Category Archives: Chapter 18
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.
*If a=b, and b=c, then a=c
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.
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 TheBible.org website, Jesus lit the children on fire. That seemed a bit strange so I checked the Latin. The verb is to touch. My curiosity piqued, the handy-dandy Liddell & Scott. Lo and behold, the word used means to touch (among other things, including to lay hands upon, and the cites are Classical authors.) Once again, the NT Lexicon fails. Unless the word I’m checking is very common, like “goat”, I almost always use the L&S. Had a debate about this on another site with someone advocating the NT lexica, but I find that these are too often self-referential. Also, the word used here for children actually means babies in the womb. There are no cites of it meaning children anywhere. Oddly, this reference is not in the L&S, even though peculiar Christian uses of a word are cited. After all, it was the Reverent Doctor Scott who made up the back half of Liddell & Scott. And, as a reminder, Liddell was the father of a child named Alice, whom the Rev Charles Dodgson allegedly used as the model for his Alice in Wonderland.
15 Afferebant autem ad illum et infantes, ut eos tangeret; quod cum viderent, discipuli increpabant illos.
16 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς προσεκαλέσατο αὐτὰ λέγων, Ἄφετε τὰ παιδία ἔρχεσθαι πρός με καὶ μὴ κωλύετε αὐτά, τῶν γὰρ τοιούτων ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ.
17 ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ὃς ἂν μὴ δέξηται τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ ὡς παιδίον, οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθῃ εἰς αὐτήν.
Jesus called to them (the children) saying, “Allow the children to come to me and do not forbid them, for of such as these is the Kingdom of God. (17) Amen I say to you, who does not receive the Kingdom of God as a child, that one may not enter into it (the kingdom).
Quickly, we’re back to the standard word for child, pais. This was the term used for the child/slave that the Centurion asked Jesus to heal. Second, note that Jesus calls out to them; however, he is not calling the disciples. The word for disciples, mathetai, is masculine gender, whereas the word used for them is neuter. The only neuter available are the babies in the womb. so it appears Jesus is calling the children.
As an aside, the essence of this story is in Mark, so it is not part of Q. Which is interesting, because we have another example of where Luke agrees with Matthew against Mark. In the latter, Jesus felt a violent irritation (L&S definition). In Matthew and Luke, he does not. He rebuked the disciples in all three, but Matthew and Luke leave out the indignation. And, it is in this setting that Mark places the “first shall be last” aphorism, where both Matthew and Mark place it elsewhere; however, this shouldn’t be counted as a separate agreement of Matthew & Luke. Still, considering that Matthew and Luke never agree against Mark, we’ve had two examples of this in the same chapter.
16 Iesus autem convocans illos dixit: “ Sinite pueros venire ad me et nolite eos vetare; talium est enim regnum Dei.
17 Amen dico vobis: Quicumque non acceperit regnum Dei sicut puer, non intrabit in illud ”.
18 Καὶ ἐπηρώτησέν τις αὐτὸν ἄρχων λέγων, Διδάσκαλε ἀγαθέ, τί ποιήσας ζωὴν αἰώνιον κληρονομήσω;
19 εἶπεν δὲ αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Τί με λέγεις ἀγαθόν; οὐδεὶς ἀγαθὸς εἰ μὴ εἷς ὁ θεός.
And some leader asked him saying, “Good teacher, what will I do to inherit eternal life?” (18) And Jesus said to him, “Why do you say I am good? No one is good except God.”
A couple of things. We are told that some “ruler” asked the question. The Greek word is archon. This word is sort of a generic term for leader, or ruler. Jairus was called an archon of the synagogue. Some commentators suggest he was the ruler of a synagogue on the analogy of Jairus, and this is entirely possible. Regardless, the title is probably not to be taken as a specific office the way say, a consul was the chief office of Rome during the Republic. (Of course, Rome being Rome, the office continued under the Empire, but all the actual power was vested in the Emperor.) For most of fifty or a hundred years, there were three archons who were in charge of Athens for a year. There was the Archon King, the Archon Polemarchos, and the Archon Eponymous. The first was sort of like a chief priest who facilitated at certain old religious ceremonies that required a king to officiate. The second was the war leader; the most famous of these was Miltiades, who commanded the Athenian & Plataian armies on the day of the Battle of Marathon in which the first Persian invasion of Greece was repulsed. The last was the chief executive, and his name was given to the year. So later dates were given as the year when Chilon was archon…However, here there is no specific anything attached. Luke alone uses this term in this story. I suspect it was to indicate that the man was of what would be classified as a noble family, whatever that meant at the time. The Latin is princeps, prince. This was also one of the titles of the Emperor, but at root it refers to a foremost individual, a leader, one who is in front of the rest. It is the root of principal, and if you can divorce that from the educational setting where it is most often used, it’s a pretty good translation. Anyway, in M&M, he is referred to as wealthy, and he will be so called in a moment; Luke adds this extra layer of importance to the man.
The other thing is the “why do you call me good? No one is good but God”. This has always struck me as borderline bizarre. However, this originates in Mark, so I have some thoughts on this. Mark represents the uneasy marriage of the Wonder-Worker to the Christ traditions. Somehow, I expect that this may be a holdover from the Wonder-Worker tradition, which is why it doesn’t quite make sense. Yes, it could be from the Christ tradition, wherein Jesus demurs his goodness because he wasn’t born the Christ but only became the Christ at his adoption. That could possibly be the easier case to make, but only because we have some knowledge of how the Christ-idea played out over time. Or maybe I’m just a bit thick and don’t get it. Never dismiss that possibility. Then again, the commentary in the Cambridge Bible for Schools & Colleges says that rabbis were not supposed to be called “good”, and so this was a transgression against Jewish practice. It also points out that the ruler would not have looked upon Jesus as divine, so…I’m not sure what the implication is. One of them would be that Jesus credited his ability to work wonders to God, possibly to YHWH, and so this was his way of avoiding the credit– or the blame– for his works. Indeed, if twenty or thirty people were executed by Tiberius for sorcery, then denying that one has power would be a defence mechanism.
18 Et interrogavit eum quidam princeps dicens: “Magister bone, quid faciens vitam aeternam possidebo?”.
19 Dixit autem ei Iesus: “Quid me dicis bonum? Nemo bonus nisi solus Deus.
20 τὰς ἐντολὰς οἶδας: Μὴ μοιχεύσῃς, Μὴ φονεύσῃς, Μὴ κλέψῃς, Μὴ ψευδομαρτυρήσῃς, Τίμα τὸν πατέρα σου καὶ τὴν μητέρα.
21 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν, Ταῦτα πάντα ἐφύλαξα ἐκ νεότητος.
(Jesus is still speaking from Verse 19) “You know the commandments. Do not commit adultery, do not kill, do not steal, do not give false witness, honor your father and mother.” (21) He (the ruler) replied, “I have done (lit = I have guarded) all these since childhood”.
