Category Archives: Chapter 19

Luke Chapter 19:11-27

Now we return to our regularly scheduled programming. Verse 11 is included below, but the comment on it is included in the separate post.

That being said, we are brought to the story of the talents, or the Money Usage, or however one wishes to label it. I have never particularly liked this story. It always seemed a bit too harsh; actually, my objection is that it’s a bit (or a lot) too capitalistic for my taste. An alternative rubric, or title, could easily be The Rich Get Richer. And this is a long section of text; however, since the story itself is familiar, it may not require much commentary. This has become something of a problem for the Triple Tradition material: it’s hard to come up with a new take, so I either repeat what I’ve said about the other two versions, or I say nothing at all. Which is better? Or worse?

So with that as a means of a (brief) introduction, let’s get to the

Text

11 Ἀκουόντων δὲ αὐτῶν ταῦτα προσθεὶς εἶπεν παραβολὴν διὰ τὸ ἐγγὺς εἶναι Ἰερουσαλὴμ αὐτὸν καὶ δοκεῖν αὐτοὺς ὅτι παραχρῆμα μέλλει ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ἀναφαίνεσθαι.

They having heard these things he spoke an added parable, since he was near to Jerusalem and it seemed to them that the kingdom of God was to be immediately apparent.

See Post Luke Chapter 19:11 for comment on Verse 11.

11 Haec autem illis audientibus, adiciens dixit parabolam, eo quod esset prope Ierusalem, et illi existimarent quod confestim regnum Dei manifestaretur. 

12 εἶπεν οὖν, Ἄνθρωπός τις εὐγενὴς ἐπορεύθη εἰς χώραν μακρὰν λαβεῖν ἑαυτῷ βασιλείαν καὶ ὑποστρέψαι.

13 καλέσας δὲ δέκα δούλους ἑαυτοῦ ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς δέκα μνᾶς καὶ εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς, Πραγματεύσασθε ἐν ᾧ ἔρχομαι.

14 οἱ δὲ πολῖται αὐτοῦ ἐμίσουν αὐτόν, καὶ ἀπέστειλαν πρεσβείαν ὀπίσω αὐτοῦ λέγοντες, Οὐ θέλομεν τοῦτον βασιλεῦσαι ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς.

15 Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ ἐπανελθεῖν αὐτὸν λαβόντα τὴν βασιλείαν καὶ εἶπεν φωνηθῆναι αὐτῷ τοὺς δούλους τούτους οἷς δεδώκει τὸ ἀργύριον, ἵνα γνοῖ τί διεπραγματεύσαντο.

Thus he said, “A certain man, well-born (i.e. noble) left to a far country to receive to himself a kingdom, and to return. (13) Calling ten slaves to himself he gave to them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage yourselves until I come (back)’. (14) The citizens of him hated him, and they sent messages after him saying, ‘We do not want him to rule over us’. (15) And it happened upon his return having received the kingdom and he said to be called to him the slaves to whom he had given the silver, in order that he might know what they had realized in commerce.

First, the whole set-up for the story seems a bit bizarre. The nobleman has been called to receive a kingdom? Really? Someone just sent an angel (messenger) with a note asking for the guy to come? And then “the citizens” send their own angel (i.e., messenger) with a different note to say they hate the guy. Presumably, these are the citizens of the kingdom to be received; that is not entirely clear, but it’s difficult to find another way to take this that makes any sense. But the nobleman does receive the kingdom, at which point he does return. OK. Got it?

The story of the consigned money is also in Matthew, but not in Mark; ergo, it’s considered to be part of Q. Now, here we have a setting, a description of surrounding circumstances for the story that is completely missing from Matthew. Therefore, the implication is that Matthew chose not to include this backstory, and probably for obvious reasons. So then we have to ask which version is the more “primitive”. Is it Matthew, who left out stuff? Or Luke, because he included material that was in Q? Now, Kloppenborg, in his “definitive” Q text, leaves out the part about the message from the citizens, so that part is not purported to be in Q. So I guess that means Luke made it up? Or, he got it from some mysterious L Source, presumably an oral source that kept alive material that bypassed Mark and Matthew. So is this L material older than Q? If so, why wasn’t it included in Q? Well, it could be that it was contemporaneous with Q, but it traveled through a different line of transmission. Was the author of Q aware of this part of the story and chose not to include it? Why not? If there were two lines of transmission, each reaching back to Jesus, then we have one origin who chose to include this part, while another either chose not to include these details. Again, why not? If both lines trace back to Jesus, there is a common source that then became bifurcated, with some material left out. On what criteria did the author of Q chose to omit these details? Has anyone ever offered an explanation why Q omitted this part? Of course, if Q did include these details, what are Matthew’s criteria for leaving it out? Anyone? Bueller? 

The other alternative is that it may not be older than, or contemporaneous with Q; however, that necessarily means that someone else made it up, and this presents an entirely different set of problems and questions. If Matthew got his story directly from Q, and Q did not have these details as Kloppenborg says it didn’t, then Matthew provides the more primitive version of the story. But who made up these other details? And when? And if these details were made up later, what other material was made up later? Now, this is an exercise that desperately needs to be done. We need to stop and think and try to reconstruct a path of development that the story of Jesus took. It should start during his ministry, continue through his death and resurrection (whether literal or figurative; that is a discussion yet to be had), through the years when James the Just was leading the ekklesia in Jerusalem, then branching into the ekklesiai that Paul established, bringing us Mark, Matthew, Luke, & John. The epistles that were not written by Paul truly need not concern us much; they are minor stops on the larger journey. To the best of my knowledge, this undertaking I am suggesting has never been done. If it has, I would appreciate someone giving me the cite(s), so that I can follow up on my own. Tracing the path of development would be very instructive, IMO. It would help us understand more completely just what we are up against when we try to sort out questions of the sort we face in this section of text. Where did these details about the kingdom, the existence of which is not hinted at in Matthew, originate? When did they originate? Where did the M Source originate? The L Source? We can’t just attribute them to some vague “oral tradition”. That is woefully insufficient.

Let’s notice something else. The stories in the L Source are more elaborate than those in the M Source. This latter gives us the story of the banquet where no one comes. The former gives us the Prodigal Son, The Good Samaritan, The Good Shepherd, and all the details about the kingdom that we get here. Why is that? And, for that matter, why are Matthew’s stories attributed to the M Source, more elaborate, for the most part, than the stories in Mark? Mark has the Geresene Demonaic, which Matthew shortened and Luke restored more closely to its original length. As a general rule, stories become more complex as they are told, as new tellers add their own touches and flourishes. There are all the studies of how oral traditions work, and we have an idea of how something like The Iliad was recited, how each poet more or less composed his own version, a process that was finally ended when Homer (or someone) wrote it down. This would imply that the elaboration of Luke’s stories took time; or they took a very creative author, and we may as well call him Luke.

12 Dixit ergo: “ Homo quidam nobilis abiit in regionem longinquam accipere sibi regnum et reverti. 

13 Vocatis autem decem servis suis, dedit illis decem minas et ait ad illos: “Negotiamini, dum venio”. 

14 Cives autem eius oderant illum et miserunt legationem post illum dicentes: “Nolumus hunc regnare super nos!”. 

15 Et factum est ut rediret, accepto regno, et iussit ad se vocari servos illos, quibus dedit pecuniam, ut sciret quantum negotiati essent. 

16 παρεγένετο δὲ ὁ πρῶτος λέγων, Κύριε, ἡ μνᾶ σου δέκα προσηργάσατο μνᾶς.

17 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Εὖγε, ἀγαθὲ δοῦλε, ὅτι ἐν ἐλαχίστῳ πιστὸς ἐγένου, ἴσθι ἐξουσίαν ἔχων ἐπάνω δέκα πόλεων.

“And it happened the first saying to him, ‘Lord, your mina I have parlayed into ten minas’. (17) And he (the lord) said to him (the slave), ‘Well done, good slave, that in small things faith has been in you, you having power are above ten cities’.

Just a few technical points. The Greek is a bit oblique;, I’ve done the best I could to put it into English that still retains some of the oblique character. The meaning is clear enough, but Greek allows some twists of grammar that English cannot convey. For example, in Verse 17, the word ‘faith’ is in the nominative, which means it should be the subject, but the verb form is second person singular, ‘you’. This sort of straightens out in the final clause, but it remains a bit awkward. Second, my imagination fails me for the word rendered as “parlayed”. I tried “invested”, but that has connotations in English that are completely anachronistic to the first century. The root of the verb used is ‘to go to market’; the concept conveyed is that he bought and sold to reap a profit of 1000%. Not bad.

And a mina is a weight of silver, as is a talent, and, I believe, a shekel.

