This is a short section of text. I’m never sure how long these will take, whether it will be a straightforward piece of translation and commentary, or if something will come up that sends me off onto a very long tangent. Time will tell. But the one after this definitely will be a long piece of text, so let’s try to keep this one on-track, shall we?
When last we saw our hero, he was telling stories about servants and mulberry trees. The general sense is that Jesus is progressing towards Jerusalem. That is sort of the general, ambient setting for the Synoptics as a whole: Jesus teaching in and around Galilee, even up to Tyre & Sidon, but then making the fateful trek to Jerusalem, where he will meet his doom. Doom? Funny you should ask. It doesn’t necessarily mean ‘death’, although that is a strong undercurrent. Rather, it’s synonymous with ‘fate’, rather than simply ‘to die’. However, in Christian terms, meeting one’s fate is what happens when you die and are subject to the Last Judgement. So, in order to meet your fate, your doom, you have to die first. So, saying “We’re doomed” became a euphemism for dying, but it skipped the bit about actual physical death and went straight to the part about the Judgement. And, btw, once we die and our soul is released from our physical, temporary, and temporal body, we step into the realm of the eternal. Hence when we die we go straight to the Last Judgement, because we are no longer bounded by time. Now, there are all sorts of problems with this, but let’s not get into them. That’s more the realm (now, anyway) of theoretical physics.
11 Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ πορεύεσθαι εἰς Ἰερουσαλὴμ καὶ αὐτὸς διήρχετο διὰ μέσον Σαμαρείας καὶ Γαλιλαίας.
And it came into being in the journey towards Jerusalem and he passed through Samaria and Galilee.
Geography lesson. In the time of Jesus, Samaria sat smack in between Galilee and Judea. The city of Samaria was the capital of Israel after the split of the United Kingdom after the death of Solomon. The problem with this is that I do not believe there ever was a United Kingdom ruled from Jerusalem. This latter city does not provide clear archaeological evidence for such an exalted position in the 9th or 10th Century BCE. Rather, it seems more likely that Israel was the power, was a significant kingdom in a period when neither Egypt nor any other power was able to exert control over Israel/Judea. The latter was likely, or possibly, a client state; perhaps nominally independent with its king (who could easily have been men named David, Solomon, etc), but who owed fealty– that is, tribute– to Israel. Then, when Israel was captured by Assyria, Judea asserted a claim to the lands that had been Israel. Hence was the “United Monarchy” born, several centuries after the fact. Much of the OT was sort of a foundation myth meant to prove that Judea and Jerusalem was rightwise ordained as the divine kingdom of the Chosen People.
There is also this: much of the books of Kings is about how wicked the kings of Israel were, always chasing after the baals, and worshipping in the high places. This would translate, roughly, to meaning that Israel did not recognise YHWH as their primary deity. Israelites worshipped Ba’al and Ishtar and the rest because they were still mostly what we would call pagans. YHWH, OTOH (!) was the tribal god of the hill people in Judea; IOW, a local deity for a very petty state. This would help explain the animosity the Judeans felt for the Samaritans: the latter did not accept the Judean version of history, and so did not acknowledge the primacy of the Temple in Jerusalem. A nice little theory, no? But that’s all it is. And I have no ready explanation for why Galilee, which was separated from Judea by Samaria, did recognise the Temple in Jerusalem. There are all sorts of possible explanations of varying degrees of plausibility, but this is neither the time nor the place. I’m a verse into this section, and I’ve already had my first tangent.
What I’m about to say is semi-risible; but that won’t stop me, because it’s the sort of things that historical analysts– especially those studying ancient history– will bring up. They will do this because there is so little evidence for ancient history that every last drop of implication has to be wrung out of every word. Dead horses are still beaten, over and over. Looking at a map as I just did, I noted that Galilee is uppermost north of the three provinces. So, if I were writing this verse, I would say he passed through Galilee and Samaria to indicate the geographic progression. But what if I didn’t have Google, or even a decent library, and could not pull up a map? What if I were writing somewhere else, and only had the vaguest idea of how the three territories were arranged? Then I might easily have written as Luke did here. The point is that this is the sort of thing that lets historians piece together the derivation of these works, and to conclude that they were not written by someone familiar with the geography of the area, thereby inferring that they were written somewhere else.
There is something to be added to this. In Matthew 10:5, when he is sending out the Twelve, he specifically instructs them not to preach to pagans, nor to enter any Samaritan town. When writing the commentary above, I had forgotten about this instruction; this is what happens when one is not well-versed in Scripture, and I am certainly not. The upshot here is that I’m not entirely sure what to do with this. Or, perhaps I do know, but don’t want to get into it. My initial impulse is that, to some degree, Matthew was trying to counteract the influx of pagan thought; that is, he was trying to re-Judaize (to coin a term? Are there enough syllables?) the belief system that had developed. And this would actually play well with my idea that he was a pagan himself; as a convert, he had the zeal of a convert and was bending over backwards to be as Jewish as possible. Hence, his assertion that not an iota of the Law was to be superseded.
Of course this is speculation. There are a thousand ways to look at this, and probably ten thousand questions to be addressed before this can even reach the level of theory, let alone hypothesis. It would require weighing such attempts to reinstitute Jewish ideas against those places where he shows his pagan background. Why, for example, use the Greek Hades instead of the Aramaic Gehenna? Of course, this choice could easily be explained as he was using the term he thought his readers would best understand. But then, that is the issue. Matthew was aware of how far he was going to paganize the vocabulary, and so the concepts and thought-world of the emerging religion. So he counteracted where and when he could. Then why include the story of the centurion and his slave? I don’t know the answer. But I am asking the question. That is a huge step forward.
11 Et factum est, dum iret in Ierusalem, et ipse transibat per mediam Samariam et Galilaeam.
12 καὶ εἰσερχομένου αὐτοῦ εἴς τινα κώμην ἀπήντησαν [αὐτῷ] δέκα λεπροὶ ἄνδρες, οἳ ἔστησαν πόρρωθεν,
13 καὶ αὐτοὶ ἦραν φωνὴν λέγοντες,Ἰησοῦ ἐπιστάτα, ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς.
And he, coming into a certain village, ten lepers met [him]. they stood from afar, and they called out in a loud voice, saying, “Jesus, overseer, have mercy on us!”
The word rendered as “overseer” is almost universally translated as “master”. This isn’t wrong, but it’s misleading. Even the Latin doesn’t truly support “master”. So we get “overseer”, or maybe “boss” would work…or maybe not. But it’s more of a word that refers to someone appointed by the master/lord to supervise the underlings.
12 Et cum ingrederetur quoddam castellum, occurrerunt ei decem viri leprosi, qui steterunt a longe
13 et levaverunt vocem dicentes: “ Iesu praeceptor, miserere nostri! ”.
14 καὶ ἰδὼν εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Πορευθέντες ἐπιδείξατε ἑαυτοὺς τοῖς ἱερεῦσιν. καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ ὑπάγειν αὐτοὺς ἐκαθαρίσθησαν.
15 εἷς δὲ ἐξ αὐτῶν, ἰδὼν ὅτι ἰάθη, ὑπέστρεψεν μετὰ φωνῆς μεγάλης δοξάζων τὸν θεόν,
16 καὶ ἔπεσεν ἐπὶ πρόσωπον παρὰ τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ εὐχαριστῶν αὐτῷ: καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν Σαμαρίτης.
And seeing he said to them, “Going, show yourselves to the priests”. And it happened in the going they were cleansed. (15) One of them, seeing that he was healed, turned around (and) in a loud voice thought about (in Christian usage only = praised) God, and (16) fell on his face before his (Jesus’) feet giving thanks (euchariston) to him. And he was a Samaritan.
This last bit, of course, is the punchline. It was the Samaritan who did this. Note that we’ve already had the parable of the Good Samaritan, so Luke is apparently very keen on pointing out how the Jews have fallen by the wayside. It’s a bit more than that, actually. Since the Jews had such a low opinion pf Samaritans (despised, might be the proper term), to hold them up for praise is really kind of rubbing the Jews’ collective face in it. Sure, you were the Chosen People, but what about now? Except it’s more they were the Chosen People. I make this correction because at this point Luke is doubtless talking to an audience that’s north of 90% pagan; there probably just weren’t that many Jews left in the Jesus movement; there weren’t that many formerly Jewish Christians left, and probably barely a trickle of new converts from Judaism. This will culminate with John talking about The Jews in a very disparaging fashion.
Once again, this sort of raising other groups at the expense of the Jews is not terribly appropriate to Jesus’ lifetime. Paul became the first to attempt to convert pagans in any numbers; that means for twenty years (plus or minus), most new members of the assemblies (ekklesiai) were Jews. As such, a story like this would not have been great recruiting material. So the likelihood of this tracing back to Jesus is, IMO, pretty much nil. This is a point I’ve raised numerous times before, so it doesn’t require a whole lot of additional discussion at this point.
Of course we notice that Jesus tells them all to go show themselves to the priests. Why the priests? Why not a physician? Because they had been cleansed, not so much cured of a disease as cleansed of ritual pollution. It was a moral cleansing, not so much a physical one. This is something more entrenched in Jewish thinking than in Greek thought. The Greeks had notions of ritual pollution as the source of disease– check out the opening of The Iliad, for example– but that was a bit different. Hippocrates was a Greek, and not Jewish, or even Persian for a reason. However, this does lead to one question: are we to assume that the Samaritan was going off to show himself to the Jewish priests, too? Actually, this is a really interesting question. I have become more sure that much of the Bible (OT/HS) was likely written during the Exile in Babylon. This is more or less to say that the legends were worked up and compiled (stuff like the two versions of creation that appear in the first dozen verses of Genesis, for example) and shaped into something like final form in the 6th Century BCE. That is to say, the form was achieved several hundred years after Israel had ceased to exist after being crushed by the Assyrians. If the Kingdom of Israel did not honor YHWH above all others, then would they have held the Pentateuch as their foundational myth, too? Offhand, and at first glance, I would tend to doubt it. But I have never heard that discussed because no one (to the best of my knowledge) has ever asked that question, because it’s simply assumed that the United Monarchy actually existed, and that Israel worshipped YHWH. Of course, 2 Kings in particular tells us otherwise. So that was all a big roundabout to the question of whether the Samaritan would have understood Jesus’ instructions to show themselves to the priests. The Samaritan probably would not have understood because there is a real possibility that the Samaritans weren’t adherents to Mosaic Law. And this is all additional indication that the story does not date from the time of Jesus.
14 Quos ut vidit, dixit: “ Ite, ostendite vos sacerdotibus ”. Et factum est, dum irent, mundati sunt.
15 Unus autem ex illis, ut vidit quia sanatus est, regressus est cum magna voce magnificans Deum
16 et cecidit in faciem ante pedes eius gratias agens ei; et hic erat Samaritanus.
