Category Archives: Summary

Luke Chapter 4:14-37 Summary

Note: This post was added long after the original post and summary of Chapter 4.

This particular section is significant because it provides Luke’s introduction to the public ministry of Jesus. In the initial commentary to the section, I did not pay much attention to this aspect of the text; looking back now, this was an oversight, one in dire need of revision because it throws a lot of insight on the interrelationship of all three Synoptic gospels. To set the stage, Matthew and Luke have extensive birth narratives, that of Luke being the longest. Following that, all three present their version of the Baptism, and then the Temptation by Satan/the devil in the wilderness; then we have the stories of Jesus calling his first three disciples, so this is by no means the first we see of Jesus. Indeed, this is not even the first indication that Jesus had become what can be called an itinerant preacher, since all three gospels tell us that Jesus began to preach the good news throughout Galilee. But in this section, corresponding to Mark 1:21 and Matthew 5:1.

It is worth noting that Mark and Luke specifically tell us that their version of the first story of Jesus interacting with a crowd took place in a synagogue. Matthew, sites his first in-depth pericope in some indefinite location, on a non-specified mountain in a non-specified area, which is presumably still in Galilee. Matthew also varies from the other two by telling us that, as he preached, he also healed many, curing them of unclean spirits and various diseases. Of the three, Luke most resembles Mark in this telling, but he does not fully agree with Mark. So really, what we have are three different versions of the tale of Jesus’ first recorded interaction with the public. Matthew sort of tips his hat to Mark with the preliminary comments about healings and preachings, but he begins in earnest with the Sermon on the Mount. Mark starts with Jesus expelling an unclean spirit in a synagogue in Caphernaum. Luke starts with Jesus expounding on Isaiah at a synagogue in Nazareth, but then moves on to Jesus expelling unclean spirit in Caphernaum. What are the implications? My suspicion is that the three different approaches to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry a shed some light on the overall approach that each evangelist took throughout their respective gospel.

First, let us point out that Mark implies that Jesus resided in Caphernaum. In the story of the paralytic lowered through the roof, Jesus is said to be in Caphernaum, and news got out that he was at home. This is known as internal evidence within a text. It provides two pieces of information from which a third can be deduced; whether the deduction is factually accurate, however, is entirely another question. Was Mark even aware he had made the implication? Would it have mattered to him if he had? In either case, Matthew goes further and definitively states that, having left Nazareth, Jesus settled in Caphernaum. Here, the internal evidence is that there was a strong tradition associating Jesus with Caphernaum. Since this does not square with Matthew’s assertion that Jesus was from Nazareth, Matthew realised he had to account for why Jesus spent so much time in Caphernaum.

Luke makes no mention of such a relocation. So not only do we have a difference in the way the topic of Jesus’ career is introduced, we have something of a factual dispute as well. Long-term readers may recall that my personal opinion is that Jesus was not from Nazareth, but from Caphernaum. This locale, after all, is where most of the early part of Jesus’ career takes place. Mark mentions the town four times; twice in Chapter 1. The first is the opening line stating that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee. The other three times are all direct speech; the unclean spirit driven in the synagogue states Jesus was a Nazarene; Peter is accused of being with Jesus of Nazareth after the latter had been arrested; and the young man in white sitting in the tomb in Chapter 16 talks of Jesus of Nazareth. This latter may not count, since Chapter 16 may be a later addition. Regardless, all three of these uses are a toponym, meant to provide Jesus’ provenance. All three could easily be later interpolations, especially since the earliest texts of Mark date from the 3rd or 4th Century, whereas scraps of Matthew have been found dating likely from the late First Century. This is significant because Matthew, really, is the one who first provides the “biographical” information on Jesus life: his father’s name, his hometown, and his birthplace. Regarding the last two, Matthew underscores how the locations were foretold by using a quote from HS. He also provides a quote from HS to foretell the Flight to Egypt, and the completely fictitious Slaughter of the Innocents. Did he invent such an horrific event as an excuse to use the quote about Rachel weeping for her children? This should lead one to ask whether Matthew invented Bethlehem and Nazareth to give him reason to use the quote, “He shall be called a Nazarene”. This leaves us with the likelihood that Matthew was making stuff up in order to retrofit some quotes from the HS. Anyone who is willing to invent the story of the Slaughter of the Innocents does not inspire trust in his credibility in my book. If he doesn’t flinch at making up a story like that, why should we trust him on Bethlehem and Nazareth?

It’s worth pointing out that none of Paul’s letters provide any hint of where Jesus was from. Not only does Paul, nor anyone writing in his name, not mention Nazareth, Paul never even mentions Galilee. All of the references to the town and the region come from the gospels and Acts. More, and by a large margin, most of the references to Galilee are from Luke and John, outnumbering the references in Mark and Matthew by something approaching a 2:1 margin. It appears a half-dozen or so in Mark, maybe twice that in Matthew and almost twice as much in the last two gospels. What does this tell us? It tells us that the tradition of his birthplace was functionally nonexistent when Paul wrote, almost nonexistent when Mark wrote, that Matthew lodged it firmly, and by the time the last two wrote it was a commonplace, enough to get it retrofitted into Mark at a much later date. By “functionally nonexistent”, I mean that we do not know if Paul knew Jesus’ place of birth; however, if he did know, he did not see the relevance of mentioning it. While we’re at it, he did not see the relevance of telling us why Jesus was executed, either. Such mundane details were simply irrelevant, and so there is no difference between this status and a situation where Paul did not know. Hence, the tradition functioned exactly as if Paul was not aware of either piece of knowledge, whether he knew them or not. Mark mentions Nazareth a few times, and certainly references Galilee, but we saw that the references to Nazareth are offhand and not at all integral to the story. In fact, in Chapter 6, when Jesus returns to his home town, Mark fails to tell us the name of this town. Did Mark not know? Or did he not care?  Luke is very explicit to name the town. The internal evidence of the text here implies that Luke thought it very important to tell his audience, which implies that it had become a more important part of the identity of Jesus as time progressed. Which is another way of saying that it was not terribly important at the outset, as Paul and Mark demonstrate.

All that being said, I believe there is at least a possibility that Jesus did actually come from Galilee. We are told that Mary Magdalene and several other women followed Jesus to Jerusalem from Galilee, where they had ministered to him. This is in Mark 15:40, during the Passion Narrative. This is the first time Magdalene is mentioned and note that it’s in conjunction with the Passion Narrative. Magdalene, heretofore unmentioned, suddenly appears at the foot of the cross. More, she plays a prominent role thereafter, being the first person to see Jesus after the Resurrection. She is also the first of the several women to be named, and the only one who has never been accused of being part of Jesus’ extended family. Note that Mary the mother of Jesus is not mentioned, although numerous arguments to identify her with Mary the mother of James the Less and Joses have been put forward. They may even be accurate. So why does Magdalene get top billing? It says the women collectively ministered to Jesus in Galilee; diakōnē is the word used. We have encountered the word several times; at base it’s a term for a servant, but for once I’m going to take the broader koinē definition of it meaning “to minister to/to care for”. We can even stretch this to mean “to be a host”, as in, have someone stay in your house while you provide for your guest. (The guest/host relationship was a very important one in the ancient world, entailing all sorts of obligations. The same word was used in Greek for either side of the relationship, but what it was escapes me at the moment.) What I suspect is that Magdalene was a well-off widow who provided financial support for Jesus and his disciples. I suspect she had a hand in commissioning the writing of the Passion Narrative, but that is really stretching it. But, as a Galilean, she saw to it that both Mark and Matthew have Jesus tell the disciples that, after he has risen, he will go on ahead of them to Galilee.

There are a couple of points hiding here. First, note that some would argue that the Passion Narrative predated Mark. There is nothing intrinsically impossible about this, nor really anything terribly implausible, either. However,  should this be the case, we have to ask why a story of Jesus’ death was considered more important than a story of Jesus’ life. The answer, of course, is that we need to know about Jesus’ death so we can use it as an entry point into talking about the Resurrection, which was the real heart of the story. Also, where the narrative started is important, too. After all, a story that starts, say, with the Last Supper–which was part of the Jesus tradition as early as Paul–would completely skip over the entire body of marvels and wonders Jesus wrought, but it would also completely skip over all of Jesus’ teaching. This is actually consistent with Paul, who did essentially the same thing: he ignored virtually all of Jesus’ teaching and miracles and was concerned only about Jesus’ resurrection. We do not need to consider whether the creator of the Passion Narrative knew of Paul or not. This doesn’t matter. What does matter is that they both take the same attitude towards what was important about Jesus: that he rose from the dead. The other point is that this could be the beginning of the tradition that situated Jesus in Galilee, whence came Nazareth and Caphernaum. Now, it is not at all necessary that Jesus actually came from Galilee just because the Magdalene did, and that she had ministered to them in Galilee. It makes life simpler if they both did come from Galilee, but Jesus could have wandered in from some other place. After all, the baptism took place in the Jordan, which could have put Jesus some distance from Galilee. Just because it would make like easier if they both came from Galilee, that is not evidence that Jesus did. In closing, it is only just to mention that the idea of a pre-Markan Passion Narrative is no longer a popular position.