16 Venit autem primus dicens: “Domine, mina tua decem minas acquisivit”. 

17 Et ait illi: “Euge, bone serve; quia in modico fidelis fuisti, esto potestatem habens supra decem civitates”. 

18 καὶ ἦλθεν ὁ δεύτερος λέγων, Ἡ μνᾶ σου, κύριε, ἐποίησεν πέντε μνᾶς.

19 εἶπεν δὲ καὶ τούτῳ, Καὶ σὺ ἐπάνω γίνου πέντε πόλεων.

20 καὶ ὁ ἕτερος ἦλθεν λέγων, Κύριε, ἰδοὺ ἡ μνᾶ σου ἣν εἶχον ἀποκειμένην ἐν σουδαρίῳ:

21 ἐφοβούμην γάρ σε, ὅτι ἄνθρωπος αὐστηρὸς εἶ, αἴρεις ὃ οὐκ ἔθηκας καὶ θερίζεις ὃ οὐκ ἔσπειρας.

22 λέγει αὐτῷ, Ἐκ τοῦ στόματός σου κρίνω σε, πονηρὲ δοῦλε. ᾔδεις ὅτι ἐγὼ ἄνθρωπος αὐστηρός εἰμι, αἴρων ὃ οὐκ ἔθηκα καὶ θερίζων ὃ οὐκ ἔσπειρα;   

23 καὶ διὰ τί οὐκ ἔδωκάς μου τὸ ἀργύριον ἐπὶ τράπεζαν; κἀγὼ ἐλθὼν σὺν τόκῳ ἂν αὐτὸ ἔπραξα.

“And the second came, saying, ‘Your mina, lord, I have made five minas’. (19) And he (the lord) said to him (the slave), ‘And you come over five cities’. (20) And the other came, saying. ‘Lord, behold your mina, having which I wrapped in a cloth. (21) For I feared you, that you are a stringent man, you take up what you do not put down, and you reap what you do not sow’. (22) He (the lord) said to him (the slave), ‘From your mouth you judge yourself, wicked slave. Did you know that I an a stringent man, taking up what I did not put down, and reaping what I did not sow? (23) And on account of what did you not give my silver to the money changers and I coming with interest which it has performed’.

It’s a little difficult putting this into terms that make sense in both the ancient and modern worlds. The lord literally asks why the slave didn’t put the silver on a table; however, this came to be understood to be a money-changer’s table. The idea is that by giving the silver to money changers who took a certain percentage of the money exchanged, it would have earned a return. It is not proper to call it interest; a transaction fee is perhaps more accurate. The word used for this transaction fee actually means ‘usury’, but that has connotations of a loan. Which I suppose isn’t too far off, since the slave would be, in effect, loaning the money to the changers. And I have to say, lending the silver to money-changers doesn’t seem like a bad way to invest. From the disparaging way they are talked about, it would seem that they had a pretty good track record when it came to financial return. It wasn’t a venture likely to result in the loss of capital invested. Perhaps the slave feared they wouldn’t give him a fair return? Or even a return of the principal? Finally, the word for ‘stringent’ transliterates as ‘austeros’, ‘austere’. I believe stringent more effectively captures the idea that the lord is s hard man rather than one who lives a Spartan lifestyle.

18 Et alter venit dicens: “Mina tua, domine, fecit quinque minas”. 

19 Et huic ait: “Et tu esto supra quinque civitates”. 

20 Et alter venit dicens: “Domine, ecce mina tua, quam habui repositam in sudario; 

21 timui enim te, quia homo austerus es: tollis, quod non posuisti, et metis, quod non seminasti”. 

22 Dicit ei: “De ore tuo te iudico, serve nequam! Sciebas quod ego austerus homo sum, tollens quod non posui et metens quod non seminavi? 

23 Et quare non dedisti pecuniam meam ad mensam? Et ego veniens cum usuris utique exegissem illud”. 

24 καὶ τοῖς παρεστῶσιν εἶπεν, Ἄρατε ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ τὴν μνᾶν καὶ δότε τῷ τὰς δέκα μνᾶς ἔχοντι.

25 καὶ εἶπαν αὐτῷ, Κύριε, ἔχει δέκα μνᾶς.

26 λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι παντὶ τῷ ἔχοντι δοθήσεται, ἀπὸ δὲ τοῦ μὴ ἔχοντος καὶ ὃ ἔχει ἀρθήσεται. 

27 πλὴν τοὺς ἐχθρούς μου τούτους τοὺς μὴ θελήσαντάς με βασιλεῦσαι ἐπ’ αὐτοὺς ἀγάγετε ὧδε καὶ κατασφάξατε αὐτοὺς ἔμπροσθέν μου. 

“And to those standing around he (the lord) said, “Take from him the mina and give (it) to the one having ten minas’. (25) And he (the slave) said to him (the lord), ‘I have ten minas.’ (26) ‘I say to you that to all (individuals) having (it/something/more) will be given, but (δὲ) from the one(s) not having, even what he has will be taken. (27) Except those my enemies not wishing me to rule over them, lead them (here) so that you can also slay them in front of me’.”

And there you go, the First Church of Christ Capitalist. We discussed the lesson here in the commentary on Matthew’s version of the story. Does it not seem contrary to the idea of a humble saviour, one who tells us to turn the other cheek? What we have here is a many riding roughshod over his enemies, consigning them to public execution while he watches. This is a damn sight worse than simply taking the mina away from the slave who perhaps did not have the market savvy to put the money to work and produce a return. This inability to make money is offensive to the lord, and he will not tolerate it.

OF course, this is not to be taken literally. The ability to make money is symbolism for spiritual growth. The one with faith will have, or produce more, while the one with little will lost even that. Such a symbolic meaning does blunt the unsettling aspect of the parable; but only to a point. I don’t entirely like the sound of a lesson that tells me the person needing an infusion of faith will not receive it. Or, I suspect, we should substitute “grace” for “faith”. Outside of Romans, I do not know the scriptural passages Augustine used as a basis for his argument for predestination; however, it seems like this would be a prime candidate. The whole thing rests upon whether or not humans can merit salvation. Augustine and Luther, and especially Calvin following, believed that we are so wretchedly depraved that the initiative had to come from God in the form of prevenient grace which God grants to some-but only some–humans, thereby allowing them to start on the path to redemption and salvation. I really don’t like that message. Really, if it’s all God’s choice, than what is the point? And I see this thinking on display in some very ugly ways in these United States. Thanks to the Calvinist heritage brought over by the Pilgrims/Puritans (there is no functional difference), we know that all God’s chosen are rich. This provides a justification for ignoring the poor; they’re all Foreknown and will be damned, so why bother? It’s also apparent in the heritage of the Scots-Irish, and their attitude towards the US as a country. Since the USA is the new Chosen People, we can commit all manner of atrocities on non-Christians for much the same reason. So this strain that runs through Christianity has had some very pernicious consequences.

Pardon the rant. The real significance of this version of the story comes from the fact that the lord is also a king. We’ve already discussed what this means for Q. The length and elaboration of this version would indicate that it was later, at least in part, than Matthew’s version. Just to repeat, Kloppenborg does not believe the part about the king was in Q. So someone made it up. And if someone made that up, then other stuff could have been made up as well. There is no evidence for an L Source, or an M Source, except for the fact that Luke and Matthew have material found nowhere else in the NT. Calling it an oral source really doesn’t help because oral sources are impossible to pin down. That is not to say they didn’t exist; they did, and probably numbered in the hundreds. Zaccheus could easily be the result of an oral source that originated in Jericho came that up with a story that included Jericho in the Jesus cycle of stories. Many of the stories of Jesus interacting with pagans probably started as oral sources. So what is my point? That these oral sources very likely were invented after, perhaps decades after Jesus died. The “oral source” trick is to imply that the material contained originated at the time of Jesus and survived to be included in the gospels of Matthew, Luke, and even John. Of course, a few of these stories did just that; the Parable of the Sower is probably one of them; or, it is more likely to represent a genuine survival than almost all of the others. And it is entirely possible that one or two of the stories unique to Matthew or Luke had an origin in or about the time of Jesus. It’s possible, but not very likely.

Why not? That is an extremely difficult topic. It goes back to the question of why nothing was written about Jesus until thirty years after his death. More, it is the question of how the traditions that reached Mark were formulated and transmitted. That is a very difficult question; it’s also one that has been pretty much completely ignored. 