17 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν, Οὐχὶ οἱ δέκα ἐκαθαρίσθησαν; οἱ δὲ ἐννέα ποῦ;
18 οὐχ εὑρέθησαν ὑποστρέψαντες δοῦναι δόξαν τῷ θεῷ εἰ μὴ ὁ ἀλλογενὴς οὗτος;
19 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἀναστὰς πορεύου: ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε.
Answering, Jesus said to him, “Were there not ten that were cleansed? Where are the (other) nine? (18) The ones not turning back were not found to give glory to God, except the person of another ethnicity?” And he (Jesus) said to him (the Samaritan), “Rising, go. Your faith has saved you.”
The translation of Verse 18 is a bit rough in English. Jesus is making the point that it was the Samaritan, and not the other nine who were, presumably, Jewish, that returned to give thanks. The use of <<ἀλλογενὴς>> is unique to this passage in the NT. I have been avoiding the term “gentile” at all costs for a very long time because it’s a made-up word that I suspect was derived from Latin rather than Greek. I could easily be wrong on that, given that the Latin root is gens, gentis, while the Greek genea lacks the “t” in declension. Also, the Romans used the plural form gentes to mean foreigner. That is a very short step to gentile. If the word used here were the standard term, then I might be more inclined to consider using the standard word for “those other people”. Because I tend to use the term pagan where most English versions use gentile; but my choice is pretty much exclusively a Latin root. Oh well. So much for consistency and purity.
We mentioned above that this story is meant to explain why there weren’t many (any?) Christians of Jewish origin any longer. As such, there is no way this story dates to the 30s. Another question occurs to me: would Jewish lepers pal around with a Samaritan leper? All were outcast, of course, so perhaps their being outcast brought about camaraderie; however, it’s just as likely that the social barriers remained, even among the despised class. If Jewish lepers could still despise Samaritan lepers as somehow lesser, then I tend to believe that Jewish (or any other ethnicity; not singling out Jews) would have despised Samaritan lepers as lesser. People are funny that way, as we in the early 21st Century are still learning about ourselves.
The last point I want to cover (something else may yet occur) is the last bit. “Your faith has saved you”. Saved him from what? He’s already been cleansed of his disease. This is analogous to the situation with the paralytic lowered through the hole in the roof. Jesus first cures him, then tells him that his sins are forgiven. It’s the latter that sets off the sticklers in the crowd. So, given that the physical cure is already historical fact, it would seem that he is saved would mean something other than he has been healed physically. More, he has been saved by faith. Now, this is nothing new; the Bleeding Woman was healed by her faith, and Jesus tells her she has been saved by her faith. Most translations do not say that the woman has been saved; they tend to say she has been made whole; that is, she has been healed. This is the ambiguous nature of the Greek word for to save. In fact, the word means either to heal physically or to save a physical life. It is the Christians who add the extra dimension of meaning to the word, by thinking in terms of eternal salvation; id est, the saving of the immortal soul. In the case of the Bleeding Woman, is Jesus telling her that she has been healed, or that her soul has been saved by her faith? Which is Jesus saying here? Why do you think what you do? This is the beauty of being able to read this in the original: the translation to another language can/does mask when a single word in the original can have different meanings. It can/does blunt the impact of the text as written.
17 Respondens autem Iesus dixit: “ Nonne decem mundati sunt? Et novem ubi sunt?
18 Non sunt inventi qui redirent, ut darent gloriam Deo, nisi hic alienigena? ”.
19 Et ait illi: “ Surge, vade; fides tua te salvum fecit ”.
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 (said to be) 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 the appropriate number of times we should forgive our sibling.
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 section will conclude the chapter. It is the story of Dives and Lazarus, which is another that is unique to Luke. This is to say, the author of this story was most likely Luke. Why ascribe it to some vague “L source” when we have a very capable author at hand? Well, there is one answer: because if we attribute this to Luke, then we are denying that Jesus actually told this story, and that it was made up after Jesus died. If that happened, then who’s to say that other stories weren’t made up after Jesus died? That opens a whole can of worms: if Jesus didn’t say half the things he said, can we call ourselves Christians? Possibly– probably?– not. Obviously, that carries some grave and enormous implications. Hence the unwillingness to debate Q in a true, scholarly fashion. Hence, what I am doing here, the process I am using is darn close to unique, even though it’s basic historiography, stuff i was doing as an undergrad in Greek & Roman history. And the parallels are strong: limited original source material, and so the need to milk every word for implications. Such basic analysis, as far as I can tell, simply is not done in Biblical Studies.
As for the text itself, at first glance there has been a break in the continuity in the theme of the chapter. We started with the story of the Wicked Steward, which led into the pronouncement being unable to serve both God and Mammon. Now we get to Dives & Lazarus, which is a great cautionary tale to illustrate what happens when we choose Mammon. So the break came in the verses covered in the previous section, Verses 14-18. In fact, Verse 18, prohibiting divorce, was so far off-topic that I completely forgot to comment on it in the last section; I ended with Verse 17. Now we return to the true them of the chapter.
19 Ἄνθρωπος δέ τις ἦν πλούσιος, καὶ ἐνεδιδύσκετο πορφύραν καὶ βύσσον εὐφραινόμενος καθ’ ἡμέραν λαμπρῶς.
20 πτωχὸς δέ τις ὀνόματι Λάζαρος ἐβέβλητο πρὸς τὸν πυλῶνα αὐτοῦ εἱλκωμένος
21 καὶ ἐπιθυμῶν χορτασθῆναι ἀπὸ τῶν πιπτόντων ἀπὸ τῆς τραπέζης τοῦ πλουσίου: ἀλλὰ καὶ οἱ κύνες ἐρχόμενοι ἐπέλειχον τὰ ἕλκη αὐτοῦ.
22 ἐγένετο δὲ ἀποθανεῖν τὸν πτωχὸν καὶ ἀπενεχθῆναι αὐτὸν ὑπὸ τῶν ἀγγέλων εἰς τὸν κόλπον Ἀβραάμ: ἀπέθανεν δὲ καὶ ὁ πλούσιος καὶ ἐτάφη.
“There was a certain man who was wealthy, and he dressed in purple and linen, and he feasted sumptuously every day. (20) There was a certain poor man named Lazaros, covered in sores, who was thrown out of the gate (21) and he yearned to eat from the scraps from the table of the rich man. But the dogs coming licked his sores. (22) It happened that the poor man died and carried him to the bosom of Abraham; the rich man died too, and was buried.
A bit of a cliff-hanger there; what will happen to the rich man?
Note that the poor man has a name, but the rich man does not. Hence, this is usually referred to as the story of Dives and Lazarus. “Dives” is the Latin word for “rich”, so it’s “The Rich Man and Lazarus”. Why does the wealthy man not have a name? He can certainly afford one. Luke made an editorial choice on this. You’ll have to ask him. While we’re talking about names, why does one suppose that John chose Lazaros as the name of the man Jesus raised from the dead? It’s not like he actually existed, so that this was actually his name. Is this some sort of homage to Luke? Also, note that I’m being fairly lax with my translation; this is a case where, for the most part, the words don’t make that much difference. It’s a story. There may come a point where it does, and I will point this out, but it’s a story. The lesson lies in the moral, rather than in the story itself. And nice detail about the dogs coming to lick his sores. Yuck. But gives you a good sense of the situation, no? This is why I say Luke was a novelist. He’s got an eye for those sorts of details to drive a point home.
19 Homo quidam erat dives et induebatur purpura et bysso et epulabatur cotidie splendide.
20 Quidam autem pauper nomine Lazarus iacebat ad ianuam eius ulceribus plenus
21 et cupiens saturari de his, quae cadebant de mensa divitis; sed et canes veniebant et lingebant ulcera eius.
22 Factum est autem ut moreretur pauper et portaretur ab angelis in sinum Abrahae; mortuus est autem et dives et sepultus est.
23 καὶ ἐν τῷ ἅ|δῃ ἐπάρας τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς αὐτοῦ, ὑπάρχων ἐν βασάνοις, ὁρᾷ Ἀβραὰμ ἀπὸ μακρόθεν καὶ Λάζαρον ἐν τοῖς κόλποις αὐτοῦ.
24 καὶ αὐτὸς φωνήσας εἶπεν, Πάτερ Ἀβραάμ, ἐλέησόν με καὶ πέμψον Λάζαρον ἵνα βάψῃ τὸ ἄκρον τοῦ δακτύλου αὐτοῦ ὕδατος καὶ καταψύξῃ τὴν γλῶσσάν μου, ὅτι ὀδυνῶμαι ἐν τῇ φλογὶ ταύτῃ.
25 εἶπεν δὲ Ἀβραάμ, Τέκνον, μνήσθητι ὅτι ἀπέλαβες τὰ ἀγαθά σου ἐν τῇ ζωῇ σου, καὶ Λάζαρος ὁμοίως τὰ κακά: νῦν δὲ ὧδε παρακαλεῖται σὺ δὲ ὀδυνᾶσαι.
“And in Hades, lifting up his eyes, he being in torment, he saw Abraham from the blessed, and Lazaros in his bosoms. (23) And he, calling out, said ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazaros in order to dip the top of his finger in water, and cool my tongue, that I am tormented in this flame’. But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you received the good things in your lifetime, and Lazaros (received) equally the bad. Now, he is comforted and you are tormented’.
Well. How about that? This is probably the first description of Hell; at least, the first to give us the damned-eye view of what goes on. We have had references to the fiery pit, and other such allusions, but nothing quite this graphic. Admittedly, there may be this sort of description in some of the Apocryphal writings that date to the inter-testamental period, or the last/first couple of centuries either side of the start of the Common Era. There was a lot of stuff written, and I do not claim to be familiar with most of it. But this is the first we’ve encountered this in the canonical works of either Testament.
Now that is all very academic. Much more interesting is the attitude of Father Abraham. A bit cold, no? So much for a merciful God, eh? Which causes me to speculate if we don’t have Abraham standing in for God for precisely that reason: because Abraham can be a bit standoffish in a way that God cannot be. Of course, this is the same device used for Job: it’s not God, but the adversary who proposes the trial. Or the Adversary. This outsources the bad stuff away from God, so that the bad stuff can be blamed on Not-God. Of course, this involves a certain amount of sleight-of-hand, since an all-powerful God can prevent its agents from doing harm. That such a God chooses to allow harm indicates that the harm is part of the will of this God. The alternative is to consider a Principal of evil to have an identity separate from the Principal of good, but this implies that God is not all-powerful. There is no logical alternative. Of course, one can argue that God is not bound by logic, but then we have, essentially, a kosmos based on divine whim. This actually creates more problems than it solves. At least logically.
One point that seems a bit odd. At first, in Verse 22, Lazaros is carried to the “bosom” of Abraham. Then, the second time, in Verse 23, Dives sees Lazaros in the “bosoms” of Abraham. How we go from singular to plural is a bit beyond me. Checking the Latin, it is singular in both cases. That’s part of the interest here. The second is the Greek word, κόλπος. If pronounced aloud, perhaps you can see how it’s the root of our word ‘gulf’. The basic sense is that the kolpos is the hollow space between the breasts. From there, the idea was transferred to mean most any other similar hollow area, such as the fold in a gown or a robe. From there, we transfer it to a landform, the hollow between two extensions of land that hold an inlet– a ‘gulf’– of the sea. Checking the Latin, it’s sinus; yes, just like the areas above your eyes that get clogged. The base sense of the Latin is the fold of a toga around the breast; hence, the bosom. It is also a geographical term meaning– wait for it– ‘gulf’. If you look at a map of the moon, you can find the Sinus Medii, the Gulf of the Middle. The term would also be found on an old map of earth, like, 16th Century old, where the labels are in Latin.
