Category Archives: Chapter 20

Luke Chapter 21:10-24 (with edit)

Minor edit to translation of Verse 19. Also corrected the range of the section. Originally titled 21:1-24; corrected to 21:10-24)

Added a section to the commentary of vv 16-19

This jumps us in to Jesus’ description of the hard times to come. It’s part allegory, part apocalypse, and part description of events that have already occurred. This section only deals with the tribulations; the coming of the Son of Man will occur in the next section. Between verses 9 & 10, we broke at a point where Jesus more or less paused to take a breath, so this comes hard on the heels of what happened in Verse 9, in which we were told that the end would not come immediately after people claiming to be Jesus were not to be followed. That is an interesting thought, and one that should have been discussed in the last section. The problem is that I’m not sure of the implications. Let’s hope they clarify themselves, at least by the time I write the summary of the chapter. Making this happen will, I suspect, require reading some more of Josephus. Eisenman would also help, but that was a library book and library books are not to be had currently– unless it’s available as an ebook? (PS: I’ve checked. It’s not, and that’s hardly surprising.)


10 Τότε ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς, Ἐγερθήσεται ἔθνος ἐπ’ ἔθνος καὶ βασιλεία ἐπὶ βασιλείαν,

11 σεισμοί τε μεγάλοι καὶ κατὰ τόπους λιμοὶ καὶ λοιμοὶ ἔσονται, φόβητρά τε καὶ ἀπ’ οὐρανοῦ σημεῖα μεγάλα ἔσται.

12 πρὸ δὲ τούτων πάντων ἐπιβαλοῦσιν ἐφ’ ὑμᾶς τὰς χεῖρας αὐτῶν καὶ διώξουσιν, παραδιδόντες εἰς τὰς συναγωγὰς καὶ φυλακάς, ἀπαγομένους ἐπὶ βασιλεῖς καὶ ἡγεμόνας ἕνεκεν τοῦ ὀνόματός μου:

13 ἀποβήσεται ὑμῖν εἰς μαρτύριον.

14 θέτε οὖν ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ὑμῶν μὴ προμελετᾶν ἀπολογηθῆναι,

15 ἐγὼ γὰρ δώσω ὑμῖν στόμα καὶ σοφίαν ἧ οὐ δυνήσονται ἀντιστῆναι ἢ ἀντειπεῖν ἅπαντες οἱ ἀντικείμενοι ὑμῖν.

Then he said to them, “People will rise against people and kingdom against kingdom, (11) there will be great earthquakes and down upon places will be plagues and famine, and there will scary things (scarecrows!) and great signs from the sky. (12) Before all this, they will throw their hands on you and chase/prosecute you, handing you over to the synagogues and guards, leading you away to the kings and rulers because of my name. (13) They will disembark you to witness. (14) So place in your hearts, do not practice your defense beforehand, (15) for I will give to your mouth and wisdom what they are not able to withstand or to gainsay all your adversaries. 

We have changed horsed in mid-stream here. Really, Verse 10 belongs more with the previous section, with its wars and disturbances. I do want to mention the people vs people. All four of my crib translations render this as “nation will rise against nation”. This concept is horribly anachronistic. The Greek word is ethnos, which is obviously the root of ethnic. The idea of ‘nation’ as we understand it will not become operative until applied to England and France around the 15th Century, a millennium and a half after this was written. The Greeks considered themselves to be of the same ethnos, but they certainly were not of the same nation. They shared a language (more or less) and a mythology and a set of cultural values, they understood themselves to be related, but politically everyone was on their own until they got incorporated in one empire or the other. Even the Latin is gens, at the root of genus; and also of Gentile, a word that I won’t use any more because it’s non-biblical. When talking about “Gentiles”, the Greek is actually “the peoples”, as in the different ethnic groups: Romans, Syrians, Parthians, Greeks, Egyptians, Ethiopians, etc. And the word used for “the peoples” is the plural form of ethnos, as used here.

From there we suddenly jump to earthquakes and signs, plagues and famines, none of which are necessarily related to wars. Granted, wars can certainly cause plagues and famines but I don’t catch an intended causal connexion; Of course. that point can be debated. The latter may arise from too many people crowded into too small a place, as happened in Athens at the beginning of the Peloponnesian War, and famines if crops are destroyed or the fields go unworked. The word I translated as “scary things” is usually rendered as “terrors”, but one of the meanings is also “scarecrow”. Whatever. The intent is clear. Then the disciples are having hands laid on them and they are being chased. Rendering this as “persecuted” is a purely Christian convention. It is not used as “persecute” anywhere other than Christian writings. Now, since the word is usually used to mean “chase” or “pursue”, it’s reasonable to state that the difference between pursue and persecute is to make a difference without a distinction. Perhaps. But a hound can pursue a rabbit, but it would be difficult for the hound to persecute the rabbit. I bring this up–repeatedly–because it is crucial to recognize that much of the famous/infamous persecution of Christians in the empire took place largely in the writings of Christians. This was useful because it gave them cover when they truly were persecuting pagans. Christians destroyed temples, cut down sacred groves, and burned the Library of Alexandria. These persecutions were state-sponsored, empire-wide, and protracted over time. Persecution of Christians, by contrast, was sporadic, often local, and rarely carried on over an extended period of time. The persecutions of Diocletian deserve the name, but they were also mainly the exception. Suetonius tells us that Nero covered Christians with pitch and set them afire, using them as street lamps. However, this was Nero, it was in retribution for setting the fire of Rome, which was most certainly a trumped-up charge. But, at the same token, there was some persecution of Christians at some point soonish after the death of Jesus. This passage would not make sense otherwise. The purpose of this passage was to assure the audience that, whatever persecutions had taken place, Jesus had foreseen them and they were part of the plan, for whatever unspecified reason.

The last verse is something we’ve discussed in the other versions of this. Jesus is telling them not to prepare a speech of defense; in Greek, the technical term is apologia. This has the unfortunate tendency to be translated as “apology” and for obvious reasons. Plato preserved what he would have us believe was Socrates’ defense speech when he was tried for corrupting the youth and teaching them/people not to believe in the gods. Socrates, of course, was convicted an executed, and Plato and many of his followers used this outcome to condemn democratic governments as a type. There is an unfortunate (IMO, anyway) tendency for Classicists to be elitist (Who? Me?) which too often shows up as a predilection for governments run by the “best” people. In Greek, the term is “aristo-kratia”, which often becomes conflated with mere “pluto-kratia”.

Anyway, the point here is that those being accused are to speak from their heart, and that Jesus will provide the words. This is interesting for two reasons, and I’m not sure which is the more provocative. The first point is that Matthew does not include this little bit about not worrying what to say. So, at the very least, this is yet another instance where Luke puts something back that Mark included and Matthew omitted. How many of these little “corrections” have we come across by this point? A dozen? More? I think the latter. But seriously, why would Matthew omit this? I suppose it’s not critical to the story. But does it point backwards, or forwards? Is this how those who suffered before the destruction of the Temple defended themselves? What was the success rate? Or was this advice, meant to be acted upon should  those in the audience find themselves in such dire straits? Mediaeval heretics actually followed the advice; most of them were convicted and executed, and the churchmen writing about the affair rather looked down their noses at the bumpkins who took this literally. As such, I tend to suspect it points backwards, but then I think most of these predictions point backwards. 

The second point, I’ve now decided, is the more intriguing. In Mark, Jesus says that the sacred breath will provide the inspiration (a bit of a redundancy; in-spiro = “breathe into”). Here, Jesus says he will. Now, one can argue that Jesus and the sacred breath are one and the same, since Jesus and the Father are one & the same. Except they weren’t when this was written, and I think that is exactly why Luke changed this to “I will provide the words…”: because Jesus and the sacred breath were not yet identified. The full-blown doctrine of the Trinity did not coalesce until late in the First Century, or well into the Second. This is one reason I prefer “sacred breath”, because “Holy Spirit”, like baptism or angels, has become loaded with accumulated meanings. We see it as a fully separate entity, to the point that we Capitalise the term “Holy Spirit”. That is not what the term meant when Luke wrote. Or when John wrote, for that matter. Rather, it was literally the sacred breath entering, God breathing–figuratively, at least–directly into the individual. This is why we are told it took the form of a dove when Jesus was dunked in the Jordan River, because, in that instance, it did take the form of a separate entity rather than being the collected exhalation of God. So I’m kind of thinking that Luke did not feel fully confident that the audience would quite get the concept, so he made it clear  by stating that it would be Jesus providing the words. In which case we have to ask whether this might be part of the reason why Matthew omitted this bit. On tjj\he whole, I rather doubt that, but the question deserves to be asked. I don’t know, and I haven’t cogitated on the idea long enough to have a sense of what I believe. Or, what I believe is that there just isn’t enough to go on. This episode doesn’t link to anything else that I can think of; that being said, this is the sort of thing that does deserve to be looked at: how does Matthew treat Mark’s use of the idea of the sacred breath?  

As for the section overall, given that we have four different situations in four different sentences all crammed into one paragraph (more or less; the concept is flatly anachronistic), one gets the sense that Luke is in a bit of a hurry here. He’s more less abridging the accounts of Mark and Matthew. Since the last time I mentioned this, I’ve done some work in the Harmony of the Gospels, comparing the lengths of the stories common to two or more of the Synoptics, and John when that’s relevant. This really brief bit of comparison, lasting perhaps an hour, has largely confirmed what I’ve felt was happening as we’ve been going along with the translation. When Mark and Matthew provide full accounts, as the two of them do in their treatments of this topic, Luke’s tends to be shorter. His version is the shortest here, but not by a lot. It’s certainly nowhere near as much shorter as Matthew’s version of the Gerasene Demonaic is than Mark’s and Luke’s versions. However, Luke’s version here is shorter. In turn, this makes Luke’s decision to put back the part about divine inspiration for the defense takes on greater significance, doesn’t it? If Luke is trying to abridge, why not just follow Matthew’s lead and omit it. Of course, the Q people will say that such never happens, that Luke never agrees with Matthew against Mark. Except, of course, for all of that Q material, which has been conveniently removed from the discussion. Luke agrees with Matthew against Mark a lot; that’s where Q comes from. There is one further point. Regarding whether this advice looks forward or backwards, Matthew might give us a clue. In Matthew’s version, the speeches for the defense usually failed. If the sacred breath of God had provided the words, then that becomes rather an embarrassment, no? Especially since Luke here says that no one will be able to withstand this defense. Is this because Matthew had seen, or at least knew specifically about persecutions that had not ended well? It’s a thought, and provides a possible explanation. There are so many points like this that deserve a much closer examination than they’ve received. You’d think someone would have asked these questions over the course of the last two millennia. Of course, perhaps people did ask, but the result was a one-way trip to a burning stake. 

10 Tunc dicebat illis: “ Surget gens contra gentem, et regnum adversus regnum;

11 et terrae motus magni et per loca fames et pestilentiae erunt, terroresque et de caelo signa magna erunt.

12 Sed ante haec omnia inicient vobis manus suas et persequentur tradentes in synagogas et custodias, et trahemini ad reges et praesides propter nomen meum;

13 continget autem vobis in testimonium.

14 Ponite ergo in cordibus vestris non praemeditari quemadmodum respondeatis;

15 ego enim dabo vobis os et sapientiam, cui non poterunt resistere vel contradicere omnes adversarii vestri.

16 παραδοθήσεσθε δὲ καὶ ὑπὸ γονέων καὶ ἀδελφῶν καὶ συγγενῶν καὶ φίλων, καὶ θανατώσουσιν ἐξ ὑμῶν,

17 καὶ ἔσεσθε μισούμενοι ὑπὸ πάντων διὰ τὸ ὄνομά μου.

18 καὶ θρὶξ ἐκ τῆς κεφαλῆς ὑμῶν οὐ μὴ ἀπόληται.

19 ἐν τῇ ὑπομονῇ ὑμῶν κτήσασθε τὰς ψυχὰς ὑμῶν.

“And you will be handed over both by parents and siblings and relatives and friends, and they will put (some) of you to death, (17) and you will be hated by all because of my name. (18) And the hair from your head has not been harmed. (19) In your endurance possess your psyches. OR In holding out, Possess! your psyches.

I commented above that the trials in Matthew didn’t go too well, and that Matthew suggested that the followers of Jesus would be killed. This is yet another example of me speaking without knowing what is coming. However, Luke really throws a curve ball here that is unique among the Synoptics. After the being killed and hated stuff, he says that not a hair has been harmed and that they have possessed their psyches. So let’s get this straight: they are dead, but not a hair of their heads has been harmed. At first glance we would say that the equation is out of balance. If you’ve been killed, presumably hairs have been harmed unless you’re being hyper-literal about the manner of death, that the induced trauma was directed at the torso, a wound thereto resulting in death. But that is ridiculous. Which takes us to the really important point: possessing their psyches. I did not translate psyche (transliteration of the Greek word) on purpose. First, we need to deal with the mood of “possess”. It’s an imperative, a command. It’s kind of an odd concept to think of “have/possess” as a command in English, but of course it’s grammatically possible and it linguistically meaningful. “Possess your book”, means, “hold onto it” or “keep it”, but we would usually choose to use one of those turns of phrase rather than “Possess!” So let’s think of it as “hold on to your psyche“. Let’s leave that for a moment.

Psyche, made famous by Freud, has come into English with a load of baggage. In most Christian contexts, in most NT contexts, it is straight-out translated as “soul”, the latter term carrying the implications that Christians have attached to the word. But there is a very real sense in which it does not mean what we think it does. I have been reading the Refutation of all Heresies, written at the end of the First Century CE by Hippolytus Romanus. He is the first to identify groups as Gnostics; in particular he spends a lot of time discussing a group called the Naaseni, who, he says, were the first to call themselves Gnostics. They maintain a three-fold division of the kosmos, which is sort of a merge of the ideas of Reality + Universe. “Creation” would probably capture it in Christian circles, but that would fall short since this kosmos also includes non-created reality and entities. In this kosmos, there are three levels of reality, or existence: the material, the psychical (psyche), and the spiritual (pneumatikos, pneuma, spirit/breath). Note that the psyche is only the intermediate level of reality, that there is a purely spiritual realm above that. We tend to think of the psyche in this manner, something purely spiritual, in the sense especially of non-material. Psyche is intermediate because it partakes of, or participates in, the life of an entity with a material form. It is the life essence, the breath that leaves the body when the body dies. As such, it is often a synonym for “life”, for which Greek also has the word bios and Latin has vita. Due to this dual nature of psyche, each time the word is encountered, it requires that the translator decide which way to go with this. Is the reference to the immortal soul? Or simply to animal life? And, FYI, Latin is even more ambiguous on this point. After all, the word for “soul” is anima, which is obviously the root of “animal”.

Perhaps the most salient example of this is the quote: “What shall it profit a person to gain the whole world but lose their own…” Their own what? Their own soul–which is how it is generally translated. Or lose their own life, which one does encounter. We tend to choose the former because it is more meaningful, the contrast is more meaningful. Of course there is no profit to gaining the world but ending up dead. But gaining the world and losing your soul is a double-whammy. First, in this lifetime you lose who you are as a person, becoming corrupted and damaged, perhaps to the point of self-hatred. Then you lose your immortal soul to an eternity of damnation. So that’s very meaningful in a Christian context, but is it what the Greek means in that context? That’s a different question, one that’s entirely relevant to the situation here. And the answer matters. Is Jesus saying that they will continue to possess their mortal life because the words he gives them will be so powerful that his followers will be released from gaol? Or is he saying they will possess their immortal soul, after they have been put to death by these earthly powers? Answering this, three of my four crib translations (NIV, NASB, & ESV) render as “life”; only the KJV chose “soul”. Perhaps oddly, my impulse leans toward “soul” for exactly the reason I’ve mentioned. Luke tells us in Verse 15 that they–or some of them, at least–will actually die. That seems to favor immortal soul. Or does it? Because in Verse 19 it is those who endure–or should we render it “in holding out”?–are commanded to possess their psyche. I still think that means something like “remaining steadfast (in your faith), you will possess your immortal soul”.