Just a quick note: the Ninth Commandment is not “Thou Shalt Not Lie”. It’s literally as written above: do not provide false testimony, as in court, but that’s not how we were taught it at Maple Grove St Michael’s elementary school. So it has a very definite legal context, and it means that there is no real prohibition against lying in the Ten Commandments. For example, saying ‘I didn’t take that money’ when, in fact, you did is not a sin. Taking the money is a sin, but not lying to cover your tracks. An interesting bit of social and judicial history?
20 Mandata nosti: non moechaberis, non occides, non furtum facies, non falsum testimonium dices, honora patrem tuum et matrem ”.
21 Qui ait: “ Haec omnia custodivi a iuventute ”.
22 ἀκούσας δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτῷ,Ἔτι ἕν σοι λείπει: πάντα ὅσα ἔχεις πώλησον καὶ διάδος πτωχοῖς, καὶ ἕξεις θησαυρὸν ἐν [τοῖς]οὐρανοῖς, καὶ δεῦρο ἀκολούθει μοι.
23 ὁ δὲ ἀκούσας ταῦτα περίλυπος ἐγενήθη, ἦν γὰρ πλούσιος σφόδρα.
Hearing, Jesus said to him, “Yet one thing remains to you: sell however so much (all one word in Greek: << ὅσα >>) and give to the poor, and then you will have treasure in the skies, and follow me.” (23) And he hearing, he became very sad, for he was exceedingly wealthy.
Mark mentions the poor five times; in his much longer gospel, Matthew mentions them five times. In both evangelists, two of the uses of the word “poor” come in the single story, where one of the disciples says of giving the proceeds from the sale of the costly perfume to the poor. Jesus more or less dismisses this by saying that the poor will always be with you. Also, another incidence in Matthew comes when he blesses the “poor in spirit”. Luke mentions them eleven times in his gospel, but not once in Acts. From these numbers it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Jesus and the earliest Christians were not all that concerned with the poor. In fact, John is even worse; he uses the word four times, three of which are in his version of the “poor will always be with you” story. The two who bring it up the most, especially as a percentage of their text, are Luke and the Epistle of James, and probably not in that order. The implication of this is that Christian concern for the poor, and so perhaps social justice as a whole, comes from and through it’s Jewish roots rather than through any increased emphasis on this by Jesus.
More, all of Mark’s first use of the word “poor” comes in Chapter 10, and the others are later. This is the part of his gospel that emphasizes the Christ tradition rather than the Wonder-worker tradition. Paul uses the word sparingly, but one salient incidence comes in Galatians, where James, brother of Jesus, admonishes Paul to “remember the poor” as part of the deal James and Paul cut on what Paul’s message can and should include. This leads to the possible connexion between James and the Ebionites, which may be carried on to the Epistle of James, even though the general consensus is that this letter is not properly ascribed to James, brother of Jesus. The Ebionites got their name from the Aramaic (?) word for “poor”. And the assembly (ekklesia) led by James was likely more in line with mainline Judaism, which put more emphasis on the poor than Jesus did, because Jesus, first and foremost, was a wonder-worker. A very elaborate theory; it’s most likely wrong, but it’s an interesting set of connexions. We will revisit this discussion in the summary for this chapter.
22 Quo audito, Iesus ait ei: “Adhuc unum tibi deest: omnia, quaecumque habes, vende et da pauperibus et habebis thesaurum in caelo: et veni, sequere me”.
23 His ille auditis, contristatus est, quia dives erat valde.
24 Ἰδὼν δὲ αὐτὸν ὁ Ἰησοῦς [περίλυπον γενόμενον] εἶπεν, Πῶς δυσκόλως οἱ τὰ χρήματα ἔχοντες εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰσπορεύονται:
25 εὐκοπώτερον γάρ ἐστιν κάμηλον διὰ τρήματος βελόνης εἰσελθεῖν ἢ πλούσιον εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰσελθεῖν.
26 εἶπαν δὲ οἱ ἀκούσαντες, Καὶ τίς δύναται σωθῆναι;
Seeing this, Jesus [having become sad], said “How difficult (for) those having possessions to enter into the Kingdom of God. For it is easier a camel (to pass) through the eye of a needle than a rich person to enter into the Kingdom of God.” (26) And those hearing said, “So who can be saved?”
First a word on a word. What I have translated as “possessions” is a bit of an oddity. At root, the word << χρήμα >> actually means “need”. From there, it becomes the things that one needs, which then becomes the thing one possesses, which then becomes “wealth”. All four of my crib translations (KJV, NIV, NASB, & ESV) render this as “wealth” or “riches”. The Latin is pecunia, which means “wealth” or “riches”, but in particular, “money”. Hence our word/phrase, “pecuniary interest”. I mention this to demonstrate a couple of things. First, how words change and evolve; second, the danger of using an NT Lexicon. The one attached to thebible.org simply translates this as “money” or “riches”; while these aren’t exactly wrong translations since the concept comes through clearly enough, they present a great demonstration of the concept of the lexical field. In this a word is not just what it means, but what it excludes. “Money” more or less excludes the idea of “need”, which is the base meaning of the Greek word. As such, “money” is a much, very much more narrow concept than what is included by << χρήμα >>. Reasons I like to use Liddell & Scott rather than an NT lexicon. Using the latter in some ways defeats the purpose of reading the original. What you get are the translations of words that occur in the English translations. So why bother with the original if you’re going to end up with someone else’s translation? Just read the NIV or ESV or whatever and save the time and effort.
Second, no doubt I pointed this out when we read Mark or Matthew, or both, that the question posed by those hearing has an interesting implication. If the wealthy cannot be saved, then who can be? This implies that attached to the idea of wealth was the idea of a moral superiority. IOW, all God’s friends are rich. This has had, and continues to have, a horribly pernicious history in the western world. It came through the Jewish tradition and the Graeco-Roman tradition and remains in full force in early 21st Century USA. This is why the poor can be discounted by so many people: God does not love them, so why should I care?
24 Videns autem illum Iesus tristem factum dixit: “ Quam difficile, qui pecunias habent, in regnum Dei intrant.
25 Facilius est enim camelum per foramen acus transire, quam divitem intrare in regnum Dei”.
26 Et dixerunt, qui audiebant: “ Et quis potest salvus fieri?”.
27 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν, Τὰ ἀδύνατα παρὰ ἀνθρώποις δυνατὰ παρὰ τῷ θεῷ ἐστιν.
28 Εἶπεν δὲ ὁ Πέτρος, Ἰδοὺ ἡμεῖς ἀφέντες τὰ ἴδια ἠκολουθήσαμέν σοι.
