Since my production is down, I’m going to try the short-and-quick route by doing short sections. I’m also going to skip an intro and jump right into the
1 Εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ, Ἀνένδεκτόν ἐστιν τοῦ τὰ σκάνδαλα μὴ ἐλθεῖν, πλὴν οὐαὶ δι’ οὗ ἔρχεται:
2 λυσιτελεῖ αὐτῷ εἰ λίθος μυλικὸς περίκειται περὶ τὸν τράχηλον αὐτοῦ καὶ ἔρριπται εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν ἢ ἵνα σκανδαλίσῃ τῶν μικρῶν τούτων ἕνα.
He said to his learners, “It is not admissible that the stumbling not come, but woe to the one through whom it comes. It is more profitable for him if a millstone be hung around his neck (trachea) and he be thrown into the sea than to make stumble to one of these little ones.
I deliberately made some idiosyncratic choices for translations here. The first is “learners” instead of “disciples”. That is a very literal translation of the Greek. “Disciple” comes from the Latin, which happens also to mean “learners”. Like “baptize”, disciple has taken on a very specific meaning in English that was not present in either the original Greek or the Latin translation. It is a good idea to throw a little sand in the gears once in a while to obviate the tendency for us, as modern readers, to get too comfortable with the standard rendering of a particular word. This is especially true for words like this that have become ossified in English into a specifically theological sense. These were just garden-variety words in Greek & Latin; that needs to be remembered. Jesus is just speaking; he is not uttering Holy Writ.
The second involves “skandala”. The English result of this word is transparent. The meaning in Greek is “to stumble”, from “stumbling block”. However, I notice that, while the KJV renders as “offenses”, several modern translations use “to stumble”. So I’m not being as weird as I had thought.
More interesting is the idea expressed. Of course we’re all going to stumble, because we’re human likely to be understood. Let’s think about that for a moment. Recall that Luke is (possibly/probably) the first evangelist to be aware of Paul’s writing. At least, he’s the first that we’re sure who knew about Paul as an apostle, even if he was not aware of Paul’s writing. I don’t see a lot made of this for whatever reason. Having read 1 Corinthians, we know that Paul was sort of hung up on sex. Reading this passage with that in mind, I wonder if perhaps some Christian communities went to extremes about sex, going full-bore puritanical. Of course, it doesn’t have to be about sex, but the next line seems to indicate that it is. At least, this admonition which is also in M&M, that is how this was presented to me back whenever. And let’s be honest: pederasty was a common practice in the Graeco-Roman world. Tacitus, and especially Suetonius have all sorts of lurid stories about the sexual depravity that Tiberius was practising in his pleasure dome on Capri. And recall that Tiberius was on the throne when Jesus was executed, if the chronologies are to be believed–and there’s no really good reason not to believe them so far as I know; admittedly, however, that isn’t very far. OTOH, while this is the sort of thing historians would debate endlessly, it never seems to occur to biblical scholars to question it. Eusebios very confidently accepts the standard chronology, and places Jesus’ execution in the 15th year of Tiberius’ reign (IIRC. Might be off a bit on that).
So anyway, Luke, like Mark & Matthew before him, is telling us that it’s not the sin per se that is horrible; it’s the corrupting of “one of the little ones”. It’s certainly easy to interpret that as children, and it’s probably difficult to interpret it any other way, at least, not credibly. “Little ones” can refer to the downtrodden or the peasants, in the way that Oscar winners thank the “little people” who helped make their performance possible. Realistically, though, taking “little ones” to mean anything other than children is a stretch. To emphasize, this story in Mark is part of the story in which Jesus tells the disciples to become like the child he is holding in his arms (one envisions Jesus sitting with the child on his lap. Perhaps due to artistic depictions?). What is interesting about this version, IMO, is that Luke does not feel the need to give us the context like this. He just says, “these little ones”, but we have absolutely no context on where they are. At the end of the previous chapter, they–or at least Jesus–was in the company of Pharisees as he told the story of Dives and Lazarus. At the outset of this one Jesus is simply with his disciples. Where? Where are “these” little ones? The answer, I think, is that they are in the other two gospels. We have seen this before in Luke. In stories that have been well-told, and adequately handled by the other two, Luke shortens his version or leaves out details as he does here. In places where perhaps Matthew summarized Mark a bit too severely, Luke provides a long version to fill out the narrative omitted by Matthew. And yes, of course this ties back to Q; at least, it ties to the question of whether Luke had read Matthew. When there is a high level of correlation in situations as described, this comes down rather convincingly as evidence that Luke was very much aware of Matthew.
1 Et ad discipulos suos ait: “Impossibile est ut non veniant scandala; vae autem illi, per quem veniunt!
2 Utilius est illi, si lapis molaris imponatur circa collum eius et proiciatur in mare, quam ut scandalizet unum de pusillis istis.
3 προσέχετε ἑαυτοῖς. ἐὰν ἁμάρτῃ ὁ ἀδελφός σου ἐπιτίμησον αὐτῷ, καὶ ἐὰν μετανοήσῃ ἄφες αὐτῷ:
4 καὶ ἐὰν ἑπτάκις τῆς ἡμέρας ἁμαρτήσῃ εἰς σὲ καὶ ἑπτάκις ἐπιστρέψῃ πρὸς σὲ λέγων, Μετανοῶ, ἀφήσεις αὐτῷ.
5 Καὶ εἶπαν οἱ ἀπόστολοι τῷ κυρίῳ, Πρόσθες ἡμῖν πίστιν.
6 εἶπεν δὲ ὁ κύριος, Εἰ ἔχετε πίστιν ὡς κόκκον σινάπεως, ἐλέγετε ἂν τῇ συκαμίνῳ [ταύτῃ],Ἐκριζώθητι καὶ φυτεύθητι ἐν τῇ θαλάσσῃ: καὶ ὑπήκουσεν ἂν ὑμῖν.
“Devote yourselves (as in, ‘pay attention!’). If your brother might sin against you, (rebuke) him, and if he repents forgive him. (4) And if he should sin against you seven times in a day, turn to him saying, ‘Repent,’ (and) leave him.” And his apostles said to the lord, “Put upon/within us faith.” (6) The lord said, “If you have the faith as a seed of mustard, if you said to [the/that] sycamine tree, ‘Uproot yourself and throw yourself in the sea’, and it would heed you.”