Two points. Greek psyche can, indeed, mean “immortal soul”, even if what they mean by that isn’t exactly what Christians mean, or understand by that term; 2) that the imperative mood is really hard to reconcile with what has been said here. I checked for textual variants that would give us and indicative mood, perhaps in the future tense, but nothing. It doesn’t help that the on-line L&S hasn’t been working today. Perhaps I will be able to revisit.

16 Trademini autem et a parentibus et fratribus et cognatis et amicis, et morte afficient ex vobis,

17 et eritis odio omnibus propter nomen meum.

18 Et capillus de capite vestro non peribit.

19 In patientia vestra possidebitis animas vestras.

20 Οταν δὲ ἴδητε κυκλουμένην ὑπὸ στρατοπέδων Ἰερουσαλήμ, τότε γνῶτε ὅτι ἤγγικεν ἡ ἐρήμωσις αὐτῆς.

21 τότε οἱ ἐν τῇ Ἰουδαίᾳ φευγέτωσαν εἰς τὰ ὄρη, καὶ οἱ ἐν μέσῳ αὐτῆς ἐκχωρείτωσαν, καὶ οἱ ἐν ταῖς χώραις μὴ εἰσερχέσθωσαν εἰς αὐτήν,

22 ὅτι ἡμέραι ἐκδικήσεως αὗταί εἰσιν τοῦ πλησθῆναι πάντα τὰ γεγραμμένα.

23 οὐαὶ ταῖς ἐν γαστρὶ ἐχούσαις καὶ ταῖς θηλαζούσαις ἐν ἐκείναις ταῖς ἡμέραις: ἔσται γὰρ ἀνάγκη μεγάλη ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς καὶ ὀργὴ τῷ λαῷ τούτῳ,

24 καὶ πεσοῦνται στόματι μαχαίρης καὶ αἰχμαλωτισθήσονται εἰς τὰ ἔθνη πάντα, καὶ Ἰερουσαλὴμ ἔσται πατουμένη ὑπὸ ἐθνῶν, ἄχρι οὗ πληρωθῶσιν καιροὶ ἐθνῶν. 

“When you see Jerusalem encircled by armies, then you will know that this making of desolation has arrived. (21) Then those in Judea must flee to the hills, and those in the midst of it must leave the country, and those in the fields must not return to it, (22) that these are the days of vengeance/punishment of the (ful)filling of that writing. (23) Woe to those having (a foetus) in their stomach and to those nursing in those days. For there will be a great burden upon the world and wrath to that people (to those persons; the Greek is singular), (24) and they will fall in the edge (lit = mouth*) of a sword and they will be made captive to all the peoples, and Jerusalem will be trodden by the peoples, until the seasons of the peoples are filled.

[ed: *This literally says “the mouth of a sword” and that is how I had translated this when first published. It also has the figurative sense of face, or the forward part, which then blends to the tip/point, as of a sword, and sort of then becomes edge. The Greek is στόματι; cf Verse 15 for στόμα, there used as mouth. ]

Not that anyone is doing so, but is it at all possible to suggest, let alone argue, that this was not written after the sack of Jerusalem? The encirclement, the Jews captured & led away, the tramping of non-Jewish feet inside the city, are all details that Josephus describes. And here’s my latest thing: there was, I suspect, a certain amount of cross-pollination between Christians telling the story of Jesus and the non-Christian historians. I would argue that everything written about the Christians by non-Christian writers after 75-80 CE was more or less taken directly from Christian sources. Why do I say that? Because only the Christians had any interest in, and paid any attention to Jesus and his story, and even they didn’t start writing stuff down prior to Mark in 70 or so. (No, Paul doesn’t count because he has nothing about the living Jesus or Jesus’ death; his only concern is the risen Jesus. Sure, there were oral sources drifting about in the currents, but I think these are grossly over-credited by NT scholars. The latter, you see, are desperate for validation of the life of Jesus, for corroboration of the events of the gospels. They are so desperate, in fact, that they cling to the idea that there was this mysterious source that was vital to recording Jesus’ teaching, but managed to get lost in the shuffle. Without Q, all the accounts of Jesus’ life and death are dependent on Mark. There are no other sources. The gospels represent a single tradition. There are not three or four separate traditions. John did not have any new information except for what he made up about Christology and the other miracles not recorded by the Synoptics.

And for NT scholars, there is even a worse implication: all of the so-called corroboration supplied by Josephus, Tacitus, & Suetonius ultimately depends on Christian sources. For let’s be very clear: these three authors tell us about Christians; they tell us almost nothing about Jesus. That there were Christians is indisputably undeniable. Of course there were Christians. Starting in the mid-2nd Century (give or take) they start leaving us lots of records. But the Roman historians, Tacitus and Suetonius–who, however, is technically a biographer–say nothing about Jesus himself. The testimony of Flavius Josephus is problematic to the extreme, but the one nugget that strikes me as possibly authentic is when he relates that Jesus was put to death by “some of our leading men”, or however the exact quote runs. And by “our”, he means Jewish leading men. The thing is, by the time of Josephus, the only sources he would have had would almost certainly have been Christian. They told him the story of the Passion, and he swallowed it whole. Why not? There were obviously Christians in his day, so he very likely asked them for the story of their origins. They then related the events as told by Matthew, most likely. Matthew came to prominence in Christian circles by the last quarter of the First Century, to the point that it became the original gospel. It’s the longest, and it has way more detail than Mark. And its prominence is probably a reason why Luke wrote his. After reading Mark and then Matthew, Luke felt it necessary to “set the record straight” on some of the stories where Matthew went off the rails a bit too much and left out important stuff. Like the stuff about Jesus telling the disciples not to worry about what to say when put on trial, or that there was only one man possessed by a Legion among the Gerasenes, and not two. So the upshot is that the entirety of what we know about Jesus is close to 100% derived from Mark, or simply made up after Mark wrote. The stuff that Mark left out is what forms the central beliefs of Christianity, such as the Sermon on the Mount. How could Mark write a gospel that didn’t include that very long section? How is that possible? How could Mark who was supposedly Peter’s secretary, write a gospel that left out the “Thou art Peter” speech? That is the entire basis for Petrine/Roman primacy, and Mark, somehow, neglected to include that? Yeah. Not bloody likely.

Part of my point is that Luke and Josephus likely wrote at more or less the same time, somewhere in the mid-90s. I will have to go back to my notes, but in reading Eisenman’s analysis of Josephus as set out in James, The Brother of Jesus, I was struck by the overlap between Luke and the Jewish historian. I have no idea who wrote first, and I suspect no one really does since there is no firm date for Luke. If I were made to guess, I would say Josephus wrote first, and that this and the mistakes/omissions of Matthew were the reasons Luke decided to write his gospel.   

[addendum] One last thing. In Verse 22, we are told these are days of vengeance, or punishment. The question is vengeance against, or punishment of, whom? And note that the two words that are encompassed under the single Greek term ἐκδικήσεως (ekdikēseōs) are semi-contradictory. The root of the Greek word is δική/dikē which is a very important concept in Greek thought. The root is “custom”, but it’s much more frequently used in its secondary sense of “order”, and in particular “right order”. This carries with it the sense of a balance between opposing forces. The word that gets translated as “justification” is a translation into Latin of a word based on this root. To give a sense of the common ground between the Greek and Latin, think of “justifying” your margins, where the text is spread out across the line so the margins on both sides are even; however, the real “balance” is vertical, between lines going down the page, because we’ve all run into those situations where a couple of long words create great empty spaces on a line. So the root sense of this term is to restore proper balance. But: if translated as vengeance, do we not immediately, or most readily, think of vengeance against the Romans?

I read once that apocalyptic literature is sort of the last weapon of the downtrodden, because it’s essentially a revenge fantasy. This seems to capture the essence of apocalyptic writing very pointedly and very succinctly. I’ve used this before, and I truly wish I could recall where I read it because I would dearly love to credit my source for this wonderful insight. I believe it was John Dominic Crossan; second choice would be Bart Ehrman. These are the most likely choices because I’ve read more of their collected stuff than of everyone else combined. And I give preference to JDC because he tends to be more insightful and/or scholarly than Ehrman, who is more of an everyman. So if we’re talking about revenge, the natural object would be the oppressor.

We could also say the same about punishment. The oppressors will be punished for their heinous acts. And, while agreeing this is certainly possible, and possibly likely, could not the object of punishment also be the Jews? Jesus is warning the Jews to leave town and head for the hills. The Romans do not get this warning. But the Jews who do not follow instructions will be ground down alongside the Romans. Their capital and their Temple will be destroyed, and they will be led off as captives. Since this is more or less what Jesus says will happen, punishment directed against the Jews is hardly inconceivable. The point of all this is that it very much matters how this word gets translated. Of my translations, 3 of 4 choose vengeance; the NIV chooses punishment, and  I think that it is the proper rendering. The ugly fact is that the progressively prominent attitude contained in the NT is that the Jews had their chance, and they blew it, rejecting their own anointed one. This has been creeping along, fairly latent in Mark, becoming much more open in Matthew and Luke, culminating the in the diatribes of John. So make your choice: vengeance or punishment?

20 Cum autem videritis circumdari ab exercitu Ierusalem, tunc scitote quia appropinquavit desolatio eius.

21 Tunc, qui in Iudaea sunt, fugiant in montes; et, qui in medio eius, discedant; et, qui in regionibus, non intrent in eam.

22 Quia dies ultionis hi sunt, ut impleantur omnia, quae scripta sunt.

23 Vae autem praegnantibus et nutrientibus in illis diebus! Erit enim pressura magna super terram et ira populo huic,

24 et cadent in ore gladii et captivi ducentur in omnes gentes, et Ierusalem calcabitur a gentibus, donec impleantur tempora nationum.

Luke Chapter 21:1-9

We’re coming into the “Little Apocalypse, where Jesus predicts all the horrors that happened thirty years after he died. That is an extremely secular description of this. I have read a number of commentaries that disparage those who do not believe that actual foreknowledge was possessed and expressed by Jesus. Guilty as charged. But recall, we are reading the NT as one would read any other ancient text, as a source–albeit second-hand and by-the-way–for historical information. All texts are a product of their time, and will inadvertently preserve and pass incidental information about those times. If we read about Mr Darcy taking a carriage, we can glean that the book was set in a time when people took carriages and did not drive cars our use personal jetpacks. Or, perhaps Mr Darcy was an eccentric who took carriages even though cars or personal jetpacks were available. That is where we would have to correlate with the rest of the text, the text as a whole, the weigh the evidence and come to a conclusion about whether Mr Darcy was following the customs of the times, or someone who chose to do things otherwise considered anachronistic.

Just so, we have to read these passages, of whatever content, weigh the evidence, and decide whether the text seems to indicate whether the passage was written several decades before, or in the aftermath of the Jewish War. It must be acknowledged at the outset, however, that we do not enter into the decision about prophecy in anything like a fair and unbiased frame of mind. As products of the secular west, our default setting is that foreknowledge of the sort Jesus is about to display is not something we consider likely, or even possible, to happen. So we are not likely to decide that this is an actual display of foreknowledge, but is a “prophecy” written after the fact. But we do have a reasonably high degree of confidence that the gospels were written in the last third, or quarter of the First Century, and probably even the very early parts of the Second; in making that statement, I should be clear that I am a proponent of a later chronology for the works. There is, I think, a pretty definite window for the Synoptics; the early 70s to the mid-90s is what makes sense, but there is no terminus ante quem for John.

[ One thing I have never seen discussed is the possibility that the gospels were not written by a single individual, but were, in fact, composite pieces. I suppose this is where textual/literary analysis would prove to be a useful tool. This is completely an aside, but it’s the sort of thing that gets discussed all the time when a secular text cannot be assigned to a specific author. ]

We have seen numerous passages which seem fairly obviously to be written after, well after, Jesus died. Any of those that refer to the Jews being supplanted fall into this category. The actions and interactions between Paul and James the Just certainly provide very strong evidence that Paul’s idea of a mission to the pagans was novel and daring and not entirely a welcome development. Ergo, we can be pretty certain that Jesus did not talk about the Jews being superseded by pagans. It’s anachronistic. If we came across a passage in which Mr Darcy steps into his auto, we can be fairly certain that it was written well after the lifetime of Jane Austen. Of course, there are all sorts of “predictions” about the future made in literature; we call it “science fiction”. For example, I just rewatched the original Blade Runner, set in the distant future of 2018, when people still read newspapers and had sophisticated pay phones, and no one had a cell phone. Just so, William Gibson’s cyberpunk masterpiece Neuromancer has a scene in which the main character walks past a long row of phone booths, and each phone rings as he passes that particular booth. Of course, the most famous examples of such missed predictions have the year in the title: 1984 and 2001: A Space Odyssey. I mention such examples for a reason: on some level, they all got something spectacularly wrong. There were no commercial space flights in the year 2001–and PanAm was long kaput–nor was Oceania always at war with Eastasia in 1984. So even if we posit that Jesus did make predictions that were faithfully recorded, we should expect that he would get something wrong, but that never happens. Of course, this is easily explained if Jesus were indeed the divine Son of God, and so omniscient. Note however, that pagan gods were not omniscient, and did not know the future. However, assuming omniscience and perfect knowledge of the future takes us well out of the realm of historical analysis.



1 Ἀναβλέψας δὲ εἶδεν τοὺς βάλλοντας εἰς τὸ γαζοφυλάκιον τὰ δῶρα αὐτῶν πλουσίους.

2 εἶδεν δέ τινα χήραν πενιχρὰν βάλλουσαν ἐκεῖ λεπτὰ δύο,

3 καὶ εἶπεν, Ἀληθῶς λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι ἡ χήρα αὕτη ἡ πτωχὴ πλεῖον πάντων ἔβαλεν:

4 πάντες γὰρ οὗτοι ἐκ τοῦ περισσεύοντος αὐτοῖς ἔβαλον εἰς τὰ δῶρα, αὕτη δὲ ἐκ τοῦ ὑστερήματος αὐτῆς πάντα τὸν βίον ὃν εἶχεν ἔβαλεν.

Looking about he saw those throwing into the treasury their rich gifts. (2) He saw a certain poor widow tossing there two lepta. And he said, (3) “Truly I tell you, that this poor widow threw in more than all of them. (4) For they all threw in gifts from their excess, but she threw in from her last things (last possessions) which she had for all her life (needs).” 

First, the word for “treasury” is a very odd word. It occurs five times in the NT. Three are in Mark’s version of this story, and once in a different story in John. It’s also rare, but not nonexistent, in pagan writings. That it appears in Mark’s story and here is pretty good evidence that Luke took it over with the story. “Lepta” are small copper coins; Mark says it was two lepta to a kodrantes, which is an eighth of a Roman as. So a small bit of money.

But I noticed that it’s not in Matthew. Then I noticed that the story is not in Matthew. Odd. Would have suspected it was. But does this connect to my thesis that Matthew is not super-concerned with the poor? If so, this would be another excellent example of Luke once again “correcting” Matthew by returning to Mark. Luke’s version is shorter than Mark’s, but since Matthew doesn’t have a version, Luke feels comfortable with a stripped down version of his own.

While I was looking to verify if this was in Matthew, I ran across some sites where they were (had; most were a few years old) commenting on this story. More accurately, they were commenting on the version in Mark, but close enough. One thing that got brought out that had never occurred to me is that Jesus was not just comparing about the relative amounts of giving. That is the moral that we can draw if we look at the story in isolation, which is how we usually do it. Rather, we have to consider that the story comes after Jesus excoriating the scribes for wanting all of the prestige while they were devouring the houses of widows. IOW, widows just like the one in front of them. It wasn’t just that she gave more, proportionately, than they did. It was that the scribes were the ones responsible for reducing the woman to the circumstances she was in. They were the reason she only had the two lepta to begin with. Unfortunately, here in Luke we lost that context & continuity due to the chapter break. I’m still not completely clear on when/why/how the chapters & verses are divided the way they are, but it causes problems from time to time. For example, the first verse or two of Mark 9 clearly belong to Chapter 8. Here we have sort of a similar problem. And really, this story is only four verses long; it could easily have been appended to Chapter 20. The chapters in Luke are not overlong, which bespeaks, IMO, of a certain amount of design. Some of the chapters in Matthew ran to 50 or 60 verses. Most of the time it doesn’t matter; here it did.