As an aside, back in Verse 13, there were ten slaves who were each given a mina. We have had an accounting from only three. What happened to the other seven? Were they erased due to editorial fatigue? Luke lost count? Actually, that was intended as a glib, throwaway remark; however, having been committed to paper, it resonates more than I had expected. Along with the kingdom, the number of slaves presents a significant discrepancy with Matthew– but only at the beginning of the story. The term “editorial fatigue” is the condition where someone working from an earlier source starts out by making initial changes to give a fresh coat of paint to the older story, but then sort of gets ‘fatigued’ from all that new thinking, and eventually just slips back into following the original source. On one hand, I find this a bit ludicrous; after all, we’re talking about a few paragraphs and not an epic poem. OTOH, how to explain the change that ends up where we started: in Matthew’s version of the story? One plausible resolution is that it should be called copyist fatigue; the scribe, copying a manuscript, doesn’t feel like going into the whole rigamarole with seven more slaves, and whacks it back to the smaller number reported by Matthew. The difference between editor and copyist has major ramifications. If it’s editorial fatigue, this will imply, if not require, that Luke was working with knowledge of Matthew. This blows a hole in Q. If the fatigue arose in the copyist, any later copyist could have had access to both Matthew and Luke. This does not require that Luke be aware of Matthew. The laziness could have occurred hundreds of years after Luke was written. Hence, there is no impact on the Q discussion. So which is it?

Finally, there is the discrepancy between the measures of silver; here we have minas, but Matthew has talents. This need not detain us. Each author could have easily substituted the weight more common to the area he was writing. That is a minor change, and any conclusions drawn from the substitution lack any real substance. IMO, anyway. 

24 Et adstantibus dixit: “Auferte ab illo minam et date illi, qui decem minas habet”. 

25 Et dixerunt ei: “Domine, habet decem minas!”. 

26 Dico vobis: “Omni habenti dabitur; ab eo autem, qui non habet, et, quod habet, auferetur. 

27 Verumtamen inimicos meos illos, qui noluerunt me regnare super se, adducite huc et interficite ante me! ”.

Luke Chapter 19:11

Perhaps it goes without saying, but I did not set out with the intention of doing an entire post on a single verse. In fact, this was meant to go straight through to Verse 27; however, the comment on Verse 11 grew to the point that splitting it off seemed to be a wise move. I will include it with the next post as well, just for the sake of continuity.

So with that as a means of a (brief) introduction, let’s get to the

Text

11 Ἀκουόντων δὲ αὐτῶν ταῦτα προσθεὶς εἶπεν παραβολὴν διὰ τὸ ἐγγὺς εἶναι Ἰερουσαλὴμ αὐτὸν καὶ δοκεῖν αὐτοὺς ὅτι παραχρῆμα μέλλει ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ἀναφαίνεσθαι.

They having heard these things he spoke an added parable, on account (of) being near to Jerusalem and it seemed to them that the kingdom of God was to be immediately apparent.

So after saying how a lot of commentary shouldn’t be required, immediately at the start we run into a really interesting statement and so we have to break for a comment. “For it seemed to them that the Kingdom of God was to be immediately apparent“. We can infer that those who heard these things were his immediate followers, those traveling with him. To refresh memories, this comes immediately after Jesus had said that salvation had come to the house of Zaccheus. The question then becomes, “why did they think that the Kingdom was to be immediately apparent?” Are we to assume it was related to the incident with Zaccheus? If it’s not thus connected, then what? Here’s something to bear in mind.

Luke is the first evangelist who had knowledge of Paul; at least, that is true if indeed Luke/Acts are from the same author. If we go back to some of Paul’s epistles, we should recall that in some of these, Paul was fully expecting the kingdom any day, or even at any hour. Did Luke infer that the early disciples felt that way as well? If Paul felt that way, why wouldn’t the original followers have shared that sense of imminence? Is that what we have here? Luke channeling Paul? Intriguing as I find the thought, it seems unlikely, but then why? To some degree it’s a question of how conscious Luke was when he wrote this. My first thought was that Luke may have gotten carried away, After reading Paul and the other two gospels, he may have drifted into authorial omniscience, where the writer knows what is happening and makes unsupported statements under the unquestioned assumption that the statement is simply self-evident, and so requires no explanation. I followed this line of argument for a fair distance down the rabbit-hole before realizing that the evidence was barely persuasive, let alone conclusive.

So what, then?

The aspect that most strikes me is the way that this sentence, or at least the second clause, sort of sticks our like the proverbial sore thumb. This is the part beginning with <<διὰ τὸ ἐγγὺς εἶναι>>, which I rendered as “on account of being near…” Then I looked at the grammar of the whole a bit more closely. “They having heard this” is a genitive absolute*, usually used to set up the circumstances while remaining more or less independent of the grammar of the rest of the sentence. That is, it can be removed without affecting how the remainder of the sentence operates. In this case, these are plural participles; hence translating as “they”. But “he” spoke the parable. The grammatical implication is that Jesus did this to some degree because “they”, presumably his followers, had done this hearing. Jesus speaking is a consequence, or even an effect of them hearing. But his decision to speak is also depending upon the proximity to Jerusalem. The preposition very clearly indicates a causal connexion; Jesus spoke specifically on account of, or due to the proximity to Jerusalem. The verb “to be” is an infinitive, which means there is no distinction to number, it’s neither singular nor plural; in English we would use a participle, “due to being near…” making it a statement of general conditions. But he also spoke because it seemed to them that the kingdom was approaching, so we’re back to the mental state of the followers. In short, the last part of this sentence is a bit of a jumble.

The conclusion I draw from this is that, at least, the last part of the sentence is a marginal gloss that became incorporated into the body of the text. That is, it was a note that someone scribbled in the margin of the manuscript as an explanatory note to himself, or to other readers that some subsequent scribe, perhaps copying a manuscript he could not read all that well, took the note to be an integral part of the text. I don’t offer this suggestion lightly, but perhaps I am not to be taken too seriously on this point. Arguing about the incorporation of glosses requires a degree of knowledge of Greek that is beyond mine. I can provide my general impression of the text, and how it seems to me that this is likely a gloss, but I cannot construct a truly persuasive argument. Bear in mind, however, that I have encountered this many times with Classical/pagan authors, so I am not completely unfamiliar with how this works. Bear in mind also that the incorporation of glosses does occur. In fact, I recently (within the last 5-10 years) read that the discovery of an early fragment of Isaiah showed that several sentences had been added to the text, likely as the result of a marginal gloss becoming incorporated into the body of the text. So it was much more than a random sentence like we have here. So this does happen, even with biblical texts. And at the risk of offending, it seems to me that biblical scholarship is much less likely to raise the question of incorporated glosses than academics working on pagan texts. This has been my criticism of biblical scholarship for some time: since most of them come from a theological/divinity background, the critical thinking has been blunted overmuch. This is how we got Q, after all. Too few people are willing to grasp the nettle and argue that Q is completely unsubstantiated.

So we have the assessment of a later copier who believes that it seems to the followers of Jesus that the kingdom is becoming apparent. Now let’s stop and ask how this fits in with other parts of the gospel. Recall that back in Chapter 17, not that long ago, Jesus told the Pharisees that the Kingdom of God is among/within you. Do these two statements contradict each other? Or, if they aren’t explicitly contradictory in the sense of being mutually exclusive, do they tell a consistent story? Or, perhaps more accurately, do they describe a consistent theology? On the face of it, I would say not. Yes, there are ways to square the circle, and to take the specific words in figurative ways so that they do not actually say what they seem to say at first glance. And there is nothing wrong with doing this, I have no quarrel about doing this. In fact, I advocate taking the words as symbolic, referring to a Truth that is not necessarily factually accurate. But let’s ask what those hearing the message as preached by Luke & his brethren would think, how they would take what was said. If this gospel were being read, hearing several chapters in one sitting would hardly be a stretch. So it’s entirely conceivable that people could have heard “the kingdom is within/among you” and “it seemed to them that the kingdom was imminent” within the space of an hour or so. How would this have struck our hypothetical listener?

That is an interesting question. I suspect it would be confusing, because I find it a tad confusing; however, I’m looking at it from a theological point of view, and I’m expecting a consistent message. The relatively close juxtaposition does make very clear the extent to which what became Christian theology was created on a very ad hoc basis. No one sat down and explained this theology only after having thought this through and worked to create a consistent message based on a consistent view of what the term “Kingdom of God/the heavens/heaven” meant. No one came up with that definition and then crafted a text to explain that definition in clear, non-ambiguous language. Prior to starting this blog, I had sort of done some semi-casual, semi-serious reading of the NT, and had sort of tried to work through what it actually said. This proved to be a very unsatisfying exercise, and it is one of the primary reasons I undertook this undertaking of translating and commenting on the NT; the underlying purpose was to figure out just exactly what the thing says. And the farther I’ve gone, the more I realize that my initial impression was accurate: it is confusing, it is inconsistent, and it says a lot of different things at a lot of different times. This gives me a new appreciation for what specifically became the Roman Church, because I have a better appreciation of what Augustine and the rest were up against when they had to refute ideas that became deemed heretical. In fact, they had to invent that term. It also explains why the Roman Church has never been super keen on just anyone reading the Bible, which, in turn, helps explain why they resisted having the Bible translated into vernacular language. If it were left in Latin, a lot of people could not read it, and that was considered a good thing. Otherwise, letting just anyone read the darn thing could–and did–lead to a lot of people getting a lot of different ideas. By keeping a monopoly on Scripture, the Roman Church, and the Roman Church alone, could decide what it said. That way, you didn’t get people reading Mark’s Chapter 1 and deciding that Jesus was Adopted at that point. Nor did you get people reading Luke 19:9 and deciding that we can merit our salvation. 