First, let’s talk about the tree. It appears there is a whole thing about the “sycamine” tree; “sycamine” is a straight transliteration, which means the English letters are substituted for the Greek letters and the word is pronounced (more or less) the same. “Logos” is a great example. I was going to translate as “sycamore” tree and leave it at that, but then I wanted to check to see what sort of tree it was that Zacchaeus will climb. Back in Catholic school, we sang a song about Zacchaeus, and how he climbed a sycamore tree, so it seemed wise to corroborate the genus and species across verses. The KJV renders the word as ‘sycamine’; modern translations render as ‘mulberry’. Well, it turns out that a sycamine tree is actually a mulberry tree. A Google search turns up a whole bunch of stuff on the mulberry tree mentioned here, of which two species are common to Palestine. Luther apparently translated the word as “mulberry tree.” Wikipedia says he made his German translation directly from Hebrew and Greek, so he would have encountered sycamine. However, Luther learned his Bible in Latin; going back to the Greek was still an unusual activity in his time and everyone in the west learned the Bible in Latin. And the word used in Latin is “morus”; and the genus of the mulberry trees common to Palestine is “morus”. This makes me wonder if the whole mulberry thing is based on Luther’s reading of the Vulgate, which means it may indeed have been the same tree that Zacchaeus will climb in 19:4. We’ll come back to this again, but, in the meantime, I will defer to St Jerome whose knowledge of Mediterranean flora was doubtless much superior to mine.
Perhaps of more interest to most is the admonition on forgiving your brother. Most of us recall that Matthew enjoined us to forgive seven times seventy, or seventy-seven times. Luke, here, only tells us to do it seven times. Per my Absolutely Official version of Q, the “correct” version of this, as found in Q, is the seven we find here. Ergo, Luke has the more “primitive” version. In this case, I would tend to agree with that assessment, assuming I actually believed in Q. Which I don’t. So this becomes problematic, which, in turn, sure makes it convenient to have a Q so that we don’t really have to weigh the two versions and decide why they are different. But is that true? If the more primitive version is seven, why did Matthew change it? Do we have a redactionally consistent explanation of every time Matthew varies from Q? That is what the Q people demand of those who do not accept Q, but it seems to me they’ve got that backwards, doesn’t it? The question isn’t– or shouldn’t be, really– why Luke deviates from Matthew, but why Matthew deviates from Q? What reason does Matthew have for changing it to “poor in spirit” or “seventy-seven” times? Because I will grant that it does seem curious that Luke only tells us to do it seven times. The “poor in spirit” change is easy enough to explain, but the seven, vs the seventy-seven, is a bit more difficult.
As a quick aside, I seriously doubt that one can come up with an redactionally consistent explanation for why Luke changed Matthew in this case. Luke disagreed. He had his own view, but is it realistic to believe that he had a consistent, abiding understanding, or re-interpretation of Matthew from which he never deviated? Really? What human being in the world is capable of that degree of consistency? None that I know of. Which is where and why the whole divine inspiration thing comes in handy. But I do think the Q people have, once again, managed to shift the burden of proof onto those who don’t accept the idea. The Q people should be made to prove that it did exist, and then explain every instance where Matthew diverged from the “original” text. Instead, they demand that we prove it didn’t exist– which is impossible, btw; one cannot prove a negative– and provide a redactionally consistent explanation for every time Matthew chose to ad lib.
But even more interesting is that Luke gives us leave to leave. Matthew’s ‘seventy-seven’ times is a sort of rhetorical short-hand for “ad infinitum”; that is, there is no limit to the number times we should forgive our sibling. (Practically speaking, however, if we are talking about a literal sibling, forgiving seventy-seven times over the course of a lifetime is hardly “infinite”.) So what this means is, if Q did exist, Matthew was being more lenient than Jesus. Luke tells, OTOH, that seven is enough, after which we can leave the sibling and go one’s own way. And, given Q, this is the original message of Jesus. Think about that. Jesus did not preach a forgiveness that was infinite. You get your set number of chances, but after that, you’ve proven yourself to be incorrigible and you’re on your own. So, this means that if Luke was less forgiving than Matthew, Jesus was also less forgiving than Matthew. Of course, this latter conclusion vanishes if we follow the evidence and accept that Q never did exist. This means that Luke was less forgiving than Matthew, and that’s the end of it. Jesus never enters the comparison. The commentaries don’t have a lot to say on the differences between the two versions. That is the problem with commentaries: they do not always cross-reference sufficiently; Rather, they focus too narrowly on the passage before us at the moment. An effective discussion would have to come from a theologian who is discussing the concept of forgiveness in the NT. Ellicott does provide an interesting insight. He says that the leave to leave is Luke enjoining the listener to get up and leave the moment after forgiving seven times rather than remain and lose your temper. That does make sense.
The final point is one I’ll leave to you to determine the level of importance. It seems hugely significant to me, but then my perspective is usually a bit off-kilter. I’m like Pluto: I don’t lie on the same plane as the rest of the solar system. The point is that I cannot ever remember hearing any of this chapter read aloud as the gospel. That includes nineteen years growing up in the Roman Rite, and then another eighteen or nineteen as an adult in the Episcopal Church. Never. Of course, that’s not to say it never happened. One possibility is that this reading is done on a Tuesday in April or something when I wasn’t at church. Why is that? Of course, the most likely answer is that this would highlight the difference between this passage and the corresponding version in Matthew. That would lead to the uncomfortable questions about
3 Attendite vobis! Si peccaverit frater tuus, increpa illum et, si paenitentiam egerit, dimitte illi;
4 et si septies in die peccaverit in te et septies conversus fuerit ad te dicens: “Paenitet me”, dimittes illi ”.
5 Et dixerunt apostoli Domino: “ Adauge nobis fidem! ”.
6 Dixit autem Dominus: “ Si haberetis fidem sicut granum sinapis, diceretis huic arbori moro: “Eradicare et transplantare in mare”, et oboediret vobis.
7 Τίς δὲ ἐξ ὑμῶν δοῦλον ἔχων ἀροτριῶντα ἢ ποιμαίνοντα, ὃς εἰσελθόντι ἐκ τοῦ ἀγροῦ ἐρεῖ αὐτῷ, Εὐθέως παρελθὼν ἀνάπεσε,
8 ἀλλ’ οὐχὶ ἐρεῖ αὐτῷ, Ἑτοίμασον τί δειπνήσω, καὶ περιζωσάμενος διακόνει μοι ἕως φάγω καὶ πίω, καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα φάγεσαι καὶ πίεσαι σύ;
9 μὴ ἔχει χάριν τῷ δούλῳ ὅτι ἐποίησεν τὰ διαταχθέντα;
10 οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς, ὅταν ποιήσητε πάντα τὰ διαταχθέντα ὑμῖν, λέγετε ὅτι Δοῦλοι ἀχρεῖοί ἐσμεν, ὃ ὠφείλομεν ποιῆσαι πεποιήκαμεν.