To get back to our comparison of stories the three stories of Jesus’ debut, we have Mark’s implication, and Matthew’s statement that Jesus in fact moved to Caphernaum. Luke follows neither. Now, when Luke does not follow Mark in placing a pericope in its proper Markan context, this is considered evidence for Q. Frankly, I don’t understand the connexion, but the Q people do and theirs is the only opinion that matters. However, when Matthew completely omits a pericope found in Mark–which he almost never does– nothing is said about it except perhaps, “Well of course, Matthew omitted it; his arrangement is ‘masterful’.” And so Matthew omits the story of the Unclean Spirit.

Luke puts the story back, even if he does rework it a bit. Luke completely uproots the story of the Prophet Dishonoured from later in the narrative and places it here, where it is coupled with Jesus expounding on a text of Isaiah in the synagogue. In my IOW FWIW, putting this altogether reinforces the story as a whole. In neither Mark nor Matthew do we get any description of what Jesus was explaining that caused the crowd to get all huffy and so cause them to question the authority of someone who, after all, they had seen grow up. Unlike the other two, Luke does not mention Jesus’ brothers, but he does do something unusual. In both Mark & Matthew, the onlookers say, “Is this not the son of Mary?” Here, Luke has them ask, “Is this not the son of Joseph?” More, Luke does not refer to Jesus as the son of a craftsman, (teknēs). In the Commentary to the sections covering these verses and the chapter summary, I touched on the fact that Luke is repeating Matthew in material that is never considered to be part of Q since most of these concern the birth narratives. The name of Joseph is a prominent part of this, occurring in Matthew and Luke and nowhere else. So the question is, as always, where did Luke get the name? Oral tradition? Sure, but once again we are ascribing transmission to a source that cannot be verified when in fact we have a completely verifiable source available to us: Matthew. And note that Matthew does not mention Joseph outside of the birth narrative. He plays his role there and then disappears, never to be heard from again. In Chapter 13, where Matthew recounts his version of the Prophet Without Honour, he follows Mark and refers to Jesus as the son of Mary.

Here, I think, is another instance where Luke feels free to chart his own course because Mark and Matthew have already covered the ground in sufficient detail. There is no need to mention Mary, or Jesus’ siblings because that has all been done. In fact, there are positive reasons why Luke would want to remove some of that material. First, the failure of Mark to mention a human father–or any father–for Jesus opened the door to charges that Jesus was a bastard. We know this, because of the tradition that Jesus’ father was a Roman soldier named Pantera; in fact, James Tabor, a professor at UNC-Charlotte, has written that we have actually found the grave of Pantera in…I believe it was Germany, but that is irrelevant. What matters is that the charge was levied and so Matthew felt the need to counter by coming up with Joseph. But, as mentioned, after the return from Egypt, Joseph is never seen again, even in Matthew’s version of the Return to Hometown. Luke, OTOH sees the opportunity to correct the record, so he has the onlookers refer to Jesus as the “son of Joseph”. The craftsman part is not necessary because that was in M&M. Now, there is absolutely no reason why Luke could not have decided to emphasize Joseph in this scene being wholly unaware of Matthew. Mark said “Mary”, so Luke says “Joseph” to affirm that Jesus did have two parents. But: the omission of teknēs strikes me as a clue. Mark and Matthew say that Jesus was the son of Mary and the teknēs (a different case is used by Matthew); Luke says he is the son of Joseph. My sense is that if Luke was not aware of Matthew, he would have added that Jesus was the son of Joseph, the craftsman. That is speculation, of course. and impervious to proof, but pretty much everything discussed in these pages–and in Jesus scholarship as a whole–is impervious to proof as well. But still, I believe it fits a pattern, which means we’re on our way to creating a “redactionally consistent” theory.

Then we actually come to the meat of the story. In it, Jesus reads a passage from Isaiah. Finished, he declared that the passage had been fulfilled. No one will dispute that the Jesus presented by Matthew is unquestionably divine. After all, a star announced his birth; it was an event of cosmic importance. Note what Luke does here; essentially, he goes two-up on Matthew. With all his references to HS, Matthew oddly neglects to nail down Jesus’ identity by providing a quote foretelling the event of Jesus’ coming. Yes, there is John the Baptist back in Chapter 3, but that’s rather weak tea. Here, Luke is much more explicit, and doubly so by having Jesus state it himself. So once again, it seems like Luke may be fully aware of Matthew, but without feeling the need to be a pale imitation of Matthew. After all, Matthew’s gospel already existed; why just re-tell it? Why go to the trouble of writing an entirely new gospel if you’re not going to say something new?

Finally, we get back to the man with the unclean spirit. This episode, as in Mark, takes place in Caphernaum. The climax of the story is the demon declaring, “I know who you are! The holy one of God!” Now, this isn’t as dramatic as it could be, and I’m surprised that someone with the novelist’s instincts of Luke did not think of it. Why not have the demon proclaim him the Christ? That would truly have capped off the story with a bang. The declaration of Jesus as the Christ does happen in the chapter; twice, in fact, and both times by demons, who can be considered impartial witnesses. Sort of. One can argue that it gets them off the hook if they are expelled by no less an entity as The Christ, but whatever. Using demons to make the proclamation impressed me until just now, when I stopped to consider whether demons had anything to be gained by declaring Jesus to be the Christ. These proclamations occur at the end of the chapter, after Jesus expelled the unclean spirit in the synagogue, had healed Simon’s mother-in-law so she could make them sandwiches, and then after exorcising more unspecified demons at the end of the chapter. So what we have in the second half of Chapter 4 is Jesus making his proclamation which is followed by several wonders, the expulsion of an unclean spirits, healing Simon’s mother-in-law, all topped off by the expulsion of an unspecified number of other demons, some or all of which declare Jesus to be the son of God and/or The Christ*.

So in this passage, Luke displays a keen awareness of Matthew by first correcting him and then going one-up on Matthew. Luke leaves out the move to Caphernaum, which is also at least implied in Mark, and stresses that Jesus’ hometown was Nazareth. One can counter that my position here stretches things a bit, that it’s a reach to claim that Luke is correcting Matthew through omission. I can appreciate this position contrary to mine. In response, let me point out that what I’ suggesting is no more ridiculous than many of the arguments put forth in support of Q. Why didn’t Luke follow Matthew’s lead to eliminate the awkwardness of having John baptize Jesus, implying a subordinate position to John. Matthew has John demur, and continues only after Jesus insists. This puts Jesus as the decision-maker, and so neatly gets us out of a bit of a sticky wicket. Why didn’t Luke follow Matthew? Because he wasn’t Matthew.

*Final note: In the KJV we have the demons stating, “You are the Christ, the son of God”, and then Jesus rebukes them to say nothing because they knew he was the Christ. Interestingly, none of the four modern translations I consult (NIV, REB, NASB, & ESV) have the first “Christ”. More, none of the three Greek texts I refer to have it, either. My good one with the footnotes re: alternate mss traditions does not indicate a variant reading that includes the first use of “Christ”. I even checked the Vulgate, and it’s not there, either. So this means one of two things: that the Vulgate that was used for most of the history of the Western Church did have both uses of “Christ”, but that the online version I use has been cleaned up; or the KJV just added it because…because they did. And, BTW, it’s also noted in Strong’s Words, but that is to be expected since it follows the KJV text, or however that works. Strong’s was composed a long time ago, so it probably just followed the same manuscript tradition.


Summary Luke Chapter 21

Note: This has nothing to do with the Chapter Summary to follow, but I want to get this in. I just finished watching Season 1 of Britannia, on Amazon Prime. It’s the tale of the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 CE. As such, it’s only slightly later than the purported dates of the events i the NT. In the season finale, the show portrayed an event that just absolutely brilliantly depicted why Rome was Rome. I shan’t divulge the details, no spoilers, but it just got right to the heart of Roman imperial theory. The event is fictitious; it never actually happened, but it is a revealed Truth, regardless that it isn’t factually accurate. Actually, this ties in with what I said in the last paragraph below.


