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Luke Chapter 16:19-31

This section will conclude the chapter. It is the story of Dives and Lazarus, which is another that is unique to Luke. This is to say, the author of this story was most likely Luke. Why ascribe it to some vague “L source” when we have a very capable author at hand? Well, there is one answer: because if we attribute this to Luke, then we are denying that Jesus actually told this story, and that it was made up after Jesus died. If that happened, then who’s to say that other stories weren’t made up after Jesus died? That opens a whole can of worms: if Jesus didn’t say half the things he said, can we call ourselves Christians? Possibly– probably?– not. Obviously, that carries some grave and enormous implications. Hence the unwillingness to debate Q in a true, scholarly fashion. Hence, what I am doing here, the process I am using is darn close to unique, even though it’s basic historiography, stuff i was doing as an undergrad in Greek & Roman history. And the parallels are strong: limited original source material, and so the need to milk every word for implications. Such basic analysis, as far as I can tell, simply is not done in Biblical Studies.

As for the text itself, at first glance there has been a break in the continuity in the theme of the chapter. We started with the story of the Wicked Steward, which led into the pronouncement being unable to serve both God and Mammon. Now we get to Dives & Lazarus, which is a great cautionary tale to illustrate what happens when we choose Mammon. So the break came in the verses covered in the previous section, Verses 14-18. In fact, Verse 18, prohibiting divorce, was so far off-topic that I completely forgot to comment on it in the last section; I ended with Verse 17. Now we return to the true them of the chapter.


19 Ἄνθρωπος δέ τις ἦν πλούσιος, καὶ ἐνεδιδύσκετο πορφύραν καὶ βύσσον εὐφραινόμενος καθ’ ἡμέραν λαμπρῶς.

20 πτωχὸς δέ τις ὀνόματι Λάζαρος ἐβέβλητο πρὸς τὸν πυλῶνα αὐτοῦ εἱλκωμένος

21 καὶ ἐπιθυμῶν χορτασθῆναι ἀπὸ τῶν πιπτόντων ἀπὸ τῆς τραπέζης τοῦ πλουσίου: ἀλλὰ καὶ οἱ κύνες ἐρχόμενοι ἐπέλειχον τὰ ἕλκη αὐτοῦ.

22 ἐγένετο δὲ ἀποθανεῖν τὸν πτωχὸν καὶ ἀπενεχθῆναι αὐτὸν ὑπὸ τῶν ἀγγέλων εἰς τὸν κόλπον Ἀβραάμ: ἀπέθανεν δὲ καὶ ὁ πλούσιος καὶ ἐτάφη.

“There was a certain man who was wealthy, and he dressed in purple and linen, and he feasted sumptuously every day. (20) There was a certain poor man named Lazaros, covered in sores, who was thrown out of the gate (21) and he yearned to eat from the scraps from the table of the rich man. But the dogs coming licked his sores. (22) It happened that the poor man died and carried him to the bosom of Abraham; the rich man died too, and was buried.

A bit of a cliff-hanger there; what will happen to the rich man?

Note that the poor man has a name, but the rich man does not. Hence, this is usually referred to as the story of Dives and Lazarus. “Dives” is the Latin word for “rich”, so it’s “The Rich Man and Lazarus”. Why does the wealthy man not have a name? He can certainly afford one. Luke made an editorial choice on this. You’ll have to ask him. While we’re talking about names, why does one suppose that John chose Lazaros as the name of the man Jesus raised from the dead? It’s not like he actually existed, so that this was actually his name. Is this some sort of homage to Luke? Also, note that I’m being fairly lax with my translation; this is a case where, for the most part, the words don’t make that much difference. It’s a story. There may come a point where it does, and I will point this out, but it’s a story. The lesson lies in the moral, rather than in the story itself. And nice detail about the dogs coming to lick his sores. Yuck. But gives you a good sense of the situation, no? This is why I say Luke was a novelist. He’s got an eye for those sorts of details to drive a point home.

19 Homo quidam erat dives et induebatur purpura et bysso et epulabatur cotidie splendide.

20 Quidam autem pauper nomine Lazarus iacebat ad ianuam eius ulceribus plenus

21 et cupiens saturari de his, quae cadebant de mensa divitis; sed et canes veniebant et lingebant ulcera eius.

22 Factum est autem ut moreretur pauper et portaretur ab angelis in sinum Abrahae; mortuus est autem et dives et sepultus est.

23 καὶ ἐν τῷ ἅ|δῃ ἐπάρας τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς αὐτοῦ, ὑπάρχων ἐν βασάνοις, ὁρᾷ Ἀβραὰμ ἀπὸ μακρόθεν καὶ Λάζαρον ἐν τοῖς κόλποις αὐτοῦ.

24 καὶ αὐτὸς φωνήσας εἶπεν, Πάτερ Ἀβραάμ, ἐλέησόν με καὶ πέμψον Λάζαρον ἵνα βάψῃ τὸ ἄκρον τοῦ δακτύλου αὐτοῦ ὕδατος καὶ καταψύξῃ τὴν γλῶσσάν μου, ὅτι ὀδυνῶμαι ἐν τῇ φλογὶ ταύτῃ.

25 εἶπεν δὲ Ἀβραάμ, Τέκνον, μνήσθητι ὅτι ἀπέλαβες τὰ ἀγαθά σου ἐν τῇ ζωῇ σου, καὶ Λάζαρος ὁμοίως τὰ κακά: νῦν δὲ ὧδε παρακαλεῖται σὺ δὲ ὀδυνᾶσαι.

“And in Hades, lifting up his eyes, he being in torment, he saw Abraham from the blessed, and Lazaros in his bosoms. (23) And he, calling out, said ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazaros in order to dip the top of his finger in water, and cool my tongue, that I am tormented in this flame’. But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you received the good things in your lifetime, and Lazaros (received) equally the bad. Now, he is comforted and you are tormented’.

Well. How about that? This is probably the first description of Hell; at least, the first to give us the damned-eye view of what goes on. We have had references to the fiery pit, and other such allusions, but nothing quite this graphic. Admittedly, there may be this sort of description in some of the Apocryphal writings that date to the inter-testamental period, or the last/first couple of centuries either side of the start of the Common Era. There was a lot of stuff written, and I do not claim to be familiar with most of it. But this is the first we’ve encountered this in the canonical works of either Testament.

Now that is all very academic. Much more interesting is the attitude of Father Abraham. A bit cold, no? So much for a merciful God, eh? Which causes me to speculate if we don’t have Abraham standing in for God for precisely that reason: because Abraham can be a bit standoffish in a way that God cannot be. Of course, this is the same device used for Job: it’s not God, but the adversary who proposes the trial. Or the Adversary. This outsources the bad stuff away from God, so that the bad stuff can be blamed on Not-God. Of course, this involves a certain amount of sleight-of-hand, since an all-powerful God can prevent its agents from doing harm. That such a God chooses to allow harm indicates that the harm is part of the will of this God. The alternative is to consider a Principal of evil to have an identity separate from the Principal of good, but this implies that God is not all-powerful. There is no logical alternative. Of course, one can argue that God is not bound by logic, but then we have, essentially, a kosmos based on divine whim. This actually creates more problems than it solves. At least logically. 

One point that seems a bit odd. At first, in Verse 22, Lazaros is carried to the “bosom” of Abraham. Then, the second time, in Verse 23,  Dives sees Lazaros in the “bosoms” of Abraham. How we go from singular to plural is a bit beyond me. Checking the Latin, it is singular in both cases. That’s part of the interest here. The second is the Greek word, κόλπος. If pronounced aloud, perhaps you can see how it’s the root of our word ‘gulf’. The basic sense is that the kolpos is the hollow space between the breasts. From there, the idea was transferred to mean most any other similar hollow area, such as the fold in a gown or a robe. From there, we transfer it to a landform, the hollow between two extensions of land that hold an inlet– a ‘gulf’– of the sea. Checking the Latin, it’s sinus; yes, just like the areas above your eyes that get clogged. The base sense of the Latin is the fold of a toga around the breast; hence, the bosom. It is also a geographical term meaning– wait for it– ‘gulf’. If you look at a map of the moon, you can find the Sinus Medii, the Gulf of the Middle. The term would also be found on an old map of earth, like, 16th Century old, where the labels are in Latin. 

23 Et in inferno elevans oculos suos, cum esset in tormentis, videbat Abraham a longe et Lazarum in sinu eius.

24 Et ipse clamans dixit: “Pater Abraham, miserere mei et mitte Lazarum, ut intingat extremum digiti sui in aquam, ut refrigeret linguam meam, quia crucior in hac flamma”.

25 At dixit Abraham: “Fili, recordare quia recepisti bona tua in vita tua, et Lazarus similiter mala; nunc autem hic consolatur, tu vero cruciaris.

26 καὶ ἐν πᾶσι τούτοις μεταξὺ ἡμῶν καὶ ὑμῶν χάσμα μέγα ἐστήρικται, ὅπως οἱ θέλοντες διαβῆναι ἔνθεν πρὸς ὑμᾶς μὴ δύνωνται, μηδὲ ἐκεῖθεν πρὸς ἡμᾶς διαπερῶσιν.

27 εἶπεν δέ, Ἐρωτῶ σε οὖν, πάτερ, ἵνα πέμψῃς αὐτὸν εἰς τὸν οἶκον τοῦ πατρός μου,

28 ἔχω γὰρ πέντε ἀδελφούς, ὅπως διαμαρτύρηται αὐτοῖς, ἵνα μὴ καὶ αὐτοὶ ἔλθωσιν εἰς τὸν τόπον τοῦτον τῆς βασάνου.

29 λέγει δὲ Ἀβραάμ, Ἔχουσι Μωϋσέα καὶ τοὺς προφήτας: ἀκουσάτωσαν αὐτῶν.

30 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν, Οὐχί, πάτερ Ἀβραάμ, ἀλλ’ ἐάν τις ἀπὸ νεκρῶν πορευθῇ πρὸς αὐτοὺς μετανοήσουσιν.

31 εἶπεν δὲ αὐτῷ, Εἰ Μωϋσέως καὶ τῶν προφητῶν οὐκ ἀκούουσιν, οὐδ’ ἐάν τις ἐκ νεκρῶν ἀναστῇ πεισθήσονται.

” ‘And in all these things between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those wishing to descend to you are not able, nor from thence (may) they cross over to us.’ But he (Dives) said, ‘So I ask you, father, in order you may send him to the home of my father. For I have five brothers, that he may give witness to them, so that they also may not come to this place of torment’. But Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses Let them listen to them’. (30) But he (Dives) said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone of the dead go to them, they will repent’. (31) But he responded to him (Dives), ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, if someone of the dead should stand up/rise up, they will not believe’.”

Does anyone else find that last statement a bit…odd? The verb used can be– and also is– used as the verb for ‘resurrect’, as in, The Resurrection. Seems like someone famous is held to have been resurrected. Help me out? Oh, wait, it was Jesus. So Luke is saying that people will not listen to Jesus, come back from the dead? Passing strange, no? Or, is this a jab at Jews in particular, who did not listen to Moses and the prophets and repent, and, just so, they did not listen to Jesus, either.

26 Et in his omnibus inter nos et vos chaos magnum firmatum est, ut hi, qui volunt hinc transire ad vos, non possint, neque inde ad nos transmeare”.

27 Et ait: “Rogo ergo te, Pater, ut mittas eum in domum patris mei

28 — habeo enim quinque fratres — ut testetur illis, ne et ipsi veniant in locum hunc tormentorum”.

29 Ait autem Abraham: “Habent Moysen et Prophetas; audiant illos”.

30 At ille dixit: “Non, pater Abraham, sed si quis ex mortuis ierit ad eos, paenitentiam agent”.

31 Ait autem illi: “Si Moysen et Prophetas non audiunt, neque si quis ex mortuis resurrexerit, credent” ”.


Luke Chapter 16:1-13

This section will be fairly short since most of  involves a single story. This is sort of the prelude to what will come in the following section. The topic is wealth.  In the last chapter/summary I commented that Jesus may not have spent all that much time with the poor. This was in conjunction with his wont to spend time with tax collectors. He also spends a fair bit of time hanging around with Pharisees, who were also known to be well-heeled. While we don’t have any Pharisees in this selection, they will appear in Verse 14, in what is a continuation of this story.


1Ἔλεγεν δὲ καὶ πρὸς τοὺς μαθητάς, Ἄνθρωπός τις ἦν πλούσιος ὃς εἶχεν οἰκονόμον, καὶ οὗτος διεβλήθη αὐτῷ ὡς διασκορπίζων τὰ ὑπάρχοντα αὐτοῦ.

2 καὶ φωνήσας αὐτὸν εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Τί τοῦτο ἀκούω περὶ σοῦ; ἀπόδος τὸν λόγον τῆς οἰκονομίας σου, οὐ γὰρ δύνῃ ἔτι οἰκονομεῖν.

3 εἶπεν δὲ ἐν ἑαυτῷ ὁ οἰκονόμος, Τί ποιήσω, ὅτι ὁ κύριός μου ἀφαιρεῖται τὴν οἰκονομίαν ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ; σκάπτειν οὐκ ἰσχύω, ἐπαιτεῖν αἰσχύνομαι.

4 ἔγνων τί ποιήσω, ἵνα ὅταν μετασταθῶ ἐκ τῆς οἰκονομίας δέξωνταί με εἰς τοὺς οἴκους αὐτῶν.

And he said to his learners, “There was a certain man who was wealthy, who had a major-domo/steward and he (the man) accused him (the steward) as he (the steward) is squandering his (the man’s) possessions. (2) And calling him (the steward), he said to him (the steward), ‘Why do I hear this about you? Give an account of the household (lit = ‘house laws’ = economies of you) of your management of the household, for you are not able to run the household’. (3) The steward said in himself, ‘What will I do, that my lord takes away the management of the household from me? I am not strong to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. (4) I know what I would do so that when I am turned from the house they received me into their house.

Have to pause here to make a few comments on the Greek. The last verse is a series of aorist subjunctive verbs. This is a combination that is impossible to get across in English. The subjunctive is simple enough; it’s the realm of the hypothetical, usually rendered as “would” or something such in English. The aorist, however, is the standard past tense. So we have the combination of hypothetical, but past, which should not be hypothetical. Being past, it should be pretty much fixed and done for. I suppose the sense is something like ‘I have figured out (perfect) what I would do when/if…’

The other thing worth pointing out is the word ‘accused’. Here, it’s dieblēthē, from the root diaballo, infinitive form diaballein, ending up in Spanish as diablo. This is the root of devil, who in Hebrew was the adversary, and in Greek is the slanderer or the accuser.

This is a big one. Not sure how obvious it’s been, but I have serious questions about the translation “In the beginning was the Word” in John 1:1. If you go on to the Liddell & Scott site at Perseus/Tufts and key in ‘logos’, you will get a very long, a VERY long list of uses for this word. The first one, the basic meaning, is an account, as in an account of money. In Verse 2, the lord of the house demands that the steward give him a logon, an account–perhaps better, an accounting–of the household budget. Then if you scroll down the list, in definition VI, you get, 

             a verbal expression or utterance (cf. λέγω (B) 111), rarely a single word

So this gives us either, “in the beginning was the Audit of the Budget”, or “the Verbal Expression (but not a single word)”. If you have any sort of critical apparatus, this should make you question how and why the Logos of John 1:1 came out as “Word”. But wait, it gets weirder. If you use website (which I recommend), and find either this passage (Lk 16:2) or John 1:1, it will provide a complete list of every time some form of the word logos is used in the NT. Strong’s Words will do the same thing, but I find that a bit clunky since it breaks the occurrences up by case; it’s used in the nominative in cites 1-20, in the accusative in 21-44, the genitive…etc*. (And the numbers of the cites are strictly rhetorical, used in a for example sort of way.) It gets to the same end, but is easier. And it’s also better for providing a logos of how many times each author uses a particular word. And my use of logos there was also used as an example; this would be a proper use of logos; but I could not say it provides a word of how many times the word is used.