 

*Latin does the same thing, but the case used is the ablative rather than the genitive. In fact, the ablative absolute is a fundamental aspect of Latin grammar & rhetoric. Below it comes to <<illis audientibus>>, “they having heard“. As an aside, of the Indo-European languages I’ve studied (a list limited to Greek, Latin, and the rudiments of German), Latin is the only one to have an ablative case. I’m not sure why that is, but I’ve never attempted to research this question.

11 Haec autem illis audientibus, adiciens dixit parabolam, eo quod esset prope Ierusalem, et illi existimarent quod confestim regnum Dei manifestaretur. 

Luke Chapter 19:1-10

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

Text

1 Καὶ εἰσελθὼν διήρχετο τὴν Ἰεριχώ.

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

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

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

1 Et ingressus perambulabat Iericho. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 καὶ σπεύσας κατέβη, καὶ ὑπεδέξατο αὐτὸν χαίρων.

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

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

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

6 Et festinans descendit et excepit illum gaudens. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Chapter 19:13-30

This will conclude Chapter 19. The section is on the long side, but there was no place to break that wouldn’t distort the flow of the text, so we get it all at once. Much of it may not require specific comment. Of course, I always think/say that.

13 Τότε προσηνέχθησαν αὐτῷ παιδία, ἵνα τὰς χεῖρας ἐπιθῇ αὐτοῖς καὶ προσεύξηται: οἱ δὲ μαθηταὶ ἐπετίμησαν αὐτοῖς.

14 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν, Ἄφετε τὰ παιδία καὶ μὴ κωλύετε αὐτὰ ἐλθεῖν πρός με, τῶν γὰρ τοιούτων ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.

15 καὶ ἐπιθεὶς τὰς χεῖρας αὐτοῖς ἐπορεύθη ἐκεῖθεν.

And then were brought forth children, so that his hands he would place on them and bless them. The disciples censured them. (14) But Jesus said, “Allow the children and do not forbid them to come to me; for of such is the kingdom of the heavens. (15) And he placing his hands on them, he went away from there. 

In heresies of the Middle Ages, the laying-on of hands was considered the mark of real holiness. I’m not sure when or how the established Church got away from that as a general practice, but the insistence of the heretics on this placement of hands seems to indicate that the Church had let this practice fall into abeyance. And having read as much of the NT as I have, I can see why the heretics were so keen to do this; it’s a very common thing for Jesus and the disciples to do. I do not know the origin of the practice, whether it’s Jewish, or pagan, or what; but it’s the sort of thing that is pretty obvious in many ways. I do want to point out, however, that the real origin of the practice was probably magical, and may in fact pre-date Judaism and other religions. I would not be surprised that the practice did not arise in hunter-gatherer bands, and that the shaman would do this as a means of healing, expelling spirits, etc. I think that for the authors of the NT, that meaning has largely been lost. Even so, I truly believe it’s a residual magical practice.

In the last chapter we also had a child as the exemplar of who will enter the kingdom of the heavens. Here we have it again. Coming as it does in close proximity to the previous child, my guess is that these two stories represent either a twinning of a single event, or that this was something Jesus actually did on a frequent basis. The frequency then gave rise to a number of stories relating this. I don’t think there’s much reason to debate which it is; I bring it up because the repetition in two successive chapters does amount to a bit of editorial clumsiness. It feels redundant, so I tend to lean towards twinning, but the other possibility is just about as likely.

I suppose another question to go with this is to ask what are the implications of each? If it’s a twin, it entails a bifurcation of the tradition. The same story came down to Mark/Matthew via two different streams. This is not surprising. The tradition was doubtless split into any number of threads; we’ve discussed this at length in relation to Mark. If it was repeated, then this represents a major theme of Jesus’ ministry. And I think this likely does trace back to Jesus. It is difficult to fit into another tradition; it’s out of place in the pagan world, and it doesn’t fit with Jewish tradition, either. If you think about it, the only pre-adult to appear in any capacity in the HS (OT) is David. Isaac appears as a potential sacrifice; there is the widow’s son that Elijah raises from the dead, but the implication is that he is an adult. So the sheer oddness of the idea, it would seem, implies that it was an innovation that traced to Jesus himself. Paul doesn’t mention this, but Paul–with a few exceptions–is not concerned with anything that Jesus did while alive; ergo, its absence in Paul is not entirely meaningful. The theme is in Mark, so it likely did not come through the filtre of James the Just.

So that is worth bearing in mind. 

13 Tunc oblati sunt ei parvuli, ut manus eis imponeret et oraret; discipuli autem increpabant eis.

14 Iesus vero ait: “ Sinite parvulos et nolite eos prohibere ad me venire; talium est enim regnum caelorum ”.

15 Et cum imposuisset eis manus, abiit inde.

16 Καὶ ἰδοὺ εἷς προσελθὼν αὐτῷ εἶπεν, Διδάσκαλε, τί ἀγαθὸν ποιήσω ἵνα σχῶ ζωὴν αἰώνιον;

And look (one) coming towards him (Jesus) said, “Teacher, what good things shall I do that I might have life eternal?

The position here is interesting. Not long ago, I posed the question of whether the Life–or life eternal–was the same as the kingdom of (the) heaven(s). The immediate juxtaposition of the children entering the kingdom and this one asking about life eternal seems to suggest that they are more or less the same thing. This equivalence is something that most Christians over most of the past 1900 years or so would have answered affirmatively without a second thought. Until very recently, it never occurred to me even to ask the question; of course they are.

So why do we have two different terms for the same thing? Terms that are not obviously related on the face of it. That is a question that I think has to be answered. And some part of this would depend on whether both phrases trace back to Jesus. If I had to come up with an explanation, I would suggest that “kingdom of God/heaven/the heavens” does trace to Jesus. But the idea of the Life may not have existed before Paul.

The phrase “the life/life eternal” appears in Mark and Matthew only in conjunction with two stories: this one, about the young man of wealth, and the story that recommends self-mutilation, that it is better to give up a hand, or a foot, or an eye and attain eternal life. Paul talks about eternal life most extensively in Romans–his last work. But he also uses it in Galatians, which is one of the first. What this tells me is that Jesus may have talked about the kingdom, but he may not have talked about the Life. And even with Paul, the idea of the Life was something that became part of his mature work, but did not play a large role in his earlier epistles; does this mean it wasn’t a large part of his thinking on what was to happen when Jesus returned? Or possibly before, when we died?

Now, we need to be careful here. We need to remember that in Jewish belief the faithful pray on Yom Kippur to be written in the book of life for the next year. And so we find another situation where something that is considered to be a hallmark of Christianity has, at the very least, its roots in Judaism, even if there may have been some minor adjustments during the transition into Christianity. So we have the book of life and eternal life that sound like very similar concepts. And let’s not forget that the idea of going into the Life maimed–minus a hand, foot, or eye–only makes sense if we think in terms of the resurrection of the actual body, rather than a spiritual body that is whole and sound. Recall that Paul even made reference to this in talking about Jesus’ post-resurrection body as being somehow different from the earthly body. Taking all of this as a complex of interrelated concepts, we may be justified in seeing the passage about cutting off hands or feet to enter the life as fundamentally Jewish ideas, however they’ve been modified.

Then the question becomes one of provenance. I am becoming convinced that the idea of the kingdom, albeit of God/heaven/the heavens does trace back to Jesus, even if he perhaps did not originate it. At least, I’ve become convinced that a decent, and perhaps strong, argument can be made for this. I’m not quite as sure about the idea of the Life. This does trace back to Paul as we have seen. And prior to Paul, the resurrection of the righteous and the idea of the book of life (or, Book of Life) can both be found in Pharisaical Judaism. So the question is why doesn’t “the Life” play a more prominent role in the gospels of Mark and Matthew? Glancing ahead, it appears that this idea becomes fully ensconced in Luke, and especially John, showing that it has become a bedrock principle of what, by then, can be called Christianity. 