Virtually the entire chapter was devoted to tales of the coming apocalypse*. We open with the tale of the Widow’s Mite, and end with a variation on the cursed fig tree, but everything in between is dire prophecies of woe to come. Pretty much all of it is part of the Triple Tradition. There are differing emphases in the different gospels, more stress here, less over there, but the general idea remains the same. I went through the Harmony on this section and was truly surprised by how closely the three track each other. In some ways, the comparison of the three versions is something of a microcosm for my theory about how Luke shortens when Mark & Matthew cover a pericope in full, and how he goes long when Matthew shortens what Mark said. That said, it’s more of the former than the latter. Matthew’s version of this is the longest of the three and contains numerous passages and ideas not found in the other two. One thing that is in Mark but neither of his successors is the admonition that the end will not come until the gospel has been preached to all the peoples before the end will come. Honestly, it strikes me as odd that Mark is the one to have this. Taking my notes I first ascribed this to Matthew because it seems so much like a Matthew thing to say. At first glance, the sentiment seems to fit in the circumstances of the 80s more than those in the period directly following the Destruction. Or does it? The intent of the assertion is to explain why the coming of the Son of Man has been delayed. Prima facie, since the event has been delayed longer by the time Matthew wrote, and so that would require a greater excuse. But upon further reflection one may realize that it was more important when Mark wrote. After all, the war was a raw, fresh memory, an even that probably caused extraordinary suffering to at least some portions of Mark’s audience. These are the people who needed to be consoled reassured. The Roman capture and destruction of Jerusalem must have felt like the end of the world to a lot of these people. There were probably more converted Jews in Mark’s audience than there were in Matthew’s audience. As such, Mark’s audience likely would have felt the shock so much more. For Americans, the feeling after 9/11 begins to capture what contemporary Jews must have felt. Except Americans need to imagine a 9/11 on which all of NYC had been destroyed. Or at least Manhattan. Not just the Twin Towers, but the Empire State, Central Park, Greenwich Village, the Met, the MOMA, the UN Building, all suddenly gone.

Then there are the omissions. Luke does not include the admonition that one must not go back into the house for a cloak or to try to preserve belongings, or even kin. Luke omits the abomination of the desolation, to pray that it doesn’t happen in winter, or to assure us the time of tribulation has been shortened for the sake of the elect; otherwise no one would have survived. Luke modifies the injunction not to worry about what to say when hauled before the judges; rather than the sacred breath, it will be Jesus who will provide what to say. I find this change particularly hard to square in my own mind; why make this change? After all, it is Luke who provides the story of the Eleven in the upper room with the tongues of fire as the sacred breath descended upon them. On the face, this change makes little sense. Why bother? Just because Mark and Matthew said sacred breath? Offhand, I can’t come up with a reasonable explanation, but my failure to do so by no means implies that no reason exists, or that someone else may be able to come up with a plausible explanation. But the fact is that Mark and Matthew do say this, which puts this in the column of examples where Luke felt free to vary form his predecessors because they had covered the situation fully.

Writing that last sentence a breath entered me, forming an idea. Did Luke change this to Jesus because of the essential (in the technical sense) identity of Jesus and the sacred breath? That’s tempting, isn’t it? And it’s exactly the sort of thing that a lot of theologians would grab in a heartbeat. Maybe “theologian” is not the proper term. Scripture person. One of the most common misconceptions that occurs in NT studies is the idea that the whole thing is…fungible? I don’t think that’s the term. What I’m looking for is the idea that all of the NT can be read as an explanation of any part of the NT. The idea is that the NT is a single, unitary whole that was essentially created all at once, and by a single entity. If that is big-G God, then sure. The fact that it was written over a period of 30-50 years by a dozen people is completely irrelevant because it breathed directly into the writer by God, the writer doing little more than taking dictation. Personally, I don’t believe this to be the case; however, I had said I could not think of a single reasonable reason for Luke making this change. Well, this is a reasonable reason, as improbable as it may be.

When going through the three versions of the predictions, I ran across something that struck me. All three have some reference to the sun and/or moon darkening, and the stars falling or something. In Mark and Matthew, these lines are an inset quote from Isaiah, 13:10 and 34:4. In Luke they are presented as reported speech; Jesus is saying the words, but not quoting them. Yet another instance where Luke feels free to abbreviate since M&M had this covered. But what is particularly interesting is that the quotes from Isaiah that are presented are not exactly the same between Mark and Matthew. The gist is the same, but the words are a bit off. OK. But then I checked the LXX, and the wording there is different from either of the two. What does this mean? Well, Mark read Isaiah in Hebrew whereas Matthew read him in Greek. But then why doesn’t Matthew’s wording match the LXX? I’m not sure there is a good answer for this, either. Basically, what it implies is that both authors quoted from memory, and, unsurprisingly, neither got it quite correct. IIRC, we ran into this several times in Paul, where his cite didn’t really match the LXX, which Paul almost certainly read in Greek. Again, what are the implications of this? Indeed, are there any? I’m not so sure. I do seem to recall a comment about this; that Paul, at least, had a propensity to fudge his quotes a bit, but I can’t be sure that I actually read that, and I certainly can’t cite the source. I need to take better notes. But, in Paul’s defense, shading a bit here or there may not have been the problem for him that it is for us; the ancients gave much more latitude in such matters. As a result signing someone else’s name to your work (Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John, e.g.), or better yet the apocrypha, such as the Gospel of Judas. And the historians, even the most reputable of the lot like Thucydides and Tacitus made up speeches, Thucydides stating that the words were “the sort of thing” that would have been said. And so, quoting loosely would have been considered getting to the Truth behind it, whatever the factuality of the matter was.

The events in the final episode of Britannia, alluded to above, are a terrific example of this. Capital-T True without being at all factual.


*Interesting to note that the word apocalypse in English has an entirely different meaning than it does in Greek. For English speakers, it has the meaning of terrible events happening at the end of the world. In Greek, it simply means “uncovering”, or more accurately “from (the} covering” as in “removed from the covering”. It translates very nicely into Latin as revelatio. And we don’t talk about the revelation at the end of the world.

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.


Summary Luke Chapter 19

The chapter was another mixed bag, with a lot of different ideas, themes, and types of story. The first was the tale of Zaccheus. Two things stand out for me. The first is that the inclusion of a story set in Jericho indicates the spread and growth of the Jesus Legend. Much earlier in the gospel we had the story of Jesus raising the son of the widow of Nain from the dead. Both of these are unique to Luke, and both of them represent settings in places where no previous stories had been set. Indeed, Nain had never been mentioned; and while Jericho was the setting for the returning the sight of bar Timaeus, this had occurred outside the gates in previous tellings. The tale of Zaccheus takes place inside Jericho itself, which widens the net of places where Jesus acted. Presumably, the stories indicate locations where assemblies of the followers of Jesus– it is probably correct to call them Christians at this point– had taken root. Not wanting to feel left out, one suspects that they sort of grew their own tales to demonstrate their participation in the movement. Yes, of course, this flies in the face of the idea that all of the events described are factually accurate down to the smallest detail, but that idea is simply untenable. I suspect that anyone holding that view has long since abandoned reading anything I say, and I don’t blame them for that decision. So there you have it. To believe that the stories of the events in the life of Jesus circulated intact and underground until picked up by Matthew or Luke– and worst of all, by John– just is not tenable. It is at this point that someone  starts to talk about the reliability of oral traditions and waves their hand as if disputing the accuracy of oral tradition is the height of folly. To which I respond: the Song of Roland is based on indisputably historical events, the course of which are known and pretty much settled. And yet, the Song of Roland relates these historical events and gets the enemy wrong. So, yeah, stories got made up to include Nain and Jericho.

While we’re talking about these two stories, there are a couple of things that should be pointed out, traits that carry a bit more weight than when considered in isolation. Luke has the story of the Widow of Nain; he does not have the story of Jairus’ daughter. I would suggest that Luke omitted the latter because he had a replacement for it. The import of Jairus daughter is that Jesus brought the dead girl back to life. Jesus does exactly that by revivifying the widow’s son, but the circumstances are much more dramatic. After all, Jairus’ daughter died just moments (hours?) before Jesus arrived; the widow’s son had been dead some time. Jesus raised the girl more or less in private; he raised the widow’s son while the latter was on his way to the tomb, and in front of all in the funeral procession. It was very public. The upshot is that Luke had a better story than that of Jairus, and the latter story had been well-covered by Mark and Matthew. We saw this same sort of abridgement later in this chapter when we read Luke’s versions of Palm Sunday, Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, and the Cleansing of the Temple. All of these stories are part of the triple tradition; all of them were reported in full by Luke’s two predecessors. As a result, Luke did not feel the need to tell the full story as he had done with the story of the Gerasene Demonaic, which Matthew shortened, and by a lot. So Luke, apparently, did not see the point of retelling the story of Jairus, but substituted that of the Widow of Nain, which carried a lot more dramatic wallop. In the same way, at the end of Chapter 18, we were told the story of bar Timaeus. Again, the story was carried in full by Mark and Matthew; again, Luke gave us a shorter version, to the point where Luke does not provide the name of the man whose sight was restored. So here we have a cluster of stories all exhibiting a common trait: Luke tells a short version when the longer version has been, to his mind, adequately covered. Are all these a mere coincidence? It’s possible, of course, but in these two chapters we have a half-dozen such examples, and there are others I don’t recall offhand. That’s a lot of coincidence. Of course, this carries the strong implication that Luke was, indeed, very well aware of Matthew. Luke never goes short when Matthew does; rather, Luke goes short when Matthew goes long. Put another nail in the coffin of Q.