Back to the point. If you skim through the list from, you will see a lot of instances where the word is translated as word. (Note that the cites are as translated by the KJV.) Is it possible that the NT truly uses logos in a manner that is different from the way it was used in Classical Greek? That is entirely possible. And, if so, this could imply some very significant ramifications. First and foremost is that it could be considered a serious blow to my contention that there is no such thing as NT Greek. In turn. this could imply that the authors of the various books of the NT had a much more thorough knowledge of the books written before each of them wrote. I have not seen a lot of debate on this, except in terms of Matthew/Luke/Q. This is a question, IMO, that should receive greater scrutiny; or, it’s a question that I personally need to delve into the literature that already exists. Regardless, rest assured I will be working through the list of instances to determine how many of them could just as easily be rendered as something other than “word”.  

Finally, this isn’t about the Greek, but it bears mention, IMO. Interesting that the man believes he only has two career choices available to him: digging, or begging.

* At least, it works like this on the website I use, which is it works well enough that I haven’t actively sought out an alternative. 

1 Dicebat autem et ad discipulos: “ Homo quidam erat dives, qui habebat vilicum, et hic diffamatus est apud illum quasi dissipasset bona ipsius.

2 Et vocavit illum et ait illi: “Quid hoc audio de te? Redde rationem vilicationis tuae; iam enim non poteris vilicare”.

3 Ait autem vilicus intra se: “Quid faciam, quia dominus meus aufert a me vilicationem? Fodere non valeo, mendicare erubesco.

4 Scio quid faciam, ut, cum amotus fuero a vilicatione, recipiant me in domos suas”.

5 καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος ἕνα ἕκαστον τῶν χρεοφειλετῶν τοῦ κυρίου ἑαυτοῦ ἔλεγεν τῷ πρώτῳ, Πόσον ὀφείλεις τῷ κυρίῳ μου;

6 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν, Ἑκατὸν βάτους ἐλαίου. ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Δέξαι σου τὰ γράμματα καὶ καθίσας ταχέως γράψον πεντήκοντα.

7 ἔπειτα ἑτέρῳ εἶπεν, Σὺ δὲ πόσον ὀφείλεις; ὁ δὲ εἶπεν, Ἑκατὸν κόρους σίτου. λέγει αὐτῷ, Δέξαι σου τὰ γράμματα καὶ γράψον ὀγδοήκοντα.

8 καὶ ἐπῄνεσεν ὁ κύριος τὸν οἰκονόμον τῆς ἀδικίας ὅτι φρονίμως ἐποίησεν: ὅτι οἱ υἱοὶ τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου φρονιμώτεροι ὑπὲρ τοὺς υἱοὺς τοῦ φωτὸς εἰς τὴν γενεὰν τὴν ἑαυτῶν εἰσιν.

“And having called together each one of the debtors of his lord he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe to my lord?’ (6) And he (the first debtor) said, ‘A hundred measures* of oil’. He (the steward) replied, ‘You will take the record (lit = writing), and seated upon it you will write fifty.’ (7) Then he (the steward) said to another, ‘How much do you owe?’ The other responded ‘One hundred measures of grain’. He (the steward) said to him, ‘You will take the record and you will write eighty’. (8) And the lord praised the unrighteous steward that he made such intelligence. That the sons of this age are smarter over the sons of light in their generation.     

* The word means a specific amount, but I’m not sure what it is. Doesn’t really matter, IMO, but apologies for my ignorance.

Does anyone else find the the reaction of the lord, as well as the whole lesson to be a bit baffling? The steward is reducing the amounts owed to the lord without, apparently, explicit authorization. The steward is reducing the accounts receivable which is a reduction in the lord’s net worth, and possibly creating a downward vector on the house’s cash flow. In non-accounting, non-capitalism terms, this is not a good thing for the lord. And yet, and yet, the lord finds this sort of sharp-dealing to be clever. Well, actually it is clever. But it’s also a bit sneaky, and is certainly unethical. The steward is acting unilaterally to his lord’s detriment so the steward can save his own butt. And the lord thinks this is not only OK, but praiseworthy. One could argue that the lord is more than happy to employ someone like this to fatten his own coffers, but he is dismissing the steward for squandering the lord’s money. So, a bit of a mixed message, no?

Or is that the point? In the last bit of Verse 8, Jesus’ editorial comment is that the sons of this age are smarter than the sons of light. For those of you without a program, the sons of light are the good guys. So, perhaps Jesus isn’t actually praising the sons of this age, and that the praise of the lord is a bit ironic. I think that might become a bit more obvious in the next couple of verses.

But first, let us discuss the term adikos, which is used to describe the steward. The a- prefix is a negation; a-gnostic = not knowing. So he’s being not-…what? The word dikē is another of those complex words, like logos, but not quite as bad. In Paul, we encounter the term dikaios very often, and the overwhelming choice for translation is righteous. In fact, the term dikē is more closely associated with justice. At base, it’s custom, or usage. From there, it comes to have judicial implications, and the closest association becomes justice. And, in fact, dikē can & does become a synonym for the decision of a judge, in particular in which a malefactor gets his comeuppance. But notice the common thread through all these words: righteous, justice, judge, etc: they are all Latin based. Not a Greek root in the lot. Our concept of The Law comes from the Romans, who were legal (also Latin) eagles to a high degree. So, for Paul, we are made righteous by God, we are dikaios. It would be difficult to conceive of what it would mean if God made us just, would it not? Righteous is a personal adjective; just is something that we exercise in relation to others. Here, whether we call the steward unjust or unrighteous does not carry a huge amount of weight; it doesn’t matter overmuch. But in Paul, I think it does. And it’s another thing to keep in mind, that these words that get so blithely translated may not–in fact often do not–mean what we think.

A terrific book on this topic is Iustitia Dei, by Alister McGrath. In it, he traces from the Hebrew root on which dikaios rests, and how much this translation distorted the ideas of the Hebrew word. And then, when it gets translated into Latin, another and entirely different set of distortions are placed on the concept. Because we are the legal descendants of the Romans and not the Greeks or the Hebrews, and because we read the Bible in Latin for a millennium or more, we have interpreted the words of the NT very differently than we would have if we’d read the NT in Greek or Hebrew. Righteous is mostly a legal concept; and while iustitia and dikē both get translated as “just”, the two words are not interchangeable, just as psyche sometimes means physical life and sometimes means soul. We get so smug in our understanding of the Bible, but this smugness is often not warranted. IOW, it’s not justified.

PS. the book Iustitia Dei is not necessarily meant for a general audience. It assumes a certain amount of background in both Greek and Latin. Check out the reviews on Amazon. All 5 or 4 stars, but with some caveats. One person with a bit of Latin, more Greek (apparently), and lots of forgotten Hebrew described it as “quite accessible”.

5 Convocatis itaque singulis debitoribus domini sui, dicebat primo: “Quantum debes domino meo?”.

6 At ille dixit: “Centum cados olei”. Dixitque illi: “Accipe cautionem tuam et sede cito, scribe quinquaginta”.

7 Deinde alii dixit: “Tu vero quantum debes?”. Qui ait: “Centum coros tritici”. Ait illi: “Accipe litteras tuas et scribe octoginta”.

8 Et laudavit dominus vilicum iniquitatis, quia prudenter fecisset, quia filii huius saeculi prudentiores filiis lucis in generatione sua sunt.

9 Καὶ ἐγὼ ὑμῖν λέγω, ἑαυτοῖς ποιήσατε φίλους ἐκ τοῦ μαμωνᾶ τῆς ἀδικίας, ἵνα ὅταν ἐκλίπῃ δέξωνται ὑμᾶς εἰς τὰς αἰωνίους σκηνάς.

10 ὁ πιστὸς ἐν ἐλαχίστῳ καὶ ἐν πολλῷ πιστός ἐστιν, καὶ ὁ ἐν ἐλαχίστῳ ἄδικος καὶ ἐν πολλῷ ἄδικός ἐστιν.

11 εἰ οὖν ἐν τῷ ἀδίκῳ μαμωνᾷ πιστοὶ οὐκ ἐγένεσθε, τὸ ἀληθινὸντίς ὑμῖν πιστεύσει;

12 καὶ εἰ ἐν τῷ ἀλλοτρίῳ πιστοὶ οὐκ ἐγένεσθε, τὸ ὑμέτερον τίς ὑμῖν δώσει;

13 Οὐδεὶς οἰκέτης δύναται δυσὶ κυρίοις δουλεύειν: ἢ γὰρ τὸν ἕνα μισήσει καὶ τὸν ἕτερον ἀγαπήσει, ἢ ἑνὸς ἀνθέξεται καὶ τοῦ ἑτέρου καταφρονήσει. οὐ δύνασθε θεῷ δουλεύειν καὶ μαμωνᾷ.

And I say to you, make friends for yourselves from the mammon of injustice, so that when it may fail to receive you to the tent of the ages. (10) The one faithful in the least, also is (faithful) in much, and that one unjust in the least, (is) also is unjust in much. (11) So if the faithful are not (faithful) in unrighteous mammon, does the true thing trust you? (12) And if faithful are not (faithful) to another, who will give your (thing) to you? (13) No household slave can be a slave to two masters; for he will hate either one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

First, to say the Greek in here is tortured is an understatement. The Latin does clean things up a bit, but that assumes that St Jerome really understood the intent in the first place. One has to assume all sorts of unstated things, which is not at all uncommon in Greek or Latin; however, this takes it to a higher level; it’s almost epigrammatic. By this I mean a pithy saying that has been reduced to the absolute bare minimum number of words. Thucydides is notorious for this , to the point that much of the scholarly debate consists of arguments about what Thucydides is actually saying in a given passage. So to some extent, Luke is showing off a bit with his highly personal use of grammar. Back to the Latin, the version of the Vulgate that I’m using is a modern edition, with modern punctuation. That very helpful. Greek was


No, I’m not shouting; that is how it was originally written. Lower case and spaces were Hellenistic inventions, or modifications. So Luke may have written this in a form closer to what we are seeing.

Then, to take it a step further, his choice of words in the second half of the “two masters” passage (V13) is interesting. The first part is fine: hate vs love, straightforward, standard vocabulary. In the second part, ‘hate’ is replaced by a word that, in its most literal form, means ‘hold against’. So, at first glance we could take this as a synonym for ‘hate’. But then the second word is more standard and means ‘despise’. (Or, literally, it means to ‘love down’. The philos– root with a kata prefix, which means down. Ana-baino is to go up; kata-baino is to descend. So we have to go back to the ‘hold against’ and understand that it can also mean to hold before one, sort of as a shield; this gives the implication that the holder is following the person held out of affection. So again, a bit of fancy footwork here from Luke. 

Now for the meaning of the passages. I said after the previous comment that we would be considered Verses 5-8 in light of what we read next. At the end of the previous section, in Verse 8, the lord is praising the wicked steward for the latter’s shrewd and sharp dealing, which, ultimately, came at the lord’s expense. This seemed a bit peculiar. However, take with this section, we get a meaning more suited to what we think of as Christianity. Jesus has a one-two punch here; before, he told us how the children of this age have it over the children of the light. Rather than being praise, Jesus is using this as an example of how apparently wicked people seem to prosper at the expense of good people. Then, we get the follow-up here telling us that the wicked,, even if they prosper in this world. But wait, there’s more! This episode continues in the next section.

9 Et ego vobis dico: Facite vobis amicos de mammona iniquitatis, ut, cum defecerit, recipiant vos in aeterna tabernacula.

10 Qui fidelis est in minimo, et in maiori fidelis est; et, qui in modico iniquus est, et in maiori iniquus est.

11 Si ergo in iniquo mammona fideles non fuistis, quod verum est, quis credet vobis?

12 Et si in alieno fideles non fuistis, quod vestrum est, quis dabit vobis?

13 Nemo servus potest duobus dominis servire: aut enim unum odiet et alterum diliget, aut uni adhaerebit et alterum contemnet. Non potestis Deo servire et mammonae”.


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.


Luke Chapter 15:11-32 The Prodigal Son

This is a very long piece of Greek. I try not to do sections that are too long so I can keep the posts moving along, but this is all a single story, and breaking it into arbitrary pieces would only complicate matters.

This follows hard on the heels of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin. All three are unique to Luke, and most likely created by him. There is no sound historical reason to doubt or question that he is the author. The idea of an “L” source is just creating bodies needlessly, and there is no evidence of any such thing. At some point it will be necessary to take a step back and attempt to create a likely series of events that occurred after Jesus’ death. The interesting thing is that what happened after his death is more important than what actually happened when he was alive. We have nothing written about him before the 50s, which comes from Paul. It is key to note that Paul showed pretty much no interest in anything Jesus did before rising from the dead.

The common theme of these three stories is repentance. The lost is found. This is a very important, indeed crucial topic. As such, it’s probably best to save the discussion & comparison for the chapter summary. With that expectation, here is the



11 Εἶπεν δέ, Ἄνθρωπός τις εἶχεν δύο υἱούς.

12 καὶ εἶπεν ὁ νεώτερος αὐτῶν τῷ πατρί, Πάτερ, δός μοι τὸ ἐπιβάλλον μέρος τῆς οὐσίας. ὁ δὲ διεῖλεν αὐτοῖς τὸν βίον.

(11) And he said, “There was a certain man who had two sons. (12) And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share being thrown on me (= inheritance, apparently) of the things existing (= your possessions, apparently). He (the father) divided his life to them.

Have to note the Greek vocabulary here. I’ve given the literal translations along with the “standard” meaning in parentheses. “Share being thrown on me” is rather colorful. But the word meros means portion or share, usually used with the allotment of land given to someone, as when a colony was founded and the land divided, or the portion of an inheritance. It’s the “being thrown upon me” that is a bit…odd, but the Greek word is that for “to throw”. And here is where the Greek verb tenses get a little funky. “Being thrown” is a present participle, so the published translations say something like, “that comes/falls to me”. Maybe it’s just me, but I think of the estate being divided at the death of the father, so I would put this in the future. But this may be my lack of understanding of how inheritance worked at the time. Next, the things divided are ousias; this is a participle of the verb “to be”. It gets used a lot in philosophy for “existence”, but it does stretch to “possessions” in pagan Greek as well. So not too much of a mental leap. One thing I note is that Greek uses a lot of participles when we would use nouns. A participle is the -ing form of a verb. So, rather than being just something static, possessions, the thought behind is active, existing. These things don’t just sit there and exist; they are performing an action by existing. Finally, “divided his life”. That is, the father divided the things that make up his life; hence, his possessions. We call it the estate. Peeking at the Latin, we have substantia, which = “resources”. The cognate shows it means ‘things of substance’, but the form of the word is a noun, so much closer to our way of thinking. Actually, can’t recall where I read it, but someone commented that using the Latin Bible for a millennium or more really had a profound impact on the Western Church, and that much of the theological history of the Western Church was the result of translating Greek thoughts into Latin language. The two languages do look at the world differently.