23 Et in inferno elevans oculos suos, cum esset in tormentis, videbat Abraham a longe et Lazarum in sinu eius.
24 Et ipse clamans dixit: “Pater Abraham, miserere mei et mitte Lazarum, ut intingat extremum digiti sui in aquam, ut refrigeret linguam meam, quia crucior in hac flamma”.
25 At dixit Abraham: “Fili, recordare quia recepisti bona tua in vita tua, et Lazarus similiter mala; nunc autem hic consolatur, tu vero cruciaris.
26 καὶ ἐν πᾶσι τούτοις μεταξὺ ἡμῶν καὶ ὑμῶν χάσμα μέγα ἐστήρικται, ὅπως οἱ θέλοντες διαβῆναι ἔνθεν πρὸς ὑμᾶς μὴ δύνωνται, μηδὲ ἐκεῖθεν πρὸς ἡμᾶς διαπερῶσιν.
27 εἶπεν δέ, Ἐρωτῶ σε οὖν, πάτερ, ἵνα πέμψῃς αὐτὸν εἰς τὸν οἶκον τοῦ πατρός μου,
28 ἔχω γὰρ πέντε ἀδελφούς, ὅπως διαμαρτύρηται αὐτοῖς, ἵνα μὴ καὶ αὐτοὶ ἔλθωσιν εἰς τὸν τόπον τοῦτον τῆς βασάνου.
29 λέγει δὲ Ἀβραάμ, Ἔχουσι Μωϋσέα καὶ τοὺς προφήτας: ἀκουσάτωσαν αὐτῶν.
30 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν, Οὐχί, πάτερ Ἀβραάμ, ἀλλ’ ἐάν τις ἀπὸ νεκρῶν πορευθῇ πρὸς αὐτοὺς μετανοήσουσιν.
31 εἶπεν δὲ αὐτῷ, Εἰ Μωϋσέως καὶ τῶν προφητῶν οὐκ ἀκούουσιν, οὐδ’ ἐάν τις ἐκ νεκρῶν ἀναστῇ πεισθήσονται.
” ‘And in all these things between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those wishing to descend to you are not able, nor from thence (may) they cross over to us.’ But he (Dives) said, ‘So I ask you, father, in order you may send him to the home of my father. For I have five brothers, that he may give witness to them, so that they also may not come to this place of torment’. But Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses Let them listen to them’. (30) But he (Dives) said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone of the dead go to them, they will repent’. (31) But he responded to him (Dives), ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, if someone of the dead should stand up/rise up, they will not believe’.”
Does anyone else find that last statement a bit…odd? The verb used can be– and also is– used as the verb for ‘resurrect’, as in, The Resurrection. Seems like someone famous is held to have been resurrected. Help me out? Oh, wait, it was Jesus. So Luke is saying that people will not listen to Jesus, come back from the dead? Passing strange, no? Or, is this a jab at Jews in particular, who did not listen to Moses and the prophets and repent, and, just so, they did not listen to Jesus, either.
26 Et in his omnibus inter nos et vos chaos magnum firmatum est, ut hi, qui volunt hinc transire ad vos, non possint, neque inde ad nos transmeare”.
27 Et ait: “Rogo ergo te, Pater, ut mittas eum in domum patris mei
28 — habeo enim quinque fratres — ut testetur illis, ne et ipsi veniant in locum hunc tormentorum”.
29 Ait autem Abraham: “Habent Moysen et Prophetas; audiant illos”.
30 At ille dixit: “Non, pater Abraham, sed si quis ex mortuis ierit ad eos, paenitentiam agent”.
31 Ait autem illi: “Si Moysen et Prophetas non audiunt, neque si quis ex mortuis resurrexerit, credent” ”.
The original intent was that this section would conclude the chapter. The reason is that Luke seems to have more blocks than his predecessors. This gospel seems to have longer stories that make it difficult to split these chapters up into more than a few section; too, the chapters in Luke may be be a bit shorter on average than those in Matthew. But let’s talk about the longer stories. I have often said that Mark was a journalist, Matthew was a rabbi (of pagan birth, perhaps), and Luke is a novelist. That becomes most apparent in Acts– assuming, of course, that Luke is actually the author of Acts. I am agnostic on that for the time being; I don’t know the arguments for or against. Regardless, that Luke worked the material into more continuous stories indicates the increasing sophistication of the NT. Stylistically, this sophistication may hit apex in Luke; theologically, the apex is John. Now, of course I’m going to tie this literary quality back to Q. If you think about literary development, does it make more sense to progress from the succinct Mark and a collection of random sayings to the cultivated literary quality of Luke? Or does it make more sense if Luke is sitting on top of Matthew as well as the other two? After all, Matthew elaborated Mark to a great degree– largely by making up a bunch of new pericopae, for which the Q people give him no credit. Luke took Matthew’s elaboration to a higher plane by creating more blocks of stories rather than a bunch of unconnected sayings. Again, hardly smoking-gun proof for the non-existence of Q, but such proof of a negative is impossible. Rather, it’s another small stone on the scale, and any fair assessment should indicate that the non-Q side is becoming very heavy. Think about it: how many of these “little stones” have I added to the commentary? Be honest, and you will (I think) have to admit there have been quite a few. Probably to the point of “this is getting tedious”. At least, I hope that is the reaction. If so, it means I’m piling up a lot of “little stones” that might have reached the point of becoming evidence. After all, the plural of “anecdote” is “evidence”. And this is what changed my mind. I got into yet another diatribe about Q. So, we save the story of Dives and Lazarus for the next section.
Here we have a direct continuation of the story before; or, this is perhaps an integral part of the story begun in the previous section of the chapter. We are hearing about the unjust steward who bought his way out of a predicament using his lord’s resources, and the lord seemed to think it was a good move by the steward. However, Jesus then editorialized at the end, indicating that perhaps there is a bit more to this than would first meet the eye. To find out, let’s get to the
14 Ἤκουον δὲ ταῦτα πάντα οἱ Φαρισαῖοι φιλάργυροι ὑπάρχοντες, καὶ ἐξεμυκτήριζον αὐτόν.
Having heard this, all the Pharisees being taken as money-lovers, and mocked him.
Hadn’t planned on such a quick pause, but have to mention a couple of things. Just to be clear, the Pharisees are reacting to the dictum of God and Mammon; they don’t like the implication so they mock/deride Jesus. The word used is unique to Luke; L&S cites usage in Psalm 2.4 in the LXX and here. Not a lot to go on. The Latin is pretty clear: deridebant. This is pretty obviously the origin of ‘deride’, but it’s also formed from the root of ridere, to laugh. My first-year Latin prof was fond of the word ‘risible’, as in, what you just said was absolutely risible. Of course, he did it in such an affable way that he came across as funny, so in response, risimus. We laughed. But the main point is the way he sticks in the poke at the Pharisees as being money-loving. Here’s my point about this: it almost feels like he adds this, rather clumsily I might add, because the audience may not simply understand that this was a trait of the Pharisees. This could be due to a pagan audience, a separation of distance from Judea; or is it a distance of time? Had the Pharisees stopped being quite so well-recognized as they once had been? Probably the former.
This just occurred to me. The money-grubber jab feels an awful lot like an interpolation, something stuck in by a scribe for his edification, or that of his readers. I’ll go no further than that, but there is something very inelegant about it.
14 Audiebant autem omnia haec pharisaei, qui erant avari, et deridebant illum.
15 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Ὑμεῖς ἐστε οἱ δικαιοῦντες ἑαυτοὺς ἐνώπιον τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ὁ δὲ θεὸς γινώσκει τὰς καρδίας ὑμῶν: ὅτι τὸ ἐν ἀνθρώποις ὑψηλὸν βδέλυγμα ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ.
16 Ὁ νόμος καὶ οἱ προφῆται μέχρι Ἰωάννου: ἀπὸ τότε ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ εὐαγγελίζεται καὶ πᾶς εἰς αὐτὴν βιάζεται.
And he said to them, “You are the ones justifying yourselves in front of humans, but God knows your hearts. That in human affairs you are elevated (but) an abomination before God. The law and the prophets (were?) until John: from then the Kingdom of God was preached (lit = “good newsed“) and all force into it.
Apologies, but we have to make an unscheduled stop. The first verse is clear enough; just want to mention that the word for “abomination” is a Judeo-Christian word, showing up in the LXX and NT and pretty much nowhere in pagan literature. That’s fine. It may be based on something Hebrew? But the second verse is a problem. First, the grammar is exceedingly odd. There is no verb in the first clause, but understanding a form of “to be” is hardly all that unusual for Greek of any sort. And Latin, too; there is no verb in the first clause in the Vulgate below. The second clause…on second thought does make sense. There are actually a couple of ideas contained therein. First, is that The Law and The Prophets were not sufficient, or not conclusive, or…something. Whatever the trait is that I can’t name, it has allowed people– like the Pharisees; or perhaps especially people like Pharisees– to force their way into the Kingdom. Was it that the rules were not stringent, or specific enough that humans could force their way into the kingdom? But how can that be, if The Kingdom of God is Heaven? Is something that we merit only in the afterlife, and only if we’ve led a good life? Are we to infer that The Kingdom and The Life are not, perhaps, synonymous? This passage doesn’t necessarily say that, but it is, IMO, a valid inference.
Perhaps this makes more sense if we think of this more in terms of a Jewish conception of The Kingdom. The problem is that I can barely discuss Christian concepts in any intelligent manner, let alone try to tackle how Jewish thought in the centuries either side of the change of era may have looked at this sort of thing. The idea of some sort of afterlife was a part of Greek thought going back centuries. It is explicit in Homer; Odysseus travels to the land of the dead and speaks to the shade of Achilles, of his mother, and of the seer Tiresias. These individuals are dead, and yet they retain their individual personalities; they are in death who they were in life. There was rather a similar belief in the Near East, or at least in parts. In The Epic of Gilgamesh the eponymous hero travels to the land of the dead to converse with his erstwhile companion, Enkidu. There are numerous uses of the word sheol (Strong’s #7585)in the HS; perhaps half of them simply mean “grave”. Of the other half, many are often translated as “hell”, but a quick scan of them shows that many of these could also be rendered simply as “grave” as well. The point being that an afterlife was not an integral part of earlier Hebrew belief; much that is seen, IMO, by Christians who are reading things backward. The Christian philosophy of history is that Jesus was the inevitable fulfillment of the Divine Plan, and that human history sort of fills in around that destiny. Ergo, this was all planned out from time immemorial and so, of course, the HS is just a precursor to the NT. So of course the ideas presented in HS are foreshadowings of what was to come, so of course sheol should be translated as “hell” whenever it was possible to do so. Because if the two words did not, ultimately, have essentially the same meaning, then we’re dealing with a discontinuity.