16 Et ecce unus accedens ait illi: “Magister, quid boni faciam, ut habeam vitam aeternam?”. Qui dixit ei:

17 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Τί με ἐρωτᾷς περὶ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ; εἷς ἐστιν ὁ ἀγαθός. εἰ δὲ θέλεις εἰς τὴν ζωὴν εἰσελθεῖν, τήρησον τὰς ἐντολάς.

And he (Jesus) said to him (the interlocutor) “Why do you talk to me about the good? One is good. If you wish into the life to enter, keep the commandments.”

Here we have a rare instance when the KJV is the least accurate of my crib translations. As I’ve been doing this, I’ve found that part of the reason the KJV is so hard to read is because it adheres most closely to the Greek; it’s not as nearly as bad as many of my translations, but it follows the literal sense more than most. Here, however, instead of talking about the good, Jesus asks, “why do you call me good?”, which the interlocutor does not do. Also, I have only rendered “one is good” because that is what the Greek says. Most translations add “only one is good”. Even the Latin below omits the “only”. Now, one can argue that the “only” is implied, and perhaps it is. But it’s not stated, so I have not added it to the translation.

My guess is that the KJV translated it the way it did because the passage in Mark does gave Jesus ask, “why do you call me good”, and also that “only” God is good.

Theologically, the “one is good” has some interesting implications. This seems like it could be the basis for some of the vitriol that came later about human nature is hopelessly depraved, and so cannot do anything to merit its salvation. Now the other thing is that this is always assumed to refer to God, but leaving out the “only” sure makes that a lot less certain, doesn’t it? Is this the original Jesus pointing to the Christ that is to come? That may be a stretch, but it’s not precluded by the Greek. It could be interpreted to mean something like that.

17 “Quid me interrogas de bono? Unus est bonus. Si autem vis ad vitam ingredi, serva mandata”.

18 λέγει αὐτῷ, Ποίας; ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν, Τὸ Οὐ φονεύσεις, Οὐ μοιχεύσεις, Οὐ κλέψεις, Οὐ ψευδομαρτυρήσεις,

19 Τίμα τὸν πατέρα καὶ τὴν μητέρα,καί, Ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν.

20 λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ νεανίσκος, Πάντα ταῦτα ἐφύλαξα: τί ἔτι ὑστερῶ;

21 ἔφη αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Εἰ θέλεις τέλειος εἶναι, ὕπαγε πώλησόν σου τὰ ὑπάρχοντα καὶ δὸς [τοῖς] πτωχοῖς, καὶ ἕξεις θησαυρὸν ἐν οὐρανοῖς, καὶ δεῦρο ἀκολούθει μοι.

He (the interlocutor) said to him (Jesus), “Of what kind?” Jesus said to him, “Do not murder, do not adulterize, do not steal, do not witness falsely. (19) Honour your father and your mother, love your neighbor as yourself.” (20) The young man said, “All these I have guarded. What is the last?” (= the final, the ultimate, is there anything else?) (21) Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be completed (= perfected) withdraw, sell the things belonging to you, give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in the heavens, and follow me here.” (here = hither, which implies motion towards as opposed to a static place “here”

The man’s response to the question about the commandments is interesting. Every Christian today knows that the “commandments” refers to the Ten Commandments. And one suspects that every Jew in the First Century would have known that, too. The man’s question implies one of two things: either he thought that Jesus might have some novel twist on the concept; or, he wasn’t a Jew who was familiar with the Decalogue. Which is more likely? The first possibility is hardly to be dismissed. Who knows what was said of Jesus? Who knows what sort of ideas about Jesus this young man brought to the moment of the question? Certainly he had heard about Jesus, that this was a novel teaching, or he taught novel things; so it’s no wonder that he would have had apprehensions about which commandments Jesus was telling him to follow. So it’s highly plausible. It’s much simpler, however, to infer that he was a pagan. Okham’s razor being what it is, this makes the second more plausible.

Or, there is a third possibility. Matthew inserted this question so that the pagans in the audience would understand what Jesus meant. Matthew realized that the pagans would not simply know what “the commandments” meant, so he put these words into the young man’s mouth to clarify that for these pagans. Now, we really can’t stretch this into more proof that Matthew himself was a pagan; he could have been very aware that pagans wouldn’t know about the commandments without being a pagan himself. It doesn’t hurt my position on this, but it doesn’t offer much in the way of support and/or evidence for this.

Should we ascribe this to Jesus? Or does it make more sense that it came from James? Offhand, I’d say the latter, largely because that’s what I want to believe in order to support my radical contention about the teachings of James. Against this we have the fact that this story is in Mark. However, the fact remains that the young man asks about eternal life, which is not a concept that is well-represented in Mark/Matthew. Here, I think, is where we can sort of glimpse at the complexity of the narrative sources. Different things came from different strands of the sources, and just because a concept appears in Matthew and Paul does not mean, necessarily, that Matthew got the story from Paul. Everyone wants to see affiliation where none may exist. The exception to this are those who refuse to believe that Luke knew about Matthew, preferring instead the existence of a document for which there is absolutely zero evidence.

18 Dicit illi: “ Quae? ”. Iesus autem dixit: “ Non homicidium facies, non adulterabis, non facies furtum, non falsum testimonium dices,

19 honora patrem et matrem et diliges proximum tuum sicut teipsum ”.

20 Dicit illi adulescens: “ Omnia haec custodivi. Quid adhuc mihi deest? ”.

21 Ait illi Iesus: “ Si vis perfectus esse, vade, vende, quae habes, et da pauperibus, et habebis thesaurum in caelo; et veni, sequere me ”.

22 ἀκούσας δὲ ὁ νεανίσκος τὸν λόγον ἀπῆλθεν λυπούμενος, ἦν γὰρ ἔχων κτήματα πολλά.

23 Ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πλούσιος δυσκόλως εἰσελεύσεται εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν.

24 πάλιν δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν, εὐκοπώτερόν ἐστιν κάμηλον διὰ τρυπήματος ῥαφίδος διελθεῖν ἢ πλούσιον εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ.

Hearing this speech, the young man went away being sad, for he was holding many possessions. (23) And Jesus said to his disciples, “Amen I say to you that the rich with difficulty into the kingdom of the heavens. (24) Again I say to you, it is more easy for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the wealthy to enter into the kingdom of God.”

The most interesting aspect of these two verses is the use of “kingdom of God” in Verse 24. Matthew almost never uses this term, but Mark uses it frequently. Here is a very clear case of Matthew almost, but not quite, copying Mark without much editing. In fact, a lot of the words in Mark are repeated by Matthew, even if in different forms. This is very clearly proof of the extent to which Matthew used Mark.Is it possible that Mark used Matthew, and sort of abridged the longer work? While there is a body of scholarship claiming this, it’s very much a minority opinion. I find it very difficult to conceive how anyone could actually take the idea seriously. 

22 Cum audisset autem adulescens verbum, abiit tristis; erat enim habens multas possessiones.

23 Iesus autem dixit discipulis suis: “Amen dico vobis: Dives difficile intrabit in regnum caelorum.

24 Et iterum dico vobis: Facilius est camelum per foramen acus transire, quam divitem intrare in regnum Dei”.

25 ἀκούσαντες δὲ οἱ μαθηταὶ ἐξεπλήσσοντο σφόδρα λέγοντες, Τίς ἄρα δύναται σωθῆναι;

Hearing this the disciples were driven out of their senses, saying to themselves, “Who then can be saved?”

I want to pause on this a moment. We touched on this in discussing Mark, but it very much bears repeating. In the amazement of the disciples, we get a very potent demonstration of the belief that wealth had a moral dimension. Put simply, there was a strong belief that all God’s friends were rich. The Jews believed this, as the story of Job amply demonstrates. But they were not alone: most cultures believed that the favor of God, or a god would be manifest on earth. And this idea has had pernicious and deleterious effects ever since, despite the fact that Jesus’ words here could not be more plain. This belief was lodged–implicitly–in Calvinism. As such, it was brought to the New World, especially by the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay colony. And since Boston became one of the first commercially successful cities in the British colonies, and since New England exported its ministers to the rest of the country, this belief has become lodged in the culture of the United States, and is still operating to this day. It may not be explicitly formulated, but it’s all the more dangerous because of that; it’s a buried assumption, one that goes unchallenged.

What is particularly astonishing is that this belief persists, that it ever came into being, because Jesus couldn’t be much more clear here if he tried. And it always strikes me that many of those who refuse to countenance any interpretation of “what God has joined, let no man put asunder” will completely overlook this dictum about the eye of the needle. Selective application, indeed.