So yeah, Jesus has a lot to say about the rapaciousness of the wealthy. And it truly is worth noting that Matthew omitted this story. I do not believe that the poor were a major concern of his. Which, IMO, is actually evidence– of whatever weight or merit– that Matthew was, in fact, pagan and not Jewish in origin. Concern for the poor was not a major component of pagan religion. There was a certain amount of redistribution at the public sacrifices where everyone was fed,* but it was limited, and was not codified into the law as it was among Jews. In Matthew, the chastisement of the scribes for devouring the houses of widows is included with the list of Woes. Even more interesting is that some textual traditions, perhaps the majority of them, do not include this in Matthew. This would mean Matthew did not include expression for protection of widows. To choose between the textual traditions, we have to ask whether it’s more likely that it was left out, or whether it was put in. Personally, I find the latter more credible. but for reasons that smack of confirmation bias and/or circularity. However, a bit more digging seems to indicate that not having the line about the widows is the majority opinion. Matthew’s take on this does have its share of social justice in a more general sense; he doesn’t add the line about widows’ houses, so it seems some enterprising scribe decided to rectify the situation and put it in. My overall conclusion is that Luke does have more concern with the poor than Matthew does, even if Luke also came from a pagan background. Whatever. It is important to realize there is no single, correct answer to questions like this. It’s all about degrees of probability. 

*Recall that in 1 Corinthians Paul admonished the wealthy for bringing in a big eucharistic meal while others in the assembly went hungry.

1 Respiciens autem vidit eos, qui mittebant munera sua in gazophylacium, divites.

2 Vidit autem quandam viduam pauperculam mittentem illuc minuta duo

3 et dixit: “Vere dico vobis: Vidua haec pauper plus quam omnes misit.

4 Nam omnes hi ex abundantia sua miserunt in munera; haec autem ex inopia sua omnem victum suum, quem habebat, misit”.


5 Καί τινων λεγόντων περὶ τοῦ ἱεροῦ, ὅτι λίθοις καλοῖς καὶ ἀναθήμασιν κεκόσμηται, εἶπεν,

6 Ταῦτα ἃ θεωρεῖτε, ἐλεύσονται ἡμέραι ἐν αἷς οὐκ ἀφεθήσεται λίθος ἐπὶ λίθῳ ὃς οὐ καταλυθήσεται.

7 Ἐπηρώτησαν δὲ αὐτὸν λέγοντες, Διδάσκαλε, πότε οὖν ταῦτα ἔσται, καὶ τί τὸ σημεῖον ὅταν μέλλῃ ταῦτα γίνεσθαι;

8 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν, Βλέπετε μὴ πλανηθῆτε: πολλοὶ γὰρ ἐλεύσονται ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματί μου λέγοντες, Ἐγώ εἰμι: καί, Ὁ καιρὸς ἤγγικεν: μὴ πορευθῆτε ὀπίσω αὐτῶν.

9 ὅταν δὲ ἀκούσητε πολέμους καὶ ἀκαταστασίας, μὴ πτοηθῆτε: δεῖ γὰρ ταῦτα γενέσθαι πρῶτον, ἀλλ’ οὐκ εὐθέως τὸ τέλος. 

And (to) someone saying about the Temple, that the stones were beautiful and of the gifts arranged (therein), he (Jesus) said, (6) “These things that you behold, the days are coming in which not a stone will remain placed on a stone, (and) which shall not have been destroyed”. (7) They asked him about this, saying, “Teacher, when will this be, and what are the signs when this is intended to become?” (8) He said, “Watch out, do not wander/be in error; for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he’, and ‘The hour is approaching’. Do not follow after them. (9) Then you will hear of wars and anarchy, do not fear. For these things must be first, but the end will not come immediately.”

Could the set-up have been any better for Jesus’ response? “Look! Ain’t this all gorgeous?” That’s the perfect lead-in for Jesus’ dire prophecy. This has been consistent through all three gospels, so we have to pin this on Mark. But whatever. It works. Even so, there is the sense of being stage-managed, that this is part of a drama, or a novel. IOW, it feels manufactured, as if this never actually happened, but it was dreamed up at some point after the fact. But then, of course I would say that. And too, let’s be fair. I excoriate the Q people for some of their “arguments” that are based on merely stylistic preferences; here I am basing my theory on merely literary criticism. Can’t you hear the critic’s article the next day, “Oh, the set-up for the prophecy about the Temple sounded so fake”. OK. But I do miss “wars and rumours of wars”. Both Mark and Matthew use the same phrase. Luke doesn’t. This is yet another example when he deviates because the other two have already trodden that ground and it doesn’t need to be walked again. If you’re keeping score at home, you should be noticing that these little things are starting to add up. We must have close to a dozen by now, if not more. The plural of anecdote, they say, is data. If we compile enough anecdotes, we have data, which means we have the basis for an argument. Whether the argument works or not is a tale for another day. Seriously, if anyone out there is considering a Ph D program, some of the things I’ve come up with would make pretty decent topics. Perhaps.

There is one more serious implication for Luke not using “rumours of war”. Instead, he chose what I have translated as “anarchy”. Transliterated, the Greek is akatastasia. The prefix a- is a negation, like a-moral. But the kata- is also a prefix, added to the root word stasis. This is an interesting word, that developed in a rather peculiar way. It is a form of the verb to stand. As such, at its base, it means a standing, or a placing of something. But then, it takes its odd turn. It is the word used for a political “party”, a faction, within a Greek city-state, the polis. The idea is that a group of people stand together, however literally you wish to take that. Such a group standing (together) implies that they are standing against another group. Hence, we get to a political faction, which is a division based on antagonism. Hence, the term stasis came to be used for internal political strife, with factions fighting each other to whatever degree, up to and including civil war. IOW, the word has all-but contradictory meanings. Then we add the kata- prefix, which has the base meaning of down, as opposed to ana-, which means up. The cite is The Anabasis, the march up-country. Had they started at the opposite end, at the Black Sea and moved south, it could have been called the Katabasis. So we have a standing down upon. A placing down, hence a settling, an establishment. Then tack on the a- prefix for negation, and we have “an unsettling”, which becomes a “disturbance”, or “anarchy”. I really wanted to translate this as “civil war” due to the stasis root, but that would not have been accurate. However, as someone familiar with Greek history, that is what shines through to me, and I suspect it may have a similar effect on others. Or not. They may be more sophisticated than I am, and consider the root to be buried too deeply.

We cannot, of course, know Luke’s intention for replacing “rumours of war” with “anarchy/disturbance”. Some translations choose “commotions”, but that is much too weak in its implications. A couple of four-year olds can cause a commotion. So can cats. Call me kooky, but I don’t believe that is what Luke had in mind. Assuming he was a native speaker of Greek (which is only an assumption) we may believe he understood the deeper meaning of the word; if so, there is no reason to suppose he did not want to bring in this implication. Using the concept of the Greek word, the situation inside Jerusalem during the Jewish War could easily be described as stasis. There were as many as three separate factions within the city, fighting against each other as well as the Romans. And really, the concept of stasis is much more germane to the Jewish War than “rumours of war”, no matter how poetic this sounds. So, given that Mark and Matthew chose “rumours”, perhaps this is a more minor instance when Luke felt free to improvise a bit, and use a different word with a whole new set of concepts and implications. And perhaps we may see in this that Luke did not feel quite as constrained as perhaps Mark did. When Mark wrote the initial gospel, the war was a fresh experience, having not at all faded into a memory. “Rumours of war” is much more oblique, so he chose that term. Luke is writing probably a full generation later, 20-25 years. While I’ve not mentioned it, I’ve come to suspect that Luke and Josephus acted or reacted, one to the other. I suspect that Luke wrote when he did in reaction to the publication of the Jewish War–although I haven’t really thought this through, so that may change. Or, less definitively, I suspect that Luke wrote being aware that Josephus had published something on the topic. This is an idea that I will pursue as we go on. It was triggered by reading Eisenman’s James, Brother of Jesus, so I haven’t had time to explore it. There’s another Ph D thesis for some enterprising candidate. But then, anyone who’s gotten to the point of applying to a program probably has a pretty good idea of what their thesis topic will be. So maybe some underclassperson contemplating making an application in the future can profit from these ideas. Or maybe not.

The upshot is that here is one of those instances where reading the original really can, or does, throw a different set of shadows over the topic. The question is whether it actually matters. I’m not sure. As I read more philosophy and/or theology, I’m finding that it’s nearly impossible for me to read something like that in translation. I’m constantly wondering what the word behind the translation, so I don’t trust the translation. And at this point, there are certain words I don’t translate at all; logos in Greek remains logos in English. Another is kosmos; rather than translate this as “world” or “universe”, neither of which really works to my mind, I leave it as ‘kosmos’, and with a ‘k’, since ‘cosmos’ in the English sense doesn’t catch it, either. With historical writing, nuance doesn’t matter nearly as much, so I have no qualms about reading a translation; otherwise, I’d never read anything since my reading speed in Greek or Latin isn’t nearly what it is in English (Caesar’s de Bello Gallico being the closest to an exception, if you’re looking to practice Latin). This word here is one of those rare exceptions. Reading the Greek does provide an insight that cannot be derived from a translation. And, BTW, I’m starting to have serious qualms about psyche = anima = soul. Again, that is another topic for another day. 

One last thing. “Rumours of war” really only resonates in English. The Greek is not nearly so poetic. So I need to get past this. 

I’m breaking off here. The chapter, or much of it, is devoted to more prophecies like this. It’s another situation where the breaks are a tad forced and artificial. Let’s hope I get the next section out reasonably quickly. But then, in this time of stay-at-home and social distancing, it’s not like I’m going anywhere today.


5 Et quibusdam dicentibus de templo, quod lapidibus bonis et donis ornatum, esset dixit:

6 “ Haec quae videtis, venient dies, in quibus non relinquetur lapis super lapidem, qui non destruatur ”.

7 Interrogaverunt autem illum dicentes: “ Praeceptor, quando ergo haec erunt, et quod signum, cum fieri incipient? ”.

8 Qui dixit: “ Videte, ne seducamini. Multi enim venient in nomine meo dicentes: “Ego sum” et: “Tempus appropinquavit”. Nolite ergo ire post illos.

9 Cum autem audieritis proelia et seditiones, nolite terreri; oportet enim primum haec fieri, sed non statim finis ”.


Summary Luke Chapter 20

Generally after concluding the translation of a chapter, I scan through to refresh my memory of the content. The translation of these chapters is often spread over several weeks, if not longer, so the details slip through the cracks. The idea is to detect an underlying theme in the chapter; most don’t have one, but it’s worth a look. Having done that with this chapter, the first bit of unifying thread that jumped out to me is that there is almost no chance that Jesus said or did anything described herein. I say this even though pretty much all of the material can be found in Mark, and his gospel is the one most likely to record actual events from the life of Jesus. However, everything in here smacks of post-crucifixion, and post-destruction spin, of how the evangelists tried to present Jesus, rather than as any indication of trying to describe how he actually had been. This realization came as soon as I hit the parable of the Wicked Tenants. This is symbolic, or metaphorical, or so thinly disguised as to be almost pure allegory. One expects the list of dramatis personae to read something like Wicked Tenant 1, Wicked Tenant 2, Dutiful Slave 1, etc. They don’t need names, because they are meant to represent a Thing rather than an actual person. That alone is enough to make me conclude that we are dealing with something entirely post facto. (Two Latin terms in three sentences; is that a record?) The parable was concocted to explain Jesus’ life. In a training seminar on training people, we were instructed to “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them”. That way you could increase your chances that what you said would stick, because by the third time around it’s at least somewhat familiar. Just so here. In case anyone missed the moral of Jesus’ life as it had played out, a story like this was added to help drive the point home.

One other thing just occurred. In all three Synoptics Gospels, the “plot” follows a pattern. There is the part where Jesus is wandering around in Galilee and environs. He preaches, but the majority of his healings and miracles take place there. Then in the last part of the gospel, in the final quarter or so, Jesus moves into Jerusalem. In Luke, this occurred at the end of Chapter 19, of a total of 24 chapters. That’s not quite 20% of the gospel. In Mark, it occurs in the tenth of 15 chapters; that’s more like a third. In Matthew, it happens in Chapter 21 of 28, which is a quarter. Whatever the exact count, it’s a substantial portion of the gospel. The traditional dating, based on absolutely no evidence, is that Jesus’ ministry lasted three years, having begun– Luke being the only source for this– when he was thirty; however, per the outline of the story, Jesus was in Jerusalem less than a week, from the entrance on the first day of the week until his execution on Friday. He did not participate in the Sabbath while there. IOW, the sojourn in the capital, which didn’t last a week out of three years, comprises something between 20 and 33% of the gospel. More, despite the brevity of his stay, we get lot of text of Jesus teaching. This strikes me as very odd. There are possible explanations, of course. The most obvious is that the three years is a great exaggeration.

I read once that all of the activity in Mark’s gospel could be compressed into about three weeks. In this case, the proportion is about correct. My first instinct is to disagree with this compression; it does not allow time for Jesus’ popularity to spread. Then again, that may be a more accurate reflection of reality. The better explanation is that Jesus spoke to a lot of different people in fairly small groups while preaching in Galilee. Mark, of course, is constantly telling us of the multitudes, of 5,000 and 4,000 on two occasions. Perhaps those numbers are correct, but are recorded precisely because they were exceptional. The point being that small audiences, comprised of different people each time was not as conducive to Jesus’ teaching being remembered. There were snippets here and there, but much of it was lost. Based on the internal evidence in Mark, what was remembered were the miracles. This, frankly, is very plausible. Chapters 1-8 (approximately) was the story of Jesus the Wonder-Worker. In Chapter 9 Jesus was transfigured and then moves into Jerusalem, thus initiating the part of his gospel that concerns the Christ. In this section, the miracles more or less cease, and we get a lot of teaching. In Jerusalem, Jesus was more likely to be addressing bigger crowds. It was the week before Passover. The city was full of people who were not engaged in their normal economic activity, giving them leisure, which can entail a bit of boredom so that they’re apt to seek out entertainment, such as listening to someone speak. This was a fairly common diversion in the ancient world; indeed, this pastime persisted in small towns into the 20th century. Witness the popularity of traveling medicine shows. Since the crowds were larger, and packed into a confined space, there is likelihood that some people saw him more than once, and that those in the audience would chat with strangers, each relating what they had heard, or what they had been told, what Jesus said the day before. So the stories circulated, reaching a bigger group of people, and were remembered. This seems eminently plausible. In fact, by describing this, I’ve almost convinced myself that this is most likely what happened; however, I would need time to reflect to come up with the holes in the story.

There is a third possibility. We can be pretty much certain that, after Jesus’ death, the center of his following was located in Jerusalem. Paul tells us this, and there is no good reason to disbelieve him. We have seen, in Luke, that the towns of Nain and Jericho wrote themselves int the Jesus story. It would only make sense that later stories of Jesus would take place in Jerusalem since this is where the the biggest concentration of his followers was to be found. Either way this would account for the large percentage of stories occurring in the capital. When I first thought of this, the intent was to tie it into the Passion Narrative. That was also constructed some time after Jesus’ death, either more or less concurrently with, or later than the time  Paul wrote most of his epistles. Paul knows that Jesus was executed, crucified to be precise, and, far from hiding the fact, he proclaims it. This is the single most convincing bit of evidence to prove that a) Jesus was a real person; and b) he was, indeed, crucified. It’s an acutely embarrassing bit of information, that he was executed as a common criminal (the Romans crucified everyone; it was not a special treat for insurrectionists).