“Who among you having a slave that having been ploughing or herding, who comes from the field says to him, ‘Immediately coming in, get off your feet’, (8) but does not say to him, (rather than saying to him) ‘Prepare the dinner, and gird yourself to minister to me while I eat and drink, and after that you will eat and drink’? (9) Do you not have thanks to/for the slave that performs the commands? (10) It is also this way for you, when you do all the commands (given to) you, you say that ‘We are useless slaves, we have done what we were obligated to do.”
Upon reading this the first time, I was beginning to question my reading comprehension. How did we go from the mulberry tree throwing itself into the ocean to having a slave who ploughs/herds? But the payoff does come at the end when it kinda sorta maybe relates to having faith. Or maybe not. The lesson is that just doing what you’re told is not sufficient; you have to go above and beyond that, and such a lesson makes sense. And so it’s by going above and beyond that you have the faith of a mustard seed and can move trees. At least. that’s how I’m reading this.
7 Quis autem vestrum habens servum arantem aut pascentem, qui regresso de agro dicet illi: “Statim transi, recumbe”,
8 et non dicet ei: “Para, quod cenem, et praecinge te et ministra mihi, donec manducem et bibam, et post haec tu manducabis et bibes”?
9 Numquid gratiam habet servo illi, quia fecit, quae praecepta sunt?
10 Sic et vos, cum feceritis omnia, quae praecepta sunt vobis, dicite: “Servi inutiles sumus; quod debuimus facere, fecimus’ ”.
This was a long time in production. My apologies for the delay.
At first reading, the theme of this chapter is wealth; specifically, it is worldly wealth, how it compares to other-worldly wealth, and what the implications are for exalting the former over the latter. A few more readings, however, reveal that this is thematically more complex, and more subtle, than may first be apparent.
While the story of the unjust slave is unique to Luke, the summation is a quote also found in Matthew. This is the quote about God and Mammon. Since it’s in these two, it’s considered part of Q. But if the conclusion is part of Q, but the preceding story is not, whence came the story? Official answer: The L Source. Because there was not just Q, but also M and L, which account for the stuff unique to Matthew and Luke, respectively. So, not only was there one source that vanished without a trace, there were three. Oh, but M and L were oral. Oh? And the proof for that is…what, exactly? This is why Q becomes so problematic. Not only are we creating one body unnecessarily, we are creating three. It’s so much easier to credit the composition of this story to Luke’s particular brand of creativity. He took Matthew’s conclusion and composed a story to illustrate the moral more effectively.
And this story is particularly subtle. Think back to Mark. The longest single story in Mark is that of the Geresene demonaic, possessed by a demon or demons named Legion, for they were many (love that line). That is a great story, but subtle? Not so much. This story of Luke’s always puzzled me, probably because I never paid sufficient attention and didn’t hear or understand the lesson taught, or because the whole thing wasn’t read in church. I could never figure out why the master of the steward was impressed by the latter’s actions of cheating the master of debts owed; part of my failure to grasp the message was due to its subtlety. The master is impressed because the steward showed true cunning. It’s sort of like admiring the technique of a thief who has figured out a really clever way to steal something. Jesus tells the story and then agrees with the master’s assessment of the fraud. But! Jesus agrees for a specific and pretty narrow reason: the steward has demonstrated the sort of sharp practice that will get someone ahead in the chase of material wealth. This sort of practice, or behavior, will endear you to the practitioners of this age, to those who worship Mammon, so this will endear the steward and cushion his fall from grace when he is fired by the master he’s been cheating.
But then Jesus adds another twist. Yes, it shows cunning for worldly ends, but perhaps it can also help deal with other-worldly ends. For, he says, use it to prepare a place so that when wealth fails, you will be received into the tents of eternity. As an aside, tents is no doubt over-literal, but that is the basic meaning. It is prettied up as a metaphor in the various translations, and you are free to fashion your own metaphor, but, at its root, the word means tents. What are eternal tents? I rather skimmed over that in the commentary. Any time we encounter the word eternal, in any of its forms, we–at least I–start to think in terms of the afterlife, since that is the eternal realm of Christian thought. But how will riches help get you into the afterlife? Is Jesus, perhaps, being a bit ironic? How is that for a concept: Ironic Jesus. A quick glance at some of the commentaries indicate that I am perhaps being short-sighted, or too literal, or something such, since this is meant to imply that we use our material wealth for immaterial good such as giving to the poor. That is one possible interpretation, and “poor” is the translation of “friends”. Other commentaries suggest that the friends are angels, or even God. The point is that, should we be fortunate enough to have wealth, it should be used for the betterment of all in order to help ease us into the everlasting tabernacles. The problem that I have is that the very scattered approach to these interpretations clearly indicates a lack of consensus on this. No one, it appears, is all that certain what the intent of these few passages might be.
Because then we go on to the part about building trust: if you cannot be trusted in small things, who will trust you in great ones? That is a legitimate question, and one that every parent understands very well. We let our kids convince us to trust them in small ways, and then they eventually graduate to the car keys. But this seems to contradict the story we have. The steward proved himself not to be trustworthy, and then when caught he attempted more deceit to get him out of the jam. And the master was impressed. And the master was impressed? What this sort of muddle tells me is that Luke either did not sort this out in his head, or he wasn’t quite able to reconcile the various threads he was using, or that perhaps there are textual problems. By this I mean that the text got corrupted and some inappropriate words were inserted; however, the problem is that my text that is annotated for different mss traditions does not indicate any problems here. There is some quibbling about the exact form of the “received” word, but nothing beyond that. The other possibility is that this jumble represents the bad seam between several similar, but not exactly the same, versions of this story. That means we have to ask how likely it is that there were different versions of this story. Offhand, it seems unlikely as this is sort of an odd set of circumstances. This takes me back to the idea of Luke inventing a story to fit the God & Mammon moral from Matthew. Perhaps the story originated elsewhere. This would be in keeping with the way legends grow; new stories and characters are added as time passes, using, once again, the Arthur legend as the classic example. But even if Luke took over the story, he still has final editorial control, so the story is the way it is because he wanted it this way. The implication, therefore, is that Luke left us with something that it a bit ambiguous, whatever the reason for this condition.