So the point of all this we may very well be dealing with two different ideas. The Life and The Kingdom of God may not, in fact, have been synonymous. And if you go back to the conception of the anointed in the HS, he is not a divine entity. He (and it was to be a ‘he’) was fully human, and he was expected to lead Israel (which, by the time of Jesus, had not existed for 600 years, give or take) to restore its past political glory. IOW, to restore the Kingdom of God. The Baptist/Dunker would have fit very easily into that framework, since it was the framework of mainstream Jewish thought. John could have been teaching about the Kingdom to come in a purely political sense. Later, the followers of Jesus would begin to co-opt John’s earthly kingdom, converting it to the Kingdom, not of God, but of the Heavens. But it was Matthew who came up with this latter term, just as it was Matthew who introduced stuff like the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord’s Prayer, and a whole lot more Christian ideas. If we read Mark with the understanding that Jesus was carrying on John’s preaching of the Kingdom of God as a political kingdom, then the mustard seed takes on an entirely different set of implications than it carries in the Christian understanding of the idea. In fact, this would very much explain why Mark wrote, and why he wrote as he did. Mark lived through the revolt, even if he did not participate the way Josephus did. Mark was aware of the idea that a political kingdom was being bandied about only to be crushed by the Roman with their usual brutal efficiency. But then Mark saw the outcome, and realized he had to change the narrative, picking up on the Christ tradition, or rather the interpretation of the Christ that Paul had introduced. In this reading, Paul first understood the Christ in a different manner than other Jews to explain the fact of Jesus’ death. Then a Passion Narrative had to be invented, all of it running right up to political ideas, Jesus the King of the Jews, but a king of a different sort of kingdom. Matthew took this new interpretation and expanded it further, adding the divinity of Jesus. Luke sought to tie all of this together, with Jesus and John as relatives, in a relationship in which John recognised his subordinate position in utero, when Mary comes to visit Elisabeth.
But the incompatibility of the two ideas leads to certain awkward moments, like Verse 16, where the attempted weld of the different ideas, and that The Kingdom is not synonymous with The Life, shows. There is a seam in the fabric.
This seems a tad anticlimactic at this point, but there is a second aspect to this verse. Simply put, the Law and the Prophets have been superseded. Wealth and status are no longer enough to allow one to force his way into the (political being understood) kingdom. The rules have changed.
15 Et ait illis: “Vos estis, qui iustificatis vos coram hominibus; Deus autem novit corda vestra, quia, quod hominibus altum est, abominatio est ante Deum.
16 Lex et Prophetae usque ad Ioannem; ex tunc regnum Dei evangelizatur, et omnis in illud vim facit.
17 Εὐκοπώτερον δέ ἐστιν τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν παρελθεῖν ἢ τοῦ νόμου μίαν κεραίαν πεσεῖν.
18 Πᾶς ὁ ἀπολύων τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ καὶ γαμῶν ἑτέραν μοιχεύει, καὶ ὁ ἀπολελυμένην ἀπὸ ἀνδρὸς γαμῶν μοιχεύει.
It is easier for the sky and the earth to pass than for a single stroke of a letter to fall from the law. (18) All who send away his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he marrying the one having been separated from the man commits adultery.
First of all, it is just me, or does it seem like these last two verses really don’t follow from the two previous? (And, spoiler alert, they don’t logically flow into the next section, either.) If the Q people wanted to mount an actual argument, the existence of such short sayings unattached to context present a much stronger case than a bland– or even vehement– statement that Luke is mad to change the masterful arrangement of the Sermon on the Mount. The former actually requires an explanation; the latter can be waved off as a subjective assessment of literary style, because that is exactly what it is. There is also another consideration: the word (it is a single word in Greek) translated here as “stroke of a letter” occurs twice in the NT: here, and in Matthew’s version of this aphorism. More, the word actually means ‘horn’, or something like the antennae of a cray/crawfish, or the spur of a mountain. In Ev Mt and Ev Lk, it means the upward stroke of a letter. More: Matthew’s version is “…a single iota or upward stroke of a letter…” Iota (ι)is the Greek letter ‘I”; it is a single quick stroke of a writing implement, the smallest letter, orthographically speaking, in the Greek alphabet. It is often rendered as “jot”, because later Latin orthography began replacing the initial Latin “I” with a “J” when the second letter of the word was also a vowel. Hence, “Iuppiter” becomes “Jupiter”. I have the impression that Hebrew uses such little strokes to indicate vowels. If this is correct, then Matthew is covering both languages, the iota from Greek and the upward stroke of Hebrew. Luke drops the former for whatever reason.
But wait, there’s more. Matthew and Luke use different versions of the word. If you check Liddell & Scott, (which I almost always do), you will find that Matthew’s word is the standard word for “horn”; as the horn of a bull, or even a wing of an army, the left horn being the left flank. Luke, OTOH, uses a form derived from the standard, but a word more often used figuratively, as in the antennae of a crayfish, the yardarm on a mast, or the horns of the moon. So which is the original? Let’s check the Greek text of Q to find out…oh, wait. There is no Greek text of Q. There is no text of Q in any language. There are only the various reconstructions based on…what, exactly? The literary tastes of the editors, and an adamant refusal to consider an actual debate on merits. I’ve been using Kloppenborg et alia book entitled The Q/Thomas Reader as my text for Q. Kloppenborg, of my alma mater, University of Toronto (the shame!) is probably the foremost proponent of Q, so it seems like a good choice. He chooses Luke’s “not a serif” which strikes me as an excellent translation) over Matthew’s “iota nor serif”. This is hardly surprising, since Luke is considered the more “primitive” version, in large part because he says “blessed are the poor” rather than hedging like Matthew to “blessed are the poor in spirit“. Now, of course I am being unfair. This is a blog, not a dissertation, although I am seriously smelling a book in here. The consensus opinion is of “alternating primitivity”. But the choice of Luke as the more primitive here seems unfortunate; and it also demonstrates how the focus of the Q argument is on externals, rather than the content, the actual meaning of the words. If anything, Matthew is the more primitive in his choice of horn, κερeα rather than κεραίαν, as Luke used. The former is the standard, by far the more common word. The latter is more literary in the sense of more figurative, and the more descriptive.
So why did each choose the one they did? Aye, there’s the rub. Each one chose the word he did because he felt it was the best word. Luke’s Greek is more sophisticated than Matthew’s; he uses more unique and unusual words. Sometimes he uses fewer words, omitting “in spirit” and “iota” as he did here. Does his word choice here function within the framework of the “redactionally consistent” explanation Q proponents demand for every deviation from Matthew? Probably irrelevant, since Luke is the base version, the one following Q. Ah, now there’s another question. Who wrote Q? Well, no one, IMO. The more appropriate, because more serious, question is “what sort of person wrote Q?”. We have seen Mark’s Greek. It’s functional, but basic. Paul’s Greek verges on incomprehensible several times in 1 Thessalonians and Galatians, until he found a better secretary. (I can never remember how to spell amanuensis. Spellcheck to the rescue.) Then 1 Corinthians is a bit higher on the scale. Paul has a lot of unique words, but it’s a tendency to stick extra prefixes on existing words. The point is, if Q was written down in the 30s, what sort of people were in the Jesus movement? Most likely, it was mostly Jews. Paul was still a decade or so away from converting pagans in the 30s. Were these Jews likely to be well-educated in Greek? Not impossible, certainly, but not likely, either. So if someone wrote Q in the 30s, it would indeed have been more primitive than either Matthew or Luke. Which implies that the text in Q should probably be more like Luke’s than Matthew’s version. Of course, Kloppenborg et al can cheat; they don’t have to provide the Greek word behind their translation. They can just provide a word of their choosing. Granted, serif is a good choice, but that would imply Luke’s more sophisticated and unusual word κεραίαν over Matthew’s more standard κερeα. That Kloppenborg chose “serif” seems to imply that he understands that Luke’s word is the term used in Q. That is not, in my opinion, a “redactionally consistent” position on his part. He is choosing his ideology over his sound judgement.
17 Facilius est autem caelum et terram praeterire, quam de Lege unum apicem cadere.
18 Omnis, qui dimittit uxorem suam et ducit alteram, moechatur; et, qui dimissam a viro ducit, moechatur.
This section will be fairly short since most of involves a single story. This is sort of the prelude to what will come in the following section. The topic is wealth. In the last chapter/summary I commented that Jesus may not have spent all that much time with the poor. This was in conjunction with his wont to spend time with tax collectors. He also spends a fair bit of time hanging around with Pharisees, who were also known to be well-heeled. While we don’t have any Pharisees in this selection, they will appear in Verse 14, in what is a continuation of this story.
1Ἔλεγεν δὲ καὶ πρὸς τοὺς μαθητάς, Ἄνθρωπός τις ἦν πλούσιος ὃς εἶχεν οἰκονόμον, καὶ οὗτος διεβλήθη αὐτῷ ὡς διασκορπίζων τὰ ὑπάρχοντα αὐτοῦ.
2 καὶ φωνήσας αὐτὸν εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Τί τοῦτο ἀκούω περὶ σοῦ; ἀπόδος τὸν λόγον τῆς οἰκονομίας σου, οὐ γὰρ δύνῃ ἔτι οἰκονομεῖν.
3 εἶπεν δὲ ἐν ἑαυτῷ ὁ οἰκονόμος, Τί ποιήσω, ὅτι ὁ κύριός μου ἀφαιρεῖται τὴν οἰκονομίαν ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ; σκάπτειν οὐκ ἰσχύω, ἐπαιτεῖν αἰσχύνομαι.
4 ἔγνων τί ποιήσω, ἵνα ὅταν μετασταθῶ ἐκ τῆς οἰκονομίας δέξωνταί με εἰς τοὺς οἴκους αὐτῶν.
And he said to his learners, “There was a certain man who was wealthy, who had a major-domo/steward and he (the man) accused him (the steward) as he (the steward) is squandering his (the man’s) possessions. (2) And calling him (the steward), he said to him (the steward), ‘Why do I hear this about you? Give an account of the household (lit = ‘house laws’ = economies of you) of your management of the household, for you are not able to run the household’. (3) The steward said in himself, ‘What will I do, that my lord takes away the management of the household from me? I am not strong to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. (4) I know what I would do so that when I am turned from the house they received me into their house.
Have to pause here to make a few comments on the Greek. The last verse is a series of aorist subjunctive verbs. This is a combination that is impossible to get across in English. The subjunctive is simple enough; it’s the realm of the hypothetical, usually rendered as “would” or something such in English. The aorist, however, is the standard past tense. So we have the combination of hypothetical, but past, which should not be hypothetical. Being past, it should be pretty much fixed and done for. I suppose the sense is something like ‘I have figured out (perfect) what I would do when/if…’
The other thing worth pointing out is the word ‘accused’. Here, it’s dieblēthē, from the root diaballo, infinitive form diaballein, ending up in Spanish as diablo. This is the root of devil, who in Hebrew was the adversary, and in Greek is the slanderer or the accuser.