We noted that Mark more or less splits in two; the earlier part being concerned with the wonder-worker; the latter with the Christ. Is it coincidental that this second part is also largely set in Jerusalem? That bears some closer scrutiny: what are the topics of Jesus’ teaching when he is in Jerusalem? Do they obviously pertain to a time after Jesus died? Are any of them likely to have been spoken by Jesus? Of his teachings, my sense is that The Sower and The Mustard Seed (and similar) are the most apt to be authentic. They do not refer to Jesus at all, but are about the word/kingdom of God. There is no temporal specificity involved. Technically, Chapter 20 is the first set after Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, so we don’t have a real sense of comparison. However, the largest part of Chapter 19 was devoted to the Parable of the Talents, which is also likely to be a post-mortem development.

While we’re on the topic of post-mortem developments, Paul does not tell us why Jesus was executed. Why not? Did he not know, or did he not care? And why not? Because it did not seem important to his good news. Basically nothing that happened to Jesus while alive seems to have concerned Paul; his interest starts with the Resurrection. Then, and only then, did Jesus become the Christ. What can we infer from this as to the cause of Jesus’ death? Anything? I ask this because it may shed some kind of light on how the movement developed through time. This is a question too often neglected; it is more or less glossed over that forty years (give or take) separate the execution and Mark. A lot of things could have–and certainly did–happen in that interim. And note that James, brother of Jesus, was the leader of the movement for virtually that entire span of time. It is impossible to believe that much of what Mark wrote about came from James, and his interpretation of his more famous brother, than what actually came from Jesus. Among this material that Mark got from James was doubtless these later stories set in Jerusalem, but not the Passion Narrative. For various reasons, I suspect that came from Mary Magdalene and originated in Galilee; that is my working hypothesis, and so is subject to change. But then we have to ask where the Q material came from. Why did Mark not include it? Indeed, he seems completely unaware of it. And Paul never alludes to any teachings of Jesus (except divorce in 1 Cor, when he disagrees with Jesus. This, in itself, is a telling datum) let alone anything written about Jesus. And since Q supposedly pre-dated Paul by s decade or more, this silence from both Paul and Mark is telling. So where did Matthew get the Q material? Apparently, not from the James tradition.

So all of this is remarkably inconclusive; there’s very to grab onto at this point. However, the questions are always worth asking.


Luke Chapter 20:41-47

(made a couple of minor edits: corrected the verses covered, added a comment about the last verse.)

This is one of those tail-end sections. It was too much to add to the end of the last one, but it’s really not enough for its own post. Whatever. Here is the end of the chapter. There are four chapters left in this gospel; after which I will need to figure out whence from here. So let’s have at it.


41 Εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς αὐτούς, Πῶς λέγουσιν τὸν Χριστὸν εἶναι Δαυὶδ υἱόν;

42 αὐτὸς γὰρ Δαυὶδ λέγει ἐν βίβλῳ ψαλμῶν, Εἶπεν κύριος τῷ κυρίῳ μου, Κάθου ἐκ δεξιῶν μου

43 ἕως ἂν θῶ τοὺς ἐχθρούς σου ὑποπόδιον τῶν ποδῶν σου.

44 Δαυὶδ οὖν κύριον αὐτὸν καλεῖ, καὶ πῶς αὐτοῦ υἱός ἐστιν;

45 Ἀκούοντος δὲ παντὸς τοῦ λαοῦ εἶπεν τοῖς μαθηταῖς [αὐτοῦ],

46 Προσέχετε ἀπὸ τῶν γραμματέων τῶν θελόντων περιπατεῖν ἐν στολαῖς καὶ φιλούντων ἀσπασμοὺς ἐν ταῖς ἀγοραῖς καὶ πρωτοκαθεδρίας ἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς καὶ πρωτοκλισίας ἐν τοῖς δείπνοις,

47 οἳ κατεσθίουσιν τὰς οἰκίας τῶν χηρῶνκαὶ προφάσει μακρὰ προσεύχονται: οὗτοι λήμψονται περισσότερον κρίμα. 

He said to them, “How do they say that the Christ is the son of David? (42) For David himself said in the Book of Psalms, ‘The lord speaks to my lord, “Sit at my right (hand), (43) until I may place your enemies under your feet”.’ (44) Thus David calls him lord, so how is he (Christ) his (David) son?” (45) Having heard all people, he said to his disciples, (46) “Beware of the scribes wishing to walk around in stoles* and loving greetings in the marketplace** and the first seats in the synagogues and the first seats at dinner parties. (47) They devour the houses of the widows and shine forth long as they pray. They will receive an extraordinary judgement.”

First, let me address the “shine forth long as they pray”. What is rendered “shine forth” can either be a feminine noun or a 3rd person plural verb. Here it is obviously a verb. Unfortunately, this verb only has one occurrence cited by the Great Scott (L&S); more, this is not the cite. The definition is “shine forth”. Peaking at the Latin, we get simulant. This being the root for “simulate” should be fairly obvious. All four of my crib translations render it along these lines, the idea being that they make a long, but hypocritical display of praying for a long time. They are simulating holiness. The noun form, interestingly, does not have the sense of falseness; it means plea, as in a court, but in a neutral sense. It means a falsely alleged motive, and that, according to the Latin and a contextual reading, does not fit here. The idea, supposedly, is that it is the scribes that are false, that their praying is false, not that Jesus is ascribing false motives. If you step back and let your eyes blur a bit, perhaps you can see how “shine forth” came from ascribing a motive, and then how the two became a negative, as conveyed by the Latin “to simulate”. We must always remember that St Jerome lived something like 300 years after Jesus, so there was plenty of time for words to develop. We must also bear in mind that it’s possible that even someone as erudite as St Jerome could be unaware of an obscure verb like this, so he read the meaning from the context, which he largely derived from the other two tellings of this story. We all get it that Jesus is calling them fakers, so St Jerome decided to clarify that in the Latin. 

It only just occurred to me to check other uses in the NT. There are several. The most relevant is Mk 12:40, which is not exactly parallel to Luke’s story. That his the story of the Widow’s Mite, wherein Mark excoriates the rich in general rather than single out the scribes as Luke does here. And, perhaps even more interesting is that most textual traditions leave this story out of Matthew; it would be Mt 23:13, but the KJV and most manuscript traditions not not include it. In those that do, the wording is similar to  that used by Luke; it only makes sense that this passage was inserted into Matthew because someone noticed it was missing, and took Luke as their example. The Greek word is used in Mark, and four other times, including twice by Paul in two of his earlier letters, 1 Thessalonians and Philippians. The other two are in Acts, which is presumably Luke again, and finally once by John. In all cases it is rendered as “cloak”, which is a metaphor for pretense. However, checking the Vulgate, in none of these other places is the verb “simulo” used in as a translation. The standard is praetextus, as a pretense, the derivation of the latter from the former being reasonably straightforward.

So what is the point? Just that a lot of this stuff is not cut as clearly as some would have you believe. I have long since passed the point where I can read any religious or philosophical or theological text translated from Greek or Latin into English. Historical works don’t matter quite as much, but the linguistic fields for a lot of these religious or philosophical or theological texts is just too important to trust a translation. And, interestingly, as a youngster I found the Victorian translations unbearably stilted; now I realize how much closer to the original they are. Except, are they really? Or is it because the Greek & Latin lexica were also creations of the Victorian era, so they use the same words the Victorian translators did? The answer, of course, is yes.

There are a couple of other translation issues that were worth flagging. Translated as “stole”. *Grk = stolai; Lat = stolis. If ypu are of a certain age, you will recall the mink stole being a standard item on the wish-list of every suburban housewife. At least, you would think that if your only historical source were sitcoms.

**Translated as marketplace: In Greek, = agora. In Latin = forum. The latter word has passed into English with a much, much broader range of meanings, almost none of them associated with markets, trade, or commerce. People are given. forum in which to be heard; sports teams, especially professional hockey and basketball, used to play in a place called The Forum. At root, the agora in a Greek polis, and the Forum in Rome were simply a large, open area, more or less centrally located, where the merchants would sell their wares. The Greek word agora maintained this commercial implication, whereas the Forum in Rome did not. It had always been the meeting place for political or legal (which were often the same thing) or religious events, speeches, trials, funerals, etc. It became ringed by many temples.  At some point the commercial aspect became decidedly a secondary, or even a tertiary, function, then more or less supplanted completely, those functions moved elsewhere. The meaning of the word remained. In other Latin/Roman cities, the forum retained its function as a marketplace. 

I initially wondered why the Scribes became the villain du jour in this story. A glance, however, showed me this is not the case. All three evangelists refer to them a number of times. And not in a kindly manner. Having mentioned Eisenman and his theory about which groups of Jews sided with or against the Romans may have some validity. It may not. What I do believe is knowable is that we cannot reasonably expect the NT to reflect any of these divisions with any degree of historical accuracy. Looking in the NT for the political situation is like looking in Little Women for a description of the politics of the Jefferson and Madison presidencies. Or, perhaps, the period of Andrew Jackson. The world had changed in the interim. This simply goes back to the nostrum that the evangelists were not writing history, but there is an addendum to that. Even if the evangelists intended to write history, they were very, very poorly positioned to do so. They did not have much background in the discipline, even as it existed then. We only need to read Josephus to grasp this. I found The Antiquities very tedious to read because I found it to be focused on the internal gossip of the Herodian family. He’s not exactly the most credible source one can find, but at least had access to records and some exposure real historical writing. The evangelists had neither. Given that, I would be very leery of drawing any political conclusions about the political situation of the 30s based on the gospels. So why the Scribes? I guess a reasonable answer would be “Why not?” Had to pick on someone, so they got the short straw this time.

[ Addendum: Scarcely ten minutes after posting, I realized I had neglected to comment on the “great” judgement, as I originally translated this. However, I took a second look at the word for “great” and realized it wasn’t what I had thought it was. So I changed it to “extraordinary”. In this case, that’s in the bad sense. “One helluva judgement” might more or less capture the sense, that it’s  (a) not good thing; and (b) that it’s going to be a doozie. These people are going to have the book thrown at them, to use a 1950s police cliché. IOW they were in for a world of hurt. ] 

41 Dixit autem ad illos: “ Quomodo dicunt Christum filium David esse? 

42 Ipse enim David dicit in libro Psalmorum:

“Dixit Dominus Domino meo: Sede a dextris meis, / 43 donec ponam inimicos tuos scabellum pedum tuorum”.

44 David ergo Dominum illum vocat; et quomodo filius eius est?”.

45 Audiente autem omni populo, dixit discipulis suis: 

46 “Attendite a scribis, qui volunt ambulare in stolis et amant salutationes in foro et primas cathedras in synagogis et primos discubitus in conviviis, 

47 qui devorant domos viduarum et simulant longam orationem. Hi accipient damnationem maiorem”.

Luke Chapter 20:21-40

This section includes a lot of verses, but the subject matter is mostly part of the triple tradition, so there will likely not be much new to say. We start with the Render Unto Caesar story, and then we move to the One Bride for Seven Brothers. Those of you who are of a certain age may recall a movie called Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. IIRC, it had something to do with convincing seven women from back east to come west to marry a family of seven brothers. Whatever. Let’s have at it. Allons y. That was, IIRC, a favorite expression of the David Tenant Dr Who.


21 καὶ ἐπηρώτησαν αὐτὸν λέγοντες, Διδάσκαλε, οἴδαμεν ὅτι ὀρθῶς λέγεις καὶ διδάσκεις καὶ οὐ λαμβάνεις πρόσωπον, ἀλλ’ ἐπ’ ἀληθείας τὴν ὁδὸν τοῦ θεοῦ διδάσκεις:

22 ἔξεστιν ἡμᾶς Καίσαριφόρον δοῦναι ἢ οὔ;

And they questioned him, saying, “Teacher, we know that you you speak and teach straight, and that you do not receive a face, but upon the true way of God you teach. Is it allowed to us to give tribute to Caesar?”

First, a comment on the “speaking & teaching straight”. The idiom of “straight” used for “properly” or “correctly” or some such synonym goes way back into Greek history, specifically Athenian history. The Greek transliterates as “orthos”, as in “ortho-dontist,” a medical practitioner who straightens teeth. I do not recall the exact quote, or context, but I believe the Athenian lawgiver Solon, who lived in the early 7th century BCE, was credited with “straightening” the laws of the city. Then again, it may have been Kleisthenes, who lived and reformed the politics of Athens circa 508 BCE. Which, coincidentally enough, is very close to the founding of the Roman Republic, the traditional date for this being 509 BCE. Anyway…

Second, “receive a face”. All three versions have some variant on this idea of a face. It’s not an idiom that I’ve encountered in pagan lit, and I recall being very perplexed by it when first reading it in Mark. I guess the root concept is that one is not overly influenced by a pretty face; from there, however, it goes to the idea of accepting a person because they are important, or whatever rather than based on merit or moral content.

Finally, there is the crux of the situation: is it allowed to pay tribute to a pagan? Of course, to formulate the question in this manner is to put a certain slant on it. The idea of a separation of church and state would have seemed incomprehensible to Jews of the 1st Century CE. It’s still incomprehensible to a lot of different groups even today. Even the Romans mixed the ideas of church and state. By accident, Julius Caesar got himself elected–by way, apparently, of massive bribery; which was pretty much standard procedure in the latter decades of the Republic– Pontifex Maximus, High Priest, as he was ascending the ladder towards absolute power. So it thereafter the Princeps (the title “Emperor” is really not accurate; Augustus and his successors were called Princeps, the root of prince, of course, but in Latin it meant first. The so-called emperors were technically the First, as in the First Citizen.) Thereafter the Princeps was also always Pontifex Maximus, the head of the Roman state and the Roman religion; but a Roman would not have understood that distinction. This was the problem with dissident and exclusivist religious groups who refused to recognize the divinity of the Princeps. The Romans were not religiously intolerant; far from it. They just threw all the pantheons of the subject peoples into the blender and shook well. This is how you end up with Tacitus making the statement that the chief god of the Germania was Mercury, because Mercury was a closer fit than Zeus. So Odin/Wotan = Mercury/Hermes. There is a question of how the Wotan supplanted Thor/Donner, the sky/storm god who ruled in a lot of Indo-European pantheons. But he did. Hence, we have Wotansday, French = Mercredi, or Miercoles in Spanish, followed by Thorsday. Of course, in German, Donnerstag/ Thorsday isn’t preceded by Wotanstag, but Mittwoch. Mid-week. Go figure. Also, while we’re on the subject, Hippolytus Romanus wrote his Refutation of All Heresies. In this work, the group he labels the first Gnostics, the Naaseni, are really not Christian heretics at all. Rather, they are a polytheistic, syncretist group of pagans who try to absorb most of the Judeo-Christian pantheon into a pagan framework. Jesus is equated with the Primal Man, who is Adam, but also goes by several other names in the various traditions of the Assyrians, the Phrygians, the Egyptians, etc. 

But the point of all that was to demonstrate that the Romans were far from religiously intolerant. The problem came when the exclusivist Jews and Christians refused to honor the pagan gods. This refusal was treason against the Roman state. So by paying tribute to Caesar, the Jews, in effect, were honoring the divine genius of the Princeps. So, in effect, Jews paying tribute were, in fact, worshipping a foreign god. So you see how complicated this all gets. The thing that usually sparked unrest among the Jews was the Romans introducing pagan practices related, however peripherally, to religion. The legions bringing their standards with images on them into the city of Jerusalem was enough to cause problems when Pilate did it in the 20s, according to Josephus. So that is why the interlocutors ask if it is allowed to pay tribute.

In his book, James, Brother of Jesus, Eisenman talks a lot about the political unrest that was occurring in Judea in these decades. He raise an excellent point that the, overall, the NT gives no sense of how politically turbulent the times were. Josephus mentions the problems Pilate caused in the 20s, and then in the mid-late 30s Gaius Caligula created a ruckus by insisting that an image of him be placed in the Holy of Holies. But Gaius was assassinated before he could insist on the order being carried out. Eisenman goes further to claim that Josephus, Jesus, and Paul belonged to the collaborationist wing of the Christian faction; James, the brother of the Lord, OTOH, stood with the purist Sadducees and Essenes, and that this was a large part of the contention between James and Paul. This is the sort of thesis that grabs one’s attention when first encountered, but, upon reflection, doesn’t carry as much weight as it seemed prima facie. Then add the additional layer that Jesus probably never spoke the words he’s going to pronounce in the next couple of verses, and Eisenman’s thesis tends to fall apart.