11 Ait autem: “ Homo quidam habebat duos filios.

12 Et dixit adulescentior ex illis patri: “Pater, da mihi portionem substantiae, quae me contingit”. Et divisit illis substantiam.

13 καὶ μετ’ οὐ πολλὰς ἡμέρας συναγαγὼν πάντα ὁ νεώτερος υἱὸς ἀπεδήμησεν εἰς χώραν μακράν, καὶ ἐκεῖ διεσκόρπισεν τὴν οὐσίαν αὐτοῦ ζῶν ἀσώτως.

“And after not many days gathering all the younger son went abroad to a distant country, and there he squandered his existing things in a life unsaved.

The last word is interesting. It’s from the root of “to save”, and is very close to the word for “saviour”. But it has the a- prefix, which is negation, such as a-moral. It’s an adverb, describing how he was living: in a manner not saved, or perhaps ‘not safe’. The ESV translates as “reckless”, and that’s much better than “riotous” or “loose”. The Latin is luxuriose, which probably needs no translation. Again, a difference in the way the two languages approach the concept. 

13 Et non post multos dies, congregatis omnibus, adulescentior filius peregre profectus est in regionem longinquam et ibi dissipavit substantiam suam vivendo luxuriose.

14 δαπανήσαντος δὲ αὐτοῦ πάντα ἐγένετο λιμὸς ἰσχυρὰ κατὰ τὴν χώραν ἐκείνην, καὶ αὐτὸς ἤρξατο ὑστερεῖσθαι.

15 καὶ πορευθεὶς ἐκολλήθη ἑνὶ τῶν πολιτῶν τῆς χώρας ἐκείνης, καὶ ἔπεμψεν αὐτὸν εἰς τοὺς ἀγροὺς αὐτοῦ βόσκειν χοίρους:

16 καὶ ἐπεθύμει χορτασθῆναι ἐκ τῶν κερατίων ὧν ἤσθιον οἱ χοῖροι, καὶ οὐδεὶς ἐδίδου αὐτῷ.

“Having squandered all of his (money), there became a strong famine upon that country, and he began to fall behind (= to be left behind = to want, as in being at the end of the line and there’s nothing left). (15) And going/departing he glued himself to a citizen of that country, and the citizen sent him to his fields to feed the swine. (16) And he wished to eat of the husks of which the pigs fed, and no one gave anything to him.

I like the “glued himself”. I also could have chosen “cemented himself”; the concept of “attaching” is pretty clear. Second, the man was probably a pagan. There are two clues for this. First, if the man is raising swine, chances are, he was pagan. This is interesting, because Luke is supposed to be the pagan of the four (but I suspect Matthew was, too). The idea of feeding pigs would have been the lowest of the low to Jewish sensibilities, since pigs were unclean. I suppose Jews may have owned pigs, but I don’t think we’re supposed to go that direction. Rather, ties in with second clue, which is the “far country” in Verse 13. If one left Judea or Galilee and went any distance– even a short one, really– one would pretty much be in pagan territory. There were places that had large Jewish populations, like Alexandria and Babylon, but still the territory would have a pagan majority. Finally, is he working for free? Why does he not have a paycheck to purchase food? Wasn’t that the point? Or even if he were working for room & board, he should, theoretically, be recompensed for his labor. That’s kind of how it works, and that is why he got himself a job. Now, maybe the board provided was insufficient to keep him full; in times of famine, one would expect a surplus of labor, which would drive down the wages labor can command. This would mean that the wage paid may not have been sufficient for keeping a working person. And the odd thing is that slaves actually fared better than hired hands. Slaves represented an investment of capital, and the owner understood that it worked to his favor to maintain the slave at a level that kept the slave productive. A hired hand, OTOH, was completely expendable. Hire them when needed, fire them when not.

14 Et postquam omnia consummasset, facta est fames valida in regione illa, et ipse coepit egere.

15 Et abiit et adhaesit uni civium regionis illius, et misit illum in villam suam, ut pasceret porcos;

16 et cupiebat saturari de siliquis, quas porci manducabant, et nemo illi dabat.

17 εἰς ἑαυτὸν δὲ ἐλθὼν ἔφη, Πόσοι μίσθιοι τοῦ πατρός μου περισσεύονται ἄρτων, ἐγὼ δὲ λιμῷ ὧδε ἀπόλλυμαι.

18 ἀναστὰς πορεύσομαι πρὸς τὸν πατέρα μου καὶ ἐρῶ αὐτῷ, Πάτερ, ἥμαρτον εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ ἐνώπιόν σου,

19 οὐκέτι εἰμὶ ἄξιος κληθῆναι υἱός σου: ποίησόν με ὡς ἕνα τῶν μισθίων σου.

“Coming to himself, he said, ‘How much abundance of bread the hired hands of my father (have); but I in hunger in this way am destroyed (I perish). (18) Standing, I will go to my father and say to him, (19) “Father, I have sinned against the sky and before you, I (am) no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hirelings”.’

The ‘coming to himself’ is an interesting usage. It sort of took me by surprise that the Greek would use an expression like this; it seems too modern. The Latin is “reversing to himself”, or “turning back to himself”, which is similar if not quite exact. Also, the word for ‘hireling’ is also the word often used for ‘reward’. Perhaps the common ground is ‘recompense’; so those recompensed will be paid, or they will receive their recompense in the sky as in Mt 5:12. “Great is your recompense in the heavens”. Looking at this from Matthew, the shading of recompense/reward becomes very clear. The concept behind “great is your reward in the heavens” carries a rather different set of connotations. And, BTW, the Latin for “hirelings” is mercennarii, the root of “mercenary”. It simply means “doing it for pay”.

17 In se autem reversus dixit: “Quanti mercennarii patris mei abundant panibus, ego autem hic fame pereo.

18 Surgam et ibo ad patrem meum et dicam illi: Pater, peccavi in caelum et coram te

19 et iam non sum dignus vocari filius tuus; fac me sicut unum de mercennariis tuis”.

20 καὶ ἀναστὰς ἦλθεν πρὸς τὸν πατέρα ἑαυτοῦ. ἔτι δὲ αὐτοῦ μακρὰν ἀπέχοντος εἶδεν αὐτὸν ὁ πατὴρ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐσπλαγχνίσθη καὶ δραμὼν ἐπέπεσεν ἐπὶ τὸν τράχηλον αὐτοῦ καὶ κατεφίλησεν αὐτόν.

21 εἶπεν δὲ ὁ υἱὸς αὐτῷ, Πάτερ, ἥμαρτον εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ ἐνώπιόν σου, οὐκέτι εἰμὶ ἄξιος κληθῆναι υἱός σου.

22 εἶπεν δὲ ὁ πατὴρ πρὸς τοὺς δούλους αὐτοῦ, Ταχὺ ἐξενέγκατε στολὴν τὴν πρώτην καὶ ἐνδύσατε αὐτόν, καὶ δότε δακτύλιον εἰς τὴν χεῖρα αὐτοῦ καὶ ὑποδήματα εἰς τοὺς πόδας,

23 καὶ φέρετε τὸν μόσχον τὸν σιτευτόν, θύσατε καὶ φαγόντες εὐφρανθῶμεν,

24 ὅτι οὗτος ὁ υἱός μου νεκρὸς ἦν καὶ ἀνέζησεν, ἦν ἀπολωλὼς καὶ εὑρέθη. καὶ ἤρξαντο εὐφραίνεσθαι.

“And standing he came to his father. Yet while he was still far away at a distance his father saw (him) and was moved to compassion and running fell upon his neck and kissed him. (21) The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against the sky and before you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ The father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring forth a robe first and dress him, and give rings to his fingers and sandals to his feet. (23) And bring the fatted calf, sacrificing eating we will rejoice. That this my son was dead and is (now) up living, was lost and is found’. And they began to celebrate. 

A number of things in here. First, in Verse 21, a minority of mss traditions add “make me as one of your hirelings”, which was in the speech the son practiced in Verse 21. The ESV, NIV, NASB, and KJV all exclude this extra bit of wording. It’s easy to see how it got into the text; some scribe somewhere was sort of going by wrote from what he had written a few verses before, and just kept going and added the part about the hireling. Or, it got truncated. Generally, the majority opinion represents the most likely explanation, and that could easily hold here. Offhand, I would say that the second set of circumstances would be more likely, so I would tend towards it getting left out rather than added to; however, that then requires explaining how the left out became the majority opinion and is found in the largest number of mss traditions. So, once again, I will plead agnostic on this; textual stuff is the realm of specialists, and I do not have the chops to have an opinion that’s worth anything.

Still, it’s an interesting style point to note how we get the practice speech and then the actual speech separated by a few verses. What does this say? Most notably the reader/listener really understands what the son’s message to the father is. That he is not worthy to be called son. This would be an argument in favor of the shorter version that we have here: this ends the son’s address to the father with “I am not worthy”, thereby giving this part of the message a greater rhetorical impact. And this then becomes more or less the theme of this whole parable. Despite not being worthy, we can all still be reconciled with God. This is a significant part of the Christian message, albeit one that some, perhaps, would like to ignore. We’ll get back to that when we discuss the overall message of this parable at the end of this section.

Just a bit on “up living’. The word here was coined by Luke; at least, this is the only recorded use of the word in any sort of literary context that has survived to our day. It is composed of the word “to live” with the prefix “ana”, which means “up”. So, “up to live”. The Latin is revixit, literally “to live again”, or, actually, “to re-live”. Can we stretch this to “resurrection”? It’s not out of the question. Is this a reference to being saved? Most likely, since he was lost but now has been found. More on this in a bit.

20 Et surgens venit ad patrem suum.

Cum autem adhuc longe esset, vidit illum pater ipsius et misericordia motus est et accurrens cecidit supra collum eius et osculatus est illum.

21 Dixitque ei filius: “Pater, peccavi in caelum et coram te; iam non sum dignus vocari filius tuus”.

22 Dixit autem pater ad servos suos: “Cito proferte stolam primam et induite illum et date anulum in manum eius et calceamenta in pedes

23 et adducite vitulum saginatum, occidite et manducemus et epulemur,

24 quia hic filius meus mortuus erat et revixit, perierat et inventus est”. Et coeperunt epulari.

25 ην δὲ ὁ υἱὸς αὐτοῦ ὁ πρεσβύτερος ἐν ἀγρῷ: καὶ ὡς ἐρχόμενος ἤγγισεν τῇ οἰκίᾳ, ἤκουσεν συμφωνίας καὶ χορῶν,

26 καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος ἕνα τῶν παίδων ἐπυνθάνετο τί ἂν εἴη ταῦτα.

27 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτῷ ὅτι Ὁ ἀδελφός σου ἥκει, καὶ ἔθυσεν ὁ πατήρ σου τὸν μόσχον τὸν σιτευτόν, ὅτι ὑγιαίνοντα αὐτὸν ἀπέλαβεν.

28 ὠργίσθη δὲ καὶ οὐκ ἤθελεν εἰσελθεῖν. ὁ δὲ πατὴρ αὐτοῦ ἐξελθὼν παρεκάλει αὐτόν.

29 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν τῷ πατρὶ αὐτοῦ, Ἰδοὺ τοσαῦτα ἔτη δουλεύω σοι καὶ οὐδέποτε ἐντολήν σου παρῆλθον, καὶ ἐμοὶ οὐδέποτε ἔδωκας ἔριφον ἵνα μετὰ τῶν φίλων μου εὐφρανθῶ:

30 ὅτε δὲ ὁ υἱός σου οὗτος ὁ καταφαγών σου τὸν βίον μετὰπορνῶν ἦλθεν, ἔθυσας αὐτῷ τὸν σιτευτὸν μόσχον.

31 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Τέκνον, σὺ πάντοτε μετ’ ἐμοῦ εἶ, καὶ πάντα τὰ ἐμὰ σά ἐστιν:

32 εὐφρανθῆναι δὲ καὶ χαρῆναι ἔδει, ὅτι ὁ ἀδελφός σου οὗτος νεκρὸς ἦν καὶ ἔζησεν, καὶ ἀπολωλὼς καὶ εὑρέθη.

“And his older son was in the field. And as he was coming nigh to the house, he heard symphonies and choruses, (26) and calling one of the boys (slaves) he asked what these things would be. (27) He (the slave) said to him (the elder), ‘Your brother arrived, and your father sacrificed the fatted calf, that healthy he received him back’. (28) He was angered and did not wish to come in. His father coming out called to him. (29) He (the son) answering said to his father, ‘Look, how so many years I slave for you and never circumvented your commandments and never did you give me a kid so that with my friends I may have celebrated. (30) But that your son came, he who having eaten your possessions with harlots returned, you sacrificed for him the fatted calf’. (31) He (the father) said to him (the elder), ‘Son, you always are with me, and all that I have is yours. (32) But look, rejoice and be happy that your brother who was dead and now lives (again; same verb as in Verse 23) and was lost, and has been found’.”

First, I just want to note that this is the end of the chapter. There is no further lesson, no explanation of the lesson, and no rebuttal by a Pharisee. Rhetorically and stylistically, this is the last word on the topic. It just stands.

And this lesson is similar to that of the Lost Sheep. There the shepherd leaves the 99 in the wilderness to find the one lost. Now, a sheep may have been an expensive loss, but I doubt the cost-benefit analysis on regaining the one outweighs the potential of the loss of the 99. The latter are left to fend for themselves. In similar manner, here the older brother is miffed that the younger is restored to good graces and– to the elder’s mind– so easily. In these stories the good people, the just (dikaios) as they are called here, seem to get short shrift. And, unfortunately, this is one of the hardest lessons for some Christians to learn. With whom do we identify in this story? Perhaps you were the riotous youth, but I was generally the sober one, studying and learning Greek whereas my older brother was, shall we say, a bit of a party animal. So yeah, I understand the chagrin of the just. We want the rotten kid to suffer. At least some, and even if we never admit it to ourselves, let alone anyone else. This is the innate and slightly counterintuitive appeal of Calvinism. All those “good folk” are convinced of which side they are on, so why bother with the reprobates? They’re just damned, and there’s nothing we can do for them. And since all God’s friends are rich, well, it’s easy to tell who’s on which team.

Many cultures in the ancient world had a concept that one’s soul would be judged post-mortem, and that the judgement would be something of a balancing act. Did your good outweigh your bad? The Egyptians believed our heart would be put on one side of the scale, and a feather on the other. If your heart outweighed the feather, you flunked the test. Catholicism is sort of in the mindset of the good/bad scale. Do something wrong, and you have to do penance for it, and it’s usually impossible to atone for all your sins in a single lifetime. Hence, the need for Purgatory, which the nuns assured us, we would all experience. Now, that’s not to argue for or against Purgatory, but it demonstrates very effectively the mindset of the ancient world. It’s also one of the most egregious things that Martin Luther saw as wrong with Catholic thinking. And there is good reason to argue that this was not the intent of this story, or that of the Lost Sheep. The Latin says do penance. The Greek says, be penitent, or repent. I can assure you that the penance that must be done for one’s sins was meted out at the end of confession. There are Mediaeval handbooks of penance that were intended as how-to manual for priests. Sin X should be atoned by Penance Y. That is not the message here.

Interestingly, this concept described here better reflects the Jewish attitude than the pagan attitude. After all, repentance was the word that the Baptist used in Mark. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement, when devout Jews spend the whole day in Temple praying and asking forgiveness. [Full disclosure: I have never been in a Temple on Yom Kippur, so I cannot specify exactly what happens. That is the inference I’ve drawn from things I’ve heard.] 