This is a big one. Not sure how obvious it’s been, but I have serious questions about the translation “In the beginning was the Word” in John 1:1. If you go on to the Liddell & Scott site at Perseus/Tufts and key in ‘logos’, you will get a very long, a VERY long list of uses for this word. The first one, the basic meaning, is an account, as in an account of money. In Verse 2, the lord of the house demands that the steward give him a logon, an account–perhaps better, an accounting–of the household budget. Then if you scroll down the list, in definition VI, you get,
So this gives us either, “in the beginning was the Audit of the Budget”, or “the Verbal Expression (but not a single word)”. If you have any sort of critical apparatus, this should make you question how and why the Logos of John 1:1 came out as “Word”. But wait, it gets weirder. If you use TheBible.org website (which I recommend), and find either this passage (Lk 16:2) or John 1:1, it will provide a complete list of every time some form of the word logos is used in the NT. Strong’s Words will do the same thing, but I find that a bit clunky since it breaks the occurrences up by case; it’s used in the nominative in cites 1-20, in the accusative in 21-44, the genitive…etc*. (And the numbers of the cites are strictly rhetorical, used in a for example sort of way.) It gets to the same end, but TheBible.org is easier. And it’s also better for providing a logos of how many times each author uses a particular word. And my use of logos there was also used as an example; this would be a proper use of logos; but I could not say it provides a word of how many times the word is used.
Back to the point. If you skim through the list from TheBible.org, you will see a lot of instances where the word is translated as word. (Note that the cites are as translated by the KJV.) Is it possible that the NT truly uses logos in a manner that is different from the way it was used in Classical Greek? That is entirely possible. And, if so, this could imply some very significant ramifications. First and foremost is that it could be considered a serious blow to my contention that there is no such thing as NT Greek. In turn. this could imply that the authors of the various books of the NT had a much more thorough knowledge of the books written before each of them wrote. I have not seen a lot of debate on this, except in terms of Matthew/Luke/Q. This is a question, IMO, that should receive greater scrutiny; or, it’s a question that I personally need to delve into the literature that already exists. Regardless, rest assured I will be working through the list of instances to determine how many of them could just as easily be rendered as something other than “word”.
Finally, this isn’t about the Greek, but it bears mention, IMO. Interesting that the man believes he only has two career choices available to him: digging, or begging.
* At least, it works like this on the website I use, which is it works well enough that I haven’t actively sought out an alternative.
1 Dicebat autem et ad discipulos: “ Homo quidam erat dives, qui habebat vilicum, et hic diffamatus est apud illum quasi dissipasset bona ipsius.
2 Et vocavit illum et ait illi: “Quid hoc audio de te? Redde rationem vilicationis tuae; iam enim non poteris vilicare”.
3 Ait autem vilicus intra se: “Quid faciam, quia dominus meus aufert a me vilicationem? Fodere non valeo, mendicare erubesco.
4 Scio quid faciam, ut, cum amotus fuero a vilicatione, recipiant me in domos suas”.
5 καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος ἕνα ἕκαστον τῶν χρεοφειλετῶν τοῦ κυρίου ἑαυτοῦ ἔλεγεν τῷ πρώτῳ, Πόσον ὀφείλεις τῷ κυρίῳ μου;
6 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν, Ἑκατὸν βάτους ἐλαίου. ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Δέξαι σου τὰ γράμματα καὶ καθίσας ταχέως γράψον πεντήκοντα.
7 ἔπειτα ἑτέρῳ εἶπεν, Σὺ δὲ πόσον ὀφείλεις; ὁ δὲ εἶπεν, Ἑκατὸν κόρους σίτου. λέγει αὐτῷ, Δέξαι σου τὰ γράμματα καὶ γράψον ὀγδοήκοντα.
8 καὶ ἐπῄνεσεν ὁ κύριος τὸν οἰκονόμον τῆς ἀδικίας ὅτι φρονίμως ἐποίησεν: ὅτι οἱ υἱοὶ τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου φρονιμώτεροι ὑπὲρ τοὺς υἱοὺς τοῦ φωτὸς εἰς τὴν γενεὰν τὴν ἑαυτῶν εἰσιν.
“And having called together each one of the debtors of his lord he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe to my lord?’ (6) And he (the first debtor) said, ‘A hundred measures* of oil’. He (the steward) replied, ‘You will take the record (lit = writing), and seated upon it you will write fifty.’ (7) Then he (the steward) said to another, ‘How much do you owe?’ The other responded ‘One hundred measures of grain’. He (the steward) said to him, ‘You will take the record and you will write eighty’. (8) And the lord praised the unrighteous steward that he made such intelligence. That the sons of this age are smarter over the sons of light in their generation.
* The word means a specific amount, but I’m not sure what it is. Doesn’t really matter, IMO, but apologies for my ignorance.
Does anyone else find the the reaction of the lord, as well as the whole lesson to be a bit baffling? The steward is reducing the amounts owed to the lord without, apparently, explicit authorization. The steward is reducing the accounts receivable which is a reduction in the lord’s net worth, and possibly creating a downward vector on the house’s cash flow. In non-accounting, non-capitalism terms, this is not a good thing for the lord. And yet, and yet, the lord finds this sort of sharp-dealing to be clever. Well, actually it is clever. But it’s also a bit sneaky, and is certainly unethical. The steward is acting unilaterally to his lord’s detriment so the steward can save his own butt. And the lord thinks this is not only OK, but praiseworthy. One could argue that the lord is more than happy to employ someone like this to fatten his own coffers, but he is dismissing the steward for squandering the lord’s money. So, a bit of a mixed message, no?
Or is that the point? In the last bit of Verse 8, Jesus’ editorial comment is that the sons of this age are smarter than the sons of light. For those of you without a program, the sons of light are the good guys. So, perhaps Jesus isn’t actually praising the sons of this age, and that the praise of the lord is a bit ironic. I think that might become a bit more obvious in the next couple of verses.
But first, let us discuss the term adikos, which is used to describe the steward. The a- prefix is a negation; a-gnostic = not knowing. So he’s being not-…what? The word dikē is another of those complex words, like logos, but not quite as bad. In Paul, we encounter the term dikaios very often, and the overwhelming choice for translation is righteous. In fact, the term dikē is more closely associated with justice. At base, it’s custom, or usage. From there, it comes to have judicial implications, and the closest association becomes justice. And, in fact, dikē can & does become a synonym for the decision of a judge, in particular in which a malefactor gets his comeuppance. But notice the common thread through all these words: righteous, justice, judge, etc: they are all Latin based. Not a Greek root in the lot. Our concept of The Law comes from the Romans, who were legal (also Latin) eagles to a high degree. So, for Paul, we are made righteous by God, we are dikaios. It would be difficult to conceive of what it would mean if God made us just, would it not? Righteous is a personal adjective; just is something that we exercise in relation to others. Here, whether we call the steward unjust or unrighteous does not carry a huge amount of weight; it doesn’t matter overmuch. But in Paul, I think it does. And it’s another thing to keep in mind, that these words that get so blithely translated may not–in fact often do not–mean what we think.
A terrific book on this topic is Iustitia Dei, by Alister McGrath. In it, he traces from the Hebrew root on which dikaios rests, and how much this translation distorted the ideas of the Hebrew word. And then, when it gets translated into Latin, another and entirely different set of distortions are placed on the concept. Because we are the legal descendants of the Romans and not the Greeks or the Hebrews, and because we read the Bible in Latin for a millennium or more, we have interpreted the words of the NT very differently than we would have if we’d read the NT in Greek or Hebrew. Righteous is mostly a legal concept; and while iustitia and dikē both get translated as “just”, the two words are not interchangeable, just as psyche sometimes means physical life and sometimes means soul. We get so smug in our understanding of the Bible, but this smugness is often not warranted. IOW, it’s not justified.
PS. the book Iustitia Dei is not necessarily meant for a general audience. It assumes a certain amount of background in both Greek and Latin. Check out the reviews on Amazon. All 5 or 4 stars, but with some caveats. One person with a bit of Latin, more Greek (apparently), and lots of forgotten Hebrew described it as “quite accessible”.
5 Convocatis itaque singulis debitoribus domini sui, dicebat primo: “Quantum debes domino meo?”.
6 At ille dixit: “Centum cados olei”. Dixitque illi: “Accipe cautionem tuam et sede cito, scribe quinquaginta”.
7 Deinde alii dixit: “Tu vero quantum debes?”. Qui ait: “Centum coros tritici”. Ait illi: “Accipe litteras tuas et scribe octoginta”.
8 Et laudavit dominus vilicum iniquitatis, quia prudenter fecisset, quia filii huius saeculi prudentiores filiis lucis in generatione sua sunt.
9 Καὶ ἐγὼ ὑμῖν λέγω, ἑαυτοῖς ποιήσατε φίλους ἐκ τοῦ μαμωνᾶ τῆς ἀδικίας, ἵνα ὅταν ἐκλίπῃ δέξωνται ὑμᾶς εἰς τὰς αἰωνίους σκηνάς.
10 ὁ πιστὸς ἐν ἐλαχίστῳ καὶ ἐν πολλῷ πιστός ἐστιν, καὶ ὁ ἐν ἐλαχίστῳ ἄδικος καὶ ἐν πολλῷ ἄδικός ἐστιν.
11 εἰ οὖν ἐν τῷ ἀδίκῳ μαμωνᾷ πιστοὶ οὐκ ἐγένεσθε, τὸ ἀληθινὸντίς ὑμῖν πιστεύσει;
12 καὶ εἰ ἐν τῷ ἀλλοτρίῳ πιστοὶ οὐκ ἐγένεσθε, τὸ ὑμέτερον τίς ὑμῖν δώσει;
13 Οὐδεὶς οἰκέτης δύναται δυσὶ κυρίοις δουλεύειν: ἢ γὰρ τὸν ἕνα μισήσει καὶ τὸν ἕτερον ἀγαπήσει, ἢ ἑνὸς ἀνθέξεται καὶ τοῦ ἑτέρου καταφρονήσει. οὐ δύνασθε θεῷ δουλεύειν καὶ μαμωνᾷ.
And I say to you, make friends for yourselves from the mammon of injustice, so that when it may fail to receive you to the tent of the ages. (10) The one faithful in the least, also is (faithful) in much, and that one unjust in the least, (is) also is unjust in much. (11) So if the faithful are not (faithful) in unrighteous mammon, does the true thing trust you? (12) And if faithful are not (faithful) to another, who will give your (thing) to you? (13) No household slave can be a slave to two masters; for he will hate either one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
First, to say the Greek in here is tortured is an understatement. The Latin does clean things up a bit, but that assumes that St Jerome really understood the intent in the first place. One has to assume all sorts of unstated things, which is not at all uncommon in Greek or Latin; however, this takes it to a higher level; it’s almost epigrammatic. By this I mean a pithy saying that has been reduced to the absolute bare minimum number of words. Thucydides is notorious for this , to the point that much of the scholarly debate consists of arguments about what Thucydides is actually saying in a given passage. So to some extent, Luke is showing off a bit with his highly personal use of grammar. Back to the Latin, the version of the Vulgate that I’m using is a modern edition, with modern punctuation. That very helpful. Greek was
No, I’m not shouting; that is how it was originally written. Lower case and spaces were Hellenistic inventions, or modifications. So Luke may have written this in a form closer to what we are seeing.