It gets worse, at least potentially. In the next section, which is short, Luke ties this thematically to the favorite Bad Guys of the NT: the Pharisees. They, we are told, love money, so they get a bit annoyed by Jesus’ story. It is at this point that they are excoriated as those who push their way to the front of the line of the entrance to the Kingdom of God. This, in turn, raises the question of how is this possible, if the Kingdom of God is to be found in the afterlife, and is based on the merit we have earned in this life? It really isn’t. Which suggests the implication that the Kingdom of God and the reward in Heaven were not, initially, synonymous concepts. Since the Baptist was preaching the Kingdom of God, then it is not much of a stretch that John’s kingdom was not heavenly. And, interestingly enough, this would provide a solid theological basis for Matthew’s decision to refer to it as the Kingdom of the Heavens. He chose this different title because the idea it was describing had undergone a fundamental change: it was no longer a kingdom of the earth, but one in the heavens, gained only in the afterlife. That is an interesting thought. Then why did Luke revert to Kingdom of God? Because, by the time Luke wrote, the concepts of the Kingdom and the Life had become wholly interchangeable; no one expected an earthly kingdom any longer, so it was not necessary to frame the goal of life as the kingdom of the heavens. The Kingdom of God expressed the same concept. And here’s an interesting twist to that. My position is that even Mark was writing as much for pagans as for Jews, and Matthew certainly was addressing pagans almost exclusively. There was no longer much expectation that Jews would join the new movement. Mark used the old term, because he still had a foot planted firmly in the old ways of Judaism. Matthew did not have such a stance, so he forewent the Kingdom of God, replacing the term with Kingdom of the Heavens to get this point across to pagans. Such an audience of pagans would not bring the Jewish concept of an earthly messiah into the new religion, so the idea of a Kingdom of God, as understood by Jews, would not have been terribly meaningful. So Matthew used a different, more explicit term, one that definitely referred to the afterlife.
[As an aside, I checked the number of incidences of kingdom vs life in the gospels to see if there was a transition point. There really isn’t. Matthew uses the term kingdom slightly more often than Luke does, but the incidence of the Life is about the same in each. Where Life really becomes prominent is in John. ]
Anyway, the Pharisees are meant to indicate that the Jews no longer held favored status in the line to enter either the kingdom or the life. This was sort of a double-whammy; the Jews, of course, were the Chosen People, and the Pharisees were considered– by themselves, anyway– to be the Chosen among the Chosen. At least, this is how they are portrayed in the gospels, and we have to wonder how accurate this portrayal is; OTOH, Paul does sort of provide independent verification of this in Phillipians, when he brags about being a Jew among Jews, and a Pharisee.* To demonstrate the point, Jesus informs them that the Law and the Prophets held sway until John; but then, rather paradoxically, adds that not a serif of the Law will not pass away. This is such a great example of the uneasy cooption of Judaism by Christians; on one hand, the Jews had been superseded, but OTOH, Christians needed the legitimacy offered by the antiquity of Judaism. I’m reading Eusebios’ Ecclesiastical History, and he goes to great lengths to demonstrate how the idea of the Christ, and even the name of Jesus/Joshua was in the Hebrew Scriptures. There was an entire series of christs (lower case by design) that culminated with The Christ, The Saviour, known as Jesus the Christ. So Christianity has always been very ambivalent towards its Jewish heritage. Then we have a throwaway line about divorce, that doesn’t fit at all with the rest of the chapter. The context is so far disrupted that it seems 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. But not to fear, we then jump to Dives & Lazarus, which is a great cautionary tale to illustrate what happens when we choose Mammon.
In between these, however, we have Verse 18, prohibiting divorce. This is so far off-topic that I completely forgot to discuss on it when we were in the commentary. This is hardly the first time we’ve noted the lack of continuity between stories. In fact, almost the entire Sermon on the Mount has this feel, of a bunch of beads strung together with only a thin–thin to the point of invisible–line connecting them behind the scenes. As always, this is one of the best arguments for Q: not that the Sermon on the Mount was so masterful, but precisely because it wasn’t. It’s just sort of episodic and discontinuous irregularity that is actually the most effective, IMO, argument for something like Q. Why the need to stick these small pieces in wherever one can, whether they fit or not? This fairly strongly implies that there was a body of teachings that Jesus supposedly uttered that Matthew and Luke felt compelled to include in their works. On balance, I do not believe this is enough to convince me of the existence of Q, at least not as a written document, but it does give me pause. As for the content of the prohibition of divorce, this is pretty much a repetition of what was said in Matthew, so it need not detain us.
Thus we arrive at Dives and Lazarus. Of the three gospels we’ve looked at, Luke is by far the most interested in the topic of rich and poor. Remember, he said “blessed are the poor”, which is not necessarily a “more primitive” version of “poor in spirit”. It is a completely different thought. “Poor in spirit” always sounded a bit legalistic to me; wealth, per se, isn’t bad so long as we are poor in spirit. This is despite the injunction to sell one’s possessions and give the proceeds to the poor. As a fable about how wealth corrupts, the moral is straightforward and clear and not needing much in the way of explanation. There is also another layer, one which ties back to the anger at the Pharisees. In his torment, Dives begs Abraham to send Lazarus to the house of the former’s father, so that Dives’ brothers can be told to repent. Abraham’s response is that they have the law and the prophets, and if they aren’t sufficient, why would they listen to someone returned from the dead? Let’s see, has anyone returned from the dead with a message of repentance? Oh, wait, Jesus! From the perspective of historical analysis, this nails down that the story was never, ever told by Jesus. This is obviously a story that developed after the Resurrection had become part of the core Christian message. So what we have here is yet another dig at the Jews. First, bad enough that they had not heeded the Law and the Prophets, but worse was that they had not listened to the message of someone returned from the dead. The fact that Rich-Man (literal translation of dives) was also rich, provided that extra little shot at the Pharisees.
* This is the only time the word “Pharisee” is used in the NT outside of the gospels.
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” ”.
This section will conclude Chapter 14. When last we saw our hero, he was teaching at a dinner party that included Pharisees and Scribes. He was providing a lesson on why or how the Jews had been superseded, and no longer had a privileged place in the queue to enter the kingdom. By this, we can probably assume that we can substitute “The Life” as a more or less synonymous term. He has now left the party, and is traveling about. Without further ado, let’s get to the
25 Συνεπορεύοντο δὲ αὐτῷ ὄχλοι πολλοί, καὶ στραφεὶς εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς,
26 Εἴ τις ἔρχεται πρός με καὶ οὐ μισεῖ τὸν πατέρα ἑαυτοῦ καὶ τὴν μητέρα καὶ τὴν γυναῖκα καὶ τὰ τέκνα καὶ τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς καὶ τὰς ἀδελφάς, ἔτι τε καὶ τὴν ψυχὴν ἑαυτοῦ, οὐ δύναται εἶναί μου μαθητής.
27 ὅστις οὐ βαστάζει τὸν σταυρὸν ἑαυτοῦ καὶ ἔρχεται ὀπίσω μου οὐ δύναται εἶναί μου μαθητής.