25 Auditis autem his, discipuli mirabantur valde dicentes: “ Quis ergo poterit salvus esse?”.

26 ἐμβλέψας δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Παρὰ ἀνθρώποις τοῦτο ἀδύνατόν ἐστιν, παρὰ δὲ θεῷ πάντα δυνατά.

Looking them in the face Jesus said to them, “For humans, this is not possible, but for God all is possible.  

Notice that God is now omnipotent. We are so used to this notion that it’s ofttimes easy to forget that God was not always considered thus. Certainly the pagan gods, for the most part, were not truly though to be omnipotent as we understand the term; none of them were responsible for creation ex nihilo, as occurred in Genesis. But even YHWH was never truly omnipotent; it appears that he could be surprised by the outcome of events; why create Adam and Eve and tell them not to eat the fruit if he knew full well that they would? This is the quandary that Calvin sought to solve. But God did not truly become omnipotent until systematic theology had been invented through the marriage of the Scripture to Greek philosophy. This passage anticipates that development by a couple of centuries, at the least; but the NT is not fully consistent on this, and it’s especially not internally consistent. These inconsistencies were the cracks in the pavement that eventually spawned heresies. 

After all that, what really matters is that Jesus is basically saying that the rich can only be saved through the sheer omnipotence of God. That is a glaring contradiction to what Peter said in the previous verse, when he assumes there is a large moral component to being wealthy. Jesus is flatly denying that, cutting against the grain of the thinking of most cultures at the time. As such, it’s very progressive thinking for the time.

Now, an interesting thing came up while I was thinking about whether this actually originated with Jesus. I looked into the various forms of “wealthy” in Strong’s Concordance. (The root in Greek is “plousios”, the root of “plutocracy”.) What I found was that the word, in any form, is barely used by either Matthew or Mark. The latter uses some form of the word about three times; once in his version of the story, once during the explanation of the parable of the Sower, and once in the tale of the Widow’s Mite. Matthew uses it twice here, once with the Sower, and the last time to describe Joseph of Arimathaea, who is said to be “rich”. That’s it. It becomes more popular in Luke, but Paul uses it a lot in 1 Corinthians and especially Romans. It also shows up a lot in the deutero-Pauline letter to the Ephesians, and a number of times in the fairly short letter of James. 

So here Jesus is being very hard on the rich, but it’s almost a one-off as a theme in the first two gospels. And this is despite the fact that it wasn’t uncommon in Paul’s letters, documents that pre-date the gospels. And this particular story is really the only one in which the idea of wealth is really intrinsic to the point of the tale. That is, the idea of wealth was imported into the thinking of Mark and Matthew pretty much solely in conjunction with this story.

I also looked up the instances of the use of the terms “possessions” and “poor”. Interestingly, neither of these are show up much in Mark and Matthew, either, both of them occurring at approximately the same frequency as “wealth”.

The implication is pretty clear here. As much as we think of the poor being a major theme of Christian thought, the fact of the matter is that it just isn’t really all that important in the gospels of Matthew and Mark. This is something to consider.

26 Aspiciens autem Iesus dixit illis: “ Apud homines hoc impossibile est, apud Deum autem omnia possibilia sunt”.

27 Τότε ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Πέτρος εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἰδοὺ ἡμεῖς ἀφήκαμεν πάντα καὶ ἠκολουθήσαμέν σοι: τί ἄρα ἔσται ἡμῖν;

28 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι ὑμεῖς οἱ ἀκολουθήσαντές μοι, ἐν τῇ παλιγγενεσίᾳ, ὅταν καθίσῃ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐπὶ θρόνου δόξης αὐτοῦ, καθήσεσθε καὶ ὑμεῖς ἐπὶ δώδεκα θρόνους κρίνοντες τὰς δώδεκα φυλὰς τοῦ Ἰσραήλ.

29 καὶ πᾶς ὅστις ἀφῆκεν οἰκίας ἢ ἀδελφοὺς ἢ ἀδελφὰς ἢ πατέρα ἢ μητέρα ἢ τέκνα ἢ ἀγροὺς ἕνεκεν τοῦ ὀνόματός μου ἑκατονταπλασίονα λήμψεται καὶ ζωὴν αἰώνιον κληρονομήσει.

30 Πολλοὶ δὲ ἔσονται πρῶτοι ἔσχατοι καὶ ἔσχατοι πρῶτοι.

Then answering, Peter said to him, “Look, we left behind everything and followed you. What will be ours?”

28) And Jesus said to them, “Amen I say to you, that you, those following me, in the regeneration, when the son of man is seated upon the throne in his glory, you will also be seated upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

29) And all who have left behind home, or brothers or sisters, or father or mother or children, or fields because of my name a hundredfold will receive and eternal life will be their allotment (share of the inheritance).

Just need to insert a word. This phrase << ἑκατονταπλασίονα >> (a hundredfold) is not in all ms traditions. It appears there is variant reading of <<πολλαπλασίων>>. That would be significant, because according to Strong, the only instance of this word is in Luke’s version of this story. If it were here, too, this would pretty much prove that Luke copied Matthew because it would be the equivalent of being proven a cheater by copying someone’s wrong answer. So this is an important textual variation. And I have two different texts with the Matthew/Luke  <<πολλαπλασίων>>. OTOH, the L&S cites the Gospel of Matthew as an example of “hundredfold”. It does not recognize the other word.

30) For many will be first who are last and last (those who are) first.  

Aside from the textual issue mentioned, what jumps out here is “regeneration”. This is a legitimate Greek word. The question is, what does it signify in this context? Well, L&S cite Mt 19:28 as an example of this word being used to mean “resurrection”. Otherwise, it is a term from Stoic philosophy, as in the regeneration of the cosmos, which signifies the cyclical nature of existence; everything is a cycle, including the universe as a whole. Interestingly, none of my crib translations render it as “resurrection”, despite L&S; this is another example of why I get a little nervous about NT dictionaries. They tend to make it up as they go along. And the only other use of this in the NT is in Titus.

As with the hundredfold, the translation of this word matters. Maybe because I’m familiar with Stoic philosophy, but the use of the word there makes perfect sense. It was thought that history was cyclical, in the way life overall was cyclical. It didn’t repeat, but the cosmos ended and restarted, again and again and again. It was Augustine who came up with the idea of linear time; otherwise, this would mean that Jesus’ coming was not a unique event, but something that has happened and would happen again. This didn’t work for him, so he re-cast our understanding of the progress of time, bending it from a circle into a straight line. Or perhaps a ray is the more technical term: a fixed origin with an infinite extension. For even though the world would end, the righteous will spend eternity in the presence of God, who is beyond time.

This just occurred to me. Did Matthew slip here? Did he slip into his pagan way of thinking? Was he thinking about Stoic philosophy, so he used a concept he borrowed from them? That would be about as close to definitive proof that Matthew was a pagan as we could ever expect him to state explicitly. It would mean L&S was wrong, but either Liddell or Scott was a churchman, so his point of view would have been strongly Christian, which could certainly influence his conception of the word as used here. He would take it on faith (ahem) that it referred to the resurrection even though the term came from Stoic philosophy. Contra this, the term is used for the rebirth of the world after the flood in Genesis in the Septuagint; so Matthew as a Jew–Greek-speaking, but Jew nonetheless–could have gotten the term there. We have seen that Matthew probably got the virgin birth from the (mis-)translation of Isaiah to predict that a “virgin” would give birth.

Here is where my theory on the Twelve has some significant ramifications. If, as I suspect, the Twelve were instituted after Jesus died, then there is no chance that he said this bit about the twelve thrones and judging the twelve tribes. Then the question becomes, if Jesus didn’t say this, did he say any of this? If he did, which parts go back to Jesus, and which are later? 

To be honest, I would suspect most of the verse 27-30 post-date Jesus. To be just as honest, I’m not sure I can construct a valid–or even worthwhile–argument to support this. Peter’s question is the sort of thing that could be experienced either by Jesus’ immediate followers, or by those that came later. And I did try to construct something to demonstrate that the circumstances described here were more appropriate for a later group, but I was unsuccessful. My instincts tell me this is a later addition, but “instincts” do not make a good argument, The part about the Twelve, I am sure, is later, but that does not necessarily invalidate the rest. I believe it does–or may–but my beliefs are no stronger proof than my instincts. 