29 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐδείς ἐστιν ὃς ἀφῆκεν οἰκίαν ἢ γυναῖκα ἢ ἀδελφοὺς ἢ γονεῖς ἢ τέκνα ἕνεκεν τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ θεοῦ,
30 ὃς οὐχὶ μὴ [ἀπο]λάβῃ πολλαπλασίονα ἐν τῷ καιρῷ τούτῳ καὶ ἐν τῷ αἰῶνι τῷ ἐρχομένῳ ζωὴν αἰώνιον.
But he said, “Things impossible for humans are possible for God.” (28) And Peter said, “Look, having left everything personal we followed you.” (29) And he said to them, “Amen I say to you that no one who has left home or wife or siblings or parents or children due to the Kingdom of God (30) that one has not taken not much more in her/his share in the age to come (in taking) the eternal life.”
That last bit was really difficult to get the English to correspond to the Greek, and I really didn’t succeed all that well. First, it’s a double negative: they will not not get much more = they will get much more. Greek, like most other languages I’ve learned, does not have the aversion to double negatives that English does. In these other languages the double negatives emphasize rather than contradict (or negate) the negative. Second, one is taking both much more and eternal life. Both phrases are accusative, which indicates direct object, what is being taken. Third, ‘taking’ is an aorist subjunctive, which indicates uncertainty or unreal condition or something similar in the past. To begin, the idea of the subjunctive in English is vague on a good day; then, since it’s in the past, the unreality or uncertainty has resolved itself, hasn’t it? It’s already happened so we know what happened and thus we know what is real. But if you think about it, I think the point is clear. No one who has left all, or any of, these things has not not received so much more. Clear?
But the real meat here is the way several concepts are linked; indeed, not only are they linked, they are equated. The man asks how to receive eternal life; Jesus equates this with the Kingdom of God, which is then equated by Peter with being saved. So all three terms are used as synonymous and interchangeably. Again, modern Christians all know that these are the same thing; but do we? Where, exactly, is the scriptural basis for this? Or is it something inferred or deduced from verbiage that is actually less than definite, like the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is sort of there, but not really. Just as Jesus became divine, so the Holy Spirit came into existence only after some time. A couple of centuries, to be (more or less) exact. Substituting “sacred breath” for “holy spirit” any time the latter is used does not change the meaning of the passage*. The three terms here are used frequently, but most often in isolation. This is the smoking gun proof that the three were meant as synonymous by the time of Luke. Before that, the equation of the terms is perhaps not so obvious. In particular, the idea of the Kingdom of God in Mark, and especially not as part of the message preached by John the Dunker, which was then taken up by Jesus when John was arrested.
In short, the linkage of the terms here may be something of a landmark; however, some retrograde searching is required to verify this one way or the other.
*At least, not most of the time. One could plausibly argue that the idea of “sins against the sacred breath” doesn’t make sense. But is that true a priori? Or only because we are so accustomed to the reification of the sacred breath as the Third Person of the Trinity?
27 Ait autem illis: “ Quae impossibilia sunt apud homi nes, possibilia sunt apud Deum ”.
28 Ait autem Petrus: “ Ecce nos dimisimus nostra et secuti sumus te ”.
29 Qui dixit eis: “ Amen dico vobis: Nemo est, qui reliquit domum aut uxorem aut fratres aut parentes aut filios propter regnum Dei,
30 et non recipiat multo plura in hoc tempore et in saeculo venturo vitam aeternam”.
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 ”.
The bulk of the material in this chapter was also found in Mark, with the exception of the parable of the Wicked Slave at the end. But there are some siginificant developments. The first concerns Jesus’ answer to the question of who is the greatest in heaven. In response, he uses the example of the child, stating that we must be like the child; unless we do this, we will not enter the kingdom of the heavens. So far, that’s pretty much a reflection of Mark. Matthew then takes this in a new direction.
The new direction is based on the change of direction from being a child to being one of the least of the believers. These two categories could certainly overlap, but they are not synonymous. And I must confess here that I misunderstood or misinterpreted the term “least of those believing in me”. I was taking this as similar to Paul’s usage in 1 Corinthians, where he was talking about those who were not strong in their faith. Rather, this should be taken as a class ranking; those who are the lowest ranking in society. Children would certainly fit this description, but it does not have to apply, nor should it only apply, to children. It would include people like resident aliens, those living in a community who would not have citizen rights, day labourers–whose status was actually lower than slaves–and the poor, destitute, those with disabilities, lepers, and prisoners. Since this is a class, or social ranking issue, the message takes on a somewhat different meaning. It’s not about the weak of faith, but about those who are overlooked and under-represented in the considerations of any community.
As such, I’m not sure the message conveyed is fully consistent. At the very least, it’s not fully consistent with the message as related by Mark. That was about children; this is about a larger group of people. Now, what I am about to suggest here is an excellent example of building a large edifice on a slender reed. Recall James’ one condition to Paul when the two of them came to their agreement in Jerusalem was the admonition to “remember the poor”. And tradition has long associated James, brother of Jesus, with the sect known as the Ebionites, a group that appears to have practiced voluntary poverty, who considered Jesus the Messiah, but did not consider him divine. Given that Matthew was writing well after the period of James, when the tenets of his leadership had been fully absorbed and incorporated into the doctrines of the Jesus followers, it’s not a stretch to see the change in emphasis in this story as the result of the teachings of James regarding the lower strata of society. Note that I am suddenly willing to credit tradition, when usually I don’t. In this case I’m willing to consider tradition because there’s no real benefit to anyone in creating this tradition. It’s not like the situation where later bishops of Rome had a real vested interest in claiming Petrine primacy, and that they were the successors of Peter. The most reasonable motive for ascribing the association of James with the Ebionites is that the latter movement came to be considered borderline heretical, so attaching James to this movement would have discredited him as a potential rival to the bishop of Rome.
So, is this suggestion realistic? There is nothing that makes this internally inconsistent. Nor is there anything that flagrantly contradicts anything close to an actual known fact. Rather, it incorporates at least one known fact that is generally ignored–that James was the leader of the group for almost thirty years. From this we infer that it’s impossible that, in thirty years, James did not have an enormous impact on what subsequent Christians subsequently believed. And part of this impossibility is that James faithfully and dutifully repeated everything his brother had said without addition, alternation, or omission. James was later written out of the picture, probably at the behest of the bishops of Rome. One of the Protestant commentaries I read was very emphatic that we have no proof that Peter ever went to Rome. This, of course, undercuts Petrine primacy and the primacy of the bishops of Rome; to get to their position of primacy it was necessary to remove the fingerprints of James. One of the aspects of James’ teaching that was treated especially roughly was the insistence on poverty.
In all, the most likely explanation for the change of emphasis in this story between Mark and Matthew is the incorporation of the teachings of James into mainstream of proto-Christian beliefs.