Proceeding with him were great crowds, and turning he said to them, (26) “If someone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and his wife and children and his own brothers and sisters, and even yet his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (27) Who does not take up his cross and come after me is not able to be my disciple.
Just a note on the Greek. Jesus is not being followed by “great crowds”, but by a “great crowd”. The word for “crowd” is pluralized in Greek, whereas in English it’s an aggregate term (like “herd”), so it’s usually used in the singular except when there are different groups. Then it can be pluralized as “crowds”.
This is something else that Jesus never said; regardless, it is included in Q, which is supposed to be a collection of the sayings of Jesus. Except when it includes stuff that he never said (most of it) or stuff that John the Baptist said. It is actually a collection of instances where Luke agrees with Matthew against Mark, which supposedly never happens. It doesn’t only because, such instances, by definition, are what constitutes Q. There is a significant amount of circularity in this “argument”. It’s in Q because it’s in Matthew & Luke but not in Mark, and we know it’s in Q because it’s not in Mark but it’s in Matthew and Luke. This is where if scholars would take a step back and look at what the text actually says, rather than recording where it is and isn’t, they might arrive at a different conclusion. But then, to jettison Q is to admit that Jesus probably never gave the Sermon on the Mount or instituted the Pater. That conclusion has to be avoided at all costs.
Why do we know it’s post-Jesus? Because it betrays a knowledge of the end of the road. It has an other-worldly focus that is largely absent in Mark. It also more or less assumes the crucifixion, which a living Jesus would not have known about (unless he was a divine individual with foreknowledge); however, that part of the narrative is easily excised, or removed from the preceding part. The judgement that Jesus did not say the first part is based on a couple of things. First, this message does not play much of a role in Mark’s portrayal. My new working theory is that Jesus was primarily a wonder-worker in his lifetime, and that he was executed for this crime. Forty-five men were executed for magic during the reign of Tiberius, who was emperor when Jesus was executed if we are to believe Luke’s time-line. My source for this number does not say whether this was the total in Rome, or throughout the empire; the former is more likely since the primary sources available would have been largely focused on the capital. It is very important to stress that only one pagan emperor– Diocletian, in the early 3rd Century– conducted anything resembling a systemic, programatic persecution of a particular group. Astrologers– often a generic term for magicians of all sorts– were expelled from Rome on a number of occasions, but they were, generally, not executed. And what happened in the provinces was often different from what happened in the capital; even under Diocletian, the various provincial governors pursued the persecution with varying degrees of enthusiasm. OTOH, there were governors who undertook persecution even when the emperor was not terribly interested. There is the famous letter of Pliny the Younger asking for guidance on how to deal with this new group called Christians. Still, if the emperor had a bee in his bonnet about a certain thing, there was incentive for an ambitious governor to fall in line and toady up to the big guy by going along in their province. So Jesus’ being executed for magic is within the realm of possibility, and is not without support. In fact, there is a stronger historical argument for this position than there is for the tall-tale in the gospels.
The point of all that is, if Jesus was primarily a wonder-worker, then this sort of next-world focus doesn’t make a lot of sense. This is not the sort of thing a wonder-worker would focus on. Of course, that is a big “if”. A contrary argument can be made from Paul, who is very focused on salvation. The question is whether this was a Pauline creation based on his understanding of the resurrection. Honestly, this is a topic and an argument that needs to happen. There needs to be a major debate about what happened between Jesus and Paul. What were the conditions that Paul found. This sort of debate goes on all the time in Greek history (Rome has rather better sources). The 490s in Athens, for example, is largely– but not completely– a blank slate, but the debate to fill in the blanks is ferocious. When it comes to the period between Jesus and Paul, and Jesus/Paul and Mark is…crickets, as the current saying goes. There is nothing, or, at most, next to nothing. This is yet another indication that the debate about the historical Jesus is not being conducted by historians, but by Scripture experts. More, these experts make no attempt even to set the debate on a solid basis of historical research and argument. I approached Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God with high hopes and great enthusiasm, only to have this dashed within the first dozen or so pages. It proved to be just another retelling of the story that assumed the gospels could– indeed, should– be taken seriously as historical records, and that the evangelists (Paul largely absent, IIRC, but I could be wrong) were taking excruciating pains to ensure they were telling exactly the same story. Well, that may be (grossly) overstated regarding this particular book, but it’s the approach taken by pretty much every work on the historical Jesus I’ve read. So if I’ve mashed this in with others, I apologize, but the point remains that there was almost nothing in this book that differentiated it significantly from so many others.
25 Ibant autem turbae multae cum eo; et conversus dixit ad illos:
26 “Si quis venit ad me et non odit patrem suum et matrem et uxorem et filios et fratres et sorores, adhuc et animam suam, non potest esse meus discipulus.
27 Et, qui non baiulat crucem suam et venit post me, non potest esse meus discipulus.
28 τίς γὰρ ἐξ ὑμῶν θέλων πύργον οἰκοδομῆσαι οὐχὶ πρῶτον καθίσας ψηφίζει τὴν δαπάνην, εἰ ἔχει εἰς ἀπαρτισμόν;
“For if a certain one of you wishing to build a tower do you not first sitting down count the costs, (to see) if you have enough towards the finishing?
There you go: Jesus advising a cost-benefit analysis before undertaking a capital improvement project. Quite the little capitalist there, no?
28 Quis enim ex vobis volens turrem aedificare, non prius sedens computat sumptus, si habet ad perficiendum?
29 ἵνα μήποτε θέντος αὐτοῦ θεμέλιον καὶ μὴ ἰσχύοντος ἐκτελέσαι πάντες οἱ θεωροῦντες ἄρξωνται αὐτῷ ἐμπαίζειν
30 λέγοντες ὅτι Οὗτος ὁ ἄνθρωπος ἤρξατο οἰκοδομεῖν καὶ οὐκ ἴσχυσεν ἐκτελέσαι.
31 ἢ τίς βασιλεὺς πορευόμενος ἑτέρῳ βασιλεῖ συμβαλεῖν εἰς πόλεμον οὐχὶ καθίσας πρῶτον βουλεύσεται εἰ δυνατός ἐστιν ἐν δέκα χιλιάσιν ὑπαντῆσαι τῷ μετὰ εἴκοσι χιλιάδων ἐρχομένῳ ἐπ’ αὐτόν;
32 εἰ δὲ μή γε, ἔτι αὐτοῦ πόρρω ὄντος πρεσβείαν ἀποστείλας ἐρωτᾷ τὰ πρὸς εἰρήνην.