On the face of it, there is nothing in these verses to indicate that we are presented with a situation that involves circumstances faced by Jesus’ immediate followers, or those faced by a later group. That’s the surface view. After more consideration, however, I think this falls into the “later group” scenario. The implication here 

The last point here involves the eschaton. Once again the use of “son of man” indicates that this is taken mostly from Mark. For the most part, Matthew uses “son of man” in passages that he has extracted from Mark. Here is a situation in which the coming end, brought about by the Parousia, by the coming of the son of man. As is true in Mark, this passage could be read to imply that Jesus is talking about someone else, that he is not identifying himself as the son of man. The other point about this is that the vision presented here is not terribly dissimilar to that of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4. Thus, we have to ask, once again, if this came from Jesus, or if it came from Paul? This matters, because if it’s from Paul, it would help support the idea that the entire passage dates from a time after Jesus. The number of times that Jesus refers to the Parousia in Mark are very limited, and are not entirely intrinsic to the rest of the text. There are any number of legitimate NT scholars–JD Crossan comes to mind–who are dead certain that Jesus’ primary message (or one of them, at least) was the coming End. Personally, I’m not sure I buy it. He bases a lot of his position on the idea of Jesus’ use of “kingdom of heaven/God/the heavens”. However, I remain semi-agnostic on this; I haven’t done the requisite homework, or fieldwork, or footwork of pulling out all the references and doing the compare/contrast and exegesis.

To end, the last line about the first/last transposition is, from what I understand, classic apocalyptic rhetoric. I don’t recall who, but one of the legitimate scholars I read described apocalyptic literature as sort of the last revenge/refuge of the downtrodden. The point of this literature is to envision the day when the current oppressor is overthrown, is pitched headlong into eternal fire, and We the Downtrodden take our rightful place as the divine favourites. People in offices talk like this all the time, about the boss getting his comeuppance. As such, this last/first transposition is probably something that could have been said or written at any time during the time Judea was under the heel of either the Seleucid or Roman Empires. As such, it’s not much help in figuring out if this traces to Jesus. Even if we could be dead certain he did say this, who’s not to say that he didn’t get it from someone else? It’s too universal as a statement of desire. 

27 Tunc respondens Petrus dixit ei: “Ecce nos reliquimus omnia et secuti sumus te. Quid ergo erit nobis?”.

28 Iesus autem dixit illis: “Amen dico vobis quod vos, qui secuti estis me, in regeneratione, cum sederit Filius hominis in throno gloriae suae, sedebitis et vos super thronos duodecim, iudicantes duodecim tribus Israel.

29 Et omnis, qui reliquit domos vel fratres aut sorores aut patrem aut matrem aut filios aut agros propter nomen meum, centuplum accipiet et vitam aeternam possidebit.

30 Multi autem erunt primi novissimi, et novissimi primi.

Matthew Chapter 19:1-12

So now we start Chapter 19. Once again, we get material from Mark; this time it’s the discussion about divorce.

1 Καὶ ἐγένετο ὅτε ἐτέλεσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τοὺς λόγους τούτους, μετῆρεν ἀπὸ τῆς Γαλιλαίας καὶ ἦλθεν εἰς τὰ ὅρια τῆς Ἰουδαίας πέραν τοῦἸορδάνου.

2 καὶ ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῷ ὄχλοι πολλοί, καὶ ἐθεράπευσεν αὐτοὺς ἐκεῖ.

And it happened that Jesus finished these stories, they left from Galilee and they came to the boundaries of Judea on the shore of the Jordan. (2) And the crowds followed him, and he healed them there. 

This is the residual of Mark’s wonder-worker stories. Matthew cannot get rid of them completely, but he can certainly underplay them. A lot. Given that I’m seeing the hand of James–not Jesus–in much of the material that is in Matthew but not Mark, I’m being forced to think very critically about how his earliest followers saw Jesus. Given that so much of Mark up to Chapter 8 deals with the wonders Jesus worked, and only minimally with parables, it’s hard not to conclude that this was a very significant aspect of Jesus’ identity for many early followers. Not all of them, certainly, because we have the Pauline corpus that tells a very different story. 

1 Et factum est, cum consum masset Iesus sermones istos, migravit a Galilaea et venit in fines Iudaeae trans Iordanem.

2 Et secutae sunt eum turbae multae, et curavit eos ibi.

3 Καὶ προσῆλθον αὐτῷ Φαρισαῖοι πειράζοντες αὐτὸν καὶ λέγοντες, Εἰ ἔξεστιν ἀνθρώπῳ ἀπολῦσαι τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ κατὰ πᾶσαν αἰτίαν;

And came to him Pharisees testing him and saying, “If it is allowed for a man to release his wife for all reasons. 

Here we have the question about divorce. Since there is really nothing here that we didn’t discuss when reading this in Mark, I’m going to withhold comment until the end; with the possible exception of some minor points.

3 Et accesserunt ad eum pharisaei tentantes eum et dicentes: “ Licet homini dimittere uxorem suam quacumque ex causa?”.

4 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν, Οὐκ ἀνέγνωτε ὅτι ὁ κτίσας ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ ἐποίησεν αὐτούς;

And he answering said, “Are you ignorant that the creation from the beginning male and female he made them?”

4 Qui respondens ait: “ Non legistis quia, qui creavit ab initio, masculum et feminam fecit eos.

5 καὶ εἶπεν, Ενεκα τούτου καταλείψει ἄνθρωπος τὸν πατέρα καὶ τὴν μητέρα καὶ κολληθήσεται τῇ γυναικὶ αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἔσονται οἱ δύο εἰς σάρκα μίαν.

And he said, “Because of this a man leaves behind his father and his mother and becomes joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.

5 et dixit: “Propter hoc dimittet homo patrem et matrem et adhaerebit uxori suae, et erunt duo in carne una?”.

6 ὥστε οὐκέτι εἰσὶν δύο ἀλλὰ σὰρξ μία. ὃ οὖν ὁ θεὸς συνέζευξεν ἄνθρωπος μὴ χωριζέτω.

 

In this way they are not two, but one flesh. Thus, that which God has yoked together man must not separate”.

6 Itaque iam non sunt duo sed una caro. Quod ergo Deus coniunxit, homo non separet ”.

7 λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Τί οὖν Μωϋσῆς ἐνετείλατο δοῦναι βιβλίον ἀποστασίου καὶ ἀπολῦσαι [αὐτήν];

They said to him, “Why then did Moses command to give a little book of standing away and releasing her?”

“Little book of standing away is a very, very literal translation for what should be called “a writ of divorce”, or something such. 

7 Dicunt illi: “ Quid ergo Moyses mandavit dari libellum repudii et dimittere? ”.

8 λέγει αὐτοῖς ὅτι Μωϋσῆς πρὸς τὴν σκληροκαρδίαν ὑμῶν ἐπέτρεψεν ὑμῖν ἀπολῦσαι τὰς γυναῖκας ὑμῶν, ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς δὲ οὐ γέγονεν οὕτως.

He said to them that “Moses towards the hard-heartedness of you allowed you to release (= divorce) your wives, from the beginning it was not thus.” 

This is put rather differently than the way it was in Mark. There is no real change in the implication, nor does it show any real development of the concept (as far as I can tell at the moment), but seems more like an expression of editorial independence. It does emphasize that it was the allowance of Moses that was the aberration, rather than the norm. As such, Jesus is not changing anything, but restoring the natural order. This may require additional comment below. 

8 Ait illis: “ Moyses ad duritiam cordis vestri permisit vobis dimittere uxores vestras; ab initio autem non sic fuit.

9 λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν ὅτι ὃς ἂν ἀπολύσῃ τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ μὴ ἐπὶ πορνείᾳ καὶ γαμήσῃ ἄλλην μοιχᾶται.

“I say to you that he who may divorce his wife, unless for fornication (translit = ‘pornia’) and marries another adulterizes”.

“Pornes”, our root of “pornography” in Greek generally refers to prostitution. However, in Christian usage, it comes to be equated with, or used for, any sort of sexual irregularity. Part of the problem is that “prostitution” in English cultural usage is necessarily a bad thing, something that is considered morally reprehensible in all circumstances, and something that is generally banned as criminal behaviour. For many cultures in the ancient world, however, there were often sacred rites connected to what we would call ‘prostitution’. The classic example are those that are called “temple prostitutes”. Far from being sinful behaviour, this was a sacred rite. What we have is the age-old pastoral puritanism reacting against the fertility rituals of the agriculturalists. Among the latter, this sort of sacred sex was not at all unusual, and was certainly not bad. I have resisted translating anything with the “porn-” root as fornication, but there is no doubt that this is what the complex of words based on this root meant for authors of the NT.

Actually, we’re going to go off on something of a tangent in the following verse, so I’ll make my general comments on the divorce decree now.