The point here is that Jesus tells us that we don’t need to make up for all those misdeeds by trying to counterbalance them with good works, or works of penance. Rather, we need to repent, to be penitent. The word in Greek literally means “change (as in redirect) your mind”. When you have that change of mind, Luke says, and of heart, you will be given your full reward. 

25 Erat autem filius eius senior in agro et, cum veniret et appropinquaret domui, audivit symphoniam et choros

26 et vocavit unum de servis et interrogavit quae haec essent.

27 Isque dixit illi: “Frater tuus venit, et occidit pater tuus vitulum saginatum, quia salvum illum recepit”.

28 Indignatus est autem et nolebat introire. Pater ergo illius egressus coepit rogare illum.

29 At ille respondens dixit patri suo: “Ecce tot annis servio tibi et numquam mandatum tuum praeterii, et numquam dedisti mihi haedum, ut cum amicis meis epularer;

30 sed postquam filius tuus hic, qui devoravit substantiam tuam cum meretricibus, venit, occidisti illi vitulum saginatum”.

31 At ipse dixit illi: “Fili, tu semper mecum es, et omnia mea tua sunt;

32 epulari autem et gaudere oportebat, quia frater tuus hic mortuus erat et revixit, perierat et inventus est” ”.


Luke Chapter 15:1-10

This is the famous story of the Lost Sheep. It is unique to Luke. There is no real legitimate reason to believe that Luke did not compose this story himself. To the best of my knowledge, most scholarship would attribute this to a tradition that somehow preserved this story intact, but bypassed Mark & Matthew. Now, being honest and blunt, this is entirely possible. Since nothing was written about Jesus until the 50s, but, truly about Jesus, until the 70s, there were doubtless numerous strands of tradition about him. Paul tells us as much when he decries the Thessalonians for succumbing to “another gospel”. Indeed, that was part of the contention with James, brother of the lord: they had different messages, which, I suspect, went beyond Jewish dietary laws and circumcision.

So why not attribute this to the L Source? This is how the Q proponents account for the material unique to Luke; the material unique to Matthew has been dubbed M. While this is possible, it seems unlikely that there was a trove of material floating about that only Luke discovered. And part of the argument is that L and M were oral traditions; only Q was written. It is possible, indeed probably, that such traditions existed. What is unlikely, and highly so, is that these traditions actually traced back to Jesus. Much more likely is that different communities came up with their own set of stories, just like different areas came up with their own episodes for the Arthurian legends. However, while possible, I believe this does a disservice to both Matthew and Luke. Both evangelists were men of some erudition, and each crafted a gospel that fit in with his particular view of Jesus. These views were not always entirely consistent, but they worked towards consistency; I suspect the process reaches apotheosis with John, but we’ll find out when we get there. For now, let’s turn to the



1) ησαν δὲ αὐτῷ ἐγγίζοντες πάντες οἱ τελῶναι καὶ οἱ ἁμαρτωλοὶ ἀκούειν αὐτοῦ.

2 καὶ διεγόγγυζον οἵ τε Φαρισαῖοι καὶ οἱ γραμματεῖς λέγοντες ὅτι Οὗτος ἁμαρτωλοὺς προσδέχεται καὶ συνεσθίει αὐτοῖς.

There were approaching to him the tax-collectors and sinners to hear him. (2) And muttering were the Pharisees and the Scribes, saying that, “He receives sinners and eats with them.”

That Jesus consorted with publicans and sinners is found in all three gospels. It is very tempting to see this as authentic tradition. It does not exactly square with the idea of Jesus being a magician; these latter usually sought out the more substantial members of society who were able to pay for their services. Then, OTOH, it does not say that Jesus was consorting with the poor, but with sinners. Publicans were notoriously wealthy, attaining this wealth by squeezing taxpayers for more than the required amount. The Roman Empire outsourced tax collection to private contractors in the free market. Would-be publicans bid on how much they would collect, and Roman officials accepted the highest bidder. The contractor then had to squeeze the public for an amount over and above the contract amount in order to realize a profit. That these successful contractors were generally wealthy indicates their efficiency and ruthlessness in collection activities. IOW, if you think the government is rapacious, see what happens if this gets outsourced. And there are proposals out there that this should happen. 

So is this an an accurate description of Jesus’ behavior? That may strike many people as an absurd question. Of course he acted this way. That’s what the NT tells us he did. It’s one of the bases of the Christian ideal. The problem with this assessment, of course, is that we have no evidence for Jesus’ behaviour. The NT does not provide anything close to an actual historical record. Matthew and Luke both tell whopping big lies in their birth narratives*; so, from the start, we should be very selective about taking anything they say at face value. Because what kind of sinners were these people? Well, Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. Except nowhere are we told this in the NT. This was part of later tradition. There was the woman who anointed Jesus with the perfume, who the Pharisees tut-tutted was a sinner, by which *nudge-nudge wink-wink* we’re supposed to infer a prostitute; however, nowhere is this woman called Mary Magdalene, and she is not called a sinner in any of the other versions. Matthew uses the word “sinner” five times, and three of them are canned phrase “publicans and sinners”. It’s enough to make one wonder if part of the reason Jesus was reviled by the Jewish establishment (if, indeed, he was) had more to do with him hanging out with tax collectors than ‘sinners’ per se. And interestingly, hanging out with publicans would have been pro-Roman behavior; IOW, instead of railing against Rome, he was chummy with the collaborators. Makes one wonder about the whole zealot thing. Or, it should.

This is a huge topic.

1 Erant autem appropinquantes ei omnes publicani et pec catores, ut audirent illum.

2 Et murmurabant pharisaei et scribae dicentes: “Hic peccatores recipit et manducat cum illis”.

3 εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς αὐτοὺς τὴν παραβολὴν ταύτην λέγων,

4 Τίς ἄνθρωπος ἐξ ὑμῶν ἔχων ἑκατὸν πρόβατα καὶ ἀπολέσας ἐξ αὐτῶν ἓν οὐ καταλείπει τὰ ἐνενήκοντα ἐννέα ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ καὶ πορεύεται ἐπὶ τὸ ἀπολωλὸς ἕως εὕρῃ αὐτό;

He said to them this parable, saying (4) “What person of you having one hundred sheep and losing of them (a single) one does not leave the 99 in the wilderness and seek upon the lost one until he may find it?

Have to pause a moment for a couple of minor issues. The first is verb tense. “Which of you does not leave…until he may find…” The tense of the first is present indicative active. IOW, standard present tense. In English, we would be more apt to say, “which of you would not leave…” That is subjunctive to express unreality or uncertainty that such a thing has or will happen. The second, “may find”, is a subjunctive and has been rendered as such here. The point is that Greek verb tenses do not always translate one-for-one into English. There are frequently times when the tenses within the narrative are inconsistent, switching back and forth between present and aorist. There are rules about this…sort of. The purpose of all of this is to be careful when someone starts lecturing on how the verb is an aorist and uses this as justification to trot out a whole bunch of implications. Be very wary of any conclusions about meaning based on a disquisition of an aorist tense.

The second point is the word “wilderness”. This is the word used of the Baptist to tell us he was “in the wilderness”. The root is “herm–“, as in “hermit”. The first Christian hermits lived in the wilderness. The base meaning in Greek is “alone”. The “lone individual lived an alone life in a lonely place”. Translated: “the hermit lived a solitary life in the wilderness”. Aside from the KJV, all my crib translations render this as “open pasture” or something such. In our world, “pasture” has certain connotations that are wholly lacking in the Greek word. The point is that there was a lot of empty space between towns or settlements, and it was common practice to take your herd into this empty space. This is the sort of historical information that a text like the NT can provide very reliably because it’s so inadvertent. This is why we can discuss things like whether Jesus was a collaborator with the Romans. Or, if he was seen as something along those lines by some of the Jews. 

3 Et ait ad illos parabolam istam dicens:

4 “Quis ex vobis homo, qui habet centum oves et si perdiderit unam ex illis, nonne dimittit nonaginta novem in deserto et vadit ad illam, quae perierat, donec inveniat illam?

5 καὶ εὑρὼν ἐπιτίθησιν ἐπὶ τοὺς ὤμους αὐτοῦ χαίρων,

6 καὶ ἐλθὼν εἰς τὸν οἶκον συγκαλεῖ τοὺς φίλους καὶ τοὺς γείτονας λέγων αὐτοῖς, Συγχάρητέ μοι, ὅτι εὗρον τὸ πρόβατόν μου τὸ ἀπολωλός.

7 λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι οὕτως χαρὰ ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ ἔσται ἐπὶ ἑνὶ ἁμαρτωλῷ μετανοοῦντι ἢ ἐπὶ ἐνενήκοντα ἐννέα δικαίοις οἵτινες οὐ χρείαν ἔχουσιν μετανοίας.

“And finding, he places it on his shoulders rejoicing, (6) and coming home he calls together his friends and relatives saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, that I have found the sheep having been lost’. (7) I say to you that in this way there will be rejoicing in the sky upon the sinner having repented than upon the 99 just ones who did not need repentance”.

Take a look at the Latin below and note the bolded words. They literally mean “doing penance”. This is a very different concept than the meaning of the Greek, which is to “repent”. The same distinction between the Latin and the Greek occurs very famously in Mark 1:15. There, in the Greek, the Baptist/Dunker calls on those hearing to “repent” or to “be penitent”. In the Latin, he calls upon them to “do/make penance”. This distinction in translation had serious implications for the development of the Western Church that read the NT in Latin. This translation into Latin led to the Catholic doctrine of Penance, of doing penance assigned in Confession. When Erasmus went back to the Greek in the 15th Century and corrected the translation, changing it from a noun to a verb, this had a major impact on Martin Luther. Recall that Luther was incensed about the practice of selling indulgences, which were a means of lessening the amount of penance that had to be done to atone for one’s sins. In Luther’s mind, there was no way one could keep up with the ongoing demands of doing penance for the constant stream of sins one committed. However, if the injunction was to repent, or to be repentant, then the whole equation changed. Overall, the development of the Church in the West had a lot to do with the Latin, rather than the Greek, NT. It’s a very different set of concepts. That the Church discussed the doctrine of gratia rather than charis had significant influence on the doctrine, since charis lacks the connotation of “free” that exist in the Latin gratia. And too, the Greek word “logos” has very different lexical field than the Latin word verbum. Language matters. To my mind, it’s not surprising that the schism between the Catholic and Orthodox churches occurred; the remarkable part is that they held together as long as they did. And even then, the final rupture was as much political as it was religious, or doctrinal.

Upon my first reading, the question of what “happened” to the lost sheep that is found again rose in my mind. How are we to understand the concepts of  being “lost”, and then being “found”? The awesome hymn Amazing Grace provides wonderful insight into the meanings of these words, but the song was written nearly two millennia later. It describes how we view being “lost” and “found”. Part of the purpose of this blog is to determine what the author may have meant when using the terms. Of course, the answer is, seemingly, provided in the last verse where Luke talks about rejoicing in the sky. Of course, “sky” is the immediate meaning of the word, which Christians will translate as “heaven”, or even “Heaven”; however, it’s always good to remind ourselves of what the Greek word used actually means. In this case, “heaven” is legitimate as it was used in that sense since the time of Homer, just as we use the term “the heavens” to mean simply the sky. Presumably the rejoicing in heaven will include the rejoicing of the father who is in the sky. So presumably, we are to understand “lost” and “found” in the sense that the awesome hymn Amazing Grace uses the terms. Or can we?

That degree of uncertainty is exactly the point. We think we know. We may think it’s blindingly obvious. But it’s really not. The lost sheep has been found, and it has reunited with the flock; but where? In heaven? Or on earth? The Jewish conception of salvation was corporate; the Chosen People; the flock, not the individual, and not necessarily in an afterlife. So a return to that corporate body would be a cause for rejoicing by the denizens of heaven, but that would have been true in Jewish thought several hundred years earlier, too. What has changed here? Perhaps nothing. Or perhaps the salvation of the individual was just assumed by this point. One thing that we must constantly remember when we read these texts is that we’re reading them. For the most part, Luke’s audience would not have done that. They would have listened, while someone else read. Then there likely would have been a follow-up discussion, perhaps including a Q&A period. That’s largely how learning worked, even through the Middle Ages, at the newly-founded universities. The Master read aloud and then the students discussed under the guidance of the Master. In both cases, there would have been additional exposition on the text. This is where the Catholics were horrified by the idea of vernacular Bibles, because then just anyone could read the thing without having the guidance of a learned teacher who understood what was “really” meant. This is why the Catholics insisted on the validity of The Tradition. These were the lessons handed down by Augustine and Tertullian and Clement, who, as Bishop of Rome, theoretically got it, ultimately, from Peter. The line of succession was Peter, Linus, (Ana)Cletus, Clement…The this was recited every Sunday during the Consecration part of the Mass. It’s interesting because I was having a FaceBook discussion with a friend I’ve never met about the number of times Jesus spoke of being saved, in the common, modern sense. I rattled off a few cites, and then mentioned a few more where it was understood. This was one of the examples I used. The thing is, I hadn’t translated and commented on this section fully, so I may have jumped to some unwarranted conclusions. 

So, what do we know? If by know, we mean as a certainty, the answer is all too often ‘not as much as we think’. The Protestants who rejected the tradition in favor of individual inspiration probably retained more of that tradition than they realized or intended.

We’ll come back to this shortly, when we get to the parable of the Prodigal Son, which is coming up shortly.

5 Et cum invenerit eam, imponit in umeros suos gaudens

6 et veniens domum convocat amicos et vicinos dicens illis: “Congratulamini mihi, quia inveni ovem meam, quae perierat”.

7 Dico vobis: Ita gaudium erit in caelo super uno peccatore paenitentiam agente quam super nonaginta novem iustis, qui non indigent paenitentia.

8 Ἢ τίς γυνὴ δραχμὰς ἔχουσα δέκα, ἐὰν ἀπολέσῃ δραχμὴν μίαν, οὐχὶ ἅπτει λύχνον καὶ σαροῖ τὴν οἰκίαν καὶ ζητεῖ ἐπιμελῶς ἕως οὗ εὕρῃ;

9 καὶ εὑροῦσα συγκαλεῖ τὰς φίλας καὶ γείτονας λέγουσα, Συγχάρητέ μοι, ὅτι εὗρον τὴν δραχμὴν ἣν ἀπώλεσα.

10 οὕτως, λέγω ὑμῖν, γίνεται χαρὰ ἐνώπιον τῶν ἀγγέλων τοῦ θεοῦ ἐπὶ ἑνὶ ἁμαρτωλῷ μετανοοῦντι.

Or a certain woman having ten drachmas, if she should lose a single drachma, will she not light a lamp and sweep the house and search diligently until she found it? (9) And having found it, she calls her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, that I found the drachma that I lost’. (10) Thus, I say to you, be happy before the messengers of the lord upon one sinner having repented.

A couple of things. First, up until this point, I haven’t been as punctilious about getting the verb tenses to agree with the Greek. Shame on me, especially when I want to help new learners. Second, the word for “lighting”, as in “lighting a lamp” is aptō; perhaps the root of “apt” is apparent.