The parable of the hundred sheep, I believe, is fully consistent with this. The story of forgiveness is very Jewish; this, in a nutshell, is the story of the entire HS: apostasy followed by forgiveness when the apostate returns to the fold. If James’ held more closely to the Jewish mainstream than Jesus had (which is by no means a given), this tale of forgiveness fits into that tradition very nicely. It feels like the idea of forgiveness has progressed somewhat from the older tales in the HS, but that could easily be simple prejudice on my part. Or perhaps just my Christian filter and my relative ignorance of the full range of Jewish teaching. This is also Q material; allegedly. It’s in Matthew and Luke but not Mark. It’s also possible that it entered the mainstream of proto-Christianity by way of James. In my opinion, it is more likely that it entered this stream by way of the teaching of James and his followers that by way of an hypothetical document for which we have zero evidence. We have evidence of James and his leading role. It’s scant, but it’s much greater than any evidence for the hypothetical Q.
The last bit of this chapter is the story of the Wicked Slave. (Note: the proper translation of “doulos” is “slave”, not “servant”.) This was not in Mark; it’s not in Luke. It’s unique to Matthew. And more, there is a qualitative difference about this parable. It is the one story told in which the main character is used as an example of what not to be. Yes, Mark has the tale (which Matthew repeats) of the Wicked Tenants, but they are the direct object that will receive the wrath of the owner. And Matthew will give us the tale of the talents, in which different slaves will receive different amounts, and the one who got the least is held up as a bad example. But in that case, you have a culling process; here, it’s the one and only. Now, as such, it’s tempting to relate this more to, say, one of Aesop’s fables, in which various animals come to bad ends by virtue of their own wicked behaviour. And once we’ve gone down that path, the kinship to a Greek story opens the door to my pet hobbyhorse of Matthew-as-pagan.
What do we make of that?
Let’s start by pointing out that this is the sort of argument I would find less than convincing were I on the other side of it. This is true largely because there really is no “argument”; at best, what is presented is an opinion based on not much more than the fact that it agrees with what I want to believe. So why believe it? Once again, it’s the sort of thing that, on its own, amounts to nothing. Its value comes in the accumulation of these little clues. If you get enough individual bones, you can re-assemble the dinosaur. Mind, you don’t need all of them, but enough. So the real question is whether these clues that I’ve been pointing out comprise “enough” to reconstruct the skeleton of the dinosaur.
It should also be pointed out that this parable may not really be qualitatively different from other parables. While it doesn’t feel like the Sower, is it that far from The Wicked Tenants? Or even the Wheat and the Weeds/Tares? Those are judgement calls, and ones better left to those with more of a literary background. There may be some way to dissect the various stories and compare them using some sort of literary formula. This is, after all, not all that much different from what historians do: ask if the equation truly is equal–or can be made equal–on both sides of the equal sign.
The time has probably come to start counting up all these “clues” to see what they look like presented in a single place.
Chapter 18 continues. Note that most versions of the NT show Verse 11 as blank. In cases like this, the Greek text I use moves the first word of the next verse back into the “empty” verse. This would matter only if one is quoting, so I will follow the convention and leave Verse 11 as empty, and I will adopt this convention going forward. My apologies for any confusion caused by not doing this earlier.
11/12 Τί ὑμῖν δοκεῖ; ἐὰν γένηταί τινι ἀνθρώπῳ ἑκατὸν πρόβατα καὶ πλανηθῇ ἓν ἐξαὐτῶν, οὐχὶ ἀφήσει τὰ ἐνενήκοντα ἐννέα ἐπὶ τὰ ὄρη καὶ πορευθεὶς ζητεῖ τὸ πλανώμενον;
13 καὶ ἐὰν γένηται εὑρεῖν αὐτό, ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι χαίρει ἐπ’ αὐτῷ μᾶλλον ἢ ἐπὶ τοῖς ἐνενήκοντα ἐννέα τοῖς μὴ πεπλανημένοις.
14 οὕτως οὐκ ἔστιν θέλημα ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ πατρὸς ὑμῶν τοῦ ἐν οὐρανοῖς ἵνα ἀπόληται ἓν τῶν μικρῶν τούτων.
“How does it seem to you? If it happens to a man (having) a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders off, does he not leave the ninety-nine upon the mountain and go out to seek the one having wandered? (13) And he happens to find it, amen I say to you that he will be pleased about it more than upon the ninety-nine that did not wander off. (14) Is it thus the will before our father in the heavens, in order that should perish one of these little ones?”
There seems to be a little bit of what is now charmingly called a mash-up here. In the last section we were discussing the little ones. Then we jump to the lost sheep, and we’re back to the little ones. First, this seems to support my contention that the “little ones” are not, in fact, children. The way they are equated with the lost sheep, I think, demonstrates that these are not children pretty conclusively because the idea of a child as a wandering sinner is not entirely consistent within itself. That Luke separates this from the story of the little ones is the final and conclusive evidence for this, I think.
The lost sheep is part of what would be called Q; it’s not Mark, but it’s in Matthew and Luke. And, to be honest, the fact that this is a bit of a mash-up probably supports the argument for Q; Matthew took separate aphorisms and tried to fit them together into a single narrative, and he failed about as badly as he did in the so-called “masterful” handling of the Sermon on the Mount material. So once again, I’m undermining my argument that Q existed. Or not necessarily. I do not doubt that Matthew had sources that Mark did not have. What I don’t believe is that any of these sources dated back to Jesus, except in a few isolated instances. For the most part, material in the sources that Matthew had and Mark didn’t was material that came about in the period between the two writers. Or, more likely, that the material hadn’t fully diffused when Mark wrote; for the most part, I would suggest this material came about probably sometime after Paul wrote. Or, even further, I would date this material to the period after James, brother of the lord, died. The second thing about the Q hypothesis I don’t believe is that Luke had Q, but hadn’t read Matthew. There were probably things that Luke got that Matthew got and Mark didn’t, but I don’t believe for a moment that Luke wasn’t aware of Matthew when Luke wrote. I suspect Luke was fully aware of Matthew. There are too many passages where the language is verbatim, and it contains things that should not have been in Q if Q was based on sayings of Jesus. The prime example is the story of Jesus’ baptism.