Since the whole fornication topic is still fresh, let’s discuss this first. If you have ever been through a divorce, or know people who have, you will realize that the real issues of divorce revolve around the property. The concept of fornication, especially by the wife, relate to the knowledge of who the legitimate heir of the property is. In patriarchal societies–most of them in the ‘civilised’ world, especially Greece and Rome and Judea–property was passed from father to son. As such, the father had to be–or wanted to be–damn certain that the son was actually his. In the Middle Ages, this led to the daughters of nobles being socked away in a convent until they were of marriageable age–which generally meant puberty. These poor girls often went straight from the convent to the marriage bed so the nobleman who married them could be certain of her virginity. And this is also the genesis of the custom of a year’s mourning for a woman whose husband died: that way, it was certain that she wasn’t pregnant when the late husband died. Now, men who fornicated could–and often did–produce illegitimate children. In the case of males these could muddy up the lines of inheritance, so the term “bastard” became one of reproach. However, there was not the same level of horror of male fornication that was there was for the wife fornicating. In fact, a queen committing adultery was also committing treason. The idea was she could give birth to a son that would or could be considered legitimate, meaning this son was a rival claimant to the throne on the king’s death. 

So yes, it involves property.

When reading this in Mark, I did not comment on the “restoration” aspect of this passage. It is very important to note that Jesus is not–in his mind, at least–doing anything novel. Rather, he sees this as a restoration of the “natural” way, in which mating was for life. It was only the hard-heartedness of the ancient Israelites that had messed this up. This is a fairly significant change in attitude. First, we need to consider whether this actually dates to Jesus. It’s in Mark, so there’s not a lot of argument that this should be attributed to James. It’s hard to untangle what Paul would have, or did think of this. He wasn’t real keen on marriage, but he wasn’t keen on divorce, either, even as a means to living a celibate life. There is no obvious reason here to believe that it did not come from Jesus. But Paul believed that the end was coming soon, so he saw no reason to consider things like this. His advice was to remain in whatever state you happened to be in, whether single or married. Nor is there is any context, or internal inconsistency to preclude the provenance from Jesus, as there is for more obvious situations that would only have arisen after he died. I cannot think of, or discover, any real objection to attributing this to Jesus. That’s not the same as proving he said it; rather, it’s the argument from either ignorance or silence, which in a case like this are effectively the same thing. We don’t have any evidence one way or the other.

So let’s assume this did come from Jesus; indeed, that it’s such a break with Jewish tradition may be evidence that it did come from Jesus. Why would he make this pronouncement? Why make this break, when he made so few others? I’m not sure I have an answer for this. Offhand, it seems like a puritanical reaction, an attempt to return to a more pure state when the law, or The Law, did not interfere with the natural order. Is this something that came, ultimately, from the Baptist, or from the sort of puritanical minds that created this sort of “pristine-state” thinking? That is a possibility. Really, the more I consider this, the odder it seems. And since many people still point to this passage as an absolute prohibition of divorce, this oddity has real-world implications. 

So, given my lack of imagination on this, I am forced to leave the topic. Perhaps more ideas will have occurred to me by the time I’m writing the summary for this chapter..

9 Dico autem vobis quia quicumque dimiserit uxorem suam, nisi ob fornicationem, et aliam duxerit, moechatur”.

10 λέγουσιν αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ [αὐτοῦ], Εἰ οὕτως ἐστὶν ἡ αἰτία τοῦ ἀνθρώπου μετὰ τῆς γυναικός, οὐ συμφέρει γαμῆσαι.

His disciples said to him, “If it is thus, the cause of men with his woman, one should refrain to marry”.

Two things. First, this is not a question. The disciples are drawing an inference and stating it. Second, the disciples are presented as intelligent enough to draw this inference. Since this is not in Mark, this seems to be another attempt to rehabilitate the reputation of the disciples. They are not the dullards that we met in Mark.

But the real issue is that it’s very tempting to read this an not see Paul behind this. Let’s face it: Paul was much more concerned about this sort of thing in general, and with sexual morality in particular, that we’ve found in the gospels so far. With the exception of the passages about causing others to stumble, or recommending self-mutilation, Jesus is pretty much silent on sexual morality. So yes, the influence of Paul seems very prominent. 

That leads us to a decision: is it more likely that this came from the influence of Paul, or was it simply something deduced independently? First, let’s specify that this almost certainly does not trace back to Jesus given the oddity of the situation and it not being part of Mark. Second, it is highly unlikely that this one aspect of Pauline teaching entered the stream of general teaching by itself. Most often, when an earlier source influences a later source, there are multiple clues pointing to the earlier source. That we seem to have a one-off would weigh against the inclusion of Paul. But, OTOH, maybe we just haven’t noticed the other instances of influence. This one seems fairly obvious because of the way it’s stated. The question of whether it’s better to marry (than to burn with lust) is couched in language very similar to the way Paul addressed the question, so the possible affiliation is obvious. 

So once again, the evidence is ambiguous. Really, there’s no reason that this could not have been arrived at independently, but the way it’s put makes affiliation seem likely. As a result, I defer judgement, or a final conclusion, for the moment. If I see no other indications of fairly obvious debts to Paul, I will have to infer that this was an independent development. But then, I haven’t considered the possibility that Matthew got this–and this alone–orally, from someone who had been exposed to Paul to some degree. That would account for the way the inference is put in Pauline terms, without requiring that Matthew knew the Pauline corpus in whole, or even in part.

10 Dicunt ei discipuli eius: “ Si ita est causa hominis cum uxore, non expedit nubere ”.

11 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Οὐ πάντες χωροῦσιν τὸν λόγον [τοῦτον], ἀλλ’ οἷς δέδοται.

He said to them, “Not all ****** [this] idea, but to those (to whom) it is given.”  

I am having trouble rendering <<χωροῦσιν >>. In classical usage, it’s sort of a synonym for “to go”, especially as in “to leave”. Yet my NT dictionary, all my crib translations, and even the Latin render this as “receive”. One thing that disturbs me is that all the commentaries just swallow “to receive” without, well, comment. Here once again I have to question NT scholarship. For all the noise made about going back to the Greek, here is an instance where it appears a lot of translators stopped at the Latin. Realize that the unabridged Liddell & Scott give cites for unusual uses of a given word. For example, I was puzzled by something in Herodotus (I, 31), and lo! there it was, cited in the L&S. And even if we take this as “receive”. the passage then reads “not all receive this, but (‘only’ implied?) those to whom it is given”. That’s basically a contradiction. How can one receive it, unless it has been given? Think of it this way: “not all to whom it is given receive it, but only those to whom it is given”.  The “to whom it is given” is logically necessary if one receives it. Yes, the meaning is “obvious”, but only because we believe it to be so. We’re taking St Jerome’s word for that.

11 Qui dixit eis: “ Non omnes capiunt verbum istud, sed quibus datum est.

12 εἰσὶν γὰρ εὐνοῦχοι οἵτινες ἐκ κοιλίας μητρὸς ἐγεννήθησαν οὕτως, καὶ εἰσὶν εὐνοῦχοι οἵτινες εὐνουχίσθησαν ὑπὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων, καὶ εἰσὶν εὐνοῦχοι οἵτινες εὐνούχισαν ἑαυτοὺς διὰ τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν. ὁ δυνάμενος χωρεῖν χωρείτω.

For there are eunuchs, those from the mother’s womb born this way, and there are eunuchs who were eunuchized by men, and there are eunuchs who eunuchize themselves on account of the kingdom of the heavens. Let the one who is able to receive it, receive it.

Again with the <<χωροῦσιν >> in the last sentence. This time, I just conceded and let the consensus translation stand.

Because, really, the more interesting part of this is the first bit about eunuchs, whether congenital, created, or self-made. The last is interesting: are we to take this literally? Were men literally castrating themselves because of the kingdom of the heavens? I know that one of the patristic thinkers did, but which one I don’t recall. I do recall Norman Cantnor’s assessment: he found sexual continence a problem, so he castrated himself, “an eminently logical solution”. In actuality, the literalness of this is only a problem for fundamentalists; for, if we take this as figurative, what else are we to take as figurative? “I am the vine, you are the branches”?

I think the point here is to go back to our question about “better not to marry”. This whole idea of self-eunuchizing really ties back to that. And both of these are very Pauline in their outlook. Paul spent a lot of time discussing things like this. The fact that we have both the “better not to marry” and this bit makes me lean towards an overall awareness of at least part of the Pauline corpus. Perhaps 1 Corinthians, if not other works. So perhaps our question has been answered, because I believe this is the only–or one of the very few–places in the gospel in which sexual continence is considered necessary for entrance into the kingdom of the heavens; that is, the sole example excluding the passages that recommend self-mutilation. 

12 Sunt enim eunuchi, qui de matris utero sic nati sunt; et sunt eunuchi, qui facti sunt ab hominibus; et sunt eunuchi, qui seipsos castraverunt propter regnum caelorum. Qui potest capere, capiat”.