But the other thing is that this is where I’m supposed to tell you what a drachma was worth. My apologies, but my sense of currency exchange is lacking for this time and place. I do know that in Classical Athens, two obols was considered a day’s wages, and that there were ten obols in a drachma. Based on that rate, a drachma would represent a week’s wages– assuming a modern five-day week, which is simply anachronistic. The five-day week did not become the norm until the early 20th Century. Still, it was a decent amount of money; as a single sheep represented a decent amount of money. So in both cases, there was ample reason for the one having lost either to search. If you lost $100 USD bill, you would spend some time looking for it. And $100 USD would probably not buy you a sheep in today’s money. 

The minor economics lesson aside, the point is that, in either case, an individual sinner is worth a substantial amount to the denizens of heaven.

Now on to the Prodigal Son.

8 Aut quae mulier habens drachmas decem, si perdiderit drachmam unam, nonne accendit lucernam et everrit domum et quaerit diligenter, donec inveniat?

9 Et cum invenerit, convocat amicas et vicinas dicens: ‘Congratulamini mihi, quia inveni drachmam, quam perdideram’.

10 Ita dico vobis: Gaudium fit coram angelis Dei super uno peccatore paenitentiam agente”.

* Matthew: the Slaughter of the Innocents is not historical. Something this heinous would have left some mark in the historical record. Luke: that Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem to be counted in the census– which seems to have a pretty solid basis in history. The idea that people had to uproot themselves from their occupations and return to an ancestral home from centuries before is patently absurd on its own merits. Plus, once again, there is no historical corroboration.

Luke Chapter 14:16-24

This is actually still part of the scene that we’ve been examining for the whole chapter. Recall that it started with Jesus eating at the house of some Pharisees, where he created a stir by healing a man with dropsy on the sabbath. The next section continued with that same meal, when we got the admonition to humble oneself to be exalted, which ended with one of the guests saying “blessed are those who eat bread in the kingdom of God. This continues, and Jesus is replying to that man.


16 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἄνθρωπός τις ἐποίει δεῖπνον μέγα, καὶ ἐκάλεσεν πολλούς,

17 καὶ ἀπέστειλεν τὸν δοῦλον αὐτοῦ τῇ ὥρᾳ τοῦ δείπνου εἰπεῖν τοῖς κεκλημένοις, Ἔρχεσθε, ὅτι ἤδη ἕτοιμά ἐστιν.

18 καὶ ἤρξαντο ἀπὸ μιᾶς πάντες παραιτεῖσθαι. ὁ πρῶτος εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἀγρὸν ἠγόρασα καὶ ἔχω ἀνάγκην ἐξελθὼν ἰδεῖν αὐτόν: ἐρωτῶ σε, ἔχε με παρῃτημένον.

19 καὶ ἕτερος εἶπεν, Ζεύγη βοῶν ἠγόρασα πέντε καὶ πορεύομαι δοκιμάσαι αὐτά: ἐρωτῶ σε, ἔχε με παρῃτημένον.

20 καὶ ἕτερος εἶπεν, Γυναῖκα ἔγημα καὶ διὰ τοῦτο οὐ δύναμαι ἐλθεῖν.

21 καὶ παραγενόμενος ὁ δοῦλος ἀπήγγειλεν τῷ κυρίῳ αὐτοῦ ταῦτα. τότε ὀργισθεὶς ὁ οἰκοδεσπότης εἶπεν τῷ δούλῳ αὐτοῦ, Ἔξελθε ταχέως εἰς τὰς πλατείας καὶ ῥύμας τῆς πόλεως, καὶ τοὺς πτωχοὺς καὶ ἀναπείρους καὶ τυφλοὺς καὶ χωλοὺς εἰσάγαγε ὧδε.

22 καὶ εἶπεν ὁ δοῦλος, Κύριε, γέγονεν ὃ ἐπέταξας, καὶ ἔτι τόπος ἐστίν.

23 καὶ εἶπεν ὁ κύριος πρὸς τὸν δοῦλον, Ἔξελθε εἰς τὰς ὁδοὺς καὶ φραγμοὺς καὶ ἀνάγκασον εἰσελθεῖν, ἵνα γεμισθῇ μου ὁ οἶκος:

24 λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐδεὶς τῶν ἀνδρῶν ἐκείνων τῶν κεκλημένων γεύσεταί μου τοῦ δείπνου.

He said to him (the man who said those eating in the kingdom are blessed), “A certain man made a great dinner, and he invited many, (17) and he sent his slave at the hour of the dinner to tell those invited, ‘Come, indeed it is ready’. (18) And they all began from the first one to excuse themselves. The first said to him (the slave), ‘I have purchased a field and I have to go see it. I say to you have me excused’. (19) And another said, ‘Five yokes of oxen I have bought, and I go to examine them. I say to you have me excused’. (20) And another said, ‘I have married a woman and because of this I am not able to come’. (21) And becoming next to (= returning), the slave announced to his lord these things. Then waxing wroth the lord of the manor said to his slave, ‘Go quickly to the streets and streets/alleys of the city, and the poor and the maimed and the blind and the lame lead here’. (23) And the slave said, ‘Lord, the preparations are become and yet is a place’. (24) And the lord said to the slave, ‘Go to the roads and the fences and compel to come, so that my house be filled. (25) I say to you that no one of those men invited shall taste my dinner’.”

A couple of points about the Greek, most of which occur in the conversation between lord and servant. First, the lord is called ‘kyrios’, ‘lord’, which would be familiar to anyone who has experienced the Catholic and even Anglican mass, or has listened to any of the masses written by Classical composers. Mozart’s Requiem, or Bach’s B Minor Mass come immediately to my mind. The opening prayer is ‘Kyrie eleison’, ‘Lord have Mercy’. I have seen this referred to as the Trisagion in the Book of Common Prayer, since it is repeated three times, interchanged with “Christ have mercy”, and ending with “Lord have mercy” again. This is the only bit of Greek that one finds in the traditional Latin mass, and I have no explanation for why it was retained. But, back to the point, the lord is referred to as ‘kyrios’, except once he becomes the ‘oikodespotes’, literally the ‘despot of the home’. I rendered this as ‘lord of the manor’. Not an exact fit, but it gives the sense that we’re using a different term.

The man who has bought oxen says he has purchased five yokes of oxen. A yoke is a pair, because two oxen would be joined by a yoke, so the piece of equipment became synonymous with ‘pair’.

Then the servant ‘becomes around’. This is a literal translation of the Greek. It is a compound word, made up of ‘becoming’, which is used in place of the standard ‘to be’; and ‘para’, which means ‘next to’. There is a similar thing with ‘the preparations are become’; the preparations have been made, which is to say they have come into existence. 

“Waxing wroth” is me being pretentious with a deliberate archaism. My apologies, but the old language carries an impact. Then he tells the slave to go into the “streets and streets”; to the second, I added “alleyways”. The first word really means something like ‘wide places’, which is a description of a street. 

The slave says that he’s brought all the people from the first group, and there is still a place. This is a very (overly) literal translation. It essentially means that places at the table are still available, but the word in Greek is singular. In English, we would use the singular to say there is still ‘space’ or ‘room’. That is how this generally gets rendered. However, part of my intent is that this be an aid to beginning students of Greek. I know how confusing it often was (is) when trying to make the expression work, first as Greek, then as English.

Finally, to carry out the master’s final injunction, the slave goes to the ‘roads and fences’. The first word is clear enough; as opposed to the streets of a town, it refers to the roads between towns. Hence, the fences; walls would also fit, but it is not the standard word used for a city wall. Despite this, it gets translated as ‘hedges’. Here is another instance where translators of the Reformation simply ignored their professed intent; this includes the KJV. Rather than make reference to the original, they stuck with the Latin translation of the Vulgate, which is saepes. This includes the idea of a hedge, where the Greek word does not truly do so. It gets appended as a definition peculiar to the NT, but it’s not really an understanding that occurs elsewhere in standard Greek, meaning Greek written by pagans. Hence we find, once again, that NT Greek is very much an artificial construction. I truly wonder what Luke actually meant when he wrote the word. Of course, a hedge can refer to a boundary marker between properties; this is common in many parts of Europe. So conflating fence and hedge does make sense. And one possible interpretation is that people that we would now call homeless would sort of camp inside a hedge, using it for protection. And this is possible; during the Normandy invasion, tanks sometimes had trouble breaking through the very old hedgerows of France. I tend to suspect hedges were not common in biblical Judea; so I wonder where Luke was writing this, and how Jerome got the idea that the evangelist meant ‘hedges’.

To the story. First and foremost, this is about the supersession of the Jews by pagans. As we have noted many times, by the late First Century the vast majority of those joining the Christian group were pagans, and stories like this one were created to explain that phenomenon. And it had to be explained. Since the Jews were the Chosen People, and Jesus was the Messiah promised to the Jews all those centuries ago, why were Jews so grossly underrepresented in the ranks of the new Christian sect? And of course one huge implication here is that this story does not date back to Jesus, despite the fact that the Q people insist that this story was part of Q because– and only because– it’s in both Matthew and Luke. They do not stop to analyze what the words say, or what they imply. They do not stop to ask whether this story makes sense coming out of Jesus’ mouth. It doesn’t. This story, and that of the Centurion and several others are all about the Jews being superseded by pagans, and this did not happen in the time of Jesus; rather, it occurred several decades after Jesus. There is real question about how much Jesus interacted with pagans, or whether he considered them at all. The answer would depend on how “religious” Jesus’ message was. Now, on the surface, that might sound ridiculous, but if Jesus was a wonder-worker like Mark says, then the religious aspect of the ministry may have been much less than generally thought. That would explain Matthew: he wrote after the Christ side of the story had become predominant, together with the sacrifice that is at the heart of the Passion story (despite the fact that neither the sacrifice nor the ransom theory of the crucifixion are internally consistent) led to the Sermon on the Mount and all the rest of the material that shows up in Matthew for the first time.

A couple of final things. The slave is to compel people to come. Really? How does that work? We’re going to compel people to come into the Kingdom of God, or into the Life? That is truly an odd thought. The other thing is that this version lacks Matthew’s ending where guest, presumably one dragged in from under a hedge got kicked out into the outer darkness because he wasn’t properly attired. No shoes, no shirt, no service. That part always struck me as bizarre, and I said as much when we discussed this story in Matthew. So here is another instance where Luke “cleans up” or “corrects” something that is amiss with Matthew. Of course the Q people will admit no such thing, so perhaps we’ll just leave it at that. Do take note, however, that the number of such instances is accumulating. Seriously; I have a book in here.

16 At ipse dixit ei: “Homo quidam fecit cenam magnam et vocavit multos;

17 et misit servum suum hora cenae dicere invitatis: “Venite, quia iam paratum est”.

18 Et coeperunt simul omnes excusare. Primus dixit ei: “Villam emi et necesse habeo exire et videre illam; rogo te, habe me excusatum”.

19 Et alter dixit: “Iuga boum emi quinque et eo probare illa; rogo te, habe me excusatum”.

20 Et alius dixit: “Uxorem duxi et ideo non possum venire”.

21 Et reversus servus nuntiavit haec domino suo. Tunc iratus pater familias dixit servo suo: “Exi cito in plateas et vicos civitatis et pauperes ac debiles et caecos et claudos introduc huc”.

22 Et ait servus: “Domine, factum est, ut imperasti, et adhuc locus est”.

23 Et ait dominus servo: “Exi in vias et saepes, et compelle intrare, ut impleatur domus mea.

24 Dico autem vobis, quod nemo virorum illorum, qui vocati sunt, gustabit cenam meam’.”

Luke Chapter 14:7-15

The break between the last piece and this is not entirely sharp. In Verses 1-6, Jesus was at dinner with some Pharisees. There was some contention about whether it was lawful to heal on the sabbath. Presumably the “those” in Verse 7 still refers to the group that is gathered at the table—or the group reclining on couches, as was the standard means of eating in much of the ancient Mediterranean. This was true to the point that “reclining” was more or less a synonym for “eating a dinner”. Hence we come to the term translated “first couches”. The word is compound, the second part being a place to lie down; hence, a place to recline, or a couch.


7 Ἔλεγεν δὲ πρὸς τοὺς κεκλημένους παραβολήν, ἐπέχων πῶς τὰς πρωτοκλισίας ἐξελέγοντο, λέγων πρὸς αὐτούς,

8 Οταν κληθῇς ὑπό τινος εἰς γάμους, μὴ κατακλιθῇς εἰς τὴν πρωτοκλισίαν, μή ποτε ἐν τιμότερός σου ᾖ κεκλημένος ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ,

9 καὶ ἐλθὼν ὁ σὲ καὶ αὐτὸν καλέσας ἐρεῖ σοι, Δὸς τούτῳ τόπον, καὶ τότε ἄρξῃ μετὰ αἰσχύνης τὸν ἔσχατον τόπον κατέχειν.

10 ἀλλ’ ὅταν κληθῇς πορευθεὶς ἀνάπεσε εἰς τὸν ἔσχατον τόπον, ἵνα ὅταν ἔλθῃ ὁ κεκληκώς σε ἐρεῖ σοι, Φίλε, προσανάβηθι ἀνώτερον: τότε ἔσται σοι δόξα ἐνώπιον πάντων τῶν συνανακειμένων σοι.

He said to those who had been called (= invited) a parable, having beheld how they chose the first couches, speaking to them, (8) “When having been called ( = invited) by someone to a wedding, do not recline yourself on the first couches, lest, someone in higher honor ( = social rank) having been invited, (9) and coming the one who invited you and the other says to you, ‘Give (up) this place’, and then you may begin with shame the last place to have. (10) But when invited, go to and fall into the lowest place, so that when the inviter may come (and) will say to you, ‘Friend, march up towards a higher (place)’. Then there will be glory to you in front of all of those having been invited together with you.

Let’s pause for some Greek. First, this is a fairly complex bit of writing, that takes some real gymnastics to put into decent English. This borders on Classical Greek, and is another demonstration that Luke (as in, the author of –) was rather well educated. The other thing is the word for going up to the higher table is ‘prosanabethi’, containing the word ‘anabasis’. This is the title of a famous work of Xenophon, who was a Greek mercenary, fighting for one of the claimants to the Persian throne. The claimant was killed, so there were 10,000 (or so) Greek soldiers at loose ends in the middle of Asia Minor. This was a difficult situation, so they had to “march up country” to the south shore of the Black Sea. The title thus is “Anabasis”, which I’ve seen rendered as “The March Upcountry” and the “March of the Ten Thousand”. I point this out to demonstrate how multi-purposed a lot of Greek words are. This can make translation difficult, since the same word can be rendered to mean a number of different things. My particular bête noir in this is “logos”. The opening of John is “in the beginning was the Logos’; which got translated into Latin as “Verbum” which is more or less “Word”. This translation, while correct, is unfortunate, because the Greek word ‘logos’ has so many other meanings not included in the English ‘word’. It is, after all, the -ology ending of the-ology, or psych-ology, or soci-ology. “Word” doesn’t come close to covering that. Finally, the word rendered as “glory” is a bit overstated here. It is the word that is used for “glory”, as in “glory to God…”  I gave it the elevated translation to make the same point. Feel free to substitute your own modified synonym. The KJV gives this as ‘worship’; the NASB, NIV, and ESV all use ‘honor’. The problem with that Greek has a separate word for ‘honor’. It was used in Verse 8.

7 Dicebat autem ad invitatos parabolam, intendens quomodo primos accubitus eligerent, dicens ad illos:

8 “Cum invitatus fueris ab aliquo ad nuptias, non discumbas in primo loco, ne forte honoratior te sit invitatus ab eo,

9 et veniens is qui te et illum vocavit, dicat tibi: “Da huic locum”; et tunc incipias cum rubore novissimum locum tenere.