33 οὕτως οὖν πᾶς ἐξ ὑμῶν ὃς οὐκ ἀποτάσσεται πᾶσιν τοῖς ἑαυτοῦ ὑπάρχουσιν οὐ δύναται εἶναί μου μαθητής.
34 Καλὸν οὖν τὸ ἅλας: ἐὰν δὲ καὶ τὸ ἅλας μωρανθῇ, ἐν τίνι ἀρτυθήσεται;
35 οὔτε εἰς γῆν οὔτε εἰς κοπρίαν εὔθετόν ἐστιν: ἔξωβάλλουσιν αὐτό. ὁ ἔχων ὦτα ἀκούειν ἀκουέτω.
“For if a certain one of you wishing to build a tower do you not first sitting down count the costs, (to see) if you have enough towards the finishing? (29) In order lest when the foundation of it is laid, and not being able to finish it completely, those seeing he began will mock him (30) saying ‘This dude began to build and was not able to finish.’ (31) If a certain king going out to ponder a war with another king, does he not first sitting down take counsel if he is able to encounter with ten thousand the other with twenty thousand coming against him? Otherwise, upon him being far away he sends his elders to ask for peace. (33) In this way all of you who do not arrange all his possessions to begin, he is not able to be my disciple. (34) Salt is good. But if salt becomes bland, what does it season? (35) Neither is it well placed for the earth nor for the dunghill. Throw it away. The one having ears to hear, let him hear.”
Here we have what are really two distinct thoughts. The first is warning of the preparations needed to follow Jesus. The second is the bit about salt. They really have nothing to do with each other. Yes, it is possible to stretch them so that they can be made to fit together, if a bit tenuously, but the fact is that in plain sense they don’t. The bit about building towers and going to war does work with the section directly previous since it follows up on what is necessary to become a disciple. The metaphors are novel; they are not held to be part of Q because they are not in Matthew in any similar form. Whence did they come? Were they part of a separate tradition that traced from Jesus while it managed to bypass both Mark and Matthew? Sure, it’s possible. But we’re talking oral transmission for going on 60 years. Stuff that MLK Jr said is remembered, but it was all recorded or written down, so the analogy doesn’t hold at all. It comes to the point where someone will believe what they want to believe, but from the perspective of writing history, connecting this to Jesus is really unlikely. Now, there are Greek & Roman historians who argue about how much we can rely on Arrian’s stories of Alexander the Great, and some will argue that much of it is likely based on fact since Alexander was such a well-known person. Stories of his exploits & conquests were written down and told continuously from the time of Alexander until the 2nd Century CE; moreover, because there was such familiarity with the story, with the facts, Arrian would not have been able to deviate much from these facts. It would be like an American historian saying that the Pilgrims landed in what is now Florida, where they opened a resort. Everyone knows that’s simply wrong.
Even so, the gap between Alexander and Arrian is pushing half a millennium. That takes us back to the 17th Century. Funny thing, we can actually know more about the life of someone like Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642) than Luke would have known with firm basis about Jesus. Why? Because Richelieu left records and things were written by him and about him while he was alive. This is not true about Jesus. People did not start writing things down about him until twenty years after his death. This is because Richelieu was recognised as someone important, and that we should remember what he did even while he was alive. Plato, writing about Socrates, was writing about someone he had known personally; odd thing about that is one has to question how much Plato distorted Socrates’ teachings to fit his own agenda.
In contrast, people did not start writing about Jesus until twenty years after he died. He was an obscure figure, and there was no conventional wisdom about him, about what happened to him, or what he did during his life. As such, twenty years is plenty of time for misconceptions and outright fabrications to take hold. To hear Reagan discussed by certain conservative popularists is to hear about a president who never existed, and this has occurred in a world with so much information it’s– literally– mind-boggling. And twenty years takes us to Paul; it’s another twenty before we get to Mark and something vaguely resembling a biography. The point of all this that we really need to be suspicious about anything we are told that Jesus said or did that occurs in the so-called Q material. We need to be suspicious of all of it.
OTOH, the aphorism about salt is one of the things that Jesus may actually have said. It’s in Mark, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense in any context that we’ve encountered. Here, it feels like it’s been attached with tape. It’s not so much as an afterthought as the evangelist throwing up his hands, not knowing where it belongs, so he just sort of stuck it here for want of a better place. The Q Reader does include this as part of Q, as well it should; the interesting thing is that it’s exactly the disjointed nature of so much of what Jesus is reported to have said that is the best argument for something like Q. If Jesus was considered a wise man by the ancients, it’s exactly these pithy little aphorisms that would have been passed down. Of the famous Seven Sages of Greek thought, all we know about them consists of the adages they are reputed to have uttered. So perhaps. This should probably be pursued more in the summary to the chapter.
29 Ne, posteaquam posuerit fundamentum et non potuerit perficere, omnes, qui vident, incipiant illudere ei
30 dicentes: “Hic homo coepit aedificare et non potuit consummare”.
31 Aut quis rex, iturus committere bellum adversus alium regem, non sedens prius cogitat, si possit cum decem milibus occurrere ei, qui cum viginti milibus venit ad se?
32 Alioquin, adhuc illo longe agente, legationem mittens rogat ea, quae pacis sunt.
33 Sic ergo omnis ex vobis, qui non renuntiat omnibus, quae possidet, non potest meus esse discipulus.
34 Bonum est sal; si autem sal quoque evanuerit, in quo condietur?
35 Neque in terram neque in sterquilinium utile est, sed foras proiciunt illud. Qui habet aures audiendi, audiat”.
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’.”
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”.
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”.
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’.”
Due to editorial oversight, this follows hot on the heels of the Summary to Chapter 11. But then, maybe it will be useful to read the two in close proximity.
There are two main themes in the chapter by my reading. Or perhaps one, with a couple of subdivisions. The first provides something of a ring composition. We start with it in the warning against the leaven of the Pharisees, and ends with it with the admonition about being hauled off to gaol*. Both these relate to the primary theme, which is the coming of the kingdom. It’s happening, so we best be ready for it. Preparatory to that, there will be strife and dissension here on earth. Luke does warn about being hauled before the authorities, and assures us that we will be given what to say by the sacred breath. This is in Matthew, and even in Mark. But here it gets a slightly different treatment, that leads in something of a different direction.