21 Et interrogaverunt illum dicentes: “Magister, scimus quia recte dicis et doces et non accipis personam, sed in veritate viam Dei doces

22 Licet nobis dare tributum Caesari an non?”. 

23 κατανοήσας δὲ αὐτῶν τὴν πανουργίαν εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς,

24 Δείξατέ μοι δηνάριον: τίνος ἔχει εἰκόνα καὶ ἐπιγραφήν; οἱ δὲ εἶπαν, Καίσαρος.

25 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς, Τοίνυν ἀπόδοτε τὰ Καίσαρος Καίσαρι καὶ τὰ τοῦ θεοῦ τῷ θεῷ.

26 καὶ οὐκ ἴσχυσαν ἐπιλαβέσθαι αὐτοῦ ῥήματος ἐναντίον τοῦ λαοῦ, καὶ θαυμάσαντες ἐπὶ τῇ ἀποκρίσει αὐτοῦ ἐσίγησαν.

Understanding their knavery, (couldn’t resist, sorry!) he said to them, (24) “Show me a denarius. Whose image is inscribed?” They said, “Caesar’s”. (25) He said to them, “Therefore give over unto Caesar the things of Caesar, and the things of God to God”. (27) And they were not strong enough to lay hold of him opposing the crowd, and marveling upon his answer the silenced (IOW, they shut their collective mouth).

First, I chose “lay hold of him” because the object him is in the genitive rather than the accusative, the standard case for the direct object. “of him” gets that sense across. I do want to help explain such things in case anyone out there is trying to learn NT Greek. Godspeed on that task!

I’ve said this more than once: it’s a bit specious, or disingenuous, or just plain misleading to use the crowd as an excuse. They felt no such qualms a few days later, and they had a crowd whipped into a frenzy demanding his crucifixion, if we are to believe the story. And we really have no reason to believe the story; the whole thing is so riddled with internal inconsistencies that it falls apart at the merest touch. Yes, per the story, they arrested him at night, but seriously, I keep coming back to the alleged cleansing of the Temple. There was the perfect opportunity to arrest him. After all, the crowd of pious Jews assembled therein were present to make use of the moneylenders and the vendors. The crowd wanted them there. And here was this lunatic making a mess? Blasphemy! The Temple guards grab him, or the Roman soldiers grab him as he exits, and the crowd would probably have cheered the arrest. That is the sort of thing I mean by “internal inconsistency”. So no more needs to be said.

23 Considerans autem dolum illorum dixit ad eos: 

24 “Ostendite mihi denarium. Cuius habet imaginem et inscriptionem?” 

25 At illi dixerunt: “ Caesaris ”. Et ait illis: “ Reddite ergo, quae Caesaris sunt, Caesari et, quae Dei sunt, Deo ”. 

26 Et non potuerunt verbum eius reprehendere coram plebe et mirati in responso eius tacuerunt.

27 Προσελθόντες δέ τινες τῶν Σαδδουκαίων, οἱ [ἀντι] λέγοντες ἀνάστασιν μὴ εἶναι, ἐπηρώτησαν αὐτὸν

Some of the Sadducees coming, they (who) were saying [against] the standing up, {that is, the resurrection of the body} does not happen.

This requires comment. The word in square brackets represents an alternative textual tradition. The word I used is also in square brackets. The standard parentheses provides a word that is not in the Greek, but is necessary for a smoother translation. The curly brackets { } provide a more reasonable translation of what I translated very literally. This is not the first time we’ve come across the word, but it bears repeating: “resurrection”, like “angel” and “baptism” are words with a specialized religious implication in English that is simply not there in Greek. Hence my perverse preference for John the Dunker. Referring to him a the “baptizer” is to transliterate the Greek without actually translating it. As such, the actual meaning of the word is not conveyed. John was emphatically not baptizing people; he was washing–or dunking–them. And so the Sadducees did not doubt resurrection; they disbelieved that the body would not stand up again. 

Since we’ve stopped, we may as well talk about this idea of standing up again. It is very important to realize that the idea of some sort of personal immortality was not Jewish. It was not part of the Mosaic religion. Isaiah nor Deuteronomy nor Samuel nor Elijah talk about personal immortality. Rather, this was a concept that the Jews absorbed from other traditions. I would normally say it was Greek, but the Egyptians were there long before the Greeks. There was a Greek afterlife, Hades, but The Odyssey gives us a graphic picture of this, a grey, gloomy place inhabited by grey, brooding…what to call them? Spirits? That works in English, but that word in English carries too many connotations. Something like…shadow is much closer, I think. The shadows do have a memory of who they were above ground, but they cannot tell us unless Odysseus gives them blood to drink. Even Achilles, the demigod, suffered this as his fate. There were exceptions. Herakles (Hercules, to the Romans and mostly to us) was not send to Hades; rather, he experienced apotheosis and spent eternity with the gods on Olympus. So, even for the Greeks, the idea of an afterlife did not resemble our idea for some long time, if the Greek concept ever actually did come close to what we believe.

I am simply not qualified to talk about Egyptian beliefs; however, the whole process of mummification and the grave goods that were buried with the important people tell us that the Egyptians believed that the individual continued to exist after death. Or, at least pharaohs and other high-ranking people could expect this; whether regular people would also share this experience I cannot say. If anyone happens to know this, please do share. Anyone? Bueller?

With time, however, the idea of an afterlife did infiltrate Jewish belief, whatever the source(s). However, since the Jews did not have a strong concept of an immortal soul, the afterlife tended to be physical. The body would become re-animated and rise (stand up) again. With this went the idea that the kingdom of God that the blessed would enjoy for eternity (or thereabouts) would be located in the physical plane, and on this earth. This is what Enoch says; even in the Second Century, Eusebios tells us that Papias, a (mostly) Christian author & thinker took the idea of a millennium literally, and expected the Kingdom of God to be here on the physical earth.

Contra this idea we have the Sadducees. In this way, they represent what can, to some degree, be called the “authentic” Jewish tradition, the original Jewish belief on the subject. Part of Eisenman’s thesis in James, Brother of Jesus, is that the Sadducees–or at least the purist version of the Sadducees– were opposed to pretty much all forms of foreign contamination. As such, they formed sort of a nucleus of the anti-Rome party. He also says that James and the Essenes were members of this anti-Rome party; OTOH, the Pharisees and Paul, who was a Pharisee, and Josephus represent the Hellenizing, collaborationist party. Interesting theory. But, opposition to the idea of the resurrection of the body would certainly fit with this theory; after all, the idea of an afterlife is a bit of foreign contamination of Jewish belief. 

27 Accesserunt autem quidam sadducaeorum, qui negant esse resurrectionem, et interrogaverunt eum,

27 Προσελθόντες δέ τινες τῶν Σαδδουκαίων, οἱ [ἀντι] λέγοντες ἀνάστασιν μὴ εἶναι, ἐπηρώτησαν αὐτὸν

28 λέγοντες, Διδάσκαλε, Μωϋσῆς ἔγραψεν ἡμῖν, ἐάν τινος ἀδελφὸς ἀποθάνῃ ἔχων γυναῖκα, καὶ οὗτος ἄτεκνος ᾖ, ἵνα λάβῃ ὁ ἀδελφὸς αὐτοῦ τὴν γυναῖκα καὶ ἐξαναστήσῃ σπέρμα τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ.

29 ἑπτὰ οὖν ἀδελφοὶ ἦσαν: καὶ ὁ πρῶτος λαβὼν γυναῖκα ἀπέθανεν ἄτεκνος:

30 καὶ ὁ δεύτερος

31 καὶ ὁ τρίτος ἔλαβεν αὐτήν, ὡσ αύτως δὲ καὶ οἱ ἑπτὰ οὐ κατέλιπον τέκνα καὶ ἀπέθανον.

32 ὕστερον καὶ ἡ γυνὴ ἀπέθανεν.

33 ἡ γυνὴ οὖν ἐν τῇ ἀναστάσει τίνος αὐτῶν γίνεται γυνή; οἱ γὰρ ἑπτὰ ἔσχον αὐτὴν γυναῖκα.

Some of the Sadducees coming, they (who) were saying [against] the standing up, {that is, the resurrection of the body} does not happen. (28) Saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote to us, if some brother dies having a wife, and he (the decedent) was childless, so that the brother should receive the wife of the (deceased) and carry on the the seed of his brother (who is deceased). (29) So there were seven brothers: and the first having the wife died childless. (30) And the second (31) and the third, so that in this way also the seven did not leave children and died. (32) Finally, the woman died. (33) So at the resurrection of which of them will the woman be the wife?”

Does it strike anyone as odd that the Sadducees would ask this question when we had Antipas being excoriated for marrying his brother’s wife? Just saying. Trying to figure out if there is some underlying point here. Per Eisenman, the Christians came out of the Hellenizing faction of Jews, where the Sadducees were the Jewish purists. Can we spin this to fit that theory? Or is that over the top? Thinking about it, Antipas, and all the Herodians, was a collaborator, so he would have been on the opposite side from the Purist Sadducees. So we have a party on both sides of this theoretical divide being attacked; herein lies the danger of theories.

Honestly, there isn’t much to say at this point. It’s a “gotcha” question, just like the question about taxation was. Shall we see how Jesus wiggles his way out of this sticky wicket? Or is that a mixed metaphor?

28 dicentes: “Magister, Moyses scripsit nobis, si frater alicuius mortuus fuerit habens uxorem et hic sine filiis fuerit, ut accipiat eam frater eius uxorem et suscitet semen fratri suo. 

29 Septem ergo fratres erant: et primus accepit uxorem et mortuus est sine filiis; 

30 et sequens 

31 et tertius accepit illam, similiter autem et septem non reliquerunt filios et mortui sunt. 

32 Novissima mortua est et mulier. 

33 Mulier ergo in resurrectione cuius eorum erit uxor? Si quidem septem habuerunt eam uxorem”. 

34 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Οἱ υἱοὶ τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου γαμοῦσιν καὶ γαμίσκονται,

35 οἱ δὲ καταξιωθέντες τοῦ αἰῶνος ἐκείνου τυχεῖν καὶ τῆς ἀναστάσεως τῆς ἐκ νεκρῶν οὔτε γαμοῦσιν οὔτε γαμίζονται:

And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and get married. (35) But those having been deemed worthy of that age to have happened and those of the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor get married.

Quick comment on “to have married”. This sounds like a future infinitive; it’s actually an aorist infinitive. This tense is used as is the aorist in general, to represent a completed action. The only way that I can figure to do this is to try to incorporate the perfect tense– to have done– but then it’s not really a perfect tense in English. It describes an action that will be in the past when something else happens, but it is currently in the future. So there you go. We now return you to our regularly scheduled translation.

34 Et ait illis Iesus: “ Filii saeculi huius nubunt et traduntur ad nuptias; 

35 illi autem, qui digni habentur saeculo illo et resurrectione ex mortuis, neque nubunt neque ducunt uxores. 

36 οὐδὲ γὰρ ἀποθανεῖν ἔτι δύνανται, ἰσάγγελοι γάρ εἰσιν, καὶ υἱοί εἰσιν θεοῦ, τῆς ἀναστάσεως υἱοὶ ὄντες.

37 ὅτι δὲ ἐγείρονται οἱ νεκροὶ καὶ Μωϋσῆς ἐμήνυσεν ἐπὶ τῆς βάτου, ὡς λέγει κύριον τὸν θεὸν Ἀβραὰμ καὶ θεὸν Ἰσαὰκ καὶ θεὸν Ἰακώβ:

38 θεὸς δὲ οὐκ ἔστιν νεκρῶν ἀλλὰ ζώντων, πάντες γὰρ αὐτῷ ζῶσιν.

39 ἀποκριθέντες δέ τινες τῶν γραμματέων εἶπαν, Διδάσκαλε, καλῶς εἶπας:

40 οὐκέτι γὰρ ἐτόλμων ἐπερωτᾶν αὐτὸν οὐδέν.  

(36) “For nor will they be able to die, for they are equal to angles, (iso-angeloi) and they are the sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. (37) That the dead rise Moses also disclosed this upon the bush, as the lord God said ‘(I am) the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob’. (38) And God is not (the God of the) dead but of the living, for all are living to him”. (39) Some of the scribes said, “Teacher, you speak well. (40) For no longer were they bold to ask him nothing (In English: they were no longer bold to ask him anything; in Greek, double negative = negative).  

To start, the bottom line is he doesn’t answer the question. In fact, he completely changes the subject. What exactly does he say? The most interesting point is that, to God, all are living; But it is worth noting that Luke’s formulation is slightly different from that of M&M. Both of them use pretty much the same phrase: God is not the God of the dead, but of the living”. Luke says “all are living to him”. This latter translation fudges part of the distinction between M&M and Luke. The former use a participle; the form living, as to convey immediate action. She is coming: she is in the midst of act even as we speak, walking up the stairs to ring the bell upon arrival. Luke uses the form lives. The problem with saying “all live to him” which is how I would have to render the verb w/o using the progressive participle, is that…it sounds off, odd. It puts into the mind an image of someone living in a certain direction. Nevertheless, this is how the KJV, NASB, and ESV all chose to translate the phrase. I don’t much care for it, but your mileage may vary. Plus, in English, we would probably say that “all are alive to him”. This gets the point across effectively, but it changes the Greek verb into an English adjective. Even so, this is what the NIV used.  

This has enormous implications for the argument about Free Will and/or Predestination. If all are alive to God, that means God stands outside spacetime, what used to be called the space-time continuum. To God, there is no past or future, but only an eternal Now. God sees the entirety, from Big Bang (of which God was doubtless the cause) to the final victory of Entropy, absolute heat death. This is a terrific example of something that was more or less a throwaway line, but, once written down, it took on canonical status and so became an absolute truth. For centuries these implications went more or less unnoticed, until the proto-Renaissance of the 11th Century, when churchmen flush with a whole lot of recovered learning, and the time and leisure to start parsing these scriptures started noticing things like this, and drawing logical conclusions. And Mediaeval thinkers were thorough-going Platonists, attempting to peer into the Real world, the world of Forms/Ideas, and a statement like this would set them off. It did set them off. The argument over Predestination, which had initially sprung from the mind of Augustine who was trying to counter the Pelagian heresy came up with the concept to prove that humans could not possibly ever merit salvation based on their own actions. Prevenient Grace was necessary, and this originated only from God. In effect, it meant God pre-selected those who stood even a chance of attaining salvation. Conversely, anyone to whom God did not bestow prevenient grace was foreknown, damned from the moment they were born. And, because God stands outside spacetime and sees the beginning, the end, and everything in between, God knows the outcome of creation from the moment of creation–which, to God, is also the moment of Judgement Day. So God necessarily knows which of its creatures will succeed and attain salvation, and which will fail and end up in Hell for eternity. And, since God is omnipotent, God can create the kosmos in any way it wants. Therefore, if something turns out a certain way, it’s because God set it up that way. Ergo, no free will. Do what we will, the outcome is predetermined. We are predestined, either to become saved, or–more likely–to roast for all time.

Sweet, eh?

Numerous thinkers over the centuries reached this same conclusion, but then backed down. Or were forced to. This is not a palatable doctrine. It’s not distinguishable from pagan Fatalism; arguing against fatalism was the reason Free Will was invented in the first place. Now we have it’s opposite. Naturally, if we’re damned regardless, may as well have a good time in this life since we’re toast in the next. Not exactly conducive to persuading people to be good and pay their tithe.

It also bears mention that Moses said the same thing: this is not a new idea. Now, we can argue about what the passage in the HS meant, when God said he was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph. Honestly, I think this is to be taken historically, as in, he was the God of each, but successively. That would be the plain-sense reading of the text, but the evangelists were not content to leave it at that. I suppose this all came about as the idea of the resurrection took hold, and people started contemplating the implications, that people actually were asking questions like this. As such, the nascent church had to come up with and answer to this, and did so fairly early, early enough for this story to end up in Mark. 