Then, to take it a step further, his choice of words in the second half of the “two masters” passage (V13) is interesting. The first part is fine: hate vs love, straightforward, standard vocabulary. In the second part, ‘hate’ is replaced by a word that, in its most literal form, means ‘hold against’. So, at first glance we could take this as a synonym for ‘hate’. But then the second word is more standard and means ‘despise’. (Or, literally, it means to ‘love down’. The philos– root with a kata prefix, which means down. Ana-baino is to go up; kata-baino is to descend. So we have to go back to the ‘hold against’ and understand that it can also mean to hold before one, sort of as a shield; this gives the implication that the holder is following the person held out of affection. So again, a bit of fancy footwork here from Luke.
Now for the meaning of the passages. I said after the previous comment that we would be considered Verses 5-8 in light of what we read next. At the end of the previous section, in Verse 8, the lord is praising the wicked steward for the latter’s shrewd and sharp dealing, which, ultimately, came at the lord’s expense. This seemed a bit peculiar. However, take with this section, we get a meaning more suited to what we think of as Christianity. Jesus has a one-two punch here; before, he told us how the children of this age have it over the children of the light. Rather than being praise, Jesus is using this as an example of how apparently wicked people seem to prosper at the expense of good people. Then, we get the follow-up here telling us that the wicked,, even if they prosper in this world. But wait, there’s more! This episode continues in the next section.
9 Et ego vobis dico: Facite vobis amicos de mammona iniquitatis, ut, cum defecerit, recipiant vos in aeterna tabernacula.
10 Qui fidelis est in minimo, et in maiori fidelis est; et, qui in modico iniquus est, et in maiori iniquus est.
11 Si ergo in iniquo mammona fideles non fuistis, quod verum est, quis credet vobis?
12 Et si in alieno fideles non fuistis, quod vestrum est, quis dabit vobis?
13 Nemo servus potest duobus dominis servire: aut enim unum odiet et alterum diliget, aut uni adhaerebit et alterum contemnet. Non potestis Deo servire et mammonae”.
This chapter contains both the stories of the Lost Sheep and the Prodigal Son. Both are Christian “standards”, or even cliches; many non-observant Christians, or even non-Christians, understand the reference of a ‘prodigal son’ who ‘returns to the fold’ even if the finer points of detail are, at best, vague. The same is perhaps true of the maxim ‘lost sheep’, if to a lesser degree and less specifically. Yet, both of these stories, so fundamental to Christian self-image are unique to Luke; this means there is barely any chance that either of them actually traces back to Jesus. Rather, it is highly likely that Luke composed them both. This likelihood increases, it would seem, when we realize how closely linked the stories are both thematically and in terms of the lesson conveyed. This makes analysis much easier, since it’s really a compare and contrast situation.
First, there is the minor issue of Jesus’ behaviour, specifically the sort of people he hung around with. At the beginning of the chapter we are told that the respectable elements of society tsk-tsk over Jesus’ choice of companions. These latter are described as “tax-collectors (or publicans) and sinners. Christians have long seized on this as meaning the sort of people the Pharisees didn’t like; one meaning of “sinner” is prostitute. The classic example of this is in Luke Chapter 7, where the woman who is a “sinner” anoints Jesus with the contents of an expensive box of perfume. This is understood to mean that she was a prostitute. Of course, at this point I cannot describe how I know this, or where I first heard this, but it was long ago. I’m old enough to remember when Jesus Christ Superstar came out. I was in high school. In this, Mary Magdalene is portrayed as a prostitute, and I know that this did not phase me; I fully understood that Mary M was a prostitute. This was one of those things that “everyone knows” about her. The problem is that neither of the other two gospels mention this about the woman. More, in Luke, the introduction of Mary M comes very shortly after this episode, but there is no apparent connexion between the two women. The anointing occurs in the end of Chapter 7; the introduction of Mary M comes a few verses in to Chapter 8. There is neither a grammatical nor a narrative link between the two women. The implication is that, once again, what “everyone knows” has no real scriptural basis. This is where tradition filled in the cracks with anecdotes and explanations. This, in turn, is an excellent demonstration of how stories grow. This is a great demonstration to explain why Matthew and Luke are so much longer than Mark; the story had grown by the time they wrote. There were more anecdotes. And Matthew and Luke more than likely created some of their own.
This is a bit of a digression. The point is that we are told numerous times that Jesus consorted with sinners. When sinners are mentioned, it is often in conjunction with tax collectors, as it is in this chapter. Apropos of this, another thing “everyone knows” is that Jesus spent time with the poor. The interesting thing is that tax collectors were decidedly not poor. Very much the opposite, in fact; they were very rich, and they got rich by squeezing the average person for as much as they could get. (We’ll discuss this more when we get to the story of Zaccheus.) Any sinners hanging around with publicans were not likely to be poor, either. When, exactly, are we shown Jesus consorting with the poor? The Bleeding Woman comes to mind, but that was a one-off contact. He raises the centurion’s slave, and the daughter of Jairus from the dead, but neither of these men were poor. In fact, use of the word for ‘poor’ is very sparse in the gospels. Jesus also spent a lot of time hanging around with Pharisees. The setting for the Lost Sheep is at a dinner with Pharisees. They were generally not poor either, but that is a broad statement that has no real evidence to support it. All that can be adduced is that people who gave the sort of dinner parties that Jesus frequently attended were not likely to be poor. So we have numerous instances of Jesus spending time in the company of the well-off, and very little with him actually consorting with the poor. Interestingly, some for of the word “poor” occurs less than 30 times in the NT. Several of those are repetitions between gospels (poor/poor in spirit; give the money to the poor, etc), so this is not a terribly common theme for Jesus and his followers. It occurs five times each in Mark and Matthew, but three times in the much shorter epistle of James. Luke is the most frequent user, coming in at nine, but it does not appear at all in Acts. The implication seems to be that we need, perhaps, to reconsider just how solicitous of the poor Jesus was. How integral was this message to his mission?
The rest of the chapter is given over to the stories of the Lost Sheep and the Prodigal son, with the parable of the Lost Coin shoe-horned in between. The theme of all stories is being lost and then found. This leads us to ask what it means to be “lost” and “found”. Doing this we immediately run into yet another “everybody knows” situation. Being lost means we’re lost to a life of sin; found, means we’ve found our way back to God and so attained our salvation. We’ve been saved. Funny, thing, however; the term ‘saved’ does not appear even once in this chapter. We saw that ‘poor’ was used less than 30 times in the whole NT; some variation of ‘saved’ occurs more than three times as often, upwards of 100 instances (I lost count of the exact amount; doesn’t matter. It’s a lot) in the NT. But, you say, there is joy in the sky when a lost sheep is found, or the prodigal son returns. This is true. But joy and celebration by whom? By those who have been saved before? Or by God and the Heavenly Host? Remember, the injunction is to repent; that can simply mean to honor the God of Judah, the way that King Hezekiah did in 2 Kings. Note that during a quick skim through some of the HS dealing with the apostasy of Israel and the faithfulness of Judah (most of the time), I did not see the word “saved” at all. Unfortunately, since it’s written in Hebrew I can’t search the Greek on the site I use for translations. I tried– half-heartedly, perhaps– to find a Greek Septuagint that would let me search the Greek for specific words without success. This means I cannot compare vocabulary at this point, which means we cannot be terribly certain about the rejoicing in heaven. There is no reason why we cannot equate being found and being saved; there is nothing to exclude one from the other. We have to ask whether it feels right, if it feels like this is what Luke means by “found”. Being the skeptical, cantankerous sort that I am, I tend not to think so. Luke used the word ‘saved’ enough; he was no stranger to it. So why not here?
Of course, that question cannot be answered. And of course, I have no real argument to convince anyone of my position. It’s a sense I get from having read the text word-for-word as I have, one develops a feel for what the text is doing. Or, one comes to believe that one has developed such a feel. This again, cannot be proven one way or the other. I’m rather surprised that there is not more to say on this. The point is the degree of interpretation required. Just bear that in mind, always. These topics are not nearly as settled as we would like to believe. Even the Reformation Protestants did not take a chainsaw to Tradition nearly to the they imagined. There is still a lot of “everyone knows” thinking that continues to be perpetuated.
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 is the famous story of the Lost Sheep. It is unique to Luke. There is no real legitimate reason to believe that Luke did not compose this story himself. To the best of my knowledge, most scholarship would attribute this to a tradition that somehow preserved this story intact, but bypassed Mark & Matthew. Now, being honest and blunt, this is entirely possible. Since nothing was written about Jesus until the 50s, but, truly about Jesus, until the 70s, there were doubtless numerous strands of tradition about him. Paul tells us as much when he decries the Thessalonians for succumbing to “another gospel”. Indeed, that was part of the contention with James, brother of the lord: they had different messages, which, I suspect, went beyond Jewish dietary laws and circumcision.
So why not attribute this to the L Source? This is how the Q proponents account for the material unique to Luke; the material unique to Matthew has been dubbed M. While this is possible, it seems unlikely that there was a trove of material floating about that only Luke discovered. And part of the argument is that L and M were oral traditions; only Q was written. It is possible, indeed probably, that such traditions existed. What is unlikely, and highly so, is that these traditions actually traced back to Jesus. Much more likely is that different communities came up with their own set of stories, just like different areas came up with their own episodes for the Arthurian legends. However, while possible, I believe this does a disservice to both Matthew and Luke. Both evangelists were men of some erudition, and each crafted a gospel that fit in with his particular view of Jesus. These views were not always entirely consistent, but they worked towards consistency; I suspect the process reaches apotheosis with John, but we’ll find out when we get there. For now, let’s turn to the
1) ησαν δὲ αὐτῷ ἐγγίζοντες πάντες οἱ τελῶναι καὶ οἱ ἁμαρτωλοὶ ἀκούειν αὐτοῦ.
2 καὶ διεγόγγυζον οἵ τε Φαρισαῖοι καὶ οἱ γραμματεῖς λέγοντες ὅτι Οὗτος ἁμαρτωλοὺς προσδέχεται καὶ συνεσθίει αὐτοῖς.
There were approaching to him the tax-collectors and sinners to hear him. (2) And muttering were the Pharisees and the Scribes, saying that, “He receives sinners and eats with them.”