The other part of the Zaccheus story is that we are told the Z-man merited salvation. The more exact cite would be that Jesus said that salvation had come to Zaccheus’ house; the cause of the salvation was given in the previous verse, when Z-man promised to make restitution, and to take no more than was due in the future. In short, he repented and promised to change his ways. Bingo. Also to be noted is that Luke used the word “salvation”, sōtēria. This is exactly the fourth time the word has been used in the gospels; the first three all came in Chapter 1, and they all come between Verses 69-77. They are part of the prophecy Zaccharias gives regarding his coming son, John-who-will-be-called-Baptist, after Zaccharias has regained his powers of speech that he lost for doubting that he and Elizabeth would have a son in their old age. John, Zaccharias says, is going to preach and offer salvation to the children of Abraham. There, however, the Lord God will give salvation Israel from their enemies; this is a different kind of salvation. So, this is the first time that the idea of salvation, in its Christian sense, is mentioned in the gospels. It’s also the first time in the whole NT where the nexus of salvation is connected to merit.

This distinction is important because it is not the first time the word salvation is used in the NT. Paul uses it several times, most especially in Romans, but also tracing back to Philippians and 1 Thessalonians. The last two, with Galatians, are the earliest pieces of writing in all of the NT; that Paul uses the term as Luke does here indicates that the concept of salvation dates back to the first days of the development of what would become Christianity. 1 Thessalonians 5:8-10 is very explicit about this: we are to obtain salvation from the wrath through the lord, who died for us that we might live with him. Then, after Paul, the concept more or less disappeared until showing up in the first chapter of Luke: Zaccahrias talks about salvation and the angels tell the shepherds that a saviour has been born this day. John’s Gospel uses each of the words exactly once. Then the terms salvation and saviour are used numerous times in the later epistles, like Timothy, Titus, Peter 1&2, and even in Revelations. Think about that: Jesus is referred to as The Saviour exactly twice in all four gospels, and only in the last two written.

What happened? I ask this because the term “saviour” became very popular with the Ante-Nicene Patristic writers. I’m currently reading The Refutation of All Heresies. This was written in the early 3rd Century CE by Hippolytus Romanus. He uses the term “saviour” for Jesus the Christ frequently, and by the time Eusebios wrote in the early-mid 4th Century, referring to Jesus as “our Saviour” was a standard form of address. So the question is what happened between Paul and Luke? Why was the term not used by the first two evangelists?

My first impulse is to exhibit this split up as powerful evidence of how the different traditions of Jesus told different stories. Backing up a step, it’s really good evidence that there were at least two different traditions. There was the tradition that ignored the term saviour and the tradition that kept it alive. In turn, it also reinforces, to some degree, my contention that Mark welded the traditions of the Wonder Worker and The Christ into a single story; but then if we notice that the Christ tradition did not include the saviour tradition, perhaps our count is now up to three separate story lines. And here is where Luke takes on a new level of significance: since he is the one who uses the term in his gospel, what he did was to merge the Pauline tradition into the two that were preserved by Mark and expanded by Matthew. Going forward, since the Christ tradition likely originated with Paul (so far as we know), the fact that the Christ was maintained by one group but the saviour tradition was lost perhaps indicates that the Pauline tradition itself was bifurcated. Then if we recall the tradition that resulted in the Didache, we can argue that there was a fourth– or fifth, depending on how you define it– tradition. Given the Pauline split, it should not surprise us that at least one–and probably more– Gnostic interpretation evolved later. In fact, Hippolytus Romanus describes a plethora of what he calls heresies, and heresies continued to develop until eventually one was called the Reformation.

As I mentioned, I’m currently reading (well, I’ve started to read; the book is 1000+ pages) the book James, Brother of Jesus, by Robert Eisenman. The author is reputable; he did a lot of work on the Dead Sea Scrolls, but he may have gone a bit off the rails in this one. As the title suggests, the book is an attempt to re-establish James in his rightful place in Christian development. He believes we can identify two major strains of Christian development: the Hellenistic, founded by Paul, which eventually became the orthodox version, and a Jewish or Palestinian branch, founded by James. This group, he says, was part of the sect that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls, which he dates to the First Century CE, rather than the widely accepted First Century BCE. This latter group was anti-Roman in both a religious as well as a political sense. The group included the Zealots, and Eisenman numbers James among them. They were, supposedly, much like the English Puritans, intellectual descendants of the Maccabees who were vehemently opposed to foreign rule. He identifies them with one branch of Saducees, which term he derives from the name of the High Priest Zadok. Saducees, he says, is the Hellenized form of Zadokites. There is much that I’ve found interesting so far, but I have a foreboding that he’s going to base too much on linguistic similarities and/or coincidences. Time will tell. But he is certainly on solid ground to argue that James was more or less erased from history by the Hellenizers, former pagans, who had no real connexion to Jewish Christians to start with, but who lost even this once James was killed in the mid-60s, which event was followed closely by the Jewish War. If nothing else, there is the Didache giving evidence that such a non-Pauline strain did hang on to leave the document.

What’s really fascinating is that he links James to the Ebionites–something everyone does–but then takes this a step further. The Ebionites, the Poor Ones, were concerned with the status of the downtrodden; we have noted that much of “Christian” concern with the poor and the meek is actually part of the Jewish tradition, something running through numerous books of the Hebrew Scriptures (HS). So if it were James who was concerned with the poor and the meek, perhaps the Sermon on the Mount originated with James, and not his more famous brother. This appeals to me for a couple of reasons. I have been harping on the idea that James was the head of the ekklesia for nigh on 30 years; as a result, it’s impossible that he did not have some kind of major impact on what the group believed and how it saw itself. I also want to believe I’ve suggested that material in the Sermon on the Mount may have originated with James and not Jesus, and that I came up with this thought independently. The problem is that I started reading this book at some point a couple of years ago, but I don’t remember how much I read. It wasn’t a lot, but how much is “not a lot”? Ten pages? One hundred (10% of a 1,000 page book…) So did these ideas lodge there to be reawakened “on my own” at a later date? This is sort of the phenomenon of “inadvertent copyright infringement. You hear a song once or twice, forget about it, and then one day you compose a song that sounds a lot like it. You didn’t knowingly steal it, but there it is.

The second reason the idea appeals, of course, because this all-but completely eliminates the need for Q. Jesus never said this stuff, so it never got written down, which means no Q, and Luke got it all from Matthew.

This has gotten way off topic. Regardless, it’s important to see the broader implications of what is going on in this writing. The focus in too much writing on the NT is much, much too narrow, usually only stepping back when needed to make a particular point. This is the risk, and the result, when non-historians try to write about the historical Jesus.

The rest of the chapter was dedicated to stories that are part of the Triple Tradition. These include the Triumphal Entry, Jesus Weeping Over Jerusalem, and The Cleansing of the Temple. In all three cases, the version presented here is short and sweet, almost to the point of perfunctory. This is in keeping with what I perceive to be a pattern: where Mark and Matthew present a full-length version of a story, Luke provides a condensed version as he does here in all three cases. Alternatively, if Matthew abridges one of Mark’s stories, such as that of the Gerasene Demonaic, Luke is content to give us a redacted form of the story as he did here.

The one place where Luke added material was in the Tale of the Talents. This is my term for the Gospel of Capitalism, where the slaves of the master are expected to turn a profit for him on the money he entrusted to them. As I’ve mentioned in the other two versions, I’ve always had a problem with this; however, I’ve finally figured out that the money is a metaphor for spiritual growth. The lord gave his slaves spiritual gifts; two of the slaves were able to increase their gifts, to become more spiritual, but the third was afraid to try. This is a metaphorical inducement that, as followers of Jesus, we can’t be passive and hide our spirituality by burying it in the ground. And now it occurs to me that this story is much more apt to refer to conditions in the 60s or 70s as in the 30s or 40s. There was unrest in Judea in the later 30s, so it could date to that period. After all, if the story was already in Mark who wrote shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem, that provides a pretty tight chronology for the events to occur and the story to be created. It’s possible either way. The point is that during times of trouble, certain followers likely buried their spiritual gifts by denying their religious affiliation rather than let their freak flag fly and face persecution. Of course, it’s always easy after the fact, from the comfort of a secure, non-threatening environment, to tell people how they should have behaved when placed in mortal danger.