Because there is just about zero chance that Jesus said anything of the sort. The idea of Jesus’ resurrection probably did not come into existence until after he had died. But that is an argument for another day. This section has gone on long enough. 

36 Neque enim ultra mori possunt: aequales enim angelis sunt et filii sunt Dei, cum sint filii resurrectionis. 

37 Quia vero resurgant mortui, et Moyses ostendit secus rubum, sicut dicit: “Dominum Deum Abraham et Deum Isaac et Deum Iacob”. 

38 Deus autem non est mortuorum sed vivorum: omnes enim vivunt ei ”. 

39 Respondentes autem quidam scribarum dixerunt: “ Magister, bene dixisti ”. 

40 Et amplius non audebant eum quidquam interrogare.

Luke Chapter 20:9-19

This entire chapter is devoted to Jesus teaching in the Temple. In Verse 1, Luke said the events were transpiring in “one of those days”. Now, “those” is a pretty vague term that can mean a lot of things. But this chapter comes immediately after the Triumphal Entry and the Cleansing of the Temple; it’s also before the Passion. Reading this to mean “one of those days after the Entry and before the Crucifixion” does not strain the language. The point is that Jesus struck at the economic foundations of the wealth of the Temple, and so its curators and staff, a day or two before, and now is calmly having a discussion. Those curators and staff, the High Priest and high priests, are trying to get Jesus into trouble by tricking him into saying something they can use against him in a court of law. That seems a bit odd, since he pretty much caused a riot–or at least a major disturbance– a few days earlier. I would think that disturbing the peace and/or vandalism would be much more serious charges, and ones that are much easier to prosecute. He committed those acts in front of a Temple courtyard full of witnesses. Would it not be easier to obtain a judgement of condemnation for those actions than to trap him into something like blasphemy? Especially since the difference between orthodox teaching and blasphemy can be a reasonably slippery distinction to make? And especially if Jesus has to be tried by the Romans. The army of occupation, led by Pilate, really had no knowledge of, and less interest in, the intricacies of Jewish faith. Disturbing the peace, OTOH, was something the Romans cared about, and a lot. I’ve been beating this argument, but it is critical if we want to understand the situation and make any kind of attempt to figure out why Jesus was executed. Starting with Mark, the evangelists have been careful to concoct a story in which it seems like the Jewish authorities were the ones to blame, and this because they found Jesus’ teachings to be heterodox, or possibly dangerous because he was trying to foment rebellion. Well, Jesus carried out an act that could easily be classified as rebellious and…nothing. A day or two later, they are having a discussion with him to trick him into blasphemy.

How does that make sense? Seriously. We are supposed to take the gospels seriously as history, but then they present a series of events that simply makes no sense if we’re to read it as history. The accounts make a lot of sense if read allegorically, or as myth, or as a presentation of dogma, or at least belief. But as history? Not so much.


9 Ἤρξατο δὲ πρὸς τὸν λαὸν λέγειν τὴν παραβολὴν ταύτην: Ἄνθρωπός [τις] ἐφύτευσεν ἀμπελῶνα, καὶ ἐξέδετο αὐτὸν γεωργοῖς, καὶ ἀπεδήμησεν χρόνους ἱκανούς. 

He began (to teach) to the people this parable: “There was a (certain) man (who) planted a vineyard, and he leased this to farmers (lit = something like tenders of fields), and he went out of the territory/village for a sufficient time.

Right out of the gate there are a couple of things. Note that Jesus is preaching to “the people”. This is after I said he was discoursing with the high priests, etc. But recall that in the first section he was indeed talking to the high priests and/or scribes, etc. And after this story, he will again address the priestly group directly. Here, I think, we are supposed to imagine that, as the priests look on, Jesus begins to address those assembled. Had they been listening all along? Or did he suddenly turn away from the knot of scribes, etc, and begin declaiming to the crowd, more or less uninvited, relying on his personal charisma to catch and hold their attention? Or was the evangelist not paying attention, and just sort of launched into this? Is this, in fact, an example of the infamous “editorial fatigue”, wherein the evangelist can’t focus on his narrative for more than a few verses sequentially? As it turns out, this question will be answered later on.

The other thing is the “sufficient time”. Once again, I am over-literal, but that is the base meaning of the word: sufficient, or even worthy. Those are overlapping concepts; at least, they can be. All of my four crib translations (ESV, NASB, NIV, and KJV) render this as “for a long time”. Now, this idea of length does fall into the meaning of the word; however, it also completely lacks the nuances of sufficient and worthy. The Latin, OTOH, renders this as << multis temporibus >>; literally, a lot of, a long time. Once again, we find that our scholarly predecessors favored the Latin over the Greek text, despite all their protestations of going back to the original. Yes, this translation may make more sense in English, but it also ignores some of the subtleties of the Greek. In particular, we can note that the KJV stuck with the more familiar Latin reading. This is not the first time we’ve noted this.

9 Coepit autem dicere ad plebem parabolam hanc: “ Homo plantavit vineam et locavit eam colonis et ipse peregre fuit multis temporibus. 

10 καὶ καιρῷ ἀπέστειλεν πρὸς τοὺς γεωργοὺς δοῦλον, ἵνα ἀπὸ τοῦ καρποῦ τοῦ ἀμπελῶνος δώσουσιν αὐτῷ: οἱ δὲ γεωργοὶ ἐξαπέστειλαν αὐτὸν δείραντες κενόν. 

11 καὶ προσέθετο ἕτερον πέμψαι δοῦλον: οἱ δὲ κἀκεῖνον δείραντες καὶ ἀτιμάσαντες ἐξαπέστειλαν κενόν. 

“And in the season he sent to the husbandmen a slave, so that from the fruit of the vineyard they (the renters) will give him (i.e., like a sharecropping arrangement; or they would pay a money rent). The renters sent him away empty, he having been beaten. (11) And he added another, he sent a slave (i.e., he added a second, sending another slave); and also beating and dishonouring him they sent him away empty.

“Husbandmen” is an archaic word in English. I lifted this directly from the KJV. The various translations are ‘vine-growers’ or ‘tenants’, both of which are accurate enough. The root of the word is ‘georg-‘, which should be recognizable as the root of the English name “George”. In Greek, this root gives rise to the words for ‘field’, ’tillage/farming’, and farmer. It’s one who tends to the field, field being taken in a broad sense. So if I translate it as ‘tenant’, don’t be surprised; however, ‘sharecropper’ might actually capture the sense better by combining the ideas of paying rent and tilling the field itself. In various translations, one will encounter this story under the rubric, “The Wicked Tenants”.

The bit about adding the second slave is difficult to put into English. The meaning is clear enough. It’s just that both verbs, “added” and “sent” modify both the direct object and adjective. So, he added another slave (and) sent another slave would be the most direct translation, but it totally misses the Greek. Again, the meaning is not affected, but the intricacy of the Greek gets lost. And the same construction recurs in Verse 12 below.

BTW, the Latin word for “empty” is “inane”; well, technically, << inanem >>, the root being << inanus >>, but the root is clear enough,

10 Et in tempore misit ad cultores servum, ut de fructu vineae darent illi; cultores autem caesum dimiserunt eum inanem. 

11 Et addidit alterum servum mittere; illi autem hunc quoque caedentes et afficientes contumelia dimiserunt inanem. 

12 καὶ προσέθετο τρίτον πέμψαι: οἱ δὲ καὶ τοῦτον τραυματίσαντες ἐξέβαλον.

13 εἶπεν δὲ ὁ κύριος τοῦ ἀμπελῶνος, Τί ποιήσω; πέμψω τὸν υἱόν μου τὸν ἀγαπητόν: ἴσως τοῦ τον ἐντραπήσονται.

14 ἰδόντες δὲ αὐτὸν οἱ γεωργοὶ διελογίζοντο πρὸς ἀλλήλους λέγοντες, Οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ κληρονόμος: ἀποκτείνωμεν αὐτόν, ἵνα ἡμῶν γένηται ἡ κληρονομία.

“And he added a third and he sent a third; but they, having traumatized him (literally) they threw (him) out. (13) The lord of the vineyard said,  ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, my beloved. Perhaps they will be shamed by him’. (14) Seeing him the farmers spoke amongst themselves saying, ‘He is the heir. Let us kill him, so that we will be the heirs’.

Even if we had not read the other versions of the story, I suspect we can guess where this is going. But no spoilers in case anyone is coming to this fresh.

12 Et addidit tertium mittere; qui et illum vulnerantes eiecerunt. 

13 Dixit autem dominus vineae: “Quid faciam? Mittam filium meum dilectum; forsitan hunc verebuntur”. 

14 Quem cum vidissent coloni, cogitaverunt inter se dicentes: “Hic est heres. Occidamus illum, ut nostra fiat hereditas”. 

15 καὶ ἐκβαλόντες αὐτὸν ἔξω τοῦ ἀμπελῶνος ἀπέκτειναν. τί οὖν ποιήσει αὐτοῖς ὁ κύριος τοῦ ἀμπελῶνος;

16 ἐλεύσεται καὶ ἀπολέσει τοὺς γεωργοὺς τούτους, καὶ δώσει τὸν ἀμπελῶνα ἄλλοις. ἀκούσαντες δὲ εἶπαν, Μὴ γένοιτο.

“And throwing him out of the vineyard, they killed him. So what will the lord of the vineyard do to them? (16) He will go and he will destroy (= kill) those husbandmen, and he will give the vineyard to others”. Hearing, they said, “Let this not become (come to pass/happen)”.   

This story is part of the Triple Tradition; both Mark and Matthew include this story. We have an example where Luke follows Mark in a very specific way, then he diverges from both. Both Mark and Luke say that the lord “will give” the vineyard to others. Matthew says that he will (paraphrasing a bit) “rent it out to others who will pay him the rent that is due”. This is yet another example of what I’ve been talking about. Mark says he will give it to others. Matthew says he will rent it and will be paid for it. Once again, Luke, having read the two previous versions, decides that Matthew got it wrong, once again, and corrected Matthew. God isn’t going to rent out the Kingdom; he’s going to give it to new people. The Q people say that Luke never agrees with Matthew against Mark; they do not explain why on earth he would do so. On a number of occasions, we’ve asked why someone would decide to do something as odd as writing a gospel. The answer, clearly, is that the author does so because s/he believe s/he has something more to say about the story. Mark gave us bare bones; Matthew filled it out. Luke read both and decided that there were places where Matthew got it wrong, or at least where his interpretation left the reader with the wrong impression. So Luke set out to correct the record. He did not seek to supersede Matthew, just as Matthew did not seek to supersede Mark; rather, Luke wanted to get us back to the proper intent of the parable. God has no intention of being a landlord, and Luke wants to underscore that.

Also, this comes hard on the heels of the last chapter, with its stories of Palm Sunday and the Cleansing of the Temple. In both instances, Matthew was in sufficient agreement with Mark, and both told the story in full, so Luke decided enough was enough. He did not omit the stories, but he presented them with what someone called “epic compression”. (Sorry; I read these things and a phrase sticks subconsciously. A proper scholar would make a note of the citation. But I’m not a proper scholar; I’m a guy writing a blog, so my notes are not as meticulous as perhaps they could be. But that expression is not my own. It’s likely to be from Robert Eisenman, since he is the last secondary source I read, and I believe I came upon the quote recently. Who knows? When I make the attempt to turn this into proper scholarship, I will be much more careful. I promise.)

The divergence from both is also interesting. “Let this not come to pass”. This is said by those having heard the story. This raises the questions: Why is this here/Why did Luke add it? The second is, what does this tell us about Luke’s overall outlook? The two are related, but not entirely synonymous. The first question to ask about the first question is Who said this? Those hearing. Which people hearing. Spoiler alert: in the next couple of verses we will get the answer posed for the first couple verses about the audience. Jesus was talking to the high priests, etc, in the first eight verses. Then in Verse 9 he starts talking to “the people”, presumably the civilians, to whom he relates this parable. Then in Verse 19 we find that the high priests are still about. So who uttered the phrase, which is, per the commentator Ellicott, the equivalent of “God forbid”. You see, I cheated on this and went to look at some commentaries. As for who said the words, the commentators are divided. Gill said it was the high priests and scribes; The Expositor’s Greek Testament says that it was the people who said it.  A couple of others seem not to care, other than that it was said by “Jews”, or “The Jews”, as they will be called by John the Evangelist. This outward lament is supposed to be the cry of anguish as “The Jews” realize and understand the parable, and that they are to be the ones excluded from the Kingdom that will come.

But none of that explains why Luke included it. Several commentaries mention that this is a Pauline expression; that Paul uses this expression, or something similar, ten times in Romans per the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges. I wonder a bit about that, since this is in the optative, which is very rare in the NT; hence, the qualification of “or something similar”. But that just deals with the language in which the thought is expressed; it does not touch on why the thought is there. Really , this is not such a big mystery. By the time Luke wrote, most of the Jewish elements had been purged from what can–even should– be called Christianity. There is no way to quantify this, of course; however, Eusebios makes it reasonably clear that this was what was happening. I do not entirely trust Eusebios on this. the nascent anti-Semitism in his writing indicates that he was, at best, ambivalent about the Jewish element of Christianity. He loved loved loved it when he was claiming the ancient heritage that legitimized Christianity in the eyes of some people; OTOH, as much as he loved Abraham and Moses, he was not at all fond of Jews who lived in the time of, or the time after Jesus. These Jews were the ones who rejected Jesus. And here Luke provides an expression of their collective anguish when they realize that they have been superseded, that Christians have jumped the line giving entrance into the Kingdom. Unfortunately, this seems to indicate that Luke shared the view that Jews had been pushed aside.

15 Et eiectum illum extra vineam occiderunt. Quid ergo faciet illis dominus vineae? 

16 Veniet et perdet colonos istos et dabit vineam aliis”.  Quo audito, dixerunt:“ Absit!”. 

17 ὁ δὲ ἐμβλέψας αὐτοῖς εἶπεν, Τί οὖν ἐστιν τὸ γεγραμμένον τοῦτο: Λίθον ὃν ἀπεδοκίμασαν οἱ οἰκοδομοῦντες, οὗτος ἐγενήθη εἰς κεφαλὴν γωνίας;

18 πᾶς ὁ πεσὼν ἐπ’ ἐκεῖνον τὸν λίθον συνθλασθήσεται: ἐφ’ ὃν δ’ ἂν πέσῃ, λικμήσει αὐτόν.

19 Καὶ ἐζήτησαν οἱ γραμματεῖς καὶ οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς ἐπιβαλεῖν ἐπ’ αὐτὸν τὰς χεῖρας ἐν αὐτῇ τῇ ὥρᾳ, καὶ ἐφοβήθησαν τὸν λαόν: ἔγνωσαν γὰρ ὅτι πρὸς αὐτοὺς εἶπεν τὴν παραβολὴνταύτην. 

He (Jesus), looking on said to them, “So what is this writing, ‘The stone the builders rejected, this has become the head of the angle/corner’?  (18) All falling upon the stone will be broken. The one on whom it falls, it will grind him’.” (19) And the scribes and the high priests sought to lay hands on him at that hour, but they feared the people. For they knew that he spoke the parable against them.  

Here we solve the mystery of whom he is addressing. While Jesus addressed the crowd, he was actually speaking to the the priests and scribes. Not sure I ever completely “got it” before, but the rejected stone was a reference to Jesus. Seriously, that should have . been a no-brainer, but it wasn’t. I thought it was the Christian humility thing. Anyway, this clearly marks the comment as post-Jesus; it only makes sense after he had been rejected; perhaps “rejected with extreme prejudice” would be the best description. Interestingly, Luke does add a wrinkle to the narrative. None of the other two evangelists have the comment about falling on the stone and getting broken, or being ground if the stone fell on them is completely novel. When the third version adds something in this manner, we really are required to ask why, if we wish to be taken seriously as commentators and/or historians. Some of the Commentaries link this back to Isaiah or Jeremiah, others to the stone that is a stumbling block on 1 Corinthians 1:23. My gut reaction is that this is yet another reference to the fate of the Jews who were ground by the Roman millstone in the Jewish War; or, perhaps it is a bit more subtle, referring to the way Jews were superseded as the majority of Jesus’ followers by the time the gospels were written. In the final analysis, of course, we can never be certain why Luke added this. That’s a lame conclusion, utterly betraying the concept of historical judgement. My take is that there is a certain amount of malevolence intended. The Expositor’s Greek Testament credits this to Daniel 2:35, but only in part. The implication is that the scribes and high priests would be ground to chaff and blown away, which doesn’t entirely work with the passage here. In turn, Daniel refers back to Isaiah et al, passages in which the wicked will be no more because they will have been ground to chaff.