10 Sed cum vocatus fueris, vade, recumbe in novissimo loco, ut, cum venerit qui te invitavit, dicat tibi: “Amice, ascende superius”; tunc erit tibi gloria coram omnibus simul discumbentibus.

11 ὅτι πᾶς ὁ ὑψῶν ἑαυτὸν τα πεινωθήσεται καὶ ὁ ταπεινῶν ἑαυτὸν ὑψωθήσεται.

12 Ἔλεγεν δὲ καὶ τῷ κεκληκότι αὐτόν, Οταν ποιῇς ἄριστον ἢ δεῖπνον, μὴ φώνει τοὺς φίλους σου μηδὲ τοὺς ἀδελφούς σου μηδὲ τοὺς συγγενεῖς σου μηδὲ γείτονας πλουσίους, μήποτε καὶ αὐτοὶ ἀντικαλέσωσίν σε καὶ γένηται ἀνταπόδομά σοι.

13 ἀλλ’ ὅταν δοχὴν ποιῇς, κάλει πτωχούς, ἀναπείρους, χωλούς, τυφλούς:

14 καὶ μακάριος ἔσῃ, ὅτι οὐκ ἔχουσιν ἀνταποδοῦναί σοι, ἀνταποδοθήσεται γάρ σοι ἐν τῇ ἀναστάσει τῶν δικαίων.

15 Ἀκούσας δέ τις τῶν συνανακειμένων ταῦτα εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Μακάριος ὅστις φάγεται ἄρτον ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ.

“That all of those raising themselves will be humbled, and the one humbling him/herself will be raised”. (12) And he said to the one inviting him, “When you make the best meal, do not call your friends, nor your brothers, nor your relatives, nor your rich neighbors, and never those having invited you and having become inviters of you. (13) Rather, when you make a reception, call the poor, the the crippled, the lame, the blind. (14) And you will be blessed, that they do not have (i.e. have the means) to return to you, for you will be repaid in the resurrection of the just”. (15) Hearing, someone of those reclining with (him = Jesus) said these things to him (Jesus), “Blessed is the one who eats bread in the kingdom of God.”

Here we get a tying-together of several strands of what we think of as basic Christian belief. We get the humble/exalted contrast which was made in Mark and Matthew, and this is yoked together with the resurrection of the just and the kingdom of God. No doubt we’ve covered this before, but the idea of humility is very non-pagan. I cannot speak with authority on whether this was considered a positive attribute, or the degree to which it was considered positive, in Judaism to this point; however, given the consistent message of social justice that pervades Judaism, I would suspect this is not entirely novel with Jesus. There may–emphasis on may— be a difference in degree, but this may be very standard in Jewish thought and teaching. I suspect I may be guilty of Christian-centric thinking to suggest there is much of a change. If there is one thing I’ve learned through this exercise, it’s that there wasn’t a drastic change in the message of social justice between Judaism and Jesus. Thus the admonition to invite the poor, the blind, and the physically challenged is not something new or unique to Jesus’ message. Given that, it’s possible to see this as something that may very well trace back to Jesus’ teaching*.

Not only that, I’ve been doing more reading on early Greek thought. One discovery is that the idea of reward–or at least punishment–in the afterlife was not a Christian invention, either. The Greek philosopher Herakleitos believed that shady magicians would be/should be punished in the afterlife. What is intriguing here is the idea of the Resurrection of the Just, and particularly the way it seems to be synonymous with the Kingdom of God. It should be noted that there appears to be a distinction between the former idea and what became Christian orthodoxy. The raising of the “Just” carries the distinct implication that only the good people will rise on the last day. There have been allusions to this idea before, but I did not make a sufficiently careful record of when they occurred, and by whom they were voiced. My apologies. But here, using this term, this possible differentiation is more clear than it has been previously, clear enough even to get through to me. However, while this differentiation is possible, or possibly inclined, it is still not stated explicitly. If the Just are to be raised up, what happens to the bad people? Do they remain mouldering in the grave? How does that square with the parable of the (presumably poor) wedding guest who got thrown into the outer darkness, where there was wailing and gnashing of teeth because he was improperly dressed? This latter, I think, can safely be taken as a metaphor for ‘having lived a blameful life’. There another reference to a fiery Gehenna. What does that mean, and how does it square with the “Resurrection of the Just”?

That was the chore facing the early church. In order to create a set of beliefs that would be considered “orthodox”, it was necessary to reconcile such seemingly contradictory statements. If they could not be reconciled, they had to be papered over, or reinterpreted. I think that the Resurrection of the Just is the belief of the Pharisees, who said that there would be a resurrection of the body. This, as opposed to the Sadducees, who said there would be no resurrection. And that is where the kingdom of God comes in: what Luke is implying here is that the Kingdom will come when the just are raised bodily, and the reign of God will be eternal (although that is not stated here), and that what we think of as Heaven is actually a physical existence. In Christian orthodoxy, Heaven has become a place of disembodied spirits, which idea is very, very Greek. So where does a resurrected body come in? Or, is “resurrection” metaphorical, to mean that the Just will be raised, but only in spirit? Here is where it’s important to grasp the idea that the evangelists were story-tellers, myth-makers; they were decidedly not theologians. That term is wholly anachronistic for writers of the NT, and perhaps in general. The term is not a Greek concept; for them, the term philosophy covered it all, from natural science to the One of Plato which served as the basis for the Christian God of the Middle Ages. Theology was coined by the Christians, in order to distinguish it from secular philosophy. So the early thinkers who created The Church had to invent the term and then identify and define all its concepts, then decide which were, and which were not to be considered “orthodox”, literally “straight belief”. We need constantly to bear in mind that the doctrine (from the ‘dox’ root, which also spawned ‘dogma’) of the Trinity did not exist until well into the Second, or even the Third Century. That is, two- or three hundred years after Luke and even John. This is why I’m insistent about using “sacred breath” for “spiritus sanctus”; the term ‘holy spirit’ has too much accrued baggage, and Holy Spirit is just grossly anachronistic for the NT. I won’t go into the reasons why it was necessary to reify the sacred breath as the Holy Spirit because I really don’t remember them. Jaroslav Pelikan has a great discussion on this in Volume 1 of his The Christian Tradition series.

Back to the point, it is worth noting that what Luke is describing is not necessarily consistent what we have come to believe as the standard idea of the Christian afterlife. This sort of free-for-all in ideas is exactly why a group of Christian elders came together and decided it was time to define orthodox belief. But it is important to know that much of Christian belief came about, not through considered contemplation and study, but in the heat of controversy. Perhaps the first real spur to this came from Valentinus in the 30s of the Second Century. He was a Gnostic (to use terms very loosely), and he gathered a following large enough to make the non-gnostics feel threatened. So the latter banded together, and came up with reasons why gnosticism was not consistent with ‘true belief’ (since even the term ‘orthodox’ is still not quite appropriate).

In short, what Christians believe was not settled in NT times. As such, there are moments in the NT–like this one–where what we read is not consistent with what we are taught to believe now. Of course, this was the theological basis of the Reformation; but the Reformation was not “wholly, nor even primarily, a religious event”.

* But watch this space. I’m toying with a new theory about who Jesus was, and how he was seen by contemporaries. It’s too soon to broach the topic, but one of the implications would be that this message of social inclusion may actually, in fact, trace to James the Just, brother of Jesus, rather than to Jesus himself. Deciding that will depend on a much deeper understanding of the message of Paul. 

11 Quia omnis, qui se exaltat, humiliabitur; et, qui se humiliat, exaltabitur”.

12 Dicebat autem et ei, qui se invitaverat: “Cum facis prandium aut cenam, noli vocare amicos tuos neque fratres tuos neque cognatos neque vicinos divites, ne forte et ipsi te reinvitent, et fiat tibi retributio.

13 Sed cum facis convivium, voca pauperes, debiles, claudos, caecos;

14 et beatus eris, quia non habent retribuere tibi. Retribuetur enim tibi in resurrectione iustorum”.

15 Haec cum audisset quidam de simul discumbentibus, dixit illi: “Beatus, qui manducabit panem in regno Dei”.

Luke Chapter 13:22-30

Just a note. Once again, in its infinite wisdom, WordPress has changed the way the platform works. Most notable are the settings for text, layout, etc. It will probably take some time to work it all out. I’ve just spent about half-an-hour messing with it and not getting it quite to my satisfaction. Time will tell. So posts may have a slightly new look. I suspect the way paragraphs are handled will be the biggest change in the way this looks. The new concept is a layout based on what are called ‘blocks’. Each paragraph is its own block. Or so it seems.

We left Jesus talking about the kingdom. This sort of builds on that, but without being a continuation per se. As with Mark and Matthew, the gospels are truly not a continuous narrative, but a composite of lots of little pieces–blocks–where have I just heard that word?–would perhaps be the best analogy. Or perhaps paving stones. They are laid out in a row, some bigger, some smaller, progressing to the Resurrection Story at the end of the narrative. Each feels like a discreet unit. The mustard seed and the leaven are discreet units. And each evangelist can lay out the separate paving stones in whichever order is deemed most appropriate. Given the fragmentary nature of the component pieces, there is only a general direction rather of the narrative rather than a specific path that has to be followed in detail. And of course, this reflects on the Q argument because they would have you believe that the order of events set out by Mark is inviolable, so whenever Luke deviates from Matthew who followed Mark, this is taken as evidence for Q since it can have a different order because it was composed before Mark–except, of course, for those parts that came after.

The point of all this is that the previous teaching is presented as a precursor to what we’re about to read. They fit into a general pattern, leading into the teaching he is about to provide; however, the teaching that came before could have been eliminated without damage to this section, and this section could have been eliminated without damage to the preceding section. In a sense, this fragmentary nature of the gospel narratives–especially of the Synoptic Gospels–is the best argument in favour of Q, or something very like it. The stories of Jesus grew up, more or less organically, to be collected at some point. Mark was likely the first to do so. Now, on to the…


22 Καὶ διεπορεύετο κατὰ πόλεις καὶ κώμας διδάσκων καὶ πορείαν ποιούμενος εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα.   23 εἶπεν δέ τις αὐτῷ, Κύριε, εἰ ὀλίγοι οἱ σῳζόμενοι; ὁ δὲ εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς,  24 Ἀγωνίζεσθε εἰσελθεῖν διὰ τῆς στενῆς θύρας, ὅτι πολλοί, λέγω ὑμῖν, ζητήσουσιν εἰσελθεῖν καὶ οὐκ ἰσχύσουσιν.

And passing upon the towns and villages teaching and making his way to Jerusalem. (23) Someone said to him, “Lord, if a few only will be saved? (Will only a few be saved?)” He said towards them, (24) “You will compete to come through the narrow door, that many, I say to you, they will seek to come in and not to prevail.

The word I’ve used as ‘to compete’ means exactly that. The sense, the root, is an athletic competition. This word does not appear in any other gospel, save that of John. He uses it to describe how his angels would fight to save Jesus as he was being arrested. Later writers, especially hagiographers, would describe the “athletes of the Lord”, that we commonly refer to as “saints”. So this is certainly a novel interpretation of how we go about getting saved, and it’s rather an odd concept on top of that. It implies that it’s a me-against-you dogfight, that I may be able to outpace you and win the prize. It’s a remarkably capitalist outlook. The former CEO of my company (a large one) set up the rating systems so that colleagues were in direct competition with each other. His outlook: three people run a race. They all break the world record. Only one gets the gold medal. Just so, I can see the pushing and shoving as the contestants jockey for position on the narrow path–that has a sheer drop on either side–so that many people fall off and only those few make it on the narrow path.

And the word at the end that I have translated as “not to prevail”–which is extremely literal–is rendered as “will not be able”. However, this verb is another verb of competition; the word is not standard term for “to be able”, and I do not believe it should be translated as such. It is interesting to note that the standard form of “to be able” is precisely what we find in the Latin below. So, once again, we have a situation where translators stick with the Latin and disregard the original. Why? I would suspect that the answer is that we don’t like the competitive aspect of these verbs, so they have been softened. It wouldn’t do to have Luke suggesting that getting in through that narrow gate is a fight to the finish.  Is that what he is suggesting? One would be quick to dismiss the notion, I think; however, it is odd enough. Two verbs of competition are used, and Luke seems to be well-enough educated to be aware of what the words actually mean. As such, I’m not sure we can dismiss it out of hand. It certainly does warrant comment, IMO. 

As far as the actual message imparted, the narrow gate goes back to Matthew, and the few being saved goes back through Matthew to Mark. It was, however, greatly expanded by Matthew. Here’s the thing: The earliest teachings, likely from the Baptist, seem to imply a sort of general dawning of a new early. In addition,  comparing the kingdom to a mustard seed, or to leaven, does not really imply a great deal of exclusivity. And yet, the narrow gate certainly does. Where did that come from? I just glanced at the uses of “save” in Mark; almost without exception, they refer to saving a physical life. One of the exceptions comes in the Resurrection story, which was not part of the original gospel, but was added later. Ergo, the idea of the exclusivity of the kingdom is a later development. Why? It would seem that the most likely explanation is that, when the general dawning did not occur, the meaning of “kingdom” evolved, changing from the general sort of thing to the thing that must be earned. 

(22) Et ibat per civitates et castella docens et iter faciens in Hierosolymam. (23) Ait autem illi quidam: “ Domine, pauci sunt, qui salvantur? ”. Ipse autem dixit ad illos: (24) “Contendite intrare per angustam portam, quia multi, dico vobis, quaerent intrare et non poterunt.

(25) ἀφ’ οὗ ἂν ἐγερθῇ ὁ οἰκοδεσπότης καὶ ἀποκλείσῃ τὴν θύραν, καὶ ἄρξησθε ἔξω ἑστάναι καὶ κρούειν τὴν θύραν λέγοντες, Κύριε, ἄνοιξον ἡμῖν: καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ἐρεῖ ὑμῖν, Οὐκ οἶδα ὑμᾶς πόθεν ἐστέ.  (26) τότε ἄρξεσθε λέγειν, Ἐφάγομεν ἐνώπιόν σου καὶ ἐπίομεν, καὶ ἐν ταῖς πλατείαις ἡμῶν ἐδίδαξας: (27) καὶ ἐρεῖ λέγων ὑμῖν, Οὐκ οἶδα [ὑμᾶς] πόθεν ἐστέ: ἀπόστητε ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ, πάντες ἐργάται ἀδικίας. (28) ἐκεῖ ἔσται ὁ κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὁβρυγμὸς τῶν ὀδόντων, ὅταν ὄψησθε Ἀβραὰμ καὶ Ἰσαὰκ καὶ Ἰακὼβ καὶ πάντας τοὺς προφήτας ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ, ὑμᾶς δὲ ἐκβαλλομένους ἔξω.

(25) “From which is the master of the house is roused and closed the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock on the door saying, ‘Lord, let us in.’ And answering he says to you, ‘I do not know whence you are’. (26) Then you start to say, ‘We ate in your presence, and drank, and in the wide spaces (streets) of us you taught’. (27) And he answers, saying to you, ‘I do not know whence you are. Stand away from me, all unjust workers. (28) There will be the wailing and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, you being thrown out.