One thing that is very important to remember about facing danger for one’s beliefs is that the idea of martyrdom was most emphatically not a Christian invention. Like concern for social justice, this was something the Christians appropriated from their Jewish forerunners, and then tried to imply that they were the only ones with this degree of courage of convictions. The fact is that Josephus relates several stories in which crowds of Jews bared their necks to Roman swords to force the Romans to choose between desecration of the Temple (e.g.) or the mass slaughter of hundreds of Jews, which would have inflamed passion against Rome even further. Nor is there any real reason to suspect that they would not have submitted to the execution; or, at least, they may have submitted to start, but I can see where after a few minutes the crowd may have chosen to riot rather than allow more slaughter.

But that’s all by way of incidental. The real issue with Luke’s adaptation is the addition of the part with the kingdom. In the other two versions, the lord is simply going on a journey. In this version, the lord is going to accept a kingdom. And once again, I failed to catch the symbolism intended. Of course the lord is Jesus. And of course the kingdom is the kingdom of God. And of course he’s “going away” because he’s been crucified. And he came back because that’s what he’s promised to do. And now that he’s back, he’s settling accounts. Who’s done what with the gifts, or the commission, or the instructions, that they’ve been given? Of course, you all knew all of that. I, OTOH, well, not so much. As such, this is not the major deviation I had originally thought it was. It’s just an addition, sort of filling out the story in order to make the meaning more obvious. But then, people like me come along and completely miss this.

So what is the point? I think that this represents a reminder. We saw in Paul how the Second Coming was expected hourly, if not sooner. We saw how Mark and Matthew stepped away from that, with injunctions that no one knows the day and the hour except the father, so be ready, but don’t hold your breath. Now I think Luke is using this story to remind us that it is going to happen. Maybe not immediately, but it will. Perhaps he believed that the sense of urgency about the Return had waned a bit too much, so he decided that a bit of a warning might be in order. So, while not earth-shattering, it’s a change from Mark and Matthew.

Summary Luke Chapter 18 – Addendum

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

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

Let’s take this in a different direction. Mark mentions the poor five times; in his much longer gospel, Matthew mentions them five times. In both evangelists, two of the uses of the word “poor” come in the single story in which one of the disciples says of giving the proceeds from the sale of the costly perfume to the poor. (He is named as Judas Iscariot, but only by John.) Jesus more or less dismisses this by saying that the poor will always be with you. Also, another incidence in Matthew comes when he blesses the “poor in spirit”. In contrast, Luke mentions them eleven times in his gospel, but not once in Acts. From these numbers it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Jesus and the earliest Christians may not have been all that concerned with the poor. In fact, John is even worse; he uses the word four times, three of which are in his version of the “poor will always be with you” story. The two who bring it up the most, especially as a percentage of their text, are Luke and the Epistle of James, and probably not in that order. The implication of this is that Christian concern for the poor, and so perhaps social justice as a whole, comes from and through its Jewish roots rather than through any increased emphasis on this by Jesus.

More, all of Mark’s first use of the word “poor” comes in Chapter 10, and the others are later. This is the part of his gospel that emphasizes the Christ tradition rather than the Wonder-worker tradition. Paul uses the word sparingly, but one salient incidence comes in Galatians, where James, brother of Jesus, admonishes Paul to “remember the poor” as part of the deal James and Paul cut on what Paul’s message can and should include. This leads to the possible connexion between James and the Ebionites, which may be carried on to the Epistle of James, even though the general consensus is that this letter is not properly ascribed to James, brother of Jesus. The Ebionites got their name from the Aramaic (?) word for “poor”. And the assembly (ekklesia) led by James was likely more in line with mainline Judaism; as such, James’ group put more emphasis on the poor than Jesus did. This, in turn, highlights the earlier half of Mark in which Jesus was, first and foremost, a wonder-worker. A very elaborate theory; it’s most likely wrong, but it’s an interesting set of connexions. I can think of several problems immediately. It requires that they nascent church became more concerned with social justice as it became less Jewish, as the number and percent of pagan followers far outstripped Jewish followers. But viewing Jesus as primarily a wonder-worker would help account for the lack of social message in the first half of Mark.

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

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


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

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


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

Summary Luke Chapter 17

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

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

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

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

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


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

Summary Luke Chapter 15

This chapter contains both the stories of the Lost Sheep and the Prodigal Son. Both are Christian “standards”, or even cliches; many non-observant Christians, or even non-Christians, understand the reference of a ‘prodigal son’ who ‘returns to the fold’ even if the finer points of detail are, at best, vague. The same is perhaps true of the maxim ‘lost sheep’, if to a lesser degree and less specifically. Yet, both of these stories, so fundamental to Christian self-image are unique to Luke; this means there is barely any chance that either of them actually traces back to Jesus. Rather, it is highly likely that Luke composed them both. This likelihood increases, it would seem, when we realize how closely linked the stories are both thematically and in terms of the lesson conveyed. This makes analysis much easier, since it’s really a compare and contrast situation.

First, there is the minor issue of Jesus’ behaviour, specifically the sort of people he hung around with. At the beginning of the chapter we are told that the respectable elements of society tsk-tsk over Jesus’ choice of companions. These latter are described as “tax-collectors (or publicans) and sinners. Christians have long seized on this as meaning the sort of people the Pharisees didn’t like; one meaning of “sinner” is prostitute. The classic example of this is in Luke Chapter 7, where the woman who is a “sinner” anoints Jesus with the contents of an expensive box of perfume. This is understood to mean that she was a prostitute. Of course, at this point I cannot describe how I know this, or where I first heard this, but it was long ago. I’m old enough to remember when Jesus Christ Superstar came out. I was in high school. In this, Mary Magdalene is portrayed as a prostitute, and I know that this did not phase me; I fully understood that Mary M was a prostitute. This was one of those things that “everyone knows” about her. The problem is that neither of the other two gospels mention this about the woman. More, in Luke, the introduction of Mary M comes very shortly after this episode, but there is no apparent connexion between the two women. The anointing occurs in the end of Chapter 7; the introduction of Mary M comes a few verses in to Chapter 8. There is neither a grammatical nor a narrative link between the two women. The implication is that, once again, what “everyone knows” has no real scriptural basis. This is where tradition filled in the cracks with anecdotes and explanations. This, in turn, is an excellent demonstration of how stories grow. This is a great demonstration to explain why Matthew and Luke are so much longer than Mark; the story had grown by the time they wrote. There were more anecdotes. And Matthew and Luke more than likely created some of their own.

This is a bit of a digression. The point is that we are told numerous times that Jesus consorted with sinners. When sinners are mentioned, it is often in conjunction with tax collectors, as it is in this chapter. Apropos of this, another thing “everyone knows” is that Jesus spent time with the poor. The interesting thing is that tax collectors were decidedly not poor. Very much the opposite, in fact; they were very rich, and they got rich by squeezing the average person for as much as they could get. (We’ll discuss this more when we get to the story of Zaccheus.) Any sinners hanging around with publicans were not likely to be poor, either. When, exactly, are we shown Jesus consorting with the poor? The Bleeding Woman comes to mind, but that was a one-off contact. He raises the centurion’s slave, and the daughter of Jairus from the dead, but neither of these men were poor. In fact, use of the word for ‘poor’ is very sparse in the gospels. Jesus also spent a lot of time hanging around with Pharisees. The setting for the Lost Sheep is at a dinner with Pharisees. They were generally not poor either, but that is a broad statement that has no real evidence to support it. All that can be adduced is that people who gave the sort of dinner parties that Jesus frequently attended were not likely to be poor. So we have numerous instances of Jesus spending time in the company of the well-off, and very little with him actually consorting with the poor. Interestingly, some for of the word “poor” occurs less than 30 times in the NT. Several of those are repetitions between gospels (poor/poor in spirit; give the money to the poor, etc), so this is not a terribly common theme for Jesus and his followers. It occurs five times each in Mark and Matthew, but three times in the much shorter epistle of James. Luke is the most frequent user, coming in at nine, but it does not appear at all in Acts. The implication seems to be that we need, perhaps, to reconsider just how solicitous of the poor Jesus was. How integral was this message to his mission?