But to return to the task at hand, what does this passage say? This is a doctrine of forgiveness. And, the thing is, having been brought up in the Christian part of the Judeo-Christian tradition, this passage had always seemed to be a summary of Christian teaching. The problem is, having been spending some time reading about Torah and the HS in general, forgiveness is intrinsic to the Judeo-part as well. In fact, that is the theme of the HS: Israel sins, God forgives. I suppose what is different is the emphasis on the individual, but even this was intrinsic to the HS. In fact, in a book I’m reading called Religion in Human Evolution, the author, Robert Bellah, cites a scholar of the HS named Stephen A Gellar. Professor Gellar’s point is that the revolution in Judaic thought came when the covenant between God and Israel came to be seen as a covenant between God and each Israelite–or Judean, given the timing of this. The upshot of all this is that the thought expressed is not so different from Judaic thinking; the break between Judaism and Christianity in this passage is not nearly so sharp as I had been led to believe. Now, perhaps I’m a bit slow on the uptake on some of this, but that was the lesson the good Dominican nuns of Maple Grove St Michaels imposed upon me.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Judaism and Christianity expressed here is the way the shepherd actively goes out to seek the lost sheep. That is not an analogy that I have encountered in the HS, although I suppose one could argue that all the prophets were just that: shepherds trying to gather in the lost sheep. Perhaps it’s the emphasis on the individual here that may take us further into Christianity; the prophets, after all, were seeking the nation as a whole. But that is a difference in emphasis rather than in meaning or intent. Now here’s the kicker: recall the debate between Paul and James as described in Galatians. The core of the disagreement was the degree to which new converts had to become Jews. James took the Jewish line, Paul took a novel one. My suspicion is that the analogy of the lost sheep may belong to James, not his more famous, (presumably) older brother. My suspicion is that a lot of the more “Jewish” elements of Jesus’ teaching should actually be traced to James.
But that leads to the question of what did Jesus teach? Of course, if he were a wonder-worker, he may not have taught all that much. Except that certain demons can only be exorcised through prayer. That, I believe, does trace to Jesus. Puts sort of a different spin on things, doesn’t it?
Finally, there is the last verse. And this is a very deep, and very difficult problem. Does God intend for any of the little ones–those of small faith–to perish? At first glance, I thought that we were crossing into what is called theodicy: the explanation of the role of God in overtly “evil” things. Except that’s not the intent of this passage at all. Because the little ones are not perishing in the flesh, as it were, but spiritually. They perish by not entering the life, which was discussed a few verses back, when Jesus was advising self-mutilation. So the topic here is spiritual death, the death of what we would call the soul. Now, it bears remembering that Josephus told us that the Pharisees believed that the righteous would experience resurrection of the body. The implication is that not everyone would. So, by failing to enter the life, the little ones would not be experiencing that resurrection into a new life. Again, this seems very Christian, and it is, and maybe the emphasis on this teaching by those who became Christians caused this line of teaching to lose favor among those who remained Jews. Or, Josephus explains that Pharisees believed in this Resurrection, but Sadducees didn’t. Since Paul was a Pharisee, he introduced this teaching into the Jesus movement, and those who did not follow Jesus and remained Jews chose to follow other lines of teaching that did not emphasize the life.
To this day, I’m not entirely sure what the orthodox Jewish teaching is on the afterlife. I have a sense it’s different from what Christians believe, but what that difference is, I cannot say. So I did a quick Google search and found one site that said while an afterlife is a fundamental aspect of Jewish teaching, it’s not really discussed per se in the the Torah does indicate an afterlife. This was inferred by the Pharisees, who were the intellectual forebears of rabbinical Judaism. Essentially, I’m not far off; it’s part of the teaching, but it’s not very explicit. But then, what do we know from what we’ve read so far? Of the books covered to date, 1 Thessalonians 4 is the only text that provides any kind of real description of what will happen. And that is what is to happen when the Lord returns, coming down from the clouds. Truly, much of the geography and iconography of “Heaven” will not be made explicit until the writing of Revelations. That is perhaps another 30 years in the future from the time Matthew wrote. So, while the NT teachings are becoming slightly more explicit in speaking openly of “the life”, it’s all still a very vague concept. I don’t think the details had truly been worked out.
One very important question is whether “the life” and the “kingdom of the heavens/God are actually the same thing. These have been synonymous concepts at least since the Third Century, if not before. But were they the same when put into the mouth of Jesus by the evangelists? Interestingly, there are maybe a dozen or fifteen uses of the word in the Synoptics; it’s not until John that the idea of the life really takes hold, apparently, because he talks about it more than the other three combined, and by a wide margin. But the idea of “eternal life” is already present in Paul, who also uses the phrase “kingdom of God”. Given this, it’s probably safe to conclude that this topic requires investigation beyond what can be done in the context of a comment. More on that at some point.
The other question to ask then, is what hints this might provide on the composition of Jesus’ followers. Does it provide any? Probably not. We know that Paul was preaching to pagans for the most part. He tells us that. And since he uses both “the life/life eternal” and the “kingdom of God fairly frequently, I think we have to conclude that this was a foundation tenet of the earliest teaching about Jesus. Whether it was a teaching of Jesus, however, is entirely another matter.
11) 12 Quid vobis videtur? Si fuerint alicui centum oves, et erraverit una ex eis, nonne relinquet nonaginta novem in montibus et vadit quaerere eam, quae erravit?
13 Et si contigerit ut inveniat eam, amen dico vobis quia gaudebit super eam magis quam super nonaginta novem, quae non erraverunt.
14 Sic non est voluntas ante Patrem vestrum, qui in caelis est, ut pereat unus de pusillis istis.
15 Ἐὰν δὲ ἁμαρτήσῃ [εἰς σὲ] ὁ ἀδελφός σου, ὕπαγε ἔλεγξον αὐτὸν μεταξὺ σοῦ καὶ αὐτοῦ μόνου. ἐάν σου ἀκούσῃ, ἐκέρδησας τὸν ἀδελφόν σου:
16 ἐὰν δὲ μὴ ἀκούσῃ, παράλαβε μετὰ σοῦ ἔτι ἕνα ἢ δύο, ἵνα ἐπὶ στόματος δύο μαρτύρων ἢ τριῶν σταθῇ πᾶν ῥῆμα:
17 ἐὰν δὲ παρακούσῃ αὐτῶν, εἰπὲ τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ: ἐὰν δὲ καὶ τῆς ἐκκλησίας παρακούσῃ, ἔστω σοι ὥσπερ ὁ ἐθνικὸς καὶ ὁ τελώνης.
18 Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ὅσα ἐὰν δήσητε ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἔσται δεδεμένα ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ὅσα ἐὰν λύσητε ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἔσται λελυμένα ἐν οὐρανῷ.
19 Πάλιν [ἀμὴν] λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι ἐὰν δύο συμφωνήσωσιν ἐξ ὑμῶν ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς περὶ παντὸς πράγματος οὗ ἐὰν αἰτήσωνται, γενήσεται αὐτοῖς παρὰ τοῦ πατρός μου τοῦ ἐν οὐρανοῖς.
20 οὗ γάρ εἰσιν δύο ἢ τρεῖς συνηγμένοι εἰς τὸ ἐμὸν ὄνομα, ἐκεῖ εἰμι ἐν μέσῳ αὐτῶν.