This reminds me of the story in Matthew about the wedding guest who comes inappropriately attired. Which always struck me as odd, considering that the master of the house had sent his servants to bring in anyone they found since the invited guests had found excuses not to attend the wedding. That story was a parable about why the Jews had not converted, but the pagans had. The Jews were the invited guests, to whom Jesus was sent as a messenger (angelos), but the Jews chose to ignore him. So the pagans were invited in their place. The theme here is much the same: the familiar ones, the ones who ate and drank in Jesus’ presence, those descended from Abraham and the rest find themselves locked out. They knock on the door, but the master of the house says he does not know who they are. This is a very harsh sentence, but it had to be done in order to explain–if only after the fact–why the followers of Jesus were mostly former pagans. And, fortunately, we do get the wailing and gnashing of teeth. Such a great image; and it’s shared by Matthew and Luke.   

Of course, that’s because it’s in Q. And, it turns out, the story from Matthew referred to above will turn up in Luke 14. Looking at the Q Thomas Reader and it’s reconstruction, the wailing & gnashing of teeth shows up a couple of times in both Matthew and Luke. The theme of the rejection of the familiar for the newcomers also turns up in a few different guises and tellings in both gospels. Now, the thing is, this is a story that is not at all appropriate for the era of Jesus. This story is a description of a time well past Jesus’ death, so there is almost no chance that Jesus ever said words even remotely related to this. But, we’ve discussed that before, and we will revisit the theme in Chapter 14, so don’t want to belabor the point too much here. It’s just that the omission of these sorts of discrepancies in the Q discussions is a very serious error, IMO.

25 Cum autem surrexerit pater familias et clauserit ostium, et incipietis foris stare et pulsare ostium dicentes: “Domine, aperi nobis”; et respondens dicet vobis: “Nescio vos unde sitis”. 26 Tunc incipietis dicere: “Manducavimus coram te et bibimus, et in plateis nostris docuisti”;27 et dicet loquens vobis: “Nescio vos unde sitis; discedite a me, omnes operarii iniquitatis”.28 Ibi erit fletus et stridor dentium, cum videritis Abraham et Isaac et Iacob et omnes prophetas in regno Dei, vos autem expelli foras.

29 καὶ ἥξουσιν ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν καὶ δυσμῶν καὶ ἀπὸ βορρᾶ καὶ νότου καὶ ἀνακλιθήσονται ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ. 30 καὶ ἰδοὺ εἰσὶν ἔσχατοι οἳ ἔσονται πρῶτοι, καὶ εἰσὶν πρῶτοι οἳ ἔσονται ἔσχατοι.

“They will come from east and west, and from north and south. and they will recline in the kingdom of God. (30) And, behold, they will be the last those having been first, and they will be first who were last.

Again, more exposition on the replacement of the Jews. However, using the last/first comparison in this context is novel. In other usages, it referred more to the station in life than to the idea of a birthright, which is the implication here. The idea of them coming from all directions is a clear indication that the people invited in will be pagans, rather than Jews. 

29 Et venient ab oriente et occidente et aquilone et austro et accumbent in regno Dei. 30 Et ecce sunt novissimi, qui erunt primi, et sunt primi, qui erunt novissimi”.





Luke Chapter 13:10-21

We let off with the parable of the fig tree, which in previous gospels was not a parable, but an act of Jesus. We’re going to get a few more parables in this section, familiar ones, about the Kingdom of God. In this case, it’s probably best to spare the introduction and move directly to the


10) ην δὲ διδάσκων ἐν μιᾷ τῶν συναγωγῶν ἐν τοῖς σάββασιν.

11 καὶ ἰδοὺ γυνὴ πνεῦμα ἔχουσα ἀσθενείας ἔτη δεκαοκτώ, καὶ ἦν συγκύπτουσα καὶ μὴ δυναμένη ἀνακύψαι εἰς τὸ παντελές.

12 ἰδὼν δὲ αὐτὴν ὁ Ἰησοῦς προσεφώνησεν καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῇ, Γύναι, ἀπολέλυσαι τῆς ἀσθενείας σου,

13 καὶ ἐπέθηκεν αὐτῇcτὰς χεῖρας: καὶ παραχρῆμα ἀνωρθώθη, καὶ ἐδόξαζεν τὸν θεόν.

It was he (was) teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath (lit = on the sabbaths). (11) And he saw a woman having a spirit being made ill for eighteen years, and being stooped/bent over and not able to stand up completely straight. (12) Seeing her Jesus called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are released from your illness”. (13) And he laid his hands upon her, and forthwith she straightened up and praised God.

First, my apologies; I could not resist “forthwith”. It’s times like these when I get to play “Old Classicist” to the hilt. Although I have noticed that ‘hoist upon one’s own petard’ has now entered common usage. That phrase was formerly confined to the pages of pompous and dusty historians.

Second, this story does not appear in either of the other gospels; at least, it does not appear in its current form there. Yet it seems that there are traces of the Bleeding Woman story; primarily, it’s the recitation of the number of years she has been afflicted. I also believe I detect traces of the Man with the Unclean Spirit, from Mark Chapter 1. That also took place in a synagogue on a sabbath; but so did the healing of the Man with the Withered Hand, and this last one provoked a reaction similar to what we will get in the next triad of verses. So what I am saying is that it seems that Luke has sort of done what is now called a mash-up, where two songs are taken and mashed together to form a single song. This is to say that Luke has performed a fairly sophisticated bit of editorial wizardry here. It seems almost as if Luke has taken several stories, broken them into component pieces, and then reassembled some elements of each to create an entirely new story. This should make us ask two questions: why did he do this?; and what does this imply about Luke’s editorial process?

Even before we get to the first question posed above, there is a preliminary question: did he actually do what I am suggesting? That, of course, is unanswerable. However, I believe the case for this suggestion is reinforced by the combination of the woman having both a spirit and an infirmity. The Bleeding Woman and the Man with the Withered Hand were both presented as medical miracles; I describe them as ‘medical’ in the sense that neither seem to have been caused by a supernatural agent. At least, no such agent is mentioned i either story; one can, of course, say that all medical problems were believed to be the result of a supernatural agent, and it would be nearly impossible to argue against that. The point remains, however, that no such agent is mentioned as the cause of the bleeding or the withering. And yet here, the woman is said to have a spirit, and the action occurs in a synagogue. This is far from smoking-gun evidence, but it bears keeping in mind.

It should be so borne because of the original question: why did Luke do this? Why did he feel the need, or the desire, to insert another miracle/healing, one that is not mentioned in either Mark or Matthew. The orthodox response is that this story belongs to te L source, to the source unique to Luke that preserved these authentic acts of Jesus from the time of his ministry. By this argument, the Good Samaritan and Prodigal Son are also part of the L source. However, we get back to that question of probability: how likely is it that such stories were told and retold for fifty years or more and only reached Luke? As you will divine, my response is “not bloody likely’. It is much more likely that someone created those stories at some point after Jesus’ death, and probably after Matthew wrote his gospel. Luke probably did have sources unknown to Matthew; this would include stories of Paul if not his actual writings. But Paul came later. We’re talking about Jesus here, the (son of) Man Himself. And if someone other than Jesus invented these stories, why not assume that it was the author of Luke? We’ve found ourselves with a very erudite individual who shows a lot of creativity, so it hardly seems a stretch to suggest he was the one who penned these stories from the “L source”. His invention–(I will grant the possibility that he ‘discovered’ them) of these stories is probably the reason he chose to write a new gospel in the first place. One does not set out to retell a story, only to recapitulate the works of previous authors. One writes a new story because one believes one has new and important things to say, so, of course, one is going to scramble things up a bit. After all, John’s gospel is a nearly-completely different telling of the story entirely, with all sorts of things that are unique to it. Did these come from the J source? (I throw that out facetiously, but that may, in fact, be the explanation of mainstream scholarship.)

It appears I’ve answered my second question first: what does this say about Luke’s editorial process? It says that he was pretty much unconcerned with mixing and matching, combining where it suited his purpose as he did with the Prophet in his Own Land story or as he seems to do here. As to why he did it, it’s used as the rationale for what comes next.

10 Erat autem docens in una synagogarum sabbatis.

11 Et ecce mulier, quae habebat spiritum infirmitatis annis decem et octo et erat inclinata nec omnino poterat sursum respicere.

12 Quam cum vidisset Iesus, vocavit et ait illi: “Mulier, dimissa es ab infirmitate tua”,

13 et imposuit illi manus; et confestim erecta est et glorificabat Deum.

14 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ ἀρχισυνάγωγος, ἀγανακτῶν ὅτι τῷ σαββάτῳ ἐθεράπευσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς, ἔλεγεν τῷ ὄχλῳ ὅτι Ἓξ ἡμέραι εἰσὶν ἐν αἷς δεῖ ἐργάζεσθαι: ἐν αὐταῖς οὖν ἐρχόμενοι θεραπεύεσθε καὶ μὴ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τοῦ σαββάτου.

15 ἀπεκρίθη δὲ αὐτῷ ὁ κύριος καὶ εἶπεν, Ὑποκριταί, ἕκαστος ὑμῶν τῷ σαββάτῳ οὐ λύει τὸν βοῦν αὐτοῦ ἢ τὸν ὄνον ἀπὸ τῆς φάτνης καὶ ἀπαγαγὼν ποτίζει;

16 ταύτην δὲ θυγατέρα Ἀβραὰμ οὖσαν, ἣν ἔδησεν ὁ Σατανᾶς ἰδοὺ δέκα καὶ ὀκτὼ ἔτη, οὐκ ἔδει λυθῆναι ἀπὸ τοῦ δεσμοῦ τούτου τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τοῦ σαββάτου;

Answering, the leader of the synagogue, being violently irritated that on the sabbath Jesus healed, said to the crowd, “There are six days on which it is necessary to work. So on them, we are coming to be healed and not on the day of the sabbath.” (15) The lord answered him and said, “Hypocrite, each of you on the sabbath doesn’t loosen his ox or his ass from the stall and leading it drinks? (16) She is being a daughter of Abraham, who, behold, was bound to Satan for eighteen years, must she not have been loosed from this bond on the day of the sabbath?”

Before I forget, I want to make one peripheral point. Note that the animals cited are an ox and an ass. This represents rather a different choice of megafauna from what we normally run across in the NT. The most common such livestock would be a sheep. Judea is not well-watered enough to support any sort of cattle on a large scale. Even a single ox would probably have presented problems for all but the most wealthy of landed persons. That it is included here would, IMO, indicate that this was intended for an audience outside Judea, or the whole Near Eastern area, being more appropriate for some place further north. But that is a relatively minor thing.

This response is found in Matthew, in conjunction with the Man with the Withered Hand. BUT!! This is very interesting. Apparently no one considers this pronouncement to have been part of Q. It’s not in my Kloppenborg text, nor is it included in the Burton text that’s found on the Early Christian Writings website (excellent source for source material). The basic difference is that Matthew says that all of his interlocutors would rescue one of their sheep it if fell into a pit on the sabbath. What are the implications? The simplest, and most obvious, is that Luke read Matthew’s story, changed it a bit, and the result is directly in front of us. Or, Luke and Matthew had another source, another unknown source, that they both used. Of course, this just complicates the issue. Or the Q people missed the boat and this was part of Q. Of course, I will go with the first option. Really, is this so hard? It doesn’t seem to be if you ask the proper questions.

But to get back to context, as said at the end of the last comment, this is the payoff for the story. Once again, the powers-that-be show themselves to be hypocrites, and Jesus gets to berate them as such. Interesting to note that it feels like there has not been nearly so much of this in Luke’s gospel as there was in Mark. That is something I would need to investigate a bit. I did a really good (IMHO, anyway) thematic breakdown of Mark. Matthew has proven more difficult, so I’m only through Chapter 6; when finished, it will be a very useful tool, I believe, for looking at the types of comparisons by theme that would tell us–or, at least, me–a lot about how each evangelist approached the writing of his/her (we don’t know that) gospel. I have seen this sort of thing, in part, elsewhere. For example, one piece that argues that Matthew wrote later than Luke, and used Luke, claims that Matthew has more snippets about ethical behaviour than Luke does. And, by his standards, he does. However, this requires that each injunction of the Beatitudes be counted as a separate ethical command. That is valid, but there is also a sense in which saying “be good” counts as much as the Good Samaritan, and that seems a bit specious. Not sure how else to break such things down, and that’s a big reason I’m having so much trouble breaking down Matthew.

14 Respondens autem archisynagogus, indignans quia sabbato curasset Iesus, dicebat turbae: “ Sex dies sunt, in quibus oportet operari; in his ergo venite et curamini et non in die sabbati ”.

15 Respondit autem ad illum Dominus et dixit: “ Hypocritae, unusquisque vestrum sabbato non solvit bovem suum aut asinum a praesepio et ducit adaquare?

16 Hanc autem filiam Abrahae, quam alligavit Satanas ecce decem et octo annis, non oportuit solvi a vinculo isto die sabbati? ”.

17καὶ ταῦτα λέγοντος αὐτοῦ κατῃσχύνοντο πάντες οἱ ἀντικείμενοι αὐτῷ, καὶ πᾶς ὁ ὄχλος ἔχαιρεν ἐπὶ πᾶσιν τοῖς ἐνδόξοις τοῖς γινομένοις ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ.

And he having said these things all those opposing were shamed, and the whole crowd was glad upon all the conceited occurrences under him. 

Contrary to plan, I’m going to stop here a moment. “Conceited” is, of course, my personal reading of this, but I used it deliberately t prove a point. In Greek, the word means “admirable”, or “estimable”, or “of high repute”. It can, however, be used ironically to mean “conceited”. And so I did. The Latin, however, has rather a different sense. The word is “gloriose”, and the English derivation is pretty obvious. Three of my four crib translations (KJV, NASB, ESV) render this a “glorious”. That is, they follow the Latin, which is more elevated, rather than the Greek, which is a bit more subdued. A regular citizen can be “honoured” or “esteemed”, but generally only military commanders or divine entities/individuals–saints, would probably qualify–are “glorious”. The NIV prefers the term “wonderful”; now, in common usage, this word is pretty standard for the realm of mere mortals, but think about the derivation. This term describes a “wonder”, which is, at root, something above and beyond the ordinary. So, while it’s toned down a bit, it’s still not the same thing as “esteemed”, or “of high honour”. And it’s not the mistranslation alone; it’s the preference for the Latin, when supposedly since Erasmus (pre-Reformation) we’ve all been good doobies and gone back to the original Greek. Well, perhaps not. 

17 Et cum haec diceret, erubescebant omnes adversarii eius, et omnis populus gaudebat in universis, quae gloriose fiebant ab eo.

18 Ἔλεγεν οὖν, Τίνι ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ, καὶ τίνι ὁμοιώσω αὐτήν;

19 ὁμοία ἐστὶν κόκκῳ σινάπεως, ὃν λαβὼν ἄνθρωπος ἔβαλεν εἰς κῆπον ἑαυτοῦ, καὶ ηὔξησεν καὶ ἐγένετο εἰς δένδρον, καὶ τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ κατεσκήνωσεν ἐν τοῖς κλάδοις αὐτοῦ.

20 Καὶ πάλιν εἶπεν, Τίνι ὁμοιώσω τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ;

21 ὁμοία ἐστὶν ζύμῃ, ἣν λαβοῦσα γυνὴ [ἐν]έκρυψεν εἰς ἀλεύρου σάτα τρία ἕως οὗ ἐζυμώθη ὅλον.