That Jesus consorted with publicans and sinners is found in all three gospels. It is very tempting to see this as authentic tradition. It does not exactly square with the idea of Jesus being a magician; these latter usually sought out the more substantial members of society who were able to pay for their services. Then, OTOH, it does not say that Jesus was consorting with the poor, but with sinners. Publicans were notoriously wealthy, attaining this wealth by squeezing taxpayers for more than the required amount. The Roman Empire outsourced tax collection to private contractors in the free market. Would-be publicans bid on how much they would collect, and Roman officials accepted the highest bidder. The contractor then had to squeeze the public for an amount over and above the contract amount in order to realize a profit. That these successful contractors were generally wealthy indicates their efficiency and ruthlessness in collection activities. IOW, if you think the government is rapacious, see what happens if this gets outsourced. And there are proposals out there that this should happen.
So is this an an accurate description of Jesus’ behavior? That may strike many people as an absurd question. Of course he acted this way. That’s what the NT tells us he did. It’s one of the bases of the Christian ideal. The problem with this assessment, of course, is that we have no evidence for Jesus’ behaviour. The NT does not provide anything close to an actual historical record. Matthew and Luke both tell whopping big lies in their birth narratives*; so, from the start, we should be very selective about taking anything they say at face value. Because what kind of sinners were these people? Well, Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. Except nowhere are we told this in the NT. This was part of later tradition. There was the woman who anointed Jesus with the perfume, who the Pharisees tut-tutted was a sinner, by which *nudge-nudge wink-wink* we’re supposed to infer a prostitute; however, nowhere is this woman called Mary Magdalene, and she is not called a sinner in any of the other versions. Matthew uses the word “sinner” five times, and three of them are canned phrase “publicans and sinners”. It’s enough to make one wonder if part of the reason Jesus was reviled by the Jewish establishment (if, indeed, he was) had more to do with him hanging out with tax collectors than ‘sinners’ per se. And interestingly, hanging out with publicans would have been pro-Roman behavior; IOW, instead of railing against Rome, he was chummy with the collaborators. Makes one wonder about the whole zealot thing. Or, it should.
This is a huge topic.
1 Erant autem appropinquantes ei omnes publicani et pec catores, ut audirent illum.
2 Et murmurabant pharisaei et scribae dicentes: “Hic peccatores recipit et manducat cum illis”.
3 εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς αὐτοὺς τὴν παραβολὴν ταύτην λέγων,
4 Τίς ἄνθρωπος ἐξ ὑμῶν ἔχων ἑκατὸν πρόβατα καὶ ἀπολέσας ἐξ αὐτῶν ἓν οὐ καταλείπει τὰ ἐνενήκοντα ἐννέα ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ καὶ πορεύεται ἐπὶ τὸ ἀπολωλὸς ἕως εὕρῃ αὐτό;
He said to them this parable, saying (4) “What person of you having one hundred sheep and losing of them (a single) one does not leave the 99 in the wilderness and seek upon the lost one until he may find it?
Have to pause a moment for a couple of minor issues. The first is verb tense. “Which of you does not leave…until he may find…” The tense of the first is present indicative active. IOW, standard present tense. In English, we would be more apt to say, “which of you would not leave…” That is subjunctive to express unreality or uncertainty that such a thing has or will happen. The second, “may find”, is a subjunctive and has been rendered as such here. The point is that Greek verb tenses do not always translate one-for-one into English. There are frequently times when the tenses within the narrative are inconsistent, switching back and forth between present and aorist. There are rules about this…sort of. The purpose of all of this is to be careful when someone starts lecturing on how the verb is an aorist and uses this as justification to trot out a whole bunch of implications. Be very wary of any conclusions about meaning based on a disquisition of an aorist tense.
The second point is the word “wilderness”. This is the word used of the Baptist to tell us he was “in the wilderness”. The root is “herm–“, as in “hermit”. The first Christian hermits lived in the wilderness. The base meaning in Greek is “alone”. The “lone individual lived an alone life in a lonely place”. Translated: “the hermit lived a solitary life in the wilderness”. Aside from the KJV, all my crib translations render this as “open pasture” or something such. In our world, “pasture” has certain connotations that are wholly lacking in the Greek word. The point is that there was a lot of empty space between towns or settlements, and it was common practice to take your herd into this empty space. This is the sort of historical information that a text like the NT can provide very reliably because it’s so inadvertent. This is why we can discuss things like whether Jesus was a collaborator with the Romans. Or, if he was seen as something along those lines by some of the Jews.
3 Et ait ad illos parabolam istam dicens:
4 “Quis ex vobis homo, qui habet centum oves et si perdiderit unam ex illis, nonne dimittit nonaginta novem in deserto et vadit ad illam, quae perierat, donec inveniat illam?
5 καὶ εὑρὼν ἐπιτίθησιν ἐπὶ τοὺς ὤμους αὐτοῦ χαίρων,
6 καὶ ἐλθὼν εἰς τὸν οἶκον συγκαλεῖ τοὺς φίλους καὶ τοὺς γείτονας λέγων αὐτοῖς, Συγχάρητέ μοι, ὅτι εὗρον τὸ πρόβατόν μου τὸ ἀπολωλός.
7 λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι οὕτως χαρὰ ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ ἔσται ἐπὶ ἑνὶ ἁμαρτωλῷ μετανοοῦντι ἢ ἐπὶ ἐνενήκοντα ἐννέα δικαίοις οἵτινες οὐ χρείαν ἔχουσιν μετανοίας.
“And finding, he places it on his shoulders rejoicing, (6) and coming home he calls together his friends and relatives saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, that I have found the sheep having been lost’. (7) I say to you that in this way there will be rejoicing in the sky upon the sinner having repented than upon the 99 just ones who did not need repentance”.
Take a look at the Latin below and note the bolded words. They literally mean “doing penance”. This is a very different concept than the meaning of the Greek, which is to “repent”. The same distinction between the Latin and the Greek occurs very famously in Mark 1:15. There, in the Greek, the Baptist/Dunker calls on those hearing to “repent” or to “be penitent”. In the Latin, he calls upon them to “do/make penance”. This distinction in translation had serious implications for the development of the Western Church that read the NT in Latin. This translation into Latin led to the Catholic doctrine of Penance, of doing penance assigned in Confession. When Erasmus went back to the Greek in the 15th Century and corrected the translation, changing it from a noun to a verb, this had a major impact on Martin Luther. Recall that Luther was incensed about the practice of selling indulgences, which were a means of lessening the amount of penance that had to be done to atone for one’s sins. In Luther’s mind, there was no way one could keep up with the ongoing demands of doing penance for the constant stream of sins one committed. However, if the injunction was to repent, or to be repentant, then the whole equation changed. Overall, the development of the Church in the West had a lot to do with the Latin, rather than the Greek, NT. It’s a very different set of concepts. That the Church discussed the doctrine of gratia rather than charis had significant influence on the doctrine, since charis lacks the connotation of “free” that exist in the Latin gratia. And too, the Greek word “logos” has very different lexical field than the Latin word verbum. Language matters. To my mind, it’s not surprising that the schism between the Catholic and Orthodox churches occurred; the remarkable part is that they held together as long as they did. And even then, the final rupture was as much political as it was religious, or doctrinal.
Upon my first reading, the question of what “happened” to the lost sheep that is found again rose in my mind. How are we to understand the concepts of being “lost”, and then being “found”? The awesome hymn Amazing Grace provides wonderful insight into the meanings of these words, but the song was written nearly two millennia later. It describes how we view being “lost” and “found”. Part of the purpose of this blog is to determine what the author may have meant when using the terms. Of course, the answer is, seemingly, provided in the last verse where Luke talks about rejoicing in the sky. Of course, “sky” is the immediate meaning of the word, which Christians will translate as “heaven”, or even “Heaven”; however, it’s always good to remind ourselves of what the Greek word used actually means. In this case, “heaven” is legitimate as it was used in that sense since the time of Homer, just as we use the term “the heavens” to mean simply the sky. Presumably the rejoicing in heaven will include the rejoicing of the father who is in the sky. So presumably, we are to understand “lost” and “found” in the sense that the awesome hymn Amazing Grace uses the terms. Or can we?
That degree of uncertainty is exactly the point. We think we know. We may think it’s blindingly obvious. But it’s really not. The lost sheep has been found, and it has reunited with the flock; but where? In heaven? Or on earth? The Jewish conception of salvation was corporate; the Chosen People; the flock, not the individual, and not necessarily in an afterlife. So a return to that corporate body would be a cause for rejoicing by the denizens of heaven, but that would have been true in Jewish thought several hundred years earlier, too. What has changed here? Perhaps nothing. Or perhaps the salvation of the individual was just assumed by this point. One thing that we must constantly remember when we read these texts is that we’re reading them. For the most part, Luke’s audience would not have done that. They would have listened, while someone else read. Then there likely would have been a follow-up discussion, perhaps including a Q&A period. That’s largely how learning worked, even through the Middle Ages, at the newly-founded universities. The Master read aloud and then the students discussed under the guidance of the Master. In both cases, there would have been additional exposition on the text. This is where the Catholics were horrified by the idea of vernacular Bibles, because then just anyone could read the thing without having the guidance of a learned teacher who understood what was “really” meant. This is why the Catholics insisted on the validity of The Tradition. These were the lessons handed down by Augustine and Tertullian and Clement, who, as Bishop of Rome, theoretically got it, ultimately, from Peter. The line of succession was Peter, Linus, (Ana)Cletus, Clement…The this was recited every Sunday during the Consecration part of the Mass. It’s interesting because I was having a FaceBook discussion with a friend I’ve never met about the number of times Jesus spoke of being saved, in the common, modern sense. I rattled off a few cites, and then mentioned a few more where it was understood. This was one of the examples I used. The thing is, I hadn’t translated and commented on this section fully, so I may have jumped to some unwarranted conclusions.
So, what do we know? If by know, we mean as a certainty, the answer is all too often ‘not as much as we think’. The Protestants who rejected the tradition in favor of individual inspiration probably retained more of that tradition than they realized or intended.
We’ll come back to this shortly, when we get to the parable of the Prodigal Son, which is coming up shortly.
5 Et cum invenerit eam, imponit in umeros suos gaudens
6 et veniens domum convocat amicos et vicinos dicens illis: “Congratulamini mihi, quia inveni ovem meam, quae perierat”.
7 Dico vobis: Ita gaudium erit in caelo super uno peccatore paenitentiam agente quam super nonaginta novem iustis, qui non indigent paenitentia.
8 Ἢ τίς γυνὴ δραχμὰς ἔχουσα δέκα, ἐὰν ἀπολέσῃ δραχμὴν μίαν, οὐχὶ ἅπτει λύχνον καὶ σαροῖ τὴν οἰκίαν καὶ ζητεῖ ἐπιμελῶς ἕως οὗ εὕρῃ;
9 καὶ εὑροῦσα συγκαλεῖ τὰς φίλας καὶ γείτονας λέγουσα, Συγχάρητέ μοι, ὅτι εὗρον τὴν δραχμὴν ἣν ἀπώλεσα.
10 οὕτως, λέγω ὑμῖν, γίνεται χαρὰ ἐνώπιον τῶν ἀγγέλων τοῦ θεοῦ ἐπὶ ἑνὶ ἁμαρτωλῷ μετανοοῦντι.