“But if your brother should sin [against you], go, question him between you and him alone. If he hears (i.e. listens to) you, you have won your brother. (16) If he doesn’t listen to you, take along with you yet one or two, so that upon the mouths of two of witnesses, or three the whole story will be stood. (17) If he should disobey them, tell the assembly. If indeed he should disobey the assembly, let to you be as among the peoples, and the publicans. (18) Amen I say to you, whatever so if you give upon earth shall be given you in heaven, and whatever so you loose upon the earth will be loosed in heaven. (19) Again, [amen] I say to you that if two of you sound together (transliterated = “symphony“; so >> “speak together”, or “agree”) upon the earth about all matters about which they might inquire, it will be for them by my father in the heavens. (20) For where two or three gather together in my name, there I am in the middle of them”.
The translation of Verse 19 is, to put it mildly, a bit rough; it is, however, pretty much how the Greek works. The idea is that if two agree about something on earth, the father will do what they ask, because where two or three are gathered…
This is very interesting. The last verse, “where two or three are gathered” is one of the most comforting lines in Christianity. The use of it in The Wedding Song by Paul Stukey, of Peter, Paul, and Mary fame, was borderline brilliant. He follows it by “…there is love.” I’ve always found this a beautiful and reassuring sentiment. But that is not what the sentiment is here. This is about the disciples being in control, being the gatekeepers of the kingdom to some extent; to a large extent, in fact. We are all so familiar with the scene in which Peter is the rock, and how he can bind and loose, but I for one am not at all familiar with this passage, in which the disciples as a group are given–or or being told they have the authority, or the power to make arrangements on earth that will come about through the efficacy of the father. But notice that, while the father brings about what the disciples ask, it is “I”, the speaker, who is between the two or three. The implications of this are very impressive.
To begin, assuming we can trust that Matthew put this together deliberately, this would be the first time we’ve come across an identity of the father with Jesus. This is a cornerstone of Trinitarian theology, but the Trinity was not fully developed for two or three hundred years. There is nothing like this in Paul, and perhaps a few oblique allusions in Mark, butt this is easily the most explicit equation so far, which makes it a major step forward theologically.
But to get back to the point about the disciples vs Peter. At first glance, it is very tempting to see this as something of a contradiction of the more famous passage about Peter and the rock. There (16:17-18), Peter is told he has power to bind and loose on earth and that it shalle be so in heaven. This power is not given to the other disciples, but specifically and solely to Peter. Here, Jesus seems to be speaking to the whole group, no one has been singled out, and he grants the power to bind and loose to all. Indeed, this goes a step further. Here he says that whatever they agree to will be granted by the father in the heavens, and this is the context of the two or three gathered in his name. What to make of this?
First let it be said that there is no inherent contradiction, per se. There absolutely no reason the power to bind and loose that was granted to Peter previously could not now be granted to the group severally. That’s not the problem. The problem is the idea of Petrine primacy. Interestingly, over at Bible Hub all the comment seems to revolve around tying this to what has come immediately before, which is the treatment of those who have transgressed against the disciples. And of course, the connexion back to this is certainly valid. But it seems to be a very narrow reading of this. Part of the issue, of course, is that no Protestant commentator will agree that the Peter = rock passage in any way grants or concedes that Peter–and certainly not his successors, if Peter was ever in Rome, which Matthew Henry doubts–had any claim to primacy based on Jesus’ words. My problem is that I was raised in the Roman Rite made this claim, and in which it was simply taken for granted that this was the intent of the rock passage. As such, it is nearly impossible for me to read 16:18 and not see it as a grant of primacy. It’s a bias that is buried too deep; I don’t believe that primacy was granted intellectually, but I can’t push that meaning from my mind.
Now, if the Protestant opinion is correct, then there is no real conflict with this passage. But that feels wrong. It feels wrong that the power to bind and loose was given first to Peter alone and then here to the disciples as a group. And that the power to bind and loose was given first to Peter alone seems to be the plain-sense reading of 16:17-18. And even disregarding the intent of Peter = rock, it seems very odd that Jesus would make this grant of power in two different circumstances. Why would he do this? We could come up with a theory that Peter was the first to see Jesus’ true identity, so it was given to him first; then, later, when the other disciples understood the Truth about Jesus, they were given the power here. But there is a lot of supposition and inference in that theory. Or, we could be seeing the merger of two separate traditions regarding the granting of the power to bind and loose.
But given the latter, the simplest explanation is that the rock passage was inserted later, by the bishops of Rome, to establish their claim to primacy at some point after the tradition came into being that Peter had been the first bishop of Rome. And it would be perfectly credible to believe that the bishops of Rome had started that tradition as well. The passage here has to be considered in the context of the rock passage; the words are too similar to do otherwise. If the words were lifted from here and placed there with the confession of Jesus’ identity, that would make a lot of sense.
I say this bearing in mind the story of the Donation of Constantine. For those unfamiliar with the term, in the 8th (?) Century, the Roman pontiffs caused a document to be forged that stated that the Emperor Constantine had granted temporal power in the West to the bishop of Rome whe the Emperor moved the capital of the empire from Rome to his refounded city of Constantinople. The forgery wasn’t exposed until 15th Century. The point is that the bishops of Rome–and many others, were not above the creation of documentation that would support their claims. It must be said, however, that they would not have seen this as deceit; they would have understood this as revealing something they truly believed to be true. It’s the idea behind all the apocryphal gospels and revelations that continued to be written well into the third and even fourth centuries. The authors did not understand their work as a forgery, but as a new revelation. The Gospel of Judas is perhaps the most recent example.
That would be how I would understand Matthew 16:17-18. I believe that theory is supported by the existence of the power to bind and loose given here. More, the emphasis on the assembly throughout this passage, I believe, supports this contention. Based on the overall context of the material here, it seems that the idea was to create a corporate structure of authority.
That, in turn, leads to a single, enormous question: Did Jesus ever say this, or anything like this?
It will come as no surprise that I have my doubts. This constitution of authority does not fit into to movement of Jesus’ day. Like the sending out of “those being sent out” (i.e., apostles), this fits with a period of development when the movement was congealing into the proto-church. As time passed, problems occurred, and so the leaders of the movement “discovered” words of Jesus that solved the problems faced by these later followers. Jesus here is clearly anticipating the time when he would not be among them any longer.
Now, looked at that way, the commission to Peter actually gains more plausibility. If Jesus did not say this, then the rock passage could be the earlier occurrence of the bind and loose authority. But the idea that Jesus told Peter he would be the rock on which the ekklesia was built is still specious. So the Roman claim to primacy is almost very certainly based on a later interpolation; Jesus almost certainly did not say those words, just as he did not say the words here granting the power to bind and loose. However, the “where two or three are gathered” could be authentic. It could be something that came down, and Matthew chose to set it into this context. More likely, though, that also was a later addition, because it seems to anticipate the divinity of Jesus much to clearly.