The rest of the chapter is given over to the stories of the Lost Sheep and the Prodigal son, with the parable of the Lost Coin shoe-horned in between. The theme of all stories is being lost and then found. This leads us to ask what it means to be “lost” and “found”. Doing this we immediately run into yet another “everybody knows” situation. Being lost means we’re lost to a life of sin; found, means we’ve found our way back to God and so attained our salvation. We’ve been saved. Funny, thing, however; the term ‘saved’ does not appear even once in this chapter. We saw that ‘poor’ was used less than 30 times in the whole NT; some variation of ‘saved’ occurs more than three times as often, upwards of 100 instances (I lost count of the exact amount; doesn’t matter. It’s a lot) in the NT. But, you say, there is joy in the sky when a lost sheep is found, or the prodigal son returns. This is true. But joy and celebration by whom? By those who have been saved before? Or by God and the Heavenly Host? Remember, the injunction is to repent; that can simply mean to honor the God of Judah, the way that King Hezekiah did in 2 Kings. Note that during a quick skim through some of the HS dealing with the apostasy of Israel and the faithfulness of Judah (most of the time), I did not see the word “saved” at all. Unfortunately, since it’s written in Hebrew I can’t search the Greek on the site I use for translations. I tried– half-heartedly, perhaps– to find a Greek Septuagint that would let me search the Greek for specific words without success. This means I cannot compare vocabulary at this point, which means we cannot be terribly certain about the rejoicing in heaven. There is no reason why we cannot equate being found and being saved; there is nothing to exclude one from the other. We have to ask whether it feels right, if it feels like this is what Luke means by “found”. Being the skeptical, cantankerous sort that I am, I tend not to think so. Luke used the word ‘saved’ enough; he was no stranger to it. So why not here?

Of course, that question cannot be answered. And of course, I have no real argument to convince anyone of my position. It’s a sense I get from having read the text word-for-word as I have, one develops a feel for what the text is doing. Or, one comes to believe that one has developed such a feel. This again, cannot be proven one way or the other. I’m rather surprised that there is not more to say on this. The point is the degree of interpretation required. Just bear that in mind, always. These topics are not nearly as settled as we would like to believe. Even the Reformation Protestants did not take a chainsaw to Tradition nearly to the they imagined. There is still a lot of “everyone knows” thinking that continues to be perpetuated.


Summary Luke Chapter 14

Once again we got a chapter that is largely to be seen as a single unit. Until Verse 25, all of the action takes place while Jesus is having dinner with some Pharisees. It’s odd, but much has been made about how Jesus consorted with the undesirable element of society, the poor, tax collectors, women, etc., and he certainly did. But it’s not often pointed out, or commented upon, that Jesus also spent a fair bit of time being entertained by the upright members of society as is happening here. This aspect of Jesus’ ministry has certainly escaped my notice up to this point by hiding in plain sight. The question then must be asked if this consorting with the establishment was accurate, or if it merely served as a setting whereby the audience served as foil for Jesus’ teaching. For example, in this chapter Jesus provides two lessons that are particularly apt for such an audience. The first is on the virtue of humility which comes in the admonition not to take the best seats at a dinner party, but the worst. This ends in the admonition that the first shall be last and the last shall be first, which helps establish humility as an ideal virtue. This was novel understanding of social behaviour, for pagans as well as for Jews. The setting of the story drives this latter home very effectively. In fact, it may be a little too effective.

By this I am implying that Jesus likely did not spend much time hanging out with Pharisees. Mark has a version of the last/first dichotomy, but his is set very differently. The first expression is after being questioned by a rich young man in Chapter 10:31, the second a dozen verses later when he admonishes the sons of Zebedee for asking to be seated at the right & left hand when Jesus comes into his kingdom. The wording there is not identical to the wording here. In Mark, Jesus says the first shall be last; in Matthew & Luke the wording is that those exalting themselves will be humbled. Different words, but the thought behind them is identical. The latter two turn it into self-exaltation, but that is what James & John attempted to do. And yet, despite the overwhelming similarity of the sentiment, this is considered to be part of Q because Matthew & Luke use the humbled/exalted language where Mark did not. However, fascinating as that is, the topic here is the authenticity. Since Mark does not include any instances of Jesus eating with the establishment while Matthew and Luke does, I believe it is safe to infer from this that the setting we find here is completely fictional. It runs against the grain of pretty much all of Mark, where Jesus is truly an itinerant preacher who encounters those listening to him as he moves from place to place. We have to ask where this all transpired, what the circumstances were that led to Jesus dining with Pharisees? Where is he? In Caphernaum? We were told in Chapter 7 that he had entered that town, but later we are told he went from town to town. At one point, he was at the house of Mary and Martha, which was in Bethany, hard under the walls of Jerusalem, but there is also reason to suspect he was still traveling. This is important for the question of who– or what– Jesus was, how he was seen by the various groups he encountered, or what his reputation was. In Mark, the itinerant nature of Jesus career is very consistent with that of a wonder-worker. They would travel about since staying in one place too long would probably result is an accumulation of failures; this would help explain why the prophet was not honored in his home town.

Just as a bit of a side note. Matthew places the humbled/exalted injunction in the speech when he casts woes onto the various social groups. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees, he says, love the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogue. Luke places the scene in the house of a Pharisee, where the guests are all angling for the places of honor. Coincidence? Do you still think that Luke hadn’t read Matthew?

While at the house, Jesus also cures a man of dropsy on the Sabbath. This gives him the opportunity to override the Jewish idea of what was allowed and not allowed to be done on the Sabbath. In theory, one was supposed to do little or nothing that wasn’t devoted to God. Hence the Puritan custom of spending a big chunk of time in church, and devoting the rest to scripture reading and psalm-singing. Jesus sort of says that this isn’t the way it needs to be. And this sentiment is found very early in Mark, where he cures a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, which causes some consternation. This reaction rather makes me suspect that this story did not trace back to Jesus; as with the supersession of the Jews– a parable about which we also get in this chapter– this seems more suited to a time after Paul. Recall that Paul tells us of his dispute with James, brother of the lord, concerned Jewish customs, or laws, such as dietary practice and circumcision; James thought their retention necessary, Paul did not. Exerting oneself on the Sabbath, or the extent to which this was permissible was another such custom. Bear in mind that the idea of a week, with a weekend, did not exist in the pagan world. The Roman calendar just numbered the days in a month without breaking them into weeks. This practice was an innovation of the Christin Empire, when celebrating the sabbath on a recurring basis became a priority. As such, early pagan followers of Jesus probably found it difficult not to work on one day out of seven. This would be particularly true of a follower of Jesus who was the slave of a pagan master. In fact, this habit of wanting one day in seven off was a major criticism of Christians by their pagan contemporaries, who found the Christians lazy. So not needing to be overly concerned about Jewish custom regarding the Sabbath would have been a real concern to pagan converts.

In addition, it is significant that the sentiment traces back to Mark. For something to be traceable back to Jesus, its presence in Mark is probably a necessary, but not sufficient condition to be considered as authentic. That this appears already in Mark indicates that the transition to pagan converts occurred much earlier than is generally assumed. At the very latest, my suspicion is that the destruction of Jerusalem was a major impetus to this transition; therefore, the inclusion of the story in Mark probably points to a date post-destruction for the writing of that gospel. It must be noted, however, that this is not conclusive; if the transition was underway already in the 50s, as a result of Paul’s evangelizing, then it would not be necessary for this to have come about after 70. So again, put all of this on a scale and weigh all the pieces as units to determine the date of Mark. As mentioned, the anachronistic nature of this story ties in with the parable of the man giving a banquet. This was clearly meant as an explanation of why the Jews hadn’t converted en masse; as such, it’s completely out of place in the 30s.

There is one aspect of the story of the banquet that was not discussed in the commentary section because the connexion had not occurred to me. So much ink has been spilled on the distinction between “blessed are the poor” and “blessed are the poor in spirit” that the topic has become cliché; normally, that would give me pause about discussing it further. The problem is that the focus of the topic has been, IMO, misplaced. The debate almost always centers on which of the two is “more primitive”, and this idea of “primitivity” is a core tenet of the Q debate. Since Luke’s version has two fewer words, this is taken as conclusive proof that Luke’s version is “more primitive”. Well, okay, that’s a bit harsh on my part. “Poor in spirit” is rather more of a subtle concept than “poor”; but then, that is really my point. The one is not necessarily more primitive; it’s just different. Luke’s version has a different emphasis than Matthew’s version. Matthew is talking about humility; Luke is talking about actual poverty. Being humble is a behaviour, or a tenet, of Christianity as we understand it, and Matthew speaks to this. Luke, OTOH, is talking about social justice. More, he underscores this message twice in this chapter. In the first, he admonishes his well-to-do audience that they should invite the downtrodden to the banquets they give; of this class of people, Jesus singled out the poor. He does not instruct the Pharisees to invite the poor in spirit. The second instance comes in the discussion of the wedding banquet. When the invited guests, which would have included the sort of people gathered at the actual dinner Jesus attended, demur their invitations, Jesus once again instructs the slave to invite those same downtrodden, and again among them are the poor.

