is that there were different versions of this story. Offhand, it seems unlikely as this is sort of an odd set of circumstances. This takes me back to the idea of Luke inventing a story to fit the God & Mammon moral from Matthew. Perhaps the story originated elsewhere. This would be in keeping with the way legends grow; new stories and characters are added as time passes, using, once again, the Arthur legend as the classic example. But even if Luke took over the story, he still has final editorial control, so the story is the way it is because he wanted it this way. The implication, therefore, is that Luke left us with something that it a bit ambiguous, whatever the reason for this condition.

It gets worse, at least potentially. In the next section, which is short, Luke ties this thematically to the favorite Bad Guys of the NT: the Pharisees. They, we are told, love money, so they get a bit annoyed by Jesus’ story. It is at this point that they are excoriated as those who push their way to the front of the line of the entrance to the Kingdom of God. This, in turn, raises the question of how is this possible, if the Kingdom of God is to be found in the afterlife, and is based on the merit we have earned in this life? It really isn’t. Which suggests the implication that the Kingdom of God and the reward in Heaven were not, initially, synonymous concepts. Since the Baptist was preaching the Kingdom of God, then it is not much of a stretch that John’s kingdom was not heavenly. And, interestingly enough, this would provide a solid theological basis for Matthew’s decision to refer to it as the Kingdom of the Heavens. He chose this different title because the idea it was describing had undergone a fundamental change: it was no longer a kingdom of the earth, but one in the heavens, gained only in the afterlife. That is an interesting thought. Then why did Luke revert to Kingdom of God? Because, by the time Luke wrote, the concepts of the Kingdom and the Life had become wholly interchangeable; no one expected an earthly kingdom any longer, so it was not necessary to frame the goal of life as the kingdom of the heavens. The Kingdom of God expressed the same concept. And here’s an interesting twist to that. My position is that even Mark was writing as much for pagans as for Jews, and Matthew certainly was addressing pagans almost exclusively. There was no longer much expectation that Jews would join the new movement. Mark used the old term, because he still had a foot planted firmly in the old ways of Judaism. Matthew did not have such a stance, so he forewent the Kingdom of God, replacing the term with Kingdom of the Heavens to get this point across to pagans. Such an audience of pagans would not bring the Jewish concept of an earthly messiah into the new religion, so the idea of a Kingdom of God, as understood by Jews, would not have been terribly meaningful. So Matthew used a different, more explicit term, one that definitely referred to the afterlife.

[As an aside, I checked the number of incidences of kingdom vs life in the gospels to see if there was a transition point. There really isn’t. Matthew uses the term kingdom slightly more often than Luke does, but the incidence of the Life is about the same in each. Where Life really becomes prominent is in John. ]

Anyway, the Pharisees are meant to indicate that the Jews no longer held favored status in the line to enter either the kingdom or the life. This was sort of a double-whammy; the Jews, of course, were the Chosen People, and the Pharisees were considered– by themselves, anyway– to be the Chosen among the Chosen. At least, this is how they are portrayed in the gospels, and we have to wonder how accurate this portrayal is; OTOH, Paul does sort of provide independent verification of this in Phillipians, when he brags about being a Jew among Jews, and a Pharisee.* To demonstrate the point, Jesus informs them that the Law and the Prophets held sway until John; but then, rather paradoxically, adds that not a serif of the Law will not pass away. This is such a great example of the uneasy cooption of Judaism by Christians; on one hand, the Jews had been superseded, but OTOH, Christians needed the legitimacy offered by the antiquity of Judaism. I’m reading Eusebios’ Ecclesiastical History, and he goes to great lengths to demonstrate how the idea of the Christ, and even the name of Jesus/Joshua was in the Hebrew Scriptures. There was an entire series of christs (lower case by design) that culminated with The Christ, The Saviour, known as Jesus the Christ. So Christianity has always been very ambivalent towards its Jewish heritage. Then we have a throwaway line about divorce, that doesn’t fit at all with the rest of the chapter. The context is so far disrupted that it seems there has been a break in the continuity in the theme of the chapter. We started with the story of the Wicked Steward, which led into the pronouncement being unable to serve both God and Mammon. But not to fear, we then jump to Dives & Lazarus, which is a great cautionary tale to illustrate what happens when we choose Mammon.

In between these, however, we have Verse 18, prohibiting divorce. This is so far off-topic that I completely forgot to discuss on it when we were in the commentary. This is hardly the first time we’ve noted the lack of continuity between stories. In fact, almost the entire Sermon on the Mount has this feel, of a bunch of beads strung together with only a thin–thin to the point of invisible–line connecting them behind the scenes. As always, this is one of the best arguments for Q: not that the Sermon on the Mount was so masterful, but precisely because it wasn’t. It’s just sort of episodic and discontinuous irregularity that is actually the most effective, IMO, argument for something like Q. Why the need to stick these small pieces in wherever one can, whether they fit or not? This fairly strongly implies that there was a body of teachings that Jesus supposedly uttered that Matthew and Luke felt compelled to include in their works. On balance, I do not believe this is enough to convince me of the existence of Q, at least not as a written document, but it does give me pause. As for the content of the prohibition of divorce, this is pretty much a repetition of what was said in Matthew, so it need not detain us.

Thus we arrive at Dives and Lazarus. Of the three gospels we’ve looked at, Luke is by far the most interested in the topic of rich and poor. Remember, he said “blessed are the poor”, which is not necessarily a “more primitive” version of “poor in spirit”. It is a completely different thought. “Poor in spirit” always sounded a bit legalistic to me; wealth, per se, isn’t bad so long as we are poor in spirit. This is despite the injunction to sell one’s possessions and give the proceeds to the poor. As a fable about how wealth corrupts, the moral is straightforward and clear and not needing much in the way of explanation. There is also another layer, one which ties back to the anger at the Pharisees. In his torment, Dives begs Abraham to send Lazarus to the house of the former’s father, so that Dives’ brothers can be told to repent. Abraham’s response is that they have the law and the prophets, and if they aren’t sufficient, why would they listen to someone returned from the dead? Let’s see, has anyone returned from the dead with a message of repentance? Oh, wait, Jesus! From the perspective of historical analysis, this nails down that the story was never, ever told by Jesus. This is obviously a story that developed after the Resurrection had become part of the core Christian message. So what we have here is yet another dig at the Jews. First, bad enough that they had not heeded the Law and the Prophets, but worse was that they had not listened to the message of someone returned from the dead. The fact that Rich-Man (literal translation of dives) was also rich, provided that extra little shot at the Pharisees.


* This is the only time the word “Pharisee” is used in the NT outside of the gospels.