15 Si autem peccaverit in te frater tuus, vade, corripe eum inter te et ipsum solum. Si te audierit, lucratus es fratrem tuum;
16 si autem non audierit, adhibe tecum adhuc unum vel duos, ut in ore duorum testium vel trium stet omne verbum;
17 quod si noluerit audire eos, dic ecclesiae; si autem et ecclesiam noluerit audire, sit tibi sicut ethnicus et publicanus.
18 Amen dico vobis: Quaecumque alligaveritis super terram, erunt ligata in caelo; et, quaecumque solveritis super terram, erunt soluta in caelo.
19 Iterum dico vobis: Si duo ex vobis consenserint super terram de omni re, quamcumque petierint, fiet illis a Patre meo, qui in caelis est.
20 Ubi enim sunt duo vel tres congregati in nomine meo, ibi sum in medio eorum ”.
1 Ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ὥρᾳ προσῆλθον οἱ μαθηταὶ τῷ Ἰησοῦ λέγοντες, Τίς ἄρα μείζων ἐστὶν ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν;
2 καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος παιδίον ἔστησεν αὐτὸ ἐν μέσῳ αὐτῶν
And at that time (lit = “hour’), the disciples came to Jesus saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of the heavens?” (2) And calling a child he stood him in the midst of them.
Let’s think about this for a moment. First, where are they? We are told that the disciples came to him. Did they come to his house? That would not be an unreasonable way to understand this. It’s reasonable, but it’s not the only way we could read it. Perhaps Jesus is sitting in the market square, or some such public place in Caphernaum. That would help the next part make more sense. Because the way the child is described, it rather sounds like he sort of grabs some random passerby. I ask this because, if they are at Jesus’ home, are we to assume that this is his child? We do not have to read the passage in that way, but that’s not unreasonable. Who else’s child would be in Jesus’ home? Maybe a niece/nephew? That’s possible.
These are questions we have to consider if we’re to take this seriously as a description of something that actually happened. I would suggest that the vagueness of the scenario argues against historical accuracy. This feels like a stand-alone story, gracelessly shoe-horned into the narrative by “at that hour/time”. And what would that tell us? It would suggest that the stories of Jesus grew up independently of each other. Different people or groups told different stories. Some of them got aggregated, some were forgotten. We will never know about them, barring the discovery of a new manuscript with new material. This, in turn, would tell us that there was not necessarily a central unity to the text as a whole. We’ve seen that with Mark; I’ve suggested the two separate traditions that Mark wove or welded together. But there were probably more than two traditions. There may have been a dozen. More, it could tell us that people were still making up stories for decades after Jesus died, or even decades after Mark wrote. In fact, we know this is true. There are a dozen or more Gospels of “xxx”, or Apocalypses of “yyy”. These are the mss that were later determined to be non-canonical, written too late to be traced to a genuine apostalic origin.
Now, as it turns out, this story is also in Mark. So we know this wasn’t created in the interim the way the story of the coin in the fish’s mouth was created in the interim But it provides, I think, a useful reminder that Mark and Matthew were not working from unitary sources.
Because let’s be honest, this is another of those circumstances where the set-up by the discuiples is just too perfect. It may not be unrealistic to accept that the disciples were concerned about order of precedence; we are, after all, talking about a kingdom. Still, there are several layers of artificiality about the whole situation that strongly, IMO, suggests fabrication.
1 In illa hora accesserunt di scipuli ad Iesum dicentes: “ Quis putas maior est in regno caelorum? ”.
2 Et advocans parvulum, statuit eum in medio eorum
3 καὶ εἶπεν, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐὰν μὴ στραφῆτε καὶ γένησθε ὡς τὰ παιδία, οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθητε εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν.
4 ὅστις οὖν τα πεινώσει ἑαυτὸν ὡς τὸ παιδίον τοῦτο, οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ μείζων ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν.
5 καὶ ὃς ἐὰν δέξηται ἓν παιδίον τοιοῦτο ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματί μου, ἐμὲ δέχεται.
6 Ὃς δ’ ἂν σκανδαλίσῃ ἕνα τῶν μικρῶν τούτων τῶν πιστευόντων εἰς ἐμέ, συμφέρει αὐτῷ ἵνα κρεμασθῇ μύλος ὀνικὸς περὶ τὸν τράχηλον αὐτοῦ καὶ καταποντισθῇ ἐν τῷ πελάγει τῆς θαλάσσης.
And he said, “Amen I say to you, unless you turn (about) and become like the child, you will not come into the kingdom of the heavens. (4) Whoever thus lessens himself as this child here, he is the best in the kingdom of the heavens. (5) And if someone receives such a child in my name, he receives me. (6) But he who makes stumble one of the smallest of those believing in me, let him be carried in order that a large millstone be hung around his neck and he be cast down into the depth of the sea.”
I have heard more than one sermon regarding the children exalted by Jesus. A common theme is that, in those days, children were not even to be seen, let alone heard, that they were the lowest of the low. I’ve also read that this was because, in olden times, when children may not live to maturity, parents were not as invested in their kids as parents are today. Whatever. The point of those sermons was that Jesus was talking about humilty, in something like a more original sense of humble, as a class distinction rather than a personal trait. And that would account for the “lessen himself”.
But from there we veer off into one of the few truly moral lectures that Jesus himself actually gives. And I say “moral” in contrast with something like the Sermon on the Mount, in which we’re told how to act toward others, but that is not entirely the same as telling us not to cause others–children–to sin. If we couple that with the idea of being humble, we’ve got something like a mixed metaphor here. I almost have the sense that Jesus is speaking about something very specific, such as the sexual abuse of children. While I know this was an issue in the culture of Rome especially–read Tacitus’ description of the “sprinters” in Tiberius’ alleged pleasure grotto on Capri–this strikes me as odd for the Jewish world. The kind of sexual abuse I’m referring to is the vice of people with money, not of people who are just trying to make a living. Yes, it happens in all socio-economic strata, so maybe my lack of clarity on this stems from a too-fine definition of “abuse”. Perhaps understanding some of the practices of the Classical world, I’m misinterpreting the words here.
The exhortation to be like a child remains. Does this mean that we are to be humble? Or innocent? Or both? Does it matter. Back in 10:16 Matthew has Jesus enjoining his apostles to be “pure as doves”. The problem with that, and with this passage, is that neither is something that Jesus likely said. It seems historically improbable that Jesus ever dispatched apostles. As such, the exhortation Jesus reportedly spoke lacks its context. This story is much more plausible; at least, it’s plausible that Jesus did use the example of a child. And it does tie in with some of the things that Paul said about the wisdom of God sounding foolish to uninitiated ears. So perhaps that is how we should understand what Jesus saying here: be child-like in the sense of not being a pagan sophisticate, one who is too easily distracted by the wisdom of the world.