I wanted to blow this into a big demonstration that Luke shows much more concern for the actual poor than Matthew; one avenue I pursued was to check the number of instances when the word “poor” (ptōchoi, and variants) occur in each gospel. This is a standard analysis. Luke shows an increase of usage of the word of 33% over Matthew; and that goes up to a 40% increase if we eliminate the “poor in spirit” cite in Matthew. Now, if you have any sense of statistics, you immediately realized that the elimination of a single occurrence resulting in such a large increase indicates that we are working from very low numbers. If I have a dollar and get another, my wealth has doubled, it has increased 100%. If I have a million dollars and have a 1% increase in my wealth, I’ve picked up a whole lot more money* than I did when I doubled from a single dollar. So it is here. Matthew uses the word six times; Luke uses it eight times. 8 – 6 = 2, and 2 is 33% of 6.

The results were less conclusive than I’d hoped, but still, I believe, significant. Despite the low numbers, it can be argued that the message in Luke is qualitatively– if not so much quantitively– different from the message in Matthew. There is nothing in the first gospel such as we have here. In fact, Matthew, in his version of what The Q Reader calls “the Great Supper”, does not specify whom his slaves should invite. In Matthew, the lord simply tells his slaves to go out to the roads & highways and invite whomever they might find. Luke, in contrast, specifies that the poor and others are to be those invited– or compelled. And then Matthew simply has no correlation to the passage about inviting the poor to one’s banquets as we find in Luke 14:12. In Matthew, the poor are more theoretical; sell your goods, or the expensive perfume and give to the poor; the poor will always be with you; the poor have the gospel preached to them. For those of you keeping score at home, you only counted four, not five uses of “the poor”. That is because the six cites of “the poor” in Matthew includes its use twice in the same passage. In the tale of the expensive perfume, the disciples say it could have been sold and the proceeds given to the, to which Jesus says “the poor will always be with you”. The contrast to Luke is sharp. Luke not only has the two passages in this chapter, he also has the searing tale of Dives and Lazarus. So the poor in Luke are real to a degree, or they have a presence, that does not appear in Matthew.


*$10,000, to be exact.

Summary Luke Chapter 13

The chapter opens with Jesus talking about people who were killed, either by Pilate during a riot (of sorts) or by sudden accident when a tower collapsed and fell on them. The interesting part is that Jesus appears to threaten his followers with this sort of unexpected and violent death if they do not repent. In fact, he repeats the warning. Of course, we have to stop and ask whether Jesus is referring simply to physical death. To confuse the matter, Jesus asks his crowd if they believe that this death was a punishment because they were more wicked than others.

A quick look at the compiled commentaries indicates that many of these authors saw the story of the tower as prophetic. They see this reference to something that Jesus indicates had happened to be a foreshadow of something that was yet to happen: the destruction of Jerusalem. In the latter event, the city was more or less razed, and doubtless many died as walls–and tower–collapsed upon people. Of course, Luke wrote after this event, but in the narrative Jesus is uttering these words before the event. If we assume that Luke accurately records words of Jesus spoken before, then of course they are prophetic, and they provide proof of Jesus’ divine foreknowledge. If you ask how Luke–and Luke alone–had record of Jesus saying these things, and conclude it to be unlikely that he did say the words, then we get another perspective. Of course, for our purposes here, we have to assume that Luke is simply putting words in Jesus’ mouth. As such, the focal point of our inquiry is not whether Jesus was uttering a prophecy, but what message Luke intended to put across to the community of believers 50 or 60 years after the events supposedly took place.

There are two sorts of ideas being yoked together here. Do we die a horrible death because we are being punished for our sins? There was certainly a school of thought in the Jewish tradition of such a quid-pro-quo punishment in this lifetime–one that ended this lifetime. Nor was this attitude restricted to Judaic thought, or to the ancient world. The second idea is whether Luke intends for Jesus to be taken literally, thereby buying into the first idea. Here we have to ask whether 2,000 years of Christianity has likely warped our understanding, or at least seriously influenced the way we read something like this. Reading this, I suspect most Christians would take it on faith that no, Jesus should not be taken literally; rather, losing one’s life in this world is symbolic for losing the prospect of eternal life in the next.

The question with this interpretation is whether or not it’s anachronistic. When did the standard Christian doctrine of eternal life after death really become fixed in the belief system? Answering this question was a major part of the reason I undertook this task of going through the NT line-by-line. At this point, it’s still not entirely clear that this is what Luke believes. If Luke doesn’t believe this, it will not appear in his gospel. Why else does he need to speak metaphorically here? Or maybe why does he speak metaphorically here? To hedge his bets? Or to put the point across by way of parable? Taken on its own, it’s difficult to say; in the context of the rest of the chapter, I think the implications become clearer.

Before continuing with that, I would like to set something down as a datum upon which we should build, which I believe will help clarify my question. In the late 6th Century BCE (the 500s), the Greek philosopher was promising punishments in the afterlife to fraudulent magicians and wonder-workers. As such, the idea of reward or punishment in the afterlife was not new–and it was apparently not a Jewish idea, at least in genesis. But books of the HS, some canonical, some apocryphal, written during the Hellenistic period (300 BCE and on) start to adopt this idea. So it was not something Jesus, or even Christians, invented. They did, perhaps, systematize it clearly and explicitly at some point in the late First/early Second Centuries CE. That should help us answer the question.

Moreover, the rest of the chapter reinforces this. The next section deals with Jesus healing a woman in the synagogue on a sabbath. So it is made fairly explicit that the woman’s illness was not a matter of being wicked, just as those Galileans killed by the falling tower were not more wicked than other Galileans. But let’s compare this to the healing of the paralytic, who was lowered down to Jesus through a hole in the roof of the house where Jesus was teaching. Jesus did not say “get up and walk”, at least, not at first. That is what he tells the woman here: you are released from your illness. Rather, he told the paralytic “your sins are forgiven”, which, of course, caused a stir among the onlookers because it could be taken as blasphemous. What is the difference? Why the difference? 

First, let’s note that Luke does not include the story of the paralytic. This seems to be another of those instances where he felt that M&M had covered it in sufficient detail. But this goes a step further. In that story there was at least an implicit connexion between the man’s sins and his paralysis. Once the sins are forgiven, the man’s physical ailment is removed. That step is skipped in the story of the woman in this chapter. Jesus did not first forgive her sins and then heal her; he cut to the chase and healed her. In doing so, he severed the connexion between sin and bodily affliction. Affliction is not the result of sin. And so, too, the Galileans were not killed by the falling tower because they were wicked. The were killed because the tower fell on them. So that Jesus threatens his audience with sudden and horrible death if they do not repent, it seems fairly clear– upon reflection, at least– that he is talking about eternal life.

This is further reinforced in the remaining sections of the chapter. Immediately following the hubbub created by Jesus for healing the woman on the sabbath, he is questioned about being saved. Here Jesus launched into an oblique narrative about the narrow gate, and the competition to enter that narrow gate. At first, the idea of competing towards salvation seemed a bit…capitalist to me. But we need to bear in mind the oblique approach. The competition is not amongst individuals; it is amongst peoples. Specifically, Jesus is addressing this speech to the Jews. After all, they are the ones whom the master will shut out of the wedding feast, the ones who ate with him and the ones he taught. This relationship will avail them nothing, however; they will be left on the outside, wailing and gnashing their teeth. (Sorry; love that phrase.)

Then, in a stroke true brilliance, Luke concludes the chapter with Jesus, again obliquely, predicting his own death. He’s not afraid of the Herodians even though warned that “that fox” wants to kill Jesus. Rather, he has to go to Jerusalem to meet his fate. It is worth noting that Jerusalem was not part of Herod’s tetrarchy, which included Galilee. Jerusalem was part of Judea, an it was ruled directly by the Romans through Pilate. So, by going to Jerusalem, Jesus would be leaving Herod’s jurisdiction behind, effectively removing himself from Herod’s power. Later, when Pilate sends Jesus to Herod, Pilate is, again effectively, extraditing Jesus back into Herod’s jurisdiction. The brilliance of this passage comes from it’s context, following the story of the Galileans killed by the tower. Just as they were no more guilty than anyone else, but killed nonetheless, so Jesus is going to Jerusalem to be killed, even though he is blameless. Such were the prophets treated of old. \

This last bit is important because it gives Jesus a pedigree. I’ve often mentioned that the ancient Greeks and Romans were not impressed by novelty; they were impressed by antiquity. The Latin term for “revolution”, in the political sense, was res novae; literally, new things.  New things were not good things; quite the opposite. Of course, this was the view of the conservative authors & politicians who had vested interest in maintaining the old things. The point here, is that by putting himself in the long line of prophets who had been killed in Jerusalem, Jesus was placing himself in their line. IOW, he was connecting himself to that ancient tradition that Judaism claimed, and the age of that tradition is what drew so many pagans to Judaism, pagans like Matthew.