The idea of the sacred breath providing one’s defense is, after all, one way in which God will take care of us. And Luke assures us of this with metaphors from Nature: the ravens, the lilies, and sparrows. God provides for them, so God will take care of us humans, too. And here is where and how the second theme comes in: we need not be, we should not be, concerned about the things of this world, because God will provide. So we should not be afraid of those who can only kill the body, but of those who can throw us into Gehenna, and I think “Hell” is not entirely inappropriate. The concept has not reached full maturity in this writing, not by a long shot, but it’s progressing towards that final goal (and not gaol). And who can throw us into that awful place? Why, God of course. And because of this, we need to be watchful about the coming kingdom by avoiding the “leaven of the Pharisees” and not being contentious in litigations with our fellow humans, lest you end up being hauled off to the gaol, which at the end of the chapter is a metaphor for Gehenna. Luke applied his writer’s craft very effectively: By starting off the section with Gehenna, that image is there to be alluded to by the threat of jail.
This is a very sophisticated literary construction. Part of the reason I felt the seams, I think, is that I break these chapters into small sections and then take these sections piecemeal. Only now that I’ve taken that moment to step back and look at the chapter as a whole do I see how well this is all arranged. IMO, it’s much more masterful than Chapters 5-7 of Matthew, which feel like beads of different material strung together on a single string, but otherwise not relating to each other all that much.
The result is a message that it very “Christian” in the sense of the word that most of us understand it. Luke is giving us a very clear warning: behave, because the kingdom is coming at some time unknown. If we are not watchful, and if we do not behave properly, we will end up in gaol, by which he means Gehenna, or Hell. And one way to be watchful, and to behave properly, is not to be concerned with worldly things, like the rich man who wants to build new barns to hold his wealth. Rather, be simple, let the sacred breath tell you what to say, and give no more thought to what you eat or what you wear than the ravens or the lilies, and be mindful that the master may come at any moment. Now, much of this is implicit in Mark and Matthew, but this feels like a much more thorough and sophisticated expression of this message that had always been rather disparate, or separate, or disjointed until now. We got flashes of this in Matthew, but here we get the synthesized and homogenized and all-encompassing version. The idea, the concept has developed, and been developed. Going back to the analogy I used about Mark, Luke has woven many of the separate threads of M&M together into a piece of whole cloth, into a single garment. Maybe it was there in Matthew as well, but I don’t think so. No doubt my perceptions and understandings have evolved as we’ve moved along, but I was very conscious of what I was not reading in M&M.
Having been raised in the Roman Rite, as a Catholic, my understanding of Christianity was very simple: Do good, or go to Hell. Simple, straightforward, and binary. Yes, the Purgatory thing sort of muddled the issue somewhat, but not all that much. And yes, I get the whole hellfire and brimstone sort of preaching, which is not considered something the Catholics are not known for, something they don’t do all that often or all that well. Instead there is that binary choice that is absolutely foundational, and expressed in such crystal-clear language and repeated so often that the whole hellfire and brimstone thing seemed…unnecessary. I never got Billy Graham. My religious message did not come from inspired rhetoric, but from pure fear. And here in this chapter we get the bottom-line formulation of this message that had not been present to this point. I do need to add the caveat, or the qualifier, that I did attend a Catholic school, run by Dominicans, for grades 2-8. As such, I was available to receive the message for six hours per day, 180 days per year. But that’s just it: the message was not elaborate. It was blunt, as blunt as the paddle that Sister Janice, the principal of the elementary school, used to carry.
One question that occurred to me about this: has the sense of urgency about the return of “the master” has been ratcheted upward again. Remember, this is the first gospel written that was aware of Paul’s career, and that Galatians, one of Paul’s earliest letters, was written in almost breathless anticipation that the return should be expected momentarily. By the time of 1 Corinthians, however, this feeling of immediacy had abated significantly. In the first two gospels the expectation of return also felt muted. In this chapter, however, I felt that Luke was a bit more concerned about this. The problem with this judgement is, of course, that it’s a judgement. As such, it’s necessarily subjective, like saying Matthew’s handling of the alleged Q material is masterful. As mentioned, this occurred to me; whether the judgement is justified or not is a matter for speculation, and for different readers to consider individually.
The second theme of the chapter, or theme 1)B is the sense of other-worldliness. Here again it feels like Luke has become much more closely aligned with later Christian doctrine than his predecessors. Luke weaves this theme skillfully into his narrative, using the story of the foolish rich man as his jumping-off point. We are told the uselessness of placing value on wealth because the rich man was unaware of his impending death. The vanity of riches is a theme with a long future ahead of it. The empty (the Latin root of vanity actually means empty) promise of wealth is sort of the obverse side of being unconcerned about the empty value of the things that money can buy. These latter include clothes, food, etc. Of course, food is necessary, but God provide for the ravens, so God will provide for us. That is a bit step to the sort of asceticism that will take deep root in the Middle Ages; at least, for a few centuries. It is what will give rise to the monastic ideal, even if that ideal eventually will fall short in practice. This feels like a major development in Christian practice.
So, either I haven’t been paying attention, or Chapter 12 of Luke’s gospel is a pivotal point in the history of Christianity. We will start getting into more of those stories unique to Luke; as we progress, we need to keep this chapter in our minds to see if it truly is such a point.
*Gaol: the danger, and possible price of pretentiousness. I just looked this up. Apparently, the current British pronunciation of this word is “jail”. Originally, the word had a hard ‘g’ sound (as goat) that eventually softened into the ‘j’ sound. The two spellings actually come from the same root, but via two different routes. The hard G is Middle English, while the J is Parisian French, both deriving from the same Latin root. I have been (mentally) pronouncing the hard G as “ga-ole”. Good thing I’ve never used it conversationally, or I would have been shown up for the pretentious bastard that I am. Of course, it would hardly be the first time. “Ennui”: Pronounced “En-you-ee”, right? Oh? It’s “en-nwi“? Oops. Now how about “homage”? What is given to a king, as in “give HOM-age” vs paying respect to a literary precursor, paying ‘oh-MAJE”? Whatever. I am much more likely to encounter new words in written form rather than hearing them, so I assign them a pronunciation that is, all too often, incorrect. The same thing happens with sports stars. I read sports, I don’t watch the programming so much.
I just realized that this has never been published. It was sitting in drafts. So, here it is. The summary to Chapter 12 will follow shortly–whatever that means.
Of course we begin with the usual disclaimer that there does not seem to be much to say about this chapter. Virtually all of it is in material covered by Matthew and so is part of the material of the hypothetical Q. Thus the proper theme of this discussion should be the differences between Matthew’s versions of these stories, and Luke’s version. However, much of that was covered in the commentary to the translation. Perhaps the recurring discussion of Q has become a bit worn; perhaps a slightly different tack would be to get back to the roots of what this blog was supposed to do: discuss the actual beliefs set out, and to provide insight into how–or if?–these beliefs developed over time.