Or a certain woman having ten drachmas, if she should lose a single drachma, will she not light a lamp and sweep the house and search diligently until she found it? (9) And having found it, she calls her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, that I found the drachma that I lost’. (10) Thus, I say to you, be happy before the messengers of the lord upon one sinner having repented.
A couple of things. First, up until this point, I haven’t been as punctilious about getting the verb tenses to agree with the Greek. Shame on me, especially when I want to help new learners. Second, the word for “lighting”, as in “lighting a lamp” is aptō; perhaps the root of “apt” is apparent.
But the other thing is that this is where I’m supposed to tell you what a drachma was worth. My apologies, but my sense of currency exchange is lacking for this time and place. I do know that in Classical Athens, two obols was considered a day’s wages, and that there were ten obols in a drachma. Based on that rate, a drachma would represent a week’s wages– assuming a modern five-day week, which is simply anachronistic. The five-day week did not become the norm until the early 20th Century. Still, it was a decent amount of money; as a single sheep represented a decent amount of money. So in both cases, there was ample reason for the one having lost either to search. If you lost $100 USD bill, you would spend some time looking for it. And $100 USD would probably not buy you a sheep in today’s money.
The minor economics lesson aside, the point is that, in either case, an individual sinner is worth a substantial amount to the denizens of heaven.
Now on to the Prodigal Son.
8 Aut quae mulier habens drachmas decem, si perdiderit drachmam unam, nonne accendit lucernam et everrit domum et quaerit diligenter, donec inveniat?
9 Et cum invenerit, convocat amicas et vicinas dicens: ‘Congratulamini mihi, quia inveni drachmam, quam perdideram’.
10 Ita dico vobis: Gaudium fit coram angelis Dei super uno peccatore paenitentiam agente”.
* Matthew: the Slaughter of the Innocents is not historical. Something this heinous would have left some mark in the historical record. Luke: that Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem to be counted in the census– which seems to have a pretty solid basis in history. The idea that people had to uproot themselves from their occupations and return to an ancestral home from centuries before is patently absurd on its own merits. Plus, once again, there is no historical corroboration.
Once again we got a chapter that is largely to be seen as a single unit. Until Verse 25, all of the action takes place while Jesus is having dinner with some Pharisees. It’s odd, but much has been made about how Jesus consorted with the undesirable element of society, the poor, tax collectors, women, etc., and he certainly did. But it’s not often pointed out, or commented upon, that Jesus also spent a fair bit of time being entertained by the upright members of society as is happening here. This aspect of Jesus’ ministry has certainly escaped my notice up to this point by hiding in plain sight. The question then must be asked if this consorting with the establishment was accurate, or if it merely served as a setting whereby the audience served as foil for Jesus’ teaching. For example, in this chapter Jesus provides two lessons that are particularly apt for such an audience. The first is on the virtue of humility which comes in the admonition not to take the best seats at a dinner party, but the worst. This ends in the admonition that the first shall be last and the last shall be first, which helps establish humility as an ideal virtue. This was novel understanding of social behaviour, for pagans as well as for Jews. The setting of the story drives this latter home very effectively. In fact, it may be a little too effective.
By this I am implying that Jesus likely did not spend much time hanging out with Pharisees. Mark has a version of the last/first dichotomy, but his is set very differently. The first expression is after being questioned by a rich young man in Chapter 10:31, the second a dozen verses later when he admonishes the sons of Zebedee for asking to be seated at the right & left hand when Jesus comes into his kingdom. The wording there is not identical to the wording here. In Mark, Jesus says the first shall be last; in Matthew & Luke the wording is that those exalting themselves will be humbled. Different words, but the thought behind them is identical. The latter two turn it into self-exaltation, but that is what James & John attempted to do. And yet, despite the overwhelming similarity of the sentiment, this is considered to be part of Q because Matthew & Luke use the humbled/exalted language where Mark did not. However, fascinating as that is, the topic here is the authenticity. Since Mark does not include any instances of Jesus eating with the establishment while Matthew and Luke does, I believe it is safe to infer from this that the setting we find here is completely fictional. It runs against the grain of pretty much all of Mark, where Jesus is truly an itinerant preacher who encounters those listening to him as he moves from place to place. We have to ask where this all transpired, what the circumstances were that led to Jesus dining with Pharisees? Where is he? In Caphernaum? We were told in Chapter 7 that he had entered that town, but later we are told he went from town to town. At one point, he was at the house of Mary and Martha, which was in Bethany, hard under the walls of Jerusalem, but there is also reason to suspect he was still traveling. This is important for the question of who– or what– Jesus was, how he was seen by the various groups he encountered, or what his reputation was. In Mark, the itinerant nature of Jesus career is very consistent with that of a wonder-worker. They would travel about since staying in one place too long would probably result is an accumulation of failures; this would help explain why the prophet was not honored in his home town.
Just as a bit of a side note. Matthew places the humbled/exalted injunction in the speech when he casts woes onto the various social groups. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees, he says, love the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogue. Luke places the scene in the house of a Pharisee, where the guests are all angling for the places of honor. Coincidence? Do you still think that Luke hadn’t read Matthew?
While at the house, Jesus also cures a man of dropsy on the Sabbath. This gives him the opportunity to override the Jewish idea of what was allowed and not allowed to be done on the Sabbath. In theory, one was supposed to do little or nothing that wasn’t devoted to God. Hence the Puritan custom of spending a big chunk of time in church, and devoting the rest to scripture reading and psalm-singing. Jesus sort of says that this isn’t the way it needs to be. And this sentiment is found very early in Mark, where he cures a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, which causes some consternation. This reaction rather makes me suspect that this story did not trace back to Jesus; as with the supersession of the Jews– a parable about which we also get in this chapter– this seems more suited to a time after Paul. Recall that Paul tells us of his dispute with James, brother of the lord, concerned Jewish customs, or laws, such as dietary practice and circumcision; James thought their retention necessary, Paul did not. Exerting oneself on the Sabbath, or the extent to which this was permissible was another such custom. Bear in mind that the idea of a week, with a weekend, did not exist in the pagan world. The Roman calendar just numbered the days in a month without breaking them into weeks. This practice was an innovation of the Christin Empire, when celebrating the sabbath on a recurring basis became a priority. As such, early pagan followers of Jesus probably found it difficult not to work on one day out of seven. This would be particularly true of a follower of Jesus who was the slave of a pagan master. In fact, this habit of wanting one day in seven off was a major criticism of Christians by their pagan contemporaries, who found the Christians lazy. So not needing to be overly concerned about Jewish custom regarding the Sabbath would have been a real concern to pagan converts.
In addition, it is significant that the sentiment traces back to Mark. For something to be traceable back to Jesus, its presence in Mark is probably a necessary, but not sufficient condition to be considered as authentic. That this appears already in Mark indicates that the transition to pagan converts occurred much earlier than is generally assumed. At the very latest, my suspicion is that the destruction of Jerusalem was a major impetus to this transition; therefore, the inclusion of the story in Mark probably points to a date post-destruction for the writing of that gospel. It must be noted, however, that this is not conclusive; if the transition was underway already in the 50s, as a result of Paul’s evangelizing, then it would not be necessary for this to have come about after 70. So again, put all of this on a scale and weigh all the pieces as units to determine the date of Mark. As mentioned, the anachronistic nature of this story ties in with the parable of the man giving a banquet. This was clearly meant as an explanation of why the Jews hadn’t converted en masse; as such, it’s completely out of place in the 30s.
There is one aspect of the story of the banquet that was not discussed in the commentary section because the connexion had not occurred to me. So much ink has been spilled on the distinction between “blessed are the poor” and “blessed are the poor in spirit” that the topic has become cliché; normally, that would give me pause about discussing it further. The problem is that the focus of the topic has been, IMO, misplaced. The debate almost always centers on which of the two is “more primitive”, and this idea of “primitivity” is a core tenet of the Q debate. Since Luke’s version has two fewer words, this is taken as conclusive proof that Luke’s version is “more primitive”. Well, okay, that’s a bit harsh on my part. “Poor in spirit” is rather more of a subtle concept than “poor”; but then, that is really my point. The one is not necessarily more primitive; it’s just different. Luke’s version has a different emphasis than Matthew’s version. Matthew is talking about humility; Luke is talking about actual poverty. Being humble is a behaviour, or a tenet, of Christianity as we understand it, and Matthew speaks to this. Luke, OTOH, is talking about social justice. More, he underscores this message twice in this chapter. In the first, he admonishes his well-to-do audience that they should invite the downtrodden to the banquets they give; of this class of people, Jesus singled out the poor. He does not instruct the Pharisees to invite the poor in spirit. The second instance comes in the discussion of the wedding banquet. When the invited guests, which would have included the sort of people gathered at the actual dinner Jesus attended, demur their invitations, Jesus once again instructs the slave to invite those same downtrodden, and again among them are the poor.
I wanted to blow this into a big demonstration that Luke shows much more concern for the actual poor than Matthew; one avenue I pursued was to check the number of instances when the word “poor” (ptōchoi, and variants) occur in each gospel. This is a standard analysis. Luke shows an increase of usage of the word of 33% over Matthew; and that goes up to a 40% increase if we eliminate the “poor in spirit” cite in Matthew. Now, if you have any sense of statistics, you immediately realized that the elimination of a single occurrence resulting in such a large increase indicates that we are working from very low numbers. If I have a dollar and get another, my wealth has doubled, it has increased 100%. If I have a million dollars and have a 1% increase in my wealth, I’ve picked up a whole lot more money* than I did when I doubled from a single dollar. So it is here. Matthew uses the word six times; Luke uses it eight times. 8 – 6 = 2, and 2 is 33% of 6.
The results were less conclusive than I’d hoped, but still, I believe, significant. Despite the low numbers, it can be argued that the message in Luke is qualitatively– if not so much quantitively– different from the message in Matthew. There is nothing in the first gospel such as we have here. In fact, Matthew, in his version of what The Q Reader calls “the Great Supper”, does not specify whom his slaves should invite. In Matthew, the lord simply tells his slaves to go out to the roads & highways and invite whomever they might find. Luke, in contrast, specifies that the poor and others are to be those invited– or compelled. And then Matthew simply has no correlation to the passage about inviting the poor to one’s banquets as we find in Luke 14:12. In Matthew, the poor are more theoretical; sell your goods, or the expensive perfume and give to the poor; the poor will always be with you; the poor have the gospel preached to them. For those of you keeping score at home, you only counted four, not five uses of “the poor”. That is because the six cites of “the poor” in Matthew includes its use twice in the same passage. In the tale of the expensive perfume, the disciples say it could have been sold and the proceeds given to the, to which Jesus says “the poor will always be with you”. The contrast to Luke is sharp. Luke not only has the two passages in this chapter, he also has the searing tale of Dives and Lazarus. So the poor in Luke are real to a degree, or they have a presence, that does not appear in Matthew.
*$10,000, to be exact.