So yeah, malevolent.

17 Ille autem aspiciens eos ait: “Quid est ergo hoc, quod scriptum est:

‘Lapidem quem reprobaverunt aedificantes, hic factus est in caput anguli’?

18 Omnis, qui ceciderit supra illum lapidem, conquassabitur; supra quem autem ceciderit, comminuet illum ”. 

19 Et quaerebant scribae et principes sacerdotum mittere in illum manus in illa hora et timuerunt populum; cognoverunt enim quod ad ipsos dixerit similitudinem istam.

Summary Matthew Chapter 20

This has been a long time coming, and my apologies for that. Real life has a way of forcing its way to the top of the priorities list.

As presented, the chapter falls into two separate sections. The first is the tale of the Workers in the Vineyard. The purpose of the story, I believe, is to present us with the difference between the concepts of justice and mercy. This is a significant development in proto-Christian theology; it represents something new, a concept or doctrine or point of view that was not in Mark. The overwhelming number of experts/scholars believe that Mark was the first gospel written, but there is a minority opinion that says otherwise. I believe that it should be taken as “settled” that Mark wrote first, and situations like this are the best evidence of why I believe this. Introducing mercy is a development, an addition to the basic message provided by Mark. This shows a higher level of compassion, one that actually goes against the grain of many “righteous” people. A couple of years ago I would have smugly, but erroneously, suggested this as a big step in the transition from Judaism to Christianity, but that would have been an artifact of bad religious education as a kid. Now, thanks to an opening of my learning boundaries, I understand the importance of social justice issues in Judaism, and understand that these are not Christian innovations in the least. Indeed, how many times did the Israelites “do evil in the sight of the Lord”, and yet the Lord did not smite them as they deserved? Countless times. Time and again the Lord forgave his difficult children and accepted them back as “his” people. And that is certainly mercy as opposed to justice; in fact, it’s pretty much the definition of “mercy”. Justice is receiving good things when we deserve them; mercy is receiving them when we don’t.

Now, here’s a radical take on this. What if this emphasis on mercy originated, not with the more famous brother, but with James, brother of the Lord? One of my contentions, or suspicions, is that the message of James permeated the various communities more thoroughly in the period between Mark and Matthew. As such, we get a much more vanilla Jesus in Mark, one focused on the kingdom, but in Matthew we get a Jesus who is more concerned with how we treat others. This is not absent in Mark; far from it. But it doesn’t get the emphasis that it does in Matthew. In fact, the greater part of the message of the so-called “Q” is largely concerned with social justice; think of the Beatitudes. Granted. as with my Matthew-as-pagan contention, this idea that much of “Christianity” derives ultimately from James is far from being proven. In fact, I haven’t really worked it into anything resembling a decent argument; as such, there is no need, or even reason, that either of these ideas have to be taken seriously. But they do have to be considered, I believe. And I need compile the evidence I can find for such contentions and see if they deserve to be given the status of theory.

Along with this is my “have-it-both-ways” position on Q. While I deny the existence of Q, I’m often admitting that there were multiple sources, or even demanding that there were multiple sources available to Matthew. This story of the Workers in the Vineyard is a terrific example. It’s not in Luke, so it can’t be from Q; ergo, it’s ascribed to M material: sources available to Matthew and not to Luke. My question is why Matthew could not be the author of the tale? Along with James, I think the evangelists are often overlooked in their role of contributing to their material. Why? The easy answer is that no one wants to consider this because of what this implies about the material. If everyone agrees that Matthew had a special source, we can all agree that the material in the source could actually trace back to Jesus. If, OTOH, we accept that Matthew and Luke and John also contributed to the material themselves, then that possibility vanishes. That is, if Matthew wrote this parable, then Jesus never said it.

This grates across our modern sensibilities that insist that, to attribute words to someone, we have to be sure that the originator of the words actually wrote or spoke them. Anything else is deliberately misleading the reader. The ancients did not feel this way. No doubt I’ve mentioned it, but Thucydides explicitly tell us that he did not hear many of the speeches that he records. So, he tells us, he is recreating them according to his judgement of what would have been said at the time and under those circumstances. And Thucydides was in a position to know; he had been one of the ten strategoi who ran Athens, until he was ostracized by his political opponents. Interestingly, this is pretty much what Paul tells us about how he learned the gospel. We would say that he was “inspired”. In the same way, Thucydides could say he was “inspired” to report the “proper” words. So we could say that Matthew was “inspired” to know what Jesus said–or, at least, the sort of things that Jesus would have said under the circumstances. But that’s not enough. It’s not good enough. We have to maintain that there was a direct pipeline to Jesus through which his word could flow, unimpeded, to Matthew.

The point? If pressed, I would suggest that this story was the creation of Matthew himself. Why could not the man who so “masterfully” organized the “Q” material into the Sermon on the Mount have created a parable that’s not so different from those Jesus told.  Except, it’s not like the parables Jesus told. Think of the Sower: a straight narrative. This one has multiple characters, dialogue, and overall a more literary feel. It reads more like a story; one could say it reads more like fiction, but that would carry some additional implications that are unwarranted. Perhaps. But the idea that Matthew composed this, rather than that it came through some anonymous source from Jesus, would also explain how and why the new theme of mercy vs justice crept into the narrative. That is, it helps explain how and why the message of Jesus evolved.

Evolution of message is also a big part of the rest of the chapter. All the stories in the second part were in Mark; but Matthew’s treatment of these stories also demonstrates considerable evolution of message, attitude, and the conception of Jesus. To demonstrate this, consider the following examples. All represent slight changes to the story as told by Mark. First, when Jesus is predicting that he will be scourged and mocked and executed, Matthew chose to leave out  the “be spat upon” that Mark included. Surely, this is because while Jesus may be killed, being spat upon is much too unseemly. Second, it is no longer James and John who ask to be seated at Jesus’ right and left, it is their mother who more or less comes out of nowhere to ask her question. Just as it is unseemly for Jesus to be spat upon, so it’s unseemly for the Sons of Thunder to be asking for such preferential treatment. Both of these show that Jesus is much less of the rough-and-tumble sort depicted by Mark. The ragged human edges are being smoothed out, he’s lost the crest of anger that was often shown in Mark, he’s become rather more elevated by being less human. And so have James and John, and the disciples in general. This is the process of deification taking hold, where Jesus’ divinity is unquestioned, and even the disciples are becoming somewhat more heroic.

Finally, there is the story of the blind men. Here, Matthew essentially conflates what are two separate stories in Mark. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus heals a blind man in Bethsaida, and then Bar Timaeus outside Jericho. Matthew neglects the latter’s name and puts them together outside Jericho. In the story of the man in Bethsaida, Mark tells us how Jesus spat into the man’s eyes. Rather undignified. More, it’s one of a number of such episodes in which Mark describes what I call “magical practices”.  The two best examples are the Bethsaida episode described and the one where Jesus makes mud from his saliva. Matthew omits both. I suspect this is because, while we think of the healings as miraculous proof of Jesus’ divinity. Oddly, in the ancient Near East, such miracles were produced by wonder-workers, who were not particularly uncommon. As noted, Paul mentions this as one of the gifts that members of the community might have, and it was fourth or fifth on the list. So, in Matthew’s eyes, what we call Jesus’ miracles are not especially something to brag about. They are, if not exactly disreputable, then sort of a minor sideshow to the main event. This certainly demonstrates how the legend of Jesus had grown, how the perception of him had evolved and developed.


Matthew Chapter 20:17-34

Chapter 20 here continues and concludes. Most of this is contained in Mark, so once again it will be  interesting to notice the differences, and to speculate on why Matthew made the changes he did.

17 Καὶ ἀναβαίνων ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα παρέλαβεν τοὺς δώδεκα [μαθητὰς] κατ’ ἰδίαν, καὶ ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς,

18 Ἰδοὺ ἀναβαίνομεν εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα, καὶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου παραδοθήσεται τοῖς ἀρχιερεῦσιν καὶ γραμματεῦσιν, καὶ κατακρινοῦσιν αὐτὸν θανάτῳ,

19 καὶ παραδώσουσιν αὐτὸν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν εἰς τὸ ἐμπαῖξαι καὶ μαστιγῶσαι καὶ σταυρῶσαι, καὶ τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ ἐγερθήσεται.

And going to up to Jerusalem, Jesus took the Twelve [disciples] in private, and on the road he said to them,

18 “Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the son of man will be handed over to the high priests and the Scribes, and they will condemn him to death.

19 And having handed him over to the peoples to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and on the third day he will be raised”.  

First, this starts exactly like so many paragraphs in Mark: << Καὶ >>; the base meaning of which is “and”. Sometimes it means “as well as”, or “but”, or even “or” in the conjunctive sense–among other things.  Here, it just means “and”, as it usually does in Mark.

Second, while we’re on the grammar, the “to be mocked, scourged, and crucified” are all aorist infinitives preceded by << εἰς >>, a preposition very commonly used to indicate motion towards. So, it’s “for the purpose to mock/scourge/crucify”, but it’s in the aorist, so there is a sense of past tense, in the sense of a completed action, a “one-and-done” sort of thing. The idea of such an infinitive is a bit alien to English, especially when it’s referring (supposedly) to something that has not happened yet; but infinitives are, originally, substantives (which encompasses the idea of “noun”, but with a slightly broader scope). The result is that English can’t really and truly be bent to get across all the implications of this. “To mock/scourge/crucify” will have to do.

A lot of this is almost verbatim from Mark, but there are a few differences. In the list mock/etc, Mark added “to spit on him”. Matthew deletes this; one would guess he thought this beneath the dignity of Jesus. Kill him, sure, but don’t spit on him. Here we can see the sort of reaction against the undeniable fact of the crucifixion setting in; the earliest followers–well, Paul, anyway–insisted on the crucifixion and made little or no attempt to downplay it. Here Matthew becomes a little squeamish about the whole affair, one suspects, and so made some attempt to gloss over one of the more appalling details of the affair. While I’ve been insisting on the growth of the legend by the accretion of small details, in this case I think the removal of the one infinitive indicates a deliberate editorial change made by Matthew.

That this is a case of after-the-fact “prophecy” has been, I believe, established as well as it can be. Anyone who believes this is actual prophecy is not engaging in historical discussion.

17 Et ascendens Iesus Hierosolymam assumpsit Duodecim discipulos secreto et ait illis in via:

18 “ Ecce ascendimus Hierosolymam, et Filius hominis tradetur principibus sacerdotum et scribis, et condemnabunt eum morte

19 et tradent eum gentibus ad illudendum et flagellandum et crucifigendum, et tertia die resurget”.

20 Τότε προσῆλθεν αὐτῷ ἡ μήτηρ τῶν υἱῶν Ζεβεδαίου μετὰ τῶν υἱῶν αὐτῆς προσκυνοῦσα καὶ αἰτοῦσά τι ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ.

Then came to him the mother of the sons of Zebedee with her sons prostrating (herself) and asking something from him. 

This requires an immediate comment. This is a very significant alteration from Mark. There, the sons made their own request; here, we have their mother doing it. Really? First, we were told back in Verse 17 that Jesus was with the Twelve, in private. Now, we have the mother of James and John. Now, while Mark did say that Jesus went off with the Twelve while the rest of the disciples hung back, Matthew said nothing of the sort. Does he assume that the distinction between the Twelve and the disciples was self-evident because it had been specified in Mark? He doesn’t feel the need to tell us this, presumably because he thought it was self-evident. Really, this sort of detail, the fact that Matthew omits it, is pretty strong evidence that Matthew had a written copy of Mark in front of him. So much is verbatim, but Matthew omits a couple of things; the first because he found it distasteful, this second because he didn’t feel it necessary because it was obvious to him. Of course it was only obvious because the text in front of him made this distinction explicit.

More, the way Matthew produces the mother of James and John from nowhere is a pretty good indication that he had the larger crowd of disciples clearly in mind when he produces her like this. Otherwise, he’s sort of conjuring her out of thin air. So, in contrast to the omission of “to spit on him” from Verse 19, the addition of an entirely new figure on the scene is a fine example of the way a legend grows. There is the school of thought which says that Mark abridged Matthew, which allows them to believe that Matthew was the first gospel written, and the removal of the mother of James and John from this scene would be indicative of this abridgment. But this ignores the details that Matthew omits, which I believe indicate Mark’s priority.  

Because the addition of their mother to ask on their behalf is editorially consistent with the message Matthew is trying to convey. The disciples here are not the dullards portrayed in Mark. The disciples in Matthew understand things; a process of heroic elevation is occurring, in which Matthew begins the apotheosis of the disciples into superhuman status, a process to be completed (more or less) by Luke in Acts. Just as it was unseemly to think of Jesus being spat upon, so it was unseemly for the sons of Zebedee, the Sons of Thunder to ask Jesus to be elevated in the kingdom. So Matthew has their mother do it for them. This way, Matthew can include the story, but remove the onus of guilt from two of the chief disciples, members of the Twelve. 

20 Tunc accessit ad eum mater filiorum Zebedaei cum filiis suis, adorans et petens aliquid ab eo.

21 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτῇ, Τί θέλεις; λέγει αὐτῷ, Εἰπὲ ἵνα καθίσωσιν οὗτοι οἱ δύο υἱοί μου εἷς ἐκ δεξιῶν σου καὶ εἷς ἐξ εὐωνύμων σου ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ σου.

22 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν, Οὐκ οἴδατε τί αἰτεῖσθε: δύνασθε πιεῖν τὸ ποτήριον ὃ ἐγὼ μέλλω πίνειν; λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Δυνάμεθα.

He said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “I ask in order to sit the two sons of mine on the right of you and on the left of you in your kingdom”. 

Answering, Jesus said, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the drink which I intend to drink?” They said to him, “We are able”. 

Here we come across something close to a dead give-away that Matthew is copying Mark, but adding his own details where it suits his purpose. In English, it’s generally impossible to distinguish between you-singular and you-plural; however, like all the Indo-European languages with which I am familiar it’s not only possible, it’s basic grammar. He asks the mother, “what do you-singular want”, but answering, he says “you-plural do not know what you ask”. That is, the first is directed to the mother, but the second to the sons, just as occurs in Mark. There, the sons asked the question, and Jesus gave this same response. This sort of forgetting that he was changing what he was copying, only to slip up and revert to the original is known as “editorial fatigue”. Matthew wanted to change the scene, but half-way through he forgets that he’s making the change because he got tired, so he just started just copying the response Jesus gave in Mark. And it is copying; it’s pretty much verbatim.

Mark:  Οὐκ οἴδατε τί αἰτεῖσθε. δύνασθε πιεῖν τὸ ποτήριον ὃ ἐγὼ πίνω,

Matthew: Οὐκ οἴδατε τί αἰτεῖσθε: δύνασθε πιεῖν τὸ ποτήριον ὃ ἐγὼ μέλλω πίνειν

OK, Matthew added a word, but otherwise there is no change. Of course, this extra word may actually have additional implications that we’ll get to in a moment. First, I want to talk about “editorial fatigue”.

Really? Matthew couldn’t keep his focus long enough to make all the necessary changes in what is not a terribly long passage? And the fact that this term exists indicates that this is not an isolated case. I have not yet paid the kind of word-by-word attention to the differences between the two gospels to know exactly how often this fatigue occurs, but it appears to be, if not frequent, then not exactly a rare occurrence. I find that rather striking. What does it say about Matthew’s consistency of message? Of his focus? He’s trying to impart an immortal Truth, but he can’t keep his mind on what he’s doing long enough to make the changes necessary to distinguish himself from Mark? Again, really?