Actually, it just struck me that Jesus does not say “who causes a child to stumble”; what he says is “one of the little ones believing in me”. That is a very different reading, and it fits much more nicely with Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians that I’ve referenced. “One small in faith” would be someone who is still in the early stages of belief. So I would take this as akin to Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians not to eat meat sacrificed to idols. There is no harm per se, perhaps, because the idols are just dead matter, but it may cause confusion to those who are not so far along in their faith journey.
If this is how to understand the passage, we do indeed have rather a mixed metaphor. Mixed, but not at all contradictory. One just has to step back a bit and let the implications coalesce from the fog of the words themselves.
3 et dixit: “ Amen dico vobis: Nisi conversi fueritis et efiiciamini sicut parvuli, non intrabitis in regnum caelorum.
4 Quicumque ergo humiliaverit se sicut parvulus iste, hic est maior in regno caelorum.
5 Et, qui susceperit unum parvulum talem in nomine meo, me suscipit.
6 Qui autem scandalizaverit unum de pusillis istis, qui in me credunt, expedit ei, ut suspendatur mola asinaria in collo eius et demergatur in profundum maris.
7 οὐαὶ τῷ κόσμῳ ἀπὸ τῶν σκανδάλων: ἀνάγκη γὰρ ἐλθεῖν τὰ σκάνδαλα, πλὴν οὐαὶ τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ δι’ οὗ τὸ σκάνδαλον ἔρχεται.
8 Εἰ δὲ ἡ χείρ σου ἢ ὁ πούς σου σκανδαλίζει σε, ἔκκοψον αὐτὸν καὶ βάλε ἀπὸ σοῦ: καλόν σοί ἐστιν εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν ζωὴν κυλλὸν ἢ χωλόν, ἢ δύο χεῖρας ἢ δύο πόδας ἔχοντα βληθῆναι εἰς τὸ πῦρ τὸ αἰώνιον.
9 καὶ εἰ ὁ ὀφθαλμός σου σκανδαλίζει σε, ἔξελεαὐτὸν καὶ βάλε ἀπὸ σοῦ: καλόν σοί ἐστιν μονόφθαλμον εἰς τὴν ζωὴν εἰσελθεῖν, ἢ δύο ὀφθαλμοὺς ἔχοντα βληθῆναι εἰς τὴν γέενναν τοῦ πυρός.
10 Ὁρᾶτε μὴ καταφρονήσητε ἑνὸς τῶν μικρῶν τούτων: λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν ὅτι οἱ ἄγγελοι αὐτῶν ἐν οὐρανοῖς διὰ παντὸς βλέπουσι τὸ πρόσωπον τοῦ πατρός μου τοῦ ἐν οὐρανοῖς.
“Woe to the world from those stumbling. For it is necessary to come the stumbling, except woe to the man through whom the stumbling comes. (8) But if your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and through it from you. Better for you to come into the life deformed or lame, having two hands or two feet than to be thrown into the eternal fire. (9) And if your eye makes you stumble, gouge it out and throw it from you. It is better for you one-eyed into the life to go, than having two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna of fire. (10) Beware, do not despise the least of these. For I say to you that the angels of them in the heavens through all see the face of my father in heaven”.
Like Jesus using the example of the child, this last section is also more or less in Mark. But Mark does not have a corresponding verse to Verse 7, which concedes the necessity of stumbling, even though it does condemn the man who causes the stumbling. In this way, it’s less about making the children sin, which was how this read in Mark; here, it’s more generalized. We get back to the little ones in Verse 10, but are these physically little? Or little in their faith, as from Verse 6? It is tempting to see it in those terms, since that is the immediate antecedent for the smallest “of them”. Why the confusion? Did Matthew not quite understand the point? Or did he understand the point Mark made, but not agree with it completely, causing him to change the emphasis? It seems unlikely that Matthew didn’t get it; this isn’t exactly difficult to grasp in Mark’s version.
So I go back to Paul, and the admonition not to confuse those not strong in the faith. This is kind of an odd point; the similarity consequently seems hard to ascribe to coincidence. Has Matthew read, or heard, or heard of 1 Corinthians? I personally doubt it, but then the similarity has to be accounted for as coincidence? Coincidence is a significant part of everyday life; it happens all the time. It’s only when something seems to come of it that we even notice it. Then it suddenly doesn’t seem like coincidence any more.
In between, we have Matthew’s abridged version of the admonition to self-mutilation. Aside from a slight condensing of the presentation of the offending body parts, Matthew copies Mark almost verbatim about “entering life”, even using the term Gehenna whereas before he used Hades. To this point, this is only the second time Matthew has used the term “the life”. He does not call it “eternal life”, but he does say the fire of Gehenna is eternal. Perhaps that life was eternal was taken for granted, and didn’t need to be stated directly.
Now here is the interesting part, and it’s something I missed when reading this section in Mark. To a modern Christian, the idea of heaven is non-corporeal. As such, the idea of a non-corporeal existence occurring minus various body parts seems a bit odd. And it is a bit odd. Here is where the idea of the resurrection of the body truly comes into its own. The idea that Matthew and Mark are expressing is that the body that we have will, literally, be raised. If we have but one hand, that is how the body will be raised. I’m not sure about the rest of you, but this is alien to the way I was taught about the resurrection of the body. The teaching I received was that, since the body necessarily decayed, it would be reconstituted upon being raised at the Last Judgement. However, we were also told that cremation wasn’t an option because it meant the body would be destroyed. Well, burying a body will destroy it, too, given enough time. The point is that the concept of the resurrection of the body was meant very literally, and here we should take it very literally as we realize it doesn’t necessarily–if at all–coincide with how this concept is now understood.
It would be interesting to have a better understanding of how the Pharisees thought about this. Surely they understood the idea of the decay of the flesh; so how did they account for this while simultaneously believing the body would be resurrected? At least in the Pauline gospel, the return of Jesus and the resurrection of those who had “fallen asleep in Christ” were expected daily. That obviates this problem, at least to some degree.
7 Vae mundo ab scandalis! Necesse est enim ut veniant scandala; verumtamen vae homini, per quem scandalum venit!
8 Si autem manus tua vel pes tuus scandalizat te, abscide eum et proice abs te: bonum tibi est ad vitam ingredi debilem vel claudum, quam duas manus vel duos pedes habentem mitti in ignem aeternum.
9 Et si oculus tuus scandalizat te, erue eum et proice abs te: bonum tibi est unoculum in vitam intrare, quam duos oculos habentem mitti in gehennam ignis.
10 Videte, ne contemnatis unum ex his pusillis; dico enim vobis quia angeli eorum in caelis semper vident faciem Patris mei, qui in caelis est.