Therefore he said, “To what is the kingdom of God similar? And to what shall I compare it? (19) It is like the seed of mustard, a man taking which throws into his field, and it grows and becomes into a tree, and the birds of the heaven build nests in its branches”. And again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? (21) It is like yeast, a woman having taken she hid it three measures in the flour until it has leavened the whole.” 

There isn’t much new here. The mustard seed is common to all three and  Matthew had the analogy of the leaven. Luke’s version of the latter is very similar to the one here. To be fair, I’m calling this an analogy rather than a parable because it’s so short.  

This has the feel of Luke just sort of mailing it in. He wants to get this in, but he doesn’t want to make too big a deal of it. The juxtaposition and the context aren’t all that wonderful, it doesn’t really fit with what came before. The kingdom of God started small, but it will grow. 

But now let us think about that for a moment. The kingdom is, supposedly, one of the basic tenets taught by Jesus as he continued the work of the Baptist. This, and the need to repent, is the totality of what we are told of John’s message. Repent, for the kingdom of God is near. Mark uses this parable of the mustard seed, and adds to it that the kingdom, like a real seed buried in the ground, grows in a way that is is secret and hidden. And this secretive working is also true of leaven; it goes into the mixture and works in secret. Was this Mark’s way of explaining why, by the time he wrote, so many Jews had remained traditional Jews rather than becoming Christians? By the time Mark wrote, perhaps two generations had grown to maturity, and Jesus’ followers by that time were mostly of pagan extraction. That was the secret of the kingdom: it didn’t grow “openly”, among Jews, as one might have expected. Rather, it grew secretly, among the pagans.

Interesting thought?

18 Dicebat ergo: “Cui simile est regnum Dei, et cui simile existimabo illud?

19 Simile est grano sinapis, quod acceptum homo misit in hortum suum, et crevit et factum est in arborem, et volucres caeli requieverunt in ramis eius”.

20 Et iterum dixit: “ Cui simile aestimabo regnum Dei?

21 Simile est fermento, quod acceptum mulier abscondit in farinae sata tria, donec fermentaretur totum ”.

Luke Chapter 13:1-9

We have crossed into the second half of the gospel, when counting by the number of chapters. Whether the remaining chapters have more, less, or the same amount of text as those preceding is another story to which I do not know the ending.

I do know that, as we progress through this second half, we will begin to encounter more of the material unique to Luke and less that is part of the triple tradition part of the alleged Q gospel. This unique material is often, or usually, said to belong to the L material. This is simply shorthand for labeling this text that is unique to Luke. That is simple enough. However, the implication is that L represents a source that Luke tapped into, or used. That is, the L material existed before Luke, who then copied it down verbatim, or at most, shaped it a bit. The same is said about material unique to Matthew, the so-called M material. Matthew supposedly copied this down from earlier sources, too. This attitude, or belief, represents a colossal failure of understanding of the evangelists and the composition of the gospels. These guy were not taking dictation; they were not transcribed oral stuff as they found it; they were not copying down–and then destroying–older sources. To suggest this does a grave injustice to those people who composed these gospels. Each author was so much more than a copyist or an amanuensis. Nor were any of them, but Matthew & Luke especially, interested in telling the same story as their predecessor(s). Rather, each author was just that: an author. Each evangelist had his own particular story to tell, his own particular understanding of what the material and the traditions he inherited from the past meant, and he believed that this material needed to be told in a certain manner. That is, each one was creating the story, if not quite from scratch, then as it had developed to that point.

We return to the question: why does someone choose to undertake such an odd undertaking as to write a gospel? The answer is because that individual believes he has something that needs to be said. Another way to put this is to say that he believed the story, as received, wasn’t quite correct, or was at least incomplete. Mark saw the distinction between the wonder worker and the messiah stories and felt a powerful need to demonstrate that Jesus was actually both of those men. Matthew saw that Mark hadn’t gone far enough in insisting that Jesus was a divine entity, and was divine from birth, so he took Mark’s gospel and added new material to show exactly this. Some of this may have been, and probably was, extracted from stories he heard repeated, stories that had grown up in between the time Mark wrote and the time he did. But some of this new material was, I strongly believe, his own creation. The birth narrative would be the prime example of material that Matthew composed himself; the Sermon on the Mount is likely an amalgam of material that he heard and material that he created himself. Luke wrote because the conception of Jesus had been undergoing a change since Matthew wrote; the degree to which this change was in the larger community itself, or was the peculiar understanding of Luke, is another issue. He believed that the behaviours that led to salvation needed to be further explained and clarified. He believed we needed to see the common humanity that we share with our neighbours, and to define who those neighbours are. He believed that the poor–and not the poor in spirit–were blessed.

Realizing that there was no one, single, unitary Truth, a single story to be told, is to take a huge step in understanding the thought process behind the gospels, and to understand the intent of the authors. It is very important to keep in mind that there was no single version of many Greek myths. They were told and retold with different aspects and emphases. If Matthew and Luke were both pagans, such an understanding would have been integral to their world-view. They would have felt no need to retell the same story that Mark (and Matthew) had already told. What is the point of that? If you’re going to write a gospel, you’re going to write a different gospel; otherwise, why bother?

So anyway, let’s get on with this by actually reading the


1 Παρῆσαν δέ τινες ἐν αὐτῷ τῷ καιρῷ ἀπαγγέλλοντες αὐτῷ περὶ τῶν Γαλιλαίων ὧν τὸ αἷμα Πιλᾶτος ἔμιξεν μετὰ τῶν θυσιῶν αὐτῶν.

2 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Δοκεῖτε ὅτι οἱ Γαλιλαῖοι οὗτοι ἁμαρτωλοὶ παρὰ πάντας τοὺς Γαλιλαίους ἐγένοντο, ὅτι ταῦτα πεπόνθασιν;

3 οὐχί, λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀλλ’ ἐὰν μὴ μετανοῆτε πάντες ὁμοίως ἀπολεῖσθε. 

“Some were at that time reporting  about those of Galilee of whom the blood Pilate mixed with their sacrifices. (2) And answering he said to them, “Does it seem that these Galileans were sinners besides (i.e., when compared to) all Galileans, that they suffered these things? (3) No, I say to you, but except if you repent, you will all perish this way.

This is really interesting. Josephus tells us of a couple of instances when Pilate was forced to confront an angry mob of Judeans. The first occurred upon Pilate’s arrival, when he installed Roman shields inside the Temple. They did not have images, but they did have inscriptions. Regardless, the placement of anything of pagan origin would likely have caused offense, so there was something of a tense stand-off between the governor and the populace. Not wishing to cause a riot–or worse–Pilate backed down and had the shields removed. The second is known as the Aqueduct Riot, which did actually result in bloodshed. I cannot find a date for when this event likely occurred. Luke tells us that Jesus was still alive when it happened, so if Luke were in any way reliable as a source for dates, Jesus’ death would be considered a terminus ante quem, an end-point after which the event could not have occurred. According to Luke, Jesus began his ministry in the 15th year of Tiberius’ reign; Tiberius ascended to the throne in 14 CE, so that would mean Jesus began preaching in 29 (give or take). Since he was preaching when this event occurred, the year 29 becomes a terminus post quem; the event could not have happened before 29. Pilate governed in Judea from 26 – 36, so Jesus died sometime before 36 if Pilate was in charge when Jesus was executed. So the Aqueduct Riot would have occurred in the period 29 – 36. But we have to add a very large caveat: it appears from the passage that the event is being announced as something that Jesus is just being told about, but this is by no means a sure thing. This means we can only date this securely to some point in Pilate’s term as governor; that is, between 26 – 36. The first of those dates is the terminus post quem; it had to be after Pilate became governor. The second is the terminus ante quem; it had to have happened before Pilate ended his term. The other big problem is that the Aqueduct Riot occurred in Jerusalem. The dead people are said to be Galileans. That means we have to explain why there were Galileans in Jerusalem. Josephus tells us that Pilate was in Jerusalem when this happened, which is taken as an indication that it happened during a festival. Pilate went to Jerusalem from his actual seat in Tiberias for festivals, which is why he was there for Jesus’ execution during the Passover. A festival would bring Jews from different places together, so it is likely that some of them would have Galileans.

So all of that can work. We can fit a chronology together. It is imperative to remember, however, that there are other possibilities. We only have Luke’s word that Jesus began his ministry in circa 29. We have no independent corroboration for this; Luke may simply have made it up. And if Pilate was in Jerusalem for festivals, there is no reason to accept that Jesus was executed during Passover. We only have the gospels’ authority on that and we have seen that Matthew and Luke had no qualms inventing historical events: the first being the Slaughter of Innocents, the second being the census that made everyone go back to their ancestral city. So it is not so wise to be overly confident of the historicity of the gospel accounts.

That’s all fine and good, but what is really interesting is the last verse. Jesus is threatening–er, warning–his listeners with a similar fate. What does Luke mean by this? My first take is that it is another post-fact prediction of coming persecutions: beware, or face martyrdom. Or is that correct? The listeners are told to repent; are we to assume that the subsequent martyrs did not repent? That doesn’t entirely make sense. According to some of the commentators, the thought process was that such that anyone who suffered such a fate must have been some kind of heinous sinner. In this case, I have to agree that this is likely the sentiment Luke was trying to put across: repent, or be killed. I’ve been trying to stretch this to make it into some kind of allegorical pronouncement, or some kind of metaphor for the persecutions that would “follow” this warning, but it doesn’t seem to work. Perhaps additional thought would turn up something, but there’s nothing that I can see at the moment.

1 Aderant autem quidam ipso in tempore nuntiantes illi de Galilaeis, quorum sanguinem Pilatus miscuit cum sacrificiis eorum.

2 Et respondens dixit illis: “ Putatis quod hi Galilaei prae omnibus Galilaeis peccatores fuerunt, quia talia passi sunt?

3 Non, dico vobis, sed, nisi paenitentiam egeritis, omnes similiter peribitis.

4 ἢ ἐκεῖνοι οἱ δεκαοκτὼ ἐφ’ οὓς ἔπεσεν ὁ πύργος ἐν τῷ Σιλωὰμ καὶ ἀπέκτεινεν αὐτούς, δοκεῖτε ὅτι αὐτοὶ ὀφειλέται ἐγένοντο παρὰ πάντας τοὺς ἀνθρώπους τοὺς κατοικοῦντας Ἰερουσαλήμ;

5 οὐχί, λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀλλ’ ἐὰν μὴ μετανοῆτε πάντες ὡσαύτως ἀπολεῖσθε.

“Or those eighteen upon whom fell the tower in Siloam and killed them, do you think that they became sinners from among all the men those persons living in Jerusalem? (5) No, I say to you, unless you repent, all in such a way will die.”

In case we missed it the first time, Jesus feels it beneficial to repeat it. Once again, “repent or you will die” really sounds like a metaphor for the Christian idea of salvation: repent, or the one who can throw the soul into Gehenna will do so, and you will not enter ‘the life’ (= will die). It is very flattering to interpret this injunction in this way. The only problem is the single word ὡσαύτως. This means ‘in such a way’; it’s hard not to understand this as a reference to physical death via a falling tower, or some other calamity. As such, it’s difficult to take this as anything other than physical death.  

4 Vel illi decem et octo, supra quos cecidit turris in Siloam et occidit eos, putatis quia et ipsi debitores fuerunt praeter omnes homines habitantes in Ierusalem?

5 Non, dico vobis, sed, si non paenitentiam egeritis, omnes similiter peribitis”.

6 Ἔλεγεν δὲ ταύτην τὴν παραβολήν: Συκῆν εἶχέν τις πεφυτευμένην ἐν τῷ ἀμπελῶνι αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἦλθεν ζητῶν καρπὸν ἐν αὐτῇ καὶ οὐχ εὗρεν.

7 εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς τὸν ἀμπελουργόν,Ἰδοὺ τρία ἔτη ἀφ’ οὗ ἔρχομαι ζητῶν καρπὸν ἐν τῇ συκῇ ταύτῃ καὶ οὐχ εὑρίσκω. ἔκκοψον [οὖν] αὐτήν: ἱνα τί καὶ τὴν γῆν καταργεῖ;

8 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς λέγει αὐτῷ, Κύριε, ἄφες αὐτὴν καὶ τοῦτο τὸ ἔτος, ἕως ὅτου σκάψω περὶ αὐτὴν καὶ βάλω κόπρια:

9 κἂν μὲν ποιήσῃ καρπὸν εἰς τὸ μέλλον εἰ δὲ μή γε, ἐκκόψεις αὐτήν.

He told this parable. “Someone had planted fig (trees) in his vineyard and he came seeking fruit in it (the fig trees) and he did not find (any). (7) He said to the vineyard worker, ‘Look, three years after which I have come seeking fruit in this fig tree and I have not found (any)’. [Thus] cut it down. Why let the ground be idle?’ Answering he (the worker) said to him, ‘Lord, leave it also this year, until this I dig around of it and I throw dung (fertilizer).’ (9) And then it will make fruit better, or if not, you will cut it down’.”

Here is another instance where Luke changes a story that is told in both M&M. In this case, he changed it radically. In its previous two incarnations, the fig tree without fruit is not the subject of a parable, but the object of Jesus’ anger. Mark is particularly caustic. In that version Jesus curses the tree because it has no fruit, even though we are specifically told that it was not the season for the figs to be ripe. This is sheer petulance on Jesus’ part, not entirely different from cursing a fig tree because it doesn’t produce oranges, the action of an exasperated man who is fed up by the world around him. In this case, the curse leads to the death of the fig tree; it is not stretching the situation too much to say that Jesus killed the tree unjustly; the tree could not bear fruit out of season, so it was completely unable to comply with Jesus’ wishes. So Jesus punished the tree for behaving in accordance with nature.

Matthew altered the scenario to soften it by deflecting the action from the tree itself to its untimely demise. In Mark, Jesus cursed the tree in the morning and it was dead upon the return of Jesus & company in the evening. In Matthew, the withering of the tree is instantaneous. This is what gets the disciples’ attention and they marvel at the action, that Jesus was able to cause a growing tree to die before their eyes. Jesus explains this as a matter of faith; with even a tiny amount of faith, they, too, could perpetrate defoliation at a whim, and even throw mountains into the sea. More, Matthew does not say that it was not the season for figs, which makes Jesus’ action less petulant & irrational than it was in Mark, but it’s still well down the path of extreme reaction.

This is yet another example of Luke changing a story found in the Triple Tradition. I have used the term “fully told” to describe these, when the pericope has received a complete telling in the previous two gospels. These are the times when Luke appears to feel free either to greatly condense the story–or, in some cases, combine two of them into a single story–or change it as he does here. In other cases, when Matthew has abridged one of Mark’s stories–as the Gerasene demonaic–Luke will restore much of the text that Matthew eliminated. Of course, this has implications for Q. Given that Luke never saw Matthew, it is uncanny that Luke seems to know exactly when to reduce and when to add to stories. For now, I will leave it at that. We’ve covered this ground before, and we will, no doubt, cover it again when the time is more appropriate.

6 Dicebat autem hanc similitudinem: “Arborem fici habebat quidam plantatam in vinea sua et venit quaerens fructum in illa et non invenit.

7 Dixit autem ad cultorem vineae: “Ecce anni tres sunt, ex quo venio quaerens fructum in ficulnea hac et non invenio. Succide ergo illam. Ut quid etiam terram evacuat?”.

8 At ille respondens dicit illi: “Domine, dimitte illam et hoc anno, usque dum fodiam circa illam et mittam stercora,

9 et si quidem fecerit fructum in futurum; sin autem succides eam’.”