Now let’s talk about that extra word. << μέλλω >>. Liddell & Scott give the first definition as “to be destined”. The NT Dictionary in the Great Treasures site translates this as “shall/shalt”. There is a bit of difference there. The first entails compulsion, or at least the arrangement of one’s life by an outside agency; the second reduces that to a bland future tense. Now, there are ample examples of the word being used both ways by Classical authors, that Classical authors used it to denote a “purely temporal sense” as L&S put it.  

Regardless, this is a classic example the sort of situation that really makes me nervous about NT dictionaries, translations, etc. The idea of being fated, destined for an outcome is very, very Greek. In fact, the idea of Fate, Tyche, Fortuna, of an inexorable fate permeated much of Greek thought in Hellenistic times, and it was partly, if not largely, reacting against this that the idea of human free will became so central to later (i.e., Third/Fourth Centuries) to Christian thought. As such, there is a real reason to read this in a Christian context as “that I shall drink”; reading it in a more Greek fashion “that I am destined to drink” simply would not do. As a bit of an aside, and as sort of an appeal to a tie breaker, let’s look at the Latin. It is a future perfect “that I will have drunk”. It’s a clever move; it sort of splits the difference between the two Greek readings. There is a mild–very mild–implication of compulsion expressed; the point, however, is that the Latin does not use a simple future tense, just as the Greek did not. Why not? Because the author/translator did not want to use a standard future tense. Why not? And it’s also interesting to note that L&S do not cite this passage as an example of the “purely temporal sense”. Remember, Scott was ordained and a professor of Exegesis of Holy Scripture, so he was certainly familiar with the passage. (Incidentally, Lewis Carroll wrote Alice in Wonderland for Liddel’s daughter, Alice. Fun fact!) 

Because another interesting aspect of this is that the word–or a form thereof–occurs only twice in Mark. One is in 10:32, his version of this passage. And there, the KJV translates as “the things that should happen”. This is a subjunctive; it expresses both unreal conditions and compulsion: “it should happen, but it may not”. The second time Mark uses it is in Chapter 13, his “Little Apocalypse”, which the KJV again renders as events that “should happen”. Matthew, OTOH, uses the word a lot. So does Luke; John uses it freely, if not as promiscuously as Luke. All this is by way of offering this as another bit of evidence that Matthew was Greek, culturally if not ethnically, for whom the idea of “Fate” or “Destiny” was ingrained. It is generally agreed that Luke was Greek, and he is very fond of the word. But Matthew isn’t that far behind. Now, it must also be said that Paul uses the word, with at least implications of Fate hanging in the background. And there is the idea of prophecies to be fulfilled; pretty much by definition, the idea of a prophecy being fulfilled is a synonym for “Fate”, even if the two concepts are not exactly identical.

So a Greek idea, expressed in Greek terms. Perhaps we’re still short of conclusive, but the case, I think, is growing.

21 Qui dixit ei: “Quid vis?”. Ait illi: “Dic ut sedeant hi duo filii mei unus ad dexteram tuam et unus ad sinistram in regno tuo”.

22 Respondens autem Iesus dixit: “Nescitis quid petatis. Potestis bibere calicem, quem ego bibiturus sum? ”. Dicunt ei: “Possumus”.

23 λέγει αὐτοῖς, Τὸ μὲν ποτήριόν μου πίεσθε, τὸ δὲ καθίσαι ἐκ δεξιῶν μου καὶ ἐξ εὐωνύμων οὐκ ἔστιν ἐμὸν [τοῦτο] δοῦναι, ἀλλ’ οἷς ἡτοίμασται ὑπὸ τοῦ πατρός μου.

He said to them, ‘Even if the drink of mine you will drink, the sitting on the right and on the left is not mine to give, but to those prepared by my father”. 

Just a note: the “if” is not intended to imply non-real circumstances; the Greek has the << μὲν…δὲ>> construction. This is usually rendered as “on the one hand…on the other…” The idea is that there is a connection between the drinking and the sitting on the right and left. The “if…then” that I have used is not terribly faithful to the Greek, but it’s the best I could come up with. Perhaps if I were doing this another day, I would have a better translation.

Aside from that, this is one of those passages where the difference between the father and the son is very stark. If this stature in the kingdom is not Jesus’ to give, but the prerogative of the father, the two cannot be identical. It’s the same as the son not knowing the hour of the destruction to come, even though the father does know. This part of the passage is, indeed, in Mark, so it’s his thought rather than Matthew’s. Now, given Matthew’s concern to show Jesus as divine, it’s interesting that this was left in here. It’s doubly interesting because, most probably, Jesus did not say this. As with all the prophetic utterances, my suspicion is that they were added to the text later. Even so, perhaps this one had become too deeply ingrained to be removed. We always need to remember, however, that those who were reading and hearing these words were not theologians, or historians, parsing every word for implications and possible contradictions with other passages. That came later, when the church became established–to some degree, at least–and they had to start fighting what came to be seen as heresy. Passages like this embedded in the context of Matthew’s Christology provide a very lucid glimpse into how fluid the situation still was in the second half of the First Century.

23 Ait illis: “Calicem quidem meum bibetis, sedere autem ad dexteram meam et sinistram non est meum dare illud, sed quibus paratum est a Patre meo ”.

24 Καὶ ἀκούσαντες οἱ δέκα ἠγανάκτησαν περὶ τῶν δύο ἀδελφῶν.

25 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς προσκαλεσάμενος αὐτοὺς εἶπεν, Οἴδατε ὅτι οἱ ἄρχοντες τῶν ἐθνῶν κατακυριεύουσιν αὐτῶν καὶ οἱ μεγάλοι κατεξουσιάζουσιν αὐτῶν.

26 οὐχ οὕτως ἔσταιἐν ὑμῖν: ἀλλ’ ὃς ἐὰν θέλῃ ἐν ὑμῖν μέγας γενέσθαι ἔσται ὑμῶν διάκονος,

27 καὶ ὃς ἂν θέλῃ ἐν ὑμῖν εἶναι πρῶτος ἔσται ὑμῶν δοῦλος:

28 ὥσπερ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου οὐκ ἦλθεν διακονηθῆναι ἀλλὰ διακονῆσαι καὶ δοῦναι τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ λύτρον ἀντὶ πολλῶν.

24 And hearing, the ten became indignant about the two brothers.

25 But Jesus calling them together to him said, “You know that the leaders of the peoples lord over their others and the great exercise authority their others.

A quick note on the Greek:  << κατεξουσιάζουσιν >> is a word unique to the NT. As such, one suspects Rev Scott maybe got to shade the meaning to his liking. Of course, it’s a fairly neutral word, not one with theological implications. In its most literal sense, it is something like “being worthy downwards”. So this could be taken as being worthier than those below (kata) you. IOW, it’s not a bad construction. And the “lord it over” is a pretty literal translation of a compound verb.

26 “Do not like this be to you. Rather, he who might among you great to be be the minister to you.

27 “And he would wish among you to be first let him be the slave of you.

28 “So in this way the son of man did not come to be ministered to, but to minister to and to give his life (psyche) in ransom/atonement/sum for redemption/recompense against others. .

Far and away the most significant part of this passage is the penultimate word: << λύτρον >> (transliterated = ‘lutron’). This word in this form appears exactly twice in the NT: here, and in the corresponding passage in Mark. Note all the words separated by slashes I used to translate. That is because the word can mean any–or all–of those things. I bring this up because the theory of why Jesus had to die, what purpose his death served, became an enormously weighty subject of debate by the Third Century or so. And note that “ransom” and “atonement” are not exactly synonyms in English. The word comes from the verb “luo”, which in its base meaning is “to loosen”. So the idea is that the son of man’s death will loosen many from…whatever it is that is holding them. “Sin” would be a good candidate as the thing holding, I suppose. If you step back to think about it, there you can perhaps see the link between “atonement” and “ransom”. Another meaning could be “get out of hock”, as in paying off the loan from the pawn shop and getting your item back. L&S do cite this (and Mark’s) passage for use of the word, and they include it in the “ransom” part of the definition, which is the most common meaning. Of course, we should then have to ask “ransom to whom?”, but we won’t. That would be an entire discussion on its own, and would not be one truly germane to the topic at hand.

I said it appears twice in this form. It does appear several more times in a verb form, but most of those are in Luke, and these are usually (KJV) translated as “redemption”. Now, since we can redeem a pawn, this does still work. But “redemption” has overtones in English now; “redeemer” is a synonym for “saviour”, but they are, more or less, the same thing. It’s just that these words are fraught with religious overtones in English that may not be present in the original. Overall, though, the base meaning is “ransom”, so let’s stick with that. “Atonement” is sort of a fringe meaning for the term, and I think that “atonement” and “redemption” sort of fall together in one grouping, while “ransom” and “pay off a pledge/hock” fall into another.  So when we get to Luke, we have to remember to substitute “make ransom” for the KJV’s “redemption”.

We talked about most of the other aspects of this section when we discussed the corresponding passage in Mark. The part about the other ten growing indignant is another of those little touches that Mark includes, ones that make the disciples around Jesus something less than an ideal group of individuals. Now, the part about the son of man and the ransom is after-the-fact; this question of James and John, OTOH, could be authentic, at least at first glance. It is sort of an awkward question. And it does really sort of underscore how uncertain the idea of the kingdom was as we have it presented. We’ve gotten through three of Paul’s letters, and we’re more than halfway through the second gospel and I’m still not entirely clear on what Jesus means by this. And neither, apparently, were the disciples. At least, that is how Mark portrayed them, and Matthew does nothing to correct the record on this score, at least on this topic. In other places they understand parables that Mark’s group didn’t, but here the idea that the sons of Zebedee would ask to be seated at the right and left shows a pretty fundamental misunderstanding of the concept. And these are two of Jesus’ closest companions, ones that witnessed the Transfiguration, and yet they still don’t quite get it here. They have to have it explained to them that the order has been inverted, that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. So, after going through that, there is nothing standing in the way–nihil obstat, is how it is stated when a publication passes the tests of censors of the Roman Catholics and they allow it to be printed by declaring, imprimatur, which literally is “let it be published”–there is nothing that has made me think that this could not be authentically Jesus. In fact, the very cheekiness of the question demonstrating the vagueness of the concept and the unclarity of understanding probably augurs in favour of authenticity. That, and the fact that it’s also in Mark put the likelihood of authenticity something above 50%, I would say.

24 Et audientes decem indignati sunt de duobus fratribus.

25 Iesus autem vocavit eos ad se et ait: “Scitis quia principes gentium dominantur eorum et, qui magni sunt, potestatem exercent in eos.

26 Non ita erit inter vos, sed quicumque voluerit inter vos magnus fieri, erit vester minister;

27 et, quicumque voluerit inter vos primus esse, erit vester servus;

28 sicut Filius hominis non venit ministrari sed ministrare et dare animam suam redemptionem pro multis”.

29 Καὶ ἐκπορευομένων αὐτῶν ἀπὸ Ἰεριχὼ ἠκολούθησεν αὐτῷ ὄχλος πολύς.

And they having gone out from Jericho a great crowd followed him.

Having just consulted a map of Judea & Galilee in NT times, I see that Jericho is on the road to Jerusalem if one is traveling south from the Decapolis, through which, or along which one would come from Caphernaum. I hadn’t realized we were in Jericho; at the beginning of the chapter we were simply told that Jesus was going upcountry to Jerusalem. It’s of little consequence.

29 Et egredientibus illis ab Iericho, secuta est eum turba multa.

30 καὶ ἰδοὺ δύο τυφλοὶ καθήμενοι παρὰ τὴν ὁδόν, ἀκούσαντες ὅτι Ἰησοῦς παράγει, ἔκραξαν λέγοντες, Ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς, [κύριε], υἱὸς Δαυίδ.

30 And look, two blind men seated by the road hearing that Jesus approached, cried out, saying, “Pity us [lord], son of David!”

Note two things. In Mark, this is the Bar-Timaeus story. So here we have two changes. First, instead of a single man, we have two; second, the blind men have no names as they did in Mark.

30 Et ecce duo caeci sedentes secus viam audierunt quia Iesus transiret et clamaverunt dicentes: “ Domine, miserere nostri, fili David! ”.

31 ὁ δὲ ὄχλος ἐπετίμησεν αὐτοῖς ἵνα σιωπήσωσιν: οἱ δὲ μεῖζον ἔκραξαν λέγοντες, Ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς, κύριε, υἱὸς Δαυίδ.

32 καὶ στὰς ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐφώνησεν αὐτοὺς καὶ εἶπεν, Τί θέλετε ποιήσω ὑμῖν;

33 λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Κύριε, ἵνα ἀνοιγῶσιν οἱ ὀφθαλμοὶ ἡμῶν.

34 σπλαγχνισθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἥψατο τῶν ὀμμάτων αὐτῶν, καὶ εὐθέως ἀνέβλεψαν καὶ ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῷ.

31  The crowd heaped scorn on them in order that they be silent. But they cried the louder, “Pity us, lord, son of David!”

32 And standing, Jesus called to them and said, “What do you wish that I might do for you?”

33 They said to him, “Lord, in order that they open our eyes.”

34 Feeling compassion, Jesus grasped their eyes and immediately they looked about and they followed him. 

First, a bit on the Greek. The verb <<σπλαγχνισθεὶς >> is only found in the NT. However, it’s used almost a dozen times, and this is a sufficiently large sample to see how it fits in the different contexts. A quick glance at the uses, and “feeling compassion” seems to be a reasonable translation for the word. In this case, I don’t see any reason to cavil about the meaning.

Second, in Verse 34, the word for “eyes” is not the standard “opthalmos” (hence, opthamologist). It’s a word that’s seldom used in prose. So why did Matthew choose it here? Probably because Mark used it when telling the story of the blind man Jesus cured by spitting into his eyes. More on that in a moment. Also in Verse 34, the word I used for “grasped” is a bit out of the ordinary, in the sense that this isn’t a word that would normally mean “touch”, which is the standard translation for the word. Once again, Mark used the same word in the same way in 8:22-26, the story about the blind man already cited, about the blind man whom Jesus cured by spitting into his eyes.  

So let’s put this all together. We have two words, an usual word, and a common word used in an unusual way, that link this passage to Mark, to a degree that direct copying is the only plausible explanation. Fine. No one really disputes that Mark and Matthew have a direct link. But Matthew handles the story very differently. First, he basically condenses two stories into one: that of Bar-Timaeus with that of the blind man from Bethsaida. Second, Matthew completely omits the bit about Jesus spitting in the mans’s eyes. Such behaviour is unseemly, and not befitting someone truly divine. Jesus simply says the word and the deed is done. This Jesus is more elevated than the other. In church a few weeks ago, we heard the part of 1 Corinthians 12 in which Paul enumerates the various gifts that are given to different members of the assembly. One of them is the gift of miracles. Oddly, however, this is well down on the list. Apostles and prophecy are the most significant; miracles and healings are fourth and fifth on the list, below teaching. So miracles, or healings which this is technically, are not the most esteemed of the gifts that a member of the assembly can manifest. If this is true of mortals, then how much less impressive are such gifts when demonstrated by the Son of God, the divine Messiah? The result is that Matthew downplays the miracle stories; they are shorter, less full of detail, and especially they are lacking in those descriptions of what I call “magical practice”. These are the parts of the story with Jesus spitting into the eyes of the blind, or making mud with his spittle.

The point of all this is to ask whether Matthew wrote before or after Mark. There is still a minority opinion that Mark abridged Matthew; I’ve never read a spirited defense of this, so I cannot honestly pronounce a reasoned judgement on the opinion. To me, it seems patently obvious that Mark wrote first, and comparisons like these make it all the more obvious. Feel free to disagree.

31 Turba autem increpabat eos, ut tacerent; at illi magis clamabant dicentes: “ Domine, miserere nostri,  fili David!”.

32 Et stetit Iesus et vocavit eos et ait: “ Quid vultis, ut faciam vobis?”.

33 Dicunt illi: “ Domine, ut aperiantur oculi nostri ”.

34 Misertus autem Iesus, tetigit oculos eorum; et confestim viderunt et secuti sunt eum.