The proper place to start on this is with the Lord’s Prayer. And, conveniently, it’s the first section of the chapter. There is, of course, the debate over which version–that of Matthew or that of Luke–is the more primitive; that is, which of the versions is the closest to the original version allegedly captured in the hypothetical Q. I have a copy of The Q Thomas Reader, chief editor John Kloppenborg of the University of Toronto (alas!). Kloppenborg is one of the leading proponents of Q, and one of the leading authorities on its reconstruction. Interesting how a fictional entity can be “reconstructed”; sort of on the lines of “reconstructing what the original unicorn looked like”, as it were. Anyway, in the text of the cited book, the prayer follows Luke’s opening, using just “father”, rather than “our father” as Matthew says. This is presumably more primitive, because the more primitive version has fewer words. Except that’s a ridiculous statement. If you were to read an early draft of a Hemingway short story, I daresay you would find a whole lot of more words that were excised from the final version. So in this case, saying Luke’s version is more primitive because of the lack of “our” really is not terribly convincing. Yes, I’m sure there are other reasons for believing that Luke is the more primitive, but that does not imply that they are any more convincing.
Let’s ask this question: is there a dogmatic or theological difference between addressing “our father” as opposed to just saying “father”? Of course, any time a word is changed or added or omitted, the meaning of the text changes to some degree. So it’s not a question of “if it changes”, but “how, or how much does it change?” Here’s how I see this. My siblings and I have used the term “our father”, or “our mother”, or “our brother”. But when do we speak thus? When we are conversing amongst ourselves. I would not say “our father” unless it’s addressed to a sibling, or perhaps to “our father” when I am addressing said paternal parent in the company of a sibling. Think about that for a minute. OTOH, when alone with pop, I would never say “our father”. Rather, I would simply address him as “father”. Does that offer a clue about the difference between Matthew and Luke? I suggest it may. Matthew’s version, with the first person plural possessive pronoun, is necessarily a collective address, something that’s said in a collective situation. That is, it’s appropriate when a group of worshippers are at a service and praying communally. It’s most appropriate for use with “we” as the pronoun. In contrast, simply saying “father” is most appropriate with the pronoun “I”. Does this provide some insight, that perhaps the addition/omission of the possessive pronoun suggests different intended context? Is one public, while the other is private?
Of course, for most of the last two millennia, people in their solitude have been praying “our father”. But that is after the prayer has become systematized, after it’s become part of the process of worship, when it’s become a standard, to be used in all settings. What about when the prayer was new? I would suggest that the communal setting, saying “our” father, is the earlier context. It’s a truism–but nevertheless a mostly forgotten one–that people in the ancient world did not do a lot of solitary reading in silence. Rather, the written word was read aloud, and usually to an audience. Books were too expensive and so too rare for solitary reading. So when people heard the words of Jesus, they most likely heard them; they didn’t read them silently to themselves, but heard the words from someone else who was reading the words aloud. Extrapolating from this, did people pray alone? Generally speaking, no. In the pagan world religious ritual was mostly a communal affair, whether conducted in a familial setting, or at a large, public sacrifice. Jesus admonished people not to be like the hypocrites who stand in front of a crowd and pray; rather, he said, do it locked in a closet, away from everyone. Can we extrapolate from these to things, communal reading and communal prayer to suggest that Matthew’s is the more “primitive” version. It came first temporally, and it represents the oldest stratum of behaviour. In such communal settings “our father” is most appropriate. By the time Luke wrote, perhaps the admonition of Jesus had taken root, and prayer had become more of a solitary activity. In these contexts, “father” would be the more reasonable.
And this ties in with another difference between Matthew’s version and that of Luke. Matthew says we should prayer that our debts–and the word is not allegorical, but blatantly monetary–be forgiven. Luke, OTOH, prays that our sins be forgiven. These are two very different words, and represent two very different requests. And we noted in the commentary that both versions then go on to say “as we forgive debts against us…:” I have to say, using “debt” in both places seems a lot more consistent than the sins/debts combination. That is to say, it seems more likely that Luke changed the first one rather than Matthew. Yes, it’s possible that Matthew changed Q to be more consistent, but what combination of circumstances led to the prayer being recorded first in Q as sins/debts?
Again, it should be stressed that this is hardly a knockout punch for the “argument” for Q. There could certainly be times when one or the other of the evangelists decided to change or retain the words found in the hypothetical Q. There is no reason that one gospel is always more primitive than the other. This is ceded by Q people; they have no choice. However, the fewer times that can be shown that Luke is not the “more primitive”, the further the foundation of the Q argument is eroded. If Matthew is “more primitive” most of the time, then what exactly is to stop us from saying that it’s most likely that Luke simply used Matthew? There is a point in there where it stops making sense to posit a pre-existing work if Matthew is the more primitive, say, 67% of the time. No?
Aside from this, the rest of the chapter is retellings of stories which we encountered in Matthew. The biggest theme was the disparagement of the Pharisees, throwing in the lawyers for good measure. I believe that it is an open question of how much friction there really was between Jesus and the religious leaders and/or political powers during the former’s lifetime. I honestly expect it wasn’t nearly what it was anything close to half as bad as we’ve all come to believe. I keep coming back to the point that none of Jesus’ followers were arrested with Jesus, or even shortly after Jesus. Acts gives us a full (if not exactly credible) account of the apostles out and about and preaching. Sure, we’re told there were episodes when the authorities cracked down, but only after provocation. As described in Acts, the apostles were not persecuted per se for being followers of Jesus; they were persecuted when they raised too much of a ruckus and disturbed the peace. Paul talks about “pressuring” Jesus’ followers, but there is nothing to corroborate what he says about this. Josephus doesn’t really say anything about it, and none of the Roman sources had much to say about the followers of Chrestus, as Tacitus calls them. Nero blamed them for the fire, which means that they were probably a group that people knew existed, but these same people likely did not know much about them. This sort of non-specific recognition makes the perfect scapegoat: you know who they are, but not enough to judge whether they’re the sort of people to start a fire. So if the emperor says they did, hey, who am I to gainsay the emperor? Saying this, however, puts an onus on me to explain why this became so firmly entrenched in the narrative, in the legend, if it were not true. The obvious answer to this is that it provided a plausible–and even honourable–reason for Jesus’ crucifixion. He was a martyr, and that always makes for a good story and and it makes Jesus into an heroic figure. Hmmm…son of a god and a mortal, a hero…can anyone say “Achilles”? We’ve discussed this before, probably in conjunction with the idea that Matthew was a pagan, but this sort of semi-divine figure was not at all common in Jewish folklore, but it was very common in Greek myth. Coincidence?
That’s really enough for this chapter. Most of what remains to say has been said about these stories in Matthew. The sign of Jonas, the wicked generation, the Queen of the South…these are all interesting and important, but they’ve been covered. So let’s trudge onward.