Just a word about a word. I used the word “oblique” as a description for Jesus’ speech a couple of times. The first was descriptive; any that followed were rhetorical, a repetition when other words could be used. Why was Jesus so oblique? The answer to this has some connexion with the idea of the mysterion of ancient Greco-Roman culture. This, of course, is the root of “mystery”, especially as it relates to “mystery religions”, such as the rites of Eleusis or Isis. Such religions maintained secrets that were only divulged to those who became initiated into the cult. Jesus, and especially his later followers, adopted this approach, at least to some limited extent, and at least at first. This idea of secrets continued to develop into what became known as Gnosticism, based on a hidden gnosis, or knowledge. Mark in particular has undertones of a gnostic attitude; the parables are the clearest example of this. After all, Jesus spoke in parables to the public, but revealed the meanings in private to his disciples.

There are debates about whether Gnosticism pre-dated Christianity; many would argue that it did. I am not one of these. Marcion became a Christian heretic by advocating Gnostic ideas, and the Gospel of Thomas has a fairly explicit Gnostic aspect. Prior to Jesus, however, Gnosticism is not really on the radar. It’s not necessary to say that Gnosticism derived from Christianity; indeed, I believe that would be greatly overstating the case. Rather, it seems that Christianity and Gnosticism both derived from a pre- or proto-Gnostic milieu, which itself was a development on the idea of the mystery religions. Part of my argument for a later date for Gospel of Thomas derives from these explicitly Gnostic elements; they are too fully developed as such to date from the 50s, as the Q people want us to believe. There are simply no real precursors (to the best of my knowledge; I need to look into that) to ideas like those expressed in Gospel of Thomas at that early date. As such, a date from the mid-Second Century or later seems more appropriate. But that is an entirely different discussion.

Summary Luke Chapter 12

Due to editorial oversight, this follows hot on the heels of the Summary to Chapter 11. But then, maybe it will be useful to read the two in close proximity.


There are two main themes in the chapter by my reading. Or perhaps one, with a couple of subdivisions. The first provides something of a ring composition. We start with it in the warning against the leaven of the Pharisees, and ends with it with the admonition about being hauled off to gaol*. Both these relate to the primary theme, which is the coming of the kingdom. It’s happening, so we best be ready for it. Preparatory to that, there will be strife and dissension here on earth. Luke does warn about being hauled before the authorities, and assures us that we will be given what to say by the sacred breath. This is in Matthew, and even in Mark. But here it gets a slightly different treatment, that leads in something of a different direction.

The idea of the sacred breath providing one’s defense is, after all, one way in which God will take care of us. And Luke assures us of this with metaphors from Nature: the ravens, the lilies, and sparrows. God provides for them, so God will take care of us humans, too. And here is where and how the second theme comes in: we need not be, we should not be, concerned about the things of this world, because God will provide. So we should not be afraid of those who can only kill the body, but of those who can throw us into Gehenna, and I think “Hell” is not entirely inappropriate. The concept has not reached full maturity in this writing, not by a long shot, but it’s progressing towards that final goal (and not gaol). And who can throw us into that awful place? Why, God of course. And because of this, we need to be watchful about the coming kingdom by avoiding the “leaven of the Pharisees” and not being contentious in litigations with our fellow humans, lest you end up being hauled off to the gaol, which at the end of the chapter is a metaphor for Gehenna. Luke applied his writer’s craft very effectively: By starting off the section with Gehenna, that image is there to be alluded to by the threat of jail.

This is a very sophisticated literary construction. Part of the reason I felt the seams, I think, is that I break these chapters into small sections and then take these sections piecemeal. Only now that I’ve taken that moment to step back and look at the chapter as a whole do I see how well this is all arranged. IMO, it’s much more masterful than Chapters 5-7 of Matthew, which feel like beads of different material strung together on a single string, but otherwise not relating to each other all that much.

The result is a message that it very “Christian” in the sense of the word that most of us understand it. Luke is giving us a very clear warning: behave, because the kingdom is coming at some time unknown. If we are not watchful, and if we do not behave properly, we will end up in gaol, by which he means Gehenna, or Hell. And one way to be watchful, and to behave properly, is not to be concerned with worldly things, like the rich man who wants to build new barns to hold his wealth. Rather, be simple, let the sacred breath tell you what to say, and give no more thought to what you eat or what you wear than the ravens or the lilies, and be mindful that the master may come at any moment. Now, much of this is implicit in Mark and Matthew, but this feels like a much more thorough and sophisticated expression of this message that had always been rather disparate, or separate, or disjointed until now. We got flashes of this in Matthew, but here we get the synthesized and homogenized and all-encompassing version. The idea, the concept has developed, and been developed. Going back to the analogy I used about Mark, Luke has woven many of the separate threads of M&M together into a piece of whole cloth, into a single garment. Maybe it was there in Matthew as well, but I don’t think so. No doubt my perceptions and understandings have evolved as we’ve moved along, but I was very conscious of what I was not reading in M&M.

Having been raised in the Roman Rite, as a Catholic, my understanding of Christianity was very simple: Do good, or go to Hell. Simple, straightforward, and binary. Yes, the Purgatory thing sort of muddled the issue somewhat, but not all that much. And yes, I get the whole hellfire and brimstone sort of preaching, which is not considered something the Catholics are not known for, something they don’t do all that often or all that well. Instead there is that binary choice that is absolutely foundational, and expressed in such crystal-clear language and repeated so often that the whole hellfire and brimstone thing seemed…unnecessary. I never got Billy Graham. My religious message did not come from inspired rhetoric, but from pure fear. And here in this chapter we get the bottom-line formulation of this message that had not been present to this point. I do need to add the caveat, or the qualifier, that I did attend a Catholic school, run by Dominicans, for grades 2-8. As such, I was available to receive the message for six hours per day, 180 days per year. But that’s just it: the message was not elaborate. It was blunt, as blunt as the paddle that Sister Janice, the principal of the elementary school, used to carry.

One question that occurred to me about this: has the sense of urgency about the return of “the master” has been ratcheted upward again. Remember, this is the first gospel written that was aware of Paul’s career, and that Galatians, one of Paul’s earliest letters, was written in almost breathless anticipation that the return should be expected momentarily. By the time of 1 Corinthians, however, this feeling of immediacy had abated significantly. In the first two gospels the expectation of return also felt muted. In this chapter, however, I felt that Luke was a bit more concerned about this. The problem with this judgement is, of course, that it’s a judgement. As such, it’s necessarily subjective, like saying Matthew’s handling of the alleged Q material is masterful. As mentioned, this occurred to me; whether the judgement is justified or not is a matter for speculation, and for different readers to consider individually.

The second theme of the chapter, or theme 1)B is the sense of other-worldliness. Here again it feels like Luke has become much more closely aligned with later Christian doctrine than his predecessors. Luke weaves this theme skillfully into his narrative, using the story of the foolish rich man as his jumping-off point. We are told the uselessness of placing value on wealth because the rich man was unaware of his impending death. The vanity of riches is a theme with a long future ahead of it. The empty (the Latin root of vanity actually means empty) promise of wealth is sort of the obverse side of being unconcerned about the empty value of the things that money can buy. These latter include clothes, food, etc. Of course, food is necessary, but God provide for the ravens, so God will provide for us. That is a bit step to the sort of asceticism that will take deep root in the Middle Ages; at least, for a few centuries. It is what will give rise to the monastic ideal, even if that ideal eventually will fall short in practice. This feels like a major development in Christian practice.

So, either I haven’t been paying attention, or Chapter 12 of Luke’s gospel is a pivotal point in the history of Christianity. We will start getting into more of those stories unique to Luke; as we progress, we need to keep this chapter in our minds to see if it truly is such a point.


*Gaol: the danger, and possible price of pretentiousness. I just looked this up. Apparently, the current British pronunciation of this word is “jail”. Originally, the word had a hard ‘g’ sound (as goat) that eventually softened into the ‘j’ sound. The two spellings actually come from the same root, but via two different routes. The hard G is Middle English, while the J is Parisian French, both deriving from the same Latin root. I have been (mentally) pronouncing the hard G as “ga-ole”. Good thing I’ve never used it conversationally, or I would have been shown up for the pretentious bastard that I am. Of course, it would hardly be the first time. “Ennui”: Pronounced “En-you-ee”, right? Oh? It’s “en-nwi“? Oops. Now how about “homage”? What is given to a king, as in “give HOM-age” vs paying respect to a literary precursor, paying ‘oh-MAJE”? Whatever. I am much more likely to encounter new words in written form rather than hearing them, so I assign them a pronunciation that is, all too often, incorrect. The same thing happens with sports stars. I read sports, I don’t watch the programming so much.